Tuesday, July 20, 1999

Three Sisters



During the summer of 1999 while we were living in Holland we went on a road/boat/hiking trip to Scotland. Hiking "Ben Nevis" the highest place in the United Kingdom was a big part of that adventure along with a hiking trip to the top of the "Three Sister"one of the most beautiful spots in Scotland.

The trip Started with traveling from Holland by car to England which requires crossing the English channel. There are several ways to cross the channel, and we have tried them all during our three years living in Holland, but this time we chose to cross on the big car ferry. It requires 3 hours to do the crossing, but you can get out of your car and walk around the ship during the crossing. The ship has many things to do gambling,
 shopping, and restaurants are all available. Or you can just sit topside and enjoy the views as we most often did.

Assorte
d photos (above) of the France to England Car Ferry

After spending a couple of days vi sting the relatives in London we were on our way to the northern parts of the UK with a plan to hike in Scotland then take the car ferry from Scotland to Ireland where we would spend some time hiking and visiting Margaret's ancestral home.

The drive from London to the lakes area of Scotland and "Ben Nevis" or the "Scottish Highlands" our ultimate destination takes almost a full day, with plenty of sites and ancient castles to see on the way.
After staying overnight in a bed and breakfast in Fort Williams on Loch Linnhe we visited the local tourist information center to gather information on hiking. We were going to hike
 Ben Nevis the highest point in the UK tomorrow but we needed something to see today. A local hiking map and a conversation with the locals at the center determined that Glenn Coe and a hike called the "Three Sisters" was our adventure for today.

A short but beautiful drive brought us to the base of the Three Sisters and a parking lot to leave our car for the 5- 7 hour hike to the top.


From Hiking Three Sisters

After crossing a bridge about 1/2 mile to the base of hike we started up the mountain. We crisscrosed the mountain face working our way up a small creek in a valley. Along the way we found some of the most beautiful views including one of the most spectacular ferm gardens I have ever seen.



From Hiking Three Sisters
After a fairly risky scramble up the back side just prior to the summit we reached the top and were rewared with some fantastic views.


From Hiking Three Sisters


Of course the long trek back the way we came was the next agenda for the day. Reaching the bottom several hours later with seriously sore feet and knees we were ready for Happyhour!




Assorted Photos (above) of the Three Sisters hiking adventure

Monday, July 19, 1999

Ben Nevis

This was it. The point of the whole Scotland trip! We were about to hike to the top of Ben Nevis. We were up and at the Ben Nevis trail head by 9:00am. It is a rather popular hike and has an entire park dedicated to it. There was many people there today with the same idea we had to summit Ben Nevis. The sun was out and shinning and it was going to be a beautiful day. A condition not so common in Scotland as Scotland was foggy cloudy and cool most of the time.

Lacing up the hiking boots and putting on the packs we headed out down the trail with the line of other people at about 9:30. Still sore from yesterday's hike up the Three Sisters which turned into a larger endeavor than we planned we were asking around to find out how far this was to the top, and how long it would take. No one had a good answer, but with all the people, children, dogs and picnic baskets going up the trail how tuff could this be? We'll be down in a few hours we thought.

As it approached lunch time and we were only getting close to half way up the most desolate boring,, rocky lifeless trial we had ever climbed we knew this was not going to be a walk in the park. Yet the children and picnic baskets continued up the steep rock trail. How could we quit? Just because we did a mountain the yesterday? Let those children and picnic baskets beat us? NEVER! Looks like the small lake half way up is going to lunch. Then back to the GRIND!

From Hiking Ben Nevis


Here is a couple of smart people they camped by the lake half way up and did this trip in a couple of days instead of one grueling trip!


From Hiking Ben Nevis


Step, Step, Step, Just keep on going its a mind game. We will get there I can see the top... Whoops... that wasn't the top just another false summit. That top has to be there somewhere..The last 2 or 3 miles were all the same just broken rocks stretching on forever.


From Hiking Ben Nevis


There it is I can finally see the real top it has a weather station built of the broken rocks from decades ago. We Made It! Another break and a snack, rest for 1/2 and hour and we will start down.


From Hiking Ben Nevis


While we were sitting on the top resting a squadron of British Air force Jets flew over the summit and they were so close you almost could have thrown a rock and hit them. Time to go we have to get off the mountain before its dark, and its along way down. For some reason the trip down when you known how far you've already come is never as bad as the unknown trip up. But this was still a slog. Halfway back down we see the lake again with Margaret "the machine" leading the way.


From Hiking Ben Nevis


Well we did finally make it off the mountain. It was about 7:00 and it turned out to be about a 9 hour trip. Other than great memories, and pictures all we got was a $20 Tee shirt that says I climed Ben Nevis, and even sorer feet than the previous day.



Pictures of the Ben Nevis Summit

Wednesday, June 23, 1999

Malinhead Coast

While staying at Margaret's family home we needed a hike. Just up the road less than 5 miles is the Malinhead Coast line and cliffs. This is the most northern tip of Ireland even though it is technically in Southern Ireland.
A five minute ride in the car up the old narrow field roads brings us to some of the most spectacular beach front and scenery in the world. If this were in a more populated place there would be million dollar homes here, but for now only the cows live here.

We climbed up and down thought the cliffs, posed for some pictures, and had lunch overlooking the North Sea.

Tuesday, June 22, 1999

Slieve League Ireland



Here is the plan: We are at the most northern tip of Ireland at Margaret's home and we are out to hike to the top of Slieve Leage the highest sea cliffs in Europe. The cliffs are 595 meters or 1952 feet above a very rock coast of the North Sea located at the Western top edge of Donegal Bay. Its a senic 3 hour drive from where we are staying near Malin Head.  Since we drove here from Holland in our left had drive Volvo V40 we have already had plenty of practice driving on the right hand side of the road on very narrow country roads filled with cows, so this should be no problem (Right!)

After 1st stoping in the quaint tourist town of Donagal. the home town for which the Bay and most of the northern tip of Ireland is named for for lunch and souviner shopping, we arrived at the small car park which is the closest point that you can drive to the top of Slieve League. (Its hard to see the cars in this photo, but there there in the center. Its along way down)


From hiking Ireland

From there we walk to the top. Its a cool 60 degree day with a very stiff south west wind blowing in from the bay.  The trail to the top is not crowded and there are only a couple of cars in the lot other than the tourist bus you can see in the picture. This should take a couple of hours to the top and back. Along the way there is a few rock segments of the trail, but near the top most of the trail is covered by several feet of decomposing heather. This grows every summer and dies leaving a thick layer of soft peat that feels liking walking on a trampoline as you climb to the top.


From hiking Ireland


Remember the stiff wind blowing off the bay? At the top it was more like a gail. At times it was difficult to stand. Check out Margaret as she tries to maintain her balance in the wind.


From hiking Ireland


At the top we stop for a snack, drinks and the obligatory scenic photos:




Tuesday, April 20, 1999

Hiking Switzerland


Its Easter weekend and we are on a road trip to Switzerland and Lake Lucerne. We have reservations at  hotel  Abbana Weggis” we found on the web that overlooks the Lake Just northeast of Lucerne Switzerland. The whole trip from Holland where we were living  to Lucerne is about 7 hours  and the drive through Switzerland is beautiful .  The hotel is very old and been around for over a hundred years but turns out to be quite nice. 

From Hiking Switzerland
Our room has a balcony overlooking Lake Lucerne and as it’s still a little cool a heavy fog lays over the lake obscuring the mountains on the other side until later in day after the sun burns off the fog. 
From Hiking Switzerland
We have several days here and the plan is to take the ferry which is the local means of travel around the lake to Lucerne one day and do the tourist thing then spend a day exploring the Tram and the hiking around the “Rigi Mountain” just behind the little village of “Weggis that we are staying in.
We walked down to the boat launch where we bought return tickets and waited for the ferry to arrive and take us around the lake.  
From Hiking Switzerland

We walked all around the city of Lucerne did some shopping which included buying some new sweatshirts  because it was cold. Of course with this being Switzerland and home of famous watches I bought a Swiss watch at a discount price. We also climbed to the high point in Lucerne and old castle to view the river which was flooding. Seems like we are always trying to climb to the top of something.

From Hiking Switzerland
 Today’s adventure will be riding the Tram to the top of the mountain than hiking down. It’s a short walk to the tram stop and it’s not crowded as we buy are tickets and wait for the ride to the top. The fog is heavy during this time of year early in the day so we are not going to see much on our ride to the top. At the top the fog is heavy and it’s a short train ride to the lodge where we have lunch and walk around viewing the things at the top of the mountain.
From Hiking Switzerland

Leaving the top we walk back following the train tracks in the fog towards the trail that leads to the base of the mountain and our hotel. 
As we hike down the mountain we alternate between open fields on the side of the mountain with cows to dense forests with creeks and trails. As it turns to later in the day the fog starts to lift and we are given beautiful views of the lake from the trail on the way down.


Thursday, January 21, 1999

Canary Island Road trip and Beaches


Taking a winter vacation to get away from the cold weather has become something of a habit for us. When we were in the United States it often was to the Phoenix Arizona area because it was warm, and also because my parents spent their winters there and we could often freeload off them for a while. But since we are in Europe now and Arizona is a long way away we decided this year we would try the tropical desert archipelago of the Canary Islands.  There is hiking (as in mountains), beaches, and there is suppose to be good scuba diving. Oh and it a cheap trip if you are already on the right continent.
The canary Islands are about 90 miles of the coast of Moroco (That’s Africa) and are considered a part of Spain. The climate is beautiful in the winter and a too hot desert in the summer. A short flight from Amsterdam and a car rental to get us to our hotel and were are ready see some sights.

From Canary Islands Hotel and Beach and Road trip
There is a long board walk down the beach.  Along the boardwalk is hundreds of restaurants where you could get a very good meal and a couple of drinks for two for under 20 dollars. Oh and don’t forget all the tourist things and shopping as well. ( Ask Margaret about her big diamond). In the week we were here I can’t count the number of time we were up and down this several mile long boardwalk.

From Canary Islands Hotel and Beach and Road trip
 If you look at the terrain map of Tenerife which is the biggest of Canary Islands chain. You can see that it is essential a dormant volcano with a 10,000 for peak in the center of the Island. It was our plan to climb to the top of this volcano, but after we drove up there and saw it considering that we had just done the Masca valley hike the other day (see next post) and almost killed ourselves so we settled for some pictures. Check out the erie moon like terain a the top of the Volcano
One of the other things I had planned while here was to re-test for my Scuba certification. I had an old certification from the YMCA that most of the Dive Shops questioned so I figured I’d get a PADI certification which was universal. So I spent several hours retaking the test and doing checkout dives with a team here which I passed with no problems. While I was unable to get pictures of any of the dive sites I was able to dive an old wrecked ship full of stingrays and barracuda’s  as well as a fantastic dive called the grotto where thousands of iridescent blue fish and a natural underwater amphitheater made for spectacular scenery.
From Canary Islands Hotel and Beach and Road trip

Wednesday, January 20, 1999

Egypt

In January of 1999 while living in Europe we decided that if we were ever to see the Great Pyramids of Egypt this was the time to do it. We booked a tour through a travel agent in Holland that had a group going to Egypt for 3 weeks. The trip involved several days in Cairo to see the Pyramids. Then a 4 day trip in a river boat down the Nile river to the Valley of the Kings and Luxor from there taking a bus across the desert to the Red Sea for a week on the coast and diving.

The trip didn't start so well. There was a heavy fog in Amsterdam and the charter plane from Egypt could not land. So it was decided that the plane would land in Brussels about 100 miles away and we would be bused to the Brussels airport and leave from there.

While the flight to Cairo from Brussels isn't that far only4 or 5 hours by the time we took the bus and got off the ground it was 9 or 10 the next morning by the time we landed in Cairo. The hotel we stayed at was in the Diplomatic section of Cairo and was probably a 3 star hotel. Not too nice but not the worst place in the world considering where we were at. The next day we would get to see the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Today we would have to be satisfied with a museum and a little shopping in the Bazaars



From Egypt


Since we were with a Dutch tour group we had a young guide that told us all about everything we were seeing. Unfortunately he told us in Dutch!

Cairo is an amazing place. over 10 million people living in a few miles of land surrounding the Nile river. Very crowded, very dirty (It almost never rains here so nothing ever get cleaned)

From Egypt

From the middle of the city you can see the Great Pyramids off in the distance on the plateau.

From Egypt

You can see all the TV programs and pictures of the Pyramids, but until you stand there on the Giza plateau and see them for yourself you cannot appreciate how awe inspiring and what a tremendous feat it was to build these things 1000's of years ago.From a couple of miles away they are beautiful

From Egypt

From up close you can truly appreciate how large they are and the size of each individual stone in the massive buildings

From Egypt
While in Egypt you have to be careful because of the many beggars that are looking for money. Often times you will be charged to take a picture if you are not careful and allow yourself to be taken in by one of the locals who do their best to separate you from your cash. This picture cost me a couple Egyptian pounds (about $.30)

From Egypt
While this Picture was free. The owner thought I was going to pay him for a camel ride after the picture.

From Egypt
We took to calling them skinners because they wouldn't leave you alone and it sometimes felt like they were skinning you.

From Cairo we boarded a plane that would take us south to our boat which was a floating hotel that would be our home for 4 days as we traveled down the Nile from the Aswan Dam to the Valley of the Kings and Luxor.

The boat turns out to be the way to travel in Egypt the scenery along the Nile is fantastic and we had our own stateroom (Small but comfortable) and we were fed extravagant feasts every evening. We even had a Hot Tub on the boat's top deck to view the river from
.

video

video
After 4 days on the River We docked in Luxor where we stayed in a not so nice hotel right on the river. From there we visited all the local tombs and temples as well as the Valley of the Kings.

After a couple of days here we all boarded a tour bus early in the morning and meet with several other tour buses where we joined a military convey with an armed escort to make the 6 hour crossing of the desert. Where we would be spending a week at the Red Sea Diving and relaxing.

You see it was only a moth or two ago that the terrorists had killed 50 tourists in one of the tombs we had just visited and the local authorities were still a bit worried. While this terrorist event had caused the authorities to have stationed armed guards at many of the tourist attractions we really never had a problem. In fact it even helped because there were so few people we had our run of the normally crowded sites.

Masca Valley Hike




If you are looking for a hike in Tenerief there are many, but one of the most popular is the Masca Valley it is about a 40 mile drive from the main airport on Tenerief. It is talked about in many of the local tourist brochures and can be found on the internet. We did our research and figured out that this was about a 5 mile hike one way to the bottom of a large valley that leads to the ocean from the top of the very high mountains surrounding the sea there. So we would have to walk 5 miles down hill first then back up the hill on the way out for a total of 10 miles round trip with the hard part last. This is backwards from a mountain where the hard part is firsts and the easy part is last.
The road to the Masca valley has 40 miles of the most winding narrow roads you have seen anywhere on the planet with some areas of exposure to cliff sides where the next stop in the car if 2000 feet below in the ocean should you miss the turn.
From Canary Islands Masca Valley
After a nerve racking road trip to the Village of Masca we found a parking spot along the highway and loaded our stuff for our trip into the village and the ultimate trip to the ocean down through the valley. The village is small and quit a tourist attraction since the village itself is a fantastically beautiful setting located at the top of the valley. It is almost a window into the past and looks ancient setting among the strange tropical desert vegetation of the valley.
From Canary Islands Masca Valley
To the hike: we find our way down through the village an manage to find a sign that points the way to the trail. As we get on the trail we find that there are many people (20-30) from a tour that are descending into the valley along with us.
From Canary Islands Masca Valley
As we make our way down into the valley the surrounding vegetation looks almost prehistoric
From Canary Islands Masca Valley
After an hour or so of hiking the easy trial down the upper segment of the valley gives way to boulder hopping and wading through a small river we started to follow.
From Canary Islands Masca Valley
As we wind our way through the deepest part of the valley the side walls reach thousands of feet overhead and we can only occasionally see the sky as we close in on the beach.
At last after 5 miles of a rough scramble of boulders and cliffs the beach!
From Canary Islands Masca Valley
But wait there is a boat waiting to pick up the tour group! Who forgot to tell us that you could ride back to the top! After trekking with the group all the way to the bottom and the hardest part is yet to come they are going to bail and ride back! Not fair!
From Canary Islands Masca Valley
So we sat and had lunch and watched the tour group load themselves onto the boat with tears in our eyes. We now have to climb the 5 miles back out! I sure am looking forward to the beer(s) on the veranda at the end of this hike!
I knew getting out was going to be tough but, it is proving to be tougher that I though.
From Canary Islands Masca Valley
At last we are out, and headed towards the veranda for that beer, but wait! We are exhausted can hardly walk anymore and we have that 40 miles of bad roads back to our hotel! Maybe two lemonades are in order instead of the beer I have dreamed about for the last five very uphill miles!
From Canary Islands Masca Valley

From Canary Islands Masca Valley
On the way out of the village we ran across a street vendor selling watercolor paintings of the village and we purchased a hand painted water color of the valley that almost identically matches some of the photos we took. How cool is that!

Tuesday, January 19, 1999

Red Sea


Our six hour bus trip from Luxor across the barren deserts of Egypt was uneventful. Not one shot was fired by the armed escorts. we didn't even see any signs of life much less terrorists. We rolled in to Hurghada on the coast of the Red Sea late in the afternoon.

We were staying at a beautiful Marriott hotel that had its own barbed wire enclosed compound. Inside the compound was "5 Star" outside the compound was definitely "third world". This was our home for the next 5 days. Our room was very large almost a suite, with a view overlooking the Red Sea and the many cruise ships that ran up and down the coast day and night

video

The next day we wandered around the hotel for the day and I checked out the scuba diving program. Because of my YMCA certification the wanted me to do a check out dive in the pool which I did and passed with flying colors. I'll have to get a more recognized certification some day. (see Canary Islands re-test) The next day we were on for a series of dives on several reefs and lunch in the dive boat.

We were out on the pier early ready to take off. All we need was our cameras and our personal things. Everything else was supplied on the boat. It would be a a couple of hours cruise on the boat to the 1st dive spot then lunch on and island then another dive at another location.

The first thing you will notice when you get on the Red Sea is that outside of very narrow corridors of population in a few cities there is nothing. As far as you can see there is beautiful turquoise green waters and white sand devoid of anything, but a few boats cruising the Sea.

From Red Sea

After arriving at the 1st dive location we suited up and over we went for about a 40 minute dive at 30-50 feet deep. While we were diving the people still on the boat were enjoying the wind and water and had a party and played music

video

After everyone was back aboard the boat we were off for a short ride to an island that was a popular spot for boats, divers and tourists to lunch and play on the beach. we had a catered lunch there and spent a couple of hour relaxing and swimming before heading to the next dive site

From Red Sea


video

One of the most memorable events of the week on the Red Sea was a day we decided to walk to the center of town from our hotel compound. It appeared to be a couple of miles on the map and it was a beautiful day so we set out along the beach road. Most of the road to town was occupied by hotel compounds similar to ours. However as we got closer to town it became obvious that this was indeed still part of Africa and other than the hotels and diving Hurghada was really a backwater.

We walked to the center of town where there was located a duty free shopping center that catered to the tourist industry. As always when walking in Egypt if you are a foreigner you will get bothered for money by the "skinners" and here was no exception. After shopping it was getting late and dark so we opted to take a cab back the 3 or so miles to the hotel compound.

Cabs in a third world country can be interesting. The one we managed to flag down was falling apart, and the doors were wired shut. There also seems to be this strange custom on country road in Egypt to shut off the head lights when driving. They seemed to think that they were saving electricity or something. But they would only turn the lights back on when they were about to pass an oncoming car. The ride back in the dark going to fast with no lights in a falling down cab proved to be "Interesting". We did however made it back safely to our compound.

Other than the diving we lounged by the pool had great meals and relaxed.

Tenerife Day Hike


The plan today is to take a couple of mile day hike up the old aqueduct trail where most of Tenerife got it water supply for years. It's only a couple of miles from our hotel and we should be able to get in and out in a couple of hours. The views are suppose to be good too. The drive to the trailhead takes us through some of the older local communities of Tenerife.

From Canary Islands Day Hike
At the trail head there is a few people ahead of us and it's still early. Many of the people are tourist like us here for a vacation and are out hiking and looking at the sights. Right near the entrance to the trail is a nice restaurant where I'm sure we will spend some Spanish currency for a couple of "cervezas" (that beer to you non Spanish speakers)on the way back.




From Canary Islands Day Hike
The trail climbs at a leisurely pace alongside the old aquaduct crossing back and forth for a few miles up the valley towards the top.

From Canary Islands Day Hike
Nearing the top but still inside the deep valley you can see the old pools where they collected the water to feed the city below

From Canary Islands Day Hike
The top of the trail leads deep into and old dark almost cave where water runs out of the mountainside into a small pool that is collected as it works its way down the mountain.

From Canary Islands Day Hike
After a snack and drink and some pictures of the water source. We make out way back to the restaurant for those cervezas, before heading back to the hotel.

From Canary Islands Day Hike

Friday, January 1, 1999

Millennium Celebration

Now I haven't been to all the cities in the world but I have been to a few and In my humble opinion Amsterdam is the coolest city in the world. So while we lived in the Netherlands we spent a lot of time in Amsterdam. The sidewalk cafes, museums, and canals are just a few or the things that make it such and interesting place.
From Amsterdam 2000

From Amsterdam 2000

However the most special thing about Amsterdam is the people and the attitude they have towards life. It seems that people in the Netherlands don't moralize or force their viewpoint on other people it is pretty much a live and let live place. So if you had to pick a city to celebrate the millennium New Years eve of 2000 in Amsterdam was my pick for the place to celebrate.

We made reservations at the downtown Marriott hotel for 2 nights just a few blocks from Dam Square the center of Amsterdam. The Millennium Celebration here was to included bands, beer tents and a carnival along with thousands of people.

If you recall the concern over the year 2000 many thought that because of the problem with the date change in the computers infrastructure was going to fall apart and we would be potentially without water, electricity or other important services. So when we checked in the hotel gave us a letter asking us to fill the bathtub with water in case water pressure failed at midnight so we would have a water supply. As well they provided a flashlight and other survival components in case the worst happened

The view form our hotel balcony looking towards Dam Square

From Amsterdam 2000
New Years Eve 1999 early afternoon we filled the bathtub with water stored our survival supplies in case of disaster and headed out to explore Amsterdam on the eve of the Millennium. Our first stop was a couple of cocktails in the local bar. (We were starting early)

From Amsterdam 2000

From there we wandered the streets. The fire works were already intense even before sunset . They were setting of firecrackers and rockets by the thousands every where and the revelers were crowding out into the streets.

From Amsterdam 2000


The bands were cranking up in Dam Square carnival area

From Amsterdam 2000


From Amsterdam 2000

By 10:00 everyone was shoulder to shoulder in the Dam Square area with many people drinking from special two foot tall Heineken bottles sold specially for the Millennium Celebration. (Not to mention the spillover from the infamous coffee shops on to the streets)

After the countdown to midnight we headed back to our hotel room for a special celebration with a glass of Baily's (no disaster other than a few passed out people on the street)

From Amsterdam 2000
The next morning the litter on the street from all the fireworks and drinking containers was most impressive. It will take the city workers some time to clean the mess.

From Amsterdam 2000


From Amsterdam 2000

It will undoubtedly be the most remember New Years eve in my lifetime