Tuesday, August 30, 2011

End of the Road

Sadie being very brave
She's been bathed and now lies on the porch with the fan blowing over her to cool her black furry body also to keep the irritating flies off her brought on by the monsoon rains. Today is her last day. We discussed it with deep sadness but her condition has deteriorated so much since the return from our journey. We held out hope as long as our hearts can endure. Last Saturday she was up walking around in almost a show off manner even eating well in the mid afternoon but that day ended and since then the time has come to say goodbye. It hurts..really hurts because for so long would we say "Well she's no trouble at all".

Sadie was a beautiful black lady, never was loud, never jumped on anyone, never smeared the sliding glass doors with her nose but gently jump onto her hind legs and "clap her front paws together letting you know she wanted in and always smile, wagging her tail when we would whisper pet names or compliment her attributes stretching the truth many times. We would leave the house and instead of instructing her to watch the house while we were gone, we would tell her to hide if someone broke in. She was the most quiet dog I ever met. Whether being the house or in the car, she would inadvertently give you a nuzzle just to let you know she was there. Other than that she would return to her bed in the bedroom or re situate herself in the back seat of the car and be silent.  You see, "She isn't much trouble at all".

Sadie is an English Labrador Retriever and by instinct she would carry a ball, chase when thrown, but not always return it right away. This was her style of retrieving. I would encourage to run and tell her that she was the fastest dog in the world even though her lumbering gait didn't achieve the speed of most of the other dogs. As for meeting other dogs, she was always shy and polite, never mean or domineering. You might say she was just a Love Pup with a lust for cookies. 

Sadie's favorite hike...Horton Creek
We didn't get to enjoy her full life. Carl took her in from a family when she was about 6 years old, a mature point in a large dogs life. Then Carl moved to Hawaii and we being the Grandparents took Sadie and raised her like our own until we took our six month journey this last spring and then she lived with Gretchen, Carl's sister. There Sadie had another dog and a cat to play with. She went with Gretchen to school to calm the classroom of students. I believe this was the most important job she ever had.  She won the hearts of Gretchen and Mel because "She's really no trouble at all".

July 23rd we returned and noticed she occasionally had stability issues with her hindquarters but nothing too bad though within the last couple weeks this problem rapidly became worse so today is the last day of her life and I will miss her...really miss her. There is one thing that our creator made perfect and that would be the Black Labrador Retriever named Sadie....you were no trouble at all.



She's sweet...very sweet

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Around the World Summary

Krabi, Thailand
"I do believe in the mysteries of things, about myself and the things I see. I enjoy being puzzled and arriving at my own incorrect conclusions"                               (Tom Waits, 1987)

The process of being brought into this life, living on this earth, and eventually being lifted into another dimension is magical without concrete scientific explanation of how it all works. Humans have a finite time to live on this planet and again without much evidence of why and how, who gets placed where and when is still a mystery. Because I ponder these questions I have felt it my duty to explore this world and experience other cultures, plants, animals and landscapes.  Much like the travel experiences of my past, our condensed around the world journey offers us a better understanding and appreciation of the incredible variations of life on our planet.

Parachuting into vastly different cultures and landscapes always present challenges the first couple days  appreciating the fact there wasn't time for boredom or wanting to return home. I was always busy arranging for transportation, figuring out what to see, where to eat, where to sleep and what to expect next. Once we touched down on in New York City our desire to reacquaint with our kids increased rapidly. Out of the three children we left behind, only two were availble to hug upon our return...Ericka left the country while we were gone and is now living in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The marvels of nature we experienced were magnificent always fueling my lust for further exploration. Excitement of the unknown is contagious and I hope our journey will influence you to set out on your own journey. Our brand of travel was not a bare bones backpacker variety nor was it a luxury tour. Occasionally we spoiled ourselves with a massage, hot springs soak or a seaweed bath after toughing it out in some less than basic accommodations. Purposely putting ourselves into slightly unknowing and uncomfortable situations challenged our trust in human nature with hope the travel gods would provide us direction. Each country, city, village or island is limited to what it can offer and it was up to us to search out our interest and find a way to experience it.  Without expectations or set schedules, our minds and bodies were up for what ever came our way including revolutions and natural disasters. All in all our journey was more than we could have imagined and still to this day we look at each other and exclaim "We did it!"

The two most asked questions upon our return were…”What’s it like returning back home after being gone so long”. The silliest yet most obvious was putting together a normal sentence in a conversation without using just nouns and verbs. My flow of speech needed repair. I know having a travel companion is much better than being on your own but the sensation of fragmented conversation still existed.

Secondly, the most asked question was “ What was your favorite place”. The question stuns both Sharon and I. We just can’t single out a favorite hidden paradise nestled in the Himalayas or on an island in the Indian Ocean. We witnessed places in great need of help yet the simple lives of the Nepalese in remote villages trump those of many in our own country. Homes come in all sizes, shapes, materials, and degrees of happiness but the most alarming sound was the NATO jets flying overhead at three in the morning while we were nestled in our beds on the island of Crete. I tried not to think about the fear and harm about to occur when these soaring aggressive messengers deliver their ordinance to a village in Libya. Many times life isn't fair and you quickly understand that blatant reality when you travel and in the same breath I'm thankful for my good fortune. 

Here are some silly facts about our trip….157 days on the road (3768 hours), 15 countries visited, 36,976 miles traveled, and we touched the latitudes of the equator to the arctic circle. Airlines flown...Delta, Continental, Bangkok Air, 540 Air, Qatar, Lao Airlines, Turkish Air, Yeti Air, EgyptAir, JetBlue, British Airways, Aire Lingus, Olympic Air, and Icelandair. Other modes of transport...bus, train, bicycle, tuk tuk (many variations), ferry boat, jet boat, long tail boat, tall ship, Dhow boat, hydrofoil, motor scooter, taxi, minibus, back of a pickup truck, subway and rental car. Of course I can't forget our feet.

Oh, one bonus question asked….”Would you do it again”…I’m already planning my trip to Antarctica, the last of the continents I need to step upon.


I’ve put together a smattering of highlight images using a snapshot look much like how my mind views things….a little out of focus and color enhanced. Before we get to the images of delight, I have a list of people to thank that made our trip such a success.

Gretchen, Carl, & Ericka for being good while we were gone.
Trace, Tom, Sung and everyone at ParkPro for keeping the company profitable
Matt at National Bank of Arizona for making a rough situation much better along with the older gentleman desk clerk in Metropolis Hotel in Athens that scolded me like his son for not listening to him.
All my blogger fans that kept me writing though I slacked at the end
Julia & Ryan, for taking great care of our sweet Bisbee home.
Lisa for Paris, Irini for Greece, Jill for being Jill, Kim & Gordon exploring companions, Laura & Scott night of silliness in London, Jadzia & Dave showering us with Ireland, Sara & Coby allowing us to kidnap them, and many other people we met along the way that made us feel comfortable, loved, and put up with our silliness.

Namasta’
Curt





East Tsavo Park, Kenya
Sukhothai, Thailand
Amsterdam Netherlands
Bistro silliness in Paris

Acropolis, Athens Greece

Big Ben, London England

Blue Lagoon, Iceland

Sphinx in Giza, Egypt

Guinnessman in Dublin, Ireland

Mt. Kilimanjaro, Kenya


Nepalese Dancer

Empire State Bldg, NYC

Poon Hill Himalayas, Nepal
Nepal Madonna

Reykjavik, Iceland

Stonehenge, England
Taj Mahal, Agra, India


Eiffel Tower, Paris France

Istanbul, Turkey



Luang Prabang, Laos


"Travel is fatal to  prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."

Mark Twain

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Iceland - Sioasta Avevintyri


                                                 
I began to have second thoughts about leaving Dublin, flying to London, passing through immigration, retrieving bags, go through customs, find the Icelandair counter, check bags,  check in, go through security and still make our flight connection to Reykjavik all within an hour and a half and thats if the flight would remain on time. What was I thinking? You would assume after five months of travel I would have given some consideration to the fact we were flying international and switching airlines I would have allowed at least two hours to complete the connection exercise. I knew it would be close timing but I had confidence we could make it though to ease our curiosity, we checked at the Air Lingus counter at Dublin airport to see if we could change our flight to one an hour eariler. Yes we could do it but the up charge would be over $500.00. With that I had all the confidence in the world we would make our connection in London to Reykjavik, Iceland and in fact we did with an hour to spare.  Yes we are that good! 
No Problem from London to Reykjavik to New York City

Both of us looked at each other on the plane to Reykjavik and asked the same question to each other…what do you know about Iceland and what do you expect to see? Neither of us had much response other than it was our last stop before stepping upon US soil. Iceland was our swan song of our journey and I didn’t know how it could compare to the outstanding experiences we were treated to in Ireland. A couple amazing items I knew about Iceland was they had recent volcanic eruptions that interrupted air travel causing incredible havoc across Europe and then they have a place called the Blue Lagoon where you can sit in geothermal pools that looked really cool. We obviously had a lot to learn during our six day touch down before leaving this island.

The Keflavik International Airport in Iceland is a 45minute moonscape drive from Reykjavik.  The current total population on this island that borders the Arctic Circle is about 318,400 which is up from the 317,640 last year but is far less than the population of 5 million in our state of Arizona. Two of the cities house most of the residents and the remote countryside and fishing villages are sparsely developed but what is built has a definite Scandinavian influence. Most buildings are tastefully designed, painted, and engineered with a strong sense of contemporary flair.
Unmatched magnificence touching the Arctic Circle

We arrived about 3PM, rented a car and drove from the airport to the capital city nestled along the southwest Atlantic coast. Upon arrival I couldn’t understand or appreciate the landscape all the way to Reykjavik. The city didn’t thrill me at first either but the more I saw and the more I explored this place it rapidly began to peak my interest. We were again faced with cold temperatures that can be a bit of an issue with me especially since I didn’t have the correct clothing and the chilling temperatures definitely weren’t favorable to Sharon.

Within minutes we found a very nice hotel directly on a square in the central area of town, settled in and sought out a “sushi” restaurant I had read about on our flight for our first meal in Iceland. I thought it should be good since this island is known for pulling in tons of fresh fish daily. We found out these people may have had the ingredients but didn’t quite have full knowledge of  preparing Japanese cuisine. And this rang true most of time while in Iceland. If you are a foodie…Iceland is not exactly your holiday destination but what they lack in the culinary arts they far in a way make it up in contemporary design and natural beauty. The Icelanders are a hearty attractive bunch having deep Nordic roots in craftsmanship, fishing, language, poetry and the arts. The earliest settlers most likely were Celtics but the Vikings quickly claimed this amazing country for their own and boast of having the oldest democracy in the world. Economically, the class distinction is tastefully minimal.
Gottfoss waterfall

Two things struck me in Iceland, first it never gets dark...I mean it gets like an early dusk beginning around 1:AM for three or four hours and then the skies begin to brighten. Second, the skies always seemed so low I felt like ducking while hiking but the vastness of the northern mountains, the rushing rivers and waterfalls, and the volcanic and geothermal phenomena is beyond compare. We  hiked into some of the most outstanding landscapes reinforcing my belief this planet is still truly magnificent and if God is hiding out on earth, it would be Iceland where he could enjoy his most creative work in peace and tranquility. The air is so clear and refreshing especially being on a sailboat whale watching on the Arctic Circle riding the swell of the Greenland Sea. Yes the cold air bit my face but that didn’t derail my sense of true freedom when the sails filled with the wind.
Looking for whales in the Greenland Sea

After the whale watching and visiting the Dettifoss, the largest waterfalls in Iceland, we motored our way to Lake Myvatn, the largest lake in Iceland, and checked into a very sweet and caring hotel close to the lake situated at the base of one of the hiking trails we planned to use.

The next day we boarded a bus at the tourist center near our hotel to shuttle us to the top of Mt. Krafia, a volcano topped peak, where the driver let us off in thick fog at the end of the road and as I stepped away from the craters edge the bus disappeared quickly into the gray soup leaving us laughing at how ridiculous this was being so unprepared in such in climate weather. Our spirits didn’t dampen nor the excitement to venture off on our 16 kilometer trek through the dangerous thermally heated ground hot spots and miles of lava beds with only 12” high wooden trail markers sparsely placed guiding us back to civilization. During our hike we encounterd less than a half dozen other hikers. At first the fog and thick low clouds created a mystical atmosphere but we began our descent off the mountain and soon the sun broke through leaving us a perfect day to complete the last 10 kilometers of this natural carnival to our hotel.

Along the way we placed a Kate Wilkerson glass bead and a John Gallaher Mobius charm in among the dormant lava flow and had lunch next to large lava tubes. This hike I would rate in my top ten hikes of my life because the formations and the vastness of this country delivered a pristine oddly formed beauty rarely found anywhere.  About three hours later Lake Myvatn came into view and within an hour we walked into our hotel and asked for our room key.

Nothing like a soak and a white mud facial
Leaving Lake Myvatn on our way back to Reykjavik we took one more short hike and decided to stay the night out of the big city near the airport that happened to be in the Blue Lagoon area. I remembered seeing a small hotel next to the turquoise thermal pools so we first soaked in the naturally heated waters of the Blue Lagoon, slapped on some of that white mud on our faces, rinsed, took a sauna, soaked some more, had some dinner at the restaurant and drove the five minutes to the hotel tucked in amongst the black lava landscape. The sharp contempo design under stated hotel had a room, which was pricey (everything in Iceland is expensive…really expensive) but it being within 15 minutes from the airport was a real plus since our flight left for New York City at 10:30AM the next morning.

The morning sun rolled off the horizon while we packed our funny little duffels with our thoroughly dirty clothes and treasures knowing our five and half month journey into a string of foreign lands was about to end filling my emotional bucket with a mixture of anticipated excitement and sadness though I harbored a sense of our accomplishment together. I could feel our experiences gleaned from this trip were kindling to future adventures. Sitting at the airport waiting for our flight to New York Sharon asked "Are you excited to get home and settle in for a while after being gone for so long?" I smiled and replied "For me it's just a layover before I leave for Antarctic."

I realize I couldn’t have asked for a better travel mate. Thank you Sharon for being so brave, flexible, daring, and understanding while leaving a sense of love and happiness to everyone we met. Namasta'



Friday, August 5, 2011

Ireland Ceoil Agus Craic


You may have read in a couple of my blogs  reasons for us to visit certain towns or islands based upon some of my previous adventures  and I wanted to revisit them to share them with Sharon and to jar my memory of days past but now it’s Sharon’s turn to seek and explore while I tag along for the ride or mainly drive.

On the island of Ireland lay the hopes of Sharon to maybe find a thread of her mothers lineage. The Dougherty’s were known to be thick up in the NW part of this land of Leprechauns, Craic and the “black stuff” known as Guinness.



Sharon descending staircase in Dublin



We are scheduled to depart England from Gatwick Airport for the short flight to Dublin, then gather up our two bags , dash off to the rental office to snag a small car this time with an automatic transmission since the Irish drive from the right side of the vehicle.  The rental agency thinking to do us a favor, upgraded us to a larger full size car meaning it took up more road space while using a bit more petrol but at least I didn't have to shift with my left hand. The lesser gas mileage didn’t bother me as much as driving a bigger car on the high hedge lined backcountry roads meeting head on traffic coming towards you at unreasonable speeds required some getting used to.  It wasn’t fair that I couldn’t cover my eyes like my companion.

The drive into Dublin from the airport wasn’t all that bad but we parked a bit prematurely along a sidestreet in Smithfield, a part of Dublin resembling an industrial area. Walking around in search for a hotel didn’t come up with anything too quickly. Remember, we don’t use maps so our searches usually are directed by our sixth sense.  A medium sized contemporary hotel appeared a short distance ahead and with tired feet, a wee bit of hunger, and a desire get settled we decided the Maldron Hotel would be perfect. They only had one room left because Bon Jovi was scheduled to play the next evening and apparently is very popular. I thought to myself, “Do people still pay to see him”. I thought he was on the Indian gaming casino tours by now. The room…oh yes the room happened to be the penthouse suite with a view of the roof tops of Dublin though the room was worn from previous Bon Jovi fans.
Life doesn't get any better than this

After relaxing a bit and catching a bite to eat in a tasty little restaurant a few blocks away. We returned to our room, checked email, turned on the tube, and hit the sack very early telling ourselves we will be refreshed for tomorrow.  

Leaving our bags in the room we raced out of our hotel to begin our search for a new less expensive hotel closer to St Stephens Square near where our friends from New Mexico will be staying when they arrive in a week. I had done a bit of research on the internet before pounding the streets but unless you are really familiar with the areas and streets of Dublin you can be quickly doomed if you don’t have a compass, GPS, or a very detailed city map of which we had none. So with a bit of knowledge of what area we needed to be and a free city map designed for shopping mostly, we combed the back streets around Trinity College and Temple Bar sections of the city centre. Our friends had pre-booked a hotel on the edge of St Stephen Square being the high priced location for rooms but at the end of a street leading off of St Stephens named Kildare St. (anyone remember Dr. Kildare in the 60”s) we found the Kildare Hotel which adjoins the quaint and wonderful old pub, The Blarney Inn where you can conveniently grab a pint on the way in or on the way out of the hotel. The hotel itself has a comfortable old tired look to it and our room expressed the same well lived in feeling. But the price was right and the location next to Trinity College was perfect plus of course the “Blarney Inn”.  Later on we discovered a restaurant called the “Pigs Ear” next to the Blarney that served up some of the best food we experienced in Ireland.
Our pub in Dublin, our room was above

After securing our reservation at the Kildare when we would return to Dublin in four days, we serpentined our way through the city over the bridge back to Smithfield, grabbed our bags, checked out, and then drove south into the hinterland of Kilkenny to the village of Kells where Kasia (the beautiful young Irish woman whom we met in Paris) insisted we stay at her mother’s cottage.

Venturing out of Dublin by motorcar can be disastrous on a driver and his navigator but the car park attendant provided me spot on directions and within 10 minutes we were heading southward out of the city….but not necessarily in the best direction to reach our destination.  We should have been of the N11 but ended up on the N7 or something like that though our selected route had us cruise the eastern shore line until my navigator mentioned we needed to redirect ourselves immediately west using the narrow country roads interconnecting farms and villages. These extremely narrow secondary roadways come as a sobering surprise to the American driver and with the added righthand drive feature and high hedgerows this turned taking a leisurely drive in the country to a white knuckle reality video game especially for the navigator.  Unlike the navigator, I couldn’t close my eyes.
Jadzia and the Cottage

Because of the slightly as cued route, we arrived close to the house a bit past our scheduled 4PM but we thought it best to stop at a pub and get a little more exact direction and of course have a pint. The pub maiden, I believe her name was Barbara, knew Dave and Jadzia giving us her version of the directions to the cottage. It was a five minute drive down a road right next to the pub, go all the way until you arrive at a nasty right turn, then look to the right and we’ll see a cottage with a thatched roof.

Finishing my Guinness, we took the directions with earnest and after a couple deliberations in route we found the “nasty right turn” and peered right at the most charming story book cottage you could imagine. Still unsure we found the right place, Sharon used the formal entrance at the renovated two story stone barn and gave a knock only to be greeted by Dave, our much relived grinning host.

Dave and Jadzia, two of the sweetest people in the world
Slinging bags on backs and daypacks in hand we were introduced to our new home for a few days. The setting was so picturesque much like a scene from a Paul Henry painting or any of the Ashcan school of fine artists and if this wonderful setting wasn’t enough,  hostess and host took us for a short walk down the lane, onto a stone bridge crossing the Kings river to Mad Jacks, an unpublished pub meaning there is no signage indentifying this watering hole, just a quaint looking cottage with a welcoming doorway leading into the pub where Sean, the one eyed barkeep holds court. Sean, a slender man of normal height, is a self acknowledged ladies man in the county of Kilkenny. It is purported Sean must back through a doorway when approaching a closed door because his “John Thomas” when aroused, extends much past his arms reach.  In addition to his manly attributes, I heard if a woman makes a fire in the pub fireplace, it is the custom she must become his wife. There are a few other nuances about Mad Jacks but I must carry on with the matters at hand and that being the pouring of the “black stuff” aka; Guinness. When built properly, the Guinness could fend off any warring nation because it’s strength and fortitude has no equal and the smooth taste weakens when served off the island.
Kells bridge across the Kings River
After a couple of pints at Mad Jacks, Dave announced that he is never late for a session meaning he must be on his way to play music at another bar with a couple mates and being late is bad form. Jadzia drove us all to a pub in Kilkenny and there we listened to Dave and the boys play Irish and American tunes, drank endless pints of Guinness and had some fish and chips sometime before midnight. Ah but the night was still young for the Irish…at around 2AM we all piled into a taxi. Yes that’s Sharon, Dave along with his two accompanists, the guitars, and myself squeezed into the taxi but first asked if this many in the taxi is legal? The driver replied “ only if you get caught” and he drove back to Mad Jacks for more stories, cigarettes, Guinness and song until finally Sean threw in the towel at 4:AM refusing to serve us any longer. Dave and the others grabbed their instruments while Sharon and I joined them in a short walk over the bridge back to the cottage where we ended our evening saying good night to the boys in one bedroom while Sharon and I tucked away in our bedroom closing our tired eyes on the first day at the cottage.

The next morning we awoke sometime about 10AM and foraged for some coffee. I heard the day before about a 12th century monastery called the Kell’s Priory across the road to the left, down a pathway, past the old mill, across a foot bridge spanning the Kings River taking about a 10 minute walk in all. I wasn’t expecting much after seeing many ruins during our journey but as I came upon this three acre site the structures included full height perimeter walls about 15’ high, Medieval tower houses, and a couple rough ruins of churches all of which I felt blessed to witness such a beautiful setting. The rolling green countryside as a backdrop with the beautiful Kings River running along the eastern side of it conjured up such a peaceful stage. I ran about photographing as much as I could capture but the photos are only a glimpse and even that doesn’t take into account the smells and sounds of this magical portrait of a struggling life long past. I hiked across the Kells Priory to the upper road leading into Kells centre to get a look of the village during the daylight and stroll past Mad Jacks over the bridge and back to the cottage. Later that day Dave invited to watch a Hurling match being broadcast at Mad Jacks. I’d never heard of hurling except used in a colorful description when one drinks too much which seemed to be fitting in this culture but my sophomoric assumption was incorrect and Dave explained the rules, pulled out a hurling stick and began to give me a short lesson before we made our way down the road to the pub to view my first hurling match. I have a deep respect for other cultural sports though a game such as cricket total escapes me but that wasn’t the case for this great sport of hurling. We walked into Mad Jacks. Sean pulled down a couple Guinness while Dave and I seated ourselves at a tall table in front of a projection screen to view the match.

I can best describe Hurling as hockey and soccer with the goals at each end of the field resembling a combination of soccer on the bottom and American football on the uprights.

Object of the game is to score points obtained by whacking the “baseball” with a “hockey” type stick into the “soccer” type goal for three points or whacking the ball between the “football” uprights for one point. The player with the ball can only run about using four steps before he must balance the ball on the stick and run or pass it off to another player. This is a very fast fun game and if you get the chance, go see it. As for this match, it was between the current champion Dublin and Kilkenny who have enjoyed winning most of the championship matches. The result was Kilkenny spanked Dublin and we all celebrated liberally.

 On Saturday we decided to take the drive to the tall ship festival held at the port of Waterford, known throughout the world for its crystal craftsmanship. The drive usually takes less than an hour but because of the traffic for the festival we added two hours to the trip sitting in massive traffic waiting to be let into the parking lot and then shuttled by bus into the center of town where the festivities were taking place. I would guess almost a half million people were wandering the streets tasting food, shopping for crafts, and taking in all the music along with the magnificent tall ships from all over the world.


The next day we needed to leave the cottage and our new friends for we had to explore more of  the hinterlands of Ireland  but before we left, a decision was to be made….The third Friday of each month a “session” was held at the “Red Shed”. This gathering of locals to share food and music is an event not to be missed. Both Jadzia and Dave pleaded for us to return but we were to meet our friends from New Mexico in Dublin. This is something we couldn’t change…but…we could convince our friends to jump in our car in Dublin and within two hours we could be back in Kells at the cottage where we all could be together and share with them a great Irish experience.  Through email we contacted Sara and Coby suggesting they ditch the first night of their hotel in Dublin for a road trip to Kells and get immersed into Irish culture by attending a session, staying in a 350 year old cottage, and drinking at Mad Jacks plus Coby brought along a fishing pole to do some trout fishing which the King River is famous for.  The respond from them was immediate and direct…”We’re on!”. Now we must leave our friends knowing we now will return within five days though in the meantime we must explore more of Ireland our style, “The no plan plan”. In all fairness we did rough out a route towards Galway, Sligo, and Donegal with the help of Dave.  (Thank you Dave)

Galway was very charming with great shopping, delicious food, creamy pints of Guinness, and River Dance performers in the Au Pucan pub across the street from our hotel. What more could you hope for….well the next day Sligo was on our radar. This is a bit smaller town but they had a Festival of the Arts going on so we checked into a hotel just outside of the town on Rosses Point. The hotel had a great view of the Atlantic, nice walking trails along the coast and Kelp Bathes to help extract all those poisons I’ve ingested in my journey so far. With a festival guide we selected two plays and one concert. One of the plays was called Cirque Legume, a silly farce on circus performers played by one clown and one dare devilish performer using vegetables in lieu of other more common props. The mini makeshift theater was above a pub that hung personal photos of Burningman a couple years ago. What a small world.

The next day we shopped and attended an afternoon play titled “Chekhovs the Bear” and then in the evening we were treated to a beautiful concert performed by Lisa Hannigan at the Model museum.

Next day we packed up to drive northward to Donegal in search for Sharon’s Irish lineage. Remember this was Sharon’s country to explore her roots and indeed when we visited the castle in the center of Donegal, her Grandmother’s maiden name, O’Dougherty was mentioned as part of the history of the castle. There wasn’t much else to see in this small town so after a pub lunch, we turned the car south and headed towards a town close to Dublin for the night so we could wake up early and get to St Stephens square to meet our friends before noon.  I drove about two thirds the way back to towards Dublin leaving about two hours to drive the following morning.  The sky was darkened by leaky clouds while winding our way into Monaghan in search for shelter. We came upon very nice bed and breakfast with free wifi and of course a quaint warm pub across the street to help melt away the days drive.

Our friends from Albuquerque..Sara & Coby sipping Jameson
With the sun breaking through our bedroom window signaling us to pack, get a bit of breaky and check out, we began our drive to Dublin missing a crucial turn though we caught it early and circled around correcting our direction. Arriving at our friends hotel earlier than expected and they being a bit late we waited quite a while but eventually connected, had them get settled into their room, took them on a walk about the neighborhood, stopped by the Blarney Inn for their first pint of Guinness and put them into our car to motor off to Kells. This time leaving Dublin became a frustrating maze of wrong turns and directional bewilderment. What should have taken no more than 20 minutes ended in a search for the N9 highway taking almost an hour but we persevered and were on the road to Kells. We took the Kilkenny turn off with a mission to get some groceries and drinks at a supermarket but most importantly find a restroom to empty the Guinness from our bladders. We couldn’t find the supermarket that seemed easy to find days earlier so we spotted the American fast food giant Kentucky Fried Chicken to relive ourselves but we all passed on buying the chicken. With the pressure off my body and mind I found the supermarket, picked up the necessities and now off to the cottage in Kells.  Once we parked across the street and lugged our bags into the cottage, everyone introduced themselves to our friends Sara and Coby. Instantly everyone became old friends and what better way to solidify a friendship than tilt back a few Guinness at Mad Jacks. It was fun to see the expressions on our friends faces taking in all the charm. Hours earlier they were on a jet from America and now they were walking down a narrow lane enshrouded with lush green foliage and flowers with the King River running along their left side walking towards the bridge with Mad Jacks just on the other side of the river.

I felt quite at home walking into the pub introducing Sean to my friends an ordering up a round of pints and then settling in by the fireplace to drink, smoke and sharing stories with a few of the local gents. I could see Coby just couldn’t believe what he was experiencing so quickly in the true Irish countryside. After a couple pints we walked back to the cottage and prepared ourselves for the Red Shed event later on by napping for a couple hours.

After awakening from our kip, the crowd began to grow in the backyard of the barn, cottage and the Red Shed. The buzz of conversation began to increase as the night approached without darkness.  I noticed a mighty red headed wavy haired young man with a bushy beard to match sporting an engaging smile. I introduced myself and explained he was the supporting musician, Moses Morehouse. Within a half hour Moses took the stage and performed with such passion the crowd erupted with great approval demanding more when he tried to leave the stage. Returning to appease his audience, he modestly admitted this was his first official encore and was visibly moved by the request.

Ger Wolfe, a well-known recording artist in Ireland took the stage and swooned the audience with a smooth Celtic sound bringing about lovely tunes to accompany his stories and tales. The daylight began to fade at about 11:PM  and I too was lulled into a mellow trance. Soon it was time for me to retire and rest my body because we had to return our friends to Dublin so they could get back on their schedule after our high jacking of them.  Waking up late the next morning, I took Sara to shoot some photos at the Priory and show Coby the fishing hole Sean pointed out to Coby when he asked Sean about a fishing permit. When asked about a permit a day earlier, Sean asked Coby if he knew when the best time to fish was. Sean replied after Coby admitting not to know, “When the fish are biting is the best time” and as for a permit, Sean gave Coby the permission to fish and that was that.

We all walked across the road, turned left past the old mill where we stopped and surveyed this incredible building with a waterwheel used for power. We continued to walk upon the thick grass along the river until we reached the footbridge, continued across and now the Priory commanded our attention. Coby walked along the river throwing out his line all the while Sara and I tried to capture the moment in digital format. Sara and I walked through the Priory up to the road and walked into Kells, past Mad Jacks, over the bridge, past the cottage and old mill returning us to the footbridge where we could take in the majestic rhythm of Coby tossing his fishing line into the river. It was a picturesque moment especially when he pulled in a trout. In proper form, Coby returned not only the fish into the river but himself as well. I believe he felt like it was a baptism at the Priory. We all returned to the cottage to ready ourselves for the return trip to Dublin.

After thanking Jadzia and Dave for a lovely time they made a convincing effort to make us stay longer but I had hold fast for I knew our friends had much more to see in a very little time so it was time to go. We promised each other to get together once again but this time in Arizona to join us on our journey to Burningman in 2012.

Returning to Dublin was a breeze. After dropping off Coby and Sara at their hotel, Sharon and I checked in at the Kildare Hotel and when she went up to the room I move our car into a parking spot around the corner. Once we settled our plan was to meet up with our friends for drinks and dinner somewhere in the Temple Bar district, known for it’s raucous entertainment and traditional pub food. We found Sullivan’s to our liking and ordered some great Irish specialties while washing it down with some local ale. Ending the evening at the Blarney Inn attached to our hotel was a fitting way to say goodbye to Sara and Coby for the next day they would venture out onto the coast for some hiking while we hung around another day relaxing before our next journey to Iceland.

A special thanks goes out  to the Jadzia, Dave and all the folk in and around Kells for an amazing experience we’ll never forget.

I would like to dedicate this Irish blog to my Aunt Gerri who we invited to join us bug couldn’t make it. We love you Gerri!


Friday, July 22, 2011

Hail Britannia


With months of extensive email correspondence our friend Scott and I nailed down a date and time to meet up in London for a drink and some dinner along with his sweety Laura. We would fly into Heathrow Airport early afternoon, take a train into the Green Park station which is near where they were staying, and meet at a certain pub about 6:PM. That seemed long enough for us to find a hotel by our usual method of random search considering we would be arriving into London about noon.

We exited the tube station at Green Park and discovered we were in the center of the Rodeo Drive of London making our search for a reasonably priced hotel near impossible. The temperature being on the warm side and the search with packs on backs not being very successful, we decided to have some lunch, and more importantly a cold beer. After our lunch, I left the bags with Sharon at the restaurant while I scouted the area for a hotel in our price range, hopefully without having to take a second mortgage out on the Phoenix house. 

The Bustamanta Mermaid at the Mermaid Hotel
Briskly walking the streets passing by the Bentley dealership and every posh designer label shop imaginable, I let my intuition take me into a pleasant little lane just south of Oxford Street. It was there I saw the small sign of the Mermaid Hotel hanging off the side of some tall lovely old buildings and directly below the sign a door leading upstairs above the restaurants below. Walking up the steep narrow stairway I came to the small office with a counter and stacks of luggage behind me. Then I heard a rapid succession of footsteps coming up the stairs. It was the desk clerk that quickly stepped into his post and asked how he could help me. I explained my need for a nice reasonably priced double room and he replied they only have one room for  one night though maybe other nights might be available if I check the desk the next morning. I asked the price and it was within budget plus it included breakfast. I secured the room, skipped down the stairs through the door out onto the quiet street with the room key in hand, went into another unmarked door off the street, up four flights of stairs, (half way up was a large Bustamante sculpture of a Mermaid behind glass) dropped off my daypack into the cute top level room and retreated back to the awaiting Sharon with the incredibly great news. I couldn't wait to show her the unmarked door from the street where our room was because it seemed so funny to find such a room in this area of the city that sported hotels way beyond our budget. 

Winding myself past the boutiques again realizing I had ventured quite away from the restaurant but it didn't matter much because we had a room where we earlier felt doomed. I found Sharon kicked back reading from her Kindle and I said " Pack up, we've got a room". I played up the situation walking back to the hotel and the long winding walk supported my gentle warnings. We finally arrived at the door and I exclaimed "this is it." We made our way upstairs past the large ceramic pastel colored Mermaid sculpture which Sharon immediately identified and thoroughly enjoyed, and after the four flights of stairs I opened the door to the room which was much larger and beautiful than she expected plus the room had a great view out into the cafe street scene below. 


Pubbing it up in London with friends Laura and Scott
Children violating the rules at the Lady Di Memorial
We got settled into our room and then readied ourselves to meet up with our friends from Arizona at the Aubry Pub near the American Embassy and only a few blocks from our room. We guessed at a turn onto Aubry Road, walked one block and I saw the profile of Laura in a long black coat on the corner among many others standing outside the pub. Being Friday afternoon, all the pubs are brimming with customers. Making sure it was Laura, we called out her name and she spun around with a wide grin on her face. It's always great to see a familiar face when traveling for so long. Soon Scott arrived and with the pub so full we decided to move down the road to another pub to begin our reunion. After a few pints of bitter we went to an Italian restaurant, met up with their very cute daughter Kayla and finished off the evening filling our bellies with pasta, great wine, and rousing conversation. Our friends were leaving the next day so we all said goodnight.

The following next few days Sharon and I toured the city by tourist bus (kind of silly but fun) and walked through the parks. One of our most favorite stops was at the Lady Diana memorial fountain in Hyde Park. It's a whimsical water feature that had a sign clearly stating No Wading or Swimming while hundreds of children (and their parents!) played gleefully running up through river like rushing waters behind the fence supporting the warning sign. I believe Lady Di wouldn't have it any other way. 

The elegant old Grand Hotel on the seafront in Brighton
The third day we packed up and took a train south to Brighton, a small seaside resort I first retreated to 29 years ago while avoiding the military draft for the ongoing conflict in Viet Nam. At the train station I inquired about a rental car and the information desk said it was just around the corner so we walked over to their office and reserved a car to be picked up in a couple days to tour the southwest area of England. While at the rental office we inquired about a bed and breakfast we could stay at and were pointed in the right direction towards the seafront. While living in Brighton, I remembered the Grand Hotel, a place known to comfort Oscar Wilde and his companion Bosie. At the time I couldn't have afforded to stay in such a beautiful place but I had dreamed some day I could so when we walked by this hotel we stopped in to inquire if they had rooms and at what cost. They did have a room left and the cost was surprisingly reasonable. So I was able to live out a dream in this fine historical inn on the seafront of Brighton.
It's delightfully silly how a stack of rocks attracts so many

Brighton was certainly fun and wonderful in a very British way but we needed to move on into the countryside because I wanted Sharon to experience a true bed and breakfast in a small village and also see Stonehenge. 

A beautiful day at the beach English style
We picked up our fine right-hand standard drive economy car and ventured along the southern coastline of Sussex towards the monoliths of Stonehenge. The day remained cloudy with light rain only allowing the sun to peak through a few seconds every hour while we threaded the narrow hedgerows connecting the country villages of southwest England. Unexpectedly we drove upon Stonehenge setting out in the middle of a lush green rounded off hill and pulled into the lightly attended parking area. From what I heard by others whom have visited this curiously placed stone formations before that there was developed around the site when in fact the stone circle was in a pleasant empty setting surrounded by rolling farmlands. I was delightfully surprised and photographed these world renown stone stacks feverishly. Finally the fun wore off and I jumped the low rope barrier and pushed over a fairly large stone. This brought about a choir of jeers from the other visitors. (not really..they loved it). The sun began to lower onto the foothills so it was the signal to now find a place to spend the night. I thought this time and place would be perfect to find a country pub that had accommodations for the evening. We drove north on a narrow farm road that bordered a military tank practice operations area for quite awhile until we saw a sign for pointing to a small village advertising a B&B. The winding road brought us to an old inn that had a note on the door to call this number for information. Sitting in the parking lot was a man that said just knock on the door loudly. We did and a rounded head of a man just out of the shower poked out of the window right above the door asking what we wanted. He stated his inn was full for the night but across the main road in other town there would be other B&B’s. So back in the car down the road to the main road turn across the main road onto another narrow hedgerow lined lane we drove until we came to the village of Market Lavington. Slowly navigating the main street of this town we spied a pub with an accommodations sign so we pulled over, parked, walked across the road, entered the pub and ordered a couple pints. After a couple long pulls off my glass while chatting it up with a couple of inquisitive locals, we inquired about a room for the night from the bartender and indeed they had and they also cooked up great English food from their restaurant in the next room. That night we were graciously served lovely traditional English dishes, went upstairs and slept wonderfully, got up early to photograph some of the town, had a full English breakfast and made our way back to Brighton after exploring more villages along the way.

My Brighton hideout in 1972
Returning to Brighton was much easier because I had more experience with the car and we took the motorway most of the route in lieu of the country roads. Arriving back to the seafront about six in the evening to find many of the B&B’s in town were full but our luck would bring us to the lovely little Modan B&B just down the street from the flat where I lived in 1972. The older couple were so typically proper British and thrilled we selected their place to stay. That evening after having great Indian food, we walked along the seafront out to the Brighton Pier to capture a bit of nostalgia dreaming how things were and how lucky I was today.

The next morning I pulled car up to the B&B, loaded the bags in the boot and drove to the rental car agency to drop off the car next to the rail station. We were a little concerned about making our flight to Ireland on time because threats of a labor work slow down were looming so we got to the rental office just before eight and the office didn’t open until nine. Fortunately a worker from the agency was sitting in his car in front of the office so we left the keys with him, grabbed our bags, hiked up to the train station, bought our tickets to Gatwick Airport, boarded the train as it pulled out five minutes later. The train pulled into the airport station. We walked into the airport (very convenient) and checked our luggage to Dublin at the Air Lingus counter. Within two hours we would be in the land of milk and Guinness.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

AmsterDamn!

Leaving a conservative neatly organized society of Luxembourg to the tongue in cheek silliness of Amsterdam is a lesson in opposites socially speaking. The dutch love their country from what I can glean in conversations both in and out of the Netherlands. I love these people for embracing diversity and tolerance though within the last few years of massive immigration their welcome mat has been worn thin.
It doesn't get much more fun than this

On the train we actually executed an advanced plan to exit the train station by turning left to locate a bicycle rental company so we could ride through the streets with our packs on our backs to search for a hotel. The plan worked flawlessly. Bicycles rule this city and for good reason. Most streets are extremely narrow, parking is a trick only the Dutch can make happen, and navigating up, over, and around the city maize seems impossible even for a seasoned traveler as myself. So we located the MacBike rental office, rented two common looking steeds, and off into the hinterland we did peddle. A word of warning when peddling in Amsterdam, it's residents take cycling very serious so bicycling without direction, purpose, and lack of control is not tolerated its citizens. Everyone from Dad riding with two kids, Grandma shopping, or the nattily dressed businessman ride with conviction with no monkeying around.

Within a half hour we found the very elegant Hotel Doelen, a small hotel on a quiet back street in the center of the city. We dismounted, locked our bikes to a building and toted our luggage into our room and then off to explore this ancient fascinating commerce port. Our destinations included the Rijksmuseum to see the Rembrandt works, the VanGogh Museum and ride by the Ann Frank house which we didn't go in because of the massive line around the building. Then we decided it was time to stop by a coffee house to sample some of the special coffee at the Jolly Joker. Our experience there was more than we both could have imaged so we retired to our hotel room for a few hours.

This ain't your Grandma's coffee but it is the richest kind
Amsterdam is very quaint just to stroll around and wander into a pub or a restaurant. Both of us had been dying for some Thai food for a long time so we decided on eating Thai food for the first evening meal and without disappointment. The spice, the coconut, and the textures satisfied our desires for one of our favorite cuisines. OK...we were not quite fully satisfied because the next nights dinner was again Thai food but at a different restaurant that was even better. Yes at times we can be very repetitious and boring though not having Thai for four months we needed our fix more than just once for such a long celibacy.



First Class Train from Amsterdam to Paris...very nice
After four days in Amsterdam we boarded our first class high speed train directly back to Paris so we could catch our flight to London. When I use three world cities in one sentence it makes me shiver with delight.  Our brief return to Paris allowed us to meet Kasia, the very charming daughter of the gentleman who was the owner of the apartment we rented in Paris on our previous stay. Lisa Wines arranged for us to meet at an Italian restaurant and then we went for a night cap drink at a corner cafe. We told Kasia we were going to Ireland and she insisted we contact her mother who has a 300 year old thatched roof cottage to rent in Kells south of Dublin. We promised we'd try to contact her but first we must see London and a portion of its surrounding country side.










Perfect Luxembourg





CURRENT PREFACE: After visiting many metropolis's throughout the world this postage stamp city and country stands out to be the front runner of all. It seems way too good to be true but our inquiry amongst it's residents held steadfast that Luxembourg has won our prestigious "Most Perfect City in the World" award. Would I want to immigrate to perfection? I don't think I could handle the pressure of living up to it's flawless surroundings so Bisbee don't worry, we aren't going anywhere but home.  

Down to the last day in Paris and a quick decision had to be made whether to go directly to the Netherlands to spend our entire five remaining days on the European continent or make a quick side-trip stopover somewhere on the way to wooden shoe land. Then I had a geographic recollection regarding a mini-country somewhere on the northern border of France called Luxembourg. I knew nothing about this little known or heard from nation and that alone was cause for their monarchy to welcome us upon our arrival.

The City Hotel with the train station on the left
Semi early Friday morning we sobbed as we said our goodbyes to best friend Lisa and arrived by bus at the Nord Est railway station. Crossing the wide boulevard of traffic and the even wider arrival area fronting the station we found the ticket office that is now known as the slowest service queue in rail history. I knew what train we needed and allowed for an hour to purchase the tickets, find the platform and have a cup of coffee. I didn’t allow for everyone in front of us to plan their complete summer holidays with each ticket agent. I could have used a ticket issuing vending machine but our country, the old backward USA do it our way, doesn’t adhere to the rest of the world’s latest embedded chip technology for credit cards which disallowed any hope of an alternate method to purchase tickets and left me standing in line anxiously waiting until ten minutes before my train was scheduled to leave. One of the three ticket windows opened for our service and we rushed up first asking if the saleswomen spoke English and she instantly referred us to the next clerk which was busy. I didn’t let a little communication issue stop me at this point to purchase two one way tickets to Luxembourg for the next train. Within five minutes we had our tickets, walked quickly out of the office into the boarding area, checked the platform location,  showed our ticket to the rail master and boarded the train with a couple minutes to spare. The only hang up was we were in the wrong car…yes it was a second class coach but our assigned seats were in another car so we just sat meekly in some random seats and fortunately no one claimed the seats for the three hour trip to Luxembourg.
Bridges and manicured gardens

There was a light rain when we stepped outside from the picturesque train station and though the King, the mayor, nor a large crowd of citizens gathered to formally welcome us, the genuine happiness in the faces of the general public was welcome enough. We walked around serveral blocks of streets for about 45 minutes scoping out hotel possibilities and decided on the City Hotel because it was close to the rail station and the penthouse corner room with a view of one of the main streets was great plus they provided a great breakfast included in the price of the room.

Every country could use one of these
Upon checking in I decided to query the elderly cheerful desk clerk about his country, which he was a native. “How are your politicians?” I asked. His reply was quick and direct. “They seem very honest and they work very hard”. I couldn’t believe this but his sincere answer without hesitation lead me to believe it was true. “I don’t really hear of Luxembourg getting involved in any wars, how can that be?” He smiled and said the country hasn’t been to war in 250 years except for that “German thing” which they didn’t have anything to do with and he doesn’t foresee anything in the near future.  When asked about hiking around the city, “We have many beautiful hiking trails through our city so it is not necessary to travel very far.” Is this utopia or what? It was getting late so we dropped off our bags in our beautiful room and walked through the ultra clean streets of the old part of the city. What we first encountered in the early evening light was truly as our desk said. Beautiful streets, walkways, pedestrian paths, and trails all around the city with views of many ancient buildings, incredible green landscapes, and very tasteful shops and restaurants populated the old city center plus everyone was really friendly and again our inquiry to everyone we meet seemed to be very happy to live in their country.  We wandered (got it right Lisa) into a large square where a large stage was set for an orchestra performance. There were small booths selling sausages, beer, and wine so we had a couple glasses of wine and within 15 minutes the youth brass orchestra began to play. The weekend music festival was put on by the "Ministry of Respect". Yes can you believe this country has such a governmental agency? This is what the US needs more than ever! The setting was storybook like and the musical performance was flawless.
The train station

We ate dinner at a restaurant recommended by our desk clerk for traditional Lux food. Sharon had the culturally recognized thick ham steak and I had a local fish. Both dishes satisfied our culinary desires and we slowly strolled back to our hotel along the quiet streets of our new favorite city.

The morning gray skies and low hanging clouds didn’t dissuade our desire for the urban hike on the trail we caught a glimpse of the night before. The river canyon cuts through the center of the city and provides a lengthy lush pedestrian pathway for visitors and residents enjoyment. A light drizzle put a gloss varnish on the stone steps leading down to the path making it very slippery. Once at the bottom, the manicured parkway lead us through the maze of trees, bushes, lush carpets of grass, and interesting historic homes and churches. The rain increased just after we ducked under cover of a small family entertainment spot featuring miniature golf . The rain drained from the last cloud and the sun made its d├ębut as we continued our hike under the high stone arches of the bridges above, threading the paths dividing the well organized gardens and eventually the path popped us out onto the winding narrow streets of the city routing us back into the central zone where again another music venue began as part of the weekend festival.  So incredibly beautiful this city was I couldn’t help wish that all city planners should be required to visit Luxembourg as example of how to make use of common areas in an urban environment.

The next morning we reluctantly boarded our train to Amsterdam leaving our beautiful City Hotel room and Luxembourg, a city so great they had to name it twice…Luxembourg Luxembourg. (sorry New York, you aren’t the only one)