I’ll Take the High Road, Day 7: A Taste of Royalty

The last day.

I always get a strange combination of feelings when these excusions come to an end.  Sadness at it having to end.  Surprise that the time is nearly done.  Joy at the new friendships forged and memories made.  And a bit ready to come home.

Our final escapades began with a bus tour throughout New Town Edinburgh and Old Town Edinburgh.  Our tour guide, Jenny, was quite knowledgeable and shared a lot of fascinating history about the area.  One of my favorite moments was passing by the childhood home of Robert Louis Stevenson.

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Childhood home of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Most interesting was some trivia about Stevenson’s novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  While it is known that the plot of the novel arose from a nightmare, Stevenson actually based the characters of Jekyll and Hyde off two different people.  One was his nanny who loved him dearly, but also loved the bottle and was not herself when she drank.  The other was Edinburgh’s town counselor, Deacon Brodie.  Brodie was also a furniture maker who had a severe gambling addiction.  He often broke into homes of his customers to steal items in order to pay off his debts.  Eventually he was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by hanging.  Brodie smugly thought he would live as he had built the gallows used and didn’t think it would work.  Unfortunately for him, his new gallows was a success.

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Edinburgh Castle

When we finished exploring the city, we headed off to Edinburgh Castle to explore the royal home for many Scottish kings.  This was an excellent attraction and one that I would highly recommend.  The castle is actually made up of multiple museums and you will learn about military history, visit the castle dungeons, see the oldest building in Scotland with St Margaret’s Chapel, gaze upon the ominous Mons Meg, and see the Scottish Crown Jewels.

 

We were able to enjoy the castle for about 90 minutes before getting back on the bus for a few more tidbits about Edinburgh and getting dropped off at our hotel.

The afternoon was a free period for us.  I made a stop at Marks & Spencer to switch my money back to dollars.  This is indeed the place to stop as the lack of commission meant I got nearly market rate for my exchange.  However, I did hold back ten pounds for lunch.

I stopped at Burger King and had a quick meal of an Angus Steakhouse combo while I read The Battered Badge, a Nero Wolfe novel by Robert Goldsborough.  I then took a walk around town and did my good deed for the day when I helped an elderly couple from Shropshire find the Mercure.

 

 

I organized my photos thus far and then got back on the coach as we were off to viist the Royal Yacht Brittania, the final royal ship for the British royal family.  This was another excellent attraction as it combined history with a taste of living the royal life.

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Royal Yacht Brittania

I was blown away by the luxury and elegance of the yacht.  Truly, it was like a floating mansion.

 

From there, it was off to our final group meal as we had a reservation for Cafe Tartine.

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Cafe Tartine

Another wonderful meal.  This was almost as good as the previous night as I enjoyed smoked salmon, Escalope of Grilled Chicken with herb potatoes, green beans, and smoked bacon, and a thick mousse called Orange Scented Chocolate Panna Cotta.

 

 

And just like that, it was over.  I made arrangements with my new friends, the Campbells, to have breakfast in the morning before I’m carted off to the airport.  Another grand adventure has ended.  And the next is being planned.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

I’ll Take the High Road, Day 6: Ach, Aye!!

This was truly a grand day.  We had some absolutely gorgeous weather as we bade farewell to Aberdeen and left to visit the town of Scone, specifically the Scone Palace.

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Scone Palace

Scone Palace is the home of the Murray family whose head is now the hereditary Earl of Mansfield.  Historically, Moot Hill on the palace grounds is where the kings of Scotland were crowned.  While not a royal palace, the building was an abbey before the Murrays gained ownership and being an abbey is the other way for a building to be called a palace.  Fun fact:  there is a difference between palaces and castles.  Castles are fortified.  Palaces are not.

We stopped into the coffee shop on the grounds for some tea and shortbread before having a formal tour.  Our tour guide was fantastic!  He made history come alive before our eyes as he talked about Scone Palace’s history as well as the history of the Murray family.  The Murrays still live on the property so photography was forbidden inside the palace to respect their privacy.

When the tour was ended, we were given a little free time to explore the grounds at our leisure.  I explored the mausoleum on Moot Hill, saw the original Douglas Fir (yes, Christmas trees began in Scotland before being spread around the world), saw the Old Cross, and even solved a hedge maze.

After getting our history on, it was now time to get our game on.  We headed off to St Andrews to visit their world-famous golf course.

Golf was practically invented at St Andrews and it was impressive to see the old course.  I also took a little amble through a nearby neighborhood where I admired the North Sea and stepped into St James’ Catholic Church for a lookaround and a prayer.

At 2:10 we headed over to St Andrews’ practice center where we were allowed to knock out a bucket of balls at the practice range.  Some of the fellow tour members were obviously golfers while most were, shall we say, not.  It made for an amusing time.  For myself, all of my shots were surprisingly straight and true and I managed to hit several balls 75 to 100 yards.  However, if I’m going to learn the game, I need some lessons as I also completely whiffed the ball on several occasions.

From St Andrews, it was off to our final city of the tour:  Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital.

In terms of view, this was the best hotel (Mercure Royal) as I had a room on the top floor with a panoramic view of the city.  We had several hours to ourselves which I used to bathe and shave for tonight’s optional excursion:  a visit to the Jam House for the Spirit of Scotland show with the Ceremony of the Haggis.

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View from my room

Ach aye!!! (Oh, yes!!!)  This was the best event of the tour yet.  We had a sumptuous meal consisting of an appetizer of smoked salmon which was superb.  I can see why salmon is considered one of the hallmarks of Scottish dining after tasting theirs.  Then we had a taster’s course consisting of haggis with potato and turnip while our host, singer Bruce Davis, led us in The Ceremony of the Haggis with a humorous interpretation of Robert Burns’ poem, Ode to a Haggis.  The main course was Braised Spear of Scottish Beef with horseradish mashed potatoes and root vegetables.  The beef was the tenderest I have ever tasted and I wished I could have had a second helping of those amazing potatoes.  For dessert was a cup of fruit, cream, and oatmeal.

After diner we got to see the Spirit of Scotland show which was an amazing night of songs, music, and dancing by the talented troupe of the Jam House.  There was even a bit of audience participation as we were encouraged to sing along on the refrain of “Loch Lomond”, the first verse of “Amazing Grace”, and we all stood up and joined hands as the show closed with “Auld Lang Syne”.

I was disappointed to see such a delightful show end, but it was time to return to the hotel where I wrestled with a dodgy internet connection to get pictures posted.  Mercifully, I was looking forward to a bit of sleeping in as breakfast would not be until 7:30 with our first event of the final day not beginning until 8:30.

I’ll Take the High Road, Day 5: The Monster, The Battle, and the Aberdeen

Today was definitely the slowest day of the trip.  We had a long haul of driving today so it was pretty much looking at the beautiful countryside with just a couple of stops to break up the drive.

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Loch Ness

Our first stop was a visit to Loch Ness, reputedly the home of a certain monster.  While searching for Nessie, Marge threw in a bonus as we would also be visiting Urquhart Castle.

Urquhart Castle has held an important place in Scottish history dating back to the 500s when St Columba visited the region to convert the Picts to Christianity with his most notable conversion being the Pict leader.  According to legend, the Loch Ness Monster attacked one of his guides as he was swimming to fetch a boat.  Before reaching the guard, St Columba made the Sign of the Cross and the monster vanished.

We watched a brief, but informative film about the history of Urquhart Castle and as it ended, the screen pulled up and the curtains opened to reveal this.

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Urquhart Castle

It was even more amazing seeing it in person.

From there we toured the grounds of the castle.  I even went hunting for Nessie and succeeded.  Below, I bring you proof of the Loch Ness Monster.

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From Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness, it was off to the bus for another jaunt that took us to Culloden.

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The Battle of Culloden was the climax and pretty much the end of the Jacobite Rebellion spearheaded by Charles Edward Stuart AKA Bonny Prince Charlie AKA The Idiot (according to Marge).  Charles had plotted to get his exiled father back on the throne of England as he believed the Stuarts were divinely appointed to rule. Despite never having visited Scotland, he claimed it as home and used his charm and energy to convince Scottish Highlanders to join his cause to retake the English throne.

Charles was also unpredictable and impetuous leading him to ignore his advisors.  Despite several victories, he decided to make an ill fated nighttime sneak attack on the British government forces led by King George’s son (and distant relative of Charles), William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland.

After his forces had suffered defeats at the hands of the Jacobites, Augustus managed to boost his soldiers’ morale with an extra ration of cheese to celebrate his birthday as well as rigorous training to counter the deadly Highlander charge which had decimated the British government soliders and their gentlemanly style of warfare.

Meeting at Culloden on April 16, 1746, Augustus’ forces slaughtered the weary Highlanders who had marched all night and were stumbling in the dark.  The rout took a mere 40 minutes.  Charles fled to France while Augustus ordered no mercy on the Highlanders and Jacobites, killing them instead of capturing them as well as killing many innocent civilians who also wore plaids and tartans.

Neither nobleman ended up well.  Augustus was labeled as a butcher and fell into ignominy and was joined there by Charles who was briefly labeled a hero in France for his “daring” escape, but was abandoned by his family and attempted a few more conspiracies which blew up in his face.

After that it was a long afternoon of driving, though we did make a brief stop in Tomintoul to stretch our legs before arriving at Aberdeen for the night.

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Aberdeen Altens Hotel

Our home for the night was the Aberdeen Altens Hotel.  I managed to nab a king-sized bed room so I knew I’d be sleeping like a baby tonight.

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I puttered around for an hour or so and learned about my airport transfer for the final day before heading into the restaurant for dinner.

I joined Kenneth, Steven, and Joel again and enjoyed a meal of Country Terrine with red onion chutney and oatcakes, fillet of haddock in citrus cream sauce and vegetable, and hot rice pudding for dessert.

With a filling meal and satisfying conversation complete, it was time for some writing, a hot bath, and a good snooze for a full day of activities.

I’ll Take the High Road, Day 4: Headed to the Highlands

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There wasn’t a lot of activity today, but it was truly a great day.  We left the envirions of Glasgow to head to the Highlands, the least densely populated part of Scotland.  Tall buildings and traffic gave way to narrow words and lush farmland and quite a few sheep.

As we drove through the country, we passed a region known as Glencoe, site of a massacre which took place on February 13, 1692 during the Jacobite uprising.  The long and short of it was that William Campbell managed to obtain a royal proclamation to eradicate Clan Macdonald which they did on that date.  Marge played a song called “The Massacre of Glencoe” which told the story of Campbell and his warriors being offered shelter and food by the Macdonalds whose hosptiality was repaid by being slaughtered during the night.  Many of the victims were women and children.  I was fascinated by the haunting story and Marge explained that much of Scottish history was mired in tragedy.

Our first brief stop of the day was a visit to Glenfinnan which is home to a monument and a viaduct best known for being used for the journey of the Hogwarts Express during the first “Harry Potter” film.  I hiked to the top of an outlook which featured an excellent view of the monument and the viaduct.  I snapped a few pics before journeying back down for a few shots of the lake.

After driving a little further, our group pulled into the Spean Bridge Woolen Mill for a lunch break.  I wasn’t very hungry so I stopped in at a nearby grocery store and picked up a chicken salad sandwich and a Kit Kat bar.  I then did a rarity and, GASP!, actually bought something for myself at the Woolen Mill.  As I was so fascinated by the song of the Glencoe massacre, I found a CD dedicated to songs about that tragic event and bought it along with a CD of traditional Scottish songs.  I then took a little walk around the area just to enjoy local life and snap a photo or two.  I’ve learned that Scotland also likes B & Bs just as much as Ireland so I’m adding Scotland to my potential places of retirement in my golden years.

As we got into the Highlands, the road signs began to feature two languages, English and Gallic, the traditional language of Scotland which is only taught in the Highlands.  English is exclusively used in the Lowlands.

We weren’t on the road very long after lunch, making a brief stop at the Commando Memorial for a photo op.

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Commando Memorial

Then it was back on the road before our arrival at Eilean Donan Castle, the most photographed castle in the world.

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Eilean Donan Castle

As this was an optional tour, our group split at this point with those not taking the tour being driven to the hotel while the rest of us remained.  As we waited for our tour time, I tried jelly babies for the first time.  This favored treat of the Fourth Doctor of Doctor Who is a rather soft confection that’s a cross between a jelly bean and Turkish Delight.  I offered some treats to Kenneth Campbell, a retired schoolteacher from New Brunswick, Canada with whom I became fast friends.  Kenneth introduced me to his traveling companions:  his brother, Steven, and his nephew, Joel.  These guys were great conversationalists and just great fun to be around.

The tour of Eilean Donan consisted of two tour guides, one whom gave us the history of the castle in the entry hall and the second told us about the family Macrae, historical and current owners of the castle.  After the two lectures, we were free to explore the upstairs bedrooms and kitchen of the castle.  Photos were not allowed inside the castle, so the outside was all I got.  Fun fact:  The Macraes still holiday at the castle on occasion and either mix in with the other tourists or visit the castle after hours.  They have a furnished apartment elsewhere on the grounds where they actually live.

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The Clachan

With the tour ended, we headed to the nearby Clachan for a drink.  This pub is actually closed for the season, but was opened especially for us to enjoy a beverage.  I had been trying to get a Scottish drink called an Atholl Brose which I read about in a Sherlock Holmes story that took place in Scotland, but I’m starting to think it was a drink of its time as I’ve struck out in both attempts to get one.  So I had a pint of Guinness (almost as good as the Irish original) while enjoying a talk with the Campbells.

With the drink completed, we were bussed over to the Dunollie which was our hotel for the night in the Isle of Skye.

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The Dunollie

This is a small hotel only boasting about 84 rooms.  This was the smallest hotel room I have ever stayed in, but a comfy bed to lie my head is all that I ask for and, in terms of character, this was my favorite hotel of the trip.

I quickly settled in before joining the Campbells for dinner in the hotel restaurant.  Tonight’s meal consisted of lentil soup, Cully Fillet in cream sauce, and a cream puff pastry for dessert.  The soup was actually a bit bland, resulting in my adding a pinch of salt for the first time since I was 17.  The fish was of excellent quality and the dessert well rounded out the meal.

I bade the Campbells tonight before running over to the convenience store next door for a Dr. Pepper. I then returned and listened to an accordion player perform a stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace” before returning to my room to organize photos, write, and listen to my Glencoe CD.

Tomorrow we get a slightly later start with breakfast at 7am before departing for Aberdeen at 8am.

I’ll Take the High Road, Day 3: Sailing on the Bonny, Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond With a Dram of Whiskey and a Stirling Castle Visit

It was time for the first day of adventures in Scotland so some proper fueling would be required to make it through the day.

I headed to the Brisket where a buffet breakfast was laid out with a variety of breads, meats, juices, cereals, and vegetables.  I toasted some wheat bread, grabbed some Scottish bacon (taken from the back of the pig like Irish bacon so its similar to ham), a slice of Swiss cheese, a bit of haggis, and glasses of orange and lime juice.  I turned the bacon, cheese, and bread into a sandwich while I conversed with fellow tour members, Dale, Sandy, and Judith.

The breakfast hit the spot and I must say that I rather enjoyed the haggis.  It has a sharp bite to it and tastes a tiny bit like sausage.  The lime juice was actually quite refreshing and I was ready for the day.

We formally met our tour guide, Marge, and our driver, David.  This group was right on the ball as we were all on the bus before our departure time and left promptly at 8am.

Our first stop was the village of Luss where we would sail on Loch Lomond, courtesy of the Lomond Princess.

It was a cool and overcast day.  Fog was hanging over the hills giving them an ethereal look as we took a relaxing sail on the Loch.  Our captain gave us some information about some of the islands we passed and even gave us a glimpse of Loch Lomond Golf Club, an exclusive club whose members include George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Michael Douglas.  Membership fees are a jaw dropping 135,000 pounds a year and that doesn’t include green fees.

Our cruise ended at the village of Balmahal and we took a pleasant stroll back to the bus and I did note a few B &Bs on the walk.

From there, it was off to Glengoyne to learn about the fine art of distilling whiskey.

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Glengoyne Distillery

Glengoyne has been distilling whiskey officially since 1833 (unofficially for a few generations before that).  It’s a pretty exclusive brand as it’s sold directly through the distillery and in specialty shops.  We had a bit of time before our tour so our guides led us to the waterfall that served as the original water source for the whiskey.  Nowadays the water from the fall is used soley for the cooling process.

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At 11:40am we were brought it for a dram of 12 year old whiskey and it was potent.  I felt a slight buzz come on as I sipped it during a brief film on Glengoyne’s history.  Upon the completion of the film, our tour guide, Matthew, led us through the distillery.

I was surprised to discover that making whiskey is actually simple.  The craft lies in how the process is applied.  Glengoyne’s success is due to heating the liquor with hot air and using Spanish casks to develop the various types of whiskey they sell.

Fun fact:  Way up on the hill across the road from the distillery is the home of Robbie Coltrane, best known for playing Hagrid in the “Harry Potter” films.  He is a fan of Glengoyne whiskey and occasionally visits the distillery.

After the tour, we were off to visit Stirling Castle, the home of many Scottish rulers over the centuries as well as the monument that overlooks the legendary Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

We were left to our own devices for a few hours so I opted to explore the castle for myself as opposed to taking a guided tour.

It was an educational period as I learned about the history of Scotland’s rulers and the linked history of the Stewarts (or Stuarts) and the Tudors.  I also visited the Great Hall, chapel, great kitchens, and looked at the lovely Royal Garden.  The most interesting thing I learned was how meals were sometimes eaten.  A feast was given to the king and queen who would eat their fill, then whatever was left over was given to the next most powerful person in the castle and so on with table scraps going to the lowest rung on the ladder.

We wrapped things up at 4pm and headed back to Glasgow.  Jet lag was wearing me out and I didn’t have the juice to eat at a regular restaurant.  After resting for an hour, I walked down to the nearby McDonald’s and picked up a French Stack meal for take away.

Normally this sandwich is exclusive to France, but McDonald’s is currently doing an international burger promotion where regional burgers are being featured in other restaurants worldwide.  The French Stack was two patties, lettuce, bacon, onions, Swiss cheese and sauce on French garlic buns.  Quite tasty.

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French Stack from McDonald’s

From there I was left to a quiet night of organizing photos and writing and getting my luggage ready for an early departure on Saturday.

 

 

I’ll Take the High Road, Days 1-2: Honored Feasgar Math (Good Afternoon)

Oh, I’ll take the high road and you’ll take the low road and I’ll get to Scotland before you. . .unless of course you’ve already been to Scotland.

It was time for another international excursion and this time the road was taking me to Scotland through the courtesy of Globus Journeys once more.

I was in for another long day of travel with 2 layovers of 3 hours and 2 hours apiece.  Actually, it ended up being a little bit longer as both of my flights arrived early.

This time around I used Delta Airlines to travel and all 3 of my flights were itty bitty.  The first two legs used regional jets that were only 4 seats across and the international leg utilized a single decker plane with rows that were only 6 seats across (what I would have expected for a domestic flight).

As I wrote earlier, Delta was exceptionally timely as my first flight got me to Detroit 45 minutes early giving me a nearly 4 hour layover.

I have never been to Detroit Metro Airport before, but it is either remarkably well-maintained or I was in a new or recently remodeled terminal.  I got a little exercise by walking from one end of the terminal to the other while I noted things to do and attempted to find a place to eat.

Since I had the time, I stopped in at the Be Relax Spa where I decided to get a 15 minute chair massage as my shoulders were feeling a bit cramped (the common complaint of a writer).  I didn’t know how cramped until Shelby started working my shoulders and said, “Oh, they are tight.”  As Shelby rubbed, elbowed, and forearmed my shoulders, I felt (and heard) them snap, crackle, and pop back into place.

With my shoulders now out of my ears, I decided it was time to find some dinner.  I wanted something a bit different and opted for Popeye’s.  They were out of the bread needed to make po’boys, so I had a 2 piece spicy chicken dinner and it truly hit the spot.

With a full stomach, I waited at the gate and read a Nero Wolfe mystery until it was time to jet to New York City.

Delta was 45 minutes early with this flight as well, so I spent the time reading at the gate and marveled at how busy the airport was at such a late hour.  I was taking my first true red-eye flight as it was leaving at nearly midnight, but the airport was still hopping.

I landed the money seat for my flight to Glasgow as I got a window seat plus was seated at the rear of the section which meant I could recline the chair as far as possible without fear of disturbing the person behind me.

While I enjoyed the seat, it wasn’t quite what I hoped as the seat was pretty much up against the wall so reclining wasn’t an option and my window wouldn’t close which meant I got a blast of sunshine in the kisser which, while enjoyable, isn’t that well received when I’m trying to rest and nap.  I plastered my pillow across the window to try to block the light with mixed results.

The flight was very smooth and I was surprised that they actually served a meal shortly into the flight as I figured they might wait and serve it closer to breakfast time as it was so late.  I declined the meal and instead watched Green Book, an excellent film about the friendship of jazz pianist, Dr. Donald Shirley and his driver, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen.

When the movie ended, I exhaled a mighty yawn, snuggled up in my blanket, and leaned my pillow against the window for some shut-eye.  I slept for about 90 minutes before some turbulence shook me awake.  Knowing I wasn’t going to fall back asleep, I watched Lost in Translation with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, played Texas Hold Em Poker (winning two tables in the process), and had a light meal of orange juice, peach muffin, and honey yogurt around breakfast time.

Soon we began our descent and as we burst through the clouds, I was greeted by prime and lush farmland that was just pretty as a picture.  Shortly afterwards, we flew over a couple of golf courses and finally landed at Glasgow International.

I was able to grab my suitcase and blasted through Customs as Glasgow uses a passport scanner to speed up the process.  I figured I had another hour to wait as the shuttle to the hotel wasn’t scheduled to leave until 12:30pm.  I was delighted to find that it was waiting for us and I, along with 8 other group memebers, were able to be taken to our first hotel of the trip:  Doubletree.

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Doubletree Hotel in Glasgow City Centre

Upon arriving, I was informed that check-in time would not be until 3pm unless you were a Hilton Honors Member.  Since I wasn’t I was looking at 3 hours of waiting time, so I decided to explore the area.

 

I walked around nearby Sauchiehall Street, a famed area in Glasgow filled with shops and restaurants.  I passed a department store called Marks & Spencer which I’ve learned is the place to exchange currency as they charge no commission, so you get almost market value for your money.

Spying a grocery store, Sainsbury’s, I stopped in to see if I could once more find Mountain Dew for my friend, David Sundberg, and there it was right off the bat.  After getting the photographic evidence, I decided not to buy the bottle as it was large and it was written in English.

I decided to get a small snack to keep my stomach clock on a normal schedule and stopped in at a Taco Bell mainly because I was shocked to see one outside of America.  I ordered a Cheesy Double Decker Taco and learned that getting something “to go” here is getting it for “take away”.

The meat was seasoned differently than the American version.  Not spicier, but somehow sharper.  I also noted that the regional menu also included the Volcano Burrito, a favorite of Dave’s (heck, Taco Bell is his go-to joint in general).  So if you’re reading this Dave, here’s another reason to join me in my travels.

I shortly realized that my exhaustion was winning out, so I decided to sign up for Hilton Honors so I could check in early.  Not only did I get the benefit of checking in early, but it has already proven a wise decision as I will more likely than not be utilizing a Hilton property for an upcoming visit to Arizona so I’m guaranteed a better rate, early check-in, and free Wi-Fi.  Even better, it took a bit to get me a room, so the clerk offered me comps for drinks at the hotel bar.

Once I got my bags in place, I collapsed on the bed and took a two hour catnap.  I felt remarkably better upon waking as the edge was taken off the jet lag.  I wandered around the hotel a bit and then took a long, hot bath and dressed for dinner.

Dinner was held in The Brisket at the Doubletree.  Already I met quite a few new friends and enjoyed some splendid conversation with a fabulous dinner that included a pureed mushroom soup, grilled ham with a sweet glaize, new potatoes, carrots, squash, sugar snap peas, with sticky toffee pudding and ice cream for dessert.

 

I drank a Guiness with my dinner and I used one of comps to enjoy a Grandbois.  It’s a honey whiskey.  I was hoping to get an Atholl Brose, a Scottish drink consisting of whiskey, oatmeal brose, honey, and cream, but they didn’t have the fixings, but perhaps another time.  With the Grandbois, I toasted my friends, Val and Marty O’Brien whom I hoped would also be on this tour, but they will get to enjoy this tour in early 2020.

With a fine dinner digesting, I figured it was time to write and rest in order to be ready for the adventure that would begin in earnest the next day.

Journey to Gurnee or Sealed with a Chris

Time for a travel tale of a different sort and you can get twice the bang for your buck as you can read my brother’s take on this story at his blog.

I have three brothers (Brian, Dan, and Jeff) and six weeks or so ago, my brother, Dan, texted out of the blue with a suggestion that the four of us take a road trip together.  He had suggested Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH, but that was a bit far for a weekend trip for 3 of us and would be tough to coordinate as we each live in different states and the nearest major airport to Sandusky was over an hour away.

Add that to the fact that timing would be delicate.  Most amusement parks close after Labor Day or have greatly reduced hours.  Add that to the fact that Jeff and I will be out of the country for most of September and that essentially left August unless tabled for another year.

Jeff’s husband, Scott, suggested a visit to Six Flags Great America in much closer Gurnee, IL might be a more viable option.  It took a bit of doing, but the 4 of us managed to clear our schedules at the end of August to make this trip.

Sadly, Dan had to bow out at the 11th hour due to illness, but he encouraged the three of us to continue the trip and kept in regular contact via text to enjoy things somewhat vicariously.

My older brother and I live almost equidistant from Gurnee, but he was kind enough to drive to Omaha so we could make the trip together.  He even agreed to my plan to take a more roundabout route as the initial route seemed to go through Chicago proper and I had little desire to battle that maniacal traffic or pay a series of potentially usurious tolls.  Furthermore, I wanted to split the trip down over 2 days so we wouldn’t be overly worn out for doing things after arriving in the Gurnee area.

Thursday night found us heading out on the road after a quick meal at Chick Fil A.  Animated conversation made the time go quickly and we pulled over shortly after midnight at a Sleep Inn in North Liberty, IA.

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Brian photobombs my photo of Sleep Inn in North Liberty, IA.

I was wired and didn’t drift off to sleep until after 1am and slept rather fitfully.  Brian and I rose early and had breakfast in the hotel dining room.  It was adequate with the sausage links being tasty, but the biscuits were a little tough and needed a knife and fork to cut.  Brian ate 4 mini cinnamon rolls for his breakfast.

Shortly afterwards, we were back on the road.  My roundabout route took us through quite a few lovely small towns which I rather enjoyed.  We actually passed through Galena and I got to show Brian the B & B I had stayed at there, the former Bernadine’s Stillman Inn.

I actually made some notes of locales to visit for future journeys, but Brian got slightly annoyed due to a neverending stream of construction we went though in these small towns that slowed us down.

Eventually, we reached our destination, Springhill Suites in Waukegan, IL, but found that the exits leading to the hotel were blocked by more construction and it took nearly 30 minutes for Google Maps to suss out a route that finally allowed us to reach the hotel.

 

 

Springhill Suites was a pretty modern hotel and the rooms were quite nice, but not exactly suites in the strictest sense of the word.  They were actually expanded rooms, but did grant quite a bit of space.

We puttered around for a bit.  Brian and Jeff engaged in a pair of cribbage games while I watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  After Brian took Jeff in 2 straight games, we headed out to dinner and tried nearby Anastasia’s, a sports lounge.

You get pretty good value for your money as you get a good sized meal for your cash.  Jeff had a meatball sandwich while Brian supped on blackened cod and I had a gyro sandwich which really hit the spot.

After dinner, we engaged in one of my favorite activities:  mini golf!!  We visited Lighthouse Miniature Golf which was a little family owned course.  The grounds were lovingly maintained though a little refurbishment could be used here and there.  The course had a ton of character and very fun and challenging holes.

 

 

I ended up finishing in third, being unable to find my groove until closer to the end.  But I did manage to win the Ace Award with a pair of holes in one on the last two holes.  The hole in one on the 18th hole netted me a free game which I will be glad to use when I’m back in the area.  Someone mistook my calm poise and skill for ridiculous sloppy luck on that last hole, but what the hey.

With the links putted, we went back to the hotel and hooked up Brian’s Wii where we played a few rounds of Mario Party 9 before getting some shuteye to attack the park the next day.

Fortunately, all three of us are early risers, so we were able to get up and get some breakfast in the hotel dining room.  Again, the food was just so so.  The turkey sausage patties were pretty good and the biscuits and gravy were actually even tougher than the ones I had in Iowa and again needed a knife and fork to eat them.

As the park didn’t open until 10:30am, we even had time to squeeze in a round of Phase 10.  Now my brothers often curse my unbelievable luck in the game.  I do admit that I seem to have a penchant for obtaining wild cards, but I attribute it to the universe being nice to me because I’m pure of heart.  However, my brothers have actually labeled various winning hands as “Chrises” depending on the number of wilds in it. All the way from a regular Chris for three wilds to an Omega Chris if a winning hand ever has all 8 wilds.  Once again, I won the game and sealed it with a Chris.

 

 

It was a perfect day for parking as the weather was a glorious spring day without a whit of humidity.  Six Flags Great America is coaster crazy with a whopping 16 roller coasters to try.  The park wasn’t overly full and we usually didn’t have to wait very long for rides. Some of the rides even had single rider lines which we used to get on rides in a matter of minutes.  Highlights included American Eagle, a classic wooden coaster that has the herky jerky movement and the body rattling jolts of an old fashioned coaster; X-Flight, an inverted wing coaster that has some impressive barrel rolls and a 180 degree swoop through a narrow chasm; The Joker Crazy Coaster, a unique coaster that climbs 12 stories and flips you over several times; The Goliath, the world’s fastest and tallest wooden coaster with an initial job of 180 feet and inversions that were nearly loop the loops.  This was easily one of the best coasters I’ve ever ridden and was the only ride we hit twice.  Our final ride was Superman:  Ultimate Flight and the one we waited the longest for at 95 minutes due to its being a signature ride.  This is an inverted coaster, but the seats actually pull up and lock into place so the riders face parallel to the ground to simulate flying like Superman.  I freely admit that right before the first drop, I held up my arms in flying pose and said, “I’ve waited all my life to say this.  Up, up and awayyy!!!!”

What better way to close the night than with more mini-golf.  So we were off to Aloha Falls in nearby Libertyville.

 

 

Aloha Falls was the course I had originally wanted to play, but we were stunned to learn that it is only open on the weekends and only until about 8pm.  The course’s signature Waterfall Course is listed as the 8th toughest in the USA and the clubhouse holds some classic board games and video game systems to play.

This is one of the most beautiful courses I’ve ever played with extremely lovely and difficult holes.  It lives up to its rep as a tough course, but I played one of the best games of my life ending 3 under par on the front nine which allowed me to race toward a fairly easy victory for the night.  Though this is very much a quality course, all 3 of us liked Lighthouse more due to its character.

We were starving after the game as we hadn’t eaten since breakfast so we stopped at a Chili’s near the hotel for dinner.  I packed away one of the biggest meals in recent memory with a Chili’s chili burger and I also scarfed a fair number of the chips and salsa Jeff got as a free appetizer.

With full stomachs, we returned to the hotel where we played a last round of Mario Party in which fate stole my victory at the last moment.  Then it was to bed as Brian wanted to leave very early in the morning to get back home.

At 7:40am, Brian and I bade good-bye to Jeff and headed back home.  Brian wanted to take the most direct route so it was all interstate for us.  Truthfully, it would not have been so bad using this route on the way to Waukegan as it skirted around Chicago, but it did take us through 5 tolls so my route did save us a bit of dough.

Though we were short a Musketeer, it was still an enjoyable trip and it was nice to bond with my most of my siblings.  If the stars align, maybe Cedar Point can be done next year.

Until the next time, happy travels!!