Saturday, October 3, 2015

Sunday, September 27, 2015

36... maybe 37... weekends left in Amman.

Promotion list comes out in the next couple weeks.

Assignments come out in right around a month.

Come on already!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Giant's Causeway

Some of the natural formations are truly hexagonal.  And even though there were hundreds of people at the site it was easy enough to get to an area that was clear of others.  

You'll notice he's in a tshirt.  An hour before
it was pouring rain and hailing.

The weather didn't know what it was doing.

Jonathon ran off elsewhere.

Naturally occurring and naturally falling.
Giant's Causeway was one of the highlights of our R&R for me.  I'd actually not planned on going even though N. Ireland isn't that big because our house was practically on the east coast and GC was on the west.  Scheduled spontaneity kicked in and off we went.  Not only did we have some of the best food on the trip at the nearby "The Nook," but Giant's Causeway is something to behold.  

Friday, September 4, 2015

Food from our trip

There always has to be a post about food, right?
Murphy's Pub in Downpatrick

Grilling at the house in Strangford.

The Nook at Giant's Causeway.

Fish chowder at The Nook.

The Nook.

Stew at The Nook.

Truffled mac&cheese at Bistro 401 at Titanic, Belfast.

Bistro 401.

The Lobster Pot in Strangford.

Haggis Bonbons at The Inn on the Mile, Edinburgh.


Right next to the Embassy was Jordan's first Soapbox Derby, or Soupbox with the local accent.  Over 60 entries prepared to run the downhill.  It was great fun to watch, but like anything in Jordan it wasn't really a smooth event.  The 1 p.m. start time pushed to 2:30 p.m.  No seating. Little shade. Blazing hot.  And roughly 10 to 1 of Jordanian males to anyone else.  Even with the big screens following the cars as they took the course, it's hard to watch when really tall people are along the fence with umbrellas right over their heads.  Seriously.

According to the people running the event, much of the delay was due to people wandering onto the course.  Over the rails, over the hay bales, just wandering around.  Seriously.  And then once the races finally did start, people decided that between the rails and the hay bales were great places to sit.  Even after one car smashed straight through the hay, crunched a course marshal, and slammed into the rail.  People did not move until they were yelled at, and then they thought it was all jolly good fun.  Stupid.

We watched about 8 cars go by, and would have stayed for more but for the folks (with the umbrellas) who started smoking, and the sun was glaring down on those of us without hats.

Dudes with umbrellas.

Towards the bottom.

This was a dentist car.  It lost it's upper teeth at the first ramp.

Supposed to look like the dome on City Mall.

Plow digger machine thing.
Three entries were from the Embassy but we didn't stick around to see them.  We thought we should have camped out earlier, set up our tent with chairs and a cooler and everything.  That would have been great, but I'm not so sure our space would have been respected.

I'd say "Next year" but... you know...

Friday, August 28, 2015

Your mother was a hamster...

We had a very brief foray into the Highlands during our time in Scotland.  I'd hired a guide who essentially works off TripAdvisor recommendations.  He picked us up in a van right from our tiny tiny flat, and off we went with our first stop at Stirling Castle.  Stirling Castle is lovely, but the location on the hill and the town below are the real highlights.  The highlands are off in one direction while the fields disappear off in the others.  Inside the castle, the draw for our family was The Argyll & Sutherland Highlander Regimental Museum.  If it involves guns and war history, you know Nicholas is there.  If it involves weird off the wall stuff, you'll find Jonathon.  If it raises questions, Rebecca is interested. And if there are stories to tell, Katherine is the one reading them.  So yeah. The Regimental Museum was cool.

Edinburgh Castle had a great tour to see the Scottish Crown Jewels and the big rock - The Stone of Destiny.  That's a mighty big title for a a flattish rock.  But it is a big deal as at each coronation the stone is brought back to London to show that the new king/queen is also head of Scotland. We learned a lot about James VI of England aka James I of Scotland at Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, and Westminster Abbey.

We departed Stirling Castle on our way to the Highlands.  The curtain of gray and mist is unmistakable as the line between here and there.  On our way to our next stop we stopped to feed Highland Coos, Honey and Hamish.  You know how Slimer, well, slimes people when they get too close?  Well, these guys loves their carrots and turnips and potatoes, but if their tongue hits your hand you have long slimy tendrils dripping down your wrist.  That's what jeans are for.

If you hadn't noticed, everything is green and very muddy.  After living in the Middle East for 3 years where you never have to check the weather report but maybe twice a year, in Scotland you don't really have to check the weather either but for the opposite reason. Just about every 5 minutes, the weather changes.  We had so much rain.  Every day. Rain. And in the highlands rain is the norm, so appreciate the sun when you see it.

Highland cows are short stocky things with horns that can gore you with a shake of the head.  It's a good thing there were two rows of fencing between us and them and their slimy tongues.

Loch Ness is about 4 hours away from Edinburgh.  Some day.  Some day I will get there.  But for our trip, we visited the much nearer Loch Lubnaig.  Our guide challenged the family to a rock skipping contest and made a good show of it, but Nicholas was right there with him, skipping his rocks 10+ times.  Most of the rest of us managed maybe 4.

It was time for lunch so we headed back the way we came to Mohr Fish in Callander.  A quiet and very basic seafood stop, it was just this side of quaint.  No real atmosphere or anything to draw someone in, but the food was decent.  Over this trip we tended to eat our weight in fish&chips and fish chowder (unless you're Rebecca or Nicholas).

The Scots apparently believe that the moment you've eaten is the time to go on a hike.  They seem to think that every time of every day is the right time for a hike.  They love to hike.  After lunch, we went on a hike.  I don't recall the name of the park, though sometimes I think Scotland is one giant park, but a decent little hike led to a covered wooden bridge over a waterfall.  It was here were had our mini whiskey tasting.

We are not whiskey people.  I won't even try with the names as I didn't take photos of the labels but I remember there were far too many consonants and not nearly enough vowels.  And they were terrible.  Our guide swears they were great, but my throat and belly begged to differ.  One was incredibly smokey and peaty that tasted like I'd inhaled dragon breath. The other was a single malt that tasted like a burning river.  The remainder of my tastes were offered to the waterfall gods.

Though it may look like the youngsters are also drinking whiskey
they were offered the famed Irn-Bru soft drink.  Of which they
did not enjoy either.

While having our tastes, the skies opened.  It poured.  We were under a cover, but on a schedule and who knew how long the deluge would last.  It thundered.  It lightninged.  It was actually the lightning that made the decision for us.  If we could have stayed we would have waited for the shift to a drizzle, but instead we gathered ourselves up and dove into the downpour.  Up the muddy hills, through giant puddles, jeans became second skins, shoes kept the water in and not out.  It was awesome.  At the van the heat went on and we slowly began to dry.  I mean, if you can't run through the Scottish country poorly dressed for the weather after taking in some whisky on a covered bridge by a waterfall and think it's fantastic, then you're missing out.

On our way to the Loch, our guide pointed out a small and apparently dilapidated castle we passed by.  It was to be our destination later in the day, and went by the name of Doune Castle.

Now, we went to Doune Castle.  Part of the castle was being used for a wedding as the horse and carriage outside attested to, but we visited the rest until the ceremony was over and thoroughly enjoyed the audio tour. The audio tour was narrated by Terry Jones.

Yeah, that Terry Jones
Just about every room in Doune Castle was used, many simply from different angles for different "rooms," in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  The audio guide had options after the "history of this room" segments for Python fans to hear what scene was recorded where.

This stop became, with no research prior to this tour, the highlight of Ian's trip.

Not for the clumsy footed.

"All the kings said I was daft to build a castle in a swamp,
but I built it all the same, just to show 'em. It sank into the
swamp. So I built a second one.  That sank into the
swamp. So I built a third one.  That burned down,
fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth
one stayed up."

"Guards! Make sure the Prince doesn't leave this
room until I come and get 'im."

"Your mother was a hamster and your father
smelt of elderberries!"
The spot where this was actually done
was a little tight.
Of course if you're an Outlander fan you'll recognize this castle as Castle Leoch.  I managed to watch the first episode of the series on the flight to England, and then episode 2 on the return flight.

It's no wonder that Scotland has caught our attention as a possibility for... what?  Retirement?

Who knows.

If a day trip like this is up your alley or even if you're just heading up Edinburgh way, we highly recommend Chris Walker (no relation to Walker shortbread) of Local Eyes Tours. It's really him doing his thing, he's not part of any big tourism program. He does walking tours of Edinburgh, day trips like ours, multi-day trips through the Highlands, you name it.  He's approachable and chatty, loves to talk world politics, is engaging but steps back to let you do your own thing too.  Tell him we sent you.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Game of Thrones Geekdom

Northern Ireland is Winterfell.  And the Twins.  And Castle Black.  And so much more.

Audley's Castle.  One of the Twins.

One day we went out driving and geocaching and not being stalky at all, when we decided to swing by The Linen Mill studio.  From the road we could see a huge ship in front of a green screen, and off to the side was a big castle structure going which looked remarkably like Castle Black.

So like any good fans, we parked near by and nonchalantly walked up to the gates.  It was only right at the gate that two very friendly security guards stopped us.  They let us down quickly but gently when we asked if they gave tours.  "Not a chance."

As Ian's FB status put it:  Saw a giant ship in front of green screen, and a castle in mid-build. Security guard: "I can neither confirm nor deny that that is a set. You might be undercover HBO."
Titanic Studios.  Aka the Paint Mill
The kids tried at another studio.  This one is right next to the Titanic Museum/Memorial. They walked across the lot and around the building until they found a door and a buzzer to ring.  Another nice security guy said that No, they couldn't come in.  But they did see Dothraki tents set up outside and a big boat.  Photos were strictly prohibited.  A sign on the fence essentially threatened bodily harm if anyone tried with a drone.

Visiting with Summer!

The Cuan restaurant in Strangford.

The Cuan has wonderful food, great staff, and GoT stalking history all its own as it's where a number of cast members ate during the first couple seasons.

Inch Abbey - Robb Stark's camp.

We are all Starks in the
Winterfell courtyard.

Some of us were better archers than others.

Meet Grey Wolf!
Two of the Stark pups live here with their owners. The twins (actual twins, not the buildings) told how they'd gone out for roles as extras and it was their dad who drew the director's attention. Honestly, there's a lot more that could be shared, but if you go to Winterfell it's far better to learn about it all on your own.  Great stories, and of course the pups were wonderful.  On our official date only one pup was available (I should stop calling them pups, they're 5 years old... though when you first saw them on screen they are the puppies pulled from the stag) but when we returned a couple days later the other was around, so William (archer and storyteller extraordinaire) remembered and let us see Odin.

Probably the best part.

The dark hedges.  Beautiful and very short.
Wish people wouldn't park in it.

Not so dark and hedgy at this end.

We actually came to this spot for a geocache.  Only to find it
was part of River Run.  The pier was built for the set then
left for the residents.

And if you do enough GoT stuff, you get
Winterfell Craft Beer.  Which isn't half bad.
If you're really into stalking, which we were during our time in N. Ireland, we recommend Watchers on the Wall and especially the post that mentioned Ian's tweet. It was frustrating following it and knowing that we'd missed someone here or there.  For example, Kit Harington was at the Costa next to the Starbucks we went to... the next day.  Emilia Clarke took photos with folks at the airport the day after we flew to Edinburgh.  Ah well.  Maybe we'll catch them at a Con sometime.