Rainy Saturdays Mean One Thing

Time to eat everything in sight! After two days of it really being too hot to eat much, Saturday was a prime opportunity to explore the street scene in Portland without the risk of spontaneous combustion.

We started with a journey to the Deering Woods area of Portland – a neighborhood of big old homes and bigger, older trees oddly reminiscent of Glasgow’s West End neighborhood. We headed for brunch at a place called “Hot Suppa” (that name should have been a flag – more on that momentarily). There was an hour’s wait so we walked down to the Portland Farmer’s Market in nearby Deering Park.

An absolutely lovely market – small, like the one in my own neighborhood. Interestingly, they had most of the tents set up crossing the paths – so you could shop each vendor while staying undercover (it was quite overcast). There were far more greens, blueberries, and other cooler weather crops than at my market. I tasted some excellent goat cheese and made a few other local purchases (the kitchen of the AirBNB wasn’t really set up to cook – there was a LOT more stuff I could have bought). My favorite was the apple cider stand, with a large board stating “We love to discover new apples! Please send the location of any random trees that you’d be willing to have us pick!”. Something about that just made me smile.

We completed our exploration just in time to head back to Hot Suppa. This was a recommendation from our AirBNB host, and it was cajun-themed. Given all of this I went in with some fairly high expectations. It was some of the strangest service and food I have ever experienced. The space was tiny, but comfortable, except for the the fact that the server couldn’t seem to set anything down without slamming it – SLAM, the water bottle. SLAM the glasses, SLAM the coffee cups. Doubly strange because she was perfectly soft spoken and pleasant in all of the other ways. The food was also bizarre (more in my Yelp review). Apparently there is a way of making eggs and omelettes that is “French style” that produces a bizarrely smooth and textureless egg experience. So not the best start.

Following, we walked through the neighborhood, headed for the Old Port, perusing a “lobster pound” (this is where they keep all the lobsters for sale – they can live in there for months and apparently it’s kind of good for them because the water is guaranteed clear – the more you know) consignment stores, old book stores, and my favorite – the Old Port Candy shop, where we did out best to clean them out of salt water taffy! So good, plus the “free sample” of fudge was a 1/4 pound chunk! Winning all around.

The rain came back at this point, so we ducked into the Nickelodeon theatre to catch a matinee – totally great retro moviegoing experience which was a great way to bring the afternoon to a close. Pizza from Otto’s for dinner (recommend the chicken/sriracha/avocado), and a foggy meander back up the hill – enjoying the novelty of shivering!

IMG_9066I didn’t buy this, but I REALLY want to read it.

Portland is just so mellow, and the perfect blend of activity and quiet. The contrast of the bay and the hills; the sea breezes and the sea gull cries; it’s really a perfect vacation city when what you really need is to not do too much of anything at all.

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People in the dang way – bit look at that sky. 🙂

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Portland in August

is HOT. Ok, so it was record breaking temperatures, and so not totally normal. But dang, guys! It was hot. Heat Index of 102 degrees hot. Here are things you can appreciate about being in a Maine heatwave.

  1. No one will ever complain, ever. That ingrained New England stoicism runs deep. The whole world is melting, zero buildings have a/c and people are just soldiering on about their business.
  2. It’s cooler by the water. It’s cooler on the windward side of islands out in the water. Portland is surrounded by 365 islands, so you can take your pick – get yo self out on the water and your whole outlook improves.
  3. Ice cream, ice cream, ice cream. Available on every block, and always the only real antidote you need.

So, keeping all this in mind – there was only one thing to do! Best Friend arrived late Thursday night, and was totally game to re-do everything I had done before. We went to Peaks, of course!

We skipped the bikes (too hot) and rented a golf cart for a few hours – the fastest route to the seaside. We climbed way out onto the rocky coast and watched the sailboats head out with the tide. It was probably 20 degrees cooler there. Ice cream happened again, and we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the pier and watching people swim and boat around, before heading back into the swelter of the city.

As we sailed back on the ferry, the sky was darkening – it looked like we were about to get a break from the heat, so after a quick stop for cool drinks, we hopped in an Uber back to the apartment, arriving moments before the downpour began!

That night was a FEAST. We settled on Ri Ru Irish Pub and stuffed ourselves with fresh local seafood. Then we headed over to Vena’s Fizz Lounge for some amazing craft cocktails. The temperature on the street had dropped at least 30 degrees, bringing the joyful summer atmosphere back to Portland. It was a great day, and an amazing night!

 

Grand Adventure 2016! Portland Part 1

Through work travel, I have been to over 40 states in the US. Thus, when I start planning my more epic escapes, I usually don’t even bother to look in my home country. Except this time. Maine has always been on a list of places I’d like to visit – land of lighthouses, boats, accents, and salt water taffy? Sold. I’m a fairly nervous driver in a new place, and so I usually look for spots I can explore largely on foot. Portland, Maine seemed to fit that bill nicely. Work chaos meant that the daily itinerary is a little more unclear than usual, but I am confident in my ability to let the combination of exploration and impulse decide my course.

Arrived late on a Wednesday night to a world bathed in fog.

IMG_8974So foggy my phone camera wouldn’t even focus on the world around me. Uber ride to the AirBNB (sharing economy for the win!) was super easy, and everyone I spoke to was incredibly friendly and welcoming. I didn’t form much of an impression on the ride as it was pitch dark, and again, foggy, but I was pretty happy to be here and for the Grand Adventure to begin!

In the morning, I realized that the ocean was literally across the street from my little apartment – still fog obscured but the morning was bright and it was lifting fast. I headed off down the Eastern Promenade in search of that critical life-giving substance, coffee.

IMG_8981Score! Hilltop Coffee (um, Portland has MASSIVE hills. I was unprepared) had Jamaican Coffee and ham and brie sandwiches, among other things that looked and smelled like heaven. 40s classics and ceiling fans meant that I’d found my work spot for the morning. Pure bliss. I also needed to start spending some time thinking about the next two phases of the Grand Adventure, and this was the ideal opportunity.

After my hour spent settling into vacation mindset, I needed a destination. With rain in the forecast for the rest of the week, and the heat and humidity mounting quickly, I set my course for Peaks Island.

Beautiful details on the homes in my temporary East End neighborhood. Me on the ferry to Peaks with the Portland skyline in the background (my selfie face has two settings – intense concentration and “don’t drop your phone off a boat”) Also show, the approach to the boat landing at Peaks.

It was about to be the second-hottest day of the year in Portland, and I was about to discover that air conditioning is not really a thing here (be careful what you wish for, I guess) especially in the rustic atmosphere of the Island. My first impulse was to walk the paths and explore the Island on foot, and I made it about 3/4 of a mile before I turned back and rented a bike for a few hours. The air was moving on the windward side, so that’s where I headed.

Breathtaking ocean views. Rock formations that look like wood, but are actually ancient seafloor thrown up by a massive earthquake, and gorgeous cabins tucked away from the world. This is pure paradise. Also, this house – looks like a lighthouse, has massive windows and looks out on the ocean. Add this to the list of places to look if I ever run away from home. (It’s nearly 3,000 per week to rent, though, so…)

I also stopped by the 5th Maine Regiment museum to enjoy their shaded patio and watch the tide roll in. I got into conversation with the two docent ladies and may or may not have agreed to write a book about the Civil War (it was a long and interesting conversation). I realized that the bike was due back soon, so I headed back around the way. Peaks Island is only 4 miles around so it was no problem. Dropped off the bike, missed the ferry back, got some ice cream and settled on the pier to watch the water taxis come and go. Also to watch crazy local kids dive into the frigid water from the end of the pier. Grand Adventure nonwithstanding, there’s just some stuff I’d never do.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

2014: So, that happened

Whew! Made it. Back in November I made a small, interim resolution to be positive during the holidays this year. Typically, I fall victim to the same combination of stress, frustration, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and general ennui that afflicts many people this time of year. Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with the result of my attempts to stay mindful, to be thankful, and to avoid those destructive mental habits. I think that this was exactly what was needed to close out 2014 – a year of extremes, to be sure.

This time last year, Milwaukee was in the grips of the first of (3, maybe?) polar vortices, and I had been in the house for close to eight straight days at that point. I had also received a series of work-related phone calls that were challenging any optimism I might have started the year with. January was a mass of uncertainty. February-April were fairly quiet, though with an every encroaching sense that big changes were perpetually on the horizon at the office. I’m seeing, at this point, a certain tendency to over-focus on work dynamics – ask me one personal think that happened at this point. I’ve literally got nothing.

May brought a brief respite – it always does, with five days in the open air, with amazing people, and physically very far away from the stress of daily life. South Dakota, you never disappoint me.

The most beautiful mornings.

The most beautiful mornings.

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The greatest possible breakfast.

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One of my favorite places to sit.

My former backyard.

My former backyard.

So that was a definite high point – added to the fact that this year did not include – 1) flight delays, 2) rental car issues, 3) a death defying blizzard drive through Minnesota. So a win, all the way around.

June-September brought more changes, more upheaval, but more good things too. Made it through my 5th induction and my 9th birthday celebrated at institute. And celebrated fall with my great escape adventure to New York City, London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Dublin, and Galway. Magical, restorative, and exactly what was needed after the previous nine months of suspense. I spent the first week of Winter Break going back through pictures – and found a few I had already nearly forgotten about. To be fair, I took over 2,000 pictures during those weeks – many were not keepers, but here are a few favorites from Ireland.

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Dublin. Still bearing bullett holes from the 1916 Easter Rising.

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Dublin

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Trinity College

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October brought Halloween, apples, pumpkins, and one more trip back to NYC. Saw Whoopi Goldberg in the Halloween parade, so I probably need to stop saying that I’ve never seen a celebrity in the city.

The holiday months passed in a relatively peaceful blur – I made the thanksgiving dinner this year, with support from my mom. And no photos happened because I completely forgot while trying to time everything right. I think it went ok though – looking forward to next year already! Christmas came – I got a tree this year, and am very thankful that I did – the lights against the 4pm darkness kept me sane, I think. Spent the big days with family – Stuard Christmas, and Christmas Eve/Day with Mom and Brother and pets. Finished the year thinking of family, being thankful for gifts and blessings – and going to bed early with a new novel on NYE (glad enough to leave the days of freezing in a tiny dress and trying to organize a cab FAR behind me. I like being clear headed and healthy on New Year’s Day).

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The first, and apparently the last snowfall of 2014 – back in mid November.

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Visiting the Becker/Lien side family farm outside DeForest.

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Decorating the tree. Classics are always classics.

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Posing dogs in front of trees without knocking over trees while catching dogs looking at the camera is…tricky.

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I think I made these 4 separate times, for 4 different parties – crowds were pleased, generally speaking.

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And of course, lefse. It’s not the holidays without lefse.

So far, 2015 has brought me toast with strawberry/champagne jam, a cleaned and organized home office, and a new home project begun! Happy New Year, everyone!

The Rain is Falling

And it’s making me lazy. Today has been an interesting experience of more “typical” Irish weather. Before today. It rained briefly on the Wednesday of my first week, and rained overnight on my first night in Dublin, but besides that we’ve been “blessed with the weather” with gorgeous sun every day. The last few days it’s been getting steadily cooler, and from the vantage of October 3rd, it appears that fall is going to come anyway.

I’m back in Dublin after a restful day by the water in Galway. The hostel there was nice enough, but very noisy and crowded, so I spent the day exploring all the little shops, drinking coffee and reading near the waterfront. Exactly what you are “supposed to do” on vacation I think. I do think that my sight seeing culminated in he cliffs of Moher and the west of Ireland, so I’m spending today much the same as yesterday, making the preparations to go back to the states, and hiding from the rain.

I did explore some more shops and had a nice little breakfast at Kilkenny Cafe (sorry, all the hostels, the breakfast y’all offer is…very minimal). I’m beginning to wonder if I will be able to fins British style sausages in the states-I think I’ve eaten them for breakfast every day of this trip. I’m thinking of potentially taking the DART train down to Howth for a lovely dinner by the sea tonight, but if the current cold and heavy rain continues, I’ll probably just find a pub, chips, cider, and one more night of traditional music.

This trip has been amazing, and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do this. “Embrace travel” was one of my birthday resolutionshisnyear, as was “write more”, and I feel that I’ve taken big steps toward both those goals over the last two weeks. It’s an amazing experience to spend your favorite time of year discovering both new and old favorites, and experiencing just a little more of what the world has. Just like when I was a kid standing on top of the Empire State Building, travel brings the realization of just how vast, diverse, and infinite this world is-every person, every lighted room, is another story, and while it’s impossible to see and do every single thing, I still want to try. (Rainy days make me think, haha)

This is a wonderful invention. I wish I'd snapped one up in Galway, I'm soaked!

This is a wonderful invention. I wish I’d snapped one up in Galway, I’m soaked!

The One With the Accidental Tour

Yo.
So, wifi has been inconsistent at best over the last few days, so I haven’t said much. Belfast was excellent- I got to take an incredible Black Taxi tour of the West Belfast neighborhoods that saw/see the worst violence in the Troubles 1962-1994ish (though our guide said there was shooting in the street six months ago). It was unreal-make that too real. It’s incredible to me-there is a concrete, iron, and razor wire “Peace Wall” erected between the Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. The locals anticipate the wall may be ready to come down in 2017. There are still gates that are only open 6am-6:30pm weekdays. There are murals promoting solidarity with other oppressed people. There are murals venerating men who are murderers or heroes depending on your side of the line. Houses whose backyards face the Peace Wall are contained with steel mesh fences and roofs, like a prison cell, to deflect rocks or incendiary devices coming over the wall. It was very peaceful while we were there, and is most days, but it still makes you think. Sectarian violence happens all over the world, and here we are touring and taking pictures. Can you do the same thing in Gaza? In Rwanda? On our own borders? Would you want to? It was strange. Our guide was amazing, though, having lived through most of it himself and lost a brother to the bombs in the mid 80s.

On an entirely different note, I hiked about 2 miles out to the slips where the Titanic and sister ships Olympic and Brittanic were built and first put into the sea. Somber in an entirely different way, but a really well done exhibit including a ride that takes you through all the stories of the shipbuilding structure. That was really cool.

Belfast was over too quickly-I would love to come back and spend more time visiting the smaller museums (many were closed on the Monday) and getting to know it better. I would probably choose a different hostel too-this one was definitely a “dude hostel” there were some other women there, but all the visible staff were men, the food was free but terrible, the cleanliness marginal, and I had earwigs in the sleeping room. Bleh. But only one night.

Took the Bus to Dublin Monday night-no worries there, slept some in the darkness. Walked to my hostel, found I was the only resident in the 4 bed room (score one for this introvert!). And passed. Out.

Being in Dublin re activated my “touristiness” complicated by the fact that all of the things I want to see were in opposite corners of the city, and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the bus routes, I bought one of those hop on hop off tour bus things and rode it all around for the day.

Dublin Highlights:

  • Kilmainham Gaol-long history of political prisoners during Ireland’s struggle for freedom, overcrowded during the Famine, evocative and a little scary. Sadly, under new renovation and not all areas were available. Solid tour guide though.
  • O’Connell St-shopping area, dominated by many memorials, many bearing bullet wounds from the 1916 Easter Rising. Excellent pho. (I’m not feeling great. Need soup for life).
  • Temple Bar-shops, restaurants, half real/half manufactured charm and character. Where I’ll stay Thursday and Friday nights.
  • River Liffey and Hapenny Bridge, one of many bridges over the river that divides Dublin north and south.
  • Trinity College and Book of Kells-truly astonishing artwork, incredibly preserved. Seems impossible. They turn a page every day, and that day’s page was the scene where Jesus walked on water. I discerned the word “ambullae”, so of course, now I feel smart like a monk. Also, the long room which inspired the Great Hall in Harry Potter
  • Lovely breakfast at Gerry’s, chatting with locals and enjoying my first good cup of coffee in five cities.

And so, the saga of the tour…

In researching cost effective ways to get from Dublin to Galway and back, I landed on a tour bus company offering that exact thing, at a really great price. So I booked it a long time ago. I printed my ticket before I left, but none of the fine print, and as I said, haven’t had the greatest wifi in the world lately. Yesterday, I stopped into the tour office to see if it was ok to bring all my luggage since I was staying overnight. The lady there looked at my ticket and said, “yeah, no problem”, and then she gave me a flier and said “you’ve also booked this tour, so here’s info about your tour”. Ok, cool, didn’t know I booked a tour, but I made this booking over a month ago, so cool.

Got on the bus this morning no problem, settled in, coffee in hand, and rode to Galway, excited about the day. The bus only stopped in Galway proper for about 5 minutes to switch drivers, and I would swear that no one said a word about “shuttle passengers”. And hen the bus took off for a tour of the rural “Burren” area, bound ultimately for the Cliffs of Moher. It was a lovely day. We stopped at several incredible views, Neolithic burial sites, abbeys from the 12th century, and defensive round towers from Napoleanic times. We stopped for lunch at a tiny pub (steak and Guinness stew. Amazing). And then headed up to the Cliffs themselves. Truly, truly amazing. The cell phone pics won’t do it justice, so I’ll post more when I’m back in the states. (In…3 days…sigh). A beautiful, mind blowing, perfect day. Until we got back to the bus station and I found out I was a stowaway-ha! I was supposed to intuit getting off the bus this morning, apparently. Lucky for me, the lady thought it was funny and only charged me five euro for the day. So I still win. An adventure, and a complete accident, but an awesome outcome. New hostel for the night. Crowded, but clean enough. One night here, most of the day tomorrow, and then it’s back to Dublin.

Edited to add: picture loading not working at all! Instagram 🙂 RaineanneMKE

“Sigh, passenger, and soe be gone”

I pulled that line from an epitaph and Glasgow Cathedral. The Scotland chapter of my adventure came to a close today around 2:30pm, when I boarded the Stena line ferry bound for Northern Ireland. I have so many thoughts about Scotland after the last four or so days. Edinburgh is so beautiful, such a mix of all of its historic eras. It’s also so clearly geared towards a high amount of tourism. The city is very clean, very well marked and seems to take every opportunity to highlight it’s past and present. It was also interesting to talk to some locals in the pubs and restaurants about the recent referendum on independence. In Edinburgh, the consensus was: “We voted No, and we aren’t surprised that the No vote went through. Everyone has a great deal of Scottish pride and patriotism, but at the end of the day, there was no real place for sustainability. There was no economic safety net. Independence would have been a disaster.” From my own perspective, Edinburgh has a lot of cultural and spiritual ties to London and England in general.

Then we turn to Glasgow. Glasgow, from the first moment, is a very different climate. Construction cranes dominate the skyline (engaged in both demolition and construction of new structures). “YES” placards, flags, and graffiti are everywhere. There is some Victorian/Georgian influence to the architecture, but it’s a much wider range of types of buildings. It’s a little city, easily walkable (I crossed every planned experience off my list and still had plenty of time for the unexpected). Glasgow felt much more like a typical city where people work hard and go home to their families. It definitely did not seem to have the same practiced “affect” that parts of Edinburgh have, but it had a more subtle charm and spirit all it’s own.

Glasgow as a city voted Yes for independence. That much I heard on the BBC before I ever left home, but she I got to Glasgow and started talking to people, the difference came into focus. Glasgow has been independent, and proud of that independence for most of its existence. Glasgow saw more direct civic actions for pay, more rent strikes, more conscription protests, and more work stoppages than Edinburgh. Glasgow is also a city that has always struggled with poverty. While there was a housing shortage all over the UK after WWII, by the 50s, nearly half of apartments didn’t have bathrooms or hot water in the units. Women went to the wash houses into the 70s. Housing project towers sprung up, only to suffer the same issues as housing projects in the states. There isn’t a lot of love lost between Glasgow, and London, it would seem. There is also tension here. My hosts talked about seeing a large group of National Socialists yelling racist slogans in George Square when it became clear the referendum was lost. Some pubs had signs banning carrying Scottish flags into the bar, while others made a point of redecorating in solely blue and white. On Saturday, nearly a week after the vote, there were groups of people walking around wearing and waving the blue and white Scots flag. Interesting, to say the least.

But, it is a city of great energy and potential-many of the remaining blocks of crumbling housing are being replaced. New businesses and hotels are going into downtown areas, and unemployment is falling. During my time I was able to visit:

  • The West End, and have a lovely toastie and eggs on gf bread at North Star cafe (proper coffee remains elusive)
  • Glasgow Botanic Gardens, where the leaves weed just beginning to change
  • Sauchiehall Street market, where every kind of food was of sale-it was amazing
  • Glasgow Cathedral- the only “Kirk” to survive the destruction of the reformation
  • The Necropolis- endless Victorian merchant cemetery, built in a spiraling pattern covering a high hill. I saw incredible views, and left feeling pro