Saturday, May 30, 2009

Free Food for the Animals.

The first time we noticed things were a little different in Ireland may have been the second day, our marathon drive from Dublin to Portmagee, half way around the Ring of Kerry. We stopped at our first ring fort, called Staigue. The guidebook mentioned a two euro donation, but we arrived, two miles up a hill of the main road, to find a gate next to which sat a crudely lettered sign indicating that 2 euros should be paid to the landowner who was allowing access through his land. In this case, the landowner did not seem to own the land on which the fort sat, but just wanted something in return for tourists traipsing across his land all summer. Maybe the tourists didn't bother the owner at all; maybe he or she was just looking to make a quick buck. I wouldn't begrudge it; I often wonder still how people make a living in rural Ireland. We of course dropped our euros in the little tupperware and enjoyed spending time climbing on a lovingly preserved and restored ring fort with fabulous views of the sea and the mountains. Not to mention a few very cute lambs.

Of course in the US we have access problems for recreational features. Landowners would have an entire national forest closed to public access rather than allow some hikers to use a right-of-way through their land. Popular trails and climbing routes have been shut down because angry (greedy?) landowners, usally with giant mansions at the top of a hill, lock the gates. Long and protracted battles follow. In Ireland, having land with or near historical sites seems to be just a lovely opportunity to make some income.

At the bottom of the hill was an enterprise presumably developed explicitly for tourists who stop by the ring fort. A pub, restaurant, gift shop, WC, and exhibit hall. The guest book said it closed at 6, but when we pushed open the door sometime after that, we walked into a brightly lit room. Shortly the lady of the house appeared and told us, no problem, I'd be happy to make you a couple of sandwiches, and if you want to see the video go right ahead. No angry tirade about it being after hours and to get out of the house, can't you see we're closed? Just give me a second, and I'll fix you right up. And that was the tastiest tomato and cheese sandwich I had in all of Ireland.

Later that day there were the signs advertising "The most beautiful cliffs in all of Ireland." They looked official - white lettering on brown signs, just like all the other tourist sites. After we settled into our lodging for the night, we headed back in the falling sunshine, hoping to view the cliffs in the light of twilight. We pulled into the parking lot of a B&B and headed toward the path to the sea - "a ten minute walk," the sign had promised. How nice of them to let us park here, I was thinking, as a man with a little boy emerged and asked us if we needed anything. "We were just going to see the cliffs," I said. "Ah," he said, "come in. It will be 3.50 each, and I will give you binoculars." Aha. Another private enterprise. I have no idea how he swung those signs, but we handed him the 7 and added a local chocolate bar to make it 10. An easy buck, I guess, although he was still dealing with tourists after 8 o'clock at night.

The next real dose of landowner enterprise did not come until we explored the Slea Head Drive, at the end of the Dingle Peninsula. Rick Steves devoted multiple pages with precise distances and detailed descriptions to this short 47k loop. He mentioned forts that cost 2 euros, famine huts that cost 3, and so on and so forth. At the Gallarus Oratory, toward the end of the drive, both our guidebooks advised avoiding the visitor center (and hence entrance fee) built by the landowner to make some money,and driving on past to a closer parking lot. Amazingly, even Rick Steves failed to mention that almost every fee on this drive was really just a payment to an enterprising landowner. I have yet to figure out why the Gallarus owner was singled out, when they offered a fancy cafe, video, and WC, for no more payment than the much simpler operations we were about to reserve.

Stop 1: Dunbeg Promontory Fort. As we parked in the lot and I double-checked the guidebook, I discovered that both the fort and the nearby famine huts did not open until 9:30. Luckily we had been a bit slow in the morning and it was just now about 9:25. As we ventured over to the fort, one couple ahead of us, a local man stepped out of a cottage across the street, followed by his dog, and headed over to a small booth at the path to the fort. He called out to the couple in front of us to stop and pay and pick up an information brochure. He was clearly not with the OPW (government agency that ran many historical sites) - likely he was the landowner and realized he could make money by sitting in a booth, watching TV, and charging tourists to marvel at his property.

While the other couple rummaged for money, we managed to get in front of them, first down the path to the fort that day, the sea sparkling in front of us. As we entered the outer rows of the fort, two tiny donkeys lifted their heads up to check us out. True, I had seen sheep at the ring fort, but for some reason I was surprised to see donkeys grazing in the middle of a historical feature. As I was cooing over them, as is my want to do with animals, one of the donkeys walked straight towards me, evidently ready to be my friend. I loved it! I reached out to pet his forehead. Matt insisted that I was supposed to feed him; apparently the donkey preferred to be handfed rather than undertake the effort of tearing the grass of himself. And the noise those two made with their teeth!

While Matt explored the ruins, I mostly marveled at the exquisite scenery (does it ever end?) and fawned over my favorite donkey, feeding him clumps of grass. Towards the end I realized that he had in fact been after my purse the whole time;apparently the fabric ties looked might tasty to him. No mind; I can be bought.

We ventured across the road to the famine huts, where another local with his dog were just scurrying into the entrance booth. A sign on the booth proclaimed, "Free food for animals." What kind of animals, I wondered? No need to wonder - on the back of the informational sheet was a map of the famine huts and fields, noting which animals were in which.

Ponies, goats, sheep, deer. I'm sure I'm forgetting something. I popped my head into the famine huts for as short a time as possible to keep Matt somewhat happy, and then turned my attention to finding animals that would like to eat out of my hand. Some glanced at me disdainfully, while others came tromping over through the fields. Some ate daintilly, while others tried to gnaw my hand off as well. It took quite some time to get rid of all the food, after which Matt informed me that the man had told us to "bring back the change." Ah well. Boy did my hand smell, and not a sink to be found.

Still more private enterprise - a group of behive huts down the road where a WC that looked like a port-a-john from the outside actually featured a toilet, sink, soap, and running water. And the views!

What if out your front door was an endless expanse of sea, sun shining, clouds rolling in, grass advancing endlessly up the mountain? What if you spent your day inside a little booth, out of the fresh air, staring at a TV instead of your backyard. What is is like to be Irish now?

Maybe the local man lets you feed his animals to entice you to pay the entrance fee - after all, in Ireland there are many choices of things to see. Maybe he'd rather you do it and save him the trouble. Maybe he knows that American tourists love domesticated animals. Maybe enterprises like this exist in the US and I just haven't run into one.

But maybe it's just that in a land so rich with viewable history, the government does not have the time or the need to acquire all of the sites. Maybe the landowners just get to capitalize on the wealth of the country's saga. It's about time.

Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

Well it's all in perspective, I guess. Deplaning in Chicago on our way back from Ireland, we heard an Ireland youth express delight at the prospect of driving on the wrong side of the road. The right side, of course. And I am referring to direction, not correctness, in this instance.

Matt received the lucky privilege of being my chauffer in Ireland, on the pretense of me wanting to save money. Renting an automatic would be at least an extra 100 euros, while adding an extra driver was also at least that much. So me driving would basically triple the cost of our rental car. Congenially, Matt agreed that he would be the guinea pig. I worried that it would not go well.

We'd been distressing over the car rental to begin with (or at least I was) because the websites all seemed to require a national driving permit good for anywhere from two to five years, and the purchase of collision damage waiver, excpet in some cases if you possess a World Master Card. Having recently moved to California, Matt's license had only been valid for about six months. And collision damage waiver was very expensive.

We decided to try to solve this problem by Matt getting an international driving permit from AAA and by me signing up for an AAdvantage World Master Card. Although I hate credit cards, at least I'd get a free flight out of it. After receiving the card I called Master Card to get a letter of rental car coverage, which was also requested by many of the rental car companies. They told me they would send it via email, and it arrived shortly with no mention whatsoever that was specific to Ireland or even any mention that it would cover anything. The text was full of "might" and "may." Shortly thereafter I received the card agreement in the mail, only to discover that the rental car coverage explicitly said it did not work in Ireland, along with a handful of other countries. As far as I can tell, Ireland has a super high accident rate and Master Card doesn't want to deal with it. I have no idea why some rental car companies told you the World Master Card was the only way to go.

So I freaked out again, I resorted to my final option. Renting from Enterprise in City Centre Dublin, not the airport, where for some reason collision damage waiver was included for only a couple extra dollars. It would be much more inconvenient, but I am all about saving money.

After spending a carless day in Dublin, thankfully, we headed to the Enterprise office early in the morning to get a good start on the day. Both google maps and the receptionist at the hotel had some trouble identifying exactly where the office was - it was definitely in one of two places. But the office was closed Sunday. So I called Monday at 8:05 am from the train station, and was given directions to the office. Head under the bridge, turn left, turn right, turn left again, I'm not sure what the street name is, and so on and so forth. And me without a pen.

We had already learned that street names are nearly pointless in Dublin anywhere because they change every other block. Neverthless, I pulled out my map and concluded that he had given me directions to the closer of the two possible locations. We're in luck, since we're carting our luggage on our backs.

We finally get there, and cheery young man greets us. Does not complain about the drivers license, ask for proof of address, or any other thing that could trip us up. Evidently all that worry was for nothing. When he takes us outside to the car, Matt asks him if first gear is to the left. Our helper looks shocked. "Oh dear," he says. "No, he's just making sure the gears aren't a mirror image of what he's used to," I say. "Oh, yes, first gear is in the upper left," he replies. But as we load the car, he adds, "Best of luck to you, then," with a twinkling, apprehensive smile - worried that his car won't be back in one piece, I suppose!"Cheers!"

And off we drove, with a bit of a lurching start, and me freaking out as the the passenger side corner of the car inched close to the cars parked on the street as we made a right.

But from there, it was really all smooth sailing. I had to remind Matt not to drive so far to the left a few times, as he was trying to avoid traffic on his side. A few close calls with bushes, and a few squeaks out of my mouth. That's about it.

For the most part, Matt's driving was not the issue; my navigating was. But that's another story.

Hawaii Pictures

Click to see pictures from EEE's and my trip to Hawaii.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Diamond Head

Puka Dog

The Fort at the Edge of the Sea

Matt and I had been alone at the worm hole, blessedly left to ourselves to savor the beauty and snap pictures to our heart's content (mostly Matt's, of course) without pausing for a person to move to allow us just the right angle, the open vista, the perfect picture.

We surmised that our experience at Dun Aengus would be different. The universally-acclaimed sight to see on the island, even by the crochety old writer and tour guide of "The Back of Beyond," who generally refused to take his wards where other tourists went. This fort was on the map, the center of the mini bus tours, and a whole herd of french school children was biking toward it ahead of us.

Throughout our travels, Rick Steves, through his book, had admonished us to avoid certain places between 11 and 2, or other such popular tourist hours, to avoid the crowds. We blithely ignored him, mostly as we enjoyed our whirlwind tour and had not the luxury to plan our sightseeing visits at a more leisurely pace. We had been lucky so far, often arriving at a place by ourselves and only running into a couple more along the way. There was a good crowd at the Rock of Cashel, but still we enjoyed much of it to ourselves, and I imagine I can barely fathom the faces it would see at the height of the tourist season.

The Cliffs of Moher also hosted numerous cars and coaches, but the fog enveloping the cliffs caused the tourists not to linger long. The newly placed fences along the length of the cliffs made it cold and univiting anyway. This was not the intimate, famously Ireland sight with no fences, no rangers, and no signs prohibiting unwelcome behaviors. It would not have mattered if we were alone at the Cliffs of Moher. The personal experience was not there anymore, anyway.

(Although the awe-inspiring National Parks of the United States feature many barriers and protective devices, many trails still enable you to enter the landscape and become part of it, of course often with others unless you venture still farther in. The Cliffs over no other option, no other hike. Just the appointed overlooks and walkways. In order to preserve one of the most beautiful sights in Ireland, they have taken away its grandeur. So is the way of the world.)

Back to the point at hand.

We hurriedly cycled our way from Gort na gPall, back to the main road and up toward the fort. We could see its rock walls on the skyline. To each side of us, the fields, cut by the rock walls, faded away to the sea. Old rock ruins and graveyards graced the side of the road. There was little time to enjoy it.

We passed the slow contigent of les ecoles, squeezed through a larger group at the foot of the fort entrance, and rolled our bikes into the bike parking lot. We showed our Heritage Cards that admitted us without fee, and skipped the exhibits in the entrance hall to make sure we had time to take in the natural sights (and beat the schoolchildren if possible).

We trudged up the long path, shepherded by yet more rock walls, up and up the hill towards the promontory fort. A semicircle with many rows of defense, the fort sat smack upon the edge of the cliff, walls coming to an end neatly at the edge. Surely some of the stones have fallen in over the years?

We ducked through the opening of the outer ring of the fort, revealing a wide open grassy area and unfenced cliff, with the inner fort walls still in front of us. We could see only one person, calmly eating lunch on a ledge in front of the fort. Mostly, it was just us and the sea below, once again. After visiting the fort, I read somewhere that fences on the cliffs prevented tourists from being swept by high winds to the depths below. I would have been less eager to arrive. But unbeknownst to the guidebook, as were the walls at the Cliffs of Moher, no such fences existed. Perhaps they had for awhile and for some unknown reason were taken down. I paid no mind. For the first time in Ireland, I lay down at the edge of a cliff and peered over to the clear blue water below, pretty pink flowers clinging to the face below me.

It was windy that day. I tried to be careful. To brace myself when I walked close to the cliff edge. For all I know, a sudden gust could have carried me off. But that happens too in Marin, much closer to home. No need to worry part-way across the world.

We finally entered the fort itself; still no one around. Matt loved the historic walls; I mostly still admired the rugged cliff. I could see coastal beauty in California, but it would not be enhanced with such obvious history as abounds in Irelands. The ancient rock ruins add to the landscape. Imagine, having this view! Imagine, having to defend yourself in a fort! Did the scenery ever make up for the hardships? Perhaps not.

Maurice O'Sullivan's book, "Twenty Years A-Growing," a tale of being raised on the remote Blasket Islands, certainly includes much reflection on natural beauty. Yet he left the island at a young age, experiencing only a few seasons of fishing, not growing old with aching bones, still having to traipse across the island in search of ewes and hunting rabbits and birds. Perhaps life on the island would have erased the wonder from him.

But what a place to visit.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Prop 8 Upheld

In a disappointing but expected move this morning, the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8 while keeping existing marriages valid.

(Remember that the Supreme Court already let their opinion on gay marriage be known. This decision was related to technicalities. Still, I think this decision allows the majority to trample on the rights of the minority.)

Lantern Floating Hawaii

I take really bad pictures at night, so I apologize for the quality, but I wanted to give you an idea of this event we went to last night.

From the website:
Lantern floating is an Asian spiritual tradition that beautifully symbolizes the wish for all beings to live in peaceful coexistence. As the lanterns are released onto the ocean they take with them our healing prayers for victims of conflict, famine, disaster and disease as well as our hopes for the happiness of all past and present.

Lantern Floating Hawaii is open to people of any religion, or no religion. It expresses a wish for all beings to value one another and cooperate in creating a better world. On May 25 over 2,000 candle-lit lanterns will be released onto the ocean. There will also be a chance for you to offer a personal remembrance or prayer for your departed loved ones by placing their names on a lantern.

(And don't worry, the lanterns are eco-friendly and are collected after the ceremony to be used the next year.)

There were so many people in attendance (I would think nearly the whole population of Honolulu) that we had trouble seeing (especially EEE), but I found it very beautiful.

Monday, May 25, 2009


In Search of the Worm Hole (Part II)

In a thick accent, for likely he usually spoke Irish, the farmer began, "Ah, well there is another path up the road, but since you are here, you might as well go from here. You can walk through this gap in the fence and follow the fence to the sea. Do you see the two ledges out there?"

"Yes," I said.

He seemed skeptical. "You know what I'm talking about? There are two ledges. Well actually there are three, but you can't see the first one from here. The first one is sea level, where the waves break. Then there is the second one, you can see it, bare, without grass at all. Do you see it? Then there is the third ledge, the highest one. You want to follow the second ledge. When you reach it, walk out onto it past the grass, and walk under the cliffs - don't worry, they won't fall on you. Walk for five minutes, and there it will be, in front of you. But don't stop if you haven't seen it. Walk for ten minutes, maybe fifteen. You will see it. Do you understand?"

"Yes, thank you so much," I said.

"Go through this gap in the fence, and follow this fence, through another gap; keep following it until you see the three ledges. You will see how to get to the second one."

"The weather looks fine for it," the farmer said. I had not thought about this before. Surely the tourist literature would have mentioned if you weren't to go out to the worm hole at high tide or rough seas or even fierce winds that whipped about us now?

Sometime during the farmer's directions, Matt had arrived, prompting the farmer to tell again about the three ledges, obviously not believing that I had any idea what he was talking about. In truth, I was confused. This was the direction from which the worm hole could be "more easily" reached?

At the same time, I loved it. I loved that the farmer was tending to his few cows, not bothered a bit by a tourist wandering into his fields, uninvited. Allowing us to walk through his fields in order to not have to backtrack to the actual path that supposedly existed. I loved his accent, so thick it took me a sentence or two to adapt, to really understand what he was saying. Even so, I was not terribly certain of the directions, but we thanked him and moved on.

We squeezed through one gap in the fence, heading up to a higher field.

"Do you have any idea what he is talking about," I asked Matt.

"You see the second ledge?" Matt said, mimicking the farmer. But he had not much idea either.

Suddenly, the three ledges appeared above us. I understood. We just had to follow the fence a bit farther, clamor over it, and cross a shattered limestone field to arrive at our desired ledge. Not the first one, that is sea level. Not the third one, that is too high.

The beauty astounded me. Matt will point out how shocking it is that despite the chill in the air and the bitter wind, I still managed to love this place. No complaints from me, probably for once. All the pain of bike riding on this god-forsaken day and god-forsaken island, pushed to the back of my mind. Because we never would have reached the worm hole from a mini bus tour, nevermind reached it in this simple way. How many times had the farmer ventured to the worm hole? Had he visited it in his youth, out to make a fine day of it? Did he visit it now and still appreciate its awe? He walked with a limp, world-weary it seemed. I imagine he'd lived on this island his whole life. What did he think of these tourists who made a pilgrimage to his stark land? Did he feel pride for his homeland? Maybe he was pleased to share his knowledge with us. He was the old way.

On we scrambled, skipping from rock to rock. The waves crashed below us, on the first ledge. Presently we came upon a path, probably the one the farmer had mentioned. It wound around the edge of the rock field, but seemed to peter out near the ledges. Had we followed that path and not talked to the farmer, I don't know how we would have known which ledge to follow.

We emerged onto the second ledge, leaving the grass behind. We walked between the cliff down to the first ledge below us, and the bottom side of the ledge above us. Soon, the cliffs took on a life of their own. Chasms at the foot of the cliffs, where tiny waterfalls ran from cracks, growing algae and descending through, carving, paths to the sea. Giant boulders wedged under the cliffs, as if to hold them up for our delight. I could have spent a day here, at least, exploring from sea to shelf and back again. It would have been enough without the wormhole.

But presently, the cliffs above us turned back toward the land, leaving open space in front of me. This must be it, I thought, and I walked toward it, slowly, for the rocks were slippery and the wind grand. And there it was below me. I turned back to Matt, "hooray!"

I had not seen pictures. I had not given much though really to what the worm hole would look like. I imagined it might be circular, or fairly small like the blow holes I saw in Grand Cayman before a hurricane took them away forever. (The power of a storm!)

But the worm hole was a perfect rectangle. Perpendicular fractures through the granite. Its lip was down below me, on the first shelf I guess, so I peered down from above. The sea splooshed back and forth inside the chamber, while the waves came up onto the ledge, but did not spill over into the hole, maybe 10 yards away. One particularly big wave startled me. "Is the tide coming in?" I asked Matt. "Hmm," he responded. "Surely the farmer would have told us not to come if there would be danger," I professed. Matt agreed, allowing us to cavort about gaily, not worry about death being swept out to sea unless we took little care and slipped on the washed and rounded rocks, down to the ledge below. Or worse into the worm hole. And then out to sea, of course. Isn't that many a death faced by the islanders?

I kept my distance and braced myself in the wind.

Shortly we had to turn back. Matt was looking forward to Dun Aengus, the promontory fort, and so was I, as there would surely be unfenced cliffs there over which I could lean. And time was running short. Little did we know that exploring this island would have taken us well over a day. We were so hungry from our adventure, and yet we had no time to eat. There was much to sea before our ferry departed.

We scampered back, following the farmer's directions in reverse, hopping the fence, and heading back into the little village. The farmer was nowhere to be seen, but at least our bikes were still there.

I love the ocean, but I'd rather not swim in it. Give me the cliffs, the giant rocks, the lone flowers poking their heads through the cracks, stealing what little soil there is. Give me the starkness, the desolation, the windswept beauty.

At least for the day.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

In Search of the Worm Hole (Part I)

(The first, second, and third ledges.)

For me, the highlight of our trip to Ireland was our one-day adventure to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands in Galway Bay. These islands are supposed to represent traditional Irish life. "You'll see a field with just one cow in it, with horns," said our Dingle B&B host, demonstrating with her fingers to the sides of her head. "This is the old way." "We rode bicycles around the island," she added, "but it has to be a warm day for that."

I figured the island must really be fantastic, because heretofor we had not discovered a place this host had been. She had not been to fabulous Skellig Michael, which would have been just a day trip for her, and she recommended a hike to us, again noting, "I haven't done it, but I've been told it is very beautiful." Naturally, I was thrilled to find out she and her family had actually taken some kind of vacation - a partial day's drive and ferry boat to the Aran Islands.

The island is 9 miles long and 2 miles wide, and we too planned to explore by bicycle, sun or no sun. (Why heed a local's advice?) The sightseeing highlights of the island seemed to be Dun Aengus, a promontory fort, and depending on which reference you used, a natural feature called the Worm Hole (Poll na bPeist), where waves broke inside and filled an opening in a coastal ledge. An article I chanced upon on shortly before our trip mentioned this as the real delight of the island, and someplace few people went.

Well, with over 5 hours on the island in between our ferry rides, and our trusty bicycle rentals, we figured we'd be able to see most of the island. We'd start with the lighthouse, then follow the road to the worm hole and Dun Aengus, finishing up with the seven churches, and returning to the starting end of the island to visit the world's smallest church if we had time.

The day did not start particularly well, with gloomy, cold weather and on and off rain. I was sorely tempted to join a minibus tour of the island instead of renting bikes, but weather never deters Matt, so off we went on brand new 18 speeds. As I soon discovered, my lady's bike, even with the seat as high as it could go, was no help for my long legs. It was a struggle to climb even the slighest hill, as I had no downward leverage whatsoever. The bike would have sufficed for a flat-land circuit, but we were heading to the high point of this island. I tried to climb standing up, but the rubber on the handlebar slid off with my hand and nearly crash landed-me in front of a group of French school children who were clearly amused by my colorful language while my husband pedaled on in front of me, oblivious.

I ditched my bike at the bottom of the hill to the lighthouse, prefering to hike to the top. The sign at the bottom reassuringly told us that the lighthouse was open seven days a week. We arrived to find locked gates and a decrepit shack with tourist brochures in another language splayed all over the floor, an empty soda refrigerator collecting dust at the back. Although at least the shack provided shelter from the endless wind. After Matt spent some time walking around the walls and taking pictures through the gates, I finally discovered that one of the locked gates was not locked at all - the mechanism wasn't holding anything closed. Possibly an oversight, or possibly consistent with many of the other sights we saw in Ireland - not much care taken to prevent entry, climbing, destruction, or encourage preservation.

The house at the bottom of the lighthouse seemed long since abandoned, but the china cabinet I could see through the open window held in-tact, if not dirty, plates of various patterns. It was too creepy to enter, and Matt had long since abandoned me, holding an even deeper fear of such places. The lighthouse itself comprised crumbling brick and ever expanding doorways, just one of many ruins we tip-toed through in the country.

Next stop: worm hole.

Although the MSNBC article said to ask a local in Gort na gCapall how to get to the worm hole, Rick Steves assured us that there were easily followed signs from that village, and the bicycle map pointed it out as well.

Naturally, when we spotted the low sign on a rock wall to that village, we pointed our bikes in that direction and pedaled onward. Heading closer to the sea (although you would really do that in any direction, I suppose), we entered a cluster of houses where the road split. No sign. We turned left, as the other fork seemed to just end in houses, and soon ran across some other tourists hiking down the road in their best rain gear. They had not been to the worm hole but suspected we were not heading in the right direction. We went back and took the other fork. At the end of that road, two potential trails ran between rock walls through the fields. We split up to try them both.

I had yet to see a local in this village, but shortly upon walk I came across a farmer. I worried he would be angry that I was tramping through his property, but I hoped for the best. "I'm sorry," I said, "but I'm looking for the worm hole. Could you point me in the right direction?"

To be continued...

Our destination.

Arriving in Ireland (Or, reasons for traveling by yourself)

(From the bus into Dublin from the airport)

In preparation for our trip to Ireland, I had to renew my passport, which expired sometime this spring. I asked Matt if he needed to renew his as well, because many countries require passports to be good for six months beyond the date of the trip. (I guess they are afraid you might stay.) No, he said, my passport doesn't expire until 2010. Perfect, I said.

Several months later, we were filling out immigration cards during the descent into the Dublin Airport. I glanced over at Matt's only to see him filling in a passport issuance date of October 1999. I thought your passport expired in 2010, I said. This is the issued date, not the expiration date, he said. But the passport is good for ten years, I said, meaning yours expires in October 2009. Oh, he said.

That's right, my husband traveled overseas with a passport that expired in only 5 months. I started to freak out. Would they not let him out of the airport? Would he be like Tom Hanks in The Terminal? What in the world would I do since I can't drive the rental car? What about all the hotels I had spent so much time booking and would have to try to undo?

I finally got out the guidebooks to double check requirements. Rick Steves said six months for both Ireland and Northern Ireland, but Fodor's said six months only for Northern Ireland. Well, that's better, I thought. We will just change up the itinerary and I will take a day tour to the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland while he thinks about his irresponsibility in a pub in Dublin...

We got through immigration without a problem at the airport. They asked how long we were staying, and I said 10 days. They didn't mention his passport expiration and obviously neither did we.

After a few days and some research, we finally discovered that Ireland and Northern Ireland were a common travel area, and we couldn't seem to corroborate the six month requirement anyway. So we decided to go for it. As it turns out, there is no border at all.

I guess all that worry and consternation was really for nothing.


After reading my blog, my mom asked my sister, doesn't Alison know she has to take care of that stuff for Matt?

I thought I had taken care of it by asking. Turns out I actually have to find the source documents.

Or next time, travel alone :) I can usually trust myself.

(Of course I am glad he got to come with me, despite the fact that sometimes I think if he ever felt the consequences for his actions, he might think some more about them. But I guess I just have to accept the fact that checking on these things is part of my role in our relationship. Love you!)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ireland Pictures

Pictures from Ireland ready! (I got lazy at 210, so good luck...)

I'll catch up on blogging this weekend - I have some good stories from the trip.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Hello from Ireland!

We just spent a fantastic day on the Aran Islands. Matt wants to move to Ireland. However, he failed to renew his passport so we are hoping to get across the border into Northern Ireland tomorrow. Hopefully it will all work out!

Also we will have thousands of pictures from the trip, I'm sure. Matt is picture happy, but he has promised me he will narrow them down for Picasa this time. Look forward to them!

So far we've seen Dublin, Rock of Cashel, Ring of Kerry, Dingle Peninsula, Skellig Michael, Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, Galway, and the Aran Islands. The Cliffs of Moher were fogged in and not so exciting. Matt's favorite was a ruined castle. My favorite was today!

Be back in a few days.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Payless Now Has Eco-Friendly Shoes

I just picked up a cute pair of Mary Jane's at Payless for $25. Expensive for Payless, but oh-so-affordable for eco-friendly shoes.

That's right, Payless now features a line called Zoe&Zac. I was dubious as to the greenness of the shoes, but I just looked it up online, and my particular shoe features organic cotton, recycled PET, and recycled rubber. The box they came in was also 100% recycled.

And the shoes are super cute!

I am always thrilled when low-price stores start carrying low-price green lines. Target now carries loomstate!

Goodbye For Awhile (Or Maybe Longer)

Well folks, thanks for indulging my need to talk about myself. Tomorrow morning we head to Ireland for 10 days, so there might not be any new blogs during that time. And as soon as I come back I start my new job (interrupted by a quick trip to Hawaii), so my midweek musings on the news and other random stories will be much limited. We will of course still be doing City Walks - only 21 left though, and posting about our other weekend adventures I'm sure.

(And there's a chance we might post from Ireland using my brand new tiny netbook that is the cutest thing ever...)

I'm off to enjoy one last gorgeous day of freedom in San Francisco now. Take care!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

City Walks SF #29: Clement Street

Clement Street is basically a miniature Chinatown in the Richmond District. Several blocks along one street, featuring restaurants, bars, and shops. It wasn't terribly interesting as a walk, but we did follow the recommendation for a meal at the Burmese restaurant - one good dish, one not-so-good dish. (We skipped the Chinese food/donuts/hamburger shop though...)

The walk also took us by the Columbarium, where apparently people who ARE somebody are buried. (San Francisco doesn't have cemeteries in city limits.)

This is how foggy it was by the time we got home:

You can barely even see the hill behind our house:

Definitely ranks low on my city walk priorities.

Conservatory of Flowers

Upon the recommendation of CNA, I finally went to the Conservatory of Flowers today. Matt and I had passed it many times and never gone in, because we are cheap and he doesn't like flowers very much.

I must say, there were some very gorgeous flowers in there. I had some trouble with pictures, especially in the aquatic plants section, because my camera was fogging up from the humidity. But I think some of the pictures came out pretty well, and I made an album on Picasa.

Don't Watch This At Work (Without Headphones At Least)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Creatures Big and Small (at the same time)

Walking home this evening in the dark and a rather heavy mist, we stumbled upon the biggest snail I have ever seen. Just the normal kind you see in their brown shells, but its body, based on the part sticking out, looked as big as a banana slug.

I tried to take a picture with my phone, but sadly between the lack of a flash, poor resolution, distance from street lights, and precipitation, there isn't even a point in taking up picture-storage space on my blog with the picture. Too bad - you would have loved it.

This weather sure is getting us ready for Ireland!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Point Reyes in the Rain

Today was my last day at Point Reyes, so I picked up lunch at Perry's, a tasty deli, and headed up to the Giacomini overlook to eat lunch in my car in the rain. It was so peaceful and green and really made me want to go camping. I guess the city is overwhelming me a bit.

In the second picture you can barely make out the tides in what, as recently as when I started this internship, was pasture land. It was nice to see the beautiful results of restoration.

Driving through the redwoods today, I also felt guilty that I have not yet taken Matt to see Point Reyes. It really is gorgeous. Now, I just have to learn how to explore it while avoiding poison oak and ticks. I can handle rattlesnakes and scorpions, but this is unknown territory for me.

If you visit the Bay Area or Northern California, I highly recommend stopping by Point Reyes.