The Alps are WICKED SICK!

In the beginning, there was a plan ...

On this trip, I'll publish TourAlong posts en route. You know, just like a travel blog!

I started out on track, thinking of topics and selecting photos at the end of each day. But just five days into the 21-day trip, there was a sudden detour.

And then you ask, "OMG! What happened!?"

To find out, put on your oxygen mask, grab a flask of your favorite warming beverage, and climb aboard cable cars going up to higher altitudes for an Alps TourAlongpresented in the ever-popular picture-n-caption format!!

Let's go Alping!

Shall we?

Alpinists on the Mont Blanc Massif, France!


Annecy Encore!

We spent a day in Annecy in 2011 and vowed to return; it's such a cool city. Twelve years later, we did it!

Just 26 miles south of Geneva (Switzerland), Annecy (France) sits at the doorstep of the French Alps, with towering limestone walls rising above its namesake lake.

Nicknamed The Venice of the Alps, Annecy's old town's canals, shops, and restaurants perpetually draw visitors. One Annecy postcard view is the 12th-century castle—Le Palais de l'Isle (above). This mini castle has a history of being, among other things, a prison at various times, as late as WWII.

Today it's a museum with a fun coffee shop in the courtyard! That beats being a prison, don't you think?

Tour du Lac d'Annecy!

Lake Annecy is dotted with small communities around its 25-mile shoreline—all connected by a bike path. And just down the street from our hotel was a conveniently located bike rental shop! Add a warm sunny day and it's a GO for a lakeside bike ride! With picnic lunches secured in the handy bike baskets (how French!), we were off!

Most of the tour was on a dedicated, paved bike path. It was great! ... until we hit mile 18. OMG! Rock-hard bike seats + 18 miles = seriously sore butts!

Butts aside, along the way we noticed how electric bikes were the bikes of choice for many riders! I have to wonder if traditional bikes will soon be quaint relics of days gone by. The new electric age is here.

Rugby World Cup - France Versus Italy!

Loyal readers may recall that we recently became rugby fans while watching a match in a Dublin pub. So, imagine our delight to learn that the Rugby World Cup was underway and being hosted by France!

What happens in Annecy on a Saturday night when France is playing rival Italy in a World Cup match? Every bar and restaurant that has any sense at all gets big screens up and running to show the match, and we were into it!

We watched three other Cup matches during the trip, and we even signed up for Peacock TV when we got home so we could watch the Cup final ... live!

Do we understand rugby now?

No, we do not.

But it's such nonstop fun ... there are NO TV commercials during the two halves of the match! Imagine THAT!

Who won? France humiliated Italy like overcooking pasta humiliates an Italian grandmother. The score was France 60; Italy 7. Mamma mia!

Oh! And who won the 2023 Rugby World Cup final? South Africa upset favored New Zealand in a nail biter. South Africa 12; New Zealand 11.

The Perfect Day to Burgle Homes in Annecy!

Annecy isn't a big place. The population of the city and the adjacent communities is 180,000. And on this sunny October weekend, the entire population was recreating in—and along the shore of—Lac d'Annecy. This would have been the perfect time to burgle any home in Annecy to supplement our travel funds. We behaved ... this time.

Uh Oh!

Something was off the day we drove from Annecy to nearby Chamonix. I had that "I'm getting a bit congested" feeling. Not to worry. I had my travel supply of vitamin C, Nyquil and Dayquil caps, cough drops, and a few Alka Seltzer packets on the side. By midnight, it was game over. A WICKED SICK cold decided to join me on the trip.

What fun!

Let's go over the pros and cons of having a wicked, sick cold while traveling. Shall we?

  • Nope! None, nada, rien, NICHTS! 

  • Trying to speak French isn't fun anymore!
  • Trying to sleep is a nightmare ... even with Nyquil at work!
  • When the ample supply of Nyquil and Dayquil dwindles, their equivalents are not sold over the counter!
  • Hiking with Kleenex stuffed up nostrils is a fashion faux pas!


Ah, Chamonix!

Chamonix is the heart of the French Alps and gateway to the Mont Blanc Massif ... that's French for White Mountain Massive Mountain Range!

I was here once ... in 1976. I remember downtown Chamonix as a bustling touristy mountain town, with postcard racks and sidewalk cafes lining the streets. A town where a 16-year-old kid from Idaho could buy a small steak, fries, and salad for $4 and have a beer (or two) for a bit more! It was paradise.

46 years later? Alas, my $4 lunch isn't listed on restaurant menus anymore. $20 margherita pizzas are the new budget dining choice.

But hey! Wanna go shopping?

Chamonix is ready for you!

The North Face, Patagonia, Salomon, Adidas, Columbia Sportswear, and many other brand stores are eager to sell you expensive outdoorsy gear and clothing ...

... that you really don't need!

Aiguille du Midi!

What's the best way to go from 3,500 to 12,500 feet in the French Alps? Easy! Take two cable cars from Chamonix to the top of the Aiguille du Midi!

Since 1955, tourists and climbers alike have been reaching this ear-popping altitude in just 20 minutes. Today, $85 gets you a roundtrip taste of the airy alpine environment that makes the Mont Blanc range so incredible. Even with a wicked, sick cold—where an ear-popping cable car ride becomes an ear-plugging cable ride—this is an amazing place to be.

TOURALONG FUN FACT: As far as cable cars go, the Aiguille du Midi car retains the record for the highest vertical ascent!

Holy Pointy Peak, Batman! Is This the Riddler's Airy Lair?

The complex perched atop the Aiguille du Midi is nothing less than incredible. For a better look at just how crazy its placement is, click the photo on the right side of this Wikipedia page!

In the lower/main complex (pictured here) are multiple viewing platforms, a fine-dining restaurant, a really good cafeteria (where we ate), a gift shop, and hotel-like restrooms. Just thinking through the logistics of building and maintaining all of this is mind boggling!

In summer, the Aiguille du Midi isn't necessarily the end of the journey. From the Aiguille, you can ride gondolas crossing five miles of the Valley Blanche to Pointe Helbronner. From there, another cable car descends to Courmayeur, Italy. The cost? A one-way ride—including the bus return through the Mont Blanc tunnel—is $140. That's a bargain for a day's amazing experience!

TOURALONG TIME TRAVEL: In 1976, I took the gondola from the Aiguille du Midi to Pointe Helbronner and spent a night at the nearby Torino Hut.

The "hut" sleeps 130 alpine travelers and has a restaurant and bar at 11,300 feet! And i
t was here that I first tasted the Italian moonshine, grappa!

Paradise for the 16-year-old kid from Idaho! Yee haw!!

At this point, a reasonable person might ask, "Todd, did you have ANY adult supervision during this adventure?"

I did!

In fact, one loyal reader of the TourAlongWithTodd Blog was an excellent supervisor of a 16-year-old kid from Idaho on a five-week climbing trip to Europe.

I made it home just fine. And, though I never summited a peak during the trip, it was an eye-opening adventure that pushed my love of travel forward.

Yee haw!!!

Find the Climbers!

There really are eight climbers making their way up the glacier to the summit of Mt. Blanc du Tacul (the peak at the far left). Go to the center of the image and move down slightly toward 7:00. The climbers are tiny, tiny, tiny dots!

The snow-covered dome at the top right of the image is the summit of Mont Blanc. At nearly 16,000 feet (and 3,500 feet higher than this photo's altitude), it's the highest peak in western Europe. It's BIG!

What's amazing is that Mont Blanc was first climbed in 1786!

What's even more amazing is that I reached its summit 190 years later!!!

Oh wait! I did not.

No, my accomplishment in 1976 was navigating the route from our illegal campsite into the streets of Chamonix—enjoying a $4 lunch of steak, fries, and green salad, and drinking beer—and successfully navigating back out again!

Welcome to Switzerland's Bernese Oberland!

I love map drawings! Don't you? They make everything look so clean and proper; everything in its place. Of course, this being Switzerland, it's kind of a low bar.

Pictured above are the main attractions of Switzerland's Bernese Oberland:
  • Interlaken's at the bottom.
  • The Lauterbrunnen Valley is up to the right.
  • Grindelwald is in the valley up to the left.
  • And everything is framed by towering peaks, the most famous of which are the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau!
If the high-mountain fresh air of the French Alps wasn't enough to remedy a wicked, sick cold, maybe 10 days in the Bernese Alps would bring the cure?

Lauterbrunnen Valley!

The Lauterbrunnen Valley is quite possibly the world's most picturesque valley. For sense of perspective, the cliffs on the right stretch five miles. The village of Lauterbrunnen sits in the valley, while the clifftop villages of Murren, Gimmelwald, and Wengen overlook it.

TOURALONG FUN FACT: Wengen hosts the World Cup's annual Lauberhorn downhill ski race. Featuring 2.65 grueling high-speed miles, it's the longest race on the circuit! My applications to compete in the race have, to date, been denied. I'll keep trying ... they don't know what they're missing.

The Highwire Act!

There's no end to the ways the Swiss entertain their alpine visitors. Above, Natalie navigates the high-wire at the Birg tram station above Murren.

I was also on the high-wire when I took this photo. The thought of suddenly bouncing up and down on the wire to surprise her crossed my mind. But then the thought of self-preservation crossed my mind.

There was no bouncing, though it would have been hilarious ... for one of us!

Shootin' the Shit with a Swiss Farmer!

Here's a sight not featured on the myswcomitzerland website!

Imagine our excitement during our hike from Murren to Gimmelwald when we came upon a farmer shootin' the shit!

It worked like this: A small tanker truck drove up the narrow path and the shit was soon shot firehose-style!

The truck went back down the path to the Shit Store and came back up with more poop to spew all over the field.

It was awesome ...

We witnessed three shitloads shot!

Luckily, there wasn't bad weather. Otherwise, it would have been ...

... wait for it ...


NOW how do you feel about eating Swiss cheese and chocolate and drinking Swiss chocolate milk!?

One thing's for sure: When spring comes along, Swiss cows munch on the most amazing fields of mixed greens!

I feel sorry for cows that don't get to indulge in the same salad smorgasbord. It's tempting to faceplant and just start grazing ... but remember to bring your own salad dressing!

Grindelwald ... And What's Missing

Pictured here, nestled in the valley far below, is the village of Grindelwald—our base for the next few days. Along the skyline are the Wetterhorn on the left and the Schreckhorn on the right. Before the Industrial Age, glaciers descending from these peaks nearly entered the green valley.

Not anymore.

I remember hiking a short distance up to the snout of one of these glaciers, the Oberer Grindelwaldgletscher valley glacier, in 1976. Today, it's gone. 

To grasp what's happened just over the past few decades, visit this page depicting images of then and now of glaciers in the Grindelwald area.

And, to see exactly what I mean, go to the bottom of the linked page and scroll up just a bit to the Update 2019-11-18. That's what I saw in 1976 ... and what I didn't see in 2023.

Hey! Here's a cause: Let's work on making alpine glaciers again!

Shall we?

Get Ready for Flight!

The Eiger Express, an ultramodern $500 million cable car system, opened in 2020. 

What makes a $500 million cable car system cost $500 million?

Well, besides the cables and cars, it might be the MASSSIVE terminals built at each end, especially the terminal at Grindelwald ... appropriately named Terminal. At Terminal, the Swiss conveniently provide ways for you to part with your money via shops selling chocolate, expensive watches, expensive outdoorsy gear and clothing, and many other things you absolutely don't need to ride a cable car!

Flying Along!

The Eiger Express is just one recent example of how Europe's alpine countries have created transportation systems that move people from cities to villages to spectacular mountain vistas. Trains, buses, cable cars—they all play a part.

On the Annecy-Chamonix leg of this trip, we had a rental car. After that, we traveled by train. Swiss trains are quiet, have a smooth ride, and—true to reputation—run on time. Between walking and public transportation in Annecy and Chamonix, driving was unnecessary. Had we taken trains the entire trip, we could have saved $700.



This zoomed-in view of the Eiger's immense north face is about one-third of the way up, where the 5,000-foot rock wall goes from really steep to really, really steep!

See the windows?

Why are there large windows on the Eiger's north face?

Well ... the windows are at the Eigerwand station—one of two train stations INSIDE the Eiger—on the Jungfrau Railway's route up to the Jungfraujoch station's mountain-ridge perch at 11,300 feet!

What's at the Jungfraujoch? How about climate and weather research stations, astronomical telescopes, and an alpine entertainment complex built in, and on, rock and glacier for the amusement of 600,000 yearly visitors. What's truly amazing is that the railway became operational in 1912!

TOURALONG FUN FACT: In the 1975 Clint Eastwood movie, The Eiger Sanction, Clint's character, Jonathon Hemlock, had to save his own life by cutting the rope he was hanging on in order to be caught by another rope secured by a suspicious rescuer. DRAMA! This epic scene was staged at these station windows. Clint performed the stunt himself, 1,500 above the ground!

Where Instagram Photos Come From!

Oh, it doesn't take much to get me started on the FOMO "need-to-be-seen" phenomenon perpetuated by Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and other social media platforms.

It's just so weird ... and it's cited as one cause of today's tourism overcrowding. For example, residents of Hallstatt, the hyperscenic Austrian alpine village, recently erected a fence to block hordes of visitors taking photos from a specific vantage point. The fence was taken down. But the protest was real. Google "overcrowding tourism" to take your own deep dive into this topic.

And My Version of THEIR Instagram Photo!

On the OTHER hand, I made the most of these two jumping for their Instagram photo! You can see them in the prior image making one of their many jumps for the camera.

Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok aside, they were definitely having fun getting their shot!

Natalie Trottibiking Along!

Trottibiking (or Toddibiking as it clearly should be called) is like riding a large scooter with brakes. It's not without challenges, and being a little bit comfortable with scooting, skiing, or skateboarding is a bonus.

While we didn't witness the event, a young woman made it only 50 feet down the path from the cable car station before falling and injuring herself badly enough to warrant ambulance and police ... and yes, they drove up this path!

Well, Trottibiking wasn't fun for her, but we had a blast!

My! What Large Hands You Have!

What do you want in a glacier-carved-river-gorge hiking experience?

At the Grindelwald Glacial Gorge, you can hike along a suspended cliffside catwalk, go bungee jumping ($$), and bounce on a net spanning the raging river below.

But wait!

There's more!

How about ethereal musical entertainment?

Above, Natalie serenades passersby with the sweet tones of her autoharp! Dogs howled and people went mental! It was THAT good!

Jet d'Eau!

If it's the Jet d'Eau, then we must be back in Geneva!

The Jet, shooting 460 feet skyward, was originally a safety valve for a hydraulic power network. Since its construction in 1886, it's been moved (once) and has increased its height (twice)! And, as if you need to know more, it shoots 132 gallons of water per second at 124 miles per hour. But it does NOT do its jet shooting thing 24 hours a day! Nope, it gets turned off at night. And now you know. You're welcome.

The Jet is one of the most visible aspects of the city, a city we found inviting, clean, and quite walkable. But if you'd rather not walk, hotels provide their guests passes for free public transportation, including the water taxis that crisscross the lake!

From Geneva to Mont Blanc!

Just 46 miles away—if you're a crow flying in a straight line for 46 miles, which I bet crows never really do—the Mont Blanc Massif rises in the east. In the middle of the photo is a tiny point of rock—the Aiguille du Midi! Yes, the same Aiguille du Midi we stood atop two weeks earlier! And to the far right, the nearly 16,000-foot Mont Blanc!

Awesome Headgear!

The National Monument 
symbolizes the entry of Geneva into the Swiss Confederation in 1814 and features two young women, one (with the crenellated headgear) symbolizes the Republic of Geneva and the other symbolizes Helvetia, Switzerland.

Crenellated headgear? Come on! That's a castle on her head and I want one too!

Actually, I'd like a castle AND castle headgear!

Why Automation Sometimes SUCKS!

We've noticed an interesting trend: Do our work yourself!

Example 1: Pictured here, we decided to have takeout at the nearby KFC for our last night of the trip (KFC, really? Yeah, it just sounded good).

The only way to place an order is to use one of the somewhat confusing kiosks. It all worked out, but sadly, the food didn't match our expectations. Wah, wah, wah ...

TOURALONG TRAVEL TIP: Skip the U.S.-based fast-food chains, but don't pass up the chance to enjoy a restaurant-made hamburger in Europe. They've mastered the art. And to top it off, pilsner beer isn't your only choice anymore. Today, excellent craft beers are widely available!

Example 2: At the Newark Airport concourse bar, you HAVE to use the QR code on the menu card to place an order. We asked, "Do we have to do it this way?" The bartender confirmed that humans can't be bothered with taking orders. But when the bill arrived on a tablet, presented by a human, the default tip was 20%. Nope!

TOURALONG TRAVEL TIP: Tipping in Europe really is a thing of the past. On this trip, we were presented the opportunity to tip just twice. The rest of the time, we just tapped our credit card, and the bill was paid.

Quite a contrast to expectations stateside.



So, there you have it!

But what about that WICKED, SICK COLD?

Like any faithful companion, it kept me close! What a bummer to be wickedly sick in the Alps. But hey! I was IN THE ALPS! ... and we still managed to get out and take it all in, albeit with Kleenex stuffed up a nostril now and then!

An Earlier Time

Here I am, exploring the Alps in 1976. Clothing styles were different then, as were the capabilities of cameras. This photo may look a lot like a painting, but it's not. Anyone who knew me when I was a 16-year-old kid from Idaho knows I was a ginger ... always carried a long stick while standing on rock outcrops ... and always struck a manly pose!

Speaking of striking poses for photos ...

Three Alps Photo Albums ... Just For You!

To view an album as a slideshow:

    • Once at the album, click the right-facing arrow in the upper right corner to start the slideshow.

    • Use the slideshow controls in lower middle of the screen to navigate as the show plays (go back, go forward, pause).

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A Wee Tale of Luck From Scotland!

Finlander Castle - East Coast Scotland

We're so lucky to be on the TourAlongTrail again and we weren't the only ones out and about participating in revenge travel!

Let's jump right into it!

It's time to drag out your dusty old bagpipes, pour yourself a Bonnie Prince Charlie-sized dram of your favorite beverage, and get ready for a Scottish TourAlongpresented in the ever-popular picture-n-caption format!

A bonus? How about a wee bit of Ireland too!

  • Lads? Are you kilted up?
  • Lassies? Are you tartaned to a tee?



Let's go! Shall we?


Smart Shoppers!

We're not really getting any better at taking selfies, but no matter ...

Good judgment can fall victim to the palpable excitement at the beginning of any trip. For example, here we're celebrating the $40 we spent on one pint of beer and one glass of wine at the Newark Airport.

Yep, we're smart shoppers!

The various shops at the airport sell many overpriced things. But do you know what you CANNOT buy at the Newark airport? You cannot buy anything resembling Kleenex! We searched ... a lot! I guess they figure you can buy baby wipes or borrow some toilet paper. Ewe!


Our route around Scotland started in Edinburgh, moved counterclockwise up and around the country, ending back in Edinburgh 21 days later.

But first things first: Driving on the left.

I joked with Laura—the fun and efficient representative at the Arnold Clark car rental office—that it sure would be nice if we could get an automatic instead of a manual at the same cost (the cost difference is about double).

Joking paid off. We got the automatic for no extra cost!

What luck!

This made driving on the left much easier.

With renewed confidence, I found that driving on the motorway was a breeze, even in thick fog.

What? I'm being pulled over by a cop?

Stateside, a traffic stop lasts at least five minutes because all of the necessary pieces of information need to be gathered and checked—regardless of the infraction.

In this case, the officer told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to have my fog lights on. When I fumbled to find the right knob, he reached in the window and made the appropriate adjustment. The entire event lasted about one minute. I suppose being a tourist didn't hurt.

The other notable aspect of driving in Scotland are the road types: The "M" roads (motorways/freeways), the "A" roads (narrow highways with NO shoulders) and the plentiful single-track (one-lane) roads. Pictured above is one of the better and WIDER single-track roads on the Isle of Mull. Note the pull-off. Pull-offs are plentiful and keep traffic moving along in an efficient and polite manner (everyone waves as a sign of thanks). Note also the giant tour bus coming up on the giant tour bus we were in. Negotiating the passage was super easy for the drivers. Barely an inconvenience!

Here's a two-minute video view of the one track traversing the Isle of Mull from the front of the tour bus's upper deck!

Ear Plugs Not Included

Here's something you rarely see in Edinburgh—a man playing bagpipes!

I now know that we can blame Egypt for inventing the bagpipe, but that doesn't stop me from admonishing the Scots for thinking continue playing them remains a good idea!

Maybe that's harsh, but remember, whatever your opinions are, don’t run with bagpipes because you could put an aye out, or even worse, get kilt!

Young Lovers

Sheep are everywhere in Scotland! In fields, on roads, in barns, on boats! So many sheep! How does this happen!?

Well ... When a ram and ewe love each other very much, they lay very, very close together and ...

And the Kids 

... and five months later there's a shit load of Scottish lamb!

Cute little lambs like these! ... all with their eyes closed ready to nap!

Early on in our trip, north of Edinburgh, we stopped so I could take a photo of sheep and their lamb grazing in a field by the ocean.

What's that? The bleating of a lost lamb?

Oh my!

The little one had jumped the fence and was desperately trying to get back to its mom.

After a five-minute team effort, Natalie and I corralled the lamb to a spot where I could grab and unceremoniously toss it back over the fence.


But the young one got back up and ran to mom!


Like a Boy Scout earns badges, I earned my first lamb shank dinner of the trip!


Up and Chummy with Chuck III

We declined to attend the coronation of King Charles III because of our busy travel schedule. And, though we saw a few British flags celebrating the event, it was clearly NOT something many Scots held dear. I guess there's some history there ... something about kilts and clans and Culloden.

They DID think it was OK to take the bank holiday celebrating the happenings down south.

Moving up, along the east coast, we dialed in BBC2 Radio to take in the coronation ceremony—including the part when the crowd proclaims, "God save the King!" That was kind of cool.

A few days later, Charles caught up with us just outside Inverness and insisted on this photo with Natalie. He was still all dressed up. What a silly git!

Throughout our trip, BBC2 became our go-to radio station. Its programming is a mix of music, news, talk-show-game things, interviews, and even traffic reports that cover all of Britain! The music played on BBC2 is eclectic—some modern, some not so much. And the kicker was that Liverpool was the host city for Eurovision 2023 (stepping in for Kyiv). This meant that, for a week early on in our trip, BBC2 was all about Eurovision 2023!

If you don't know, Eurovision is kind of like the Superbowl of music. We don't have one here because we have the Superbowl.

Eurovision Fun Fact I: The first Eurovision took place in 1956, far in advance of the first Superbowl in 1967!

Eurovision Fun Fact II: Sweden's ABBA won the contest in 1974 and Celine Dion won it in 1988 ... singing for Switzerland!

And now, for your listening pleasure ... three tunes that caught our attention during our adventure ... brought to us by BBC2 ... and now from us to you!
  1. Lordi - Hard Rock Hallelujah (Finland) 2006 Eurovision Song Contest Winner and my favorite!
  2. Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Sex & Drugs & Rock 'n' Roll
  3. Wet Leg - Chaise Longue (Official Video)
You're welcome!

The Jacobite Train! The Harry Potter Train! It's Two Trains in One!

Since 1901, the Mallaig extension of the West Highland Line has crossed the Glenfinnan Viaduct on its 42-mile journey from Fort Willam to Mallaig. As the "Jacobite Express," the steam train gained new popularity for its role as the "Hogwarts Express" in the Harry Potter movies!

Tourism's an odd animal. Because of the movies and the viaduct, there are now TWO round-trip train journeys daily, and it's not unusual for all 700 seats to be sold. Don't forget to add the hundreds of people who come to the Glenfinnan Viaduct to take pictures of the train! That's a lot of attention given to a train!

We took the train. The interiors of the cars are NOT as nice as those seen in the Harry Potter movies. Rather, they could use a bit of a fixup. And the website says this is, "quite possibly the most beautiful and scenic train journey anywhere."

Hmmm ... I'm not so sure about that. But hey! I got the photo! And it's on sale here!

Slip Sliding Away - Part 1

One of our favorite stops on this TourAlong was four days on the Orkney Islands, situated just north of Scotland's mainland. At the far north of the main Orkney Island (ironically called "The Mainland") lies the tiny island of Brough of Birsay. At low tide a causeway appears, allowing access to the island's lighthouse, an ancient Norse settlement, and spectacular sea cliffs hosting many smelly birds. It's cool! We had to try twice to get the low tide timing right, but we did it!

Slip Sliding Away - Part 2

See that seaweed-kelp stuff? I didn't think a thing of it when I stepped on it at the beginning of the causeway. It turns out that that seaweed-kelp stuff is slick as snot! I was on my butt faster than you can say "slick as snot!" The impact actually knocked open my camera's battery AND memory card compartments!

I wiped the snot off my butt, put my camera back together, and continued on. No damage was done other than coating my pride in slick snot.

A while later, as we hiked along the cliffs to see puffins (we saw two), a man happened to mention finding a set of car and hotel keys in seaweed-kelp stuff and leaving them on a wood post at the parking lot. I felt my now keyless pockets and began the hurried 20-minute hike back across the island and causeway—minding my foot placement around the seaweed-kelp stuff!

Our keys were sitting safely on the wood post.

Man! How differently the day could have been if not for a kind Scotsman and the happenstance of running into him.

What luck!

Days later, on the Isle of Skye, I slipped again—this time on a very steep and wet concrete path at Neist Point. My right wrist continues to remind me of this happy time.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Other than the few motorways, Scotland's roads have no shoulders, but they do have many, many potholes and road drains (i.e., manmade potholes). A narrow road with no shoulder and those many dips mean the left front tyre* takes a beating!

And so there we were, on the Orkney Islands with a flat left front tyre in the parking lot of the Italian Chapel. Phone calls were made, but on a Saturday afternoon, tyre shops were already closed.

Wait! Didn't the rental car have a spare? Nope! Just an air compressor and a can of tyre foam. Using the compressor alone gave us enough air for the five miles back to the Murray Arms Hotel in the village of St. Margarets Hope.

Back at the hotel, the perpetually helpful Suzanne told us that normally there's a guy just up the road—Ian—who has a tyre shop and could help us on a Saturday night ... but on this Saturday night, he's also the promoter of a rock show in nearby Kirkwall!

Getting the tyre fixed—on SUNDAY—is a big deal. We had to be at the ferry in Stromness by 6:15 a.m. Monday ... in the morning!

Amazingly, another couple at the hotel also had a tyre problem and were able to contact Ian Sunday morning. By noon, Ian had replaced our tyre and saved our day. Our schedule was back on track.

What luck!

Fast forward a week and, while on a boat tour of Fort William's Loch Linnhe (highly recommended), Natalie suddenly was seeing massive "floaters" in her left eye. She's had floaters before, but not like these. Off we went to the Fort William emergency room. Things looked OK, but the doctor wanted an eye specialist to have a look to ensure her retina wasn't detaching. An appointment was booked in Inverness for the next morning—a SUNDAY!

Driving across that cross section of the country—from west to east—took just two hours. The exam showed no retinal detachment, so Natalie would be fine. Had the outcome been otherwise, she would have had surgery that afternoon ... and who knows when we would have been able to fly home.

What luck!

Oh! And what did this sudden emergency room visit in Fort William on a Saturday and an eye specialist exam on a Sunday in Inverness cost us?


Look, I know there's a lot of debate about the effectiveness of Britain's National Health Service, but our experience was remarkably positive.

*Oh, look at me! I'm all Scottish now and write "tyre" instead of "tire." Brilliant! I think I'll pop on over to the pub for a pint!

What a Cute Clown!

If there's a cliff, there will be seabirds! We saw many such cliffs, and we also smelled them! I like seafood as much as the next bird, but OMG, sea cliffs hosting birds smelled like the sea—and not in a good way. Birds really need to clean their toilets now and then! Still, it was fun to watch them fly this way and that ... or see them sitting comfortably on their acrophobia-inducing nests.

Smell aside, an ever-popular pastime is puffin viewing!

The brochures say, "Puffins can be seen here from late April through August." This gave us hope that we would see our funny-faced feathered friends on any Scottish sea cliff.

We saw two on the tiny Orkney island of Brough of Birsay—but they were about 300 feet away. That's not really viewing ... it's more like "squinting."

The big turnaround was on the Isle of Staffa during our Three Island Tour.

Staffa is a tiny island of Scotland's Inner Hebrides, seemingly composed entirely of basalt columns. One of its few attractions is Fingal's Cave (the path to it is fun!) and the PUFFINS! Along the trail, I could see people in the distance, on the grassy clifftop, taking pictures of puffins. A few minutes later, we crested a ridge and then saw a cliff-load of puffins right there! Yes, there were people too (on average, 220 visit the island daily), but everyone was quietly taking pictures or just watching them; it was so slient! ... The puffins—some just eight feet away—didn't seem to mind.

What luck!

And now for your viewing pleasure, enjoy this 1-minute video of cliffside seabirds near Stonehaven on Scotland's east coast. For the complete smell-a-vision experience, place a plate of rotting fish by your side.

Like the puffin picture? You can buy it here!

Scotland—Making Meaty Deep Fat Fried Eggs Healthier!

Scottish and Irish food and drink were fun. There were the usual suspects: fish, chips, haggis, and pasties (meat pies, not the things that attach to people) ... and of course scotch whiskey and pints of beer. But there were also fresh salads (like the one above serving as camouflage for the delicious Scottish eggs), many twists on burgers, and lamb shank presented with a mash of root vegetables and gravy.

We tried everything we could. We even picked up some crumpets for a taste (shhh .... they're pancakes).

And then there's gin.

The Scots like gin.

On the tram going into Edinburgh, young Jamie, the ticket inspector, took a 15-minute break while en route during the 20-minute ride and was happy to make suggestions about what to see and do in the city. One suggestion we took him up on was a late afternoon visit to The Jolly Botanist.

The Jolly's main menu consists of eight pages of ways to mix and garnish a plethora of gins. It's daunting! I'm confidant years of patronage are required to truly appreciate all gin has to offer. We are mere neophytes. Also featured was fine pub food, like what we had—the three Scottish cheeses mac & cheese and the Jolly Scottish egg!

Having Jamie as our ticket inspector—What luck!

Insta Pose Above All Else

Pictured here are Ireland's Cliffs of Moher on the west coast of the island. The cliffs are famous because (a) they're tall, (b) they're home to many smelly birds, (c) they were featured in the movie Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, and (d) also featured in the classic Princess Bride as the "Cliffs of Insanity!"

Also pictured here is an all-too-frequent scene.

Social media has changed travel, and I'm not sure for the better. Feeding the fear of missing out (FOMO) syndrome, the posed travel selfie/photo now inundates Instagram, Facebook, and other platforms. We've noticed that it often seems more important to get a photo to post than to be in the place.

And while I'm on my soapbox, even more annoying is the fact that these two yahoos were on the other side of a barrier that had signs posted indicating (a) do not climb over the barrier because (b) it's a protected habitat in recovery, and (c) you might fall off in a gust of wind!

Nevertheless, these folks—and many others like them—didn't care. The rules don't apply to them. Instagram is more important.

Now where's that gust of wind I ordered?

Favorite Places

This was an expeditionary adventure for us and as such, some places were great and others, well, not as much. Like all adventure travel, it's hit and miss. One thing for sure, websites can make anything look great.

In bullet format, here's a list the places we want to see more of:
  • All of Scotland and Ireland - Yes!
  • *The Orkney Islands - Yes! Next time for at least a week.
  • The Highlands - Yes! Make time to take a hike.
  • The Fort William / Glencoe area - Yes! Hike Ben Nevis.
  • The Isle of Staffa - Yes! Puffins!

And the People We Met

Without exception, the people we met during our Scotland and Ireland adventure were friendly, always willing to help, and fun too! Like Laura at the rental car office, and Jamie, the Edinburgh tram ticket taker who's calling really should be tour guide. And then there's Dannii, our host at the Airbnb in Rathos, who gave us so much great information about Edinburgh and beyond! So welcoming!

And THEN there's the Scotsman who found our car and hotel keys that were ejected from my pocket when I slipped on Orkney seaweed-kelp snot and placed them on a parking lot wood post!

Pictured above at the John O'Groats Brewery - Last Pub, Sharon and Alan were happy to give pointers of "must go" places on the Orkneys.

Not pictured above are Jim and Fiona who were conversation starters at a pub in Findhorn, just outside Inverness (and bought Natalie a dram of scotch).

Finally, we can't forget to mention the ladies at the Italian Chapel on the Orkney Islands that helped us try to find a tyre shop open on a Saturday afternoon ... and then Suzanne at The Murray Arms Hotel who helped get us in touch with Ian who ultimately performed the tyre replacement and got us back on track!

Scottish people are nice!

What Luck!
There's another TourAlong coming up this fall ...

 ... and I'll be posting from the road!

Until then ... Ciao!


But wait!

Don't take off that kilt or tartan just yet because today you REALLY ARE in LUCK!

Come along and see the rest of the trip in all of its photographic glory with more photos of lamb, puffins, and other Scottish things!

Two albums ... with labeled images ...

To view in slideshow format:

    • Once at the album, click the right-facing arrow in the upper right corner to start the slideshow.
    • Use the slideshow controls in lower middle of the screen to navigate as the show plays (go back, go forward, pause).

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