Travel

Ireland 2018: Day 12

Ah, it has finally come: our last full day in Ireland. Well, it came two weeks ago, but I’m just getting around to writing about it because I’m a naughty sausage.

We had a decision to make: do we stop somewhere and spend a few hours sightseeing or do we head directly to Dublin and do some sightseeing and some shopping (Marisa was jonesing for some more Orla KIley gear).

We decided to get up early-ish and stop in Kilkenny which is halfway between where we were staying and Dublin.

Kilkenny bills itself as Ireland’s most intact Medieval town and, I gotta tell you, it is pretty darned delightful.

We started off visiting Kilkenny Castle.

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Which is fun to visit, but for some reason they offer guided tours once a day and we missed the tour for the day. We did walk through the castle though.

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And I found my spirit head wearing a sheep:

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And saw a very large room:

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We even had lunch in the lovely tea room in the castle. I will give Ireland (and Northern Ireland) props for the very good food they serve in tourist spots. American could learn a thing or two about this… not a crappy foiled wrapped hamburger in sight!

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The castle property has been turned into a lovely park which many of the folks of Kilkenny were taking advantage of. We took a stroll and came upon this pond with these mysterious structures sinking (floating?) amongst the muck.

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Hands! Reaching out!

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Once we were done with the castle we walked through the town. Marisa spotted a little bakery and suggested we look in the window. I looked at her and said, “Why don’t we go in and buy some treats.” And we did. This was marketed as brownie, but it was really a piece of chocolate cake. A very tasty piece of chocolate cake.

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Once we were done with our cake we stopped at the Medieval Mile Museum. We walked in and the place was empty except for two people working there. We went up to the register and the woman said, “Would you like a ticket or would you like the tour?” We asked when the next tour was, and found out that it was in 5 minutes. Which was odd since we got there around 2:40pm or so. I think they just wanted us to take the tour, and we did!

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And I am very glad we did. The tourguide gave just his full attention and spent almost an hour telling us the history of the museum and Kilkenny in a most entertaining, and enlighting manner.

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After that lovely experience we visited the Rothe House.

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It is three townhouses that a fancypants merchant lived in 400 years ago. Seen in that light it is an impressive building but the museum is rather underwhelming. In fact, we sort of felt like we had wasted our money until we came upon the gardens in the back:

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After that we had spent most of the day in Kilkenny and it was time to head to our hotel in Dublin. Off we went, and when we got there and all checked in we realized something interesting: the airport terminal was a 5 minute walk from the hotel. We had planned on returning the rental car in the morning, but after having walked to the terminal (to make sure it was a 5 minute walk) and finding out we could return the car that night… we did! So all we had to do in the morning was wake up, pack up, eat breakfast, and walk to the airport.

How civilized.

On our walk we saw a billboard that made our next travel plans make sense:

Thanks to that billboard the very next morning we boarded a flight to Philadelphia and I am typing this very sentence in one of the buildings pictured.

Check out the rest of my pictures of Day 12.


Ireland 2018: Day 11

After the Ring of Kerry we needed another relaxing day (though all of our days were pretty darn laidback if I’m being honest), so it was decided that we would sleep in on Day 11 and get a late start. Of course, this would be one of the few very sunny days of our trip, though we did get to spend a good bit of it outside.

Thanks to the clear weather I noticed that there are wind turbines in the distance:

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We decided that we didn’t want to go to far, so we went to visit Cobh, which was the last port of departure for the Titanic. On the way we saw this very creepy statue:

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By the time we got to Cobh all the museums (there are two) were closing, so we just took advantage of the beautiful day and walked along the waterfront (and saw many puppies). I also took one of my favorite pictures of the trip:

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Clearly this is still a water based town:

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Here we are after having eaten some ice cream:

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More boats:

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This small town seemed to be a rather large port of call, and as such many shipping companies had offices here:

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Here’s a neat detail from one of the buildings:

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I was intrigued by this building. What could it be, I wondered? We quickly found it that it is, oddly, a Chinese restaurant.

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After that we walked around for a bit and then headed to the Marks and Spencer in Cork to pick up some dinner (Marisa may have fallen in love with the food offerings at M&S), and were greeted on our return by this rather curious little lamb:

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I’ve included most of the pictures I took on this day, but check out the rest if you like.


Ireland 2018: Day 10

When last we found ourselves in Ireland we opted to tour the Ring of Dingle (a drive along the Dingle peninsula). The more famous, and more often used, drive is the Ring of Kerry.

This trip we decided to check the Ring of Kerry off the list. The weather wasn’t ideal, but it was very Irish: overcast and slightly drizzly. But that didn’t stop us!

We stopped at a little town and saw a very pretty river:

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Look at us! We are so cute:

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While the weather wasn’t clear, it was evocative. We visited 4 ring forts in one day (because of course we did), and it was very cool to see them like this:

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That’s Staigue Fort.

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A ring fort (or stone fort) is generally shaped like a ring with steps in the walls so you can climb up. I found myself at the top of a wall before really thinking about what I was doing. I had a moment, while standing above the ground, where I realized this is something I totally wouldn’t have done when I was heavier. That was a cool moment, and then I took this photo:

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We then visited the home of Daniel O’Connell who I had never heard of before, but here’s a big deal in Ireland. He fought for, and got, equality for Roman Catholics in Ireland:

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We had just missed joining the tour, so we walked around the house ourselves. It wasn’t all that illuminating I must say, as the signage in the rooms wasn’t great (though they had a good movie about the man and his times, which was helpful).

The grounds of the house were lovely, and featured our second ring fort of the day:

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Despite the weather, the views were very nice:

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We even found a little beach:

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After I took that picture a tour bus (one of the only tour buses we encountered) disgorged 50 people who stood in front of me, took a few pictures, and then got back on the bus.

I thought this picture came out well:

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Is that another ring fort in the distance? Yes!

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The ring fort above is located is a 5 minute walk from the road, and next to another ring fort that is next next to the road. Most folks just go to the closer one, so we headed off to check out the more distant one. Some lambs checked us out along the way.

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It had rained overnight, so the path to the ring fort was just mud. I decided to try to climb up anyway… and fell down. My pants got muddy, but I made it to the fort. Then we walked to the other one:

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And you know I climbed the wall and took some pics:

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We waved goodbye to the ring forts and started the 2 hour drive home via Killarney so we could do some shopping and eat some delicious fish and chips. If you want to see all the pictures I took, you know what to do.


Ireland 2018: Day 9

Our ninth day in Ireland called for another lazy day, but little did we know how lazy it would end up being!

We slept in and decided that we would grab some lunch, head to Mallow to see their castle, and then take a long walk in a nearby park.

The sun was streaming into our little apartment, what could go wrong?

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Our rental car had other ideas, it would seem. We climbed in to find that the right rear tire had a slow leak in it. A couple of days ago it warned us of low tire pressure, so we filled it up. Today it was very low indeed, so it was clear we needed to do something about it.

We headed to the park, and then called the rental company to ask what they’d like us to do. We were hoping they’d tell us to go to the nearest office and swap out our car for another. They didn’t. They did, however, offer to send out roadside assistance to fix the issue for us. They told us it would take 2 hours to get there, which is enough time for a good walk. We gave them our number and headed to the tea room for lunch.

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The Doneraile Wildlife Park is a very nice park to wander about:

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We even got a little cutesy:

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And then Marisa became one with a tree:

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After 2.5 hours we hadn’t heard from the rental company and no one showed up to fix our time. Marisa gave them a call and they said, “We’ve been trying to call you for 2 hours! We keep getting a busy signal.” Turn outs they wrote our number down incorrectly, which was a bummer. They promised they’d send someone out right away and a few minutes later I got a call from a man with a heavy Irish accent who told me he would be at the park in either 15 minutes or an hour and 15 minutes.

Luckily, he showed up in 15 minutes and fixed the tire in 10 minutes. He also said to us that most people would have just ignored the issue and kept putting air in the tire.

By this point we were done with our day out, so we went back to our apartment to eat dinner, read, and watch more Great British Bake-off.

All in all, not a bad day.

I didn’t take a huge amount of pictures this day, but I did take several more than appear in this post.


Ireland 2018: Day 8

Continuing our theme of visiting important Christian sites day 8 found us headed to the Rock of Cashel which includes a cathedral and church (though the church was closed for restoration).

We went on another tour, and boy was the wind really blowing. It was difficult at some times to even hear what the guide was saying. However, while it wasn’t exactly sunny the weather made for some good pictures.

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The size of the ruin was impressive:

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Of course there was a model:

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Of course the Irish seem to like to turn ruin sites into graveyards:

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This tomb was very large, and featured a huge Celtic cross which fell off 40 years ago:

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And they just let the pieces lay since the site is technically government land but the grave stones are private property:

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The main action is up on the Rock, but there is also a ruin which is part of the complex a short walk away:

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Assuming that most people wouldn’t want to take a short walk we headed over to find the ruin mostly empty:

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And the views back to the Rock were very nice:

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And after all that walking we needed some food so we headed to this tiny tea room near the car park (as they say). It wasn’t fancy, but it was very good:

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And you know I took lots more pictures. Check them all out.


Ireland 2018: Day 7

I do enjoy visiting a fort, and Kinsale offered up not only Charles Fort but some good fish and chips (or so the Internet told me).

Off to Dino’s Fish and chips for lunch, and let me tell you it was tasty. Plus I got to eat lunch with this cute lady:

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After we ate lunch we wondered around the town and popped into a few of the bookstores. This bookstore had a door into another universe:

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And then took a look at a model of the town as it was many years ago:

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And admired this noble dog who was waiting for his human (and ignoring us):

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We decided to walk to the fort via the Scilly Walk, which I recommend if you’re ever in Kinsale. It is an easy walk, except for the final bit that gets pretty hilly… though it is still paved so not very difficult just harder than the start. Anyway, you get lovely views of the fort:

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Oh, look! Another model. This time of Charles Fort:

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We joined a tour group composed mainly of other Americans which made me want to apologize to the tour guide for all these Americans not paying attention. I did get pretty good pictures of this fort (which failed during the only time it was in battle):

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Once we were done I wanted to walk all the way back through town and then to James Fort, which is a ruin, but Marisa was up for just going home and chilling. Since she was doing all the driving I thought it only fair that I not drag her to another fort, so we spent the evening watching the Great British Bake Off on an iPad and reading.

If you want to see all my pictures of the day check out this album.


Enjoying Ireland with less of me

I'm wearing an XL t-shirt! 😱

When last we were in Ireland I was a different person. Well, not really, but I was a heavier dude. Like, over 100 pounds heavier.

Above you’ll see the thinner me wearing an XL T-shirt I bought at the Giant’s Causeway. If Marisa hadn’t been with me I would have bought an XXL because in my mind I’m still that big… but the shirt fits so nicely! As do the 4 XL sweaters I’ve bought for myself while here (just in time for the Philadelphia summer, though with the way the weather has been behaving perhaps they will come in handy during a July snowstorm).

A few other things have changed on this trip as compared to last:

  • I bought a scale while here so I can continue weighing myself on Fridays (the scale has stones as the primary measure with kg much smaller. I can’t recommend the scale, but it was cheap).
  • I packed my running shoes and have actually gone on a few runs. I even went to the gym after going for a 5 mile hike.
  • I decided to walk 20,000 steps a day whilst here, to counteract my less stringent adherence to my daily Weight Watchers points allotment. And it seems to be working.
  • Flying for 6 hours in coach wasn’t that uncomfortable. Something that was never true when I was 100 pounds heavier.

Ireland 2018: Day 6

After our full day on Day 5 of driving and sightseeing, a laidback day 6 was on order. This was helped greatly by the previous night’s discovery that while in Ireland several seasons of The Great British Bake Off are available on Netflix (in fact, as I type this we’re watching the season 2 semi-final).

We decided to sleep in, go to a farmers’ market in Midleton and do a little shopping and walking around in Cork. I didn’t take a huge amount of pictures, because we really didn’t do all that much… and it was wonderful.

We started the day off petting Flicker, one of the Ballymaloe House resident dogs:

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We saw this memorial in Midleton:

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And this one in Cork:

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And I really liked this awesome Church. That’s a Jesus I can get behind:

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Oh, and I bought a book at the very cute Midleton Books:

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See all my Day 6 pics here (though there aren’t that many more to see!).


Ireland 2018: Day 5

The day began with the gentle rousing rays of the sun, filtered through an omnipresent pearlescent cloud cover, waking me in our little bubble in the woods:

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What a wonderful way to kick off our last few hours in Northern Ireland. Before too long we would hop into our little rental car and drive 5 hours south to our next accomodations, with a quick stop to see a 1500 year old monastery (as you do).

Day 5 Route

Shout out to Marisa for doing all the driving on this trip (and in our life!). She opted for a manual rental car, and I had my worries that it would stress her out.. but she’s been doing a fantastic job.

5 hours is a long time to say in the car, so we split the trip up with a stop at Clonmacnoise, one of the most important sites of learning in the early Christian world. Ireland has an interesting history with Christianity in that it is one of the very few areas of The World that gave up their “pagan” beliefs and accepted the Church without any wide scale bloodshed. This was mostly due to the fact that the Irish were a pragmatic people and just took their existing beliefs and added some Chrisitan flair.

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Monasteries were basically large towns in Ireland with Clonmacnoise covering something like 10 acres of land with churchs, houses, and the like. Most of the orginal buildings were timber, so they aren’t around any more but an impressive number of 1000 year old stone structures remain (thanks to the Vikings for encouraging the people to build round towers so as not to be slaughtered!).

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The Visitor Center at Clonmacnoise also comes from another time: the 70’s. However, it was seemingly set up so you could take some very nice pictures of the important stone carvings that they took out of the weather and sheltered here. Like this rather impressive Celtic cross:

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No one really knows why the ancient folks decided to put a circle hear the top of their crosses. Some time it might be an reference to a halo, or perhaps the circle of life. I think they thought it looked cool.

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This stone features ogham script:

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See what I was saying about the lighting:

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I was really impressed by the carving on this one. Good job, long dead carver!

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And then we made our way outside to view the ruins.

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Clonmacnoise is a ruin, an active cemetery, and a site where they still hold services from time to time. They built a glass enclosure for holding mass, and decorated it with… what else?

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That round tower would serve as a refuge from the people living here when the Vikings came along to try and take their stuff, their lives, and their bodies:

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Arches:

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Lots of detailed carvings to be seen:

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I was looking around to turn my head to see Marisa waiting for me to notice her fitting into this doorway exactly. A picture was called for, and a picture was taken.

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Something that I’ve been thinking about is the concept of “legacy.” More specifically how much we try and make sure that people remember us when after we die. This reminded me that, for most people, that is a futile effort no matter how much stone you work:

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On the other hand, I may not know who carved this but I am thinking about it, and writing about it, hundreds of years later:

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Jesus Christ! I thought this was the neatest stone in the yard:

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As we left Clonmacnoise we popped into the gift shop, as you do, and noticed this rather dramatic ruin across the car park:

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We still had a 2 hour drive ahead of us to get to our little cabin (below) at Ballymaloe House. When I made the reservation for the cabin the person told me, repeatedly, that the cabins are “rather rustic.” I was expecting something, well, rather rustic. But we got a lovely little cabin:

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More important than the cabin was the setting on which they are sat:

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I mean, come on!

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Everywhere I turned it looked like I was viewing a painted landscape:

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Unexpectedly, there was a table open for dinner at Ballymaloe House, so we availed ourselves. Little did I know I was about to have one of the best meals of my life. A 5 course meal that included a magical “hors d’oeuvre buffet,” which I would like to be included in each of my meals from now on.

This rich meal meant that I really needed to get 20,000 steps.

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I was tempted to stop there, but I took one more step and then fell into a deep slumber.

If you’d like to see all the pictures I took (so many crosses!) check them out here.


Ireland 2018: Day 4

Before leaving Belfast we had to have breakfast. I am not known as a tea drinker, but this trip may hav changed that. Can you believe I’ve never put milk in my tea? Here’s proof that I’ve changed my ways:

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I love a good municipal building, and when I found out that one can tour Belfast’s City Hall I was in:

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The building is as impressive as one would expect from a building built at the behest of Queen Victoria:

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Marisa decided to try her hand at Belfast politics:

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The Titanic had a large impact on this city, and so we visited the memorial garden on the grounds of City Hall:

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We had a two hour drive to our next evening’s stay, so we decided to break up the drive with a visit to Crom Estate.

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It features a ruined castle:

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And lots of grounds to walk around and enjoy:

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And some moss:

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After our constitutional on Crom Estate we headed to Finn Lough so we could check into our bubble in the woods:

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Staying in a bubble was an interesting experience, and better than I thought it would be. The bubble was very warm, the bed very comfortable, and the bathroom more than acceptable for a bubble.

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Finn Lough did a good job of positioning the bubbles so it feels like you’re all alone in the woods. Sadly, our neighboring bubble was occupied by some rather loud people so that ruined the illusion of solitude. They did quiet down around 9pm, so it wasn’t a big deal but it kept us grounded in the reality of the shared bubble space.

Still, I enjoyed being a boy in a bubble.

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Check out all my Day 4 pictures here.


Ireland 2018: Day 3

When I started writing this post I was sitting at the coffee table in our hotel room as Marisa attempted to go to sleep (she’d been having trouble sleeping on the trip but that has cleared up). I went to bed in hopes of helping Marisa sleep, and then a handful of days passed. We didn’t have internet access in our bubble (more on that in a little bit), so this post has been delayed.

While we were in Belfast we stayed at the Merchant Hotel. We saw so many beautiful things in Northern Ireland it would be easy to forget how nice our stay was. The Merchant Hotel is just wonderful, and all the staff were lovely and helpful (they let us keep our car parked a little while after checkout so we could do some sightseeing without charging us. So nice!).

I don’t think you can truly visit Northern Ireland and not go to the Antrim Coast. As you can probably guess, that’s how spent our day today. Also walking. So much walking.

If you want to see all the pictures I took check out this album. Read on for the highlights!

When I told my friend Sarah that we were headed to Belfast she recommended several things to do. One of them, the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede was on our list… but not very high up. Sarah’s enthusiatic recomendation bumped it up and I am very glad to have listened to her.

The entrance to the bridge:

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Here we are after having walked across the bridge:

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Somehow Marisa managed to lose her ticket on the 1 kilometer walk from the ticket booth to the bridge, but they let us cross anyway.

Fisherman orginally built this bridge, using only three ropes, so they could get to the island and fish using boats like this:

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I know I wouldn’t want to have to cross that bridge carrying anything. In fact, I didn’t particularly want to cross the modern bridge without anything in my hands…. especially when I saw some kid hopping across the bridge. I did it and you should too (if you get the opportunity).

Next, the very reason we came to Nothern Ireland in the first place: The Giant’s Causeway. I wanted to go to the Giant’s Causeway when last we visited Ireland, but it is all the way at the north of the island, and so it wasn’t meant to be. This time around I made sure we included it on the agenda, and it didn’t disappoint.

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Instead of just going to the Giant’s Causeway we decided to hire a guide and do a 5 mile hike ending up at the Giant’s Causeway. When we arrived at the visitor center (pictured above) and met our guide and found out we were the only people who had signed up for the hike. We also learned that our guide seemed rather dubious about whether we’d be able to do the hike. She kept saying things like, “You know there’s mud” and “This is a 5 mile hike!” And we were all like, “Let’s go!”

And off we went. Here we are at the start of the hike (thanks to our guide for taking the picture!):

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The views, as you might expect, were stunning:

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And despite her initial thinking that we were not the stuff of 5 mile hikes, our guide was very good. And the hike itself wasn’t all that tough. The path was well laid out, and the grade was pretty level, plus there were stairs for the steep bits.

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I remembered about 1.5 miles into the walk that I could track the hike as a workout! So I did, and here’s the hike we took:

The Giant’s Causeway itself is a rock formation made up of these columns of volcanic basalt which were thrust up through fissions millions of years ago. They extend for miles underground, but you don’t usually see them becuase they’re covered with lots of dirt. Here you can see the cliff we’re walking along is made of the same stuff we’re walking to see:

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The Giant’s Cause itself is mostly covered with people these days. It is an amazing site, and I’m glad so many people visit… but once we got there we were doubly glad to have hiked. We encountered about 3 other people on our 5 mile hike. We found all the people at the end of the hike:

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This did make getting pictures without people in it difficult, but our guide managed to take a picture with these two jokers:

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I did get a bunch of pictures without other people in them:

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The pictures don’t do the place justice. Well worth a trip to Northern Ireland. Plus the visitor center makes a mean bowl of Irish stew (one of my favorite things).

Now, since I don’t want to gain 40 pounds on this trip I’ve decided to walk at least 20,000 steps a day. So far, so good but Day 3 was a banner day:

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Ireland 2018: Day 2

Day 2 started with me thinking I had lost my camera and freaking out a little bit. It could only get better from there, and it did (and, as previously noted, I hadn’t lost my camera at all).

Our Day 2 stop: Belfast!

You can check out all the pictures here, so see the highlights below.

We decided to take the scenic route which involved a ferry:

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It wasn’t super clear, but the view was still nice:

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The scenic route continued with a drive along the Mourne Coastal Route (very pretty). Along the way we had to stop to use the bathroom and ended up stumbling across the Bloody Bridge trail (which I recommend to you):

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Behind the public toilets is a nice trail featuring views like this:

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And this:

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And some lovely rocks:

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This was an unexpected delight of the day.

It was a bit after stopping here that we realized we were in Northern Ireland (duh), which means the speed limits are posted in Miles Per Hour (the Republic of Ireland posts them in Kilometers per Hour). This explained why so many cars were passing us.

Armed with this information we headed into Belfast where we were able to check into our hotel a few hours early, which meant we could rest up before having mid-day tea.

The tea was lovely, but all the sweets were too sweet for Marisa (I ate all of mine):

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Fortified with tea sandwiches and a pot of Earl Gray (did you know tea tastes much better with milk? It does!) we headed out into a moderately heavy rain shower to one of Belfast’s biggest tourist attractions, the Titanic Belfast:

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It would seem the very modern building gets mixed reviews, but I think it is great:

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And it is well marked:

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from the museum, but it covered way more than just the Titanic. It used the Titanic as a lens to cover the growth and development of Belfast as a city. Though I thought it glossed over the very real impact class distinctions had on whether you ended up a victim of the Titanic or a survivor.

Though they do have the gates of the shipyard in which the Titantic was built, so that’s cool:

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Also cool is this model showing the position of the shipworks when the Titanic was being built, along with a movel of the museum itself (and the gantry where the Titantic was built stood right outside of that window):

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You can also visit the Nomadic, though we ran out of time:

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I was more intrigued by this other object that was in the same berth as the Nomadic:

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I don’t know what it is, but it did allow me to take my favorite picture of the day:

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Ireland 2018: Day 1

When Marisa and I were discussing where to go on a vacation I couldn’t help but suggest we head to Ireland… again.

We had such a wonderful time the first time that Marisa was up for a return visit (in fact I’m typing these very words in Belfast, Northern Ireland right now!).

Our first day (see all my pictures in this album) in Ireland found us flying into Dublin and hopping into a rental car and getting out of Dublin as quickly as we could. Last visit we saw the highlights of Dublin, so we didn’t feel the need to stick around.

We pointed our car towards Carlingford, where we were spending the night, by way of Monasterboice: Untitled

Now a graveyard, it was a monastery several hundred years ago and sports some of the largest Celtic crosses on the island (Marisa here for scale):

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The graveyard had some very sturdy walls:

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Off we went to Carlingford to check into our hotel for the evening and look cute in front of it:

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Then we ventured into the village and took a bunch of pictures. Of things like this arch:

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We visited another grave yard, as you do:

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And went down to the lake to take some lovely pictures of the vista:

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Saw a ladder into the water (hey, nice shoes!):

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Later that evening I needed a few more steps (gotta please that Fitbit) and took some pictures of the castle at night:

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And the last moments of the sun:

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Carlingford is a charming little town, and we had a lovely time. I only wish that my time in the town hadn’t ended with me thinking I had lost my camera on my night time stroll. I spent the morning attempting to find my camera by retracing my steps, only to get a text message from Marisa - she found my camera in my laptop bag. Hurrah for not losing the camera, but boo for me being dumb.

Next up, Day 2 takes us to Belfast!


Pompeii

As I mentioned in my Oregon trip recap post Marisa and I basically stumbled upon the Pompeii exhibit at OMSI (which is still happening, so check it out if you're in the area).

I just wanted to take a few moments and share how deeply affected it left me, which is unusual because I'm not super prone to crying, yet alone crying about people I don't know who died over 1900 years ago.

That's the cleverest thing about this exhibit, which was entirely by design i'm sure. It made the people of Pompeii into real life people not just figures from a history book.

At the start of the exhibit you stand in front of the “gates” of Pompeii, where a staff member explains what you're about to see and mentions that the “4D movie” might not be for those faint of heart (it was a very mild experience, but more on that in a moment). Then a little film plays, some dramatic music sounds, and slowly the doors open.

In you walk and you find yourself in the atrium of a typical Roman house from Pompeii, filled with ancient artifacts. Like this bust that still has some 1900 year old red paint on it:

Portrait Bust of a Young Woman

All of the sculptures had such fine detail you would have sworn they had just been made. It was crazy.

And as you walk through the exhibit they funnel you through the different parts of the town. Marisa was quite interested in the cooking utensils (of which I took no pictures). Once again, the frying pans and colanders looked like they were just bought the other day (from a high end kitchen store!).

There was even an alcove devoted to the brothels of Pompeii (the Romans did enjoy their sex). It was interesting, and didn't glamorize the life the people working there. Though there was a creepy guy who was hanging out in that section watching the brothel movie over and over again. It was odd.

Then these's the 4D movie: i.e. a regular movie about the day Vesuvius erupted only the whole room fills with smoke (water vapor in this case) and the floor shakes to simulate the resultant earthquakes.

All of this is designed to make you think about the people of Pompeii and how they were very much like you and me. They went to the market, they cooked, they had sex, they argued, they ate disgusting fermented fish sauce called garum (the Romans LOVED garum. It strikes me as completely gross), they had indoor plumbing, and heated floors. Not so different from modern folk.

And that's how they really get you in the gut with this:

Pompeii cast

A room with several of the famous Pompeii casts. Casts of what? Well, of the cavities left by the people who were smothered, and killed, by the volcanic ash. These were some of the about 2000 people who didn't get out in time, or who weren't allowed to leave.

There was a slave who archeologists think was left behind to guard his master's house. A mother holding up her child, trying to save it from the ash… and failing. A dog who was tied up in front of the house and left to die. And a man who they think had gathered up all his money and tried to escape, but he ended up dead on the street with his money next to him (the thinking being he had a fatal stumble as he was running away. Perhaps has he turned he head when a building was crumbling next to him).

It was a shocking, and very moving experience. I knew what was coming as we moved through the exhibit, and had read lots about Pompeii so I thought I knew what to expect. But I didn't. These were people, who had lives. And they all died, their last moments filled with terror and confusion. The only thing they knew was they should run as fast as they could; it wasn't fast enough.


Oregon 2017

If you're my friend on Flickr then you already know I spent some time in Oregon recently. It was my mother-in-law's 70th birthday so Marisa arranged for her entire immediate family (her sister and her husband, their kids, her parents, her, and me) to spend some time in Portland and the Oregon coast.

We rented this house:

Oregon Coast

For a couple of reasons. It had the right number of bedrooms, it wasn't too crazy expensive, and it is right on the ocean. What is the point of renting a beach house if you can't see the ocean from almost every room?

This is right out of that gate that you see above:

Oregon Coast

Walk down a little dune and you're on the beach!

Oregon Coast

Growing up I spent the vast majority of my summers on the beach, which has meant that I pretty much have no interest in the beach now. However, spending some time in a beach town felt like coming home! Of course the Oregon coast is very different from the beaches I'm used to on Long Island in New York. You mostly don't swim, which is wacky. And the beaches really don't have that many people on them.

The water is sure pretty though. And it was nice to sleep with the sound of the ocean at night.

Oregon Coast

Once we were done at the Oregon coast it was back to Portland. I only had one requirement: we stay somewhere other than Marisa's parent's place since it was going to be so crowded.

Marisa agreed and decided we should stay on a houseboat! Here's a view of the marina:

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And the awesome bridge down:

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There were all sorts of houseboats docked here. Luckily ours was just straight down the pier, so no need for complicated directions.

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I don't know if this means it was the 14th houseboat in Oregon, but is is a neat picture.

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And here's the houseboat we stayed in! It was very nice, and made me momentarily think that we should buy a houseboat. The reality is probably less attractive than staying on one for a couple of days, but it was nice.

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I've already blogged about the doughnuts on the trip, but here are the Blue Star doughnuts again (very tasty):

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And here's a nice picture of Marisa before she ate her doughnut (and before a nice man at Blue Star gave her a free doughnut because the one she wanted was sold out):

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The sunset over the marina:

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We didn't plan on going to OMSI, which is pretty geared towards kids, but we parked in their parking lot and had to pop in to pay for it. And that's when we discovered they were having a Pompeii exhibit. We had to go.

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A little volcano stamp! I'll write more about the exhibit later.

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The reason we were even near OMSI was so we could walk across the Tilikum Crossing, which is the bridge in the distance.

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And guarded by this sculpture:

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That's what we are looking for! This bridge is only for buses, trams, people, and bikes. No cars, thank you very much. Oh, Portland.

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The bridge is quite striking, as are the views.

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Someone drew little faces on these signs. I approved.

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Then we took a break so Marisa could be famous on TV.

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And followed that by getting some doughnuts.

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And we ended our Oregon trip with a solo excursion (well solo as in Marisa and myself) to Mount Hood, where we stayed at the lovely Timberline Lodge.

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There's Marisa sitting on a fake ski lift.

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We arrived, checked in, and then went for a walk in the twilight. It takes a long time for the sun to set, but we took some pretty good pictures.

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Skilift and trees

Back of the lodge

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Here's Marisa the next morning slightly annoyed that we missed breakfast. Almost every meal we had at the Lodge was great, except for this one. We were both in the mood for breakfast but had just missed it so we had to make due with a crappy turkey sandwich (for Marisa) and a poorly constructed sausage sandwich (for me).

Marisa!

But the lodge rallied by making some good drinks and offering up a sweet little nook we could take over and sip our cocktails and read.

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Then it was time for some hiking!

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We took the ski lift up the mountain, which was terrifying. I've never been skiing, so this was my first time on a lift. As it was moving I was gripping on as tightly as I could thinking it couldn't get much worse. And then the lift stopped! And we were just dangling there. I didn't know they stopped!

I was not a fan. And we walked back down the mountain (though we planned to do that anyway).

There's the lodge!

There was still a good bit of snow, and lots of snowboarders.

Snow and rocks

And the views were great.

So pretty

As was the flora.

Flower detail

I really like this picture:

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Someone was really into stacking rocks.

Mt. Hood and towers

A little mountain side selfie because honestly.

We are so cute

After all that hiking we were tuckered out, so we headed to the Lounge and lounged about reading.

Marisa reads a book and tolerates me.

I couldn't get enough of the views!

Looks like a matte painting

Or of this pizza! And amazingly, I didn't gain any weight on vacation (I lost like .2 pounds, which I was very ok with).

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Some of the doorways were exactly my size.

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A view of were we were reading.

Very cozy places to read!

Some fun facts about the lodge, on the lodge.

That's a big chimney.

And then we headed back to Portland for a day of hanging out. We took a 10pm flight, so we could have some more time in Portland. Of course that included some conveyor belt sushi (with a cameo by my new hat).

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Overall, the trip was great. Marisa planned it very well to allow me some decompressing at the lodge before we headed back to reality. Plus I bought lots of books, so what's not to like?


Powell's Haul #1

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Any book lover who visits Portland, OR has got to go to at least one Powell's. I went to two whilst I was in Portland, because why not?

The City of Books is their biggest store right in the middle of downtown Portland. It is billed as the largest independent bookstore in the world, and I believe it! They carry something like a million titles. Displaying admirable restraint I purchased 6 books:

Powell's Haul (main store)

One of the things I love about Powell's is the fact they shelve new and used books together. That just makes me happy… and did I mention the mind boggling amount of books they have in that store? It is crazy!

Powell's, like any successful bookstore, also carries a bunch of other things. I picked up this super cool robot pin (though I have no idea where I'm going to put it):

Powell's Fashion Pin

And given who I am, I had to buy this:

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Stay tuned to see what I purchased at the other Powell's I visited. Can you contain your excitement?


Voodoo Maple Bacon Bar

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The other doughnut you have to have while in Portland is from Voodoo Doughnuts. While Blue Star focuses on simplicity, quality, and unique flavor profiles Voodoo answers the question, “How much Capt'n Crunch can you get on a doughnut?”

My go to, pictured above, is the Maple Bacon Bar. As I said to Marisa: the Blue Star is better but I like the Voodoo doughnut more. It just tastes like what I want a doughnut to taste like… and I feel like Blue Star is just a touch pretentious.

Of course, if I could only go to one doughnut place in the world neither of the Portland options would make the cut. I would save that honor for NYC's Doughnut Plant. But I don't want to live in a world where I can only go to one doughnut place.


Western Mass in books

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Marisa and I often head up to Western Mass to visit our friends Becky and Eric over Memorial Day weekend, and we did just that this weekend. This was a special trip because we finally got to meet Reed (their son).

Overall, it was a successful and relaxing trip. However, I didn't get much reading done. Bummer.

We did, however, manage to visit three bookstores:

Where I purchased the books pictured above. Did I need any of these books? I don't understand the question.


Jane Smiley on Newgrange

It seems as though I'm not the only writer who visited Newgrange this year. Jane Smiley, a better and more successful writer, did as well and wrote about it for the New York Times (I just wrote about it for my blog):


Newgrange is a popular destination, and tickets are first come first served. It is called a “passage mound” or “passage tomb,” but what is it really? If we are lucky, what we get when we visit an ancient site is a sense of the intelligence that designed and built the structure even if we might not understand what belief system they were acting under. Indeed, perhaps Newgrange is a giant calendar, a giant clock, a giant belief system, built without mortar, lost and present at the same time.


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Papal Vacation: Rehoboth Beach

Given the forecast of millions of Papal pilgrims Marisa and I decided to head the heck out of town last weekend.

The week before the Pope's visit it looked like we made the right call given the signs we were seeing in our neighborhood:

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So we packed our bags:

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And headed to the beach:


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And looked at the ocean:


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We visited a couple of random stores, one of which had this interesting model:

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We saw a dolphin:

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And tried on some hats:

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Sadly, we missed the yacht rock:

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But we did see the super moon:

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And found some interesting soda:

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And had some almost butter:

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Vermont and Maine

Over the last two weeks I've been on vacation (hurrah for working at a University!). Since Marisa had some book events scheduled in Vermont and Maine she suggested I come along, and a vacation was born!

Sadly, over those two weeks I also had to finish the draft of my latest book (details, details). However, it worked out well since while Marisa was out being famous I could write, write, write (also, thanks to my trusty laptop I could write and edit while we were driving).

Our first stop was the Ben and Jerry's Factory tour:

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I like this motto:

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The Flavor Graveyard is where late lamented flavors go to die.

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The spoils of the tour! Honestly, the tour was fun but it lasts about 15 minutes and you don't see much. But they do give you a free sample.

Then it was off to Montpellier to visit the Vermont State House:

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Ethan Allen, famed for his fine furniture.

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Lincoln. Our tour was lead by a Vermont State representative. Who knew?

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Every governor gets his portrait on the wall of the State House. When this one of Howard Dean was unveiled it was dubbed "L.L. Dean":

L.L. Dean

Back to the Bed and Breakfast which was right on the water:

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Then we scoped out Brunswick, ME and visited an indie bookstore:

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And Bull Moose where I bought two mystery packages of books (one marked Sci-Fi and the other marked Star Trek) and got 10 books for $2:

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Returned to the Bed and Breakfast. This place was great, and we had lovely conversations at breakfast. Two old ladies who have been friends for over 50 years have vacationed together here for the last 12 years. Crazy!

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Our dinner views:


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Lobster dip:

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I could have gotten a lobster roll here, or two full lobsters but I opted for the lazy lobster tails. They were great:


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I couldn't resist:

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The next morning included delicious donuts from Frosty's:

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Then it was off to Portland. As we drove to our hotel we passed this place:

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I thought to myself, I wouldn't want to eat there! But Yelp told me that Three Buoys had a great lobster roll so we went there for lunch. Yelp was not wrong:

We went to Eventide Oyster Company for a much more upscale dinner:



The lobster roll was fine, but this ice cream sandwich was really good:


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When in Portland you're super close to L.L. Bean's flagship store which is gigantic and open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We decided to check it out around 10pm:

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I purchased both of these items.

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I did not purchase this:

When in Portland you have to see a lighthouse. On our way to the lighthouse I had my first Tim Horton's doughnut. It was fine.

This is Fort Williams Park:

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A great time was had by all, and I kind of want to move to a cove in Maine or anywhere in Vermont.


iPhone as plane ticket, a Passbook experience

PassbookiconI rarely venture forth from Center City Philadelphia, let alone the state of Pennsylaniva. However, circumstances conspired to force me to leave the Keystone state for a wedding over the weekend. As luck would have it Apple released iOS 6 with the banner Passbook feature mere days before I was to board my flight. Further proof of my luck: all four of my flights were on United, which is one of the few airlines who support Passbook at this moment (along with American Airlines and Lufthansa). How did it go?

The process

Using Passbook isn't difficult, but there are a lot of steps you have to take to get your eTickets into it:

  1. Launch Passbook and tap the "App Store" button.
  2. Download the United app to your iPhone (if you already have the United app you just start here, but I didn't).
  3. You might be tempted to launch Passbook again and look for a United entry at this point, but don't. You have to launch the United app, log in, and retrieve your reservation if it isn't associated with your United account (my tickets weren't for some reason, but that was easy enough to correct in the United app).
  4. Once you have the trip in the United app you then must wait until you can check into your flight (usually 24 hours before the trip). Check in, using the United app.
  5. When you check in you will have a couple options: you can just display an eTicket within the United app, or you can add your tickets to Passbook. Add them to Passbook and they show up as nicely designed eTickets (on my flight to CA both tickets showed up without a fuss, on my flight back to Philly it took some finagling to get my tickets back into Passbook. I had to "re-import" all my tickets for some reason).
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There you have it, you can use Passbook to get onto your plane (and yes, the actual ticket has a QR code, which I've blurred out in the picture above)!

Lockscreen

Now that your eTickets are in Passbook an alert shows up on your lock screen a few hours before your flight's boarding time. Swipe the notification and the eTicket is displayed with a QR code (if you have a lock code enabled on your phone this process does not require it. The eTicket is displayed without having to enter your PIN or password). One nice touch is that when your iPhone is displaying the eTicket the screen brightness is automatically set to the highest level (I usually keep my screen at 33% brightness) and then goes back to your setting when the eTicket is dismissed (by swiping upwards).

At the airport the friendly TSA folks and gate representatives all have scanners waiting for you. Just hold your iPhone, which is displaying your ticket, up to the scanner and wait for the green light that proves you aren't a security risk (the first time I scanned my ticket the scanner turned red and beeped loudly. I slightly panicked until I realized I had an exit row seat and they had to ask me if I was OK with sitting there… which I was). And that's it, you just used your $500 iPhone to replace a 1 cent paper ticket. Yay, technology!

Worth the hassle?

It seems to me that Passbook is a clever idea, but honestly having my eTicket with the QR code emailed to me (or just using the one displayed in the United app) would have been simpler. Once you get the ticket into Passbook it is a nice experience, but adding stuff to Passbook isn't intuitive. In fact, once I had my 2 tickets to CA in Passbook I didn't have the option to add anything else from within Passbook itself since the App Store button was no longer displayed.


Memorial Day 2011, in Northampton, MA

This year we broke our tradition of escaping Philadelphia to the bucolic surrounds of Lancaster County (read about our past adventures in 2010 here and 2009 here) and instead headed to Northampton, MA to visit Becky and Eric (formerly of Philadelphia).

The trip takes about 5 hours (in our sweet new car) but we decided to break the trip up into two parts by stopping over near Beacon, NY so we could visit the Dia: Beacon.

Dia: Beacon

This is the entrance to the museum, and that's the only picture I could because of copyright restrictions on the art itself (who knew?).

The building is amazing, and the art is pretty mind-bending. I think the organization of the collection could use some work. As someone who isn't an expert on modern art the first two exhibits seemed like cliches (though I am sure they were very fine art). One included a room full of canvases painted white, and the other included materials that needed to be "activated." Activated, in this case, means put them on you and look foolish.

After those galleries, though, the art got really interested. Lots of great sculpture and even some crazy pencil drawings done directly on the museum's walls. If you're ever in the area you should check this museum out (though don't bring a big bag because they won't let you in with it.. as Marisa found out the hard way. Don't worry, she put it back in the car and was allowed into the museum).

Books and rootbeer

Once we were done with the Dia: Beacon we made our way to Northampton to be greeted by our generous hosts. Our first stop was the Montague Bookmill which has a great slogan, "Books you don't need in a place you can't find." I picked up some books and a bottle of root beer.

Northampton, MA farmers' market

The next day found us at the Northampton Farmers Market.

Eric and Becky nabs some goodies

Where Becky found herself some cheese and Eric tracked down a raspberry bush.

Marisa shows off her new bowl

Marisa found herself a big wooden bowl because we need another bowl.

I have no idea what this means

We stopped into this antique store with this rather odd phrase on the window. I still have no idea what it means.

KitKat

Deals and steals is a local discount organic food store (which is like heaven to Marisa). I bought this big Kitkat from Libya.

Marisa gets some maple syrup in a jar

We went to a food co-op and Marisa thrilled at the chance to fill a jar with maple syrup (shortly after this picture was taken I drank all the maple syrup with a straw).

Bridge of Flowers

The Bridge of Flowers was… just as you might expect: a bridge with lots of flowers on it (which someone from a nearby apartment pointed out to us as we took pictures. They shouted from their porch, "They're just flowers!!").

Marisa, Eric, and Becky

Marisa, Eric, and Becky look at glacial potholes.

Spaetzle enjoying my iPad

One thing I don't like about living in our apartment is the strict no pets policy. We enjoyed having some quality time with a nice kitty (and Spaetzle enjoyed playing with my iPad).

Spaetzle from the front

Spaetzle, caught in a rare moment of silence (she is a chatty kitty!).

My grilled pizza

Marisa had the bright idea to grill some pizza. We all thought she was crazy, but she assured us that if we plopped some dough on the grill good things would happen. In the face of our unanimous doubt Marisa did some research and found out that one must oil the dough before placing it on the grill.

The pizza was very good.

Eric is pleased

Eric is a fine grillmaster.

Climbing down

Going down the steps of Bray Tower.

Mmmm

Eric commanded that we think about our ideal sausage the night before we went sausage shopping. Once at the sausage counter I met the sausage I had dreamt of without even knowing it: a chicken cheddar pepperoni sausage. It was mighty tasty.

My book haul

And here's my final book haul. In a rare occurrence I do believe I spent more money on this Memorial Day trip than Marisa did. Who knew?


New York City - Day Three

Sunday was our last day in New York City, and since we had to check out of our hotel at noon and our bus didn't leave until 4:40 we had some time to kill.

Thanks to a suggest by Dave Caolo we checked out the Tenement Museum. No photography of any kind was allowed within the museum itself, so here is where you buy tickets:

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Luckily for us, the Tenement Museum was right by another recommended NYC stop (thanks, Philafoodie), Doughnut Plant:

Doughnut Plant

As you might guess this place is a fancy-pants doughnut shop (the doughnuts are fancy, the shop itself has an industrial vibe going on.. and it is tiny! Though the line moves very quickly):

Doughnut Plant

Doughnut Plant sells two different categories of doughtnuts: yeast and cake. I was planning on ordering one of each type, but then I saw the creme brulee doughnut (which is a yeast doughtnut). This thing was tiny, but very very tasty:

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I also got another yeast doughnut, the vanilla bean. This one was a vanilla-y glazed doughtnut that was really good (read Marisa's thoughts about her peach doughtnut to see the amazing power of Doughtnut Plant):

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We then stumbled upon a little outdoors market which included, for some reason, a ping pong table. Some kids were playing each other and this boy was levitating the ball WITH HIS MIND:

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That was all the fun we had time for in New York City. This is Marisa enjoying some of our last moments in the city by standing in the middle of the street like a real New Yorkers. I'm walking here!

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