Thinking Thankful

Wow. What an incredible month after a long year when it seemed that nothing could or would go quite right. November notwithstanding, I find myself feeling grateful for the events of the last month, and looking forward in anticipation to all that is yet to come.

To briefly recap; on the first of October, I stood in the chilly darkness of a Dublin morning, waiting for a bus. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would spend that day hiking the cliffs on the west coast of the country, and eating steak and Guinness stew to the music of fiddles and drums. It would be a day to soothe my soul, and remind me of the great beauty in the world.

After returning to the states, I experienced one of the most resplendent fall seasons in my memory. The colors could bring you to tears. Day upon day of crisp sunlight, as though the universe was making up for the misty, grey spring. I picked apples. I drove back roads. I carved pumpkins and roasted the seeds. I put the flannel sheets on the bed and I sipped apple cider. Nearly every day brought another gift. Trick or treat was warm enough to sit on the porch and pass out cupcakes. Children wore costumes without snowpacks.

The final week brought another trip-this time to NYC for work, but with the option to stay longer. An opportunity to see Halloween in with my little cousins, and get excited all over again for costumes and candy. An opportunity to shiver with thousands at the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, and compete for a cab when it started to rain. October was an amazing month, and a daily reminder that all seasons pass, hard or easy, and that there is so much in this world to make us happy.

Today it’s raining. Today it’s cold. Today it’s November. I sip a peppermint mocha and begin to steel myself for the holidays, for the mad dash to 2015. There will be events to coordinate, gifts to buy, baking to do. There will be snow to shovel and ice to salt, a furnace to have inspected, and Halloween decorations to pack for another year. It will be tiring.

But, there will be magical, crystalline mornings and hot chocolate. There will be music, food, and family traditions that have endured, no matter what. There will be starlit nights and peaceful, contemplative Sundays. First snows and “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I’ll visit my best friend and celebrate my baby brother’s 14th birthday.

I’m committing to retaining the joy of the last month. I’m deliberately choosing positivity. And now, I’m choosing Chinatown for lunch. All this cold rain is making me feel like pho. And it will be excellent.


Vacation over? Prove it.

So, I’ve been back in the states just over a week – and the re-entry has been solid. Customs happened in Ireland, which meant three separate security lines in Dublin, but on the plus side, I was able to grab my bag and run for the bus almost immediately on landing. A quick ride home (after 13 hours on assorted public transit, what’s 72 miles?), met by my friend Mitzi at the bus station – made it home to find my mom and dog waiting for me! A total surprise, considering I was planning to drive to Madison the next morning – it was an excellent welcome home – a final day of vacation that was just as happy as the days before.

Returning home in October certainly has it’s perks – I left the dull green of a waning summer to find fall colors emerging everywhere. Halloween season is my very, very favorite time of the year – so this past weekend, with a bright, cloudless sky and a chill in the air, I decided to celebrate by going apple and pumpkin picking! This is something I haven’t done in years, so I looked all over the internet for the perfect place. I also wanted to get out of the city and see some more colors, so off the beaten path was required. There are a few places close to Milwaukee, but they are so overrun with bounce houses and carnival rides and “punkin chuckers”, that it’s pure chaos. Luckily, the Apple Barn fit the bill nicely.

The Apple Barn was a little over an hour by the county highways (drove through Honey Creek and Sugar Creek among others) – such a nice peaceful drive. I love to look at all the little pocket sized farms and gardens. Hard to believe that we’re probably only six weeks or so out from the first blanket of snow. When I got there, the crowds were still pretty thin, and it was perfect picking weather!

Cortland apples - perfect for cooking, eating, and storing!

Cortland apples – perfect for cooking, eating, and storing!

So many apples! So hard to choose the perfect ones - they were dropping off the branches all around me.

So many apples! So hard to choose the perfect ones – they were dropping off the branches all around me.

Have to appreciate how the trees are trimmed - not only for easy reach, but interesting shapes.

Have to appreciate how the trees are trimmed – not only for easy reach, but interesting shapes.

I started with only one “peck” bag, but the apples were so big that I ended up picking two full bags before I made myself stop (this was difficult) – and then it was over to the pumpkin patch! Another failed lesson in self control :).

First look at the patch - SO MANY PUMPKINS!!! #overload

First look at the patch – SO MANY PUMPKINS!!! #overload

Now – there were some choices here, there were plenty of perfectly good pumpkins stacked on a wagon, but why go the easy route? How often do you get to wander around, examining as many pumpkins as you want – still on the vine? I knew I wanted three, and I was planning on two large and one medium (priced by size, trying to operate with a modicum of self control, considering the half bushel of apples in the wagon already), so I looked and looked for the perfect combination of shapes, sizes, and orangeness.

The most sincere pumpkin, from the most sincere patch ever.

The most sincere pumpkin, from the most sincere patch ever.

Much to my surprise, and despite the fact that I could barely lift one of them, all three turned out to be “medium” price – excellent! Packed my prizes into the car and then went to sit under the gorgeous trees and listen to the live music, taste the free honey crisp apple wine (someone bought three bottles. no names.), the hot apple cider, and of course a caramel apple.

After a few hours (and a few too many bees) it was time to head home – and now my house is filled with apple sauce and apple crisp – just waiting for the perfect moment to carve! ~Brianne

Seriously - it took me about eight different settings to capture these leaves - and it was fully worth it.

Seriously – it took me about eight different settings to capture these leaves – and it was fully worth it.

Only one bounce house - this place definitely kept the focus on the orchards and fields. And wine.

Only one bounce house – this place definitely kept the focus on the orchards and fields. And wine.

Looking down the hill from the orchard ridge - Wisconsin in fall is just gorgeous.

Looking down the hill from the orchard ridge – Wisconsin in fall is just gorgeous.

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

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

One Week In

Good morning from Edinburgh! I woke up this morning thinking about the fact that I’ve been gone exactly one week today, and a new “normal” is setting in. I’m increasingly used to the nightly unpack/repack routine; used to introducing myself to new roommates several times over two or three days, used to being lost and asking random people for directions, and used to literally walking miles and miles every day, until I can’t take another step.

I love Edinburgh. I think if you took Milwaukee, aged it about 600 years, and added a few more cathedrals, Milwaukee would be about the same as Edinburgh. A small city, inexpensive, and pretty friendly as well. I got in on Wednesday night, and I am staying in the loveliest hostel I have ever seen. It’s crazy-like living in a well run yoga studio. Smells a little like sage and incense, soft music playing in all common areas,requires everyone to exchange shoes for slippers at the door, provides free breakfast, and is off the beaten track so that the street is quiet, but still close to the city center. A really excellent choice.

Edinburgh has been similarly lovely over the last few days. The first night I walked around and had a giant bowl of ramen for dinner at Wagamama. This was Wednesday, which started with pouring rain in London, prompting me to pretty much hunker down at Kings Cross station until my train at 2. What sounded boring turned out to be completely great. Things I saw/did at Kings Cross:

  • Watched an eagle hunting pigeons
  • Visited platform 9 3/4
  • Saw a Good Samaritan help a total stranger who was having a seizure (he was fine and walking, ultimately)
  • Browsed multiple bookstores and Harry Potter shops without spending ANY money
  • Ate more Worcestershire flavored potato chips than is healthy, probably.

And so is boarded my train. The last time I took this journey, it was really dark since I left late after class, so it was cool to see more of the countryside and catch passing glimpses of Doncaster, York, and Newcastle. I could see the ocean also for most of the trip, and many sheep. I did fall asleep at one point, which almost caused me to jump off at the wrong station (a little disoriented when the train stopped at Berwick). But it was an easy and pleasant 4 hours.

Yesterday was my big day here. Cold, gloomy, and windy, but I didn’t let that stop me from:

  • Climbing the extinct volcano up to Edinburgh Castle and seeing the Scottish Crown Jewels
  • Visiting the National War Museum (seriously, this Great War stuff has me in tears every, single time.).
  • Walking on the Royal Mile
  • Eating potato leek soup and caramel shortbread at Southern Cross
  • Watching some really terrible street performers
  • Getting coffee at the Elephant House (birthplace of Harry Potter!)
  • Visiting Greyfriars Kirkyard and getting locked in the cathedral, needing rescue from a security guard (oops)
  • Going on a free Ghost Tour (more historical than scary, but I like learning)
  • Sharing some pints and singing along with Scottish folk music at the White Hart.

So I’m fitting a lot in. Today I will try to visit a few more exhibits and eat lunch. I get on the bus to Glasgow at 6, which will mark the end of “revisiting old haunts” and the beginning of “unexplored lands”. I’m still having a blast though, and can’t wait to see what happened next!

No way was I going to pass this up. Even to asking a random to take the picture-wasn't going to pay the £9.50 in the shop.

No way was I going to pass this up. Even to asking a random to take the picture-wasn’t going to pay the £9.50 in the shop.

Roof at Kings Cross

Roof at Kings Cross

Chili ramen with chicken-yummm

Chili ramen with chicken-yummm

Standing on the mountaintop. Don't judge the face-the wind was nuts!

Standing on the mountaintop. Don’t judge the face-the wind was nuts!

Birthplace of Harry Potter!

Birthplace of Harry Potter!

Looking down the Royal Mile to the Firth of Forth. This is what reminded me of Milwaukee, I think.

Looking down the Royal Mile to the Firth of Forth. This is what reminded me of Milwaukee, I think.

A Goodnight Post

After getting very little sleep last night, and a full (and delightful) day of travel to Edinburgh today; I am far too sleepy for a post. So I’ll leave you with these images, and promise full stories to come! Goodnight from Scotland. ~Brianne

Edinburgh Castle by night. Tomorrow, I climb!

Edinburgh Castle by night. Tomorrow, I climb!

My panorama-can't wait until I can share the proper photo  from my Nikon!

My panorama-can’t wait until I can share the proper photo from my Nikon!