1 EAGLETON NOTES: August 2012



Friday 31 August 2012

Thankful Thursday: Switzerland and Lake Como

I started this post late evening Thursday and finished when I woke early Friday morning.

This evening we are on Lake Como at a place called Menaggio at the Hotel du Lac.  In the mid 1980s I read Anita Brookner's book of the same name.  I can't recall the detail other than that it was about the people staying at the hotel. but I still have the book.  I shall try and re-read it when I get home to Lewis.

I cannot tell a lie by saying that I was not disappointed when I woke to see clouds and rain this morning.  I had hoped for a dream drive through Switzerland seeing the Alps in all their glory.  As it was what we saw was rain-shrouded mountains of awesome proportions with a few glimpses of something better.  I also drove through the St Gotthard Tunnel (the tunnel is just under 16.4 kilometres (10.2 mi) in length and is the third-longest road tunnel in the world after Norway's Lærdal Tunnel (24.5 km), and China's Zhongnanshan Tunnel (18 km).

We then drove down to Lugano on the Lake of the same name, stopped and had a coffee in a lakeside cafe and then drove over to Menaggio on Lake Como.

After booking in at the hotel we found a very friendly and typically Italian trattoria for our dinner.

Then we came back to the hotel and sat on the roof terrace overlooking the lake after nightfall with all the noises and voices in the square and harbour mingling.  It was as lovely way to spend an evening with friends as I can imagine.

So tonight I am exceptional;ly thankful for the fact that I have such wonderful friends and for the opportunity to share this experience with two of them.

I managed 350 photos today despite the rain and so on so here are a few.  Hopefully at some time I'll share some more.  The first stop was at Beckenried on Lake Lucerne.  It appears to be a popular walking centre and has the longest cable car in central Switzerland.

The A2 autobahn which was our route South through Switzerland.  An amazing feat of engineering.

Through the St Gotthard Tunnel at the rest stop in the pouring rain.  Note the magnificent mountains that you can't actually see for the mist and rain.

Then a stop for coffee at Lugano:

The cafe on the lake where we had coffee
Quite a lot of Lugano precariously perches on mountain sides
And finally Menaggio on Lake Como:

View from the hotel bar
The hotel showing the terrace on top of the hotel.  My bedroom is in the 'attic'.  The most luxurious attic bedroom I'm ever likely to sleep in.
A nightcap on the terrace overlooking the lake and the town square.  Bliss.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Arrival in Switzerland

After a very solid night's sleep in Arras we left this morning just before 0900 to drive across Northern France and into Switzerland at Basle.  Our 'target' was Leistal in Switzerland.  We had one of the most enjoyable and relaxing 400 mile (640 k) drives I've ever done.   I'm not quite sure what happened but when we got to Leistal we discovered we were actually in the centre of Sissach.  I parked and just opposite was the Hotel Zur Sonne (The Sun).  We booked in.

It's a very strange thing is travelling.  For the evening and day we were in France my French language skills seemed to be adequate and I had no problems (not that I was exactly taxed, you understand).  There was a time when my German was better than my French by quite a long way.  This evening it was as if I'd never spoken the language before in my life.  The simplest of words seemed to desert me.  Fortunately when it actually mattered they returned but that was not before a delightful lady had acted as interpreter whilst Mo and Diane sorted out what they were going to eat.

If you ever happen to be passing through Sissach in Switzerland then I would heartily recommend the 
Restaurant Wystube zum Sydebändel.  We had a wonderful evening.  The atmosphere was very friendly and the patrons were obviously frequent and very much at home with some playing cards after the meal.  As an aside this reminded me very much of the days spent in Berlin in the '80s and a visit to the Kreutsberg District - something worthy of a post in itself - and some of the establishments on the Ku'Damm (short for Kurfürstendamm) where games of all sorts were played in the evening.

  It says a lot for a place when a shop in the centre of town can leave it's display out all night.

I could not resist showing you the view from my bedroom window as I post this just before midnight UK time and just after Swiss time.

Night night.  I'll speak again tomorrow - all being well.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Tuesday and One For Adrian

What happened today?

It is Diane's Birthday.  Which is a silly thing to tell you because you have no idea who Diane is.

I drove Diane and Mo from Diane's house near Merseyside to Arras in France where I am writing this  in my hotel bedroom on a computer that is thinking about running out of battery because I've left the plug converters in the car (silly me) and can't be bothered getting dressed to go and get them.

I have hardly ever driven down the M6 in the rush hour through Stoke without it being clogged up.  Today it was a clear run.  Then we used the M6 Toll Road and avoided the threatened heavy congestion around Birmingham.  In fact even with a very leisurely morning coffee break we were down at the Channel Tunnel well ahead of schedule.  Nearly 300 miles of relative motoring sanity.  Almost unheard of in my experience on an English Motorway.

Then 73 kilometres in France on an Autoroute relatively devoid of traffic.  The holiday had started.

Now fed and watered (with some red water) it's time for bed and a good sleep before the next leg tomorrow when, hopefully, I'll have something interesting to show you.

In the meantime here's one for Adrian:

How about that for a name of a falling-over-water establishment?

Monday 27 August 2012

I've Booked

my flights back to New Zealand.

I am scheduled to leave the International Terminal at Glasgow Airport at 2045 on Thursday 1 November.  I should arrive in Auckland at 1345 on Saturday 3 November and then fly on to Napier.

I am disappointed though.  Not, of course, at going back to my second home but because I will not be travelling with what has become my favourite airline: Air New Zealand.  Why?  Money.  A lot of money.  I had also hoped to go via Hong Kong and stay there for a few days both to break my journey and re-visit that wonderful, vibrant and exciting city again.

Unfortunately Air New zealand wanted almost twice the price of Emirates to get me from Glasgow to Auckland.  That stretched my loyalty a bit too much and I booked with Emirates.

The downside is that I'll be travelling in an Airbus A380 800 which is something I had hoped never to do.  C'est la vie.  The upside is that I don't have to travel through London's Heathrow which saves a  great deal of time.

Someone Cut Off My Arm: Almost

I arrived yesterday at a friend's house on Merseyside after a very pleasant 240 mile drive through sun, torrential rain and every other season except snow and ice.  Leastways that's what it felt like.  The one thing one has to say about weather in Britain is that it's not boring.  Which is more than can be said for the fact that we Brits hark on about it incessantly.

My first question after arrival was "Do you have wifi?"  An affirmative answer brought a smile.  An evening trying to figure out why none of my things would connect to it brought bemusement.  This morning it suddenly occurred to me that I'd had a similar problem with my wifi in NZ and the whiz guy had had to re-programme the router.  Anyway this morning I am using a combination of a very weak signal from a neighbour's BTFon (I love BT for their Fon) and a hotspot created by my mobile phone from the Vodafone network (an intermittent signal but wotthehellarchiewotthehell a signal is a signal).

There will be no fancy posts from me and I have only been able to upload one of my Blogland pals posts so far to read and comment.

This morning I thought I was back on Lewis when I was woken by the sound of wind and rain on the windows.  This might not be a day for exploring but rather one for sitting in front of the fire with a book.  We do have to load the car though and prepare ourselves for an early start for the Big Journey to Italy tomorrow.

Bye for now.

Saturday 25 August 2012

Glasgow's Byers Road and Ashton Lane

Arguably the centre of Glasgow University's and the West End's commercial and, to some extent social, life is Byers Road and Ashton Lane.  Both my sons at some time lived near Byers Road and over the last 30 years of my acquaintance with the city I have known since my first visit in 1969 the changes in the ambience of the area have been incredible.  The first Waitrose in Glasgow (and the third in Scotland) opened there in 2009.  Ashton Lane which was run down and almost derelict in the early 1970s has, since the now internationally renowned Ubiquitous Chip opened in about 1977, become one of the most famous drinkery/eatery places in the City. 

After the Nighthawk and I were re-united Anna and I went to Byers Road for some provisions and a coffee.

Glasgow humour?  Locally sourced game in the middle of Glasgow? 
Wonderful fish but no claim of local sourcing
The famous Ubiqutous Chip's Wee Pub at the back of the wonderful restaurant.
So famous it has already been voted Restaurant of the Year 2013.  Am I missing something here?

The Grosvenor café relocated to The Lane in the late '70s and from which Anna's school was banned
Pink wellies are all the fashion on a very warm Byers Road afternoon.  Hmmm.


Boredom warning.  This is one of my 'diary' posts.  If you don't speed read then I suggest that you skip the next three paragraphs.

Yesterday I drove from Lewis (of course I took a ferry across The Minch: on this occasion via the Calmac ferry from Tarbert on Harris to Uig on Skye) down to Anna's in Bishopbriggs.  The A82 is an attractive drive but there's no dual carriageway so it's sometimes a bit slow going.  Then we went to pick up Anna's daughter Cesca from Glasgow Airport.  She'd just returned from a visit to her brother in Napier, New Zealand.  It was a long day.

So this morning started a bit later than usual.  We had nothing planned but I had noticed that a front tyre was wearing unevenly despite the fact that I'd had a Honda Dealer check and adjust the tracking last time I was in Glasgow on the way to collect CJ.

Well, well.  It's amazing how a day can evolve when you don't have a plan.  I took the car to ATS Euromaster to have the wheel alignments checked.  That was where the expensive fun started.  Firstly the perfectly good rear tyres turned out to be different sizes and therefore unlawful.  The nearside friont tyre was fine.  The offside front tyre was legal for the UK but not for France (where I will be on Tuesday).  I was, however, far more concerned with safety than legality.  I couldn't have different tyres on the same axle of course so from having what I had assumed were four perfectly good tyres when I left home (the car having recently been MoTd as well) I ended up having to replace all four tyres and pay to have the wheels aligned.  I watched as they set up the machine - the wheels were way out.  What was worse was that one of the bushes had seized and the rear wheels could not be adjusted.  Fortunately the problem is not such that it needs to be addressed before I get back to Lewis.

So £400 later I was definitely in need of the Glad Game.  Sure enough the incident produced a very interesting time.whilst we were waiting for the car.

Firstly we went for coffee.  Now the Finneston area of Glasgow was, until fairly recently, not noted for its café culture. In fact Finneston culture was something of an oxymoron.  Now it is a thriving and burgeoning area awash with cafés (and computer repair shops).  We had coffee and cake at Piece opened by Lauckner and Moore in Argyle Street.  For me the coffee was perfect.

Just around the corner from the garage is The Northern Rotunda and one of the cranes left from the days when ships actually came this far up the River Clyde.  Please don't ask why the Rotunda is leaning.  It isn't in real life, of course, but it was better, in my judgement, to have the Rotunda leaning in the photo than the crane.

The Southern Rotunda is on the South bank of the river.  There was a logic to the names.  The two were joined by tunnels under the Clyde.  The passenger tunnel was only closed in 1980 but I've yet to meet a Glaswegian who even knew the tunnel was open in their lifetime.

Their story is fascinating.

We then went for a wander over the The Clyde Arc (known locally as the Squinty Bridge).  I had not realised how much had altered and developed since I used occasionally to frequent that part of Glasgow.

Looking back to the North bank one can see the crane from photo with the North Rotunda above and The Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (known affectionally as The Armadillo) together with the new Hydro Arena which will be for concerts and other entertainment events.

Along all the railings of the bridge and the surrounding area are crosses each with the name of a service person killed in action in Afganistan.  The huge number of crosses is both moving and a very stark reminder of the huge loss of life and sacrifices being made by our armed forces.  The explanation is here.

There is a lot of new housing on the banks of the river:

and the occasional water taxi.

Thursday 23 August 2012

Where Do I Start?

If I were a White Rabbit then I'm sure that one of you out there could be the King and tell me to start at the beginning until I get to the end when I should stop.  The problem is that there is no beginning in terms of things done nor a time when I started them.    In short life has been somewhere between panicky pandemonium and complete mental mayhem over the last few days.  That's not to say that there haven't been oases of calm: coffee and time with Gaz (on the face of it one of the calmest, most laid back people I know), Woodlands lunch with Pat, coffees with friends and neighbours.  In fact taking stock like that makes me wonder how I found time to panic and do everything that needed doing before I go away for the best part of 5 weeks to Italy via all points South in the trusty Nighthawk.  

Of course much of it was of my own making.  I hadn't arranged my flights back to NZ, I hadn't arranged European breakdown cover and I hadn't got my travel insurance.  Sometimes in the past I've dispensed with all of those if I've just been going to France but Italy by car is a tad further than my usual trips.

So in an hour from typing this paragraph I shall be on the road to Bishopbriggs via Skye and the A82 West Coast route down Loch Lomond.  

Hopefully I'll manage a few blogs over the weekend and I'm fully intending to blog about the journey, France, Switzerland and Italy.

I can hear the sympathy oozing out of you for how tired I'll be with all that driving.  Yeah right.  Well it's a hard life but somebody has to do it.

Oh and by the way.  I have now booked my flights for New Zealand.  That's another story and another post.

Bye for now.

Monday 20 August 2012

That's Technology For You

When it comes to technology I am quite sanguine and laid back.   Mostly things to do with computers don't fash me.  I used to get quite uptight about some things when my life was much more stressful than it is now but circumstances have changed that.  So the fact that I only have three more sleeps to departure from Lewis for about 5 weeks and still haven't booked my flight back to New Zealand, acquired my travel insurance or car breakdown cover for the impending holiday nor done many other things I need to do before I depart wasn't an issue this morning.


It poured with rain meaning that three loads of washing had to go through the dryer.  Glad Game: I have a dryer.   I remembered various important birthdays and so on that have crept up on me unawares. The satnav told me that there were new maps available and so far it's taken 7 hours to download them from the Garmin site and there seems to be no end in sight.  The Direct Line insurance site has given me the following message all afternoon: 

The website for the hotel chain in France told me that my booking could not be finalised because of Erreur traduire-SF39 or SF12 depending on which particular mood it was in.  So I had to ring the hotel who charged me an extra €18 because I wasn't booking on line. My French isn't good enough to hold an argument on the subject.

The company that usually provides my travel insurance wanted to charge me more for 24 days away than it usually charges me for my 6 months in New Zealand.

The Good Things about the day were coffee at The Woodlands with Gaz this morning and a visit from him here this afternoon.

I've been tracking CJ and Jo on their mobile phones and I know that they have reached their hotel for the evening but I've not had an answer to my texts so I'm hoping they are ok.  He may be my little brother but I suppose I have to accept that he's a grown lad now.

Tomorrow has to be a better day - I've still got all my packing to do and a house to clean.  I wouldn't want an untidy house if I have an accident.  Just like I wouldn't want tatty underwear.

Hey ho.  A few minutes off to write a post have made me feel better already.

PS As I was about to press Publish a text came from CJ: ...Had good day.  Weather mixed.  Midges say hello.....  I can rest easy. 

A Parting Gift

Yesterday around 1100 hrs I suddenly noticed that there was a pod of orcas out in the Minch around the mouth of the Bay about ¾ mile (1.2 km) from the house. Unfortunately the sun was not out and it was quite dull (the sun came out about 30 minutes after the orcas had departed).  A bit of sun would have made photography much easier.  Ho hum.  At least we saw the orcas.  It was a wonderful parting gift from the Island to CJ and Jo.

Sunday 19 August 2012

All Gone

When the children were little and they had finished their meal they would say proudly '"All gone."  For some silly reason I was reminded of that an hour or so ago when CJ and Jo left.  CJ's been here for about 5 weeks but we had time down in Exeter with his daughter-who-takes-photos and Son-in-law-and-Friend-who-loves-Otters before that.  So this afternoon the house seems very empty although it's  beautiful, sunny and midge-free so I have the doors and windows open and the noise of the birds and the waterfall into the pond are competing with Rachmaninov's 2nd Symphony (and since I wrote that, Katie Melua) for my attention.   

It's been great having you CJ (and for a few days you, too, Jo).  Now I shall have to do the crosswords on my own again.  I shall have to think.  Arghhhh.

Now it's all systems go to sort out my trip with friends to Glasgow and Italy via France and Switzerland.  I leave after four sleeps.  What happens after our time in Italy I'm not sure but I'll be making my way back via friends and family and arriving back in Eagleton in time to leave about 5 weeks before I set off back to my New Zealand home.

I would say "Stop the world I want to get off" but I've learned that one has to be very careful for what one wishes. 

Friday 17 August 2012

Common Sense from New Zealand

Thursday 16 August 2012

Thankful Thursday: The Perils of the Sea

Jaz posted her Thankful Thursday post today.  It's always good to see a post from Jaz who, as most of you will know by now, was the inspiration behind Thankful Thursday.  Today someone (commenting on her post I think) made the point that one should be thankful all the time because there is so much about which to be thankful.  Of course the person is correct.  After all Virginia has titled her blog So Very Very Thankful.  Most of us who have had some seriously life threatening experience or have battled cancer are very thankful people.  We are thankful for the fact that we wake up in the morning.

I must digress for a paragraph.  The lady at the supermarket checkout remarked a few days ago on what a lovely day it was.  I said that every day when I woke up I decided that it was a Good Day because I'd woken up and that was better than the alternative.  Big mistake.  Huge mistake.  [Again].  "No" she said [I was going to say 'opined' but Frances would tell me off] "It would be better if we didn't and then we would be blessed with eternal salvation.  I used to be an atheist.  But now I know better.".  Now I don't know about you but so far as I'm aware the majority of Christians seem to want to stay alive.  I assume that it's being so cheerful as what keeps her going.

Anyway, as I was saying, most of us can  find something to be thankful about without trying too hard. Today, however I've decided on a big thankful.  A thank that any of us who live on an Island or near the sea should give every day.  A thank for the men and women of the Coastguard and Lifeboat services who risk their lives constantly for those in peril on the sea.  Thinking about it I don't hear the word peril much nowadays but there's a lot of it around.

From my windows I can often see the Coastguard search and rescue helicopter and crew practicing.  

Some years ago I was on a ferry in mighty seas with the S & R Helicopter overhead doing that in earnest.  So today I am exceptionally thankful for the Lifeboatmen and women and the Coastguard crews and the many other people who brave the storms to save the lives of others.