Apr 212013

Scotland Scotland
Photos of Scotland

We spent a little less than week in Scotland in the summer of 2012 as an “add-on” from a another trip to London and Scandinavia. I wasn’t terribly well planned but was very enjoyable; funny how that works sometimes. The country is small but the winding roads off main routes mean distances are generally slow to cover. Even so, it worked well that we stayed in Edinburgh as our base and took day trips and tours around the country.

Edinburgh is a lovely mixture of a city – lots new, lots old. The most popular point of the city is arguably the Edinburgh castle, and with good reason as it is well preserved and serves as the focal point of the city. I highly recommend walking through Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat to catch a sunset or sunrise. Not only because the view of Edinburgh castle is incredible, but also because we ran into some entertainment. Two bagpipers had setup on one of the paths and were practicing in the rain and enjoying the acoustics of the rocks. Few things have ever been as special for me than watching the city glow under a pink sunset in the rain while accompanied by a local soundtrack.

It is easy to get around by Edinburgh black cab, bus, or walking. As with most European cities the train station is located in the center of the city and it is easy to travel to major destination points that way (more on that later). To get a full taste of the country though you need to either rent a car or use touring companies. We took several small group tours to explore the highlands while visiting castles, lochs, distilleries, and towns. Though we encountered wet weather most of the trip all of our excursions were very enjoyable.

We also took the commuter train to explore Glasgow by day trip. The trip by train was fast and relatively inexpensive as the cities are not terribly far apart. Anna and I both enjoy Charles Rennie Mackintosh‘s work (Art Nouveau) so it was a must visit for us, including lunch at one of his tearooms. Despite the relatively close distance between Glasgow and Edinburgh they each have very distinct attitude. The cliche adage is that Edinburghers say Glaswegians are rough about the edges, and Glaswegians see the Edinburghers as snobs. I can’t remark too much on that as it was such a relatively short visit but I found that Glasgow felt much more like a vibrant new-world city than Edinburgh, which felt a bit more like a well curated museum piece in places.

It was a short but very packed and enjoyable trip. Scotland very easy and relatively cheap to visit if you are in London already, so consider it if you are already going to be spending any time in the UK.

Dec 022010

brussels brussels
Photos of Brussels, Belgium

We stayed in Brussels over the weekend, in the north part of downtown, off Koningsstraat. I say that because I think it has a lot of impact on our impressions of the city. The city center was a complete ghost town over the weekend. Everything except Grote Markt and area of course. Those small streets were humming with activity and markets. Packing my suitcase at De Bier Tempel, a sample or four at La Maison des Maitres Chocolatiers Belges, and of course a waffle at Manneken Pis. I can’t say we were very original, but it was still a lot of fun.

Nov 272010

bruges bruges
2010.10 Photos of Bruges, Belgium

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of Brugge/Bruges/Bruge. It looked like a gorgeous little town, but very heavily touristed. I have a low tolerance for wandering through gawking crowds – Disneyland is torture for me – so I was worried I would quickly grow to hate the tiny town choked full of tour groups.

Thankfully, I was completely wrong. Though offset by the low season and rain, there were still plenty of tourists in town. But the charming streets and canals seemed to swallow up the crowds with ease. If the crowds get too thick, duck in for a fantastic beer in a hidden bar or window shop chocolate. This is my kind of place.

Nov 252010

paris paris paris paris
2010.10 Photos of Paris, France

Like any large city, Paris changes a bit with every visit. The bicycle is back, mostly in the form of VĂ©lib’. Wifi in the parks is pretty cool (though frustrating to try to use with an iPhone) and though your batting average for a good cafe is never in jeopardy, yelp and other services give you a pretty good idea if you will like the menu before you even arrive.

But the things Paris is famous for haven’t really changed – the food and sights are still the main draw in the worlds most visited city. We focused less on particular goals for our 6 days, and were much better for it. The boulevards are gorgeous to stroll, the farmers & street markets are perfect to pickup a meal, and one can do much worse than simply sitting in a park to enjoy the sun.

Oct 022010

Photos of hiking Sturtevant falls, Angeles National Forest

A month back we did a new (to us) hike to Sturtevant falls in Angeles National Forest. The trail head is at Chantry Flat, off Santa Anita Avenue in Arcadia. From there it drops down into the darkest and most lush SoCal valley I’ve been to. Black oaks tower overhead as you walk past tens of cabins along the dammed creek. The falls were nice, even at their dry point during the year. I can imagine that the upper pools would be quite large in the spring. We did the total hike in about an hour and a half, the only crappy part is the climb back up to Chantry Flat. Well worth the time if you are in the area.

More information: Dan’s Hiking Pages

Aug 112010

diving cabo diving cabo diving cabo diving cabo
Photos of Scuba diving Los Cabos (Cabo San Lucas)

During our visit to the tip of Baja we enjoyed two days worth of diving. The first day of diving we stuck to relatively easy local sites. The first dive was at Pelican Rock, site of the famous (or not so famous?) sand falls. The sand falls were a mild curiosity for me, much more exciting were the huge schools of fish circling the rock walls. There were several large groupers hanging around, but none would let us get very close. Near the end of the dive we were able to get up close to some of the tangs, box, and butterfly fish that hung out around the rock’s walls. The walls are covered with some impressive fans and anemones and the site looks quite healthy. One thing to note – stay on the bottom until you are ready to join your dive boat as there is massive amount of boat traffic in the area. When we started the dive early in the morning we were the only boat around. When we finished and came up there were about 10 other boats anchored within a stones throw away.

The second dive was on a wall just south of Pelican Rock. The wall was interesting, but again the shallow critters were a bigger draw. Large schools of fish, including large trumpet-fish were milling about in the 10-30 foot range around the rocks, snacking on salp chains that drifted into the area. The sand flats around the rocks were full of life as well – quite a few rays and guitarfish had buried themselves in the sand channels.

The second day of diving was much more ambitious. We did some more advanced diving on an open water sea mount known as Gordo Banks (or Gorda Banks). The depth of the mount is about 115′, so we used 28% Nitrox for both dives. This site is known for the chance to see large open water critters like sharks, mantas, and tuna. Unfortunately for us, the visibility was quite poor for both dives. The water was green and less than 15 feet of visibility from 20-100 feet. Under 100 feet it cleared right up, it was a bit like stepping out of a fog. We saw some very large jacks (people sized) on both dives, in addition to some large schools of fish. We caught a glimpse of a small school of hammerhead sharks on the first dive, but they were in the pea soup green above us, and we couldn’t catch up to them. It would be a great dive site with better visibility.

We saw a marlin on the surface during one of our intervals, and I hopped in to try to snorkel with it. I missed my mark or it didn’t like me – it was long gone. The trip back to harbor was against the wind and it took us several hours to get back to the harbor. Make sure you bring sea sickness meds if you think you might need them – several people fed the fishes, including our captain.

I think our mixed diving results have a lot to do with the strange weather patterns in the pacific this year. The water was much colder than they are used to (water temp at depth was 63-64F) and it seemed like summer wasn’t quite there yet. It definitely warrants another attempt when we make it back down again, you never know what you will see in the open water.