Europe, Part II

This is the second part of the European Vacation salvage from 2014. The previous post is Part I.


An ancient bathroom throne.

We drove out through a couple of small villages on the way to the abbey and even stopped at what looked like an American flea market. I was taken aback by the wondrous old tools and the brass and copper items. I was not even tempted to buy anything. I’d have to get it home. And that ain’t happening.

What did impress was the width of the streets the the towns. Some were–and this is no exaggeration–narrower than my driveway. But the locals drive them. We drove them. We were not comfy.

I’m still fighting a cold and it’s getting late, so I’m going to bed. Toodles.

Even the village streets are decorative.

I will not say “Touchdown, Jesus!” Promise.

Wanna drive this?

Sonya in the Whisper Room at the abbey.

Gratitude: A Bunch of Things

Today, I am grateful for:

When I have a cold, it’s difficult to find much to be grateful for, but I believe that is the time I most need to practice gratitude. So let me do this:

I’m grateful I get to see my darling grandgirl Madeline (and her family) in less than a week.
I am grateful that my cold is better.
I am grateful to be out of big cities and in lovely rural country.
I am grateful for the rich and natural welcome the French, Dutch, Scottish and Irish have given us. I am certain the Spanish will be their equal over the weekend.
I am grateful we are traveling by car for a while. I like the idea of mass transit. The delivery is not quite as invigorating.
I am especially grateful to be losing weight and not to be hungry. I’m having to force myself to eat. I hope that continues. I’d love to weigh 175 again.
I am grateful for this elegant old French home we are staying in. We move across the way in a couple of days to occupy one of the other buildings. It’s pretty, too.
I’m grateful the goats here like me. I thought maybe the old black alpha male would whack me with his four-foot horns, but he’s an old sweetie.

A Day of Solemn Recovery

This is part of the compound we’re staying in. It’s two doors down. Beautiful?

Yep. Even in France.

I took the day off yesterday. Like OFF. I slept a good portion of it, but did wind up walking for about an hour and a half and getting a few photos, all on the farm here.

Sonya drove about 30 minutes or so and found a narrow path up the back side of a mountain that overlooks a huge, sprawling, ancient castle. I was impressed she did the very difficult climb over a narrow trail (all roads in France seem narrow to me, even the footpaths). She was energized enough to cook a good dinner for us last night of salmon, pasta and grilled veggies. It was the first food I had eaten–save for half an orange and a banana–in two days.

You know, I’ve taken something like five major trips in my life and come down with a nasty cold halfway through three of them. I don’t know what it is unless my body simply doesn’t like being away from its natural comfort zone. In the future, I will limit my trips–providing I have enough money after France to take any–to a week. Not a minute more. That’s enough for me.

We’re going to venture out today to see what we can stir up. This place is simply covered with castles and small villages that are quite lovely. The country French people are as lovely as their surroundings, as well. I’m finding that I truly like Europeans because they seem to have a firm grip on what life means. I have no clue, but I like to watch them.

After about 10 days on the road, Leah Weiss asked me if I was homesick yet. “No,” I said. I’ve discovered that comes on the 14th day for me.

Here’s some of what I saw yesterday.

The grape fields are going into their fall color mode.

Individually the grape leaves look like this.

These sprigs held grapes.

When I was young, I built rock walls like this. Now I just admire them. It’s easier.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cooling My Heels on the 13th Day

The building materials in France look fine, last a long time.

This has been a day of snoozing and reflection, trying to shake this sore throat and travel weariness. I sometimes forget how old I am and try to go at a teen-ager’s rate of speed for too long. It catches me and forces a slowdown.

Who’s your daddy?

The cold has had something of a good side effect: I seem to be losing weight. I haven’t been really hungry since I’ve been here and yesterday I didn’t eat at all. I’ve had a banana and half an orange today and it’s nearly 5 p.m. Not a big hungry. But I’m loving the solitude. Sonya took the car and headed off on an adventure. My guess is she will find a castle with a gift shop and get lost in shopping for old stuff.

I’ve come to some distinct conclusions about travel, something I’ve ever much liked. I still don’t like the travel. I do like the destinations, especially when they are like Northern Ireland and Southern France. The big cities are great for 24 hours. Not a minute longer for my taste. Far too much stress and hassle.

The people all over Europe–the ones we’ve met–are divine. We were struggling through the Paris Metro yesterday and several times, Frenchmen simply nudged Sonya aside, picked up her bags, smiled and lugged them up the steep steps for her without a word. Such a sweet gesture. Neither of us knew what to say beyond “merci,” which didn’t seem enough.

Can I eat these? Prob-ly not.

I will never pack big again, no matter what I’m told. Small is good. Small is excellent when you’re lugging those damn bags through big crowds or trying to squeeze onto a subway or a bus. I have not worn half the clothes I brought, nor will I. I’m leaving half this crap at my son’s house, so when I return, I won’t have to bring much at all.

I will remember to take time for myself on a daily or every-other-day basis. Sonya and I get testy with each other because we both live alone and we’re living together right now with people we’re not married to or romantically involved with. Friction is inevitable and I think we both know that. Today’s solitude has been a godsend.

I’m going for another walk. I think it could help my appetite and maybe when Sonya gets back, I can eat with her.

Freshly plowed fall field.

This is our charming living room.

Do goats really climb trees. Not so much.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Return to the Tragi-comedy of All-Day Travel

This is our bungalo on the farm.

There was a point this afternoon when the tragi-comedy was swirling that I took out my note pad and began jotting this all down. There was an Laurel and Hardy routine sitting there waiting to be snapped up.

The farm’s owner lives here.


This trip has had more snafus than the 8th Army, but this was ridiculous, Ollie. Sonya was standing at the Enterprise car rental counter in the small French coastal town of Brasiers (OK, cut the cute jokes), telling the clerk that we had walked half a mile uphill in the hot sun  dragging our ridiculous bags (I’ve learned my lesson, Leah; promise) to Avis. The Avis lady told us the car had been rented through Enterprise.

We trudged back down the hill to Enterprise where the clerk was away from the office–bathroom break, I’d guess–and upon return, he said he’d found the reservation but the car was at the airport–16 km away–and not at the train station where he operated. The cab ride to the airport was 30 Euros–about $40.

This old boy is part of a good-sized herd.


This came on top of what was already developing as The Day Hell Forgot. We’d awakened early (me 7, Sonya 8) this  morning so we could get a jump on the 10 a.m. strain from Paris to Aude Cathar County in the French wine country. We had rented a half of an old house here for a few days and were looking forward to getting out of the city, the stress and the unaccustomed large crowds. I knew this was going to be a slog.

First, we had to go half a mile through complicated Paris streets to the Metro. That meant arranging and carrying all that baggage. It meant climbing flight after flighty of steps at the Metro station. It means pushing the bags out of the train before we were trampled and getting a seat on the high-speed train before it took off. All doable, but we’d be cutting it close. That, of course, translates to stress, a constant companion on this trip. We finally got it all done. Sonya has said more than once, “It ain’t always pretty, but I always get it done.” Yep, true so far.

Just up from our bungalo.


So, we are totally tied up on the train for four hours arriving in this amazing county and we begin the absurdly complex trek out to the farm, where grapes and a number of animals live with an Englishwoman named Jilly, her son Oliver and her Iranian husband. Off the road and on the way to the farm, my jaw dropped and stayed there. Tomorrow morning, I will take the camera out. Tonight, I’m simply too tired and the light is gone. Sonya took me out to the front steps a bit ago to look at the stars. I’d forgotten there are so many.

LET ME MENTION that on the way to the South, we continually came across France’s dependency on fuels other than oil, coal and the like. We saw huge nuclear reactors and giant wind generator farms all over the place in this wine county. France is just so damn civilized.

IT’S SATURDAY now and I took a bit of a walk this morning to get some photos in the glorious South France light, but alas, it’s overcast. I’m still feeling puny, so I asked Sonya to head out on her own today and I’ll stick with the farm, do some hiking here and try to catch up with my cold, which is keeping me up for much of the night. My guess is that Sonya will enjoy a day of solitude and privacy. I will, too. Close quarters like this cause a strain on even the closest relationship. I once spent 10 days on a sailboat in the Bahamas with some very good friends and by the ninth day, we could have all killed each other. This is Sonya’s and my 13th day.

Scenic, but not especially useful.

The kitchen window.

The black dude’s brown buddy.

This is the lock on our front door. Love it, or what?


Thursday, October 16, 2014

One Final Look at the City of Light

It was an overcast and gray day in the City of Light today, but what we saw in downtown Paris was anything but dull. It is, indeed, a lovely city, one of a kind and its charm and allure are undeniable.

My first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower was almost breath-taking, although I have seen it thousands of times in photos and film. The real deal is, as Sissy Spcaek once said of Loretta Lynn ,”Real real.”

Our day revolved around seeing rather than doing–although getting around is a pretty good case of “doing.” We had a couple of requests from friends to take photos of “a perfume factory” and “a used bookstore,” which I did, and to “bring me back some Paris dirt,” which I gathered at a huge garden in downtown. My pals should be happy. I also picked up goodies at both Chanel and the Shakespeare Bookstore for the writer of the two.

We ate a wondrous late lunch at a small bistro across from Notre Dame (I never could find the football stadium) and I don’t believe I’ve ever had a quiche that was in this league (salmon). I also had my first French croissant. It was out of this world.

Don’t have much time to write tonight because we have to get ready for the trip to the South tomorrow. Here are some photos of the sights, sounds and faces of Paris today, including one from a wondrous food market on the street we ran into accidentally on the way home. Enjoy.

The Eiffel Tower stands watch over the City of Light.

Pampa at Chanel, Mecca to many women.

Shakespeare Bookstore across from Notre Dame.

Pampa does a book-look.

Paris cops are everywhere.

Sonya walks through the outdoor market which was noisy, colorful and wondrous.

Boats on the Seine.

Pampa eats his first croissant

Smoking girls near the Seine.

Sonya in Chanel showroom. This place is the essence of glamor.

Shoes for the rich.

Mom helps a little girl.

Style of the street.

Chanel shopper scores.

Even the fences are special in Paris.

Motorcycles are everywhere.

Eiffel from the Plaza.

Another exotic vehicle.

Lovers beside the Seine.

This Californian said she was trying to blend in, so nobody would suspect she was a tourist.

Street merchant in downtown Paris.

Tourists trying to find their way.

Downtown lunch.

I love this old man’s look.

Sweeping out the street near a cafe.

Portraiture downtown.

Waiting for the light to change.

Old lady driving fast.

Guess where she’s from?

Bet you didn’t know I love redheads.

One last homage to Paris.


Finding a Solution to Our Differences

My friend Roland Lazenby posted a piece from Daily Kos that I just caught up with, having to do with the GOP’s attitude that the poor are that way because they choose to be. As Rush Limbaugh would say, “Screw ’em.”

That’s a sick, narrow, troubled view from a party that reflects its own illness daily. I’m traveling through several countries that seem to have solved that kind of unhealthy attitude. Europe has its problems, but I haven’t detected the kind of hatred for the poor mentality some have in the U.S. Despots have used that type of ignorance to their advantage through the ages, solidifying the rich, repressing everybody else and having those in the middle blame those at the bottom for their lack of progress.

I am especially impressed these days with the way the Netherlands works. Northern Europe is mostly socialist and on the surface it is expensive. But those countries traditionally rank with the Top 5 happiest people in the world. They are safe, secure and content and their governments work their butts off to ensure that state exists. I’m not sure how expensive safety and security should be, but my guess is you can’t put a price on it … though the GOP would certainly try.

Our government’s primary purpose of late seems to be splitting us into ever widening factions–guns, abortion, health care for all, healthy food, smoking, dirty energy, living big, and the like. We hate each other because of beliefs, rather than searching for ways we can make those beliefs work together.

I am basically opposed to both abortion and a population out of control. I accept abortion because, first, it is not my right to take away a woman’s choice, and second because our population is out of control–it is the world’s No. 1 problem. All other problems stem from population. I believe I can talk to those who oppose and those who support abortion, but the response I get will not always be thoughtful and understanding, one willing to consider options.

And that’s simply too bad. I have no solution to our differences. But our Northern European brothers and sisters seem to have found one.


Gratitude: Staying Positive

Today, I am grateful for:

A positive attitude in the face of challenges that could turn days into dust. We’ve had a difficult, stressful 10 days in Europe. There have been delicious payoffs, as well, that would have been nearly impossible to appreciate without being able to absorb the situations travel–this much travel–put us in.

I am grateful that I can maintain an even temper–most of the time–despite the challenges. Losing my head helps nothing.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Looking at Paris My Way

Paris today in the rain. This is exactly what it looks like.

No comment needed.


Today’s trip to the Musee d’Orsay (the Big M’O, according to the French) was almost uneventful–certainly when compared to recent adventures–but we did, indeed, have a problem figuring out how to buy our subway tickets. Sonya and I nearly came to blows, but a kindly African-Parisian came to the rescue. Sometimes the people in this city and the other cities we visited have delighted me with their kindness.

I fell in love with this kid.

Anyhow, the museum was a real highlight, playing to my interest in the works and lives of the impressionists and post-impressionists. Of course, we weren’t allowed to shoot any of the works inside, but it’s the streets of Paris that interest me in any case. Here are some of the shots I took today.

I was impressed at the number of college classes that were being held inside. Lots of intimate discussion going on over some famous works.

The Seine has been an interest of mine since I was a kid watching Film Noir. I took off for a walk down its banks while Sonya visited the museum shops and I found what I wanted: rain, lovers, atmosphere, Paris.

Look close. I’m under the waiter’s arm.

There’s a lot of graffiti and it’s generally gorgeous.

Animated Parisian woman in front of the color.

This sad woman was panhandling.

Merchant on the walkway along the Seine River.

Sonya loves this cat.

Plumber’s butt with Speedo tan.

Paris can be extremely colorful.

I will refrain from comment.

More Paris, more rain, more beauty.

The bistros get busy, even in the rain.

The editor at lunch in a palace. Really.

Sonya outside the Big M’O.

Lunch was in this room. Sigh.

Pampa meets the River Seine.

Inside the Museum d’Orsay, there is  place to collapse. It is often needed.

Lovers walking along the river Seine. Ahhhhhhhh.

I like this shot a lot. It feels like the Paris I saw today.

Inside the sculpture hall at the Musee d’Orsay.

Tour boats tie up here.

Bike rental is big and convenient in Paris (where biking is a risk).

Two views: The homeless reality of a modern big city against the Louvre.

The mosaic of bridges down the Seine.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Finally Paris … and More Stairs

This is downtown Paris. A lot of it looks like this. I couldn’t stop looking or photographing.

Cops rousting kids downtown.

We cruised into Paris about 2:30 p.m. (14:30 Parisians will tell you) and it was immediately mesmerizing.

We didn’t have a lot of time to get out before dark after we finally found our place and climbed the obligatory two flights of very steep, winding stairs with 4,000 tons of luggage. I hate luggage.

But we did take a run out to a grocery store in the ‘hood that was recommended and picked up some goodies for dinner. The neighborhood is African principally and Muslim secondarily. We walked probably seven to 10 blocks and found all kinds of ethnic twists and turns and one thing they all had in common was the presence of cops rousting teenagers. I must have seen four or five sets of three cops with a kid looking embarrassed.

The grocery run was a bit more difficult, since we don’t speak French and only one young woman in there did. But we got it all done, cooked ratatouille (I love it), pasta and salad with a wonderful French olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Good first din-din in Par-ee.

Here are a few pix from today.

View from the front apartment gate.

This is Brussels. In a hurry Brussels (as the train sped past).

More downtown Paris.

The buildings are ornate. Nearly all of them.

The streets were full of people at dusk.

I love he look of the woman on the right. One more view below.


Photo of the Day: Newsies

Saw this on the tram coming out of Amsterdam this morning. The young girl is surfing the net and the old man is getting his news the old-fashioned way.


What Do You Mean My Ticket’s No Good?!?

Busted: On a train near Rotterdam.

Sonya keeps talking about Mercury  being in “retrograde,” an astrological reference with an ill wind connotation. It means traveling will be a problem until about Oct. 24 and electronics could cause a headache, as well. I’m becoming a believer.

Today’s adventure involves train tickets that we discovered are two days out of date, some kind of glitch in making the reservations online. In short, they were no good. We got to pay the full price for those, then pay again in order to get to Paris. Doesn’t look like a refund is in the stars. We were sent to one place for a solution, then another and finally got a phone number.

The bad tickets were an interesting discovery. A 30-something couple came on the train and had tickets for our seats, for which we also had tickets. Only ours were dated Oct. 12 and theirs Oct. 14. Today’s the 14th. We were in their seats.

The conductor was direct, though a smidge confusing. Sonya thought he was throwing us off the train, but he actually gave us a choice of staying on—albeit in an alcove where comfort was not an option—or getting off in Rotterdam. We chose to wait in the “tipper, “ a couple of jump seats next to the baggage until Brussels, where we got to pick out real seats through to Paris.

I’ve been impressed with the train, which travels at upwards of 200mph through the lowlands and French bread basket. The wind turbine farms show France to be far ahead of us in that statement about wind power, and the farms are simply lovely in this flat country with few distinguishing marks.

As we entered France, the heavy overcast broke in favor of scattered clouds and a bright sky. Paris should be stunning in the late afternoon October light.

The bottom line for all the problems is that we’ll get to Paris pretty much on time and I got to see some windmills, both modern and ancient. I like the old ones best. Still, this little glitch will cost us double, somewhere in the neighborhood of what a plane ride would cost. The adventure continues.

A LITTLE LATER: We caught a cab from the train station to our apartment in what at one time could have been an upscale section. That was long ago, but it has a certain charm of its own and the apartment is just fine, owned by an exotic-looking Parisian. Sonya staked out the bed and I get a comfy sofa in the living room. I like this place.

We’ll venture out in a bit and see just how hospitable this place is. As we arrived at this apartment complex–with a heavy gate–a couple of cops were trying to calm a domestic dispute. It was more comic than threatening, but the gathered young men didn’t look innocent. We also encountered one con man at the airport and I thought we had another one with the cab, but he turned out to be OK. Guess we gotta be on the lookout while looking out.

Gratitude: A Willingness To Learn

Today, I am grateful for:

A willingness to learn and to keep resistance to a minimum. This trip has been a real slog–an exciting slog–one filled with the new and the challenging. I’m learning a lot about things that will serve me well in the future, I think.

There have been some difficult adjustments and some invitations to simply accept and move ahead, making the best of those things which make me uncomfortable. It isn’t easy, but it is possible and with that small open door, I will run through.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Who Needs Van Gogh? Not Pampa

A duo named Havin’ a Bubble entertained the kids with, well, bubbles.

Andy strings out the bubbles with his “machine.”

Big bubbles, little kids.


Overcast, dreary Holland was a sheer delight today, compensating for its clouds and its cool with color, art and fun in the park.

I began with an early walk, but the center focus today was to be Van Gogh’s museum, something Sonya was more excited about than I. I slogged through with her, though, and when we’d finished, I hauled out for the streets to find some excitement. Amsterdam seems to always have its fill.

The first discovery was a band called Compulsive Gambling, a duet of 20-somethings who sang and played the bejabbers out of some fine music. The singer, AnneFleur Schoch, is a delightful young woman who said the band’s newest album is due in two weeks. They have a website (compulsive and you can give a listen.

Pampa digs bubbles, too.

Irishman Andy and his partner Karlota entertained the kids with their bubble “machine,” which was a webbed rope, dipped in water and detergent. It made huge bubbles and one splashed on the lens of my Canon. The kids love them and Andy says you can see what they do at their website (just type in the name and Google will do the rest.

One of the coolest adventures featured a kid named Marco Johnsen who was giving away hugs. “No, it’s not a job,” he said, smiling. I got it. Marco was thoroughly enjoying himself.

We wound up the day with a one-hour tour of the canals of the city, which was an informative feast for the eyes. Amsterdam is as pretty a city as I’ve ever seen.

We’re going to Paris in the morning and I have to pack. Or is it unpack? Hell, who knows, but I gotta go. Thanks for looking in.

This is Compulsive Gambling, picking and singing.

My new buddy Anne-Fleur belts one out.

Marco Johnsen plants a hug on me.

Pampa sits in a national symbol.

Cruising along the canal in Amsterdam.

Posted by Dan Smith at 2:51 PM No comments: Links to this post

Amsterdam, Where Bikers Rule

Gathering at a traffic light.

The bicycle culture here in Amsterdam is a strange combination of Dutch efficiency and derring-do. The bikers, in generally obey the rules, operate their bikes with an almost professional skill of handling and are courteous.

They also text while riding, whiz through tiny openings in negotiating other bikes, ride with hoodies through intersections not looking anywhere but straight ahead. It seems to be a situation made for accidents, but the riders don’t even wear helmets, so the wreck must be the rare exception.

Trams and bikes co-exist.

I met an ex-pat American on a tram yesterday who talked about how the clean Dutch “drain the canals in the city every two months or so” and said, “You should see all the bikes they take out every time.” I don’t know if that means the riders accidentally drive into the canals or if they just get mad and toss them occasionally. The ex-pat did say, however, that “the canals look really clean, but they aren’t. I pulled out a cup of water when they were newly filled once and it was darker than my beer.”

Back to the bikes: I’ve never seen so many or such variety. The Amsterdam residents call themselves “the bicycle capital of the world” with good reason. I have no idea how anybody ever finds his specific bike because there are so many on so many racks, but they do. The variety is wild. Moms carry their babies–I mean BABIES–in cribs built into bikes, there are huge grocery bins at the front or back. There are comfy seats for doubling up and double-wide bikes for two people (side-by-side, not front-to-back). The colors form the spectrum with many bikes being obviously hand-painted and decorated

They have specific, and large, bike lanes on both sides of the street, each going one way. If you walk into the red bike zone, you’d better watch your butt because they zoom along at 15 to 20 mph and some don’t seem to be looking for anything.

The one fact I have to remind myself of is that these one-speed bikes of all sizes, shapes and prices are not recreation machines. They are modes of transportation. I checked prices in a bike shop this morning on my early walk and they ranged between 129 Euro (about $1.50 to 1E) to about 1,200 Euro. The 129 Euro looked pretty stable, but not fancy. Certainly serviceable.

In any case, I’ve yet to see anybody hit anything, so maybe the subtlety escapes me. I expect so. These lovely people are quite skilled.

Posted by Dan Smith at 4:33 AM No comments: Links to this post

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Beautiful Day in Beautiful Amsterdam

This is me at the harbor. Don’t know what the sign’s for, but it seemed right.

Bike attire.

Amsterdam smacked me between the eyes today with just about

Bike shoes.

everything I want–at first glance, anyway–in a city. It is bright, clean, imaginatively erected, colorful, historic, an architectural masterpiece, a biker’s haven, filled with boats, almost devoid of cars, home of a crackerjack public transportation system, diverse as any place I’ve ever been and almost as friendly as Ireland.

The prevalence of bicycles and the absence of cars was the first eyebrow-raiser. I knew this was the capital of the world for bikes, but I had no idea a big city like this would have so few cars. Public transportation is wonderful and with the flat landscape, dang near everybody rides bikes. I understand cars are prohibitively expensive to own, so that would help explain some of it. I love the variety, the color and the styles of bikes. They’re all over the place.

We’re in a small three-story flat downtown with a staircase that would make Alfred Hitchcock blush. We lugged those increasingly heavy bags up the steps early in the afternoon after flying over from Dublin and almost immediately went to the center of the city to the Eye Museum, where we had a late lunch, watched the boats and bikers and generally enjoyed being here. It is stunning and the unseasonable 60-degree weather brought out a large number of natives and guests.

I’m loving Holland and tomorrow I follow Sonya’s lead to some of its museums.
Add caption

This was the bike scene at the train station.

There are canals all over the city.

This is where we’re staying.

This represents driving and talking on the cell. I saw people texting.

Hitchcock’s stairwell.

Colorful kids downtown.

Hanging out on a pretty day.

More bikes at the canal.

A fairly typical street scene.

Sonya near the eye museum.

Amsterdam Central is breathtaking.

The old man in front of the extraordinary Eye Museum of art.

Dining hall at the Eye Museum.

Schooner passing during a late lunch.

Posted by Dan Smith at 2:59 PM 1 comment: Links to this post

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Challenging Day Rewarded in Dublin

Our bags outside the empty BnB door this morning.

Bertie Ahern, former head of state.

This one’s been a long day with highs and lows of equal merit and finishes with a flourish. We had a lot of fun after finding out that the Airbnb where we were staying in Dublin was not open to us. It’s a long story, but let’s just say we got stood up.

The jilt came after we took two long bus rides to the Dublin suburbs and showed up at the house at about 10:30 this morning. We made a call to find out what happened and were told we’d need to stay there–or do whatever we wanted–until about 5:30. We thought better of it and took a room near the airport at a Holiday Inn. We’d been up since 3 a.m. to get ready for the flight over to Dublin, where we will fly to Amsterdam tomorrow. We had decided on a chill-out day. The best laid plans …

Anyhow, the Holiday Inn not only worked out, helped round out our Dublin adventure because we got to tour downtown on the way over to the hotel and once there, we went for a walk in an historic park, ran into the former Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, the former Taoscieach (head of government, 1997-2008) at a football stadium at the park across from the Holiday Inn.

My first swan.

Great blue heron in the park.

I had stopped there to ask about the beautiful stadium, about 12,000 seats, and the young man I was talking to, after explaining that this was where a well-known group had played for some time, said, “There: The white-haired man is the former head of government.”A few minutes later, a woman in middle age gave an opinion of Bertie that was not so kind. “I wouldn’t even give him the time o’ day,” she said, when I asked if she thought I should go over and say hello. “He’s the one that put us in the fix we’re in.” Damn liberals.

I saw my first swan in the park and got a brief history, revealing that the park had been the estate of one of the privileged until the IRA burned it to the ground in the late 19th Century.

Found a real appreciation for Dublin on a day filled with challenge and fulfillment. But we leave tomorrow for another adventure. Seems Sonya has also adjusted our schedule to extend our stay in the South of France and trim our trip to Marsailles. Good move, I’d say.

This is near our hotel. Frank Gehry would love it.

These evergreens in the park are quite old.

A father and his children share a quiet moment under an old tree.

Sonya iPadding on the crosstown bus.

Posted by Dan Smith at 2:58 PM No comments: Links to this post

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Very Different Edinburgh Than Expected

This is Deacon Brodie and me in downtown Edinburgh today. Dr. Jekyl was based on him. Hmmm …

Today offered an interesting contrast in what was offered and what was expected of Edinburgh. What I saw–and it was limited pretty much to Old Town and getting there–was not anything like what I expected. This is Gatlinburg the Ancient, a tourist destination with some great old buildings, a lot of cheap stuff in the guise of expensive, must-have garb with the Scottish logo on it and a lot of Japanese tourists and damn nearly everybody snapping pictures with iPhones.

Little girl unicycles on the canal road.

It was not an unpleasant experience, but the constant shopping, which Sonya seems very good at and the city-street walking was tiresome. I actually enjoyed my lonesome morning walk a bit more.

Our flat is a couple of blocks from a canal that runs through the city and offers a picturesque look at a pretty city. It is Edinburgh’s greenway and it is travelled much the same Roanoke’s is: foot, bike, skateboard and even unicycle. Dogs are welcome. People pick up after their dogs.

We’re still battling the language barrier, the money barrier, the transportation barrier and at 4 a.m. Saturday, we have to leave for the airport to catch the 6:30 flight back to Dublin. Ryanair chooses your flight time after you book your flight, so this was given us, not selected. We have to catch a taxi to catch a bus to the airport, then in Dublin figure out how the hell we’ll get to the Airbnb early on a Saturday. Could be another challenge.

We decided tonight to take the day off as much as we can tomorrow and I welcome that. We’ve been going hard and the stimulation is exhausting. I’m sleeping well and Sonya says I barely snore at all, which cheers me. Maybe I have a future.

This dory was parked on the canal.

“Narrowboats” carry tourists on the canal.

Housing abuts the greenway near our flat.

More greenway housing and an Edinburgh sky.

Primary school at recess near the flat.

Sonya in a downtown phone book.

Not much surprise here. The guys rotated.

Pampa up top on a double-decker bus.

My new buddy.

Edinburgh Harbor from the castle.

Edinburgh Castle in the round.

Same castle, different view.

This castle guide was knowledgeable, enthusiastic.

Arthur’s Seat dominates the high skyline downtown.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Sonya’s Photographic Adventures

Sonya climbed this fence to take a pix of the house. The lady approaching wondered, I think.

Sonya at Edinburgh Castle.

My traveling buddy Sonya Chappelear is the daughter of a professional photographer and she’s in a constant dither taking photos, regardless of where we are.

She photos sites, menus, clothing tags, curb and gutter, people, vehicles, spires, clocks … the whole deal.

Today, we ventured into Old Town Edinburgh, the pretty part (if you strip out the tourist ticky-tack, which makes it look more like Gatlinburg at times). Her iPhone was at the ready. She even bought a four-lens packet for it before we left Dublin yesterday.

Anyhow, she was climbing fences, stooping, sneaking around, doing the whole deal. Look for her Facebook posts. They’re there. She even shot some photos of me. And, of course, I shot some of her.

Sonya loves monuments.

This, of course, is my glamor shot of Sonya.

Posted by Dan Smith at 2:10 PM 1 comment: Links to this post

A Scottish Burger To Die For (Of)

So you think we have big burgers in the U.S., right? Well, yeh, we do. But not this big. This two pattie monster with chicken breast filet and big mushrooms on a bed of lettuce was being eaten by Jordan Duffy of Edinburgh today at lunch.

Jordan and his partner Taylor Bailey were eating one table over from Sonya and me today at Deacon Brodies Tavern in Old Town, a short walk from the Edinburgh Castle. I was mesmerized by the burger and began a conversation with Jordan and his newly-pregnant lady, a delightful young couple.

Seems Jordan works for a company that has invented a specific type of roof tile only available in a few places, but expanding rapidly. The tile is composed of recycled materials and is about as ecologically friendly as it can be. Not only do the the tiles insulate, but they are inexpensive to make (“They pay us to take the recyclable material,” says Jordan).

Jordan can afford the burger these days.

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Gratitude: An All-Night Sleep

Today, I am grateful for:

Last night I slept straight through. Didn’t even get up to visit the loo in our modest flat in Edinburgh. Which may be a minor miracle. “I got up four times last night,” has a completely different meaning at 68 than it did at 28, but last night, I didn’t get up at all, for which I am delighted. Means I should be a bit fresher today.

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The Confusing Division in the North

This is one of the roads we traveled in Northern Ireland. “Road” is generous.

The surface relationship between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic is a curious thing. There is no border that I saw and when I asked about a border, I generally got a a tiny smile and a change in subject. They were partitioned by British Parliament in about 1955 during The Troubles when people in the North wanted to bring everybody together in opposition to England.

I don’t know if that indicated a sensitivity to the topic or a simple unfamiliarity with why there is no sign of a border. These are separate countries, not just states in a single country. They have different histories and have not always liked each other, primarily, I think because of religion (the north is primarily Catholic, the south Protestant).

In Northern Ireland, it’s miles for the highway signs and pounds for money; Irish Republic uses kilometers and the Euro. Those simple differences can be both confusing and inconvenient for a traveler and maybe even for a citizen. Kenny Martin lives near the dividing line in the Irish Republic. My guess is that has to keep two kinds of money with him, depending on where he’s going to spend it and he would need to pretty quickly be able to translate kilometers into miles (and kilograms into pounds–the weight, not the money).

Sarah McCloy, who was born in the North and attended a tiny protestant elementary school there until she was “six or seven” had to leave when her school was bombed and destroyed. She was raised in England and studied elocution. She has more of a refined British accent than an Irish brogue, but she is Irish through and through and harbors no obvious ill will toward those who hated her when she was a child. The healing seems genuine among the Irish, but the border? I just don’t know.

Sonya and I kept both pounds sterling and Euros with us, but our rental car (a little tin bomb that oversteered radically) showed us how fast we were going in km/h, while signs in the north gave speed limits in mph. we had to translate on the fly or simply follow the other traffic’s speed. We were later told that the Irish like to speed.

We’re in Scotland today where everything is uniform, including the school children in their blazers and pleated, tartan skirts. That will make it a smudge easier to negotiate and give us a little less to think about.

Posted by Dan Smith at 4:16 AM No comments: Links to this post

Thursday, October 9, 2014

On to a Working Class Neighborhood in Edinburgh

Here we are, arriving at our Edinburgh flat.

Sonya and I flew over to Edinburgh from Dublin earlier today and got an earful about Ryanair, the discount European airline. Seems the Irish–at least–have strongly mixed feelings about its inexpensive fares and its constant nickeling and dining.

Dinner at the pub.

I think we both agreed that the 45-minute flight was uneventful, clean, comfortable (we were on the exit aisle, so we had tons of leg room), but small amenities simply are not there. I don’t mind that at all. We did mind that it is so very difficult to book a flight, to pay for a flight, to download a ticket, etc. There seems to be a profit center in all that and it appears–I stress appears–that Ryan doesn’t want you to take the basics and leave the rest.

One woman in our airport bus sneered when we said, “Ryanair.” She dislikes the service, but said, “A couple of years ago I booked a $600 flight to London with three days’ notice. That was before Ryanair. Recently, I took the same flight for $230. That’s Ryan’s doing.”

In any case, we got what we wanted and we got it on the cheap. This is not a top-end vac a and considering the cost of things over 23 days is important. Tonight, we are on the second floor of a three-floor flat in downtown Edinburgh. It is a building constructed as part of an huge apartment project in the late 19th Century and it has the worn and beautiful look so common in Edinburgh, an old city by anybody’s standard.

Edinburgh loves red doors.

At Lou’s farm, we had separate quarters and separate loos (that’s a bathroom for those of you who aren’t as sophisticated as me). Here, we have a small room with two tiny (children’s?) beds and the loo is on the third floor up a narrow, winding stairway. Sonya and I, as I have mentioned, are not intimately involved and won’t be, but we can share sleeping quarters. This, though, might challenge us since I snore upon occasion. We’ll see.

On our bus ride over from the airport, which took 45 minutes, we kept looking for Edinburgh, but only saw a modern, business-y city with a lot of people in ties and suits catching the bus, which pretty well stayed full. The old city finally showed up as we neared our temporary flat. I’m deeply impressed with the public transportation here. Comfortable, cheap, fast and convenient. We need something like that in the states.

Our landlady is an easy-going 40ish Scot named Becky Smith (my sister’s maiden name) with a college-aged son, Brandon, whom she said might be a bit noisy upon occasion. Becky says her brother-in-law is Dan “but not Smith.” There is another boarder named Susan who is from New Mexico.

Becky sent us down to a nearby pub tonight and I jumped at the fish and chips, which were fine, if not over the top. Sonya did a burger. Good, she said. Our young waitress, a church music instructor by day, says she moved here from South Africa after her mom and dad split.

I’m getting jet lag and I miss Lou’s farm and those wonderful people. I think that feeling may linger for a while.

This is the street where we’re staying. Working class, old, comfy, Scottish.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

More Fascinating People and a Trip to Carlingford

This old bucket sat in the bay at Carlingford.

This is not a toy.

The conversation has been swirling tonight. Joy Carroll, the New Zealander who is working on the farm, brought home her Irish boyfriend, a bright bohemian named Kenny Martin from Narrowwater Castle, about 20 or so miles south of the farm.

Kenny grew up during the most recent troubles, one of those who thought the bombings and killings in Northern Ireland were normal. He says almost all the family violence took place in Belfast because of the proximity of the Catholics (“I’m no longer practicing that”) and Protestants. There are/were walls separating them throughout the city, but they didn’t stop the violence.

Sonya at the castle door.

Kenny heard about British soldiers storming into nearby houses and rousing families into the street. “It grew old eventually, but at first it was exciting,” he says. He didn’t want to say a lot for general circulation because “I’m a private person,” but the war left scars on many people like Kenny, a man who has overcome it to a great degree. He’s an easy-going, talky, fun-loving man who makes fun of the fact that he’s short. And he has a serious political side that I like a lot.

Kenny trains people in the forest (“climbing trees, that sort of thing”) and is a personal trainer and a festival music professional. He went to art college and is a vegan, one who stood toe to toe with Sonya talking about GMOs and knowing a great deal about them.

Victoria, whom I mentioned earlier, sat with me for a while and talked of becoming interested in creative writing, especially the short story. She gave us the name of a friend who lives in Paris, very close to where we will be staying, and says the friend will get us inside the culture. I like Victoria. She’s smart, free and lives life her way. She seems balanced and happy.

Earlier today Sonya and I ventured down to a little village on the peninsula south of here called Carlingford. It’s small, charming and has what Ireland believes is one of its great pubs if the awards on the wall are telling. It’s P.J. O’Hare’s and we had lunch there. The food was grand, the rain hard and steady and the fire warm. I now have a lasting impression of a real pub.

One of the highlights of the walk through Carlingford was a stop at the Carlingford Castle, built in

Love this business name.

1200 and host to King John (Magna Carta John) in 1210 for three days. The bay was sprinkled with boats and made for some nice photography.

Boutique, not a bar.

The ride down and home was, of course, an adventure. This time, we got lost on a tiny road (and “tiny road” in Ireland is the norm, but this was ridiculous). Sonya negotiated, I fretted and I think we could both have used a four-pound Valium by the end of the day.

When we got home, I took a nap. I needed it. All this fun is exhausting.

Pampa at the castle with Sonya on his shoulder.

Beautiful downtown Carlingford.

Carlingford Castle is 814 years old.

Colorful trawler with the village behind.

I’m a sucker for pretty flowers.


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Gratitude: Being Prepared

Today, I am grateful for:

An opportunity to learn. This trip to Europe, my first, has already been enlightening on a number of levels, not the least of which is “be prepared.”

I’ve already lost one of my primary credit cards, but I put into place some backups before I left home that should make the loss minimal in damage.

It is amazing how many glitches happen in a very short while and it is equally amazing how anticipating them can help ease the stress.

Posted by Dan Smith at 5:38 AM No comments: Links to this post

A New Vision of a Formerly Troubled Spot

This is the close view of the monkey puzzle tree.

My preconceived notion of Northern Ireland has been shot to hell. This is not a dreary, violent, angry place. It is quite the opposite.

The early fall light here is designed by the creator with photographers in mind, I suspect. There is a lot to shoot and finding the right light is often a matter of turning around. It’s there in its yellowed sweetness, somewhere.

The vegetation is lush and Irish green with a wide variety of plants I simply can’t identify. Louise Anson, who owns the farm where we are staying, has a deep and broad understanding of plant life and points easily to the exotic monkey puzzle. This is a tree that, 25 yards in the distance, looks like a spindly spruce, but upon closer inspection has more of a cactus feel. The farm is dotted with that kind of exotica.

Monkey puzzle tree.

We talked late into the night Tuesday about the plight of Northern Irish women since the end of The Troubles. Lou and her friend Sarah are involved in teaching abused and battered women some of the building arts. “There was no time for that before,” she says. And there wasn’t. The issues of peacetime were not at the top of the list for daily consideration and with bombings in neighborhoods and village centers, the plight of individuals was subjugated.

Building shelves and furniture tends to focus energy in a positive way, says Lou, and it provides, on some occasion, a marketable skill at best and self-esteem at minimum.

All over the country, the mood is bright, even though for the past few years the economy has come down from the extraordinary high of the late 1990s and early 2000s when real estate prices looked like those in California. A man I talked to in a cafe yesterday chatted, almost cheerfully, of losing half of his wealth in the crash. He couldn’t have been much more than 35, but that trauma didn’t seem to linger.

These appear to me to be happy, adjusted people, not the war-weary, dreary, depressed Irish I thought possible. From what I have seen so far, they are a delightful people who are far more interested in helping than in taking advantage of tourists who don’t even know how to count the money, who don’t know a liter from a lighter, who think it’s normal to drive a car on the right, who think a banger is a guy who plays in a heavy metal band.

Last night, on the way home from Enniskillen up near the western coast, we got lost trying to find some food. One of the women working at the shop where we stopped (convenience stores here have the best eats!) and asked directions stopped what she was doing and spent a good 20 minutes writing out a complex, detailed–and, as it turned out, perfect–narrative to get us back where we needed to be. I was touched at her kindness and good cheer.

It’s like that everywhere. Surrounded by physical beauty and lovely people. I could live here.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Challenging Trip to Enniskillen

This is the castle at Enniskillen. It was a battle getting there. Quite a battle.

Churches are beautiful in Ireland.

We took what was to have been a two-hour trip up to Enniskillen today and it turned into an 11-hour challenge that had me looking for the Valium and halfway wondering what bourbon tasted like in the old days.

Sonya is working on a book that begins in 1840 or so in a Northern Ireland village called Enniskillen, which is still there, but has grown to a good sized city. She wanted to get a feel for the terrain and the people.

What we both got was an ulcer (not an Ulster) getting there and–especially–getting home, in the dark.

As mentioned earlier, I don’t have insurance for this trip, so I can’t drive. Sonya had to do it all and my sympathies are with her. This is left side of the street, right side of the vehicle, left-handed gear shifting driving for a woman who has not driven a straight shift for years. There were, as Paul Simon would say, “incidents and accidents” and a heck of a lot of raw nerves. We shared them like an old married couple, I’m afraid and the tension of banging the curb, dodging trucks on tiny streets and remembering where we were supposed to be took a toll.

Senn Fein hates fracking. Me, too.

In addition, I discovered when I bought my daughter-in-law a small gift that my new Charles Schwab Visa card was missing. That meant–likely–that I’d left it on the Hertz counter at the Dublin airport Monday Not a good thing.

Driving home in the dark was … well, a nightmare. It took about 3.5 hours to do the 2-hour drive.

In the middle of all this, we saw a lovely town, experienced more of Irish hospitality that I am becoming very fond of and I found myself telling a charming man in a restaurant, “I have never considered living in another country. I would consider Ireland. Seriously.” He blushed. He should not have. The beauty and the warmth of this little island are legendary for good reason and we keep experiencing it.

Tomorrow, the adventure continues. Not as intensely as today’s … I hope to god.

Sonya prepared: Chilly, windy and sunny in Enniskillen.

Sonya charmed this young butcher, Aiden.

Looking downtown from a cemetery.

Ornate wrought iron is all over the city.

Posted by Dan Smith at 7:39 PM No comments: Links to this post

A Busy, Gorgeous Old Irish Farm

This is Hori (or maybe Hine), named for the Maori, indigenous people of New Zealand.

This 176-year-old Irish farm (here) is called “The Blue Plaque House” and is in Ulster, about 45

My bedroom (self portrait in mirror)

minutes south of Belfast. It is a reflection of how many of us think our ancestors lived. This is idyllic Ireland, green and lush, warm and fragrant, full of light and shadow, brilliant fall flowers and subtle mosses.

The people are as we would have them, warm, open, honest, raw-boned and chiseled, huge inviting smiles, enthusiastic conversation. I feel a level of acceptance and even love here that is rare even in a world of mine that is peopled with golden personalities.

This morning I awoke–late at 8 a.m.; I don’t want to miss a minute–to the flitting presage of Victoria Wallace, a 50-ish woman who teaches piano, is earning a master’s degree at a local university in “translations” and who was off to teach piano, but not before sitting for a cup of tea.

Louise built this from her own lumber.

She was fascinated that we’ll be staying in  flat in Paris in a few days that “is 100 yards from where I lived” and is near the old St. Bernard’s Church, where she was beaten senseless during a protest some years ago.

Joy Carroll, a young woman from New Zealand who is half Polynesian, is also staying here. She showed up at about 9, having stayed with her boyfriend in the castle where he lives (Sarah McCloy, who we spoke of earlier, also lives there) last night. She was in a hurry to get to her chores and whizzed through. Joy works the farm for room and board.

Louise and Saba.

Saba (“Seven” in Swahili) is a young black Labrador who lies in front of the wood stove (which heats the house’s water … hot!) in the kitchen on her red velveteen-covered bed, content to be. She loves a good rub, but won’t intrude searching for it. Outside, two delightful and youthful pigs run to greet anybody approaching their pen, hoping for a treat.

Sonya and I are driving two hours to a spot where she wants to visit in order to do some research for her historical novel.

Yesterday, I could not resist the lure of the photograph this wondrous place offers and while Lou and Sonya went to the grocery store to rustle up some grub, I took the Canon out. Here are some of the photos.

The farm’s trees are spectacular.

Louise outside her lovely farmhouse.


Posted by Dan Smith at 6:06 AM No comments: Links to this post

A Spectacular First Day in Ireland

Louise Anson in the kitchen.

Today, I fell in love with two remarkable women in north central Ireland. They are Louise Anson and her best friend Sarah McCloy, a couple of 21st Century women with 19th century grit, independence, determination, creativity and style. They’re also quite beautiful.
They are 50 years old and been best friends since Lou got here from New Zealand some years ago. Sarah lives near Louise’s fairytale farm and makes furniture by hand. Louise is from a hardy family of writers and she farms,teaches and runs her B&B the way it should be run. Her aunt left her this fantasyland of a farm and she has been lovingly restoring it for the past number of years.

Sarah McCloy


I’m here with my buddy Sonya Chappelear touring a goodly portion of Europe over the next number of days and this is the first place we landed. It is north of Dublin about an hour and a half, closing in on Belfast.

Louise’s farm was built in 1838 and Sonya found it online as an Airbandb where we might stay. She was attracted because if sounded like the place her historic novel–in the works–begins.

This has been a frustrating trip so far because I’m learning to use a new Mac computer (don’t let anybody tell you that’s easy), the car trip up here was more of an adventure than I was ready for (Sonya driving on the left from the right front seat), my camera isn’t working as it should, I didn’t sleep a wink on the plane ride over and I’m tired.

But tonight, we spent several hours in the warmth of the big kitchen, talking, listening, cooking locally food (including pork from Sarah’s hog and Sarah’s Lou’s garden veggies) and connecting in a way I only hoped possible in a trip like this where people pass, try to speak in different languages and rarely make real contact.

Lou and Sarah are easy to know, open and frank, funny and intelligent. Lou is a sturdy woman with lovely soft eyes, a sudden smile, short, boyish hair and a manner that says “family.” Sarah is taller, slender and almost supermodel shapely. Her face is chiseled and her eyes intense. Her hands are big and talk of working with wood and tools. Both listen with far more than their ears and they speak with a gentle authority. They KNOW and their maturity and open-faced stories pulled me in without hesitation. It was a comfortable and easy step.

They are the kinds of women who make guys like me swoon and I’ll write much more about this and them when I get my head on for this new technology. I can’t get into my blog, except to read it. No posting yet and I have a ton of photos I want to put up.

Tonight, I think, is a full moon and for a man newly in love with two extraordinary beauties, even at a distance, that’s a special day.

Sarah and Louise at the kitchen table with their ever-present tea.

OCT 2 2014

Gratitude: A Lot of Advice, All of It Free

“Daniel is leavin’ tonight on a plane. I can see the red tail lights headin’ for Spain …”

Today, I am grateful for:

Advice. OK, it can become tiresome, overblown and even tedious. But I’m getting tons of it as I face Europe for a long trip and much of it is invaluable (one friend told me to take a laxative because, “You will get clogged. I guarantee it.”)

I’ve had advice on where to go, what to see, how to travel from place to place, how to pack, what to pack, how to get the most from a cell phone, which jacket to take and how to dress in layers. There have been tips on European food that would suit a diabetic, which of my cameras will deliver best given their weight, speaking the language (and where I don’t need to worry about anything but English), and which trains are the best deal. I’m getting a lot of info on dealing with airlines (none of it encouraging) and finding the best places to stay for the price (Sonya, thank god, is dealing with that).

All of it is a lot to absorb, but my guess is it will all be resting in the back of my mind and will come up as it needs to. I feel like I’m ready and Sunday, we’ll fly out over the dark Atlantic.

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