torrie's travels

WHERE WILL I GO NEXT?

Communism November 27, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 11:11 am

What a long day. This was, by far, the longest sightseeing day. We left our casa at approximately 10:00 am and did not return until 10:00 pm. But it was a great day! We started by taking a cab to Centro Habana and the Capitolio. It is fashioned after the Capitol in DC, but is currently under renovation. Then we walked over to Parque Central and made our way down the Prado (which wants to be Las Ramblas). Then we went to the Museo de Revolucion. Now, don’t get me wrong, I expected to roll my eyes a WHOLE BUNCH at this museum, but I did not expect the amount of propaganda, especially at the end.

It was interesting to read the history behind the coup, er, revolution. I didn’t know exactly how Che fit into everything, considering he was not Cuban. I got to see the stretcher that carried him from where he died. That was a bit creepy. It was all fine and good until the last part of the museum. It blamed the US for everything under the sun. According to the Cubans (or at least the communists in power), the CIA is capable of just about anything. And callous enough to do it. Apparently we took down a passenger plane filled with other countries’ citizens just because there were some Cubans on board. Yeah, uh huh. The CIA introduced dengue hemorrhagic virus, the Blue Mold, African Swine Fever. Man, the CIA was busy in the ‘70’s. *Eyeroll* But right before the exit was a mural (if you can call it that…Mallory, who is quite liberal, was appalled that it was in their national museum), of “cretins”. The cretins were identified as Fulgencio Batista (the President at the time of the coup), and Reagan, HW Bush, and W Bush. They were depicted as caricatures and Batista “helped make the revolution,” Reagan “helped strengthen the revolution”, HW “helped consolidate the revolution,” and W (in a Nazi helmet) “helped make socialism irrevocable.” I find the last one especially humorous, considering the advances toward capitalism the country has recently made. Anyway, I stood there gawping at this “mural”. There is no other word. I was literally speechless. Appalled doesn’t even begin to describe it.

From there we moved on to a better location…the Cathedral. It was small and simpler than most in Europe, but was still pretty. We did some shopping in Habana Vieja, as we hadn’t really done any yet. Then we found a place for lunch and walked along the river down to an extensive bazaar or craft market. It was huge! After more shopping, we took a cab to the Malecon where we finally got on the internet (well, Mallory’s worked yesterday though mine did not but even hers did not work today), and then spent time strolling along the Malecon at sunset. We may or may not have had half a cigar along the way. We happened to see a couple who had had lunch at the table next to ours while we were on the Malecon. Small city!

We then made our way to the Floridita, a bar/restaurant that was frequented by Hemingway and where the daiquiri was invented. It had live music and was packed. Luckily there was an older couple that had two chairs open at their table and allowed us to join them. During a break in the music, we found out that they are Norwegian. We had a great time talking to them. They were adorable. Seriously, everyone we’ve met on this trip has been so lovely. It’s why I love to travel!

After having a drink (that wasn’t nearly as overpriced as I was expecting), we found a place for dinner. Mallory actually thanked me for saying no to couple of places, which caused her to remember a place nearby. I wasn’t thrilled with walking back the way we had come (seriously, so tired), but we went. Oh my gosh. Best. Dinner. Ever. I finally tried the Ropa Vieja, but I also ordered a bread plate, just in case! When our mojitos came in mason jars, it was clear that this place was trendy AF. But the evidence continued to mount. Regardless, it was hands down, by far, not even close, the best meal I had in Cuba. I LOVED the Ropa Vieja. I did not need the bread plate and they were not happy that I wouldn’t eat it! We ordered a second drink and I had a guava daiquiri. Apparently the bartender was having some fun because my daiquiri came looking like a snowman with a head, a face, and a black top hat. It was amazing! I took a picture of it and the waitress came over to ask how we liked it and I said I took a photo. She said she saw and told me to look at the bartender. He was grinning and I gave him a thumbs up. Such a great place, but could have easily been somewhere in the US. Still. Amazing food! And a wonderful way to end this trip. Tomorrow we head to the airport after breakfast.

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Beisbol!!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 11:09 am

Today we started off going to the Christopher Columbus cemetery/necropolis. He was initially buried/interred here, but at some point they moved him to Seville (where I saw his resting place in 2014). It was an incredible cemetery. It is 140 acres, is still active with 40 burials a day on average, and was initially sectioned based on class. So we were told that the main avenue was all the wealthy people. And they definitely had ornate and massive graves.

We then caught the hop on-hop off bus and rode that throughout Havana. It took longer than anticipated, but it was a nice way to see the city and was a welcomed break from walking. It was a double-decker style bus, so sitting up top was nice, except we were frequently ducking for trees!

After the tour, we walked through parts of Habana Vieja and, thanks to a slow and unhelpful restaurant, we had street pizza for lunch. I had heard about it and wanted to have it, but it wasn’t until then that I saw everyone with it. It was a decent sized pizza that cost the equivalent of $.60. That’s right. Sixty cents. Insane. We continued our walk through Habana Vieja near the water before catching a taxi back to our casa to get ready for the baseball game.

The game was amazing. Hands down the most authentic thing we did on the trip. There were very few tourists, so it was an awesome opportunity to see and interact with Cubans doing something they love. And it cost the equivalent of $1 to get in (I think It’s cheaper for the locals). The game was the Industriales (the Havana team) against Granma. Granma is the best team in the league and won the championship last year. It showed. It was a blowout. The gentleman sitting next to us spoke English, so we learned some things from him. He definitely seemed irritated that all the good players leave for the US, but he also lamented the fact that the Cuban teams don’t pay any money for playing. He said it’s basically voluntary.

There was a moment of silence before the game, which neither Mallory nor myself knew what it was for, but we stood for it. Then they played the national anthem and Mallory asked me if I was going to take a knee out of protest for communism, but I’m respectful so I didn’t. At 5:58 pm (the game started at 4) everyone just stopped what they were doing and stood and faced the direction of the flag. It was dark, so we couldn’t see what they were doing. About a minute later, everyone went back to what they were doing. We were so confused. Our new friend told us that they take the flag down at 6pm and people must show it respect. He complained that people talk during it (though I didn’t hear any), which is not showing respect. He did not like this. Mallory and I talked about the NFL protests and what a Cuban would think of kneeling during an anthem to protest the police’s power. Sounds absolutely freaking ridiculous sitting in Cuba and contemplating this. I cannot even imagine what a Cuban would say if we tried to explain that to them.

Anyway, immediately preceding the flag ceremony, our new friend had been arguing with Douchebag #2 (of 3) sitting two rows in front of us. I don’t know what they were arguing about, but Mallory said it was something about players leaving for the US. After the flag ceremony they immediately started up again and this time I could distinctly hear the name “Yasiel Puig”. Several times. I had already discussed Puig with our new friend, so I knew he hated him. Basically said he’s not a Cuban. But our new friend then announced to everyone around us that we were Americans and had had no idea what they were doing with the flag. Awkward.

The atmosphere at the game was awesome. And loud. So so loud. Tons of noisemakers. So many similarities, but yet so many differences. The vendors were smoking cigarettes while walking up and down the stands, for example. (Smoking is ok everywhere here…everywhere.) One of the things they were selling were buns with some kind of shredded meat. I wasn’t sure if it was chicken or pork, but I went to get one. It cost $.20. Yep, a sandwich for twenty cents. They put some stuff on the meat, but I don’t know what. It was good!

We left after the 5th inning…it was 13-3. Industriales had been through at least 6 pitchers. 3 in the first inning alone. Our new friend had told us that there’s basically a 10-run rule. Which was surprising, but Alexis (in Vinales) told me that if the game goes to extra innings, they get to automatically put 2 men on base. Any 2 runners you want. But then if the game goes to the 11th, you have to go in the batting order. At least I think that’s how he described it.

After the game we returned to our casa to freshen up and attempted to get dinner at a paladar, which is a private restaurant run by a family in an extension of their home. It was definitely an experience. Mallory is a vegetarian and it was family-style eating, all of which included meat. So we decided to get two appetizers instead. One of which was “brusquetas”. It had cheese and onions on it. Cheese. That tasted like butter. I couldn’t even eat an entire one. I think I realized the difference today when that was on a menu along with “bruschetta”. Weird. The Sangria was good, though!

We then went to the Fabrica de Arte Cubano. That was real interesting. It is an art gallery/nightclub. Hard to explain. It is enormous. The art varied from fashion and jewelry, to paintings, to photos, to abstract, to music, and to dance. It was so very weird. As we were standing near some guys “rapping”, we happened to see our professor friend from the night before. Random! He said he did not know what was going on, that it was weird, and that no one knew what the “rappers” were saying because it was an indistinguishable language! So funny! We hung out with him for the rest of the time. He knew of a concert starting in one of the “naves”, so we went there. It turned out to be a Cuban classic rock cover band. Yeah, I will let that sink in. We were laughing hysterically when the first song they sang was Billy Joel! Fantastic. We had talked about getting a cab with David, but we ended up losing him. It was a fun night at a place that I felt horribly uncomfortable, so it was reassuring that he felt that way, too!

 

First glimpse of Havana

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 11:07 am

Today was a bit of a mixed bag. We got up and had breakfast at the casa in Vinales before our taxi picked us up at 9 to drive us to Havana. We got to our casa in Havana around 11:30. After getting settled in, we set out in search of wifi. After we connected online a bit (and I was able to post some pictures finally), we went walking. As I figured, we did a lot of walking today. After the walk/hike in Vinales yesterday, my feet are killing me.

We eventually took a cab to the ice cream shop that everyone talks about and is famous. The ice cream was ok…and a scoop plus some mini-cookies for $.04, I guess isn’t bad! Yes, you read that right…four cents! In order to get that ice cream, we had to change our money into a different kind of money. Cuba has two currencies…one for tourists and one for the locals. They are trying to go to one currency but just haven’t. I heard that oftentimes you will pay with the tourist currency and receive the other currency as change, but that had not happened to us yet. So I had to find a bank, which was interesting, and then change some currency. This was the second time I had to give my passport when it came to money in this country. I guess the government now knows that I changed 5 CUC (basically $5) to 120 CUP. Oh yeah, what makes it more confusing? Both are called pesos.

Anyway, while the ice cream wasn’t anything to write home about, we sat with a Spanish couple. Carlos and Claudia. They were very nice and fun and helped us know what we were doing. But Carlos got on me for not speaking more Spanish. I actually felt that a lot today…that I should speak more Spanish than I do. I mean, I speak a rudimentary amount and I speak it whenever I can. That really ought to be enough. But they were still very nice and we had a nice time eating ice cream with them!

After ice cream, which didn’t take as long as I had expected (there are massive lines and they are controlled by security-type individuals who call you up to a table when one is available), so we decided to sit down for a drink. Again, my feet. I had a Diet Kola…the national brand of pop, but a diet! It was welcomed! After that we walked around a bit more and ended up at the Hotel Nacional and the Malecon. It was dark, so we didn’t walk the Malecon yet.

After looking for something to do tonight, we set on a jazz club, but it was 2.5km away, so we decided to get a taxi (so cheap here, for the most part). We were in luck when an old, ‘50’s pink convertible pulled up to us on the Malecon. That was a fun ride!

We were early for the jazz club, so we decided to have a drink next door and ended up sitting with a guy from Wisconsin! Ok, he’s Cuban, but he’s been in the US for 15 years and is now a professor in La Crosse. We had a lovely conversation with him, but decided not to accompany him to the “transgressive Cuban play” he was going to attend. Instead, we got a late dinner at La Catedral. The restaurant had rave reviews and was super cheap. I had a mojito for 1.20. No joke. The equivalent of $1.20. I ordered a Cuban sandwich, even though I don’t know what is on them or supposed to be on them (except pork), and unfortunately it wasn’t great. Some of the pork was straight fat and the rest was a bit tough. But I tried (even though I know it’s not authentic!). I should have had the ropa vieja, but I will have that at some point.

After dinner we wanted a cab right the 10-12 blocks back to our casa and we took our lives into our hands during that ride. It was legit scary and I am so glad it was on side streets and not far. Though that did not stop him from nearly colliding with a motorcycle. But we made it! And we get sleep in an hour tomorrow! Tomorrow will be a busy day!

 

Vinales

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 11:06 am

Today was amazing. It started out a little rocky. Even though we slept 12 hours last night, it wasn’t enough. But part of that was likely the very hard beds (like very) and different pillows so my neck was killing me. I woke up with a headache. I thought breakfast would help, which it did a bit. The breakfast at our casa was great. Lots of fruit, crepes, tea, pastries, and frozen mango (or papaya?) juice.

We started a walking tour at 9am into the Vinales Nacional Parque. It was supposed to be three hours, but it was over 4. Our guide, Alexis, was incredible. So much fun! And he is a big baseball fan, which he said baseball is still the #1 sport here, but soccer isn’t far behind. We talked baseball and he was asking me if I had been to the Cardinals’ stadium and he asked if I had been there more than once. When I told him that I had been to 20 of the 30 stadiums and he was impressed. Then he told me that it was his dream to attend a MLB game. He told me this several times on the tour. I hope his dream comes true one day! We also talked Cuban baseball players (in MLB) and the World Series. Apparently his cousin plays for the Tigers’ Triple-A team and used to play against Aledmys Diaz when they both were still playing in Cuba.

Along the tour, we first stopped at a coffee farm. It was run by Antonio Banderas. Or at least that’s what he said! Antonio (definitely his real first name) had coffee beans freshly picked laying out to dry and then a section that were already dried. Then he showed us how to remove them from the shell or husk before roasting and grinding them. We were offered a cup of coffee if we wanted and sat in his house/yard.

Then we moved on to the tobacco farm. We learned all about planting, harvesting, and drying the tobacco leaves before fermenting them. The farmer then let us see and smell different kinds of tobacco leaves before rolling a cigar right in front of us. We were then given our own cigars to smoke and Mallory and I shared one. I smoked my first Cuban cigar!

From there we hiked up a small hill in the park to go down the other side and into the valley. That was a difficult climb for me because the trails were very muddy (both before and after) due to a heavy rain last night (also because I am out of shape). At this point, I was hot, sweaty, hungry, tired, and getting another headache. But the tour was not over! We stopped at a cafeteria where we got to drink a grapefruit. You read that right. We drank a grapefruit! They freeze the fruit instead of using ice and then cut off the top, stick in a straw, and drink! There appears to be very little liquid, but you just keep squeezing the fruit and more liquid appears. You also have to contend with seeds, but those things contain a lot of juice!

After the tour Mallory and I went to lunch and I was not feeling well. I probably could have slept another 12 hours. I truly did not know whether I was going to make it through the afternoon. But I had a cola (caffeine withdrawal was part of my problem, I knew) and some lunch, which I forced myself to eat. I started to feel a little better, so we went to get a wifi card (you have to pay for a username and password for either 1 hour or 5 hours and then find a wifi zone in order to use it). In line for the wifi card we saw Salome, who had been on our tour with us. She was traveling alone and we had told her that we were going to do the hop on-hop off bus after lunch and that she should join us. So we talked to her and she had decided to come with.

On the bus I started feeling terrible again and fell asleep briefly. Thankfully when we got off, at Cuevo de Indio, and started walking, I felt much better. This place was a cave that we walked through and then went on a boat inside the river in the cave. We exited the cave on the boat and waited for the bus to pick us up again.

Once back in town we had tapas for dinner. I tried empanadas! We had another mojito with dinner, but I couldn’t finish it because it was too strong. We had pumpkin custard for dessert because Thanksgiving! Then we went to a bar that was recommended to us, but there weren’t any tables. We asked the server and she checked, but instead of saying no, she just went up to a table of two and asked if we could also sit at the table. Which was super awkward, but we later decided she just sat the four white people together. They were Canadian, so we got along well. We had a great time chatting with them and getting to know them. It was a great night

Tomorrow after breakfast we have another taxi coming to take us to Havana for the next (and last) part of the trip! Very excited!

 

Cuba!!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 11:01 am

Well, we made it! I had to get up at 2am, so the fact that it’s 7pm and I’m going to bed soon shouldn’t be surprising! We are exhausted. We flew to Havana through Atlanta. Once in Havana we sailed through immigration (got the passport stamp…they used to not stamp Americans’ passports because we weren’t supposed to be here…we’re again not supposed to be here, but they stamped it and I didn’t even have to ask!), baggage claim, and customs. We exited customs to someone standing with a sign with my name on it. It felt very fancy!

Our driver showed us where to change money, took a goofy picture with my sign for me, and drove us the 2 hours and 7 minutes to Vinales. He was very precise. He was a very nice guy and tried to be helpful, giving us tips. He also made a stop for us so we could take some pictures.

We made it to Vinales at about 3pm, which the son-in-law of the people we’re staying with said was very, very quick. He said with our flight landing at noon and arriving there at 3, it was very fast. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was still much easier than I expected!

Once at the casa, we spoke with the family, as much as we could with the language barrier, and I spoke on the phone with their daughter who just had surgery. She was supposed to be here to meet us, as she speaks English, but instead she was letting me know that she was sending her husband instead. He was a font of information. It was almost too much to take in given our state of hunger and exhaustion. But we took his information, booked our hiking trip for tomorrow, and ate dinner. I had my first Cuban mojito (in fact I had two of them!), so I am all set!

It is definitely interesting how surprised people seem to be when we tell them we are Americans. They know that the law changed again, so they are surprised to see us. Alex, our hosts’ son-in-law, even asked me when we booked this because he was aware that the regulations went into effect a couple of weeks ago. But so far no one has wanted to “go threre” with us. Alex did mention that the only people hurting from this decision are the Cuban people. And I understand that. Which is why I want to be as generous as I can be on this trip. Already I have seen just how much I have comparatively. I think this is a good place to be for Thanksgiving!

 

Fare Thee Well October 11, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 5:18 pm

Today was spent in the car for the vast majority of the time. We literally drove from one side of the country to the other. And we learned that our GPS likes to take backroads instead of the motorway, much to my chagrin! We left Lisdoonvarna and didn’t stop until Navan, which was 20 minutes from our destination, just north of Dublin. We saw a McDonald’s and decided that we hadn’t had fast food this whole trip, so why not?!?!

Then we made our way to Newgrange, which is a Neolithic passage tomb in the Boyne Valley (called the Bru na Boinne). I have wanted to go to this area (as well as the Hill of Tara, but we ended up missing that today) since I first came to Ireland in 2012. I was actually set to do a tour of it on my 39th birthday, but I may or may not have overindulged the night before and didn’t really feel up to it!

It was amazing. First, the countryside is just beautiful (what’s new?). But the passage tomb is enormous. It was built 5000 years ago! That is older than both the pyramids and Stonehenge. It is just absolutely mind-blowing that people built that thing 5000 years ago. They brought big rocks from 15kms away, which they decided would have taken 80 people 4 days to move ONE stone. And those large stones encircle the tomb. And that’s not to mention the granite stones that were 30-some kms away and the quartz that was 80 kms away!

Inside is even more awe-inspiring. The architecture is incredible. To stand inside something that hasn’t been touched in 5000 years is unbelievable. Inside the chamber the walls and passageway have been reinforced, but the main chamber ceiling and capstone haven’t been touched. So amazing. The unique thing about this tomb is that at sunrise on the Winter Solstice, the sun shines through a “roof box” or basically a transom window, above the main entrance. For 17 minutes as the sun is rising, it perfectly lines up with the passage and the chamber. This was a major spiritual ritual for the people who built it. Two other passage tombs in the area (Knowth and Dowth) have similar qualities.

As we stood inside the chamber, the tour guide turned off the lights and turned on a demonstration of what it looks like on Winter Solstice. It gave me goosebumps! It’s hard to wrap my brain around early Iron Age people being able to create a structure like that and have it so perfectly aligned with sunrise on a specific day (well, 6 days, actually…3 before and 2 after). You can put your name in a lottery to be inside on Winter Solstice to see it happen live. Last year there were 30,000 entries!

The passage tomb was surprisingly not used for very long, considering they think it had to have taken at least 50 years to build…when life expectancies was 25 years. They think it was used for only a short-ish period of time. I thought our tour guide said 100-200 years, but for sure it was in disrepair and decay 1000 years after it was built. It eroded and rocks fell off, which allowed it to actually remain largely intact. It sat, buried, for nearly 3500 years, until the 1690’s when the landowner tried to unearth all of the rocks to build a road. When he located the main entrance, he stopped and the site was opened up. But he just opened it for anyone at anytime, which is how it sat for 200 years. So there is graffiti inside (carved into the stone) and no one knows what may have been removed. The Irish government then took it over about 100 years ago, but the main excavation occurred in the 1960-70’s. It Is now a Unesco World Heritage Site.

After Newgrange we made our way back to Dublin and to our hotel near the airport. After relaxing for a bit we went to a nearby Italian restaurant (where I had the pizza, which was a mere step up from frozen pizza…). After that we needed to get gas and candy. Bringing candy home is sort of a tradition. So I knew there was a Tesco about a mile away and we made our way to it. We couldn’t find it, because it was, apparently, in a mall that was closed. Wah Wah. So we got gas and I made a new friend! I went in to pay and he asked me how I was. I said good, but then said, actually I’m sad. He asked why I was sad and I told him because I have to go home tomorrow. He said, so you liked it here, then? I said, yes this was my third trip. He said, “Jaysus, you really do love it here!” He informed me that Ireland is the world’s third smallest country! I told him we had been here for 10 days and he said that wasn’t enough, but that he wouldn’t be able to get anywhere in America in 10 days! (Hence the third smallest country.) As I left he said, well, maybe I will see you again someday!

We decided to try our hand at Lidl, which was an epic fail. No candy AND no Bulmer’s. So I got blackcurrant jam and breakfast for tomorrow. Then we went back to the gas station to see if they haed candy and/or Bulmer’s. They had candy and my new friend told me where there was an open Tesco that would sell Bulmer’s. He also informed me that my Magner’s in the states is made from different products and not the Irish products. Interesting! Through our convo a guy was waiting to checkout and he happened to be a guy who was in line ahead of me at Lidl. We actually walked into the gas station at the same time and I go, “fancy meeting you here!” He laughed.

I was purchasing many small Diary Milk bars in various flavors for gifts and both my employee-friend and a customer in line behind me commented that I hadn’t gotten the mint Dairy Milk. I said I had never had it and they both highly recommended it. So I threw one in in the pile, saying that the Fruit and Nut are my favorite. The other customer said I might change my mind! She then started talking to Jaime about other candy!

We then made our way, or attempted to make our way, to the Tesco that my new friend told me about. Let’s just say we were a bit punchy and we kept missing turns, bear rights, and roundabouts. And yes, I say “we” because my navigator was as confused and laughing so hard she was crying half the time! It didn’t help matters that a Garda (police) came up behind me with its lights on. There was a bus lane to my left and one lane going my direction….the lane I was in. So I immediately pulled over and stopped to the right. But the Garda did the same thing. Pulled behind me. What? Then it honked and I realized I had pulled over to the wrong side of the road. In Ireland, I should’ve pulled over to the left. But there was another lane there. Whatever. He could’ve also gone around me to my left, but he didn’t want to do that. He turned its sirens on then. Dude, sirens won’t help. I thought I was pulling over correctly!

We finally found Tesco and as we went upstairs in this gigantic mall, it appeared to be closed. Um, what? My friend said it was open until 1am. There was a Tesco extra that had its gates down and that’s what we thought was closed. Then I saw a gentleman nearby and I asked him was it closed? He said, I hope not, I have to go there, too. And he was surprised to see the gate down. So I said, Tesco extra…is that something different than Tesco? I really oughta know better by now than to ask Irish people something like that. His response? “Yes, it’s extra!” We later saw him in the store and were like, we made it! He goes, we have to stop running into each other like this!

I found my suitcase Bulmer’s (it all goes in my suitcase and all of my shoes go into my carryon). Speaking of shoes, there were wine-colored ballet flats that I could not resist. Even though they technically didn’t have my size. I went a size up. BFD. I have recently purchased some wine/burgundy items and so I had to have those shoes! Anyway, I intended to get the Pear, Berry, and Strawberry Lime Bulmer’s, but saw that there was also a Cloudy Lemon and they were 4 for 10 euro. Done.

We made it back to the hotel in one piece and did some repacking. Now it’s time to sleep. I’m glad we stayed busy tonight because I haven’t even cried yet. Which would be a first! (Also, taking applications for travel partners for Ireland 2018…St. Patrick’s Day!)

 

 

Green and Blue October 10, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Torrie Schneider @ 4:44 pm

That was what Loren and I called Ireland in 2012.  We lucked out with the weather on that trip, so Ireland was just very green and blue.  Well, we’re getting even better weather this year, if that’s even possible!  So Ireland is, once again, green and blue.  It’s like it thinks it still has to tempt me.  There’s no need for that…I already want to live here!

Today was a day I had been looking forward to all trip. Our excursion to the Aran Islands…namely Inis Mor. I have been to Inis Mor once before, but Loren and I had left from Galway to get there. That required a 45-minute coach bus ride followed by a ferry ride that I believe was about 30 minutes. Well, we aren’t going to Galway this trip, so we decided to stay in the Burren last night and tonight and leave from Doolin, the only other place that ferries leave the main island for the Arans.

Online research told us that the trip would be 75-90 mins. That seemed long to me, but whatever. We bought our tickets and we reached a stop after 45 minutes. From what I could see out the window, it looked like it could be Inis Mor. Nope. It was Inis Oirr (not to be confused with Inis Meain or Inis Mor). So we stayed on until the next stop, which was at the 75-minute mark. Nope again. Inis Meain. It took nearly 2 hours to get to Inis Mor. I was not pleased. Not to mention because the ferry was kind of old and very cold.

We rented our bikes straightaway and I was excited to take the CORRECT bike path this year. The last time Loren and I missed the turn (it is now marked better!) and the route we ended up taking was brutal. It was very difficult and it took FOREVER. We found the better route back, so I knew where to take it this year. It was a 4-mile bike one way and then you hike up quite the hill to Dun Aengus, a prehistorical fort. The signage says it’s one of Europe’s finest! It seemed a little different this time, as one passageway seemed to have been blocked off. But I made it around to the iconic ledge photo area. You lay on the edge of the very tall cliff and take your picture. It didn’t matter that I was right next to a cliff with a drop-off that could kill me, I loved laying there and nearly fell asleep. Being near that kind of water really is my happy place!

We then walked and biked back, enjoying the scenery and animals along the way. On the way there we played with a horse and two donkeys and on the way back we played with a cow and another, much more extroverted horse! We didn’t have a lot of time (thanks ferry), so we missed lunch and went straight to the Aran Sweater Market. I may or may not have gone overboard. Good thing they ship!

Tracey and I then got water and chips from the Spar (which is new to the island since 2012) and then waited for Jaime to finish shopping. We returned our bikes and waited for the ferry. I had hoped that they would have picked up at the other islands on their way to get us, you know to give us all roughly the same amount of time on the islands. No such luck. Another absolutely freezing 2-hour tour.

We were all frozen stiff by the time we got to the car, good thing for heat! We stopped at what I thought looked like a cute little pub there in Doolin and it was toasty warm when we walked in. Perfect! I had the chicken burger, which was delicious. Tracey and Jaime had the seafood curry, which they thought was pretty amazing, too. We’ve really had great luck with food on this trip. Almost everything has been so tasty.

We then came back to the room to relax and read our books. We were exhausted from our 8-mile bike ride and at least 3-mile walk! Tell me again why my pants are getting tight on this trip?

Tomorrow is the last actual day of the trip. This makes me very sad. I always get pretty emotional on my last evening. So I hope I can hold it together! I just find such a sense of peace everywhere I go in this country! I never want to leave!