West Highland Way: Milngavie to Drymen

8-29-2015:  Our long awaited start to the West Highland Way has finally arrived.
WWW_Day1_E-1090145e

We stroll down to a cute little dining area with flags at the tables to identify our country. Kind of glad this part of the world isn’t upset with the U.S.A. right now as our flag towers over the table. 

WWW_Day1_E-1090150e

Living large at Best Foot Forward Bed & Breakfast this morning as we fuel up for our first day of hiking with granola cereal, smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, toast, juice and most importantly… coffee.

The air is peppered with light conversation as we visit with neighboring tables with flags from Scotland, Germany and Holland. All are here for the same purpose ~ to hike the West Highland Way.

WWW_Day1_E-1090153eWe thank and bid farewell to our hosts and they seem to especially giggle when Randy tells them his name:  I’m Randy! 

WWW_Day1_E-1090167eReady or not… here we go!!

Destination:  Twelve miles down the trail to Drymen, Scotland.

A Map of the West Highland Way

 

WWW_Day1_E-1090318e

12 miles later… Ahhhh, home sweet home as we receive a Scottish welcome at Glenalva Bed & Breakfast. We discover that we may be able to eat our evening meal at the oldest pub in Scotland, but we’d better get our names in as soon as we can.

Can’t miss an opportunity like that, so we drop our backpacks and walk into town. Our list of B & B rules says we must be in by 10 p.m.

Not a problem.

Click on the link below and you’ll view a short slide show/video of the scenery on this day. Locals say the views the first couple of days of the West Highland Way are boring, but I’m quite enjoying the sights.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Eiffel Tower: Sights, sounds & smells…

Photo by Bryon Meyer

Photo by Bryon Meyer

The Eiffel Tower is a “must see” when visiting the grand city of Paris, so we crammed this icon into our itinerary.

We walk from the metro… Hmmm… where is a bathroom?  Ah-ha! Just after we passed the Louvre (and a Gypsy having a loud argument with an African Eiffel Tower vendor), Randy spies a small pay toilet and he pays the lady attendant.  Randy proceeds to conduct his business  only to notice the woman is still standing there watching him.  Awkward…

After a lengthy walk, we arrive at the latticed wrought iron landmark and find we are not alone. The area around this popular tower is crammed with tourists, vendors with large rings of tiny Eiffel Tower replicas, Gypsies attempting to scam tourists… Do you speak English?  Sign my petition for orphans… along with the regular pick pockets. They would have to dig pretty deep to get any of my valuables and I’ve learned to say “No,” so I’m still feeling pretty secure.

We stroll through the area and see a man urinating in the bushes right by the sidewalk. We continue on our way and see another man doing the same thing and we soon discover why.  The only bathroom facilities we could find was one of the automatic pods that takes a minute to disinfect  between users.  Long line backed up waiting, waiting, and waiting some more. This may explain why so many areas in the city smell like urine.

The Eiffel Tower, La Tour Eiffel in French, was the main exhibit of the Paris Exposition — or World’s Fair — of 1889. It was constructed to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution and to demonstrate France’s industrial prowess to the world. Not all were pleased with the project as a group of 300 artists, sculptors, writers and architects sent a petition to the commissioner of the Paris Exposition, pleading him to halt construction of the “ridiculous tower” that would dominate Paris like a “gigantic black smokestack.”

There are many fun fact to know and tell about this massive structure, but the most interesting to me was the effect of the sun. Logically, the tower was built to sway slightly in the wind, but the sun affects the tower more. As the sun-facing side of the tower heats up, the top moves as much as 7 inches (18 centimeters) away from the sun. The sun also causes the tower to grow about 6 inches.  livescience.com

Even though the tourist trap atmosphere and lack of bathrooms at the Eiffel Tower are negatives, you can’t help but be amazed at the architecture and stare at the design from all angles possible. It is a worthwhile stop.

Best advice when visiting the Eiffel Tower?  Restrict your liquids or wear Depends.

Shopping for bargains in Paris


Shopping in Paris… high fashion glamour at its finest, right?  I guess that’s not how we roll.

Sympa is a bargain clothing store located in the Montmartre area of Paris where you can find lingerie, dresses, blouses, skirts, and coats–all designer seconds from previous collections at a 75% discount. There are at least five Sympa shops dotted around Montmartre area of Paris, France.

I believe this Sympa store is located along the rue de Steinkerque, a street once notorious for its prostitutes and dance halls. Imagine this “dumpster style” of shopping inside a former brothel that Pablo Picasso frequented during his Blue Period.

If only walls could talk…
2014Paris-1080009plcrSupplies are renewed on Wednesdays and Saturdays and we are lucky enough to walk by on a Saturday.

2014Paris-1080010clA couple of tips:  Know your European size number as there are no dressing rooms. Keep your money and other valuables close to your body for this is pick-pocket heaven.

I’m not a shopper so I think I’ll pass on this opportunity to locate the ultimate bargain.  Even Randy passed this one up.

Exploring Paris: Art, toilets & crepes, oh my!

 

2014Paris-1070994

Looks like we have security at the Artists’ Market in Montmartre area of Paris, France. Watch out, Bad Guys!

2014Paris-1070992

 Place du Tertre is where the legends of 20th century art used to roam. Now it’s filled with watercolors, portrait sketchers and caricaturists.

2014Paris-1070991

 Picasso, Vlamenck, Derain, Soutine, Modigliani, Van Gogh and countless others lived and worked in these narrow streets.

2014Paris-1070989

 Wall plaques identify buildings and cafes as historic with crucial info such as “Hemmingway once peed in our bathroom…” etc.  ~ http://www.aparisguide.com/montmartre/

2014Paris-1080012dmv

Speaking of toilets, we find dire shortages of bathroom facilities throughout the city (which explains the frequent urine smells in stairways and in the metro.) and begin to plan our itinerary around estimated time of need. (I believe Joan may be researching the next toilet location as she waits her turn.) A few rare instances one may find a futuristic looking toilet pod as pictured above and below. ( Paris Sanisette:  Click on this link for detailed operation instructions.)

2014Paris-1080011dmv

The door closes after the previous user and it takes a full minute for the empty toilet pod to go through its disinfecting cycle before the next person can use it. A robotic arm comes out to scrub the toilet and the floor is cleaned so I patiently wait my turn. That extra minute between users is a long time if a person has to REALLY go and there is a long line. Wish me luck as I allow the doors to the unknown to close upon me. If I fall asleep in there or find myself locked in, it will automatically open after 15 minutes. So they say…

2014Paris-1080004dmv

With that business taken care of we can focus on finding real French crepes since all of this tourist activity has made us hungry. This crepe vendor looks authentic enough, right? 2014Paris-1080006dmvDoesn’t that look just nummy…?

Planes, trains, buses… oh, my!

us-europe-mapflatIt took three days of traveling by planes, trains and bus to finally arrive in St. Jean Pied de Port, the traditional start of the Camino Frances or the French Way of St. James, to begin our hiking adventure along an ancient Roman road steeped with history along its challenging path.

Plane from Minneapolis to Iceland (8 hour layover), another plane from Iceland to Paris and train from Paris to Bordeaux, from Bordeaux to Bayonne, train/bus from Bayonne to St. Jean.  Whew!!

map

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (literally meaning “Saint John at the foot of the mountain pass” in French) is an ancient town in south-western France in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains. The town is also the old capital of the traditional Basque province of lower Navarre.

2014Cam-1070128dmvBasque people have managed to preserve their own identifying characteristics such as their own culture and language throughout the centuries and today a large part of the population shares a desire to be self-governed, either with further political autonomy or full independence.  ~ wikipedia.org

2014Cam-1060799pophpLooks like we aren’t the only ones to discover this location.  Are all of these people really going to start walking early tomorrow morning?  Crowd and traffic control may be needed, if that is the case!

2014Cam-1060797popdmvIn St. Jean Pied de Port, flows the Nive River. For years, it has been an inspiration to artists such as in The Bridge at St. Jean Pied de Port by Louis Dewis.

2014Cam-1060789dmvWe find our cute little hostel, Gite Azkorria, leave our boots in the entry and settle in to our home for this night only.

7325973Hooray for railings on the top bunks!  Not always the case…

2014Cam-1060795pophpcrPilgrims attempting the walk may light a candle at the local cathedral before embarking on their journey.

2014Cam-1060800popcrWe found a local outdoor bar, instead, to calm our nerves for the upcoming start of our hike.  A restless night of sleep lies ahead as we wonder if we have bitten off more than we can chew.

2014Cam-1060803dmvhpThese jet lagged, travel weary pilgrims are just chewing at the bit to get started – can’t you tell?

Barefoot feet in a swirl of color… Hmong traditional dance

People with European descent are not the only ones to dance on the prairie…

SMAC2014NR-9509dmvcr

Bright colors swirl, bells jingle rhythmically and  bare feet gracefully step in time with the music.  These dancers call Walnut Grove their home and give the Little House On the Prairie community another dimension and layer of culture.  I had the wonderful opportunity to watch a public performance of a group of young, Hmong traditional dancers at the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council sponsored Artist Retreat which was hosted at the Danebod Folk School in Tyler, Minnesota on May 3, 2014.  I love how their eyes twinkle and their faces reflect the mood of the music showing great pride for the home of their ancestors.  Pride in our heritage is a common thread between us.

SMAC2014NR-9591kpdmv

SMAC2014NR-9714pldmvcr

SMAC2014NR-9625kpdmvclr2cr

 

Dance on the prairie…sing to the skies.

Winter has finally succumbed to the ever persistent nudges of spring.  Dance on the prairie… sing to the skies.

Rejoice.

Prairie Dancer (Gary, SD Cemetary View)

Prairie Dancer (Gary, SD Cemetery View)

Canon 5D Mark 2 ~ ISO 200 ~ F 8.0 ~ 1/200 ~ 70-200 IS Canon L lens zoomed to 200