Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Hodgepodge trip

A balance: see the world and chill at home...

My entire trip this July
Denmark/Sweden ... Morocco ... London ... Ireland!
It was crazy but fun and each had a purpose.

The world...
As I was traveling, I realized how hodgepodge of a trip this really was! It's not abnormal for me to travel for 2.5 weeks or span multiple countries, but normally I at least focus on one area or theme (ie. SE Asia, Baltics/Scandinavia, Peru). This time, however, I really felt like I was going into many different and disperse cultures, thanks to the budget airlines. It almost felt like 3 different trips!

Most importantly, I got to escape New York and my life mentally. I have been the happiest with teaching, but also the most stressed.

When abroad, two things were clearly reinforced.
1. I really do love my job(s) as stressful as it is. Fellow travellers ask me what I do and ask if I like it, and I would automatically respond "I love it."
2. I really have to escape the city (and even country) to get a true mental break. I forced myself to not talk about work or even my students the whole time! AND I went for days and even weeks at a time without checking e-mail. It is so freeing to be untethered.

After coming back and taking care of work things for a week in NYC, I headed to California for more than one weekend for time with family and friends. I feel so blessed that I finally had a relaxing summer that I could travel and also spend time with family & friends in Cali. Oh how I miss you California.

Chillaxing in NYC?!?
AND at last I have given myself downtime in NYC as promised pre-trip. I allowed about 1.5 months to stay put. It's enough time to get work done, but also catch up on the past two years of life that has been on hold and friends who claim I have been MIA. Alas, could I be gaining my life and balance back? I have even checked things off on my almost-given-up on NYC "bucket list". At the very least, 7-8 hours of sleep a night (!!!) has made for a much healthier body. Yes, and I teach Human Biology. Hmm...

Thanks to all who made my summer amazing out in the world and on both coasts!

Here's to a more sane year ... and of course, what's next? I'm thinking of taking a chunk of time and focusing on one area. Maybe South Africa? India? Argentina and Patagonia? So many places to go. Sane or not, my adventures will never end.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Eire: the land that is green

Shinae and I actually planned out our Ireland road trip before we respectively left for our travels. We knew it was going to be a go-go-go trip seeing that we were spending 5 nights in 5 different places. But that is how we roll. We did the same in Peru too!

Our path according to google maps. We started in Dublin then made a western loop.


We reunited at our Dublin hostel. Shinae was coming from St. Petersburg, Russia, and I from London. There is nothing like the joy and relief of meeting a good friend in another country! With no cell phones, you just never know, but things always seem to work out.
In the streets of Dublin.
Brrr. A bit chilly in this country.

We had one evening here so we grabbed dinner and walked around and saw Trinity College. It was a nice enough city though we really came to get out to the country side and see green!

Day 2: To County Clare

After picking up our rental car at the airport, and me adjusting to driving on the left side of the road, we started west to County Clare.

Our ride! A trusty Note.

I drove the whole time while Shinae was the best navigator, entertainer and snack feeder. I felt like this is an "adult vacation" since we rented a car, and it was in Europe.

First stop on the road ...

Bunratty Castle and Ireland's oldest pub, Dirty Nelly's.

After my friend, Eliza, told us about Bunratty and we saw that it was enroute, we had to stop here for lunch. In fact we liked it so much we stopped 3 times! OK, so we may have gotten a little lost on the roads.

Cliffs of Moher

Here she is in all her majesty. I admit that it is fairly impressive, but it wasn't ALL that. We enjoyed it and then pressed on in search the Burren, which is described as a rocky lunar landscape. But its precise location was a little unclear. While driving, we kept wondering "Is this the Burren? It looks rocky. Wait, is THIS the burren? Hmm.. How about this?" But when you finally reach it, you will know!

Jumping for joy at the burren!

Admiring the geological formations.

I have never seen anything like this before! It was pretty awesome with all its' bizarre rocks. And we had it practically all to ourselves to explore as it was late in the day thanks to our many detours.

Poulnabrone Tomb that is 4,500 years old
Say what?!?! Now that's pretty old. So what if it was a little smaller than we originally expected.

After driving and exploring from 10 am to 8 pm we were happy to settle into our hostel in the cute little town of Doolin, and hit up the pub.

Dinner at Mc(somethings) pub

Here I fell in love with beer bread. We had delicous meat stew and the freshest cesar salad. I also had my first and only Guinness. When in Ireland ... do as the Irish? I'm not a big beer drinker now, but 10 years ago I didn't drink any beer at all in Belgium and Munich. It really was a shame, so I had to redeem myself. I must admit - this Guinness was quite smooth and yummy. Great texture!

Day 3: To Beara Peninsula
The next day we stopped at the local Saturday market for breakfast and headed out to our next destination at 11am. We decided to pass up the more touristy Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula for the secluded Ring of Beara.

We lunched and explored here for a few hours at Kilarney National Park en route to our destination. Ireland is indeed beautiful and green.

At last we reached our targeted town of Eyeries at around 7:30 pm.

Eyeries is a picture perfect colorful town.

It even won a silver (but not a gold) medal in the Tidy Town competition. Yes, you read that right, the TIDY town competition. Love it.

Hiking along the coast of Eyeries.

I was great to go on this night hike. Yeah, it's probably around 8:30 pm here and the sun is not quite setting yet. Thank goodness for the LONG days. It ensured that I never had to drive in the night.

Rocks with crazy stripes encountered on our hike.

We decided to each choose one to take home. Above were Shinae's 3 contenders. I think she went with the middle one.

Ah, is the sun finally setting? It was just us and the sheep.

Day 4: Exploring Beara some more, then off to Kilkenny ...

The next day we wanted to take a cable car to hike the desolate Dursey Island where there were no shops and very few inhabitants. Alas, our plans were thwarted because of a special Sunday mass on the Island so the cable car was devoted to that. Instead, we rode the cable car there and back for 4 Euro then hiked around that tip of the Beara Peninsula.

Where did the precious sun go? So windy... but we found lots of sheep!
Shinae and the sheep coexisting peacefully together.

Shinae and the cliff over the ocean.

Shinae up high on the rocks!
This might have been our favorite hike we went ventured on.

They are probably thinking "What are these crazy girls doing?"

We were probably debating if they were 2 sheep or 2 rocks. Sometimes it was hard to tell from afar with all the fog! By the way, there are no good pics with me and the sheep as I tended to scare them all off. Oops.

Beep beep sheep!

Apparently we were supposed to share the road with cars in the opposite direction and sheep. A lot of the country roads were tinier than this - barely wide enough for our tiny car. There was no "left" side of the road to stay on.

Cahir Castle - Castle #2
On our way to our next destination, we enjoyed exploring the nooks and crannies here.

Rock of Cashel - Castle #3
It was our favorite as it was half-fallen down, and not beautifully restored.

At last we arrived at Kilkenny around 7ish.
A street in Kilkenny, a medival town.

"You can't persuade him black is white."
Shinae looked this saying up online. Much more profound than the usual "Guinness for strength" adds we saw.

Watching the Irish band, the Kilkenny's, perform in .... Kilkenny!
We went in partly as a joke, but it turns out they were rather good!

Day 5: Relaxing in Kilkenny then back to Dublin

At last we woke up not having a full day of driving ahead of us so we took our time exploring Kilkenny during the day.

Wow... who consumed this much Guinness? Not me!Kilkenny Castle (castle#4 and final one).
It was restored to 18th century times so it lost its medival charm but it had lovely lush green grounds where we had a very meaty lunch.

Then we took a leisurely 2 hour drive back to Dublin. We were sad that Ireland was over, and our traveling was over too.

A note on the Irish: They were soooo friendly!!! They went out of their way to help us. Their directions were extremely precise, such that we never really got lost. And when we did, this nice man stopped to ask us where we were trying to go, then led us most of the way there! This definitely made our trip enjoyable - being able to communicate with the people in English and the people being super-friendly! A rare combo in our travels.

It's about the journey, not the destination. I definitely believe this saying in many ways and it was indeed true for this leg of the travels. Almost everyday we were on the road and exploring for about 10 hours to get from point A to B. Shinae and I had a blast and Ireland is a beautiful country.

Shinae and I are super thankful that we got to travel together again!
No matter what life throws at us, we will always try to take adventures together.

Mind the Gap

One Day in LONDON

After Morocco and before Ireland I had one day in London. Originally this trip was suppose to be 2 weeks just chilling in London with Sharlene in her flat and taking leisurely day trips and a weekend to Copenhagen. I'm a little unclear on how it turned into a massive 4 country mad-trek and only 1 day in London in the end. Hmmm ... I think it's because I can't pass up a new travel opportunities, and apparently can never just be still!

I spent a weekend in London 10 years ago so I didn't have anything that I really needed to see. My goals were to do laundry and visit the Globe Theater and the Tate Modern.

In the tube at Angel station near Shar's flat.

As always, all foreign subways are significantly superior to NYC's, but London's tube did not have AC. One point for NYC.

Inside the Tate Modern watching dancers rehearse. How fitting for me.
It's a fantastic museum, and free!

St. Paul's Cathedral on the Thames River across the Millenium Bridge

When I thought about it, I never saw St. Paul's and don't recall walking this bridge 10 years ago, so I decided why not.

At last relaxing! In the Queen's park.

It was here that I was thinking, why did I not just chill in London more? But alas, after a few minutes, I was making my way to Hyde Park. It was a perfect 75 degree sunny day.

Buckingham Palace.
I don't think I saw this before either so when I was en route, I felt obligated to take a picture.

My day in London was perfectly chill. It was great to be in Sharlene's home and not a hostel or B&B. We had a relaxing evening as we were both pretty exhausted and got rejected from seeing Inception. Thanks for being an awesome host and travel buddy, Sharlene! I'm sorry that I did not stay longer. But we will reunite soon in Brooklyn!

The next day I was off to meet Shinae in Ireland for the last leg of the trip!

The second leg of Morocco: Casablanca, Chefchaouen and Fez

Casablanca: everyday life

Even though Casablanca doesn't offer much by way of sights and lovely ambiance, we came because it's the least touristy city in Morocco. I like to get a feel for normal everyday life. Here the city runs on its own and tourists are merely spectators.

Sharlene and I reunited in the late afternoon at our hotel (yes, a hotel, albeit a budget one!) which was on the border of the grittier part of town. I was grateful to have my travel buddy back. Then we embarked on Lonely Planet's self-guided walking tour of the city at night. Casablanca has a rich architectural heritage. Most of these buildings were erected in the 1930s.

Movie anyone?

Hotel Lincoln was never restored. It was my favorite building, although somewhat spooky.
You would find beautifully restored hotels next to dilapidated ghettos.

The next morning, we had time for more exploration thanks to the fact that there is only one bus to our next destination, and it left in the afternoon.

Waiting oceanside to tour the main attraction of Casablanca...

The famous Hassan II Mosque completed in 1993.

No wonder why it had modern technology including retractable roofs and heated floors. We got to tour inside too.

Let me in!
These doors could weigh tons and were opened electronically.

Men chilling at a local cafe.
Cafes are men only which is a shame because I do like cafes. Oh well. On the upside, we didn't get harassed on the street all the much.

At the central market.
I had lots of delicious fruit smoothies and Moroccan salads.

Our 24 hours in Casablanca was plenty. We got a glimpse of this real city. We walked through some grittier parts (though not the shanty towns), wealthier parts, near the ocean and ate some good seafood.

Now for our next destination...

Chefchaouen: secluded high in the Rif mountains

We were excited to explore this artsy town painted blue and nestled up in the mountainside bordering a national park.

After an all day 8 hour bus ride, we arrived after 10 pm. Then after a good night sleep, we were off wandering.

On a hilltop overlooking Chefchaouen.

One of the many brilliantly painted blue alley ways.

It was fun to meander this town's medina. Unlike Marrakech, we didn't really have to worry about truly getting lost as it is smaller and more manageable.

Can I go in this door maybe?

The local watering hole.
Children cooled off in the icy water while women did laundry. We of course joined the children.

Local boys (age 11 and 16) selling art in their family store.

I bought a small drawing from their older brother who was at class at the moment. We conversed and bartered in Spanish since Chefchaouen was established by Andalucian Spaniards. It was a relief to be able to communicate a little in this town as most shop owners knew basic Spanish. Later, the little brother helped us find our way back to the center (we tipped him a Dirham).

Another conversation we had in Spanish was with a store owner who insisted that Muslims did not commit 9-11 (we said we know), and that the Americans did 9-11 to ourselves. Interesting ... we had no comment.

Eating, again? Enjoying a smoothie and pastries at the local bakery.

Did I mention that Morocco surprisingly had awesome pastries? It must be the French influence. And if there are yummy pastries to consume, I will indeed find them!

Arabian nights!
Palm trees and all. We even had live music from the streets too.

Our second day, we wanted to go out trekking. Our Scottish runned B&B arranged to have their son, Liam, and a driver, Rashid, take us to the gorge.

The Bridge of God in Ackchour in Talassamtane National Park

We hopped stones and hugged walls for about an hour to make it here. This park was beautiful, though a lot more populated than I expected. It's the place to be for the locals.

I really wanted to jump in the water, but only saw men, and definitely did not want to go in my swimsuit. Do women go in and how? Finally, I saw a few women go in fully dressed, so I joined them!

Me and the local woman swimming fully clothed.
Thank goodness for Northface quick dry gear.

Marijuana anyone?
Chefchaouen is infamous for pot (Moroccans call it kif). That is the appeal for most backpackers, but it's not my cup of tea so I politely passed several times. I was amazed at how many cigarette/marijuana combos were consumed by Liam who was only 18, and his parents. Probably about 2 dozen per person per a day! I think I lost at least a few days off of my life from second hand smoke here. It does add something to the laid back culture though.

Our homemade meal by the Moroccan neighbor. By far the best ever. Traditional couscous with vegetables, and dates and caramelized onions.

Last destination: Fez

We had just an afternoon here. We only wanted to meander the medina, but not get too lost since we needed to catch our flight in the evening.

The entrance to the medina.
The tile work in this city is exquisite.

Working or maybe just pondering in the metal section of the medina.

I can't get enough Moroccan tea!

Beatifully and brightly colored woven linen

Good-bye Morocco!

We caught our $33 flight back to London along with our newly made English friends. By the way, the backpack above contained all the stuff I carried for the entire trip. It had to fit my purse and food I lugged around too because of restrictions on budget airlines.

My Moroccan travel route

Although I was only here for 9 days, I felt like I got a good feel for the whole country. I spent 18 hours on busses, 18 hours in a car, 3 hours on camel, 3 hours on train and many on foot jetting everywhere to reach all terrains: cities traditional and new, towns coastal and in the mountain, dessert terrain, and national park.

I am going to miss the scrumptuous cheap food (including the pastries) and OJ of Morocco, the local culture (though not the friendly men) and the experiences.

What next? London baby.