Dublin

24 April, Easter Sunday 8:35am

Happy Easter to all!

I got up a little too early today…service starts at 9am. Think I’m anxious to step inside?? You betcha, but not out of fear — it’s been four weeks since I’ve been able to sit down in a formal setting in a church — it will feel good!

The town is so quiet — except for the occasional bus (fewer today) — and it appears that street traffic down into the center of O’Connell Street is being diverted (from 5am-4pm) — construction of some sort, or some Easter celebration? I’ll find out later when I try to find a pick-up point for the hop on/of tour bus (usually I’d get on mid-O’Connell St…obviously, not today).

1:25pm.

Well, if I could read, then I’d have realized the 9am service was mid-way down O’Connell Street at the Spire…didn’t click for some reason (tired & info doesn’t filter through as well at that point)… But, it took two glances at the billboard, at 8:50am, before I realized I had a wee bit of a walk!! And the traffic blockade was for an Easter/City celebration of sorts — officials, military band & show of military forces. I had to get through the blockades to the center (literally) — thankfully, long before the activities began. Made it just as the service began.

Did one “spin” of the hop on/off tour bus — pressing my luck to get back to the Abbey Presbyterian Church for the 11am communion service, having to literally wade through people traffic to get there, practically running the whole way (uphill, mind you, with my short legs!) — dodging slower foot traffic and made it — completely out of breath…but knew I’d be able to sit & recover while enjoying the service — just as the minister finished up his opening prayer.

I’ve had my exercise for the day, thank you!

But, after the service, I then walked the whole length of O’Connell Street (once again) to get back to the tour bus — but at a much leisurely pace this time, stopping for post cards & a huge 2 liter bottle (what was I thinking??) of water. And waited for the tour bus (a live tour this time–last one was ‘canned’ audio of tour–this was much better!) to get under way. Definitely better — Oemin? (pronounced long a-men) was the tour guide and when we reached the statue of Molly Malone, he sang in a lovely voice, the whole song! A few facts I learned–Garda (their police) means guardian of peace, the Irish have an interesting way of pronouncing ‘film’ (we use it as once syllable, they turn it into two: fi-lem).

I only got off at the Jameson’s Old Distillery (my pilgrimage to there is simply because it’s Jameson — and they have lovely Butler’s chocolates with Jameson whiskey ^,^ ) where I bought bars for each of my brothers, daughter & myself and a tiny bottle of Irish whiskey to bring home. I was going to stop in the Temple Bar area, but after all my running, decided not to.

Oh, my. Why do I keep doing this to myself ^,^ I waited for the bus to pick me up to bring me as close as possible, but it seemed to take forever, so, thinking it wasn’t that far, I started to walk…oh my. Well, it was a whole lot further, and nearing 4:30 — wanted to get into the kitchen before it became a zoo…obviously, I didn’t make it by then. It was much closer to 5 when I drug myself into the hostel, collapsed in my room for about an hour or two & finally managed enough strength to go make dinner…chicken, zucchini, tomato & mushroom sauté with a side of yogurt and oj to drink. After cleaning, drying & putting away the dishes, I went back into my room and realized that there was only one person left — and she was from Australia & a delightfully quiet person ^,^ My two giggle boxes were gone, as was the one above me that spent the night grinding her teeth. Silence tonight. YAY!

25 April, 3pm

I was so tired last night, I felt foolish going to bed at 8:30pm, but did anyway. Slept most of the night through (woke once when the sun came up, but rolled back over) all the way to about 7:30 or so.

This has been an uneventful, quiet day. My Australian room mate left this morning & absolutely no body has come in. That can still change, though. I’ve done the “last chance” laundry, folded and tucked away in my bags, had the left-over chicken sauté for lunch and getting this last post done before I pack it up. I need to go down into the kitchen either late tonight or early tomorrow & mark everything of mine in the kitchen (refrigerated/non-refrigerated items) as “free” so they won’t go to waste. I will use a couple of the eggs for breakfast, but the rest stays — hard to make purchases at the mini-marts because everything is prepackaged, so for one person, I end up getting enough to last me forever! Such a waste.

Tomorrow I start my 2nd to last leg:  Dublin -> Limerick -> Shannon by train & bus. Then an overnight stay in a hotel & my final leg is on Wednesday 27th, from Shannon Airport to NY to SFO. I have had such a lovely time, and if I have not said in the past, traveling alone can be great fun! I’ve met so many people, from all backgrounds, from many countries. Hosteling is great for this kind of travel. In hotels and B&B’s, you are more isolated. In the hostels, the vast variety of nationalities are really “in your face” — no getting away from it (I’d never dream of trying!)

But, that said, I know I would have enjoyed it even more if I had a traveling companion — be it a friend or my daughter. I am a people person and love to share. To not have someone I can share the experience with has been hard — so, I hope you don’t mind all my ramblings, as I have been able to share my experiences (at least in part!) with you!

So, tomorrow — we’ll see what that holds…hopefully NOTHING like my daughter’s 24-hr travel experience…straightforward would be nice ^.^

Slainté!

Stranraer -> Belfast -> Dublin…and more

20 April

9:35 and we are off, heading to Belfast.  This is a much smaller ferry than Jameson and I were on in ’08.  The StenaPlus (you pay extra for this) is much smaller, not as grand a view as on the big ship.  Shucks. Oh, well.  I might go downstairs and see if that one is any better (thought the upper deck would provide a better view, but wenches are in the way.  Perhaps I’ll go out on deck first.  Jacket will be needed — I see people out there and one lady’s hair is blowing pretty good.  We’ll see — I have three hours to check things out.

Didn’t sleep that well last night — mattress was a wee bit lumpy (an inner spring mattress), but mostly because I didn’t want to oversleep & miss my taxi, so I kept waking up — lol.  Coveting horizontal surfaces (none anywhere to be seen, except the floor & I don’t think that would be acceptable)…

Just saw what I guess is the Brit’s version of Regis & Kathy (or whoever his current “co-anchor” is…) — morning talk show that hosts celebrities, etc.  They had some interesting people on this morning:  young man named Milos that plays an amazing guitar — I’ll be looking for his music when I get home; the star of a new movie, Beastly (updated & probably PG or R rated version of Beauty & the Beast).  I’ll have to do a little research, but I think I may go see this one.  The actor, after finishing the move, had a whole new view of people with deformities (after playing the part — and going out during break, still in his makeup); and a star that is hosting two shows — one a documentary of newly found family members (adoptive children looking for birth parents or family members, families that have been separated for decades, etc) — neat.  They are able to do a more exhaustive search where the individuals have failed.  The other is a game show…ho-hum.

12:55pm
So, I have about 45 minutes before my train boards…not enough time to look around the city and almost too much time to just sit.  But, Belfast is extremely smoggy — reminds me of LA (not a good thing), plus the exhaust in the taxi needs work!  At first I thought it was the “fresh air” I was smelling — but once I got out, wasn’t so bad…no wonder he kept opening his window wider!  LOL!  Not a very chatty fellow, either.

Guess I could take this time to get a bite to eat, but it looks very “fast food”-ish…not terribly appealing.  Ah!  I keep forgetting I have a few bits in my “kitchen” bag ^,^ : nice fresh orange or two, bread & some jam that I nicked from my last accommodation (I paid for it, so guess I didn’t really nick it, did I?)  So, I’ll enjoy some fruit & a wee bit of bread w/jam.

Ah…refreshed!  And now, on my two and a quarter hour train ride.  A cutie across from me (love it when I’ve got a youngster across from me — so far they have been very well behaved.  This little lassie is about three or four.  She and her mum are going to Limerick Junction — off at Dublin station, switching to another station, then on in their travels.

Saying farewell to Belfast — it’s started to clear already!  I can see the haze in the distance.  Sorry, I’m sure there’s beautiful stuff to see, but I just couldn’t handle the smoggy city.  Balmoral is beautiful!  Just passed an old graveyard–I like them for some reason.

Oh, dear.  Lovely young lady just sat across from me…Why is it women feel they must take a bath in perfume.  My eyes are now quite itchy.   I may have to move if she doesn’t get off soon.  Arg.

21 April
6:50pm

Hot and sweaty — you just don’t equate those two word with Ireland, unless you’ve been working hard outside in the summer…and the weather has been a lot like summer!

The weather here has been phenomenal!  I arrived in Dublin yesterday late afternoon, booked a train to as close to Shannon as I could get (Limerick), then took a taxi to the hostel, made my bed & grabbed a locker.  Then I tried to get on line to check emails, FB, and to check the bus schedule to Shannon from Limerick (since it looks like the way I’ll end up going…that or a taxi) — succeeded for about five minutes — the system kept cutting out (too many trying to get on at once), so I gave up.  I concentrated my efforts figuring out where my day trips would take me.  One of the girls at the reception desk gave me a ton of fliers to look through…back to my room. After weighing the cost, timing (up, out & down to the pick up point–furthest point away, before buses started–by 6:30 for one!!!), I decided on one, went down to book & was told tI just needed o just show up…but after more discussing pros and cons of multi-day tours (not my favorite idea at the time), I decided to go for one that provided two tours AND an overnight accommodation at a hostel for 75 euro.  Their normal rate is 50/tour, so I thought I had a pretty good deal — what closed the deal was the fact that they would come pick me up at the hostel at 6:30–I could do that!  I will need to get a taxi back to the hostel on Friday night, because it doesn’t get back till at least 9pm.  But I’m happy with the arrangements.  We ended calling the tour company quite a few times to ask various questions…(I’d walk away, think of a question & come back…I don’t know how many times I visited the reception staff, but I’m sure they were sighing as they saw me coming as the day ended…LOL!  They were probably glad that I would be gone two whole days!)

So, today I was picked up, taken to Galway by the Dublin Tour Co, along with about 36 other people (picked up at various spots in the city).  Two tours were running: Connemara & Cliffs of Moher.  I had decided to do Cliffs of Moher, but they needed to shift people & I volunteered to do the Connemara tour instead.  It was very nice — I took notes on things that interested me & shot a zillion pictures…until my battery died.  I then resorted to the iPhone camera until it was down below 20%…by then, we were pretty much finished with the official part of the tour & coming into Galway.

I find it interesting that the tours I’ve been on, when I sit up front, the tour guide seems to talk to me rather than the whole tour group — lol.  Kinda weird, but flattering?  But the guide today was great — full of historical facts, some blarney and lots of laughs. (Did you know the blue/pink marks on the sheep were to indicate boy/girl? ^,~ )

The hostel I’m staying at in Galway did not have any adapters, so I had to go out and buy an adapter (only a week left — LOL!) for my camera’s battery charger…the front desk did not have any adapters for US plugs…only 3.80–not bad.  This is really a quite nice hostel (called Snoozles — how cute) — newer than mine in Dublin, and it has an elevator!  YAY (though, didn’t bring my rolly…but my knees certainly appreciate it–always took it up, and the stairs down!) and there is a bathroom W/shower (interesting–just a shower curtain, drain in floor…) en suite.  Happy camper…which brings me back to hot and sweaty!  Our bus’ air conditioning (you wouldn’t think you’d need it this time of year, right??) was out of whack.  So, the driver’s thermometer gauge read 32.9 degrees Celsius!  That’s 91 degrees F, folks!  The only windows were the drivers window and one ceiling vent in the back.  Once he opened it up, the temp dropped slowly to 27…(80).  Everyone was pouring out at each stop, whether they wanted to take photos or not, just to cool down.  But, it wasn’t too bad up front…I had the breeze from his window keeping me reasonably cooled (still very warm, but tolerable)…hence, hot and sweaty — and wanting to take a shower.  I will, just before going to bed (lol…will have to deal with crazy hair in the morning).

Just have to decide if I want to go out to eat tonight, or just munch on a protein bar or an orange or something…funny thing about just sitting all day.  I am tired from doing nothing much — oh, yeah…and getting up at 5:30 to be ready for my pick up…(forgot about that).  And I’m not really all that hungry, either.  Had a salmon & spinach quiche w/carrots — yummy — for my “lunch” at 2pm, so still very full.

Saturday, 23 April, 5:30pm — my where did the time go??

I was way too tired and had no time to do any posting yesterday.

Yesterday was a blast — leisurely rise, dress & breakfast (included with my room)…went for a walk to kill time, then checked out at 9:30 am, wandered over and sat for nearly an hour, kibitzing with the staff…half of them seem to know me by name — was I that much trouble??  I did, tongue-in-cheek, ask why everyone knew my name & the answer was because I was one of a few that were “overnighters” & they had to keep track of us…lol.  I certainly seemed to get good treatment on my first tour.

Now, this next tour was to cover the Cliffs of Moher, Burrens & some other miscellaneous stops.  Did I tell you that the Galway Tour company allows their drivers to pick and choose their routes & minor stops, plus their spiel that they give along the way?  Right!  And each guide had a great repertoire & route.  The Cliffs were breath-taking–in more ways than one–l o n g walk, folks up to the top.  I opted to NOT go up to the tower, which was a bad choice — puffins were up there!!!  I had plenty of time, too…just no energy. >.<

Our tour guide, Desmond Murphy (I think…his Irish accent was pretty heavy) had to be about 70 — years young!  This guy had a sharp mind & quick wit.  His humor could get kinda corny, but great, nonetheless!  He took the time to stop so we could get close up shots of lambs & other things.  He introduced us to the lamb-cow…”it goes moo-ma-a-a” — when we finally saw them, I had to laugh…alpaca!  Must be quite an oddity there.  Nothing but cows and sheep for miles and miles, and yet, relatively near the Cliffs was a heard of alpaca.   LOL.

We saw the beautiful Kylemore Abbey — unfortunately $$ to go in, so I opted to just have lunch (which was also expensive, but this I needed!) and leisurely walk around a take pictures.  Took some great shots of the Abbey with the lake in front.

It was a very long tour, leaving at 10 am and getting back to the bus depot by 6:25pm–20 minutes for me to make a quick pit stop & inhale an orange & scone I had the forethought to put in my bag ^,^ before getting onto the Dublin-bound bus & a 2 1/4 hour drive back.  I contemplated walking back to the hostel — sooo many people still out and about — but I had no more energy!  I found a taxi & paid the 5 euros (including tip) to get me back to the hostel.

I had a delightful day & when I got to the room at 9:30 pm, there was only one person in bed.  So, I quietly got into pjs, tucked stuff into my locker and no sooner than I was in bed, two giggle-boxes came in, whispering very quietly, then giggling louder than they needed.  I thought they were school girls (maybe 16-18), but I saw them today & they were early to mid 20s!  Just acted like school girls…I guess.

Today, I got up, dressed & had breakfast — free except for the extra scrambled eggs (2 euro) I added to my meal — and started in on my laundry…got it folded, and repacked my bag.

I only had a few things on the agenda today: laundry, walk to the botanical gardens and find out the time for Easter services at the Abbey Presbyterian Church.  That’s all…not much, eh?

Well, as I said, laundry was done, so I headed out to find the gardens…found several other things on the way (a community garden that had an award), the Royal Canal with four locks (took some pictures) and a magnificent cemetery.  I remember that the staff person at the hostel said it was before the cemetery…so, I missed my turn.  I asked at the floral center in the cemetery for directions & she gave some good ones, so I headed out again (after wandering through the grounds).  I finally found Botanical Road (I remembered that from the directions given at the hostel, but had apparently missed it) and aimlessly wandered for a bit, but realized I really had very little energy left — I’d been walking for almost 45 minutes, uphill, at a fairly good pace and figured I’d better give up because I saw nothing up the road that resembled a garden & absolutely no signage.  So, reluctantly, I turned around and headed the long walk back at a much more leisurely pace…dragging my sore feet along…even my calves were in on the action (arg).  I stopped and stretched them a bit, which helped, but as each bus swished by, I thought about stopping and hopping on.  I decided to brave it out and make my way back to the hostel, at the very least.

At the hostel, I almost went in, but decided to persevere and keep trudging along–knowing it was only about four blocks more (and downhill, thankfully!) to Abbey Church.  I made it, checked the times, saw a memorial park for fallen heros across from it (in 2008, the gates always seemed to be closed), so I went in.  Beautiful little park with a reflection pond in the shape of a cross, with mosaic tile design at the bottom.  At the head of the park, there is a beautiful sculpture of several people, with birds flying up and away from them.  Very restful — except when unsupervised pre-teens and teens started to scare the ducks in the ponds & bee-lined for the structure & noisily climbed it…until one very loud voice told them to get off. I think everyone in the memorial park was happy to see them leave.  I took some photos & rested my weary feet for a bit, then headed back up to the hostel, but first stopped into the Centra (mini-mart, very popular) for some yogurt & vittles (meals for the days ahead).  Then, drug myself back to the hostel, found some room (just barely) in the fridge for my stuff, gobbled some of the yogurt down & headed up to my room.

I think I must have fallen asleep, but not for too long.  I’ve been surfing the web & getting my photos into iPhoto so I can pick and choose which to upload later.  iPhoto is not being terribly co-operative right now, for some reason…can’t get in to add information about my photos (not a really big deal, but it has been nice to add the info while it’s fresh in my sieve-like mind…)–I’ll deal with that later!

So, my posting is almost ready to copy and paste into my blog, but first, I’m going to do a wander around the hostel to see if there’s anything interesting happening–and maybe grab a bit more food, before I publish the blog.  ^,^

Well, no desire to eat (I know I’ll regret it later…).  Finding power plugs that I can use to charge things is a challenge at this hostel.  One power plug for 8-bed dorm…drats.  I’ve found a plug in the “wifi” station, but I certainly cannot leave my laptop plugged in and walk away…so…here I sit, charging and typing (which slows down the charging–catch-22! LOL).

So, I’ll get this copied & published, then do some surfing (Facebook & all of my emails…etc)…and wait for the computer to fully charge!

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday & I WILL get up and go to church — only a short four blocks away!  I am really looking forward to it — then I’ll ride the hop-on/off tour bus around Dublin to refresh my memory of where everything is & take more photos!  Jameson and I didn’t spend much time over in the Temple Bar area (some beautiful stuff over there) when we were here in 2008, so I’ll definitely hop off in this area.  The bus is good for 24 hours, so I will definitely get good use out of it!

So, cheers for now!

Good bye Edinburgh, Hello Glasgow & Stranraer: One nighters

18 April 11  Edinburgh
Oh, my!  Woke to a swollen, itchy eye this morning.  Took my antihistamine & if it doesn’t improve, once I’m in Glasgow, will probably take a Benadryl…

Other than that, it’s 8:30 and all I need to do is check emails, turn in my key and get a cab to take me up to the train.  I’ll check the times & which track then wait for the next train.

LOL…what I’d forgotten about these tickets, is that you can catch any train you like…the ticket is for the whole day.  So, I caught an earlier train (was supposed to catch one close to 11am…took the 9:26 instead.  As I walked to the platform, I remembered that I didn’t turn in my borrowed power adapter — it’s sitting on the little table in the room.  How irritating…I just lost ten pounds to that lapse in memory, and that puts me very tight on money till I can get to an exchange to change from euros to pounds…

Several people had told me that I must see Glasgow.  That it is beautiful, majestic, etc.  So, I am really looking forward to it!  On my way, now and the first stop is Haymarket, not more than five minutes out of Waverley Station.  There are some absolutely beautiful homes right up against the tracks.  Not the norm for the states.  The homes abutting on the tracks in the States would be so much less desirable, tenement living.  All the posh homes would be far from the noise of the tracks.  But these are beautiful, well cared for homes, with nice little yards and gardens.

Today is a wee bit cloudy — little sheets of puffballs with bits of blue sky sneaking through here and there.  It has been weather I could not have planned for better.  So little rain had dampened my path — I am delighted to say, but I really don’t care what weather comes…it is all good.

I’m already into farmland, not that far from Edinburgh, really.  Fallow fields and some with well established green.

I’ve tried to take shots from the train, but have failed miserably.  The seat available to me has my back to where we are going and at the first seat in the car, so I really can’t catch things in a timely manner.  So, I’ve decided to just do my ‘snapshots’, or glimpses, in words:

field upon field, partitioned by long winding stone walls

little puddle of a pond along side the tracks at the base of a sheer stone wall, mostly dead-looking branches hanging over, some tiny sprouts of green beginning to bud out on parts of one branch

the edge of a small town with house after house, almost identical is design, nestled up next to each side of a river, with a beautiful arching stone bridge reflecting beautifully in the water below; a field just beyond fully covered in green

new bits of green popping up on swales of rich brown tilled soil

red tiled, steeply roofed homes clustered together creating a tidy little neighborhood

much newer construction amidst not so old (1960’s?)

tunnels that put pressure on my poor allergy-prone ears, but popping out one with trees and shrubs above, rickety wood stair case running crookedly through brambles and trees to the tracks — for pedestrians, or railway workers?

We’re coming through Falkirk High now.  Oh, my — this is a large thriving town, with a mix of old and new, spires from very old churches rising above it all — except for one monster high rise, so out of place

more well kempt, long skinny lots  with homes, laundry out to dry

cows grazing and lazing; and scottish broom with their bright yellow blooms doting fields; a large pond with ducks

finally, horses!  I think of my friends, Marji & Nan and smile; corrals and stables–oh, what I would give to get out and get a good smell of that lovely aroma

abruptly, I see major construction on an interchange — gone as fast as it popped into view

beautiful, large, stately stables & home with horses everywhere

sheep dotting a green field, with remnants of stone outbuildings scattered here and there

Now entering Croy, and my weary eyes are tired, so for the last bit, I will save you from further descriptions. ^,^

Upon arriving at the Glasgow train station, around 10:45, and grabbing my taxi to the hostel, I saw so much new married to only a few older buildings that is was disheartening.  I was ready to turn around and get back on the train.   As I approached the hostel, my hopes were lifted at least slightly when I saw an increase of ‘ancient’ architecture.  But, the City Center (where the station is located) is really very much more modern than I am interested in.

About a half-hour walk from the train station — I am so glad I took the taxi!  And I keep forgetting that these old building don’t have elevators.  Stairs — lots of them — greeted me.  Stairs up to the front door, stairs up to the luggage room…I am glad my knee is not bothering me.  My hostel seems to be at the top of a knoll…so if I go out, there will be an uphill journey to get back.  And then, stairs up to my room…later.

With my luggage in the storage room (room won’t be ready till 2 pm), I wandered down (key word, that!) the street into a magnificent garden:  Kelvingrove Park, part of Park Circus — I’ll post several photos of the park and the map showing what is where — neat.  Beyond the park is the oldest university in Glasgow:  Glasgow University.

In the park, there are a multitude of lawns, trees, flower beds bursting with color, paths, a walking bridge over a river and a pond with ducks and other water fowl.  The park is built on a bank.  Remember I said the hostel was at the top, well, the park is on the hillside that takes you down to the City Center.  Long walk down, and hopefully a less steep way back up.

With the map given to me, I made my way through the park to the main streets, heading to the post office, where I could exchange my euros to pounds — and was glad to see it was at 0% commission — Edinburgh exchange I went to charged 6 pounds…ouch!

Money exchanged, I wandered further towards City Center, reluctantly.  I found a pub — O’Neil’s — for lunch.  Pretty Irish, yes?  LOL…preparation for my next two weeks ^,^  Chicken & Mushroom Crock Pot — sounded good to me & oooh, was it!  Chicken breast with mushroom & brandy sauce, served with colcannon (mashed potatoes, onions & cabbage mixed together), topped with Irish cheddar — all for three pounds, 49 p.  Oh, yes — and a half pint Smithwicks beer for a wee bit more.  Perfect.

Here’s a lesson:  my taxi fare was 6 pounds & the driver conveniently didn’t have change for a tenner >.<  I’d already handed him a one pound coin as tip when he handed me the change back with his “sorry, don’t have full change” — planning on keeping the amount he’s short.  So he ended up with a very flush tip.  Next time, I’ll use my change to make it exact.

The Irish ballad music is quite soothing…not too anxious to leave.  I think I may just wander back up (hoping to find a route not as steep as the one through the park) to the hostel.

Saw a photo of Albert Einstein and Sir somebody, noting that they were standing outside Einstein’s home on Park — that is somewhere near the hostel… ^,^  Always liked Einstein.

Back at the hostel, recouped my energy (somewhat) and have decided that I am not going back out.  Too tired.  Think the train ride, my walk around Glasgow, the bite on my eye and my antihistamine & decongestant are taking their toll on me.  Plus, the disappointment of the big city atmosphere and lack of old-world charm.  Not what I really wanted, so ready to move on.

7pm — just spent two hours on the internet, pretty much trying to figure out my itinerary.  Train website bumped me, so I’ll just do it in Belfast…train every two hours, so no big deal.  There’s no room in Galway, so I’ve decided to stay in Dublin, using it as base and do day trips out to all of the places I want to go to.  If I get tired, perhaps I’ll move on to Shannon sooner.  But, for now, Dublin for six days, then a train ride to Limerick, bus or taxi to Shannon & collapse for the night, repack, shower & be ready for my plane ride in the morning (I think it’s morning) — only five minutes by car to the airport ^,^

For now, I am going to retire to my room and get all comfy.  I’m tired.  Too much cerebral work today, on top of the walking I did.

19April
9:55am
Oooh — got too early of a start!  Had breakfast, packed up, checked for an email confirmation to correct my mistake (double reservations in Dublin), checked out, got a taxi and am now spinning my wheels at the Glasgow Central train station.  Having a lovely cup of green tea as I type…my train does not leave until 11:42, so I have a bit of time.  It’s not even on the overhead boards yet, so no clue as to which platform I should go to.  I’ll give myself till about 11 and go check the boards.

I did buy postage and mailed my first post card — LOL — trip is almost over, so it will be interesting to see who makes it first:  the card or me ^,^  It is airmail, so I would hope, the card!  I had to buy four stamps, so, three more lucky people will get postcards, I guess…I’m not one for sending postcards — as you can see, I like to write, so postcards are too limiting for me.  I could just send cards willy-nilly, saying dumb things like “wish you were here”, so people know I’m thinking of them, but really, I have thought of almost everyone at some point or another–something I see triggers the thought and I smile.  People around me must think I’m a bit bonkers…but I don’t care.

Ouch!  They just did a test for a fire alarm (nicer ringing–two-tone, though still loud–than the shrill siren in the states).  Then they did a “voice test” — lol…as if that was necessary.  Oh well.  Everyone in the cafe I’m in was laughing and mocking the “voice test”.  I think they even shut it off in the cafe, because it stopped so abruptly inside, but continued outside.

I keep being drawn to scarves.  A tenner will buy a beautiful scarf — that’s about 15.50 US.  Nice, but I’m acquiring too many, I think…and besides, they are either made in London or India.  I’m in Scotland.  I think I’ll wait till I’m in Ireland and see if I can get something local.

I’ve caught the news a couple of times since I landed in Scotland and the economy here seems to be doing as badly as in the US.  Their elections are coming up in May and there is a contest between politicians (as usual) to see how many votes they can draw.  At stake are many public service jobs (sound familiar??), which will effect some towns in Wales heavily — upward to 30% population is in the public service areas & they are spending less to prepare for possible job losses, which is hurting the economy badly.  Listening quietly to locals talk has been very informative.  I do not profess to be terribly “politically savvy” but everything I hear (little about the US, but I’m sure it’s nearly the same) points to a turn around not coming soon — seriously.

And that alarm keeps going off randomly (never finishing the announcement), so it is being ignored.  Wonder what would happen in the case of a real alarm…the boy crying wolf too many times makes people oblivious to a real problem, eh?  Ah — still part of the “testing” — they just announced the testing is over — LOL.

Just past 11am & my train is not posted on the overhead yet, but by the looks of it, within the next 15 minutes or so, should be up there.  I have a reserved seat for this journey, as do I on the ferry (cushy, if I do say so on the ferry ^,^ )  But I’ll have to dash to make the train to Dublin, I think, or wait for two hours.  The ferry area is nice, so it wouldn’t be too bad a wait.  Just two hours from Belfast to Dublin, then to the hostel…can’t remember the check in time, but shouldn’t be more than an hour (maybe my room will be ready early ^,^ )

But, I get ahead of myself.  First, Stranraer.  I can hardly wait — QUIET little town–such a lovely change of pace from all of this big city stuff.  Guess I really and truly am a country girl at heart! ^,^

11:20, well, posted as “on time”, but no platform # yet.  Probably another 10-15 minutes before I can board…

LOL…was actually late…”delayed” for about five minutes — probably got underway just before noon, which is fine, since I am NOT trying to make the StenaLines ferry connection today.  There are quite a few that were pacing & making phone calls to say the train was late and they may have to take a later ferry.  So glad I decided to wait so I would not be in the same position.

Now, this is truly beautiful country!  Beautiful, expansive and loads of sheep and cattle.  And you know it’s spring time by all of the lambs frolicking in the fields or hovering close to their mothers.  I am seeing so many sets of twins — more than I thought was normal, but who knows…one set waggin’ tails, butting at teats, looking for a taste of mother’s milk.

Don’t know how long I’d survive this far afield froma town, but I do love this part of Scotland.

Tomorrow.  StenaLines, then look for a connection down to Dublin (I believe they run every hour or two, so no big deal.

While waiting, I’ve run across a mom & her 18 month old boy (a cutie) that live in Skye, visiting grandparents one last time before they make the move to Minnesota (she is from Seattle, married to a Scot)…he is hoping they will be “home” before their son starts school…at least Minnesota has an excellent school system if they get “stuck” there. LOL… They are on the same train, but will be getting off earlier than I — I’ll be going to the end of line.

Arrived!  Stranraer train station is right next to the StenaLines.  And I saw exactly where I need to go tomorrow on my way into town to the Swan Inn…nearly at the other end of town!  LOL.  I will definitely be taking a taxi to the ferry in the morning.  The want passengers  to arrive one hour before departure, so I need to be there by 8:30am.  It’s less than 5 minutes away — by car…with luggage, it took me about 15-20 minutes, asking directions along the way.

My room’s not quite ready, so I’ve been roaming around the children’s park (very beautiful & well kept) and now just waiting a few extra minutes before going in.  The husband was mopping up the pub portion of the Inn — food & spirits downstairs, rooms to let upstairs.  Thankfully, he allowed me to drop my stuff & promised to take to my room for me — WONDERFUL!  No hauling up a flight of stairs (poor guy…my stuff is deceptively heavy — no one thinks an “old lady” would be hauling around so much weight!

My room is cozy, plenty of room, with a tv, refrigerator & food for my continental breakfast & tea (or coffee).  I am happy!  I took pictures.  At some point I will post these at Flickr.

8pm and completely settled in after a very nice shower.  TV going, to get caught up on news (though, not US news, by any means) and non-timed (yay) internet access.  Will be back to paying for my time tomorrow night…  So, if I get around to it, I will post pictures tonight.  That is, unless I get too tired.  I went to bed last night at 8:30 & was afraid I’d wake during the night…LOL…I slept till 5:30, rolled over and slept till just before 7am!  Worked out well.

So, I’ve bored you long enough & time to get on with choosing which pictures to post to my Flickr page (you can access from my photo page on creationsbydjamesonsmith.com — maybe even from the home page)

Cheers!

Prague

It is now Saturday, 9 April.  I spent my first night (Friday) in Prague rather uneventfully: napping, posting to my blog & checking emails. Still can’t get the photo feature in my blog to work so I will post to my Flickr account–in the next day…or three.

My first night was spent in an all-girl dorm.  Today I need to pack up and change rooms, to a coed dorm–I’ve done this before both stateside and Europe and there are no problems (there’s no parading around of half-naked men/boys or anything like that)–very respectful of whoever is in the room.

Our girl-dorm does have a talking sink–every once in a while, it gurgles. Kinda funny.  The co-ed dorm is actually two rooms–enter one, walk through to the next.  There is a shower in the first one, but just outside is the girls showers & bathroom, so I think that’s where I’ll do my showering — no offense meant, guys.  Hmmm….sounds like our sink in the co-ed dorm may also make sounds, but much quieter.  This is good!

Today is going to be fun–I will need to bundle up–the expected high will be 54 and it looks a bit overcast–I think it may clear. Great for picture taking.  And I love crispy weather–allows me to walk a lot without overheating.   I’m happy.

First up: Greyline Tour, to hit the highlights so I can focus in on what I really want to see ^,^  After talking to a local at Greyline, the trip from hostel to train would probably be 20 minutes. Now I need to decide if I want to haul all of my stuff for that long, or just grab a taxi.

Zdenik is our tour guide.  Studying law at the local university.  Education in the Czech Republic is free.  Wouldn’t that be nice back in the States!  A bachelors degree is achieved in three years, then masters in another three or four, depending on what you have decided as a major.  Hmmm….nope, won’t go there, but I have noticed that many students in the US take an average of five years to get their bachelors degree…longer, depending on how many times they change their major ^,^

My new friends  (befriended on the tour) from Australia tried to take a few photos if me in one of the squares, but my camera was being a nuisance!!  We all decided I must have programmed the camera to malfunction if I am in the shot.  So, they took one of me wtith their camera.  We will be exchanging photos.  These two were delightful travel companions.  I would have loved to spend more time with them, but they needed to start back to their hotel.  Another couple, on their honeymoon, was from Atlanta, Georgia.  Their trip seemed to be filled with mistakes (by their travel agency & the tours in Europe) and they were getting frustrated.  Since I usually try to look for the brighter side to things, I passed on my bit of wisdom in hopes they wouldn’t be so stressed out.  They agreed, though were not sure that was going to be easy since there seemed to be obstacles everywhere they turned…but that they would try.  We all had our little half-hour break together while on the tour and enjoyed each others company.  At the end, we all said good bye and went our separate ways.

I stayed in the town square where the guide dropped us and found a restaurant (for lunch) where I had a view outside looking at the Astronomical Clock (unfortunately under repair, so the mechanism allowing the apostles to march out, around and back into the clock was not working).

Lunch–oh!  Was going to take a shot before I demolished it! Well, you’ll get the idea:  ham, sauerkraut (red & white) dumplings, both potato & Czech, along with my  dark Czech  beer–yummy!  I’ll post the half-demolished lunch on Flickr.

A couple to my left wee from the UK–the young man’s family is from Scotland–loved to listen to him chat. We had a good talk. Traveling alone does not mean being alone–really!

After lunch, I looked at the map and made an amazingly good guess at the direction I needed to go.  I wanted to head back in the general direction of the hostel, but browse stores on the way.  Found several gifts for friends and family (and a few for me) made by local artisans along the way.  I am very satisfied with my purchases.

Once I had my bearings of the city, I then set out on foot — but first ^,~ I had lunch.  Yummy–Czech-style slow roasted pork & cabbage, with Czech potato dumplings.  It was really good.

Now, I needed to walk off all of the food, so I proceeded to try to read the map — haha…  Considering I really had no idea where I was going (I just looked like I did).  And amazingly enough, I actually headed in the right direction (wanted to figure out where my hostel was, then using that as my land mark, go out and about).  I was very happy.

In my wanderings, while on or near one of the bridges (not Charles Bridge), sirens began to sound.  One police car after another, and emergency vehicles — finally totaling well over 15 zoomed down the road that parallels the river — sometimes driving on the wrong side of the road (in this town, that is usually the only way to get anywhere fast).  Finally, I could see, somewhere just past the Four Season’s Hotel (I was told, the MOST expensive hotel in Prague) about a block off of the river, you could see smoke billowing out of one of the buildings.  By the time I reached it, police had blocked roads to keep cars from coming in that direction from all over the city…as far back as 5 very long blocks, I think (at least the distance Charles Bridge and one north of it).  The fire was pretty much out by my arrival, but the ladders were up and a fireman was pouring water from a hose into the top of the building.

Excitement.  For the sake of the people involved, I wish it hadn’t happened, but I was able to see locals doing their job that would not have otherwise been seen.  Pretty darn efficient — though, one or two police cars seems to do an awful lot of zooming up and down the road  (I was starting to think they were really bored & used it as an excuse to zip around on the wrong side of the road, just because they could, but I think it may have been the fire or police chief checking on manned stations…but why not let “motorola” do the hard work?

On the GreyLine tour I did see the Presidential Palace.  Beautiful.  But funny that there was no EU flags flying.  Yes, Czech Republic is part of the European Union, but the President does not like it, so he refuses to fly the flag.  I am sure there is more to it than that, but this is what our tour guide told us.

My husband was half Bohemian.  My daughter is 1/4 Bohemian.  Prague is part of the Bohemian country.  Our tour guide explained to us that another definition of Bohemian is gypsy.  This I did not know.  I always thought that the “bohemian” lifestyle was that of the artist community.  Now, that may be another meaning that was created later, but before that, to be Bohemian was to be gypsy.  ^,^  My daughter will like that.

I walked from 11:00 am to 4:30pm, covering a fair amount of ground for an “old lady” as my taxi driver identified me yesterday.  My lunch was so filling that I really needed to do all of that walking.  I am still full (at almost 7pm), so I just nibbled on an orange (shared half with one of my roommates) and some leftover bread from lunch, water and then tea from the kitchen.

I took many photos, so I will now stop my posting and start downloading them onto the computer and choose which ones are worthy (without touch-up) to put into my Flickr site.

Schüss


On the road again…alone

[I was in Berlin for several days (actually, one day longer than planned to figure out the rest of my itinerary–just couldn’t get my head wrapped around how long it was really going to take me to do what I had originally planned!!), recuperating from all the fun I had with Lynne and Dan.  I had planned on at least hopping onto an off-on tour bus to get to know the city better, but that never materialized.  Kim’s house was just too inviting and her two kids were fabulous!  Almost four and seven, Keldon & Kaleigh were so wonderful.  I was allowed to dote on them, read to them, do reading lessons (listen & correct only as needed) for Kaleigh.  It was delightful.

Kim did take me from the Hauptbahnhof (train station) to her house, pointing out several very important things–where the Berlin Wall first came down, the main entry from East to West Berlin…the “tiled” marker in the road signifying where part of the Wall once stood, now in the middle of a very busy intersection!  We made that route (and others) several times to get to and from various places she needed to go…and we also had a delightful morning on Wednesday doing a bible study video of Beth Moore’s “Fruit of the Spirit”  Great time with all of the ladies — a very “international” collection of ladies…very neat.]

8April

9:52am, and I have almost an hour to wait. Thought I’d dressed warm enough–could open my bag & pull out gloves, but kinda wishing I had one more layer under my shirt. Oh, well–McDonalds is good for something, at least. I’ve purchased a small cup of coffee & have planted myself far, far from the open wall to the very cold hallway. The trains are just one level below & the cold drafts easily make their way up to this level.  The floor plan is very open. Tons of small shops on three or four levels above the tracks. I purchased a turkey sandwich to have for lunch, along with a bottle of water, for a bit over 5€. The coffee was only about 1,5€.

We have had lovely, though a bit windy, weather. It does keep threatening rain, though very little has fallen. The weather, according to Yahoo, is for cooler temps both here in Prague…and Brugge. Lol. I’m ready.

I have stripped away a bit more of my possessions — Kim has graciously said she’d mail them stateside for me.  Things seem a bit more manageable now–suitcase doesn’t want to constantly fall forward when left on it’s own ^,^

Es kostet .80€ to use the toilet here, so I am hoping to wait till I get on the train–LOL…and I’m drinking coffee, why???

Just a short stay planned in Prague–I want to come back to see more & make sure I have my friends in the loop so I can visit them in the south of the Czech Republic.  And also, will have to make sure I truly plan so I have time and energy to get down to Italy. The 14-17 hr drive just was too much.

Getting on the train was a breeze–though I was supposed to have a table…didn’t happen, but that’s ok–one car back is the dining car ^,^ though I did bring food, but nice to know!

And it is toasty warm compared to outside. I did dig my scarf out & that helped tremendously. There was a young man that helped me get my rolly up in the bin–it fit!!  YAY!  (space in the bin was much larger than on the train from Kiel…all that would fit in that one was my small cooler–which I shed at Kim’s house.

Appears it will be a prompt departure. We’ve had maybe ten minutes to get everyone on board.

Oops–it’s all blurring together, folks…the table will be on my train to Brugge. Lol.  I just rallies that when I heard the phones ringing–I asked for quiet zone, window & table ^,^ for next long leg. Will be interesting to see how that works.

I am leisurely sitting back, listening to my iPhone’s iPod as I watch the scenery flash by  (a mix of Celtic & Christian music). Very nice!  I’ve seen more of the little community gardens & a few ranches with horses–couldn’t get the camera out fast enough to take a photo and now that it’s out, no more ranches or com-gardens. Drats.

LOL–it has just dawned in me–I’ve been seeing small stilted covered platforms…they are hunting blinds!  The deer seem to congregate in the pliers fields and the blinds are set up to the edge of woods/field. Nicely done, for those interested in that sort of thing.

All of the wooded areas are definitely tree farms used for firewood or lumber. Lots of it with plenty of evidence of recent harvesting.  Looks like a lot of birch or poplar with a pine stand here and there.

A couple sitting front of me were “ousted” from their seats–they had missed their connection and their new train tickets dis not include a seat assignment, so when the two gentlemen that had the assigned seats got on the train, they needed to move. Basically, they will be ‘train gypsies’, trying to keep a seat till the end, but will need to acquiesce to everyone. Feel sorry for them. Glad I spent the added 2,50€ to get a reserved seat.

Haha–apparently lots of ‘train gypsies’ in my car. Quiet a few played musical chairs when we came to Dresden Hbf.  Glad to know mine is mine al the way through.

Just not fast enough–there was a brick structure that I could only assume was some kind of kiln–design was beautiful. Kinda kidney shaped, but ‘pregnant’ in the middle. Very nice!  I’m glad I’m on the train–seeing things I would probably never see from a car (and obviously not from a plane), though I know I am missi g some great photo opps by traveling where I have no control on where we stop. That’s okay. When I get in the UK & Ireland, I will probably rent a car…maybe. Depends on the weather and just where I decide to trek. A navigator would certainly come in handy (traveling companion for conversation, navigation & someone to share all I am seeing & doing). So far, ONLY negative thing…

I should be getting into Prague just about 3:30–only an hour and one half left–correction: 2 1/2 hrs left. Still in Dresden–apparently a long stop (like Berlin).

Countryside is changing–more mountainous, following a river moving swiftly, pushing hard at a buoy at the center. Clusters of homes nestled into the hillside. Apparently northern Dresden. I’ll have to look on a map to be sure. Bad Schandau A very little station, mostly commerce rail cars, and a very old station building. Very old, and from what I could see between sided cars, in need of repair?  The tone itself is very grand looking, across the river–obviously the touristy part, with homes and businesses on the train track side.

We are now officially in CZ: Dečín–can’t find the upside down ‘carrot’ for the ‘e’ (like the ‘c’)

Oh, boy–getting a wee bit nervous…I understand ZERO Slavic and none of the signs at the stations have English translation. Hope I get off at the right stop–depending on German punctuality, perhaps next stop.

An obvious local sat next to me, coughing, clearing his throat…lovely.  He did quiet down and in the end, helped me to get my luggage down and let me know which stop to get off of.  And the young gentleman that helped me put my bag up, helped me get it off the train (^,^) and went as far as to help me find my way out of the maze of tunnels to the exit & suggested getting my euros changed into the local money…and to avoid all but the YELLOW AAA taxis…He told me how much to expect to pay (20 euro/3-400 kronus), to make sure I make my “deal” with them before I get in…

After he left, I exchanged euros for kronus (my, their money is so devalued it is sad–400 kronus=20 euro.  And with the knowledge of what I should NOT pay, I went out and grabbed the first taxi — he wanted to charge 1029 kronus — YIKES!  I told him no thank you & he recommended the taxi behind him.  He wanted to charge 500 kronus–I said no and he gave me a “special” of 400–20 euro!  Didn’t know that you could haggle for a taxi!  So funny!  I teased him that, since he was having to go all over creation just to get me to my hostel, he was my unofficial guide — he then started telling me about some of the things around town as we drove by, and what I should go see.  For that, I gave him an extra 100 kronus.  Worth every cent.  He was delightful!

I pretty much have been working on this all evening, so have done little sightseeing — actually, too tired.  I will get a fresh start in the morning.  I have had warnings from friends about pick pocketers,  given recommendations on places to see & things to do, so I will go out forewarned and have a blast in the morning. And take lots of photos.  And try once again to get the photos to post to this blog so you can see.  Another option is to post them to my Flickr account — you can go in there to see all of them (not uploaded yet).  Maybe I will do that tomorrow, if I’m not too exhausted.

Tschüss

My trek has begun

Finally, it has truly begun.  Since WiFi is my only means of posting & it’s spotty at best (not willing to pay to use the internet), posts will come at random and infrequent times.  I am actually into my second week, but here is what I have written so far (please forgive spelling):

25Mar11

(okay–posting photos is tedious–and not working for me…I’ll just post them in bulk somewhere when I figure it out.  Sorry.)

A way-too-early rise after a poor night’s sleep makes for an interesting way to travel. I’m trying to stay awake so that I can sleep the last long leg of my journey to Brussels. The dry air of the airplane has my eyes a bit hot and tired.

San Francisco to Atlanta to Brussels. Not bad. But with our beginning flight starting at 8:40 am on the 25th and ending at 7-something am on the 26th, well, if I don’t get some snooze-time in, I am going to be so horribly jet-lagged!  I am trying to avoid the mistake of my last trip (2008)–we arrived at 8am, got into our hotel & slept the day away!! — took several days to regain proper day/night sleep patterns.  I am hoping I’ll solve that problem by getting sleep in at the “end” of the trip. We will see how effective my plan works!

I spent the first leg working on a rough draft for a personalized story for one child. I love doing this sort of stuff–not work at all!  Now, for the last leg, I have a choice of polishing this one or working on creating another for his sister.  I am excited about getting these finished, printed and made into books!

There is a one and a half hour layover in Atlanta, so I’m not sure what we will do–we are on time (yay)–I specifically asked for a long layover, just in case of weather delays. I didn’t want to miss out connecting flight!!  Jameson had an equally bad night, but between studying & listening to music, she’s been taking little cat naps. I’m not sure how this will effect her jet-lag or napping later.  Only time will tell, right?

We are in Coach all the way to Brussels, as is Jameson on her return trip. My return will be an Economy seat. I’m wondering just how cramped I’m going to be–but that is in the future. I’m not going to worry about it at all. LOL!

26Mar11
Well, by Atlanta time it is 12:15am. We are only a couple hours out of Brussels, so that means it is close to 5:15am Brussels time.

The sky is clear, stars are visible, even with a half-moon rising.   Below, the moon casts a dim shimmery light on the ocean and cloud cover–it really is hard to tell if it is water or the tops of clouds that I’m seeing.

My attempts to sleep have been only so-so, catching snippets of naps here and there. The ever-circulating air, the constant drone of engines (our seats are directly behind them), the air noise as it blasts up against the windows — and the barely reclining chairs — all of this hampers a truly satisfactory snooze.  But, if it comes down to that for the only sleep I get till tonight, I guess I might manage to make it through the day…I hope.

I watched a couple of movies — well, really only one…cat napped through another and totally ignored a third.

But I keep seeing that moon outside my window. It draws me out, to watch it, to look down on the reflected surfaces below. It is beautiful. Calming. Off on the horizon, it looks like it is slightly lighter–perhaps the precursor to predawn?  Or maybe it’s just the moonlight playing tricks.  I only wish my camera could capture the low-light images:  moonlight dancing on the tops of clouds, with huge dips curving down into darkness–the landscape is ever-changing…now the pillowy cloud formations have given way to larger, smooth-top plateaus and they appear to undulate beneath me. I’m sure it’s a trick of the eye, caused by the exhaust from the plane’s engines, but still, really cool!

1:14am (Atlanta time)

Definitely predawn happening in front of the plane. The horizon now has blue/white tinge to it.  And definitely a sea of clouds–I see no water below me–lol…I’ll take that back, sorta. There are bits of lights below me, so we are now over land, not ocean!  OR, there are a lot of boats with lights ^,^  Kinda neat, whatever they are!

Lights have come up and they are serving “breakfast”:  spicy croissant egg sandwich-thing, banana (badly bruised–lol) and juice. That works.

Well, about an hour from landing and only 19% power left, so I must close for now.

26Mar 5:54 Brussels time

My friends (Dan & Lynne) greeted us at the airport, just outside customs where we had a bit of coffee–lovely!  Then they delivered us to our room at the hotel where we deposited our luggage & freshened up before heading out into the city.  The gentleman behind the desk did not really want us to check in until 3, so we were going to take showers in Lynne & Dan’s room and so we asked for towels, which he flatly refused to give us…he wouldn’t even give us the towels that would be ours for our room.  So we shrugged it off, Lynne off-offhandedly commented that it would be a good post to the Travel Advisors…and went to our room.  We received a call from the front desk almost immediately after we got into our room and were advised our room was ready & someone was bringing up our key.  Teehee.

We just awoke & dressed from a two-hour nap after spending the entire morning & most of the afternoon walking through Brussels.

Lunch was at a local coffee shop sandwiched with walking about & a few doses of cuppuccino.  Wine with lunch made me loopy (and goofy) & aided in a good nap.  My poor ankles and knees are protesting against the massive use of cobbled steers and sidewalks (at least I haven’t fallen–yet)!!

Our little hotel room at Hotel Aris is huge–twin beds & nice bathroom.  It is surrounded by a gazillion beautiful old churches & government buildings .

Now we are headed out for more walking, nightlife (Delirium Cafe)  and dinner.

Brussels is famous for it’s little boy (Mennekin Pis) — found all over Brussels

and we have discovered a feminine version ( something-Pis — so wrong!!) hiding down the alley where Delirium Cafe is located. We were trying to figure out why tour groups were coming and going–Dan wandered on over and came back to our seats and told us to go check it out–so funny!!

27Mar11

Checkout of Hotel Aris, stopped in Turnhout to meet Lynne’s friend, Elena (she’s showing us around). We showed up too early, so we wandered a bit & finally decided to come sit at the train station to wait for her–and then we missed her (came by bus, not train–LOL)!  Had to head back to the parking lot quickly to meet up with her.   We had lunch at a delightful cafe & a very personalised tour of the Playing Card Museum. Kinda neat!  I loved both the local cuisine and the tour!

28Mar11

Took the #4 tram into Amsterdam this morning. Got off at the “wrong” stop, so we are walking more, but also seeing more–love “mistakes” like that!  We were nearly run over by a skip loader in a construction zone as we tried to get our bearings.
Coffee at 11:30 in one shop and lunch right after at a nice little restaurant/bar–our first meal of the day.
We wanted to visit Anne Frank House–completely booked on line & when we showed up at 3-ish, it had a line and I no energy to just stand there for probably over a half hour >.<
The plan is to try again FIRST thing tomorrow, leaving the hotel at 8am…oh, sigh.
5:50pm
We took the tram back to the hotel–we thought Dan would be finished with conference stuff by 4:30, but apparently not. So, I’m resting my poor feet & legs and Jameson and Lynne are down in the lobby w/computers using the free wifi.  I’d join them, but horizontal is the best spot for me right now.

29Mar11
12:10am
Well, didn’t make it home by 11:30…sigh. Had plenty of fun though–LOL. we went to dinner with Dan’s brother at an Argentinian steakhouse. Best steak ever.

Have to mad-dash to tram–thought last one came thru at midnight.  Turns out they run till half past ^,^  so, now we are sitting on the tram, waiting for our stop (thankfully the end of the line because we are not paying attention!!  LOL)

SO TIRED–keep saying I’m not going to stay up this late.

31Mar11, Thursday  5:30am
Clervaux, Luxembourg.

The days are beginning to blur–cannot remember what day of the week it is.   As I lay here, still blurry-eyed, I can hear birds breaking the silence in the pre-dawn light. Cars are beginning to stir, their occupants heading off to work most likely.

As for me, snuggled in bed, I have three hours before breakfast–but I am still full from dinner!  Our meals have been ridiculously delicious–and I hate to think about the copious calories we have consumed.   It will take me the rest of my trip to shed the pounds that I am sure I have gained.  Arg.

Our time together is winding down–Jameson will catch the plane back home on Saturday. I will miss her, but it’s good to know she will be home to keep our critters company.

We saw a war memorial yesterday, for the Battle of the Bulge, and it was a beautifully solemn sight. The reminder of how many men (and women) fell to fight for our freedom and safety was overwhelming.  In the states, most memorials are in the eastern region, but here in Europe, they can be found peppered throughout the country side in towns or in fields–a testimony to the fact that the whole of Europe was one giant battle ground.

Wednesday, a Hollander asked me a question that I am embarrassed to say, I could not answer with any articulation:  “What have you learned from your stay here (in Amsterdam and Holland in general)?”

I never was very good with pop quizzes!  I could have gone in so many directions, but spewed out some inane answer instead.

What have I learned??  That certainly is a good question to take with me into each area I visit!  The area in general is beautiful–with its canals and breath-taking architecture. I am always surprised at how well the old and new can meld so smoothly when done with planning.

I love to listen to the Dutch speaking.  There seems to be an up-beat tone to their speech–can’t fully understand what is being said, but I can pick out a little here and there with the bit of German I know.  And both Jameson and I can hear the “origins” of the Minnesotan accent in their speech.

The plants are just beginning to bud–spring has announced itself with crocuses popping up everywhere. We are too early to see much in the way of tulips or any other flowering plant right now, but the promise is there before your eyes, everywhere.  I really didn’t think about that point when planning my trip–the concentration was on “when is Jameson able to join me?” and that was a very small window of opportunity.   I will plan differently next time.

As with everywhere I have gone so far, the people have been wonderful and helpful to a fault.
Well, except for a small group of tourists (country of origin will remain unnamed) that were extremely impolite & inconsiderate on a canal candlelight boat cruise, talking & partying loudly over the guides comments so no one could hear what was being said.  We finally got fed up and shushed them (on many occasions). They did quiet down, but made a game of it, mocking us with overly loud shushing sounds.  Another reason for me to avoid tours (the first being, I hate being herded around like cattle).

7:35am
Oh dear…the food has caught up with me, I think.  Or I need to stop drinking sparkling water–I am feeling horribly bloated this morning. Don’t feel much like eating anything — my body’s way of saying enough is enough?

1April

Once we arrived in Frankfurt, we did some walking around, poking our noses into gift shops here and there.   Found an owl watch keychain–couldn’t resist (only 12€). So cute!!
Dinner at nice little expensive tourist restaurant. Dan recommended Schäbien Maultaschen mit salade, which was delicious–along with a glass of Merlot (my favorite)!  It is a local dish.  Prior to that, we had some local Apfelwein (like hard cider), which was way to strong for me (though Jameson had no problem!)

2April
Jameson deposited into taxi, to be taken to Frankfurt an Main airport bright and early (6:30am).  We all said our good byes, had breakfast & returned to our respective rooms to pack & check out.  We had a long drive home with plenty of “business” stops–picking up supplies, mailing some of my clothes back home (I really did overpack!!), then off on our long drive to Kiel…made it in 6 hours, I think.

3April
Very leisurely morning; left the house to look around Kiel.  Found a Sky (grocery) store that was open on Sunday (unusual for the area) and had a fish market–bought some fish (seeteufel=sea devil, monkfish & AKA poor man’s lobster), then went in & bought a few items–including a tin (touristy) cup for me to take away 🙂  (FMI: all-fish-seafood-recipes.com)
Lynne & I hopped on a little ferry right (free) & Dan met us on the other side w/the car & we went thru some of the town & down to the marina for lunch. I had a carrot-ginger soup (YUM) and bröt.  Wandered some, took photos and then we purchased petrol for car, then headed home to put perishable away. Now, with groceries away,  we all kicking back (down loading photos, surfing web, etc–Lynne commented that “before computers we would be socializing, right?”. LOL…)

5April 10:21am

On the train, but after Lynne dropped me off at the station I got my # & waited for it to come up–musta blinked, cuz it went from 220 to 222–mine being 221. I was chastised for not paying attention:  “You may not read German well, but you can certainly read numbers, yes?”

So, that said, the rest was uneventful (‘cept I tried to go forward to what turned out to be first class –have 2nd class ticket, which was just fine).  It was ‘sealed’ thankfully, so no more embarrassments. Now I’m seated, rolly under my seat, back pack, jacket & purse in my lap & cooler in overhead bin. Not bad. Smooth ride so far. Lol–they were not on time though (I would have thought, from all I’ve heard, that they would be) — left about five or so minutes late.

Now, I have not been to Hamburg, which is where my connecting train is, so watching the scenery whiz by is fun. Unfortunately, my choice of seats has access to back half of a huge window & I lean against a metal partition , so I get a bit of a view of where I am going. That works well. I can also just see the electronic board that tells me what the next stop is (I must push myself up to make me tall to see it–the bain of being short …LOL!)

The gentleman sitting next to me is getting  off at Hamburg, so at least I’ll know when to get off ^,^

From my point of view, the beautiful countryside seems to be made up of patchworks of forests and fields, with clusters of houses & outbuildings, then little communities once we approach a town, then back to the patchwork design of forest & field. I love the sturdy brick architecture I see everywhere. Praktisch (practical) and simple, but with little flourishes here and there, as if to show the world there is a more whimsical side to be found, albeit hidden  in most ways.

Lots and lots of graffiti along the tracks. So sad. On beautiful buildings, too.

Transfer was made smoothly, but it’s amazing how long a half our is when your teeth are floating–lol–didn’t want to chance missing my train & hauling my stuff up one *major* flight of stairs (then back down) to find a WC was not terribly appealing.

This time, I am watching where I have been (facing rear of train) — decided to pay an extra 5€ to get a reserved seat. Didn’t know the train would be so empty!  And just ahead of me are seats with a table. Drats.

Oh well. Learning through experiencing 🙂  No big deal.

I’ll also have to remember that there are power outlets between the seats…could have my laptop out for longer jaunts (only 1hr 45min from Hamburg to Berlin). My seat/luggage storage is right next to each other, which will be nice. And the announcer is ‘sprechen deutsch’, then english–yay…less likely to miss my stop, since I cannot see the electronic banner.

I think we just passed a community garden, with little buildings & gardens.  Sweet. I’ve seen the French version (2008), maybe I can find some in Berlin for a cultural comparison.

Ok…I’ll say it…

Three times today alone–and many times since I started my trip, I’ve been offered assistance with my luggage. I’m flattered that everyone wants to help, but I know the real reason–LOL: I look old!  Little short dumpy thing trying to lug around luggage that’s almost as big as I am tends to draw attention, I guess. So far, I am conflicted when answering–I CAN do it myself and about half the time do. Other times, when tired, accept the offer of assistance.  I had one young cute girl offer to show me where the WC was (in the train station) and then take me back to my platform. I thanked her graciously and just hunkered down to wait for the train…eye teeth floating…stubborn does not look good, does it?!

Travel Preparation

Getting ready for traveling can be arduous!  But so very exciting!

Over the next month or so, I will blog about my adventures abroad, sharing my discoveries, mistakes–no, just misadventures (really), photos and thoughts on what I’ve seen and done.  Ideally, I have it in the back of my mind to do a travelogue–tongue-in-cheek style–for women/single travelers and will incorporate what I have learned & written from my last trip and this one.  So, this blog has a bit of a duality to it, I guess.

But first, a little back history:

I have traveled plenty within the Western United States–always traveling with family or going to a family or friend’s home, but only once have I traveled for an extended period of time abroad — and that time, my daughter was with me for the entire trip–a great help when traveling by car, watching for signs, reading map directions, etc.  So, I guess, I would have to say that traveling with at least one person is great.  We had a wonderful time exploring Europe, UK & Ireland…and certainly did NOT want to come home, but did, with a promise to return someday.

So, now, we are returning–finally…three years later!

Having learned a few lessons from our previous trip, I have spent hours trying to figure out how to minimize the amount of clothes I will be bringing — only a 21″ carry-on and a packpack to cram everything into  (and with less strength to cart it all than last time around–shoulder surgeries are still in the healing process).  The rule of thumb for packing:  lay out what you “plan” on taking, seriously cut out half of it (at least) & then pack it!  (Also, figure out how much you want to spend and then DOUBLE it!)   I have made list upon list of things to do, to prepare the house, my critters and to try to “fool-proof” my trip:  making sure itineraries & passports are in order, acquiring an international drivers license (even though the plan is to use the train & other public transport), getting some foreign currency (both euros & British pounds) in advance so we are ready to go as soon as the plane/ferry hits the ground — so many little details.  If you’d like, I’ll give more details later (just send me a comment).

My daughter will only have a week to frolic in Europe, as she must return to mid-term finals right after Spring Break.  I, for the first time in my life, will be doing the majority of the trip on my own:  a single woman, roaming through Europe–hopefully having the time of my life!  I am alternately thrilled and terrified (well, only a little terrified) — so many new experiences await me.  I will be seeing old friends at various points:  CSer’s (friends I’ve met/hosted through CouchSurfers.com) and friends met  at various hostels I’ve been to–but I will also be embarking on many new experiences:  staying at hostels previously unseen, taking the trains & other local transportation with all my luggage to get from point A to point B, trying to translate the train/transit signage of various languages (hoping fervently that there will be English translation for the important stuff) and speaking in my elemental German and Spanish whenever possible to communicate (oh, those poor locals–how their ears will be hurting, hearing me slaughter their beautiful language)…

Our first week will be rather luxurious:  hotels, chauffeured around to sight-see by US friends stationed in Germany, good food–easy living!  Then Jameson goes home.  After that, I say goodbye to my friends and start staying at hostels (and a few CSer’s homes), walking, grabbing my food from local shops, taking pictures, meeting new people, experiencing the countries as the locals do, walking, taking pictures & more walking…did I mention taking pictures? — and if I feel comfortable about an area, maybe even hiring a car to drive around — maybe.

My itinerary is rather ambitious for the time allotted, but I also have “built-in” the potential of extending my stay a week or two so that I don’t feel rushed:  four weeks and two days to see eight countries.  On our last trip, we were gone for two months, drove the whole way (plus ferries across bodies of water) and visited nine countries — that is only ONE more country, but we traveled within each country far more extensively than my plans for this trip.  The train will “jet” me across landscapes to my destinations but allow me to sight see from the comfort of the train car.  There will be a few points where I will, for expediency, go by plane.  And as I approach the end of my official trip, if I have not made it to my departure destination, I will simply change my departure date.  The penalty fees will cost me, but not as much as two one-way tickets would, or making a return trip to fit in the rest of the planned itinerary.  So, that’s why I say “built-in” — I know the Added-Fees Beast may rear it’s ugly head, but I am ready for it!

So, that’s all for now.  I will blog whenever I have a wi-fi connection, so I may be clumping several days into one blog entry.  I hope you enjoy my crazy entries.  If they are anything like the ones I emailed everyone last time, they should be relatively entertaining, funny at times or at least informational, perhaps helping you out as you plan for your trip.

No catchy sign-off yet ^,^

DJSmith