Wanderings: Ireland and Northern Ireland

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Traveling to Ireland wasn’t the original plan.   Initially, we were eyeing London as a sort of celebratory hurrah for the Mister’s recent graduation from a Master’s program, but found ourselves increasingly frustrated that tickets were stubbornly fixed at fares nearly twice as high as Paris or Rome.  While exploring nearby airports, we stumbled on a great sale for direct flights to Dublin via Aer Lingus.  Why not just go to Ireland instead, I proposed?  The euro was down, and after a cold and snowy winter, wouldn’t it be great to hike around green hills and charming towns?


Sometimes by the end of a trip, I feel sated.  Happy and full of new experiences, I’m often tired and ready to go home.  Ireland and Northern Ireland were the opposite.  A first taste.  A scrape of the surface. An opening chapter.  We practically circumnavigated the island, visiting both countries, and it felt like a flash.  I’d rather linger for months, maybe years.  Explore all the little towns, all the wild coasts, all the old ruins.  Try the local cheese in every shop and take time to make friends with all the sheep and horses in every field we pass.  And even more than all the beautiful places and surprisingly incredible food, I fell in love with the people.  In many ways Ireland felt like a big hug.  So often when traveling you feel like you encounter people, and here we felt like we really met them.  Whether it was at pubs, in shops, in their homes, or installing art in a field of barley, people were open and warm and genuine, always happy to stop and chat, to tell us about their favorite spots and seemingly genuinely curious about us as well.  We stayed with several families along the way and in just a few hours it felt like we were old friends.  To be in such a beautiful place with such wonderful people, that’s about as much as anyone could hope for anywhere.  Hopefully we’ll make it back someday, and if we are very lucky, we’ll have more time to linger.  Until then, here’s a little travelogue of our stay, with a few tips in case you’d like to visit as well.

NORTHERN IRELAND

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The Dark Hedges

  • You’ll want a map or a good GPS for this one.  While we were never actually lost, we very much feared we were, as the tiny country roads twisted on farther than we thought possible and addresses were hard to find.
  • Visit on the early side if you can.  We encountered few others and the glowy morning light was beautiful coming through the trees.

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Dunlace Castle

  • The castle is a great midday stopover if you are lunching in Portrush or visiting the Old Bushmills Distillery.
  • The views of the coast alone were worth the (rather inexpensive) entrance fee.
  • Don’t hesitate to visit if it’s raining, but bring good shoes.  Those old stones are slippery when wet.

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The Giant’s Causeway

  • I’d save this one for later in the day; the late afternoon light is amazing.
  • If you’re up for it, it’s well worth it to scramble off the path and onto the hundreds of basalt columns so you can watch the waves crash over them from up close.  It’s muddy and slippery so a solid pair of hiking shoes is a must.
  • Set aside a couple of hours to hike the Causeway Trails.  The views of the cliffs rival Moher, in my opinion and these are dotted with patches of vibrant yellow gorse and sheep pastures.

IRELAND

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Carrowmore Megalithic Tombs

  • A great place to stop if you are on your way to or from the Causeway Coast, you’ll get amazing views of the countryside, and stone circles, cairns, and dolmens aplenty.
  • Be sure to visit the sites across the road from the visitor’s center.  At the far end of this is circle 7 (pictured above), perhaps the loveliest of the stone circles complete with dolmen and a view of sheep pastures and Knocknarea cairn on the hill the distance.  Though it looks like this site is cut off by a neighbor’s pony pasture, there is a narrow walkway and stile along the fence that leads to the field.  The pony is very friendly, by the way.
  • On our way there, we stopped in the charming town of Sligo to pick up a picnic of cheeses, yogurts, and charcuterie.  Carrowmore has a nice picnic table behind the visitors center, perfect for a little fresh air feast.

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Clonmacnoise Monastic Ruins

  • The best advice I can give is don’t trust the hours posted online.  Your best bet is to arrive midday.
  • If you arrive outside of the posted hours and are feeling…adventurous, keep an eye out for cattle in the neighboring fields.  They spook easily.

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Cliffs of Moher

  • Beat the crowds and arrive as early as possible in the morning.
  • The visitor’s center is beautiful, and built unobtrusively into the hillside, but once the tour buses begin to arrive it reaches levels of congestion that can be suffocating.  Use the side door, not the main entrance to get to the bathrooms, and skip the concessions in favor of lunch out on the road.
  • If you are up for a walk, the trails south of the main viewing platform are fantastic and offer amazing views.
  • If you like birding, this is an excellent place to bring your binoculars.

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Killarney National Park

  • Great for a drive or a full day of hiking, we’d recommend staying at one of the charming B&Bs right outside the park entry; we stayed at the lovely Killarney View House.  That full Irish breakfast is the perfect fuel for navigating the lovely hikes in the park.
  • The walks are well worth the time, but try to get a trail map before you set out.  We got turned around a few times and would have hiked right on to the next town if we weren’t helped out by a friendly local.
  • Have dinner at the Laurels in town.  Best pub and I dream of the food.
  • Stop at the Killarney Brewing Company for a tasting.  Friendly guys and the extra stout stole my heart.
  • If you aren’t able to make it to the Aran Islands, there is a outpost of their sweater shop in town.  A great place to pick up a few high quality gifts.

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Kenmare

  • We only stopped here for lunch, but this town would be a charming place to stay if you are spending a few days in Kerry.

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Ring of Kerry

  • A classic locale for a reason, Kerry County is worth as much time as you can possibly spare to visit.
  • Don’t let a foggy, rainy day stop you.  This area is even more beautiful in moody weather, though we’d recommend a couple of layers beneath your rain jacket.
  • Take any little side road that strikes your fancy, this area is full of charm and wonderful place to get lost.
  • If, when passing through the tiny towns, you see a sign for local cheese, pull over.
  • The Skellig Chocolate Factory is a great place to pick up some local sweets and grab an incredible hot chocolate or coffee to warm your bones.

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The Skellig Islands

  • This was the most amazing place we visited, and also the most difficult.  Consider skipping if you get seasick or have a fear of heights.  If you have young children or any travelers with mobilities issues, there are options to take a cruise around the islands that don’t actually off-board.
  • Do your research when booking.  A small number of authorized boats stop at the larger island, Skellig Michael, for several hours so you can hike.  Others only cruise around it.  Know which one you are booking.
  • Visits to Skellig Michael are only permitted from May to October, and in limited numbers.  Thirteen boats make one trip per day carrying roughly a dozen passengers.  Book well in advance, and try to keep your hopes in check.  Rough seas and bad weather make for a dangerous mix, and trips are often cancelled for safety.
  • Hiking shoes are a must.  Bring a rain jacket and warm layers.
  • There are no bathrooms on the island.  No food or visitors center either, so pack a lunch.
  • This is a birders’ dream.  Bring those binoculars. (This little guide was great for our whole trip.)
  • I fell asleep on the boat ride back, a silly thing to do given the wind and waves pummeling our little boat.  I was chilled to the bone by the time we got back to Portmagee, but was set to rights with warm tea and the world’s best mushroom soup at Skellig Mist Cafe.

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Ballymaloe Country House

  • If you are going to splurge on dinner or a hotel room, this would be a great place to do it.  Make dinner reservations well in advance.
  • Dinner only?  Get there a little early and explore the back gardens and the kitchen gardens.  The barley field practically glows at sunset.
  • Save your appetite.  This is a long, excellent meal and you’ll want to try all of it.

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Cork

  • Absolutely my favorite city in Ireland.  Stay at least two nights if you can and consider AirBnb.  This is a great place to make local friends.
  • Cork is known as a food town.  Spend a little time researching and make a few dinner reservations.  Stop by the English Market for brunch, and pick up some cheese, fresh baked bread, and a bottle of wine to picnic out to one of the local parks or share with your AirBnb hosts on their rooftop deck.
  • The Franciscan Well is an awesome little brewpub.  There’s a little pizza operation out on the back patio which makes this another great place for lunch.

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Dublin

  • I didn’t do a full post on Dublin, mostly because I was having too much fun to take many pictures.
  • Any fan of books or libraries should make a little time to visit the Long Room at the Trinity Library.  A breathtaking space.
  • This city is incredibly walkable.  We quickly figured out that it was easier to walk from place to place than try to navigate the trains.
  • Skip the whiskey museum ($$$) and instead spend the equivalent money on a meandering walking tour of the local pubs.  Our basic plan was, walk any which way you please for half an hour, find a pub with a little character, step inside to try an Irish whiskey (cider for me) at the bar and chat about whiskeys and bourbons with locals and bartenders.  Repeat, until you eventually find your way back home.  We had a fantastic time and saw so much more of the city this way.
  • Many of the little pubs make their own coasters and these are excellent souvenirs that won’t take up much room in your luggage.

It’s Friday, I’m in love

I’ve been having fun reminiscing about Paris through photos over the last few days, and have more to share over the coming weeks.  But still, I’m happy to be spending a weekend at home snuggled up to my Mister.  We first visited Paris together, and while I was happy to be there at all, many of my favorite places there made me miss him and others new ones I wanted to share with him.  I’m already dreaming of another visit, this time together.

The magic spell you cast

It’s hard to imagine anything lovelier than Paris in springtime, and my mother and I couldn’t have timed our visit any better.  The city was aglow with freshly blossomed trees and tulips, and we basked in their glow, spending idle hours sitting on benches and enjoying the sweet smell of blooms on the breeze.

A Guest Post from The Mister: On the trail in Point Lobos

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My graduate school program is mostly distance learning, but for two weeks every quarter they bring in our cohort for presentations, guest lectures and other classroom work.  Each day we spend eight-hours stretches in a windowless classroom, including a half-day on Saturday. The saving grace is that that the windowless classroom happens to be located near Monterey Bay, one of the most beautiful stretches of land in the country.

One Sunday, the one full free day we have, several of us went on short hike on a path along the coast in Point Lobos State Park. It’s a mostly flat hike that winds itself around the many coves and inlets on this peninsula. Near the end there is a low lying rocky area that during low seas you can walk out on and be sprayed by mist created by the waves as they break.

Here are a few of my favorite photos from the trail.

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Fog Rolling in …

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Whaler’s Cove, a popular SCUBA Diving Destination

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Wanderings: Recoleta cemetery

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It was gray and drizzling the day I visited Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires.  The rain kept other tourists away, and it was quiet and meditative to stroll up and down the pathways of the cemetery, with only a dozen or so stray cats for company.  I spent several hours reading the names on the mausoleums, admiring the stonework and marble carvings, and wondering what BA had been like during the lives of the various people buried there.

Cemeteries have always fascinated me and I try to visit them any time I go somewhere new.  Though every culture and country has a different approach to burying the dead, there is always a sense of reverence, beauty, and affection to those resting places, and Recoleta is one of the loveliest I’ve ever seen.

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Wanderings: Love and tango

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Buenos Aires is the most romantic city I’ve ever visited alone.  At the time, I had just started dating the Mister and though I missed him, the early thrill of the relationship had me in a state of bliss and it was easy to get caught up in the allure of the city.  Every part of the Buenos Aires mesmerized me, whether full of modern art and architecture, tree-lined residential streets, or Beaux Arts buildings that were crumbling around the edges.

Particularly charming was the old neighborhood of San Telmo where I spent most of my time drinking red wine with other travelers, reading books in old cafes, admiring all the street dancers and musicians, and eating dulce de leche for breakfast every day.

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Wanderings: Buenos Aires

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The first few days I spent in Buenos Aires are a feverish haze in my memory.  I was recovering from a terrible cold or flu, and I’d spend about twelve hours a day sleeping, and the other twelve wandering around the windy, cobble-stoned streets in a mild delirium.

I carried around a little black moleskin notebook in those days and it was amusing to read through my scribbled notes about rambling down narrow streets crowded with wrought-iron balconies, feeling dazzled by the colorful buildings and tiles, peeking into courtyards filled with light and overgrown with ferns.  The Sunday antiques market was a delightful jumble of noise, food, junk and treasure.  I spent all my pocket money buying fresh-squeezed orange juice after fresh-squeezed orange juice, and tipping the tango dancers on street corners that had me mesmerized.  I walked for hours and hours, letting the winter air cool my overheated skin, indulging in way too many Argentine gelatos, and slowly falling in love with Buenos Aires.

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Fantastic ceiling mural in the Presidential palace

Fantastic ceiling mural in the Presidential palace

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Libreria de Avila

Libreria de Avila

La Libreria de Avila

La Libreria de Avila

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El Ateneo, a bookstore in an old theatre

El Ateneo, a bookstore in an old theatre

Wanderings: Dallas city lights

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Dallas is gorgeous at night.  I’ve always loved the city skyline with its electric blues and greens, and set as the backdrop for the strangely geometric Klyde Warren Park, it makes for a stunning landscape.  One night, after a fantastic dinner at Lark on the Park, I felt an irresistible tug to take a little stroll around the park and museum district, admiring the city lights and quiet streets.

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Chalk art at Lark on the Park

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Wanderings: Dallas, after all these years

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Are there places you won’t go?  For me, for a long time, that was Dallas.  It wasn’t anything about the city itself, just bad memories about things that happened there a long time ago.  Bad enough to keep me away for 14 years, and likely they would have kept me away forever if I hadn’t been offered a work project that would mean travel to Dallas.

I was terribly nervous leading up to the trip, but this is a project I love being a part of, so not going was never really a consideration.  It didn’t hurt that while DC had just been hit with another round of snow, I arrived in Dallas on a bright sunny day with temperatures in the low 70s.  I dropped off my bags at my utterly charming little hotel, and raced over to the Nasher Sculpture Center, eager to wander around their lush, green sculpture garden and soak in the art, warmth, and sunshine.

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Leaving the Nasher just before closing, I wandered over to Klyde Warren Park, a vibrant, modern space that was bursting with people and activity.  It had amazing playgrounds, a drum circle, games to check out, a lending library, splash pads, and dozens of people spread out on picnic blankets.  The modern architecture, art, and energy that had been infused into the downtown area was impressive.  I’d read about the efforts to revitalize the business-centric downtown area, but this was the first time I’d experienced it and it was nice to get lose myself in the bustle and buzz of the hundreds of people lounging around in the park.  After a few hours admiring all the architectural details, indulging in food trucks, and people watching, I felt a little warmth growing within me for Dallas.

The days went by quickly.  I spent a little time with relatives who live in the area, ate at a few excellent restaurants, and even got chauffeured around in an SUV with a longhorn skull mounted on it’s grill.  It was easier than I imagined not to dwell on the past, and get to know a different Dallas.

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It’s Friday, I’m in love

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It’s been a long week.  I spent most of it in Dallas busy with a work trip, and I’ll talk a little about that next week.  Thanks for all your lovely comments on the posts about Spain.  Wouldn’t it be nice to be there right now?  Especially since there may be more snow in our future.  Oh well, I guess it means more time for snuggles and naps.

Here are a few last photos from Barcelona.  Hope you have a great weekend!

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Wanderings: Daytripping from the mountains to the seaside

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When traveling alone, I tend to pick a busy city with lots to do and easy public transportation.  For most of the trip, I’m energetically taking in the sights and exploring the local culture, but as the end of my travels near and my to do list grows shorter, I can’t help but wonder what there is to find just outside the city bounds.  Despite the curiosity, it can be hard to muster up the will to go out past the city.  So much of your energy and courage is already expended walking into restaurants alone, navigating unfamiliar streets, and struggling through conversations with strangers in another language, that the thought of venturing further can feel like too far of a stretch.

Though organized group travel isn’t usually my cup of tea, this is when I find myself scrambling for a guided tour.  Spending a day with a local foodie, for example, has changed my perspective on entire cities, taking me through neighborhoods and cuisines I’d have never found on my own.  In Spain, I booked a last minute spot with a small group taking a day trip out of the city, and quickly made friends with some of the other travelers.  We spent a morning exploring the vineyards at Torres Winery, then headed for Montserrat where we hiked around the mountains, visited a monastery, and sampled lots of the locally made chocolates and liqueurs.

Torres vineyard tour

Torres vineyard tour

Torres vineyards

Torres vineyards

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When the sun finally began to set, the group made our way to the tiny seaside city of Sitges, exploring all the glittering shops, and watching the town and the sea glow a rosy pink as the sun dipped down over the Mediterranean.

Montserrat

Montserrat

Santa Maria de Montserrat

Santa Maria de Montserrat

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Santa Maria abbey at Montserrat

Santa Maria abbey at Montserrat

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Sitges sunset

Sitges sunset

Wanderings: Making friends on the Gaudi Trail

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As comforting and reassuring as it is to have a travel companion, there is nothing quite like the experience of fast friend-making that goes on between solo wanderers.  I made several friends while in Barcelona, the most memorable of which was Tim, a sweet, energetic Englishman about 20 years my senior.  Tim and I chatted a few times in the common room of our hostel, and decided it would be fun to see how many of Antoni Gaudi’s architectural landmarks we could cram into one day of sightseeing.

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We set off early one cloudy morning, grabbing coffee’s and getting to know each other better while taking in La Pedrera and Casa Batllo.  I learned that Tim had been down on his luck and was leaving England for good.  He was a passionate mountain climber, and planned to spend the foreseeable future working small jobs and climbing the Pyrenees.  We wandered, awestruck, through the nave of the Sagrada Familia and took an elevator to the top of one of the spires and marveled over the views of the city, then made the long, vertigo inducing walk down the spiral staircase of the spire, taking turns leaning over the edge and laughing because of the way the drop turned our knees to jelly.

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After a few hours clambering all over Park Guell, we warmed our frozen fingers and toes over coffee in a tiny old fashioned cafe, then beers in a hip new bar.  Tim told me stories about finding wine for €1.00 in some shop, so we decided to go in search of this mythical cheap wine and assemble Barcelona’s greatest cheapest dinner.  Our quest lead us to at least a dozen tiny neighborhood mercados, and though the cheapest wine we found was €2.50, we managed to pick up tomatoes, pasta, and fresh bread for less than €5.00.  Back at the hostel, we cooked up a storm, and served ourselves a huge amazing meal back in the common room, and others lingering in the room joined us, sharing wine and chocolate and stories.  It was one of the best nights I spent in Barcelona.

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Wanderings: On my own in Barcelona

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There is a period in my mid-twenties that I think of as The Brave Years—a short span in which, over and over, I stared down my own fears and started to live life the way I wanted.  Traveling to Spain is one of the standout markers of those days.  For years I had wrestled with frustration and impatience trying to get others to travel with me.  Money and timing and nerves always seem to erode the best laid plans, and I was tired of waiting.  So at the end of my first year in DC, I bought a plane ticket, booked a cheap single in a hostel, and took a deep breath.

Barcelona was an easy choice.  My Spanish was good after a year of practicing with international roommates, and the mix of modern culture and gothic architecture appealed to me. The metro system was easy to figure out, and soon I was wandering the dark winding streets of the old city and feeling very brave.

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Still, the first two days I ate nothing but almonds and oranges I bought at a little store near my hostel, too intimidated to go into any restaurants and order alone in another language.  All the walking eventually had me starving, and that hunger wrangled my courage, first at the open air Boqueria, then a casual falafel place, little coffee shops, and eventually amazing tapas bars.

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Traveling alone is liberating and lonely.  It can be wonderful to set your own agenda, to linger in or bypass a museum, a street, a bar, a shop, with no consideration for anyone or anything other than your own mood.  There is also no one to lean on or commiserate with when you meet challenges, and nobody to celebrate with when you absolutely nail a conversation entirely in Spanish, or to turn to when something you see is breathtakingly beautiful.

These days I’m much more comfortable traveling alone.  So much so that, when we travel together, the Mister and I will separate for a day and go on our own little adventures.  And while I did eventually make friends in those days in Spain, something I’ll touch on a little more tomorrow, the most enduring experience of that trip was the aloneness.  Separation from television, news, media, internet, conversation and companionship.   Culturally we often think poorly of aloneness, but being left to nothing but my own thoughts and experiences was by turns exhilarating, frightening, focusing, and powerful.

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Wanderings: Public art in Philadelphia

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As I mentioned, it was pretty cold and gray while we were in Philadelphia, but one of the things that brightened our visit was all the public art.  Last week, I posted a few photos of us horsing around with the larger than life game piece art installation across from City Hall.  We also spent a chilly afternoon walking up and down South Street, enjoying the way the mid-winter sun shone and sparkled across the dozens of glass and ceramic mural installations by local artist Isaiah Zagar.  We were also pretty delighted with the monster painted trash compactors dotting the sidewalks, which I’ve since learned are called “Litter Critters” and were painted by local artists and students.

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Wanderings: A step back in time

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What is your favorite thing about old cities?  For me, it’s usually the houses and shops.  I love the old brickwork and wooden shutters, boot-scrapers and weird door knockers, and colorfully painted doors.

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Philly had a wealth of gorgeous old homes and buildings to swoon over.  As we walked around town, I couldn’t help but pause every few feet to admire an old building, and wonder how long it’s it been there, what did it look like on the inside, how many people have lived or worked there over the years, and what were their lives like.

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Elfreth's Alley is the oldest residential street in the country

Elfreth’s Alley is the oldest residential street in the country

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Hats trimmed free of charge!

Hats trimmed free of charge!

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Wanderings: Under the radar Chinatown

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Traveling is always better when you have friends to show you the places only the locals know.  When making dinner plans with one good friend, he offered us three choices: fancy, real deal, or home cooking.  We had fancy reservations for another night, so we opted for real deal, and were not disappointed.

Our friend took us to a small, unpretentious szechuan eatery in Chinatown—a favorite of his own family—and ordered a variety of dishes for the table, none of which I could name for you and all of which were delicious.  Afterwards, we had drinks at the speakeasy-style Hop Sing Laundromat, where the cocktails are fantastic and photos are not allowed.

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Wanderings: Reading Terminal Market

Reading Terminal Market

Reading Terminal Market

One of the highlights of our stay in Philadelphia was lunch at Reading Terminal Market.  Once the train shed for the former Reading Terminal, the market now houses dozens of lunch counters and vendors selling amazing selections of cured meats, handmade cheeses, roasted coffee, preserves, fresh pretzels, bouquets of flowers and on and on.

The Head Nut

The Head Nut

Old City Coffee

Old City Coffee

Pierogi

Pierogi

Absolutely starving, we wandered around the terminal, sampling pierogi, buying bags of coffee, and hitting the bulk bins for chocolate covered malt balls.  For lunch, we decided to split up and satisfy our divergent cravings.  The Mister indulged in a roast pork sandwich with provolone and broccoli rabe, while I queued up for fancy grilled cheese at MeltKraft.  I’ve already got plans to try to make their melted brie and caramelized onion sandwich at home.  Yum.

Meltcraft Grilled Cheese

Meltcraft Grilled Cheese

Brielle: melted brie on brioche with caramelized onions and cranberry chutney

Brielle: melted brie on brioche with caramelized onions and cranberry chutney

Jams and preserves

Jams and preserves

Fresh pretzels

Fresh pretzels

Peking duck

Peking duck

Pastry counter

Pastry counter

Wanderings: Philadelphia

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January is about the time of year that winter starts to get to me.  At first it’s exciting to cozy up in sweaters and layers, and the sparkle and cheer of the holidays is lovely.  By late January, however, the dreary gray and bitter cold make me feel cooped up and anxious.  Fortunately for me, we recently managed to convert a short last-minute work trip into a weekend getaway in Philadelphia, and, though it was cold and gray there, too, it was a very welcome change of scenery.

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We’ve visited most of the major tourist sites in years past, so it was nice to be able to slow down and enjoy leisurely meals, wander around neighborhoods, and meet up for drinks with friends.  We even spent a few exciting hours wandering around the Mütter Museum, which is completely fascinating if you have the stomach for that sort of thing.

Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing a few favorites from our wanderings around Philly.  Here are a my favorite photos from Center City.

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Wanderings: Isla Saona

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The highlight of our trip to the Dominican Republic was definitely our visit to Isla Saona, a small tropical island off the south-eastern coast of the mainland.  Conjure an image in your mind of a tropical island and it would likely mirror Saona’s white sand beaches and clear green waters.  Saona is a protected national park, which is evident by the pristine beaches, dotted only with a few thatched cabanas and day-trippers who have been dropped off by speedboats and catamarans.

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Sailing on a catamaran

Sailing on a catamaran

To get to Saona, we were driven from our resort to nearby Bayahibe, a small sea-side town.  At Bayahibe we were taken by motor boat out to a large catamaran which would take us and a large group of very enthusiastic Canadians to Saona.  Sailing on the catamaran was great fun.  Sometimes we’d lounge on the netting that spanned the boat’s hulls, soaking in the sun, and sometimes we’d relax in the shade and enjoy the dance party the Canadians were engaged in on the catamaran’s deck.  The rum was flowing freely and there was A LOT of dancing.

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Once we approached Saona, small motorboats took us from the catamaran to the shore, where plentiful beach chairs were spread out and a Dominican barbeque was being prepared.

The waters were mesmerizing; clear and warm and green as any I’ve ever seen.  It was tempting to doze off in one of the hammocks that dotted the sandy white beaches, but I was too enchanted with the sea and could hardly pull myself away from it.  We floated along the sandbars, found conch shells, and made friends with more Canadians (both Québécois and Torontonian, who, upon meeting, immediately engaged in a rum-fueled debate over which part of Canada was superior).

When it was time to go, we piled onto two long thin speedboats, which dropped us off into the shallow waters of a natural sandbar, some distance away.  We waded around in water that felt much too far from shore but only came up waist high, drank more rum, and marveled at the huge starfish that lived on the sand in those shallows.  As the light began to fade, we piled back into the speedboats and proceeded to race each other across the ocean, cheering and taunting the other boat, and nearly bouncing out of our seats with every wave we hit—a pretty exhilarating way to end an amazing day.

Look at those green, green waters

Look at those green, green waters

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Racing speedboats back to the mainland

Racing speedboats back to the mainland

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Wanderings: Horseback riding in the Dominican Republic

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Though we spent most of our time in the Dominican Republic lazing around the beach, we were able to see a little more of the La Romana area via horseback.  Our resort helped us set up a horseback riding trip that meandered through the lush countryside and along the beaches.

It was a lovely way to spend a balmy, breezy morning, and our guides were warm, easy-going and fun to chat with. One of them spoke four languages fluently, several more languages proficiently, and seemed to have lived a dozen lifetimes.  The two older men declared that the youngest guide had pretty much been born on a horse and was the best horseman of the three.

Cowboy Mister

Cowboy Mister

Hibiscus flower on horseback

A gift: Hibiscus flower on horseback

Guides and rides

Guides and rides

After our ride, we explored a Dominican cigar factory, ventured to a grocery store where we happened to meet former baseball all-star Julio Franco, and stopped at a small lunch counter to pick up food that ended up being the best meal we ate our entire time in the D.R.

Local catch

Local catch

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Bananas

Bananas

Sampling the local coconuts

Sampling the local coconuts

Cigar maker

Cigar maker

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Amazing local food

Amazing local food

Wanderings: The Dominican Republic

Beach

Beach

We’re well into winter now and I’m starting to feel the chill in my bones.  We have a lot of traveling to do later this year, so a warm weather getaway isn’t in the cards right now.  Instead I’ve been curling up under a fuzzy blanket with a stiff drink and browsing through photos of warmer days.  Right now, I’m loving these photos from last winter, when the Mister and I snuck away for a few lazy, sun-soaked days in the Dominican Republic.

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Typically when we travel we try to find an apartment in an interesting place and explore a new country on our own.  This time, however, we were worn out from a tough year of work and politics, and we decided to book an all-inclusive trip through CheapCaribbean.com.  It came highly recommended by a colleague who grew in the Virgin Islands, and it’s my new favorite travel site.   We found so many great rates on all inclusive package deals and our trip was wonderful and stress-free.

Poolside cabana

Poolside cabana

For five perfect days, we stayed at the Grand Bahia Principe resort in La Romana, Dominican Republic.  The resort arranged to have us picked up at the airport and from that moment on we had no logistics to worry about.  Food was readily available at the resort, excursions were just a matter of flipping through a colorful booklet, and cocktails were included and plentiful.  Wireless internet was only available in the resort lobby, which made it very easy to disconnect.  There were plenty of chairs available at the beach or by the pool.  As all good resorts should, there was a bar in the pool, and we quickly became it’s little satellites, never straying too far.

Pier gazebo

Pier gazebo

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Wonderful open air lobby

Lobby

The perfect place to shelter from the once-a-day 15 minute downpours

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Lush, lovely greenery around our balcony

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Gardens from the balcony

Gardens from the balcony

Dominican sunset

Dominican sunset

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