If You Build It They Will Come, Part 2

There are certain places that are “must-sees” around the world for different reasons. For Catholics, that place is the Vatican. For people whose ancestors immigrated to the US from Europe in the years spanning 1850-1950, that place might be Ellis Island. For golfers, (even very bad lapsed ones!) that place is the Old Course at St. Andrews. Once we scheduled our cruise and realized how close the town of St. Andrews is to our port in Edinburgh (South Queensferry), we knew without question how we would be spending our day.

Gordon from G&S Tours suggested a route, and 8 of us prepared to get an early start on our day that would include Falkland and the small coastal fishing villages of Fife as well as several hours in St. Andrews. We wouldn’t be able to play, but since we would be walking on golf’s holy ground we were excited anyway!

South Queensferry is a tender port, and we were a little worried about a wait to get off the ship. Luckily, one couple in our group had two Priority Tender passes to cover the group, and we were able to walk right onto a tender. It didn’t seem backed-up or even busy when we went ashore, but it was nice to have the insurance!

For once, Mother Nature didn’t cooperate at the beginning of the day. We started out with low clouds and an annoying drizzle. By lunch time it would give way to the bright sunshine and brilliant blue skies we’d had throughout the trip.

Our first stop was in the village of Falkland. The tiny rural town dates back to before the 12th century. In recent years, it’s best know for being an Outlander filming site, but it’s also widely known for its horticulture. Even though the day was gloomy, I could still see the beauty of the flowers and gardens at every turn.

St. Andrew’s is such a beautiful town! Of course, there are the golf courses, but there is so much more. St. Andrew’s Cathedral is fascinating, and the village and university are just charming. We started our visit with time to explore the cathedral grounds before we went to the golf course for our tour. Most of these pictures were taken later in the day when we went back for a few minutes. The light was much better, and I had corrected my camera settings from the morning’s accidental moving of a dial.😳

After the cathedral, we were off to St. Andrew’s links where we met our guide, Gordon’s friend Fergus. He was fascinating because in addition to golf knowledge he is a horticulturalist and explained a lot about the course architecture and the reasons behind the construction.

St. Andrews was both familiar and not at the same time, if that makes sense. Nothing looks exactly like it does on TV, and the Old Course at St. Andrews is no exception. I was surprised to learn that St. Andrews is not one, but SEVEN courses, all stacked one next to another, with the most famous Old Course right in the middle. We also learned that the courses are public land, and as such anyone has the right to walk on them right in the midst of the golfers. Needless to say this causes quite a bit of chaos with golfers and tourists all trying to get a photo on the famous Swilcan Bridge! St. Andrews is closed on Sundays unless there is a tournament, and the grounds are used for picnicking, riding horses, and bicycling by locals.

We chose to eat lunch right there at the golf course in the interest of maximizing our time. It wasn’t cheap, but it was filling and reasonably fast, so our objectives were met. After lunch we had some time to shop and were able to take care of a few Christmas gifts. Buying Christmas presents in July is always a great thing, as long as I remember who I bought for and where I stashed them!

After lunch and shopping we spent a few more minutes at the cathedral and/or castle before heading towards the coastal fishing villages on our way back to the ship. I had requested an up close and personal look at a Hairy Coo, and Gordon did the best he could but the cows (coos) just wouldn’t cooperate! They were where he thought they would be, but about as far from the road as possible! It’s almost like they knew I was coming with my camera and they weren’t feeling photogenic that day. Here is what I was hoping to see:

This is what I actually saw:

We hugged the coast and made brief stops in Crail and Anstruther, with more time in Pittenweem — each town was more idyllic than the one before! Pittenweem also had the added benefit of a great ice cream store so we had enough energy to make it back to the ship!

When we got back to South Queensferry the line for the tender was long but not unreasonable. I think we waited about 30 minutes but that was OK because it had turned into a beautiful day! While we were waiting things did get a little “chippy” when buses coming back tried to offload passengers in such a way as to allow them to cut the line. Fortunately there was also a lot of staff on hand to help organize people, and even though there was plenty of grumbling everybody took their place in line.

We were back on board and cleaned up for our evening long before the last tenders made it back to the ship. We sat in Vines with our wine and watched the proceedings for a while before dinner. Our dinner was long and leisurely, and true to form I didn’t have much left by the time we finished eating. I went to the casino for a little while, but luck was definitely elusive on this trip!

We only had two days left. The next day was a sea day (and packing) followed by our last port of LeHavre and a full day tour to the U.S. War Sites in Normandy. I was really looking forward to Normandy, but definitely not excited about getting off the ship and flying home!

What a HOOT!

Our day in the northern highlands of Scotland was a success from start to finish!

We had booked a full day tour with Gordon of G&S Tours, and our agenda was ambitious. Gordon’s tour didn’t disappoint…we had paid slightly more to be in a vehicle with 8 Captain’s Chairs and wifi, and since we spent a lot of time in the van I thought it was money well spent. £6.25/person is a small price to pay for comfort and a window seat!🙂

Our first stop was at “Millionaire’s View” for a chance to stretch our legs and enjoy the stunning scenery.

We followed that with a visit to the Falls of Shin, where we had the opportunity to see the salmon swimming upstream to spawn. They were sparse and EXTREMELY difficult to photograph, but Chip managed to catch one towards the end of this video.

From the falls, it was on to Dunrobin Castle for the main event — a falconry display. As we drove through the hills, we noticed it was becoming extremely hazy. We learned it was smoke from a heather fire caused by the drought. Fortunately the wind shifted and it was gone by the time we left Dunrobin, but it was pretty unpleasant for about an hour.

During the owl part of the demonstration, I captured one of my favorite travel pictures of all time. Is it technically great? Not even close, but I think you’ll agree it’s a great shot!

All I have to say is it’s a good thing the owl was well trained. He sure looked like he had lunch (me!😳) on his mind, and all I could do was hit the shutter and pray I didn’t embarrass myself in public.😂 Jim was using my phone and tried to video me taking pictures of the owl, but unfortunately he double clutched. The bird was close enough that his wing clipped Jim’s shoulder.

It was a fantastic demonstration, and we had some time to explore at Dunrobin after the show.

By this time we had worked up an appetite, so it’s a good thing lunch was next. We went to the Royal Dornoch Golf Hotel for Sunday dinner. They had a good but limited menu, and we chose the traditional Roast Beef Sunday meal, complete with Yorkshire Pudding. Yum! It was a nice, relaxing break in the middle of the day.

We weren’t done yet! No visit to Scotland is complete without a visit to a distillery, so we were off to Glenmorangie. We passed through the beautiful village of Dornoch on our way to the distillery.

The facilities and process were impressive, but I admit to letting my attention wander since I’m not a fan of Scotch.

On our way back to port, we made one final stop in the quaint seaside village of Ballintore to see the “Mermaid of the North” statue.

Back at the pier we said our “see you soons” to Gordon since he was our guide for Edinburgh the next day, and quickly went back to the ship since our day was far from over.

We met in Vines about 6:30, and at 7:00 we made our way to Sabattini’s for the Tuscan Wine Pairing Dinner. It was delicious, but many courses and a LOT of food and wine.

It was all I could do to stay awake long enough to get ready for bed.

We were excited about the next day — a trip to St. Andrews to see what many consider to be the birthplace of golf. ⛳️

Sea and Sky(e)

Saturday was our first of two sea days, and really the first down time Jim and I had had since we got off the plane at Heathrow on June 26th — 12 days earlier.😳 Predictably I woke up early, did my coffee thing, and sorted papers and dirty clothes…all while Jim slept!

I decided since I was up I needed to take advantage of a sleeping ship and get some laundry done. I know a lot of people say they don’t want to do laundry on vacation, but I really appreciate Princess having laundromats for the passengers to use. It’s a win/win in my book. I get clean clothes, AND I get to control the temperature and the detergent choices! My early start worked to perfection and I was able to do two loads with no wait for a machine. During the cycles I went back to my cabin and started trying to make sense of the piles of paper, ticket stubs, receipts, and general mess that had accumulated in our cabin during a week of going at full speed.

I finished the laundry before 9:00 and was perfectly content puttering in the cabin for a while. I had countless pictures to look at, and the only place I needed to be was on my balcony about 10:30. The captain had said we would be passing the lighthouse on Skye around 11:00, so I figured as long as I was out there for that I could do whatever I wanted until then.

Jim, however, had other plans. He had emerged from his cocoon about the same time I was putting the laundry away and returned to the room with a giant latte for the balcony. He went out, and less than a minute later came back in to get me. You know where this is going, don’t you?🙄

The lighthouse was in the distance. In the distance behind us.😢

Captain Nash must have had the pedal to the metal, because we passed the lighthouse a good two hours ahead of schedule. I was RIGHT THERE, folding socks and undies, and I missed it! Oh well, we are planning to go back to Scotland and tour with Tommy in the not too distant future, and hopefully I’ll get a closer look at what I missed!

Other than the disappointment of missing my lighthouse, it really was a beautiful day and we spent hours sitting outside. The temperature was perfect (in Northern Scotland!) and once again we had mostly sunny skies and calm seas. Jim and I were perfectly content to be on our balcony watching Scotland go by, but many people took advantage of the conditions to sunbathe on their balconies or by the pool.

We had a wonderful, lazy day. I know we skipped breakfast, and I don’t remember what we did for lunch…maybe we grabbed something and ate on the balcony? The day was that lazy!

I know we went for Gelato at some point during the day. I saw this sign and got a chuckle out of it. Just in case you were wondering, Pecan Nuts contain nuts!😂

Finally at about 2:30 we mustered up enough energy to do something important…taste wine! We don’t go to a lot of these any more, but this was a “premium” tasting, and as soon as I heard the word “Caymus” I ran to hand over my $25 for a few sips of wine! I thought the selections and the food pairings were pretty good, but a couple of the speakers describing the wine got a little long winded. I mean, we all know that some wines taste like rich soil, but does it really take 10 minutes to explain? And who eats rich soil anyway?🤔

The evening was mostly the usual…meet for drinks, go to dinner. Since we were in Scotland, our “formal” attire was enhanced by my family tartan…a sash for me and a tie for Jim. I think (fuzzy memory!) this was the night we decided to try to switch things up and start at Bellini’s, but it was a) too loud and b) too crowded. We retreated to our usual spot in Crooners before dinner.

After a nice and relaxing meal that included some great Italian wine and birthday cake (a month late!) Jim and I went to the production show — Secret Silk. It was excellent, and I think Princess has really stepped up their entertainment.

We sat with a couple from our Cruise Critic Roll Call, and it was there we learned the Fab Four had skipped out on another tour.🤬 If there’s a bright side, it’s that this time the organizer heard my story so she was proactive and called. Of course, she found out they had no intention of showing up. Since she had advance notice, she was at least able to replace two of the four.

After the show was the balloon drop, which I skipped this time, and bed. We would be off the ship again early the next day in Invergordon, our most northern port!