Three Years in Scotland

Shari and David Borlin
In August of 1997 David Borlin was approached by IBM management from Europe and asked to take a 2-year assignment at the Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh. Shari and Dave agreed to the relocation assignment – which eventually lasted 3 years.

During that period Dave was also asked to consult with companies in Ireland, England, Holland, New Zealand, and Australia. Dave and Shari lived in downtown Edinburgh for 3 years.

They seized the opportunity to travel around Europe on long weekends and embraced numerous hobbies (macramé, bridge, canasta, walking/hiking, jewelry making, reading) and made many lasting friendships.

Below you will find Dave and Shari's "Trip Reports" as they traveled to and from many of the European countries.


10/19/98 Mull Trip #1 Coach Tour

Well, we took the Van Ittersums to the airport this morning at 9 AM and sent them off to Amsterdam to visit Derek. So, we are home alone again with no major activities planned for the next six weeks, when Mom flies back to St. Louis (not that that means we will sit around quietly for six weeks). I don't think we have quite recovered from the bus tour of Europe. Winter is upon us already. It's now dark when I go to work in the morning and when we go back to standard time next weekend, it will probably be dark when I come home in the evening. It was 38 degrees this morning! I had to dig out the winter coat for the first time.

Thursday night we flew from Edinburgh to London Heathrow and caught the underground train into London so we could be close to the pickup point on Friday morning. That means it was close to midnight before we wandered around pulling our bags and found the hotel -- first short night. Friday morning it was about a 2-hour bus trip over to Dover and the ferry across the English Channel. The White Cliffs of Dover were very impressive. On the French side of the Channel, we picked up our tour bus in which we were to ride for the next 10 days. We spent the night in Amsterdam, Holland and then spent a half day touring the city (art museum, canal cruise, red light district, and city tour). Then off to Cologne, Germany and a very brief tour of the biggest cathedral in Europe. I managed enough German to purchase a tour book for Mom in a convenience store. The next day we drove down to Munich and hit the beer garden on the last day of Octoberfest -- the bell ringers were really cute. I actually bought a hat in Innsbrook, Austria the next day! So when it gets cold I will be prepared.

I should point out that except for a brief time when we were cruising up the Rhine River in Germany, it has pretty much been raining since we left England. So the drive down through the Alps into Italy was not much to see -- fog and rain. It was at least a bit warmer in Italy -- a chance to wear the one short sleeved shirt I packed. We discovered that Venice, Italy is really a series of islands, connected with bridges. With the heavy rains and high tides, the central square was flooded. We have pictures of everyone walking on elevated wooden walkways to avoid the water. But the shops were fantastic -- lots of pretty glass items. Then off to Florence, Italy and a side trip to Pisa (to see the leaning tower). Then a long drive up into Switzerland, going through a 15-mile tunnel through the Alps and a stop at Lake Lucerne. On the next day's drive up to France, we ended up with a comfort stop near Basel, Switzerland -- the old home of the Borlin family. There are still a dozen or so Borlins in the telephone book. So, some day we will go back. I'm not sure my German is going to be enough to talk with anyone there. Then on to Paris, where we broke away from the group and visited a different art gallery and shopped a bit on our own. That night we were surprised by a bottle of French champagne, courtesy of Jon and Vicki. Then, a bus back to Calais, France and the ferry back to Dover, and the bus back to London, and a separate bus to the airport, and a plane back to Edinburgh, and a taxi back to the flat. The worst part was going back to work the next morning!

So, there's a VERY brief summary. We got some great pictures and a lot of great memories. I'm sure you all would have enjoyed the history lessons we got from the tour director as we drove through the various countries -- and the local music. It was most interesting to see how 50 random people from the US, Australia, New Zealand, India, Vietnam, and the UK formed into a pretty tight knit group by the end of 10 days in a bus. Guess I'd better close.

2/1/99 Rome

It's time for the Roman trip report! This was the flight that we got for essentially free -- used the frequent flyer miles I accumulated on the trip to Australia last year. So, we left Edinburgh about 8AM on Wednesday, had a 2-hour layover at London Heathrow, and hit Rome mid-afternoon. It was mid-60s and sunny, so we were a bit out of place with our winter coats and neck scarves. We were happy to see all the signs in the airport were in both Italian AND English. That was pretty much what we found everywhere. In fact, almost everyone we met started out speaking in English -- guess our dress looked American. We shared a mini-bus for the 18 miles into the city with another couple and were dropped off at the hotel. By this time we realize that Italians drive like kamikaze pilots -- no lane markers and they seem to ignore traffic lights and speed limits. It's a real thrill to see two roads merge together and watch all the near accidents. We quickly learned that the ONLY way you ever cross a street is to simply walk out into the traffic and somehow they magically avoid running you over -- but you don't ever blink or look away. The hotel was located in the center of town near the Spanish Steps (a major gathering place for young people at all hours of the day and night). The hotel room was very nice and the morning breakfast was excellent for Europe. There was this tiny, tiny elevator that supposedly held three people which only went up 3 floors (our room was on the 4th floor). I wish we had a video of us trying to hold open the two little spring-loaded doors and get into the 2'x4' elevator. One of us would let go of the doors before the other had taken hold of it and we would get slapped in the side and make a lot of noise. I'm sure the natives laughed at the "crazy Americans". But, a couple of trips up four flights of stairs convinced us the elevator was the only way to travel. Most of the downtown streets are just wide enough to allow a SMALL car through. Most people ride motor scooters -- we saw tens of thousands of them. They park them side by side with the front wheel always turned left and big chains through the tires to keep them from being stolen.

Thursday we headed off to the Vatican on the subway (Metro). The day started out on a low note with the loss of about $100 to a pickpocket. I discovered it right away and suspect we confronted one of the group who engineered it, but decided there was nothing we could do. Fortunately, we had split our cash and had hidden passports, credit cards, travelers checks, etc. in undergarment purses. We were very careful for the rest of the trip. We spent about 4 hours roaming through the Vatican museum, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. It's difficult to describe such a huge collection of art and treasures. It's about an hour walk from the entrance to the Sistine Chapel. When we walked into it, I assumed it was just another of the dozens of museum rooms. It was somehow smaller than I expected. You could spend a day just looking at all the paintings, though. St. Peter's, on the other hand, is the largest church in the world. Inside, it was one of the prettiest we have seen. We took pictures and have post cards. Mom was amused when I pointed out one statue that I thought was of King Neptune. Guess you don't find Neptune in a Catholic church -- definitely not St. Peter's Basilica.

Thursday was our day to hit the Roman Forum and Coliseum -- relics of the days around the time of Christ. We could walk down the "Sacred Road" of the Forum and visualize how it must have been 2000 years ago with Julius Caesar and his band of merry men. Some of the buildings and columns are just amazing! We saw some of the several thousand cats that have lived there since being introduced to the area by the Romans. The Coliseum is where they used to have gladiator battles and the lions maybe feasted on early Christians. On the way to and from the Forum we saw some incredibly beautiful fountains carved out of marble and many nice town squares. Huge marble churches are on every block, much like the pubs in Edinburgh. Friday we took the city bus tour. Interestingly we had to walk about a half mile from our hotel to catch the bus and we ran into the TWA office. We took a picture for you, Jon. Some interesting observations:

  • It was VERY common to see women in full length mink coats when it turned cold. You would see groups of 4-5 at a time. I have never seen so much fur.
  • The people were very friendly and willing to speak English, but were always trying to get money in one way or another. We ran into one of the best beggars I have ever seen by the Spanish Steps.
  • Italians drive like Mexicans. Going to the airport, we are doing 140 km/hr and switching lanes like crazy.
  • The city of Rome was beautiful, but real, real old.
  • We found ourselves sitting in the hotel room in Rome, watching CNN on TV cover the Pope's visit to St. Louis! Bad timing.
  • The food was excellent and quite reasonable. Unfortunately, an Italian pizza doesn't look anything like one from Pizza Hut. A $2 bottle of house wine is as good as any $15 bottle in the States. We discovered lemon liqueur -- had to buy a bottle in the airport to bring home.
On Sunday afternoon about 3:30, the plane left Rome and headed out over the Mediterranean Sea, heading northwest. As we looked at the sun on the clear blue water, the pilot informed us we would fly past Lake Geneva, over the Alps, make a left bank south of Paris and then cross the English Channel to London. We still can't believe we are doing this! But it sure has been fun!

3/30/99 Barcelona

Our trip to Barcelona has to be one of the greatest holidays we have ever had! The population is very friendly and many can manage some English; the city was beautiful, modern, and very clean; the architecture is very modern, bright, and colorful; the food was delicious (lots of sea food) and about one half the cost of equivalent meals in the UK; the weather was generally warm and sunny (even if I didn't get a chance to wear my swim suit, which I carefully packed). Even the sidewalks are neat -- different shaped ceramic tiles set in concrete, each with a design molded into it. So the sidewalks have different patterns from block to block.

We flew from Edinburgh to London to Barcelona. Because of delays at Heathrow Airport, we had to hussle to get between planes (about 3/4 mile hike with 5 minutes to spare). Somehow, our luggage did make the transfer successfully and showed up promptly in Barcelona. As part of our package, a driver showed up in a Mercedes to drive us to our hotel! The first night we ate at a Tapas (not topless) Bar. A tapa is a Spanish appetizer. So you can order off a list of 60+ appetizers (about $1/small plate) and order wine, beer or whatever. We managed to finish off a pitcher of Sangria. After some moments of thought, we decided against the baked pig snout, the fresh squid cooked in its own ink, and the octopus tid bits and went with the fried shrimp and such. Morning #1 we headed off to the original center of town to visit the Cathedral and the Picasso Museum. This part of town is made up of VERY narrow streets (like Rome) and many, many neat shops. On our way down we found a series of street merchants. The first set were selling palms (for use on Palm Sunday). They would take long palms and weave them into very exotic sculptures to decorate with ribbons and carry into church. You could buy straight palms anywhere from 4 feet to 10 feet long. Than a bit further down the main street (Ramblas) there were bird merchants (canaries, pigeons, chickens, parrots, you name it). Next came the flower vendors. Two not-so-young ladies tried to give us carnations to bring to the Flaminco dances later in the afternoon. We graciously declined. We spent a good part of the day walking around, ended up at a sidewalk bar by the Christopher Columbus statue (Barcelona is where he came back to after discovering America). Sitting at a sidewalk table in the sun, drinking wine, listening to a local musician on a sax play "Moon River" and looking out over the Mediterranean Sea port was VERY nice. That night we went to a local branch of Chi-Chi's Mexican restaurant, where I proved once again that no one east of Florida knows anything about how to make a good margaritas.

The next day we mastered the local subway system, spent several hours visiting an old Spanish village (full of shops) and walked through a local park. Dinner that night was a Spanish pizza -- crust was pretty normal, with cheese, mushrooms, peppers, anchovies, ... and two big fried eggs. I guess if the Scots can put sweet corn on their pizzas, the Spanish can put eggs.

The next day we dedicated to visiting some of the creations of the Spanish architect, Gaudi. This guy was designing buildings back in the early 1900s that look advanced for today. In some cases, they are just figuring out how to use modern construction techniques today to build what he designed a hundred years ago. We toured one building (La Pederea) where the roof vent pipes looked like Star Wars figures -- lots of ceramics and modernistic colors. The picture you normally see of Barcelona is the Temple of Segrada Familia (Sacred Family). This Catholic church has no less than 8 bell towers that go up hundreds of feet. A hundred years later they are still working on it. Then we rode the Metro out to a park he designed. Unfortunately, the park is located at the top of a VERY large mountain and the escalators were not working. Several hundred steps later we did make it to the top. Very beautiful and very different -- but only one toilet down at the entrance at the bottom of the hill.

Sunday we took a bus tour about 40 miles north of the city into the Monserat Mountains where they built a monastery in 1025 on the side of the mountain at 4000 feet. Really neat scenery and a chance to see the families carrying their palm sculptures. We stood in line for about 45 minutes to walk past the "Black Madonna" figure found in a cave near the monastery. That night we had a nice seafood meal at a nearby restaurant. The trip back Monday was uneventful, except they kept changing the gate where the airplane was supposed to leave Barcelona. It went from 43 to 42 to 48 to 46. Then they finally loaded us on buses and drove out to the plane ... except they had problems getting enough buses. We must have been on the plane for 45 minutes before the last guy hopped off the last bus. A truly memorable vacation. We estimate we we walked about 5 miles each day -- which helped work off some of the good food we ate.

5/2/99 Trip to Amsterdam

Well, it's a week late but if we don't write a trip report pretty quickly the details will get lost. We have been entertaining company since the day after we got back from Amsterdam -- but that's the subject for our next note.

Our trip started off with a 6:20 AM direct flight from Edinburgh to Amsterdam on KLM-UK airlines. Amsterdam's Schipol airport is the lowest airport in the world (about 15 feet below sea level) and one of the largest and busiest. It is very modern and pretty. It was about a 15-20 minute walk from the gate into the customs desk, where no one seemed very interested in looking at our passports. We held up our US passports and they simply waved us through. We quickly made our way to the train station and bought tickets ($2 each) into Amsterdam. The trains run every 15 minutes into the city and are very, very smooth. The hotel was about 2-3 blocks from the train station and we sort of stumbled onto it while trying to avoid being hit by the little trams (streetcars) and bicycles. The trams are 2-3 cars long, very brightly painted and they zip up and down the street without paying much attention to the traffic lights. The bicycles are everywhere -- it is the cheap mode of transportation for the local population. Outside the train station there must have been a thousand old, crappy bicycles waiting for their owners to return and claim them. After dropping our luggage in the room, we headed off to find the Anne Frank House (down 5 blocks and over three canals). This building was a famous hiding place where a Jewish family hid from the Nazis during World War 2. We waited in line for almost an hour to tour the house and saw the actual diary Anne Frank had written. We very much enjoyed the experience.

Amsterdam is laid out with a spider web of canals that drain water out of the area, provide boat transportation, is home to hundreds of house boats, is a resting spot for stolen bicycles (40,000 per year) and also a convenient open sewer pipe. When they started building the beautiful buildings along the canals several hundred years ago, they had to drive wooden pilings into the sand to provide a stable base. There might be 35,000 pilings under a big building! That's where all the forests went. Despite all the pilings, some of the buildings have shifted and lean one way or another. But the buildings are very pretty and ornate, dating back 300-400 years.

It is about 8 blocks from the Central Railway Station to Dam Square (the place they build the original dam for the Amstel River (hence the name Amsterdam). The Square is sort of the hub of street activity and there was a circus set up with a huge ferris wheel which served as a landmark while wandering around the city. The national palace was on the square, as well as some of the more famous hotels -- plus lots of street entertainers. The streets between the train station and Dam Square are jammed with people all day and most of the night. We spent a few hours sitting at tables on the sidewalk with a drink and watching some of the weird people go by. The cheap beer and drugs makes it a Mecca for young people from all over the world. The city has decided not to enforce laws against the softer drugs, so we saw hundreds of "coffee houses" that make a business of selling more types of pipes, pots, coils, plants, plant seeds, mushrooms, and joints than you can imagine. The most famous portion of the city is the "red light district". We walked through this part of the city in the daylight and around midnight one night. In addition to the normal assortment of "toy shops" and shows (six live couples on stage give a whole new meaning to the idea of a chorus line, banana acts, and lap dances), there are strings of ground floor windows, bathed in red florescent lights, with girls wearing abbreviated costumes. It is interesting walking along a foot or two away from these windows, looking in while they are looking out.

The high point of the trip was a tour to the tulip fields. We chose this time of year to hit the peak of the tulip blooms. Imagine hundreds and hundreds of acres of brilliant red, yellow, etc. tulips. We did order some bulbs to be delivered in St. Louis next October. Once the tulip blooms peak, they break off the blooms so the energy goes into the bulbs, which are dug up in September and sold around the world. We also went to a floral park which is open for 7 weeks during the spring -- 90 acres of carefully laid out displays by local floral dealers (a total of 7 million bulbs). It was breathtaking! Our pictures turned out great. The next day we took a bus tour to one of the factories where they make the Delft china (bought one plate) and got a brief tour of The Hague. The bus trips to the tulip fields and to Delft allowed us to get a view of the Dutch countryside, wind mills, etc.

That night we ate dinner in the hotel and ran into three older ladies in the bar. Shari spoke to them and it turned out they thought they had a room reserved a day longer than the hotel thought. So, they were going to take a bus out to the airport and sleep in the waiting area and catch their plane back to the US early the next morning (actually, a plane to London Gatwick, train from Gatwick to Heathrow airport, plane to California, plane to Chicago, plane to Ohio, etc.). Two were from California (75-year-old mother and daughter) and one from Kentucky. We enjoyed talking with them and I think it made them feel a lot better about it.

All-in-all, Amsterdam was a very enjoyable city, lots of interesting sights and very friendly people. We discovered we do not like Indonesian food and there is a limit to how many canal houses you can look at in a morning without going bonkers. We did buy post cards, but they have yet to be mailed.

05/12/99 York, England Trip

Somehow, we never got around to writing about our trip to York, England a week ago. If we put it off any longer, the memory will fade pretty quick. So...a bit of background first.

Joe and Chris Fleagle were visiting us for a few days and planned to spend a weekend in York before heading to London and then back to St. Louis. Their son, Brian, has a significant other that had relatives in York who recommended a Bed and Breakfast, where we both registered for the weekend. Shari and the Fleagles took the train from Edinburgh to York on Friday morning and I got a Bank car that evening and drove down -- about a 4-hour trip. In talking with the guy at this B&B, he said repeatedly, "You can't miss us, we are right outside the ..." and then mumbled something which I could not understand after four tries. So, I figure those going down on the train will take a cab to the Young Hotel and then call me with the directions -- which they did (fortunately). It turns out the hotel is right outside the cathedral which is known locally as "The Minster". Couple that name with a strange British accent over the phone and you have what is known as a mumble. Also, the hotel is located on a one-way, one lane street with a one-foot-square sign that only references the Young Hotel on the bottom line in little letters. Sure you can't miss it! Oh, yes. There is no legal parking within a quarter mile and once you pass the hotel it is a 2-mile tour of the city to get back again. Try that in the dark at 10 PM, with hundreds of drunk tourists roaming the streets.

After the first tour of the city, I make a second pass and park in the grass in front of the Cathedral while we unload the baggage. Joe and I then take the car over to the garage where the hotel is supposed to have a spot, except there is a car already in my spot. We park the car illegally again and walk back the the hotel and get no advice as to what to do. So, we find a parking lot where I can leave the car legally until 8:30 the next morning. It turns out the hotel claims to be the birth place of Guy Falkes. Falkes was an English traitor who tried to blow up the Parliament building in the 1600s. He was eventually caught, tried and died a painful death. The Scots think it was pretty neat that he tried to blow up the English Parliament, so they celebrate his birthday much like we do the 4th of July. Unfortunately, they had not spent much to keep up the building since poor ol' Guy left. The stairs leaned a fair bit as we went up to the 3rd floor. The doors sagged. The shower put out a miserly trickle of water that went from frigid to scalding with a minute touch of the handle. In the bar, Chris made the mistake of asking for an exotic drink -- a whiskey sour. The bar tender (and cashier, front desk attendant, cook and janitor) looked up at the array of bottles and asked, "which one is that?" I could go on. Suffice it to say it was not the best hotel we have ever stayed at.

York, the city, was neat. Lots of really great shops. Like many English cities, there were traces of their Roman past (0-200 AD). After that the Vikings took over and we went through a reconstructed Viking village which had been excavated in the center of the city -- really neat. We all decided we are glad we did not live in that period. Then in Medieval Times they built a high stone wall around the city to keep out the riffraff. Much of the wall still stands and we spent some time walking around the top of the wall. When Shari and I took a walk, we ran into some paramedics wheeling off a guy who looked like he had had a heart attack while walking the wall. Saturday morning we walked over to the Castle Museum. Now, you might assume this museum was in a castle or had something to do with a castle -- not true. Hundreds of years ago there was a castle that used to be there. All that's left now is a hill with the remains of a tower whose roof fell in when they shot off fireworks inside the tower. The museum was an enjoyable history of assorted things to do with the home. It bothered us to see items in the museum that we have at our home in St. Louis.

We spent a lot of time just wandering the narrow streets and looking in the shop windows. There was the traditional open-top tour bus. Sunday, we took Fleagles to the train station to head off to London on an 8:00 train and we went back to eat breakfast -- except there were no places open before 10AM. After a really great English breakfast, we checked out of our hotel and headed back to Edinburgh.

Back at work on Monday, several of the Bank staff wanted to know how we liked York. One of the local characters commented that it was a really pretty city and nice to visit, but "there are all those English folks around there".

Next week we head to Prague, Czechoslovakia. I hear a lot of the natives speak English or German. I sure hope so! After a month of trying to learn some words in Czech, all I can say is yes (anno), no (ne), hello (dobry' den), and 2 beers please (dve' piva, prosim). I haven't even tried to learn how to ask where the toilet is.

5/24/99 Prague - To Prague and Back

If all our trips within Europe, this one is probably the most interesting, surprising, and yet difficult to write about. First, a bit of geography and history about the country. Czechoslovakia was one of the Communist countries until about 10 years ago. After some public demonstrations, the country split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Czech Republic elected a President, who is still in office, and the Communists quietly disappeared (it was called the "Velvet Revolution"). Prague is the capital city and is located about 50 miles from the German border. For that reason, German is sort of a second language and much of the local food is very German.

Our first surprise was the weather. We expected cold and rain (or snow) -- carefully packing long sleeved shirts, winter coats and neck scarves. What we got was five days of mid-70s and sunshine, so we roasted and actually came back with a bit of suntan. We sort of expected drab and tasteless food, but it turned out to be some of the best we have found anywhere -- heavily oriented toward roast beef and pork, dumplings, and sausages. Restaurant prices were about 1/3 of what we would find in the UK. We were a bit leery of going to a country where the language was so different (my 8 words of Czech would only allow us to say "yes", "no", "good morning", or to order beer and wine). As it turned out, almost everyone we ran into spoke some English and I never once had to try any broken-Czech. The people were very, very friendly and went out of their way to accommodate us. We also expected the facilities to be out of date, but our hotel was more modern than what we have had in London or Paris. Bottom line -- we had a great time, bought some neat souvenirs, and have a much better appreciation of the Czech culture.

As with all British Airways travel, one always goes through London Heathrow Airport. They have only one flight a day to Prague -- a Boeing 767 filled to capacity. The mini-van dropped us at our hotel on a quiet side street near the Jewish Quarter at about 3PM. Our first objective was to find the American Express office on Weceslas Square to convert our Travelers Checks to Czech Crowns. The first thing we noticed was that the sidewalks are generally made up of 2"x2" stones set in sand. They make patterns out of the various colored stones, but as you might expect, the stones come out and so in some places the pattern has turned into a random jumble (or there are just holes in the sidewalk). They must keep a thousand people employed just building and rebuilding the sidewalks! We saw one area where there was a truck load of these small stones piled up and they were sorting them into colors! We also quickly discovered that there are hundreds of Bohemian Crystal shops -- glasses, bowls, vases, whatever-you-want all in very good quality, inexpensive crystal. We managed to limit our purchases to a large salad bowl and 12 champagne glasses -- again at prices that are less than 25% of what we would pay in the UK.

Now, Wenceslas Square is not really a square, but rather a half-mile-long boulevard which is lined with shops, sidewalk cafes, street artists and a lot of noise. What I considered to be one of the greatest discoveries of Prague lay at one end of the Square -- a huge Dunkin' Donuts restaurant (with a full selection of varieties and seating for a hundred or more customers). That night we ate at a little restaurant near to our hotel -- champagne and pistachio nuts to start, a cup of shredded lobster for an appetizer, beef/dumplings/vegetables for a main course, ice cream for desert, and a bottle of wine for about what we would pay for Pizza Hut and a couple of drinks in Edinburgh.

Some of the many, many interesting sights we experienced in Prague:
  • The Prague Castle, which included the magnificent St. Vitus's Cathedral -- took more than a thousand years to build.
  • The Charles Bridge across the Vltava River. This is a stone pedestrian bridge, built around 1400 AD, about 12 feet wide and about 1/3 mile long. Along both sides are several dozen statues of saints. Between the statues are street vendors, musicians, and thousands of tourists. This was Shari's favorite spot in the city.
  • Various Baroque (highly decorated) churches and a couple very old synagogues.
  • The old Jewish Cemetery which was the only place the Jews could bury their dead for over 300 years. So, they kept adding more dirt and raising the stones. There are now over 12,000 gravestones crammed into the tiny space.
  • A tiny memorial in Wenceslas Square dedicated to those that died under Communism.
  • Sitting at sidewalk cafes in several parts of the city, drinking the great Czech beer or wine, and watching the crowds go by. (Remember, Czech Busweiser Beer was around long before Anheiser Bush came into existence.)
  • Visiting the Church of Our Lady Victorious which housed the Holy Infant of Prague since 1628.
  • A boat tour on the Vltava River.
  • An evening out to a Czech restaurant (complete with folk dancing and music) and a view of the illuminated city at night.
  • Discovering a new way to eat hot dogs -- cut a loaf of French bread in half, spear one of the cut halves on a pointy spear (forming a round hole the length of the bread), dip a hot dog in mustard, and then stick it in the hole. The only problem is it would be a bit difficult to add pickle relish or onions.
  • Watching a clock on the wall of the old town hall strike the hours as it has since 1490, while small statues of the Apostles pass before a window. This draws a huge crowd every hour during the day.
  • Stores full of painted egg shells -- incredibly beautiful and complicated patterns (we elected not to carry these on the plane).
  • Thousands of street vendors selling anything you can imagine (Mom bought a meditation bell from Tibet -- it makes a spooky sound when you rub the edge with a wooden stick.
I could go on, but I don't want to bore you all. Suffice it to say Prague is right up there with Paris and Barcelona as one of our favorite cities.

7/12/99 Mull Trip #2 Coach Tour

This was another Disneyland weekend for the "old folks". We made a second attempt to see some of the Western Isles of Scotland and the weather cooperated reasonably well. Everyone is saying this is the first extended period of summer weather they have seen in two years.

Friday night I borrowed a Bank car and ducked out at 4PM. We were on the road to Glasgow by 5. Heading north from Glasgow, we pass the Loch Lomond Golf Course just as the International Tournament is letting out -- major traffic mess. At the north end of the Loch we stop and eat the picnic supper Shari had packed. Really neat scenery with the sun shining on the Loch and the emerald green hills on the other side. We make it all the way to Oban before the sun sets (about 9:30pm) and find a Bed & Breakfast for the night -- nothing to brag about, but the price was right.

Saturday morning we rush through breakfast to be at the ferry landing at 8am and drive onto the Caledonian McBrayne ferry to the island of Mull. To put it in perspective, this ferry is about the size of a football field. It will hold over 100 cars. On one load we saw several dozen cars and four tour buses pull off! So, 45 minutes later we drive off onto Mull at Craignure and turn onto the cursed road to Fionnphort. Between these two towns (population of a couple hundred or so) is 36 miles of single track road. Even if it had been two lanes wide, it would have been a challenge with the hills and curves. But when you are sharing the single lane with opposing traffic, with only wide spots every 100 yards or so where two cars can pass, it's tension city -- big time. About 2/3 of the way down to Fionnphort, it starts to rain a little just to make things a bit more interesting. Oh, yes. There are also sheep, goats and cattle roaming on the road as well. We got some terrific pictures of a herd of Highland Cattle settling down on the road for a long summer nap. On the positive side, the scenery was beyond description! Lush green mountains rising to both sides of the road and not a sole in sight.

From Fionnphort it is a 15 minute ferry ride to Iona. This ferry would hold maybe 4 cars, but you can't transport a car to Iona unless you live there. So, it is mainly foot traffic going over the ferry. It was here in Iona that Saint Columba arrived in 563 and brought Christianity to Northern Europe. Actually, he sort of combined Christianity with the Pagan beliefs of the local Picts. It was really popular with the locals but irritated Rome greatly. There are some stone Pictish crosses still around, but not much else from that period. There is a relatively new Abbey, ruins of an old Abbey and and old Nunnery, sheep, etc. Just off the coast of Iona is a wee rocky island where Father Columba allowed cattle and women to live.

At 1:45 we hopped on board a small boat and headed out to the island of Staffa, about 45 minutes north of Iona. This is an uninhabited island formed from volcanic action where the basalt crystallized, forming 5-, 6-, or 7- sided stones that were 50 feet long or so. It's like the entire island is made up of crystals. You could walk along the edge of the island on these stepping stones (ends of the crystals) to Fingal's Cave, where the Atlantic Ocean washed in. Definitely the high point of the weekend!!! Then we climbed up a very steep staircase to the top of the island and explored for an hour or so. Fortunately, the sun came out about then. From the edge of the cliffs we could see a flock of hundreds of puffins out in the water and some that were flying around the rocky cliffs. These are birds about the size of a goose, but with a big orange beak and short neck. They nest in burrows in the ground and only live on remote islands during the nesting season, spending the winters out in the Atlantic. You would swear they couldn't fly, but they do with some difficulty. Puffins are one of the things we really wanted to see while we were in Scotland. Then it was back on the boat to Fionnphort, stirring up the puffins along the way. We leave to drive back to Craignure about 5pm. The 36 miles seemed to go more quickly with sun. From Craignure, then it was another 30 miles up to Tobermory, where we were to spend the night. Part of this road was 2-lane, part barely 1-lane. The city is beautiful; the store fronts are painted all different colors and face out on the harbor. The hotel and dinner that night were great. Sunday after breakfast we roamed around the city a bit and headed back to the ferry to Oban. The drive back through the mountains was beautiful with fairly sunny skies.

All told, it was about 400 miles of some of the most interesting driving we ever hope to experience. We are now well trained to act as coach drivers for our company in August.
Orkney

I took a trip last weekend that was most incredible. A friend from Glasgow, Mary Baker, and I flew to Kirkwall which is on Mainland (the largest of the Orkney Islands).

We were sort of prepared for a small plane and we weren't disappointed. It did have a loo (camper style) but it had only two engines, and the cabin was not pressurized. It held about 30 semi-calm people. I really sort of enjoyed all of the movement.

About five minutes into the flight Mary started talking to the lady next to her. She was an Orcadian and offered us a ride into Kirkwall and to our hotel. When she saw what we were to see on our tour she suggested taking us around to what we were missing. We went to the Italian Chapel which was a Quansat-style hut turned into a beautiful chapel by Italian POW's during WW 2. They used only paint and creativity. Sheila and Dennis (husband) drove us around for four hours and we finished up at their interesting home for a wee dram of whiskey. I can't believe how gracious and kind they were to strangers. We have their E-mail address plus two others.

That afternoon we shopped and visited the St. Magnus Cathedral. It is 800 years old and made of local red and yellow sandstone. Our hotel was near the harbor and we had a "blowey" look at the fishing boats crashing around there.

The next day we took a van tour of the best bits of the island. The driver and wife looked more like an American Indian and his "hippie" wife, but they were fun.(no. 2 address) Two twins on the tour were there to revisit the Island where they spent about six of their childhood years. We bonded with them and shared a dinner that night. (no. 3 address). One is a Radiologic Technologist in London.

We discovered that all of the folks we met couldn't be more interested in us and were so trusting that no one on the island locks their doors. Furthermore, most of the incredible places we visited are unlocked overnight.

The tour:
Yesnaby:
Incredible stack rock and cliff views. Neolithic man may have obtained building stones and roof slates from here. I stayed away from the edge because of incredible wind.

Skara Brae:
This is a stone village that is 5,000 years old. It is older than the Egyptian pyramids. In 1850, a storm unearthed this village. There are several houses complete with stone dressers, beds, and maybe toilets. They also sport small stone boxes. These were used to soak limpets (I brought several of their shells home) They needed to be soaked or softened before they were used for bait. They cleverly moved them from box to box so that they knew which ones were ready to be used. We were eagerly looking forward to this highlight and it was fab.

Ring of Brodgar and Stones of Stenness:
These were circles of stone slabs from the third millennium BC. One site held 27 out of an original 60 stones. These may have been used for astrological alignment. The summer/winter solstices aligns sunsets and sunrises with the stones and notches in the hills. There were buttercups (tied together) and other things in the center of these circles which were offerings made on the recent summer solstice. We were told to walk around them in a clockwise direction. If you ran around them twice in a counter clockwise direction you are promised a child within a year. Mary and I decided we'd better walk.

Maeshowe:
Now I have a problem. As most of you know I am claustrophobic and the entrance is a 20-foot long enclosed walkway which you stoop to walk through. A busload of very elderly people from Holland (they managed) convinced me that I could and would do it. It is a 5,000-year-old burial chambered tomb. It opens into a arched chamber. (Luckily for me) In the mid-12th century, it was broken into by Norsemen and Vikings and they carved runes on the stones. Funny graffiti like "Ingibiorg the fair widow" and "many a woman has walked stooping in here", or "Thorni bedded Helgi".

Broch of Gurness:
This was built around 500 BC and was an Iron Age Chieftain's stronghold. We saw this during our only period of rain at the tail end of the tour so we cruised pretty fast through the ruins. Brough of Birsay: You all would have loved this one. This tidal island contains ruins of a Viking Age settlement, church, and a monastery. I got carried away and took an entire roll of film here. Crashing seas, wind, craggy rocks, and birds nesting on the sheer cliffs made it memorable. We tried very hard to find the puffins (really cute birds found in Scotland) but we didn't see any of them. Several in our small group said they saw five of them but we weren't convinced. In the wind it was pretty scary to get too close to the edge of the cliffs. It was a neat walk among the sheep, sheep shit, and some shells??? over the top of the island and back. I will always see this tidal area.

On our last day in Orkney we visited a local jewelry shop with SALES, and took a bus to the nearby town of Stromness. It's a stop for the ferry on the far side of the island. We shopped some more, learned about "flatties" (small boats), and ate at the very posh Laundramat Cafe. They served fish cakes to die for. On the way back the bus driver stopped to deliver a package. He put it on top of a stone wall for someone to collect. Amazing honesty!

By now Mary and I haven't had much sleep due to the 24 hours of daylight. Orkney is so far north that at this time of year there is no "night". We thought everything was super funny and were laughing a lot over everything and anything. Fun!

Our flight home was bumpy to say the least but drinks were free and they got us though it. One of us even asked for more Vodka in the Vodka tonic.

Put this one at the top of your list. These people were incredible.

OOPS-- I forgot about "darkening". If you are getting married in Orkney your mates pour treacle (molasses) and eggs on you and may or may not add feathers and you all sit in an open truck and drive through town banging on cans and singing. Guys do it to the groom and girls do the same for the bride. We couldn't believe that they were still going around and around for well over an hour. We did take pictures. I hope to return and show Dave all this neat old stuff.

Bordeaux, France

Our trip to Bordeaux, France started with a very civilized 11am flight from Edinburgh to Paris. Most of the time when we fly through London, that means we have to get up at 4am to catch the flight. Not this time. The plane change in Paris involved about a quarter mile hike between terminals. The Charles de Gaulle Airport is very modern, clean, and well laid out. All signs are in both French and English. It was about an hour and 45 minute flight to Paris and then another hour and 15 minutes to Bordeaux (south east of Paris and maybe 100 miles from the Spanish border, near the Atlantic Ocean). On the flight from Edinburgh to Paris, we decided to request two aisle seats across for each other (more leg room that way). I sat next to a French couple that didn't say word one the whole trip. Shari got a couple that were returning to their home on the island of Seychelles (off the coast of Kenya, Africa). The wife promptly went to sleep, but the husband started a nonstop monologue on his life history. I've never seen anyone talk so much, and poor Mom was sitting next to him It's Wednesday night and I'm finally getting around to the weekend summary.. His stories were very interesting and he appeared to be quite wealthy.

The first thing we noticed when we landed in Bordeaux was that the weather was probably 40 degrees warmer than what we had left in Scotland! It's now 95 degrees, full sun and I'm wearing a wool sport coat, a long sleeved shirt and a tee shirt. Sweat city! Neither one of us had thought to pack shorts, so we were stuck with long pants for the whole weekend. Fortunately, the cab to the hotel was air conditioned sort of. And the hotel was cool. We saw a brief shower on Sunday morning, but generally the weather remained hot and sunny. The hotel was in the "Old Town" district of the city. In Edinburgh, Prague and other cities, that means several hundred year old architecture and really neat history. In Bordeaux it meant crappy old buildings. Thursday night we were on our own and we walked about a half mile along the river front to a restaurant district. We ate in a plaza at a sidewalk restaurant - the only one we saw that had some English on the menu. Because there were no English channels on the hotel TV, we ended up watching French shows and trying to figure out what they were saying. One night we caught part of a 1940s American movie that was being shown with French subtitles (but we could hear the English sound track). Because the attendees at the weekend came from all over (France, Germany, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, Denmark, Austria, England, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Israel, Spain and two couples from South Africa) it was really interesting talking with each other. Almost all could manage a bit of English.

From Friday morning until Sunday afternoon when we left for the airport, IBM had events scheduled continuously from 7am breakfast to dinners that ran past midnight - each more exotic than the next. Being in the midst of the French wine country, we found ourselves "tasting" wines at 10:30 in the morning on both Saturday and Sunday and ongoing through the day (along with several glasses at lunch and many glasses for dinner). We learned how wines were made, how to smell it, how they are aged, what colors they should be, what wines go with what food, etc., etc., etc. We visited some of the French castles (chateau) where the wines are produced. The grape picking was to start the day after we left, so the vines were all loaded with grapes. They are actually very small grapes, but very sweet. The vines have to be 20 years old before they are used in good wines and can produce for more than 75 years. The roots go 50 feet down through the very poor soil to find water and they are not allowed to water the vines if it doesn't rain.

One afternoon we took a bus trip over to the coast to a resort area where the oysters are raised (the basin). This is a large area that floods at high tide and then drains except for a few channels at low tide. It was about a 2-hour boat ride around the area - very, very neat and beautiful. One evening we rode a bus (back to the plaza where we had eaten the first night) for wine and appetizers. In true IBM style, they had rented out most of the public square for our group. The fountain in the middle of the square was pumping out white wine instead of water (you filled your glasses from the fountain), and there was a small circus group performing for us. The restaurant we had eaten at the night before was closed and the waiters were serving our appetizers. After about an hour of entertainment, the musicians (dressed in strange costumes) escorted us the two blocks back to our buses. That will be the image we will always remember from the trip! The buses then took us up into the surrounding hills to a luxury restaurant for another hour of wine and appetizers overlooking a beautiful sunset and the city lights coming on. Dinner that night finished about midnight. Dinner on Saturday night (served in another wine chateau) was actually better, followed by dancing until 2am.

During the course of the trip we ate more strange foods (raw oysters, goose liver pate, duck breast, caviar, turbot fish, and probably two dozen things we will never know what was in them) and drank more wine than any weekend in our life. It was an absolutely fantastic four days, but we would have to say Bordeaux is not one of our favorite cities. The flight back to Edinburgh via Paris was uneventful. Shari sat next to a French lady that was going to deliver a lecture at Edinburgh University and was very interesting. We got back home about 11pm on Sunday.

Next weekend we head to Bristol, England for a dinner-dance with the group that I will be working with for the remainder of our stay. The following weekend we fly back to the States. We are really looking forward to seeing you all in the next few weeks.
01/30/00 Castle Douglas

The weather has been very calm the past couple of weeks -- ranging from mid-30s to the mid-40s and sunny. They are planting spring flowers in the gardens along Princes Street and the bulb plants (crocus, snowdrops, etc.) are starting to bloom. So, we decided this would be a good weekend to head down to the southwest of Scotland -- an area that we had never seen. I got on the Internet and booked a room for Saturday night at a Bed & Breakfast in a small town called Castle Douglas.

As luck would have it, the weather changed on Friday -- a bit warmer and rain most of the day. The TV weather forecast that night for Saturday was classic Scotland: periods of rain, except for the sunny areas; chance of sleet and blizzard conditions in the Highlands; gale force winds all over Scotland, with winds up to 100 miles per hour in the Orkney and Shetland Islands. (I looked it up tonight and Gale Force winds equates to wind between about 40 and 55 miles per hour.) During Friday night the wind woke us up many times as it howled around the flat. Saturday morning the streets were as clean as we have ever seen them. Every speck of trash had been blown somewhere else! It was still pretty windy, but sunny blue sky. So, I picked up our rental car at 9am and we headed toward the West Coast of Scotland. The entire day it alternated between sunny blue sky and heavy rain -- but the wind blew almost constantly until late afternoon (talk about a bad hair day!). The focus of this trip was to see some of the castles in what is referred to as the Galloway region. Many are closed during the winter, but you can usually walk around and take pictures. About 50 miles south of Glasgow we found the Culzean Castle (pronounced "Cullane"). This is a beautiful, lived-in castle where Eisenhower spent some time during the Second World War. You can stay in his old apartment for only $500/night. We will definitely have to go back in the summer when there are tours. (Jeff, you might remember that Rosy Kennedy from upstairs said that her family had given this castle to the state) From there it was another 50 miles or so south along the coast to Stranraer, where the ferries go over to Ireland. As you can imagine, with all that wind, the waves along the Atlantic coast were scary. The shoreline is very rocky and just beautiful.

Then we headed inland and stopped at the Glenluce Abbey, built in the late 1100s by the Cistercian monks. It's mainly in ruins, but the 15th century Chapter House is in good shape and has remarkable acoustics. The ticket office was locked up, so we wandered around the ruins on our own. By the time we got to our next castle, it was just about closing time (4pm was supposed to be the last entry and we got there about 3:58). Cardoness Castle was a tall, blocky building on top of a hill. The ticket seller had already locked up the castle and was ready to head off, but said he would open it back up for us. He turned the lights back on in the castle and unlocked the door -- only to discover that he had locked two people inside. If we hadn't come along when we did, that couple would have been stuck inside the castle with no lights, on top of a hill, with absolutely nothing around. It would have been a real long, dark and cold night if they couldn't have found a way out.

So, we got to Castle Douglas about 4:30 and I finally admitted to Shari that I had left the sheet which had the directions to our B&B back in Edinburgh. In fact, neither of us could even remember the name of the B&B. So, we drove through town hoping to see something that would strike a bell and finally stopped at a Shell station to check out the Yellow Pages. Unfortunately, nothing there looked familiar. One of the customers just happened to remark that it might be the Long Acre Manor which was just about 1/4 mile outside town. Sure enough, that was where we were registered. It was a neat old house owned by the Ball family, with only 4 rooms to rent on the second floor -- there were three guys from South Africa, a couple from Glasgow, and us. Charlie was the husband, who was always around chatting, serving dinner, helping with the bags, or whatever. We never did see the wife, who was supposedly in the kitchen. The Scots typically have very long eye brows, but Charlie was in a whole different category. It looked like he had trimmed either end of each eyebrow and the center section curved up to make a horn-like shape -- maybe an inch long. He must have put them up in rollers after he showered!

This morning, it was a slow, steady rain. We did stop to see the Caerlaverock Castle, south of Dumfries (built in the late 1200s). It's the first castle we have seen that actually had a moat around it with water. Unfortunately, it would not be open until 2pm and we were there at 11:30am. We decided to head home. Just before we got onto the M74 motorway to head back north, we went through Lockerbie (near where the Pan Am 747 was blown up back in 1988). We stopped briefly to see the memorial garden which is in honor of those that died in the crash. Unfortunately, it was about a 1/4 mile walk through the cemetery in the wind and rain to get to the garden.

So, now we are back once again and ready for another week. The contract with the Bank is looking very probable at this point. One more meeting is scheduled for Wednesday and then it will be a few days of frantic contract drafting. We should know something definite this week. (How long have we been saying that?).

01/09/00 New Lanark

Well, we are almost two weeks into the new year and I'm having less problems writing the year as 00. This weekend we rented a car just to have something different to do. Saturday morning we headed down to the South edge of town and hit some of the big suburban stores that I had never seen before. We joined Costco (sort of like the Sam's Warehouse stores) and spent an hour or so wandering around the place. Like Sam's, it's a great place if you need 1000 tea bags or a gallon of salad dressing. I did get a good price on a case of Scrumpy Jack cider! Next door was the Ikea store -- it's a Swedish chain that has all kinds of furniture, kitchen tools, towels, etc. Again, an hour or so of wandering covered a small portion of the contents. Then across the street to a Sainsbury grocery store for our weekly shopping. You should have seen us searching through the store to try and find the ingredients for shrimp seafood sauce. You can buy frozen shrimp like at home, but the seafood sauce over here is pale pink -- like thousand island dressing. We are going to experiment on making the old, hot, red SHRIMP sauce. We'll let you know how it works out. Later in the afternoon we drove over to the Cramond area (about 3-4 miles west of our flat) which is down on the shoreline of the Forth. It's historic (Roman ruins and some buildings that go back a few hundred years). It would be a really neat area to explore if it were a bit warmer. You can walk out to an island in the Forth at low tide and there were all kinds of birds to feed. Plus there is a walk along the Almond River to a waterfall.

Today we drove about 40 miles west to a town called New Lanark. About 200 years ago it was a "planned community" that was built around a woolen/cotton mill. At its peak there were about 2500 people working and living there. Basically they would take cotton from the US and wool from Scotland and process it into thread that was then shipped to Glasgow to be woven into material. It doesn't sound too exciting, but it was a major big factory in its day. Women and children would work from 6am to 7pm (with two hours out for breakfast and lunch) for six days a week. The company would provide the housing, schooling, medical, etc. The River Clyde ran a big waterwheel that drove all the mills.

On the positive side, the days are rapidly getting longer. We have picked up an hour more of daylight in the morning and evening since mid-December. On my computer at work, I have the weather forecast for Denver, St. Louis and Edinburgh. Recently, Edinburgh has been the warmest of the three! The past week has been VERY windy, though.

This morning, it was a slow, steady rain. We did stop to see the Caerlaverock Castle, south of Dumfries (built in the late 1200s). It's the first castle we have seen that actually had a moat around it with water. Unfortunately, it would not be open until 2pm and we were there at 11:30am. We decided to head home. Just before we got onto the M74 motorway to head back north, we went through Lockerbie (near where the Pan Am 747 was blown up back in 1988). We stopped briefly to see the memorial garden which is in honor of those that died in the crash. Unfortunately, it was about a 1/4 mile walk through the cemetery in the wind and rain to get to the garden.

So, now we are back once again and ready for another week.

02/02/00 Stoke Scotland

A lot of you are asking about recent adventures we've had and what is new here so I thought I'd send this along. Dave also wrote about our last weekend in England so I'll mail it as well. If they are toooo boring you can "delete". Thanks for all of your notes and forwards. We sure do like to keep up with the news from "home"

Life is never boring in Scotland. Stoke:
I am writing this while I'm on the train to Glasgow. It's a 40 minute ride and I should probably try to sleep but it is a really scenic ride. Today begins my 10 week class on "The Archeology of Orkney and the Shetland Islands" I'm taking it with 2 friends from Glasgow. Mary Baker and I went to Orkney together and it was brilliant.

I got home last night about midnight from Stoke-on-Trent. I went with thirteen other women from my women's club. This included most of my bridge group and others from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, and Dunblane.

Many factories are located in Stoke that produce Wedgwood, Doulton, Portmeirion, enamel boxes and other fine china and pottery. Bargains galore!!! We had a long train ride into England to get there. We only changed trains once though. Our hotel charged us just 31 pounds for bed, a wonderful dinner, and breakfast. It was a total of 62 pounds if two shared a room.

For 2 days we hired the same taxi and he drove us from store to store. He knew the town well and he sure knew all of the best places to find bargains.

This was the most fun group of women ever and our train rides included champagne, assorted spirits, salmon, other munchies and one long uproar. Seven of us played tons of bridge on the train and in the hotel. We "taught" two of the others so that they could be a fourth player and we could play with two tables.

I probably bought too much but when you can buy dishes for a couple of pounds, it's hard to pass it up. Many of the women bought Spode Christmas plates (seconds) for 2 pounds ($3.32) each. I did pass that one up.

02/15/00 Athens, Greece Trip

This weekend was the first major trip in the new year. On Friday morning we flew from Edinburgh to London and then on to Athens, Greece. Why Athens? British Airways has their winter discount rates on, so we could fly from Edinburgh to almost anywhere in Europe for about 99 pounds each way. Checking the weather forecasts, Athens was the warmest and the farthest away (assuming you don't want to go to places like Bosnia or Yugoslovia). Distance wise this is about like flying from St. Louis to Chicago to San Diego. Athens is roughly 1500 miles southeast of Edinburgh and two time zones earlier. The trip over was very enjoyable, except the layover in London Heathrow airport was just a bit tight. The first plane was late leaving Edinburgh and then had to circle Heathrow for a while because of traffic (very common these days). With a 10-15 minute bus ride between terminal 1 and terminal 4, we walked up to the gate for our Athens plane just as they announced it was ready for boarding. Good timing! Somehow, our bags made the switch without any problem.

Based upon our experiences in other European countries, we didn't even bother to learn any Greek words. They don't sound anything like English and they even use a different alphabet! Not to worry. Everyone we spoke to could manage English just fine! The most friendly people you could imagine. When you walk in a store, they start talking to you immediately in English, wanting to know all about you and trying to explain everything you look at. Then there is the price dickering and finally they carefully double wrap every little piece you buy. Then as you are about to leave, they pick out a little gift for you to take along. We even got into a historical/political discussion with a beautiful twenty-something girl who had never been outside Greece, but spoke perfect English.

One of Shari's friends had recommended a hotel in Athens, the Acropolis View Hotel. We booked three nights through the internet at a very reasonable price (about 1/4 the price of a comparable hotel in the UK). It was just a block from the Acropolis and close to the shopping area; clean and very friendly. We had read that there were homeless cats all over the city, but the first night we could hear dogs barking from all directions. With sounds bouncing off the nearby hills, it was hard to figure out where they were. Well, into the second day, we realized we were on the top floor of the hotel and there was a kennel with two dogs in it immediately over our room. Every few hours they would get upset at each other and have a short battle during the night.

The high point of the trip would have to be roaming around the Acropolis, a hill-top collection of temples built in the fifth century BC by the ancient Greeks. In the center is the Parthenon -- about the size of a football field and surrounded by 40 huge white marble pillars. Now you must realize they were able to quarry the marble, haul it from where-ever to the top of the mountain in Athens, and build the temple in just nine years, which is faster than the State of Missouri built the Interstate 70/270 interchange some 2500 years later. The building was later used as a church and a mosque and stood up pretty well until 1687, when the Turks were using it as a place to store gunpowder. One lucky shot and the building was pretty much damaged. Then in the early 1800s, Lord Elgin removed some of the best carvings and sold them to the British Museum. On one of the other buildings, the Greeks carved statues of women to serve as pillars to hold up the roof. It's amazing to see the incredible engineering feats they were able to produce that long ago.

We spent a long time just roaming through the neat shops in an area of the city known as the Plaka. On Sunday, they set up the largest flea market you have ever seen -- miles of little stands with more old "stuff" than you can dream of. The streets are mobbed with shoppers and the noise is terrible. At one point on Sunday afternoon we wandered into an area of ruins and Shari suggested I take a picture of her standing behind a headless statue of a Greek soldier. Well, all of a sudden there are whistles and a guard is saying we are defaming the honor of their country's history. We would have to "go to headquarters" with him. "Headquarters" turned out to be a guy sitting in a chair under a tree on the other side of a building. We were scolded a while and allowed to slink away. As it turns out, we were fortunate they didn't ask for our ticket into the museum since we had not noticed anyone was selling tickets!

Monday was Valentine's Day and we managed to squeeze in another 3 hours of roaming before catching a taxi to the airport. In summary it was a fantastic weekend. We would highly recommend Athens. With more time you could take a tour to some of the nearby islands, which looked beautiful. We found the food in the restaurants to be just excellent and reasonably priced. We ate at a neighborhood restaurant, a mid-scale restaurant, and a top of the line restaurant (complete with a view of the lighted Parthenon) and had Greek food each night. In each place, the menu was in Greek and English. The trip home was uneventful. All our purchases made it home just fine, except the bag of pistachio nuts (which broke). So I had about 639 pistachio nuts randomly distributed among my clothing in the suit case

03/07/00 Stonehenge - Off to the Henges

This was the weekend we decided to head south of the border to see Stonehenge and some of the other sights west of London. The weekend really started Friday evening with 5 friends joining us for dinner. It was a great evening, with cleanup over at just past midnight. Fortunately, Mom and I were both pretty much packed since the taxi was scheduled to pick us up for the airport at 5am (they always show up 5 minutes earlier than you order them for). At 4:45 Saturday morning I heard the very calm question from Mom, "Weren't we supposed to get up at 4?" Although the night before we questioned if an hour was enough time to get ready, suddenly we had 10 minutes before the cab driver would ring the buzzer. Never in our lives have we moved quite that fast! We actually walked down the stairs as the cab was driving up in front at 4:55am. I discovered later that the alarm had been set for 4pm instead of 4am. I'll never know how.

The flight to London Heathrow Airport was smooth, with a beautiful sunrise on the way. The rental car was simple to pick up and we were soon winding our way out of the airport complex -- the first time we have ever driven in the London area. Stonehenge was our first priority for the weekend. It is located about 50 miles west of Heathrow and is just an incredible sight. Fortunately the day was clear and sunny for us. Stonehenge was a circular arrangement of huge stones (like 45 ton rocks) which dates back some 4500 years. No one really understands how the people managed to gather these stones and assemble them like they did. They estimate it would have taken about 600 men working full time for a year to drag each stone to the site. Then they had to bury 1/3 of the stone in the earth to get it to stand upright (remember they didn't have metal then, so a shoulder blade bone was the best they could find to dig the holes). Then they somehow chiseled the upright stones so there was a bump on top. Then they positioned horizontal stones on top, with holes chiseled out to fit the bumps so they would not fall off. How do you lift a 45 ton stone 20 feet in the air and position it on top of another stone? When they were done, it was a circular ring of vertical stones, capped with other stones (some have since fallen down and some are missing). The vertical stones were positioned so that if you stood in the exact center of the ring, the rising or setting sun would appear between a particular pair of stones, depending upon which month it was. So, at a minimum, it's got to be the most massive damned calendar in history!

Although it was sunny, the temperature on Saturday was just above freezing. So it was a bit cool walking around this "henge" (circle). When we were about half way around the henge, three bus loads of Japanese tourists showed up and proceeded to scurry around and take each other's pictures. After the visit we, of course, "bought the book" to read about it -- plus a refrigerator magnet, shot glass and coffee mug. Then we drove a few miles away to the remains of a "woodhenge" (circle made of wooden logs). These henges were somehow tied into their religion and worship of the star/sun gods. They were also amazingly accurate for astronomy studies.

So, after our history lessons, we had a quick stop at Burger King and then headed north to Oxford. Oxford is a city made up of many colleges and churches. The town goes back to 727 AD and some of the colleges go back to the 13th century. The architecture of this city is very impressive. We took the open-top bus tour of the city and really enjoyed it. We then went through the Christchurch Cathedral. By then the stores were closing, so we caught a cab back to the hotel and ate dinner. We actually stayed in a fairly modern hotel this trip instead of one of the old Bed & Breakfasts.

Sunday morning we headed off for a couple of hour drive through an area of England known as the Cotswolds. There were a lot of woolen mills in this area but they all went out of business when the steam engine came into use. It's sort of a rural section of the country, with really quaint cities filled with antique shops. As we drove in a circle Sunday morning, we went through Over Kiddington, Chipping Norton, Moreton-in-Marsh, Stow-on-the-Wold, Wyck Rissington, and Milton-under-Wychwood. Really neat names for towns. The Cotswolds was a neat area, but outside the towns the countryside looked pretty much like rural Missouri. We probably won't go back there again. Then we headed back to Heathrow for our plane back to Edinburgh. It wasn't quite as easy getting back into the Hertz lot as it was leaving. Somehow we managed a wrong turn and found ourselves driving away from Heathrow. We probably had 20 minutes of very stressful driving to find the right road, but managed to make the plane with plenty of time to spare. We spent a total of about 30 hours in southern England and saw an incredible amount of history. This was Mom's birthday trip. Valentine's Day was in Athens, Greece and birthday at Stonehenge. It's going to be hard to keep this string going through the year!

04/09/00 Weekend on Skye

We have been hearing about the Isle of Skye ever since we came to Scotland and always said we should go there sometime. With "sometime" starting to run out, we decided a few weeks ago that this was the weekend. Skye is an island off the northwest coast of Scotland, about 70 miles west of Loch Ness (that makes it about a 300 mile drive from Edinburgh). Skye has a reputation for crap weather, so it is random luck whether you can see anything when you get there or not. We have talked to friends that have been there several times without ever having seen anything on the island! It is close enough to land that they built a $50 million bridge over for the tourists at a town called Kyle of Lochalsh, so you don't have to wait for a ferry.

The plan was for me to leave work at noon on Friday and drive up to our hotel on the island in time for supper. Well, things got held up a bit, so by the time we got the rental car, changed clothes and loaded the car it was 1:30. Traffic was bad getting out of town and all the way through Glasgow. Then it started to rain. Needless to say the trip was a bit stressful -- driving rain, lots of wind, narrow mountain roads (some portions are single track roads -- just room for one car with passing places every few hundred yards) and just the odd sheep wandering around the highway looking for fresh grass totally unmindful of the rain. At about 8:15 we pulled into the Three Chimneys' parking lot (45 minutes late for our dinner booking). Things started looking up at this point. The room was great, the people very friendly, and the rain started to slow down. We freshened up and walked next door to the restaurant and had a truly fantastic meal. It was the first time we have found local lobster on the menu.

To put things in perspective, the Three Chimneys restaurant is in an old stone building that used to be a general store a hundred years ago. They built a 6-room hotel next to it a year ago. Both are 5 miles from the nearest 2-lane road and are at the western most edge of the island. We heard all of two cars go by on the road by the time we had showered and dressed. Then we opened the door to the outside to find a sheep about 5 feet away munching on grass at the edge of the road. The view was spectacular looking across a bay which opened out into the Atlantic Ocean. Plus, it wasn't raining! Breakfast was as good as the previous night's dinner. In spite of the remote surroundings, this is one of the best restaurants and hotel in Scotland. They are normally booked well in advance (in fact, we could not stay there for Saturday night and so booked another hotel at the southeast end of the island near the bridge).

We spent most of Saturday driving around the island. By noontime there was glimmers of sun and by late afternoon we had perfect blue sky! The views of the mountains around the island were spectacular! By 4PM we ended up at Kinloch Lodge for the night. This hotel and restaurant is run by the Macdonalds -- Claire and Godfrey. She is famous for a whole series of popular cookbooks and also runs a cooking school at the hotel. Again, a terrific dinner and breakfast (plus a chance to buy a cookbook or two). The one questionable item on this dinner menu was the beatroot and lemon juice soup. I had venison and Shari had hake (fish). Sunday morning was sunny and cool and the trip home went very smoothly.

Some of our favorite memories of the weekend:
  • Talking with the owners of the Three Chimneys and discovering that the guy at the next table was John McBride, the guy who owns most of the island as well as the Dunvegan Castle. He is trying to sell the Cuillin mountain range for $17million so he can fix up the castle and build a hotel.
  • Walking through a couple of shops in the sleepy little town of Dunvegan and finding some beautiful woolen sweaters that we just couldn't pass up.
  • Following the directions in a book on Scotland to find the Fairy Glen -- a totally unmarked area which had hundreds of small 10-30 foot high perfectly conical hills covered with sort of rippled grass and strange looking bushes. It was described as the "spooky-est place in Scotland". The road to it was pretty spooky also.
  • About 2 miles of single lane road hanging off the side of a mountain.
  • Eating lunch at a ferry landing in Uig, watching little Oyster Catcher birds rummaging through the rocks at low tide.
  • Driving around the north coast of the island on a single track road, stopping every few minutes to snap a photo of a scene that was even more spectacular than the last.
  • Stopping briefly at the Skye Cottage Museum to look at examples of stone cottages with thatched roofs like folks lived in hundreds of years ago.
  • Realizing that driving for extended periods on single lane roads in the mountains with wandering herds of sheep and cattle is no big deal any more. It helps to know that the sheep are 100% focused on the patch of grass in front of them. A car driving by does not spook them in the slightest.
  • Walking along the rocky beach below the Kinloch Lodge and wondering what it would have been like to grow up there as a kid.

It was a spectacular weekend. The weather was better than we had any right to expect and the views of the mountains are hard to describe. Next weekend is down time to get ready for another island over Easter -- Ireland.

05/30/00 Bank Holiday Weekend in the United Kingdom

The past couple of weeks have been a lot of fun with Casey and her friend, Wendy, visiting in Edinburgh. Company gives us an excuse for repeating things that we really enjoyed and searching out new things that we haven't done yet. During the week Shari and the girls hit Edinburgh Castle and the other attractions around the city. Last weekend we did the Highlands tour and the nearby castles. Then we caught the train to London on Tuesday for two days of plays (Cats and Lion King), palaces (Buckingham and Kensington), the Chelsea Flower Show, and assorted tourist things. The visit came to an end very early on Saturday morning as they caught the 6:25am flight back to London and then on to the States.

So, we leave the Edinburgh airport about 6am and drive home in a steady rain. It's been raining all night and the weekend weather forecast has been muttering aimlessly about continued showers throughout the period with dry periods and some sun. We decide to go ahead and chance the drive down to the English region known as the Lake District - about 100 miles southwest of here. It's a beautiful, hilly region with a number of recreational lakes that were formed in the last ice age - about 10,000 years ago. The first hour of driving was in solid, fairly heavy rain. Then it gradually dried up and the sun was shining by the time we turned off the motorway at Penrith and made our way west to Keswick. We stopped briefly to walk around the Castlerigg Stone Circle, which dates from around the time of Stonehenge (3000 BC). Keswick is a small town filled with Bed & Breakfasts and tourist shops. Because of the long weekend, the place was filled to capacity. We finally found a room at the Swan Hotel, about 5 miles out of town near the "village" (read that a loose collection of a few houses) called Thornwaite. After a picnic lunch we headed out for a couple of hours of "white knuckle" driving through the mountains. This area has really pretty, green hills with tons of stone walls everywhere you look. We had dinner that night in the hotel and hit the bed early.

Sunday, the plan was to drive south to the other end of the District and spend Sunday night around Windermere. The day started out with a "standard English/Scottish/Irish breakfast". Every hotel/B&B/restaurant in this part of the world serves the same boring breakfast! After breakfast, we walked over to a nearby lake and then drove into town. We stopped (now don't laugh) at the pencil museum in Keswick. The locals discovered chunks of crystalline graphite in the soil south of town a couple hundred years ago. The pencil was invented and graphite became as valuable as diamonds. The graphite was exhausted in the mid-1800s, but the pencil factory continues to produce millions of pencils with a different type of graphite. We are experts on the history of the pencil!

The drive down to Windermere was beautiful, with a few stops for a quick picture. At Grsmere we stopped to tour Wordsworth's home and museum (he was an English poet, but we can't come up with any of his best sellers). By mid-afternoon we are at the southern end of the Lake District and the clouds are starting to thicken. We decide to head home, rather than spend the night. We did hit some real heavy rain on the way.

Monday, we headed north over the Forth to visit a museum full of Pictish carved stones. The Picts were a people that inhabited Scotland about 1500 years ago. They loved to carve intricate patterns in stone and there is a small museum in Meigle that has a couple dozen of these stones. This day the weather was sunny and warm in Edinburgh and got more threatening as we went north. After the Pictish stones, we saw a sign that indicated the Glamis (pronounced Glams) Castle was only 8 miles away. We had never heard of it, but decided it might be worth a try. Are we ever glad we did! It turns out to be a magnificent castle where the Queen Mother lived as a child. It's also the castle featured in Shakespeare's Macbeth. It is still lived in and you could tour a few of the rooms. Probably the best castle we have seen. By now it is raining real hard, with some sleet/hail mixed in. As we left the castle and drove toward Dundee, it started snowing along with the rain and we had slush building up on the windshield! Love this Scottish weather. Five minutes later, the sun was back out and people were walking around in their shirt sleeves.

All-in-all, not a bad weekend, considering we just sort of stumbled from one neat experience to another.

06/12/00 Beamish and Holy Island

This past weekend was tribute to some wise philosopher who once said "the best plan is no plan". We had decided to rent a car this weekend and go somewhere -- maybe up to the northern areas of Scotland by the North Sea. But when we started looking at the books, every interesting castle and historical site was closed for the winter. So, as of Friday morning the car was scheduled and Shari had been packed for two days....but we just didn't know where we were going. Talking to one of the guys at work on Friday morning, he mentioned that he had taken his family to an open air museum called Beamish, down by Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I checked the web and found a hotel at Newcastle for Saturday night and we were on our way.

As we left Edinburgh at 9:30 Saturday morning it was raining and blowing pretty hard -- not a good omen. As we drove down the east coast, the rain stopped and the sun came out -- a good omen. Beamish is about 120 miles south of Edinburgh and is a small village that looks as though it were 1913. Everyone in the village are dressed like it was 1913, the bank has old English coins, the dentist shop is all set up, the fireplaces are burning coal, etc. Even the tram you ride around the park is almost 100 years old. We spent a very enjoyable couple of hours in this museum. Then, Shari noticed we were only a few miles from Durham, home of a famous cathedral. How can you pass up such an opportunity? We managed to visit the cathedral before it closed for the day, but didn't get to the nearby castle. The Durham Cathedral is probably the nicest we have seen in the UK. Massive stone columns that had beautiful designs carved into the stone and very high vaulted ceilings. Really impressive. Then it was back to Newcastle and our hotel for supper.

Sunday morning we had to turn our clocks up an hour for British Summer Time (we switch a week earlier than the US). We decided to drive into the city center to see if we could find the local cathedral and castle. We stopped on the way to visit a Sunday morning craft show on an old deserted bridge --- neat. We walked a few miles around the city, found the cathedral (nice, but much smaller than the one in Durham) and visited the castle (LOTS of steps and little rooms, but in very good condition). Someone in their infinite wisdom decided to put the main Edinburgh to London railway between the castle and it's walled entrance. So, you go in the entrance (keep), walk over the railway tracks, and go to the castle. The view from the roof of the castle was just great!

Heading back up the A1 toward home, we decided to see if the tide was right to drive over to Holy Island near Berwick-upon-Tweed. A short digression on English naming habits. There are lots of hyphenated names. The problem is they have multiple cities with the same name. So, they add a local qualifier. This city is the Berwick that is located on the River Tweed. A few weeks ago we were in Moreton-in-Marsh, Stow-on-the-Wold and Shipton-under-Wychwood. The most famous hyphenated city is Stratford-upon-Avon (home of Shakespeare and the most visited tourist spot in the UK). Of course, it gets more complicated when you realize there are 5 different rivers in the UK that are called Avon.

Holy Island has a causeway you can drive across, except around high tide. As you drive up to the causeway, there are signs with the tide tables posted. We were there at 2pm and the tide would cover the causeway at about 4:30. So, across we went. The island is maybe two miles long and about a mile across. Some monks founded a monastery there in 634 and quickly converted the locals to Christianity. Saint Cuthbert was one of the early Bishops. It became one of the most popular places for the pilgrims to visit. This island is perfectly flat with sand dunes, but down at the very end is a huge rock outcropping several hundred feet high. So, they built a castle on top of the rock in the 1500s to protect the harbor from the Scots. We spent a couple hours walking the half mile over to the castle, watching the new baby lambs bounding around, and walking through the ruined Lindisfarne Abby. Shari had visited a couple of old abbeys the prior week with some of her friends and found out the monks used to tan sheepskin for almost a year before they could use it to produce copies of the Bible (it would take a whole flock of sheep for a single Bible). So, we got to see the old tanning pit at this abbey. This little village looks like a neat place to spend a weekend .. but a bad place to be stuck if the weather was bad.

Bottom line, it was one of our more successful weekends (two cathedrals, three castles, an abby and a museum) with very little advanced planning. The weather was even great. Next weekend is down time for flat cleaning, haircut, etc.

06/12/00 A Trip Up North

Since there is now only about 12 weeks left before we head back to the States, we are trying to visit some of the areas of Scotland that we have missed until now. This weekend we planned to hit some of the famous Scottish castles in northeast part of the country and then to drive back down a route through the Highlands that we had not seen before. The score board for this outing: one Antarctic sailing ship tour, four castles, one standing stone circle, one distillery and one garden centre. We managed to get really, really lost only one time (but it took over an hour to find our way back to a road that had two full lanes). We did skip a visit to the Fyvie Donkey Sanctuary in light of all the crap we got over the Pencil Museum a couple of weeks ago.

We headed out mid-afternoon on Friday, with plans to spend the night in Dundee. The weather gradually changed from cloudy, to drizzle, to full rain. By the time we reached Dundee, it looked like it was going to be a very grim weekend. We found out that the hotel was next door to a museum dedicated to the HMS Discovery - a power-assisted sailing ship that had been designed and built in Dundee to explore the Antarctic back in the early 1900s. Seems this ship sailed down to Antarctica at the end of their summer and anchored next to the ice pack. As winter set in, the ice froze around the ship (as expected) and the crew spent all winter doing scientific experiments, using the ship as their living quarters (no sun for 4 months). The only problem was that the following summer, the ice didn't melt in the same pattern as it had the previous year. When the same thing happened again the following summer, they decided someone had better rescue this poor crew that had now spent more than 2 years frozen into the Antarctic ice! It was interesting walking through the ship (we were the only two visitors to the museum that afternoon), thinking what it would be like living in those cramped quarters for 2 years, with no sunlight for months on end and frigid weather.

Fortunately, Saturday dawned with pretty blue skies. A half hour up the coast we hit Stonehaven and our first castle of the day - Dunnottar Castle. Imagine a rock about the size of a city block and roughly 150 feet tall with a castle ruin sitting on top of it. Cover that rock with green grass, position it on the coast of the North Sea with shear cliffs around it, pounding surf and thousands of sea birds flying overhead and you have a setting even Hollywood couldn't improve upon. Without question, that has to be our all time favorite castle in Scotland. The only problem is that it's a Hell of a trek back and forth to the castle from the parking lot. Then it was a 45-minute drive inland to Castle Frazer - pretty on the outside with several fairy-castle turrets, nicely furnished, but a bit boring inside. You could go out on the roof of the main tower (up a spiral staircase about 5 stories tall) and look down on the surrounding countryside. Then on another 30 minutes to Castle Craigievar. This one was a tall blocky building about 4 stories high with just a few small windows. We were the only two on the guided tour, so we got a great history of the castle. This one was full of beautiful wood, since the owner made his fortune in wood importing. We really learned more at this castle that any other one we saw. The incredible thing here was that until the owners moved out in 1963, they had never installed electricity!

Sunday we headed about 40 miles north to Fyvie Castle. On the way we stopped off to see a standing stone circle that had likely been used for lunar observations about 4000 years ago. Here again, this historic structure is out in the open where anyone can drive up to it and walk around it with no security. This one was even next door to the Scout camping facility! Fyvie Castle was less than exciting - nice garden, lots of neat weapons on the walls, but a whole hodge podge of stuff inside. On the way home we left the main A95 road (read that to mean a 2-lane, curvy mountain road, but it did have a white centre line) to visit the Glenlivet distillery. Not a spectacular tour and then we turned left on the way out instead of right. After an hour of driving around on roads that fortunately didn't have any other cars on them at the time, we found our way back to the A95. The final tourist stop of the day was at the Scottish Heather Centre. This is a garden shop that focuses only on heather. A good portion of the Scottish Highlands is covered in heather plants, which have purple flowers in July/August. The hills literally turn purple in midsummer. It turns out there are dozens of varieties you can buy for planting in your garden. Heather bark is the toughest bark on any plant, so you can use it for rope, floor mats, chimney-cleaning brushes, roof thatching, etc. We did buy some seeds to bring home.

All-in-all, a very enjoyable weekend in the north of Scotland. Once again, with minimal advance planning we managed to avoid the bad weather when we really wanted to be outside. Debbie surprised us today by showing up in Edinburgh a day before we expected her. All is well and we are excited we have an extra day with her. That's at least an extra 2 miles walking she will have to endure!

08/25/00 One Last Hurrah - Wales

This is our last weekend in Scotland before the wagon train heads west, so we have decided to ditch the packing and take one more trip. Actually, the flat is looking pretty bare with all the pictures and refrigerator magnets down. Plus, things have gotten pretty slow at work. So, we are going to fly down to Birmingham, England in the morning and then drive over to Cardiff, Wales. We've never really seen Wales, so this is our last opportunity. Then we will hit Stratford-Upon-Avon and Warwick Castle on the way back to the airport on Sunday. We'll be back in Edinburgh on Sunday evening.

We're back from the trip to Wales. We enjoyed Cardiff Castle and the Gower Peninsula very much. Tons of walking as usual. Today we drove from Cardiff, Wales to Warwick, England to see the huge Warwick Castle and had a quick look at Stratford-upon-Avon before the plane left at 4:30. We're knackered. Stratford-upon-Avon is the birthplace of Wm. Shakespeare and it's a lovely town.

I gave my friend Barbara the boxes of bubble wrap for her shop. She has a book store and it also sells gift items so I thought she might be able to use the bubble wrap. She gave us a tape of the North Berwick Highland games and piping contest (Vicki---moooore men in skirts) from a few years ago and a glass millennium bell. She knows I collect bells. Barbara subs in my bridge group

Tomorrow I stay at home and do stuff. I have a last minute request to buy $50 worth of handkerchiefs for a St. Louis bridge buddy's husband. Not what I need to do at this point but I said I'd do it.

Bye for now. The trip report might have to wait a wee bit. A taste we saw a truck delivering about 100 pigeons in cages piled high, a "cow crossing" over the highway, a highway with a lane designated for horses. A beach on the Gower Peninsula packed with summer beach visitors from Cardiff. Well, not packed exactly. It was a bit nippy and they were dressing in wet suits. Wales accent----they elongate their vowels in an interesting way.

IBM to run Bank of Scotland IT OPS 
By Ed Cropley 

EDINBURGH, June 29 (Reuters) - British banking group Bank of Scotland said on Thursday it would hand control of its IT infrastructure and operational services to U.S. computer giant IBM in September.

Under the 10-year deal, Bank of Scotland will pay International Business Machines Corp. 700 million pounds ($1.06 billion) to run its computer networks.

"Essentially, everything is going over," the bank's managing director and treasurer Gavin Masterton told journalists, adding the move was "not just about cost savings," which he estimated as being at least 150 million pounds over the deal's 10 years.

"Our first priority is to be a bank while IBM has a pool of expertise second to none," he said.

Masterton said there would be no job losses, although 505 staff would be transferred to IBM.

Also under the deal IBM will pay Bank of Scotland around 17.5 million pounds for the bank's mainframe and midrange hardware and a further 28 million pounds for its desktop hardware, which will be leased back to it by IBM.

Masterton said the deal would enhance the reliability of Bank of Scotland's systems. The bank's 30-year relationship with IBM had deepened over the past few years, he said.

IBM said the 505 staff it was taking on from Bank of Scotland would boost its level of expertise in banking technology, while its Scottish operations -- which will employ some 1,200 people from September -- would expand to provide services to other clients all over Britain.

Frank Kern, general manager of IBM Services Europe said "We are hoping to learn from Bank of Scotland and we hope to service other clients across the UK."

He added that IBM had a history of successfully incorporating staff through similar outsourcing operations.

"Most of these staff are IT specialists and coming to work for IBM should enhance their career prospects," Kern said.

Bank of Scotland shares weakened one percent in line with an overall retreat by Britain's headline FTSE 100 index. By 1345 GMT, the shares were down seven pence at 603 pence.