Tierra Hermosa de la Sonrisas

Densely forested mountains give way to vast valleys, sparsely populated but heavily farmed. The sun has set but we are sure never to lose our way. Simply find the guiding light, the red-hued clouds painted by the crater deep within Mombacho. Hell, even if you do get lost you’re likely to find a local drunkard who would be happy to show you to your destination – just try to have a little fun with the tipping kerfuffle which is almost certain to ensue!

Having never been to Central America, I had no particular expectations for Nicaragua. Truly, the people we encountered (with the occasional exception) were among the most friendly we have ever met. Lounging in the central square in Granada, we were chatted up by one of the local constables from the National Police.

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He smiled and corrected our butchering of the Spanish language and proudly showed us pictures of his children. Children wove between the legs of strangers, chasing one another with their toys and giggling all the while. When play time was finished, it was on to helping Mom setup the food cart for some of the youth.

While enjoying a late dinner at a popular corner restaurant, we noticed droves of well dressed men and women pouring out of cars, all dressed in yellow. Shortly after the onslaught of sunshine-inspired-style had invaded the street corner, the guest of honor arrived – a young woman celebrating her birthday. Everywhere we looked, families were gathered around one another, whether there was a special event or not.

Food here was fresh and flavorful. The food carts and stands churn out high quality goodies like chicharrones and hand-made tortillas.

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One of our favorite snacks was a rather simple dish known as tostones, nothing more than fried plantains. When done right, they offered a pillowy texture with a very light banana-meets-potato flavor – like a potato and a plantain made love and threw their offspring into a deep fryer. Devilishly delicious. Although we encountered innumerable pigs and piglets wandering the streets and beaches, we sadly found no pork to eat minus the glutenous amount of chicharonnes we devoured. They go down so well with Ron y Coca. Fleur de Cana has changed my wife’s mind when it comes to rum. Super smooth and nearly tasteless (the silver stuff), it was WAY too easy to finish your third and realize, “yup, I’m drunk”. Fear not, for the hearty breakfasts are marked by eggs, fried cheese, starches and coffee. What hangover? Most meals outside of breakfast featured seafood and fried potatoes of some kind. Oh yes, let me not forget to mention the accompaniment to every meal, lots of rice and beans. Oddly enough, we still can’t enough.

One of our favorite evenings began with drunk uncle “helping” us find the building for our cooking class – rather, he accompanied us on the route which we already knew – shortly after the sun set. He demanded a tip. I laughed. The proprietor of the cooking class showed him the door. We quickly forgot about the strange experience and sipped on our Sangria while relishing that we had an entire kitchen to ourselves. It was just the instructor, her helper and a translator. Deciphering the meaning of words through hand gestures and a little common sense was still necessary, if not an enhancement. After we drank enough red stuff to feel nice and warm inside, we learned generations-old recipes from a native. We broke bread, err rice, and sipped on cool beverages while sharing stories over Indio Viejo, a chicken stew with a base of fried corn flour. There is something about preparing food with complete strangers and then enjoying a meal together that is quite humbling and unifying all at once.

Crammed into a converted short bus, flying down a dark road, the anticipation was hardly tolerable. Like moths waiting for the flame to ignite, we couldn’t wait to reach the top of Mombacho. One of several active volcanoes in Nicaragua, Mombacho offers a rare opportunity to hang your head out over the putrid smelling but terribly exciting lava-filled crater. We were only afforded a few minutes at the crater’s edge due to the toxic air quality so we relished every second of this childhood dream to see a real volcano.

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My third grade self would be quite proud to know that I finally graduated from the baking soda and white vinegar paper mache science project. I ALMOST won the blue ribbon at the science fair.

Crashing waves on sandy beaches and a gentle breeze greeted us in Playa Gigante, just Southwest of Granada, for our final days in this beautiful landscape. I had dreams, inspired by my time with a close friend in San Diego, of surfing the Pacific Ocean on the coast of Nicaragua, but laying on the beach and playing in the waves proved eventful enough.

We celebrated New Year’s Eve in this sleepy fishing village of a few hundred, doing our best to avoid the war-zone of fireworks which began at 6pm and continued well into the earliest hours of 2017. New Year’s Day is a National Holiday in Nicaragua and brought thousands of locals to the beach; opening the curtains to our beach front property revealed a beach nearly packed.

A jaunt through the jungle landed us at a private beach, along with a HUGE spider on my pack to boot; my wife’s sheer look of terror tipped me off that something was about to eat my face, when I realized it was on my shoulder strap. Once the arachnid had dismounted, I couldn’t resist the photo opp – my wife bewildered that I was interested to get a closer look at this thing that was sure to have nearly killed me a moment ago.

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I suppose that’s one of the great thrills of travel: what others find to be scary, disgusting or a no-go can become the most memorable and empowering experiences.

 

 

A Very German Christmas

Hot red wine wafts through the air. Friends and families laughing and sharing stories line the cobblestone streets, glasses in hand. The sound of children playing and running through crowds echoes as loudly as the constant sound of Christmas music. Vendors standing behind counters of temporary shops are hocking their goods – handmade chocolates, ornaments, and various Christmas decorations seem to be the most popular. This feels like the county fair but Christmas trees, bright lights, and huge windmills serving as a decoration stretch throughout this pop-up market.

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Like a hunting hawk, we are attracted to anything that shimmers which in this case happens to be every other vendor’s booth. We did some real damage shopping for our loved ones. Most vendors did their best to understand our english and we in turn did our best to thank them profusely for their help (danke!). Next to nearly every booth selling merchandise is a food vendor of some sort – potato pancakes, bratwursts, burgers, freshly roasted nuts, donuts, sweet breads and cotton candy to boot. With some hot wine in our systems we bounced from one food vendor to another until we couldn’t possibly have another bite. Pig was by far the favorite meat and we enjoyed immensely.

One of the rituals in which we have taken great joy on this trip has been finding little gifts for family. As much as we enjoy shopping for our loved ones, it’s also an exercise in comfort; seeing the goods we’ve come across through family’s eyes brings us closer in spirit. The holiday season has certainly brought the homesickness out a few times. Without their realizing it, the people we love are always with us as we bounce from one destination to the next and stand in awe of everything we come across.

We stayed in the Rhine Valley for three nights in total. Mainz, Germany was home this go around. The town was teaming with Christmas activities and charm aplenty. Aside from the Christmas market we enjoyed (twice in three days) a couple hours in the Guttenberg museum proved to be…interesting…as well. The inventor of the printing press hailed from Mainz and the town has created a rather large museum in his honor. We strained to read the mostly German plaques throughout the museum but did enjoy the priceless collection of the oldest books in the world, including the first bible printed by the Guttenberg press. A 15 minute demonstration of the inventor’s press in action proved most engaging and perplexing all at once; pretending to understand what was being said throughout the demo was difficult to say the least and I caught one lady in the audience snickering at the dumbfounded look on our faces. We are in Germany, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the demonstration would be in German. We had a good laugh at ourselves and enjoyed the demonstration – what we thought we understood anyhow.

Tarin had once been in this area some years ago after college (go Cougs!) and was over the moon that we were returning to explore. I can recall the excitement in her voice many a time as she told me about the Upper, Middle Rhine Valley. After some research on our train ride leaving Berlin, we determined a one day tour up the Unesco World Heritage Site of Lovers Gorge was in order. Taking a mid morning train leaving Mainz, we headed north along the Rhine River, our train following every bend in the river. We rounded a corner in Bingen. before the river, steeply-slopped vineyards and castle dotted mountains filled our train windows.

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For our first stop, we visited Bacharach. Cobblestone streets and Bavarian architecture are tucked into the base of a mountain range set along the western bank of the river. Most shops were closed as this is the off-season for tourism but we found one gentleman plugging away at his craft. His shop was filled with hundreds of handmade pieces which we marveled:

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Looking up the mountainside, Tarin spotted the ruins to an old church. We climbed a steep stairway to reach the base of the centuries-old ruins floating above the river and town below.

Trains came every hour along this route and we hopped on board a north-bound locomotive in order to reach Koblenz, the most northerly city on the Rhine Gorge. Always proving most effective, we wandered the streets in the hope that we would find a late lunch. Voila, a few blocks away from the train station, Aubergine appeared! We sat next to a window for proper people watching and opted for a light meal of soups and salads. Their pumpkin soup was creamy with a hint of spice from freshly ground ginger added in and topped with toasted pumpkin seeds – absolutely delicious. Paired with a large salad, the meal provided fuel for our quick jaunt across town to view the confluence of the Rhine and La Moselle rivers.

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We only snapped a couple of pictures as we had to hoof it for the train station which was about 2 miles away. We barely made the train headed south before it left. The ride home proved just as picturesque as the sun was setting on the Rhine Valley and our time in Mainz.

Through the Turmoil

The hands on the clock of this adventure are beginning to wind to end. An impromptu trip to Holland gave way, rather quickly I might add, to our ten day trip through Germany.

The most significant amount of time was spent in the capital city of Berlin, in the northeasterly reaches of the country. Today the city is hailed as a hotbed of artistry, nightlife and progressive social movements. However, just a little over 25 years ago Berlin served as the forefront for the Cold War. Alas, Soviet occupation and iron-fisted rule of East Germany dissolved with the removal of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the USSR in the late 80’s and early 90’s- all while I was just barely out of my Pull-Ups – yes, I am a big kid now! Rewind the clock another 45 years and this city played stage to one of the most dramatic defeats in all of modern war in Nazi Germany’s fall and Hitler’s shameless taking of his own life. Forgive the gruesome and rather down-trodden approach to the beginning of this post but our experience with the city of Berlin was marked by the feeling that the city has yet to fully shake off it’s dark and fairly recent past. This is not a judgement but rather an opinion based on my short stay in this large, international city.

Our apartment was very near the center of town and the infamous Checkpoint Charlie which served as an entry point into East Germany during the Cold War period of 1961-1989. Very nearby was an outdoor exhibit of the Berlin Wall, with a small portion of the wall still standing.

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As an East German citizen, you were forbidden to cross the border into West Germany without consent of the state, and you were sure to die at the hands of a mercenary should you attempt. Standing in the middle of the once “neutral zone” sent shivers down our backs.

We tended to stay very near this central part of town as there was so much to see in relation to the history of Berlin – the previous location of Fuhrer’s Bunker, Brandenberger Tower, The National Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, to name a few.

Striking was the contemporary look of the city. As a result of the bombings which took place during the later campaigns of WWII, the majority of the buildings we passed and roadways we walked were much more modern than that of those in other countries we have visited in Europe. The city required a near-complete rebuild once Hitler’s regime had been defeated, which came with an incredible financial burden. In order to mitigate the cost, many of the buildings throughout the worst-affected areas were prefabricated; out of these institutional-flavored neighborhoods flourished street artists aplenty, akin to The Rose That Grew from Concrete. These grey-colored buildings have provided a near endless canvas for graffiti artists to leave their mark. While many cities in the US label this medium a blemish on their perfectly clean appearance, Berlin seems to have accepted it as a means of reconciling the rather drab appearance of their function-over-form infrastructure.

Just outside the city of Berlin was the Sachenhausen Concentration Camp which we visited for a couple of hours on a very cold and foggy afternoon. This camp served as the administration headquarters and the architectural model for all concentration camps under Hitler’s reign and as such, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) made a concerted effort to preserve this camp. There is very little which remains today but the GDR have gone so far as to reconstruct some of the buildings in order to allow visitors to see how prisoners lived, where they bathed, ate and received medical care. We wondered around the camp, glued to our audio guide as we learned of the deplorable conditions people lived in.

Throughout the tour and the multiple exhibits, signs were posted in memoriam of those held in this camp and to serve as a reminder that the people of this world must stand united in the face of would-be oppressors in order to prevent such an atrocity from ever happening again. I don’t think we can say that we ‘enjoyed’ this tour but we certainly found it to be deeply moving.

The city of Berlin is thriving, even buzzing today and serves as the symbol of the progress which can be made, even after great tragedies; through hard work, perseverance, and an open mind anyone in this world can cast aside preconceived notions.

Cycles, Canals and Coffeeshops

Arriving to the Hook of Holland by way of overnight ferry, Tarin and I took the first train headed in to Amsterdam. The trains became more and more crowded the nearer we drew to the city and we found ourselves having to separate in order to make room for our gigantic backpacks. We landed at Centraal Station in Amsterdam  just after 11am. Yes, that extra ‘a’ is supposed to be there, according to the Dutch.

This would be the fewest days we were to spend in any one of our destinations on this entire trip and the time flew by. We found the city itself easy to navigate, but the transit system didn’t necessarily make it very easy to understand which bus/tram/train connected with one another so we did quite a bit of walking. Our apartment was fairly close to the Anne Frank Haus and just far enough away from the Red Light District that we didn’t hear the raucous crowds. Given the good fortune we’ve had with the places we’ve stayed, I suppose the universe has now balanced itself; the apartment we stayed in while in Amsterdam was, how do you say… a bit of a polished turd. Let me expand just a little: the kitchen lacked the basics needed to cook a meal, the washer smelled like Humphrey Bogart’s trailer & looked like a science experiment and we were awoken every morning at 6am to the sound of Tram #10 whirring by our front window. We ended up eating out for every meal which we ordinarily wouldn’t mind, except the extra cost and the time lost to the entire process of finding somewhere – “what do you want?” I don’t know, what do you want” – but we did enjoy nonetheless. All was OK!

While killing some time before a reservation, we wandered up a street thinking we were headed to a park when bells sounded, lights flashed and two barriers swung down in front of a bridge; moments later, the bridge rose to let a couple of house boats pass through.

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Tarin took great pleasure in the ability to not only peer into someone’s home but also to view this wonder of engineering.

One late afternoon was spent at the famous brewery Brouwerij’T Ij (now you pronounce it) connected to the iconic windmill design associated with Holland.

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Proof I didn’t make up the name

I fumbled along trying to order with the bartender and a couple of flights of the haus brew magically appeared at our table.

Their amber was by far the best, characterized by it’s hazy color, a creamy head, with a taste of malt and caramel hints. Smooth and easy to drink! 

After our libations we enjoyed dinner at one of the many Mediterranean restaurants in town. I had a huge plate of meats – lamb, chicken and beef – and Tarin had a baked, whole sea bass. Full and happy bellies carried us through The Red Light District and back to Centraal Station where we caught a ride on a canal boat for Amsterdam’s Festival of Lights. The nearly 90 minute boat ride was surely the height of our experience in Amsterdam.

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The diversity of the people in Holland was also something in which we took great pleasure. As nearly professional people watchers, we can assure you that a walk through the Red Light District provides a viewing populous like no other. We walked over a ridiculous amount of bridges, dodged countless bicyclists and passed by multifarious coffee shops. Some of the coffee shops had this awfully strange but familiar odor emitting from their doors – they were certainly roasting something, but not coffee beans. Hmm.

 

One Ferry to the Next

Scenery and time seamlessly fly by again as we ride our train from Bath to London on this early Sunday morning in December.

The town of Chippenham was home for the last three nights and four days. Our resting place was the most unique setting yet, a 100 + year old barn remodeled into four loft-style studios. Our host, Alex, appears to have done most of his own work on the interior of the space and we very much enjoyed the fit and finish. We slept in the small loft which sat over the top of the main living space containing the seating area, the kitchen and the dining spaces. Alex appears to have an affinity for Latin culture as we noticed all the tile work throughout the space had a very south-of-the border feel. He even had a small spice rack containing some of our favorites like chili powder and cinnamon; we added another in the way of cumin and cooked up several Mexican dishes that made us feel at home. Fortuitously, I spotted a bottle of Anejo Tequila in the cupboard which practically begged me to have a taste. However, it was unopened and I just couldn’t bring myself to break the seal. We made good use of the studio and even took an entire day to relax and catch up on planning and other, much less exciting stuff that comes with being an “adult”.

A day spent in the neighboring city of Bath was probably the highlight of our time here in the UK. The drive in to the city was beautiful and reminded us quite a bit of Ireland: rolling green hills, open space and innumerable sheep dotting the landscape. The city of Bath itself was incredibly picturesque. To kick off the day, we began with a visit to Alexandra Park, which resides on top of a hill overlooking the city.

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After our visit to the park, we dropped off our Hyundai at a “car park” – you know, where your car goes to stretch it’s legs and rest while you visit your destination by foot – and weaved our way through the holiday shopping crowd. Not having any expectation of what the city would offer outside of aged buildings, we were dumbfounded at the amount of people out shopping; remove the old architecture and we could have believed that we were in the US, save all the funny accents we heard. Tarin had done quite a bit of research for our day in the city and went so far as to schedule afternoon tea at the Royal Crescent Hotel.

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Arriving earlier than our reservation proved to be a non issue and we were shown to a quiet room in front of a large window overlooking the manicured courtyard gardens.

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Electing for a sweet and savory mix of food and a rich black tea, we decided to add in a flight of Champagne. Hey, when in Bath! Wait, I might have that wrong…but it is an ancient Roman city. Don’t judge me.

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Our last day was spent lounging around the studio as we were both feeling a bit exhausted. We’ve been travelling for 67 days. We miss home and our animals. We took yesterday to relax side-by-side and recuperate. Right now, we are en route to London for a day of sightseeing. To be continued…

ANNNND, WE’RE BACK! Our train pulled in to Paddington Station, London around 10am and we transferred to the metro line. After a couple more transfers, we landed at Liverpool station in the heart of the city. We dumped our baggage at a holding station and hit the streets. A busy day lie ahead as we took in the main attractions including London Tower, London Tower Bridge, Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St. James Park, Buckingham Palace and Green Park. Phew.

Needing to rest our laurels in the afternoon, we grabbed some seats in the first establishment we could find. Sketch – a local Teahouse turned artists exhibit. Apparently this place is a Michelin Star rated restaurant and they serve a killer macaroni and cheese, although it was $18USD. Save the sticker shock, we really enjoyed our stopover. Leave it up to a couple of Americans to order mac and cheese at a Michelin Star restaurant! The entire place mimicked an art installation with each space having it’s own theme. Tarin likened it to Alice in Wonderland and I was reminded of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Sketch certainly offers more than the typical English Tea experience!

All said and done, we covered over 13,000 steps while in London, which equates to a little over 5 miles. Our feet and eyes are tired and we are ready for the overnight ferry to Amsterdam!

Welsh Paradise

Attempting to take in every last bit of the seashore, I’ve got the windows open at Gunfort Cottage, once a small fisherman’s abode in the town of Tenby, Wales. Literally, this place must have been a small fisherman’s home. It’s a pint sized apartment with extremely low doorways (I’ve got the bumps on my noggin to prove it). Although compact, it served it’s purpose well and we’ve enjoyed having a kitchen for home cooked meals. This was the first time in a while that we didn’t have a big agenda for a destination. We’ve slept in, had our morning coffee and made an egg breakfast every morning. Our view out the front door is jaw dropping and we enjoyed a nice long beach walk a couple days ago – working out all the problems of the world, of course.

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After our jaunt on the beach, we stopped off at the local museum where I inquired about my family heritage. Unfortunately, the local historian who specializes in family genealogy was not in this week so I left him my contact information. For now, I’ve been relegated to the wealth of information available on the internet through the many websites offering to “find your family history here!”. To say the least, the amount of information is overwhelming and quite impossible to make sense of, much less corroborate. I’ve got my fingers crossed that I will hear from the local historian sometime soon.

We spent our last day exploring the area, driving through the myriad pastures along some dangerously narrow two-lane roads. We stopped off for a morning stroll along the Wales Coast Path which carried us through three separate tunnels once used for a small-scale coal mining railroad over 100 years ago.

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The rain was unrelenting, so we broke off the uncovered shore path and headed for the woods. Muddy and soggy yes, but we found comfort in the forest as we reminisced about our time spent in Dash Point State Park in Western Washington.

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This Way to Your Death

Those of you who know Tarin well are probably familiar with her fascination of someday flying an airplane. A few years ago, I found a small regional airport offering introductory flight lessons for aspiring pilots. A few weeks after receiving the certificate for her first flight lesson, Tarin took to the skies with her instructor while I kept my feet on solid ground to take pictures. Needless to say, Tarin still dreams about getting her pilot’s license some day. On our way to our next destination, Tarin spotted a sign that indicated a monument for Amelia Earhart was nearby. Doubling back in our rental car, we found our way to a spire erected in the female pilot’s honor and to commemorate her stopover in the small Welsh town of Burry Port. Viewing this monument while traveling through Wales served as a reminder for Tarin to continue chasing these dreams.

This travel has been not just about experience but also about discovering; having the chance to explore the physical world and our often-jumbled inner thoughts has allowed us to bring in to focus our aspirations, both as a married couple and as individuals. For the first time in our adult lives, we have had the opportunity to ponder with no regard for necessary action.

A Grocery List on a Vomit Bag

Speeding south along the highway in our five-door Skoda Fabia, we left Westport in search of the southern part of Ireland. We had a quick bite to eat in Ennis, a small town just south of Galway, before landing in Killarney. We arrived to our second B&B just after sunset and were greeted by Anne and her husband Paudie – the Horgan’s. Again, we were quite impressed with our accommodation and the hospitality.

The following morning, we rose early to hot porridge (oat meal with fresh fruit – super tasty) and lots of bread. I ate as much as I possibly could as we were headed out for a 7 mile hike along Dunloe Gap. Paudie helped us find a boat ride across a series of lakes and rivers to reach the trailhead. He phoned a fella named Dux and we were off to Killarney National Park where we were to meet our for-hire boat in front of Ross Castle.

Sharing a ride with a nice couple from NYC, we rode with Dux across lakes, up rivers, and under bridges to make our way to Brandon’s Cottage.

Parting ways with the couple we met, Rob and Lauren, T and I proceeded to begin our hike while our fellow Americans hitched a ride from a horse-drawn buggy. The trail was actually a paved road, used by locals of a TINY town called Black Valley. We passed the schoolhouse – all six children out in front playing soccer – a few curious pups who weren’t terribly interested in us, and the local postman. Finally we started the ascent up Dunloe Gap. Quite honestly, words nor pictures do justice in trying to represent our experience. The rugged beauty of the countryside, the smell of clean air and the sound of countless babbling brooks was incredible.

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A hot cup of tea or two and a bowl of vegetable soup at Kate Kearny’s Cottage on the other side of Dunloe Gap marked the end of our three hour journey. Tarin and I both agreed that this was the pinnacle of our time in Ireland, quite possibly equal to our Serengeti safari.

Rising early again the following day, T and I headed out to the Dingle Peninsula for some site seeing and a horseback ride I had scheduled. We stopped off at Inch Strand for a beach stroll before making our way to the stables.

Unfortunately, the stables no-called, no-showed and we were left with a half day to kill. It was a bummer, but not enough to ruin the day by any means. We went back to town, cleaned up and had a nice evening of pints and pub food back in town. After hearing the stables on Dingle Peninsula stood us up, Paudie went out of his way to make some calls on our behalf to find another horseback ride. As we left for dinner, he informed us that he had made a reservation for 9am the following morning at a stable just outside of town. Tarin and I arrived to the stables the following morning to find a nice young lady who showed Tarin the way to  some riding gear and eventually her horse. I decided to forego the ride as I wanted to catch on up some blogging.

Our last morning with the Horgan’s was spent around the breakfast table. We talked with their 14 year old son, Michael, about his schooling and aspirations to become a carpenter. We truly enjoyed the company of the Horgan’s and fancied the opportunity to be around a family.

A four hour drive landed us in Waterford, the southeast part of the country and the oldest city in Ireland. We originally planned to stay in another B&B but upon arrival we knocked several times, and rang the doorbell to no avail. I decided to change course and we made haste for downtown Waterford. We grabbed some lunch at a local café, and asked for advice about where to find a hotel. We stopped off at the first one we saw, Granville Hotel on The Quay, and were pleasantly surprised to find that someone had just cancelled their reservation! We quickly took action and found ourselves on the third floor of the hotel, overlooking River Suir. We learned that the original owner of the building was the designer of the Irish Flag, adding a touch of prestige to our accommodation. It just so happens that this time of year in Waterford is known as “Winterval”, the annual Christmas celebration. Tarin’s favorite Christmas movie, Elf was playing at The Reg, a local pub with a projector and a couple speakers. Now, I could make plenty of critiques regarding their setup (I am an AV nerd, after all) but watching Tarin enjoy the night like a little kid was too great an experience. We finished the night with a ride on the carousel and dinner.

Did I mention we had a few drinks?

Our last day in Ireland was spent at the Waterford Crystal factory and store, where we learned about the process involved in making the renowned artwork the world has come to love.

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I began to write this post on board deck eight of the Irish Ferry known as the Isle of Inishmore, or half-wrote it anyway.

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The ship was listing a great deal as the crew were battling gale-force winds to ensure we crossed St. George’s Channel en route to Wales. Neither Tarin’s nor my stomach handled the waves well so I had to put the computer down until we reached our next destination: Wales. Here we sit, at the Gunfort Cottage in Tenby, Wales. We prepared a Mexican feast (we’ve missed our favorite food!) and have enjoyed having our own space again. On to the next…

 

 

Best Coast

Driving on the wrong side of the road, we left Dublin and headed towards the left coast of Ireland. Aptly named, we stayed in the small town of Westport: full of charm, shops and pubs aplenty. The small town vibe was refreshing given that we’ve been spending so much time in large cities. We even made a friend whom we ran into on the streets and chatted with while out and about. The genuine friendliness of the people and their openness was remarkable. Westport was a lovely town. We sampled lots of the restaurants, pubs and shops during our four night stay.

We slept in our first B&B of our entire lives, St. Anthony’s. Our host, Paul, was an extremely friendly Catholic Monk who was helping run the B&B with his life long buddy, also named Paul. Two Pauls do, in fact, make a right. Forgive the corny nature of this assertion but these gents made our stay nothing short of perfect. We arrived to a bottle of champagne in our room, and chocolates. They certainly won Tarin over right away. They continued to provide a bottle of something to drink nearly every night  and were extremely helpful in our daily planning. We were simply blown away with the hospitality.

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Early on our third morning, we had a hike up Croagh Patrick, a mountain just a few minutes outside Westport. We had a crystal clear day (Irish context, of course) and enjoyed a 5km hike up a portion of the trail used as a pilgrimage since the 11th century, then turned back towards the bay below. The views were absolutely stunning.

True to our love of the open road, we spent an entire day driving the surrounding area. Paul highly recommended we see Kylemore Abbey, a castle built in the middle of the 19th century.

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Along the way, we passed Ireland’s only Fjord – Killary Harbour. The day was full of everything we thought Ireland would bring – green covered mountains, rivers, lakes, coastal views and lots of rain.

Earlier this month, we posted about our desire to maintain plans in Paris early next month, even in light of recent terrorist events. During an afternoon spent in front of the woodstove fire at St. Anthony’s B&B, T and I decided to change course. Our resolve to disallow these terrorists to negatively affect our trip have not given way, but the simple fact is that Paris is a very different place than it was just a few weeks ago. Armed soldiers walk the streets while special forces continue to carry out raids throughout the city; we cannot deny the ability of such sights and sounds to detract from our quest for a romantic week in Paris. Thus, we have decided to extend our time in Ireland and exchange the days originally earmarked for Paris for time in the Netherlands! For now, we will continue on through Ireland…

Some of the Black Stuff, Please

Staying north of the River Liffey in a small studio, we made a quick trip of Dublin. Having arrived late on our first of two nights in the big city, we arose early to yet another new climate – biting cold with a whirl of wind as well. We enjoyed bundling up for our early morning stroll as we finally had a chance to dig into our winter and rain gear, which we nearly regretted lugging around for the past seven weeks.

We headed over River Liffey on Ha’Penny Bridge and into the Temple Bar district, Dublin’s buzzing pub scene; we had a hearty breakfast at The Merchant’s Arch pub which we had all to ourselves. I just couldn’t resist an Irish Coffee and Tarin enjoyed a hot cup of coffee with real cream… and a homemade scone of course!

We found our way to the well known landmarks of Dublin including Trinity College, St. Anthony’s Green, Merrion Square, Christ’s Church Cathedral, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

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We also carved out some time to see the National Archaeological Museum of Ireland. Here we saw and learned a great deal of the history of Ireland. Our favorite exhibit included some of the finest examples of Irish goldsmith work, like this broach used to fasten a cloak around one’s neck.

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As big fans of Anthony Bourdain’s TV shows, we took his Dublin advice for a lunch spot and it did not disappoint. We had a simple lunch of soup and salads at Bear, a restaurant at the edge of the Temple Bar District. Good food and a unique setting.

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The highlight of our time in Dublin was surely the tour of the Guinness factory at St. Anthony’s Gate, near the Liberty District. Here we experienced well designed tour which included audio/video presentations intertwined with machinery set inside the former fermentation facilities. The mixed media delivery was very engaging, not to mention the fact that we learned how to properly pour – and drink – our very own glass of the Black Stuff.