No pictures.  My phone died and took them with it.

We made it to mainland Scotland on Monday, August 15.  Our port of entry was Invergordon, port for Inverness and Loch Ness.  I finally got to get off with Pat and Paul.  Now that I have a little less to do, and they are leaving the ship a little later, the planets aligned.  Elvon got his gym time early and, between the Olympics and the Presidential Election, he has lots to watch on TV these days.

We walked along the main street of town, and this one is nothing like Westmount.  After a mile or so, we got to the train station.  It took us a while to figure out which track we would be going out on, and that we could buy our tickets on the train.  No matter, because, we had about 40 minutes to the next train.  It was a lovely ride through the countryside, and we enjoyed it.  The weather helped.  This was the first day of the cruise that we were walking about in sunshine.

Pat had an app, and she had picked a nice walking tour along the river Ness.  I shortened it by about half, because I was flagging.  They are much more experienced walkers.  I spent the extra time in Pringle’s shop.  The cashmere sweaters were disappointing, designed in Scotland and made in China.  The designs weren’t even unique.  They were the same old twin sets that I likely have a dozen of.

I turned to tartans and made the interesting discovery that there was a lot of Harris tweed about the place, but there doesn’t seem to be a Harris tartan.  Did they actually ship the entire Harris clan to Ireland 200 years ago?  I am pretty sure that’s where Harris Tweed is headquartered. I have therefore deduced that Elvon is Irish, the good kind that fought with the Catholics, no less.

I ended up buying some shortbread sheep and went out to the street.  Pat and Paul were just about to cross the bridge to Pringle’s, so our timing was spot on.  We made the next train and I took Elvon to “The Music of the Highlands” at 4:45 pm in the Silhouette Theatre.  It was pretty amateurish, but they put their hearts into it.  The Ghurkas in Hong Kong did a better sword dance.

We had too much fun at dinner and missed the show, but the Masqued Ball on Deck 3 was fun.

We overnighted in Edinburgh on August 16.  I had been looking forward to it.  I had tee’d up dinner out at a swell restaurant on the Royal Mile, where the best of Scottish food could be had.  Willy Grey had chosen The Witchery for us, but it was very full, with four Fringe festivals in town, and not very accessible.  The nice lady there, with whom I had been corresponding, said they had another, fully accessible, restaurant, called The Tower, where the food was exactly the same and the view was better.  It probably has less old world charm, but it looked like the place for us.

But, “the best laid plans of mice and men, gang aft aglay”, as Robbie Burns put it.  There wasn’t enough water in the Leith harbor and we had to tender 2.5 miles.  I canceled the resie.  I worked all day, getting a letter ready for distribution on the 17th, on my travel business and on personal stuff.

We had a nice dinner and went to a more professional Scottish show.  I have now had enough kilts and bagpipes to last me a good while.

We met Pat and Paul for breakfast, on the 17th, with the printed letters.  They collated them, with the comments cards, and distributed them, while Elvon and I went to the gym.  The plan was to meet up in Edinburgh, but it never happened.  By the time I got to town, by tender and public transportation, they were half way up Calton Hill.  I had slept wrong, and had a sore shoulder, so I opted for the HopOnHopOff bus, sat upstairs, because it was nice and sunny, and rode it all the way around.

Then I got a bus back to Leith, that took me to Ocean Terminal, home of the Royal Yacht Britannia, decommissioned in 1997 and brought here.  It has a very nice audio-guide tour and I can recommend it.  I got back in time for us to meet Pat and Paul at sail away and proceed directly from there to our reservations at the Lawn Club Grill.  Celebrity has a devil of a time getting people to go to its specialty restaurants, as the free meal in the dining room is so good.  We got our meal for a little more than half price and it was fabulous.  They had enough heaters in The Lawn Club, that we could take off our jackets.  There was a great salad bar and you could make your own pizza.  One lady even tried to give her dough a twirl.  It was fun and funny.  The steaks and lamb chops were tender and done just to order, and the dessert was ridiculous.  It was a chocolate chip cookie, partially cooked in a crème brulée ramekin, with ice cream and chocolate sauce.  We loved it.  The experience was well worth the $25 each that it cost.  Regular price is $45, though, and I don’t know if I would have paid that, with the dining room so good.  We missed the entertainment again.  Too much to do…

Aug 18 was our last sea day.  Four people came to office hours, to say “Good Bye” and hand in their comments cards.  That was OK, I needed to pack. I got most of my packing done and we had another nice dinner and a show, It was Voce, four divas, singing everything under the sun in strange costumes.  We have heard better.

On Aug 19, we docked in Zeebrugh, the container port for Bruges, Belgium.  I had so wanted to get out early and in to Bruges, of which I have fond memories from about 1998,  However, when I assessed the state of my packing and realized I would have to schlep all the paper I didn’t sort through, I decided to do a little work.  We could not neglect the gym, either, as the next day we were flying to Montreal, and would never have time.  Then, my cell phone’s battery was drained because it had suddenly decided to object to that fact that it wasn’t on an ASUS charger.  I fussed with that a lot and went out with a tethered charger.  The upshot of all this is that it was after one when I got out.  The free port shuttle got me to Zeebruge, 31 km from Bruges.  The 20 euro shuttle was no longer running.  I had no idea how to do it on public transportation, as we were docked in a different place.  By the time I had walked up and down and assessed the situation, the two taxis, that had been waiting, had left.

The next taxi that dropped a group off, approached me to see if I wanted to go in to Bruges.  Well, I did, but not for 50 euros.  He finally met my price, which was 20 euros, but he was only taking me one way.  I stupidly got in.  He was a nice young Armenian man, who had been in Belgium about 17 years.  I sat in the front seat with him, answering a lot of questions about how life is when you are getting old.  I am not sure I want to be an expert on this subject, but, I guess I am.

When he dropped me off at the town square, all he showed me was where the taxi rank was, and told me to go there and make up a group, when I wanted to go back.  By this time, I had little more than an hour, and got so focused on that project that I never had a mussel, a French fry, or a piece of chocolate.  I was lucky to even get back.  All the taxis were pre booked, mostly by groups of 6, 8 and more.

Eventually, I found Marc, a sinewy, gap toothed, dissipated looking guy, with a nice small black car.  He was waiting to take back the people he had brought, but there were only two of them.  If they agreed, I could get in.  The odds were good, so I waited ten minutes with him.  His fare was a young German couple named Dietlin and Karl.  Dietlin is a doctor and Karl, a consultant.  We never managed to find out his field, though, which made me suspicious.  Politics?  Arms?  Military?  It wasn’t likely computers and communications.  We talked about where we worked and Hong Kong came up and I illustrated how good it was to work there, with my usual Hutchison AT&T Network Services launch story.  A little later Marc said he would bet that I had worked for IBM and one point. We never talked about big blue, how would he know?

He said it was the way I talked.  His girlfriend worked for IBM, you see.  I would love to meet the IBMer who would date this character.  But, he was fun, and he was clever, and he got us back to the ship on time and that worked for me.  I gave Karl 20 euros for my share.  Karl made a mistake and didn’t give Marc enough money.  Marc chased us and got everything he was owed, and, hopefully, then some.  It was a trip.

I cut up a set of labels, printed a fresh manifest, collected the comments cards that were in the envelope, and we went up to The Sunset Bar, where the sky off the stern looked very threatening.  There were two of my couples there, at a large table, and we joined them.  It was about 4:15 pm.  The ship left just in time to avoid the downpour and sailed just fast enough to outrun the rain, but not so fast as to freeze us out.  Another couple came around five and sat with us until six, when I retrieved the last of the Comments Cards, and we finalized who went into the envelope.  In the end, we drew from only 19 entrants.  Our very popular winner was my lady, who can use some cheering up, because her husband just died a couple of months ago.

The four of us had our last lovely dinner in the dining room and went to bed early, as the wake-up calls were set for 5:30 am.  It has been such a pleasure having Pat and Paul aboard, not only for the lightening of my workload, but for these lovely dinners every night.

On Aug 20, we disembarked in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  We got up at 5:50 am, had breakfast at 6:30 am, were off the ship by 7:45 am, in the taxi by 8:15 am and at the airport by 9:30 am.  That’s as efficient as it gets.  It slowed up waiting for a wheelchair for Elvon, and going through the whole airport performance, so I didn’t get to shop Schipol, but that’s probably just as well.  I am writing this from the plane.