fizzling out on a Friday

I don’t have a book to tell you about today, friends. I know! I’m sorry! But rather than go silent, I thought I’d give you a little photo tour of what I’ve been up to lately that explains why I haven’t been reading at the usual pace… well, it’s more complicated than that, but look at these pretty pictures first and then I’ll tell you about the books at the end.

When not reading, I have been:
405665_10200529963800484_1132624728_n

Mountain biking in Australia with Husband (pictured) and our friends/local hosts Kristi & Brian

541575_10200447114368522_1825522576_n

Hiking in Australia with Kristi (pictured)

544591_10200506392371213_1335333382_n

Petting a kangaroo!

226436_10200674037482236_1479672185_n

Hiking with my Pops and the dogs not far from Houston

563375_10200674038042250_2061772009_n

Awww (that’s Ritchey in the flowers)

382370_10200734221546800_1911023195_n

Visiting sister-in-law Julie (pictured) and her husband David, in North Carolina, with Husband

48105_10200588244217458_546386386_n

Aaand, I confess, always a little of this. (Beers with my parents at my local favorite, Mongoose vs. Cobra.)

And what about the reading? Well, I do some of that too:
29562_10200094394430744_695394293_n

(Camping out, and reading while not mountain biking, at Double Lake)

But seriously, I have been reading as furiously as ever; we’re just caught in a strange lull right now, for a few reasons. For one, I’ve been doing a lot of reading for the book reviews I write for Shelf Awareness, which means that I read a book, write a review, submit it for editing & publication, and then am able to post said review after it publishes – which is easily 6-8 weeks after I read the book. So I’ve got a backlog of great reading to tell you about, but none of it is ready to post yet. In between, I’ve been listening to The Hunchback of Notre Dame on audiobook, which is great but long and means I won’t have an audiobook to tell you about for another week and a half at least.

All of which are just excuses, and I’m sorry that I don’t have a great book to tell you about right now! But speaking of excuses – I have now justified showing you pictures of my fun times & the beautiful people in my life, so we’re all winners on that count. 🙂

Happy Friday, and thanks for your patience, friends. Maybe I’ll read another de Maupassant short story over the weekend and have that to write up for you on Monday! In the meantime, more bikes in this lovely spring weather, please!

Massachusetts and Vermont travel report

I shall try to keep this brief for you; but I want to at least list the things I saw and did on my trip up north in late October. With pictures.

I flew to Boston on a Friday night after work to join my parents where they were house-sitting for a month in a lovely home belonging to family in Concord. We spent Saturday in Boston, walking the Freedom Trail there, which exhibits historical landmarks like cemeteries, churches, and monuments (and starts and finishes in Boston Common – lovely). We had lobster for lunch (out) and swordfish for dinner (in) and it was an exhausting, but exciting, first day.

greenhouse in our Concord home


Granary Burying Ground in Boston


Sunday we spent in the Concord area, starting with Walden Pond, which was lovely – you will recall a picture I posted recently. We took a sampling of the Concord town sights, including the Concord Museum, the Emerson House, the Wayside, and the Orchard House. Clearly this was a breakneck pace, less than ideal to take everything in. The guided tour my mother and I took at the Wayside was great and I recommend it; hopefully the others offered similar quality but I didn’t have the time to explore.

Thoreau’s cabin site at Walden Pond


Monday we drove to Salem to see a few sites related to Nathaniel Hawthorne: the Custom House (of The Scarlet Letter) and the House of the Seven Gables (of the novel of the same name). We also visited the Witch Trials Memorial, a sober reminder of the history of this town, which was overrun in late October with plasticky, touristy, “fun” witchiness which was a little less respectful, methinks.

statue of Nathaniel Hawthorne in Salem


And later in the day, Pops and I headed back into Boston for a quick pub tour. He had it narrowed down for me to a favorite three, and I may as well give them the free advertising here for what it’s worth. We started and finished at Redbones, a barbecue (!) spot with great beers and a comfy atmosphere. I would like to have that place within walking distance. The beers at John Harvard’s were good, not world-class, but it was in a neighborhood I had to see. And the Druid seemed a fine example of the Irish pub I’d been hunting – and Pops is still raving about the oxtail soup.

I was scheduled to head to Vermont on Tuesday – Pops driving me up there, isn’t he a peach – but we took the morning first to revisit the Battleground Road between Lexington and Concord, again at a faster-than-ideal pace. We had stopped off at the Old North Bridge, where the American Revolutionary War began, on Sunday evening. It made an impression. And we had glimpsed the Old Manse from without – I regret not finding time for a tour of the interior. Now we visited a few stops along the Battleground Road (think Paul Revere, “the British are coming”).

statue of a colonial soldier at the Old North Bridge: they put down their plows and they took up their muskets…


And then we started out for Vermont, where Pops had time for a short walk with Molly & her family & I before he headed back to Concord. Bye, Pops.

Wednesday I had a fairly lazy day on the farm in Vermont, which felt well-deserved after the busy days in Massachusetts. I was reuniting with my old friend Molly, who moved here with her husband and new baby this summer, and is now just 100 yards away from her parents.

Molly and I on the deck


Thursday we took a hike up nearby Whiteface Mountain…

green and mossy


And Friday was mostly another lazy day. I held a baby.

look how he’s grown!


And Saturday was a full travel day Houston-bound. Happy to be home, as always! I missed Husband and the dogs, and they missed me. But I also miss those lovely views.

Ireland: final days in Dublin

(Days 1-3 here; day 4 here; days 5-7 here; days 7-8 here)


We drove into Dublin on day eight, Friday night, which was also Good Friday. PSA: They don’t sell alcohol in Dublin on Christmas Day or Good Friday. This was a significant piece of information to have missed, since pubs were pretty much the reason we were interested in the city of Dublin. I was frustrated. Let’s move on to day nine, shall we?

Day nine: Saturday morning. Breakfast at the Queen of Tarts (yum!) before heading out to the Guinness Storehouse. This is the longtime site of Guinness brewing in Dublin, and the adjoining property still brews beer; the Storehouse itself, where the public can buy tours, is no longer a working brewery, but a museum of brewing and (more so) of Guinness the brand. This was not entirely what I had in mind going in; perhaps in a different state of mind I would have been more interested in the museum setting, but at this point we were not sure we were actually going to get the full day in Dublin (for reasons relating to our flight arrangements) and having missed out on any chance to drink on “Dry Friday” the night before, I was frustrated. We drank our pint of Guinness, toured around some, and headed out to probably my favorite pub of the trip: the historic Brazen Head, oldest pub in Dublin, attached to the old city wall; Barrett tells me this is one of the pubs (just outside the wall) that used to lodge those travelers who hadn’t made it in before the gates closed (or those foreigners not allowed in). A lovely place. We saw a few pubs and took a nap before the evening’s big event:

the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl. Barrett had been on it before but liked it enough to repeat with us, especially considering my literary inclinations. It turned out to be perhaps a little drier and more literary than Husband was promised but he maintained his good spirits. This crawl is led by actors who perform selections from the great works (ahem Ulysses) and sing songs as well as imparting local lore and showing us around local landmarks (Trinity College) as well as pubs. I haven’t actually read much of the big Irish names, so it was less a familiar review of literary knowledge for me than it might have been, but still it was a good time. And as a bonus, towards the end we made friends with a German couple and an English one, and stayed out too late for our early morning flight the next day… whew! Home on Easter Sunday to prep for the week to come.

I made a map to indicate our travels


Weather-wise, we were so very lucky! We saw more sun than anything else; minimal precipitation, and what we did see was fleeting and light, more a novelty than an annoyance.

Highlights:
Oh boy! Inis Mhor in general… Westport as a town… Dunluce Castle… Belfast taxi tour of the murals… Saturday night in Dublin. Good times with good old friends and loved ones. Coming home to our little dogs.

Here’s hoping you make it to Ireland soon, too!

Ireland: days 7-8

(Days 1-3 here; day 4 here; days 5-7 here)


Ahem, continuing day seven: after finishing up at the Giant’s Causeway, it was getting lateish and we headed into Belfast for the evening, centering around the historic Crown Bar (or Crown Liquor Saloon), a CAMRA pub and masterpiece of ornate, garish Victorian decor – it’s almost a bit much, but it’s authentic. They still light the place with gas, even. We got our own little “snug” (like a booth with a door that closes so you can plot against the Brits) after a very good dinner upstairs at their dining room. We closed down the Crown and then the later-closing bar next door and then the latest-closing bar at our hotel, making for a successful evening.

in our snug at the Crown


Day eight, is it now? Which makes it a Friday again. We wake in Belfast and begin by chasing the Titanic, whose 100th anniversary calls for a full-on festival in this city that built and launched the doomed ship. Titanic festivities turn out to be expensive and sold out, but we view the area before chasing down one of the “black taxi tours” of the political murals that we’ve been told about. These murals were most prevalent in the 1980’s during the “troubles” (which I still find to be an odd and understated euphemism), and our cabbie John estimates only 20% remain today, but that was still lots of them. Barrett first vetted cabbies until he found one sufficiently middle-aged, native, and informed, and we spent a few hours driving around with him, viewing murals, hearing his (plentiful and fascinating and heartwrenching) stories, and generally interviewing him on the political turmoil of Northern Ireland from the 80’s through the present. Thanks, John, for one of the real treats of our whole week; you really brought Belfast to life. Most visceral, perhaps, was the still-standing wall at the “Peace Line” (or lane, I never was sure) where they used to lock down at night to keep the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods safely segregated.

at the Peace Line (l-r): John, Barrett, me


We had a roadside picnic lunch on our drive down into Dublin.

meat. cheese. mustard. bread. strawberries. beer!


The next stop was in the town of Drogheda, where Husband’s maternal roots are based – going back a number of generations, yes, but the family name is recognizably… Droghedian? We wanted to get a picture of him at a city limit sign, at least, and ended up enjoying a walk through the main drag of this quaint, historic, larger-than-expected town dominated (it seemed) by shops selling either meats or sweets. Present company approved. 🙂

And Dublin gets its own post. Stay tuned!

Ireland: days 5-7

(Days 1-3 here; day 4 here)


Day five: back to the airport, the mainland, and our rented car.

Final glimpse


We were headed north, with Northern Ireland our ultimate goal but some time to play around with in the short term. This was our loveliest drive: we saw strange veils of mist, light rain, heavy rain, sleet, bright sunshine, and a rainbow, all for periods of five minutes at a time and quickly shifting; and the scenery was to die for.


I was terrified on those narrow twisty roads (and driving on the “wrong” side!) but it was beautiful, too. Coniferous forests opening up into wide seascapes and such vibrant colors: deep, bright blue lakes, brown mountains, and such shades of green. Oh, and the little lambs! Sheep everywhere, but I was most enamored of those little babies staggering on spindly little legs.

We found ourselves in the town of Westport, looking for lunch and possibly more at Matt Molloy’s Bar – that’s Matt Molloy of the Chieftains. Lunch, pints, a walk around this dreamy little town, and we needed to stay the night; we got another B&B, visited several pubs, had our first “hot whiskey” (that turns out to be a hot toddy) and a nap and headed back to Molloy’s for the promised evening’s entertainment: traditional Irish music. This started with our being serenaded by a classic Irish bard, who knew a song for every subject imaginable and filled the bar with his rich voice. It was a great night.

Day six: got up for a little shopping in Westport, which had several outdoors shops where we picked up some hiking gear for our trip to New Mexico later this summer, and hit the road, northbound. This was our longest day’s drive, ending in Coleraine in North Ireland, where Barrett had a pub picked out for us. I shall briefly say that the pub was a disappointment and move on to –

Day seven: Left Coleraine on a beautiful, mild morning for some sights: first stop goes to Husband’s credit when he spotted a sign at the last minute for Dunluce Castle, which turned out to be one of my favorite stops of the whole trip. Most of what stands today dates from the 16th and 17th centuries, but there is a room cut into the rock that they say is some 700 years earlier than that – ! – so it was really interesting to see all the layers, if you will, of civilization at this spot. It occupies a point jutting out over the ocean, and indeed part of the castle fell into the ocean in 1639, which marked the beginning of the end of its inhabitance. This site had by far the best pamphlets, guidance, visitor’s center, infrastructure in general to help me imagine what life was like here and comprehend the significance of this site in local and national history. It was a gem!

Dunluce Castle


1600's lodging for second-rate guests in the outer courtyard; you can imagine individual rooms, each with its own fireplace and window.


I like it here.


Next we drove into the town of Bushmills – that’s right, you guessed it, we toured the Old Bushmills Distillery and learned about their whiskey! I’ve been on maybe a couple dozen brewery tours, but this was my first distillery. Our young tour guide was very new and didn’t give us the best tour, but at least we got inside. I’m not so much a whiskey person, and confirmed that fact again, but they make some pretty good lasagna in their lunchroom.

whiskey


Next stop: the Giant’s Causeway, a series of geological formations along the very northern tip of Ireland that, in local myth, make up part of the causeway bridging from Ireland to Scotland so that two giants could do battle. I am running out of pictures but there are plenty on the internet for you! Great views, interesting rocks, a nice long walk making for a nice long day. I almost got to squeeze a lamb but then I didn’t. This is getting to be a nice long post, too, so I’ll finish up the evening in our next installment…

Ireland: day 4

(Days 1-3 here) This was a full and busy day with several pictures, so it gets it own post.


Day four: Happy to wake up on Inis Mhor with a big day planned. Hitched a ride into town to rent bicycles and buy picnic lunch ingredients, and headed out of town towards the opposite end of the island for Dún Dúchathair, or the Black Fort, another ancient ruin. Where Dun Aengus has an improved path up to it and signage, and a road nearby, the Black Fort is quite remote; we had to leave our bikes quite far away and hike and clamber over rock walls and rough surfaces to get to it, but it was breathtaking. And I spotted a pair of what turned out to basking sharks – very exciting!

views along the dramatic coastline cliffs


Husband and I, aww



Castle defense at the Black Fort: these rocks provided defense from cavalry or, heck, from any kind of fast approach; they've been stood on end and make picking one's way across very difficult.


could somebody please tell me what makes these rocks take such clean straight lines?


"beehive huts" or rooms at the Black Fort inside the 20-foot-thick walls


Husband and I, riding


Our ride then took us back towards our hotel to visit the Worm Hole, a strange naturally occurring rectangular pool viewable from above where we hiked on the cliffs. Barrett got a flat tire, and it was a comedy of errors, but we got back to turn the bikes in, buy sweaters from the Aran Sweater Market, and settle in for – that’s right – dinner and pints at the American Bar (which is not associated with any Americans). Then a local volunteered to drive us home and gave us a hefty box of crabmeat caught that day, which improved his cab fare considerably. Treasa set us up with a makeshift crab hammer, we bought a box of beer, and the night was filled with revelry.

Handsome Husband: lovely end to a long day.


To be continued.

Ireland: days 1-3

I want to share some of my trip with you here, including pictures, and figure it will take a few installments to do so. If you’re bored and looking for books, bear with me; we’ll be back to books tomorrow. For more Ireland stories, stay tuned over the next week or so.


Day one: Flew into Cork on Friday afternoon because of difficulties getting into Dublin as intended. Luckily, though, our date with Barrett (in Dublin) wasn’t until Saturday noonish; so we flew to Cork on a whim and thought we’d make the best of it! We got a charming little B&B, Killarney House, right near the University College of Cork and visited the recommended (by my neighbor on the airplane, a native of Cork) pub called Mutton Lane Inn.

the UCC's very pretty campus


There we had our first pints of Beamish (started on Guinness at the airport in London) and began a relaxing and fairly uneventful evening. We had dinner at Market Lane (only fair, despite being the “top pick” in my guidebook, which gets it own review) and more pints and settled in with the intention of taking a train into Dublin the next morning to meet Barrett.

Mutton Lane Inn


Day two: Drastically overslept our intended train. Luckily they run all day, and also luckily, it turned out that Barrett (when we finally got a hold of him) had also overslept; but we missed the Saturday morning “English Market” we had intended to visit to get straight on a train. Left Cork feeling like we could happily have spent more time there.

Taking notes on the train for you!


Train into Dublin and found Barrett waiting at the station – whew! Major point scored there. Picked up the rental car (they gave away the one B wanted because we were so late, sigh) and left the city immediately, planning to see it at the end of the week before flying home. Drove into the town of Athlone for the night to drink at Sean’s Bar, purportedly the oldest in Ireland, with a fire in the fireplace – lovely, if cramped, which is a theme of Europe in general in my experience. (When you’re pleased, you call it “cozy.”) Lebanese dinner and more pints and an early bedtime for me, at another very nice B&B called the Bastion; the boys went out late and I shall say no more about that.

Day three: Sunday, yes? It’s already getting hazy. Left Athlone for Clonmacnoise, a monastic site marking the roots of Irish Catholicism. Had a nice walk around in truly perfect weather and intermittent sunshine at this very special place.

Husband (in blue) and Barrett outside Clonmacnoise (those are the ruins of a later church in the background)


inside the monastery grounds themselves


Then on to Connemara airport to board an eight-seat airplane. That flight was really something! We could have taken a ferry, of course, but this was an experience – great views, a wonderful way to approach the unique little world of Inis Mhor, the largest of the Aran Islands.

from the air


This may have been our favorite part of the whole trip. According to Barrett – who has been to Ireland, and Inis Mhor, before, but I have no idea how far to trust him – hi Barrett! – these islands had no soil on them when they were first settled, but only rock. Early islanders created soil by mixing seaweed with crushed seashells, eventually supplemented (I imagine) by plant and animal wastes. This soil, which now supports vegetation across the very green islands, is in danger of blowing away in the wind if not for the stone walls that form a tight network. Settlers had to move rocks to clear space for their fields; conveniently, these rocks now form the walls that keep the soil there.

We checked into our B&B for the night – another dream, called Kilmurvey House, with the lovely Treasa hosting – and headed out for an evening hike to Dun Aengus. This Iron-Age fortress is perched dramatically on a cliff very near our B&B, but at the other end of the island from the little town of Kilronan. The cliffs are dramatic, and I am not so good with heights!

Barrett looking down; me keeping a safe distance

Then into town to Ti Joe Wattys for dinner and pints, courtesy of our B&B host’s shuttle service.


Stay tuned for the rest of the Ireland trip, to come.


Edit: See day 4, days 5-7, and days 7-8 now up.