Ireland This Summer

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I’m returning to Ireland for the summer if all goes as planned. I will be there for three months staying at Fruit Hill, the old farm with rental cottages that I enjoyed so much last year. It was so hot in New Bern last year that in August I wrote to Susan, the owner of Fruit Hill, asking to book the smallest cottage for three months in 2017. Ireland’s weather is much the same throughout the year: neither too hot nor too cold – often “just right.”

Springtime is Sheep Season in Ireland

Several people have asked me about trips to Ireland recently. More have said, “I’ve never been to Ireland but I’ve always wanted to go there.” This is a great year to go and spring is the perfect season. The euro has fallen against the dollar, down to about $1.06 this morning. Airfare is much lower to Europe for the coming summer. I plan to fly from Boston (I have family in New England) to Dublin on a new airline called WOW and my summer round trip fare is only $609! Wow!

Thousands of daffodils bloom in the JFK Gardens and Arboretum.

Both the beauty of the green isle and the friendliness of the Irish people call me back to Ireland. This will be the third time I’ve gone there for a months-long stay. There is an old-fashioned comfort that makes it very easy to just be there. The narrow roads in the countryside are surrounded by low green hills. The network of newer highways make it easy to visit distant parts of Ireland. Last year I drove from the southeast corner to visit our cousins at the top of Northern Ireland in just four or five hours – it’s a small island.

Wide beds of narcissus bloom in the beds in front of the old mansion house at Altamont Gardens, now owned by the Republic of Ireland.

The combination of history and good growing weather have endowed Ireland with many ancient gardens. For centuries the British made Ireland a colony. A few wealthy men controlled the island and built grand estates. They benefited from the exploration of the world in the 18th and 19th centuries financially and also by arranging to receive seeds and saplings from around the world for their formal gardens. Today you’ll find 160 foot tall California redwood trees and “monkey puzzle” trees from Chile as well as 50 foot wide rhododendrons from China. The cool, damp weather of the north Atlantic is perfect for nurturing many species of plants. Irish people plant daffodils in every available spot and from late January through late spring they bloom everywhere.

Huge, ancient rhododendrons blooming at Woodstock, an old estate garden in the village of Inistioge.

I am particularly fond of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Garden and Arboretum near New Ross. You can read the blog posts I wrote last year about it, about Fruit Hill, and about the Irish gardens I love here:

Fruit Hill            JFK Garden & Arboretum               Some Gardens in Ireland

Resources:

Click “Ireland” in the contents cloud at the top right corner of this blog to find all my posts about Ireland.

Fruit Hill’s website

JFK Garden and Arboretum on Facebook

Discover Ireland’s History here

The photo at the top of this post was taken beside Ireland’s Tintern Abbey on a walk in the woods on a spring day. The path leads past an ancient Irish castle along a stream lined with millions of bluebells and wild garlic flowers.

Posted in Gardens, Ireland, Southeast Ireland | Leave a comment

In the Marais

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This weekend’s New York Times travel section has a lengthy article about the Marais section of Paris. If you’ve been to Paris, you are probably aware of the Marais: the ancient section of the city just northeast of the center filled with enticing shops and enormous stone mansions built several centuries ago like the one shown above (called “hotels particulier” in French).

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The article in the Times details how the old neighborhood shops have been replace by trendy boutiques — like this bakery/shoestore.

The article reminded me of my stay in France in January last year because I literally stayed across the boulevard from the edge of the Marais. Each morning I would rise early and go out with my camera, often before the sun rose. The light coming up on those golden stone buildings made everything shine. Often I saw fathers walking little children to school. (I have no memory of seeing mothers doing that.) I finally found the ancient market called Marché des Enfant Rouges which I’ve searched for on every visit to Paris. The market takes its name from the red clothing worn by children who lived in a nearby orphanage many years ago. The market is smaller than most. I was a bit disappointed.

All this caused me to look at the photos I shot on my first extended stay in Paris, in 2004. I enjoyed four tours of Paris with a small company called Paris Walks, two of them in the Marais. One of my favorite travel experiences began with one of those walking tours, led by an opera singer. Since it was 13 years ago I suppose it’s ok to tell you about it now.

Our tour guide was very knowledgeable but he was also a bit nervous. He came unprepared for the weather, which threatened rain. And the rain came down in buckets! The gentleman tried to continue with the tour in the deluge, standing there with no umbrella, becoming more and more disconcerted every minute. I offered to share my umbrella with him – only to have him grab it from my hands, leaving me to stand in the downpour!

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The guide, the group, and my umbrella.

The group was small, perhaps 12 people. Eventually the tour was a washout and four of us began to explore on our own. There was a young man who was an American doctor, a young woman from New York, a librarian close to my age and me, a totally naïve traveler. First we went to Place des Vosges, a giant square of homes completed in the year 1605. We sat at the crowded sidewalk café outside the famous restaurant, Ma Bourgogne, and drank hot chocolate. When it was decided that we were hungry we walked to a tiny restaurant on Ile Saint Louis where I first tasted paté de fois gras. (Excellent!) And drank plenty of good French wine. Fortunately for my budget, the young doctor picked up the check. The librarian happened to be staying the hotel in the Sorbonne area next to mine so she and I wandered back there when the day I’ll never forget ended.

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A view of one corner of the Place des Vosges, a large square surrounding a popular park.

It was the sort of experience that makes being a traveler so much fun!

Libbie

 

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Lessons Learned While Traveling

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On August 11, 2001, my husband George and I departed for a journey around Europe that lasted until the following July. It was sometimes challenging, sometimes tiring, always interesting and the greatest experience of my life (other than some important family times).

While we traveled I kept a diary, recording not just the places we saw but also my reactions to some of our many experiences. We were in Belgium on 9/11. We were in England for the Queen’s 50th Jubilee. We caught a glimpse of Pope John Paul II. And we met many good people.

Just before we left George gave me a digital camera, still a new gadget then and something of a novelty. How I loved that camera! The pictures I took with it look terrible now because the quality was so poor but I took thousands of pictures on that trip!

After 15 years I’ve finally combined my diary with some of those photos and the great many postcards, ticket stubs, maps and brochures we sent home as we traveled. Together, in large binders, they take two-feet of shelf space. I tell myself they will delight me when I’m a (really) old lady so I’ve created these scrapbooks for that future me.

I’ve just read the last paragraphs of my diary for the first time in quite a long time. I had no memory of these words or the experiences they describe. They were written in the months after 9/11 and the beginning of America’s war in Afghanistan. They were written nine months before the Iraq war began. I’d like to share them with you.

“Our excellent adventure is nearly done. We have had a wonderful trip. We have seen so many famous, historic, interesting and beautiful places. We have met so many good and interesting people. Four people we met yesterday and today represent the best part of our trip, and I want to record them as representative of many others.

“We ate at a Pizza Hut in London last night, and our waitress was a young woman from Poland. She was delightful and she was happy that we had been to Poland and especially that we had been to Gdansk as her home is near there. She is earning a master’s degree in Linguistics. She said her life’s dream had been to go to India, and she went there for a month last year. She is a very happy person and we really enjoyed talking with her.

“Then we went to the left-luggage room at Charing Cross station, where I had parked an extra duffle bag I had to buy yesterday for all the souvenirs and junk we are hauling home. The young man working there began quite a conversation with us. He said he is from Lille, France, and that his mother is from Martinique. Again, he asked a hundred questions about where we had been, what we had seen, what we liked best. He was so much fun to meet because he was so genuinely interested in what we had to say.

“This morning I talked for a while with Yolanda, the young assistant manager at the hotel where we stayed in London. She is from Barcelona, and she liked hearing about our trip. She told me a bit about her career and we talked about how great Barcelona is, and about Spain. Each of these young people was so interested in our trip – it was fun to tell them about it.

“Next we took a cab across London to catch our train. It was driven by a man about 40, a Muslim Pakistani, very religious but very knowledgeable about Judaism and Christianity as well has Islam. He said people harassed him after September 11 but that has stopped. He said the politicians make all the trouble, that God teaches us all to be good to one another which is what he believes in. He opposes what the terroristic fanatics have done, and I think he probably represents the vast majority of Muslims.

“Four people in less than 24 hours who represent the hundreds of smart, interested, kind, well-meaning people we have met on our journey. That has been the best part and the most important lesson we have learned. From this trip I learned that all people are alike, that we all want the same things, that this is a small planet.”

Tomorrow the best president of my lifetime will leave the White House and the most unfit will become President of the United States. Like most of my friends I am worried and frightened. I’m going to work at remembering the last lines in my long diary: “All people are alike, we all want the same things, this is a small planet.”

Libbie

 

Posted in Personal Experiences | 1 Comment

Christmas in Jerusalem

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My brother Ben and his wife, Agi, were invited to spend the Christmas just past in Jerusalem. Our nephew is living there for a while. Ben and Agi were invited to a banquet in Bethlehem and midnight mass in the Church of the Nativity. On Christmas day they went to the Dome of the Rock in the old city of Jersulem. I’ve asked if I can share with you the email Ben sent me on Christmas day and my brother has agreed to that. Agi is an excellent photographer and she’s shared some of her photos with me so I can show them to you. Both Ben’s story and Agi’s photos really make me want to go there next Christmas!

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We spent a very interesting Christmas Eve in Jerusalem and later in Bethlehem. We were guarded by heavily armed, very serious-looking men the entire time we were in the West Bank. Bethlehem, like the rest of the West Bank, is in pretty dire straits but the dinner was incredible. Then we walked from the restaurant to the Church of the Nativity for midnight mass which was also really something. The Archbishop of Jerusalem was presiding, and there were six or eight bishops there as well. There are quite a few Christians among the Palestinian people, so there were about 10,000 people in and around the church on Christmas eve. The service went on for two hours. Mahmoud Abbas and his entire cabinet were there. For me the most interesting part was the walk from dinner to the Church, because we walked as a group for the better part of a mile through the center of Bethlehem. To be honest, it was scary as hell. Since it was Friday night, there were young men hanging out everywhere, and a lot of them were not happy to see us. Our PA security guys were all over, pushing people out of our way, scanning the rooftops, checking people’s hands. Never have I seen so many submachine guns in my life. At one point our group got too spread out so we had to stop and wait for the others to catch up. I kept Agi very close, and kept looking for rocks or bottles to fly our direction, but we got to the church without any incidents. We spent Christmas day in the Old City (of Jerusalem). We entered through the Jaffa Gate (the City Wall is completely intact), and immediately felt like we were transported back in time several hundred years. Almost all of the streets in the center of the Old City are covered, so you have the sense that you’re inside a giant bazaar. The streets are quite narrow, and there are thousands of small shops on both sides, with men who are VERY eager to engage you and sell whatever it is that they’re selling. You can’t throw a rock (not a good idea in any case there…) in any direction without hitting a mosque, a synagogue, or a church – Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic – they’re all jammed in there together. The Via Dolorosa is a very narrow street; since we were there on Christmas Day, there were groups of pilgrims praying at the Stations of the Cross, while kids on scooters whizzed by them and people were haggling over trinkets right beside them. Jerusalem is quite the ecumenical city!

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We were lucky to make it up to the Dome of the Rock for a few minutes before we were kicked out. Non-Muslims are allowed inside the compound twice a day for a few hours, but the line was so long, and the security people were so slow that only a fraction of the people waiting in line actually made it before the hour was up. Also, a Jewish group were staging a demonstration and tried to take Israeli flags into the compound, but they were turned around by Israeli security, so that slowed things down quite a bit. As it turned out, we only got to stay for about fifteen minutes before the imams started chasing all the non-Muslims through one of the gates back into the Old City.  It was an amazing place. Interestingly, there’s a sign above the entrance where non–Muslims enter,  warning all Jews that the Grand Rabbi of Jerusalem forbids Jews to set foot on the Temple Mount, not because it’s controlled by Muslims, but because it is a holy site in Judaism, and thus only accessible to certain Jews.

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It was quite a remarkable place, and yes, you did get the sense that it was a holy place. The shrine itself is off limits to all non-Muslims, and all political and religious symbols are forbidden, though I did see a very elderly Orthodox rabbi surrounded by security guys walking across the square – he may have been there for a meeting with the imams. It was also the only place in Jerusalem where we saw Islamic women in hajibs or burkas. I generally see a lot more hajibs on campus here in Columbus than I did in Jerusalem!

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Posted in Israel and Palestine | 1 Comment

A new year, new plans, same old me

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My apologies for the long delay in adding something to my blog. The election and its outcome, visits to my family in another state and a varied assortment of holiday entertaining and minor illnesses all combined to interrupt my plans and my good intentions. But a new year has arrived and with it, more good intentions! I’ll be more faithful in updating blog in the year ahead.

Of course I’m planning exciting travel in 2017! And I’m making plans for this blog, plans that I hope will interest you. I spend the summer at Fruit Hill, the farm in Ireland where I stayed for six weeks last spring. I’m also planning a visit my family members in Florida and to (finally!) make my first trip to Disney World. I’ll be going to Alexandria Virginia first, if all goes as planned, and I look forward to time in Washington DC’s neighborhoods and museums. I’m looking into volunteering with young children or refugees and will be writing in the future about my search for the right place for me.

That sounds like a list of New Year’s Resolutions, doesn’t it? I look forward to sharing my travels – both past and future – with you in 2017. Are you making travel plans? If you are, please share them with us in the Comments section below.

Wishing all the best for you in 2017!

Libbie

The picture shown above won 2nd prize in the “intermediate photographers” category of the first photography competition I’ve ever entered. It was taken at the Palais Royale in Paris.

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So I have this can of cinnamon…

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I bought a can of cinnamon at Trader Joe’s a year or two ago. The brand name is Szedeg and there’s a small drawing of an ancient church on the can. That’s the only clue of where or what Szedeg is. Where in the world is Szedeg?

Googling led me to a travel website on which I could lose an entire day. Although I don’t have time to write posts and edit photos now (11 days until this election is history!) I wanted to take time to share this with you.

The site is Lonely Planet’s “Best in Travel for 2017.” http://www.lonelyplanet.com/best-in-travel. It turns out that Szedeg is the third largest city in Hungary and that Lonely Planet recommends it as a “best place to visit.” I’m game!

Lonely Planet publishes excellent travel guides covering the world. Their website is deep and deeply helpful. The British version of Lonely Planet Magazine is my favorite travel mag. Recently LP began a new American version of that magazine that costs less in North America than the British version. It may be more focused on places of interest to us. You can find both of these at Books-a-Million and at many other bookstores. Or just read about these lovely places online and dream!

Did you vote yet?

Libbie

The photo at the top of this post is of the harbor at Hvar, Croatia, a place listed in the list of Best in Travel for 2017.

 

 

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On the Appalachian Trail

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This is a guest post written by one of our sons, George Griffin III, about his first experience hiking the Appalachian Trail.

“If we find you collapsed beside the trail, George, we will pray over you.”

I laughed, but Tex wasn’t kidding. He saw I was hurting, and along with his wife Beverly, knew what it was to hurt along the Appalachian Trail.

An elderly couple from Dallas, they hiked slowly but consistently, for weeks. Purposefully, but burdened with heavy packs and hampered by Bev’s ankle — injured long before their mission on the Appalachian Trail — on they went. When we said goodbye that morning, that offer of intervention was, I felt, sincere and I might need it. I also knew I would see them later, hours behind me but before nightfall, at the next shelter. These two were no-quitters, and by my third day on the trail I was genuinely impressed.

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My friend “Just Bryan” invited me to join him on a small portion of his trek across half of the Appalachian Trail’s nearly 2,200 miles. He began Mother’s Day at Harper’s Ferry, W.Va. and was determined to reach one end, Mt. Katahdin, Maine, another 750 miles north of where I joined him in southeastern New York State.

By now a baptized-by-trail “LASHer” under any interpretation, Just Bryan had hiked more than 350 miles. “Lasher” stands for “Long Ass Section Hiker.” That’s one degree less hardcore perhaps than the “Through Hikers” who dedicate their full time and fuller stamina to the complete distance of the Appalachian Trail, from Maine to Georgia, or vice versa, in one fantastic march. No small feat his, if he can manage — besting over 1,100 miles of trail, including the trail’s second tallest peak, Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, before summer’s end.

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My end appeared much closer. Three days of 10 mile up-and-down, hardscrabble hikes had ruined my feet and I openly questioned whether I could do the eight miles tomorrow to reach a highway and egress to the motor lodge, a shower, and beers.

At the shelter that night, I gently removed the boots I bought used on Craigslist, slipped on my “camp shoes” (cheap green flip-flops) and hung my hammock. Just Bryan lit a fire. He had already unpacked and claimed his space within the shelter. I didn’t understand it, but to him this was paramount.

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Shelters punctuate the Appalachian Trail but can be far apart, 20 miles or more. Long stretches of trail offer no shelters at all. Threadbare, the three-sided structures of wood are a foot or so above the ground and open to the elements on one side with an overhanging roof. Roughing it for sure, but for hikers who don’t want to haul and pitch a tent, shelters are critical. Just Bryan shaped his hiking plans on securing himself a space each night — most shelters sleep only six — so he hiked with fervor. When I complained that this pace kept me from enjoying the woods as fully as I hoped, he said dryly, “This is not camping, dude, it’s hiking.”

As the afternoon faded into evening, I understood. More and more hikers came to stop for the night. Shelter space tightened. Tents popped up, hammocks were hung. People who said goodbye hours earlier reunited, strangers became temporary friends. Shelters offer more than just weather cover and water — they are a social center that breaks the lonely miles of trail. At peak season they hum with interesting folk.gjg-3

Tuna Roll — his trail name — is an Iraq War vet. Maine or bust for him. Many former service members appear on the Appalachian Trail this time of year, Afghanistan vets too. Some know both wars. They huddle together at the shelters like some kind of self-help group, trading stories. I think the trail offers its own kind of therapy; these guys pack light, move fast, push on through pain. From the moment he arrived to the time he went down for the night, Tuna Roll chugged Coors tallboys he had hiked up the mountain that afternoon.

While he spoke very little with us, Tuna livened up when a mother and teen daughter team of redheads emerged through the forest. He had seen them before, but they were new to us. I wished Tuna had kept quiet, for he indulged in use of the “f” word, sentence, phrase and thought. When he hushed, I found out they were from Burbank, Calif., on the trail since school ended and hoping to make it from the Delaware Water Gap to New Hampshire. The night before, camped in a state park on the trail, their food and toiletries were stolen as they slept. I gave them a lot from my overburdened pack.

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George on the Trail.

Good — because I brought too much, and was feeling it. My shoulders ached, my hips, where most of the pack weight is borne if you are doing it right, were chafed and bruising. My feet were a mix of blisters, cuts, moleskin, tape, and pain. The first night, I jettisoned a lantern, some Gold Bond, and a book a neighbor lent me. He puts his name and address on stickers in his books so I left a note and $3 for whoever found it, asking it be returned. (Sorry, Conley.)

The hiking, however, was beautiful. Rich oak-heath forest of trees old, new, and reborn splayed out uphill and down and when we peaked, after a long, torturous, switchback ascent, I was healed by an expansive Hudson Valley view, or uplifted, unexpectedly washed in rich, white mountain laurels. Spectacular in full bloom. Despite the lingering pain, I am hooked. I want to LASH again, slow down, perhaps take my son and do the length of the Appalachian Trail through Virginia (550 miles, its longest single state stretch) which many say is its most scenic.

If I do, I hope to find Tex and Bev again, for an update, good news and celebration. Early in their trek north, word came from home — a young granddaughter named Harmony had been diagnosed with lymphoma. Instinct said quit and return — their daughter said go on. Instead they wiped tears, shaved their heads and continued, hiking and praying, and asking all their fellow trekkers to sign the cards they send back to Harmony regularly from the trail.

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George Griffin is a reformed television news producer now working on his fatherhood skills. He’s not much of an outdoorsman.

 

Posted in Outdoor Adventure, U.S.A. | Tagged | 2 Comments