TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 9 | ONWARDS TO GLASGOW

I checked out of my room at the Clontarf Castle Hotel at noon and left my bags at the front desk. I was determined to have one more cappuccino at 3fE before I left for Glasgow.

My flight was not until 16.20, so I had enough time to take the bus downtown, exit at Abbey Street, and walk all the way to Grand Canal Street where the coffee house was located. Or so I thought.

Zigzagging through the streets, I wondered if I'd make it. Had I only walked along the River Liffey before having to turn right, I would have saved myself much time and been able to enjoy my coffee. Instead, I took a few too many turns and had but 5 minutes to hurriedly drink up the cappuccino.

I was looking forward to having another scone, but since they had just sold the last one before I arrived I had to look for another option. I looked at the array of desserts laid out before me and thought they all looked good. I remember looking up at the board and noticing the roast pumpkin soup. That also sounded good. In my haste, I unwisely chose a caramel chocolate brownie. Unwise in the sense that it was a calorie bomb and not something I could finish eating. It was also something I rarely ate. The soup would have been a much better option.

Although hurried, I was glad to have had one more coffee at 3fE. But now I had to hurry back to the bus. My sense of direction is usually pretty good, so I trusted it and ended up walking straight down one of the streets off of Grand Canal Street towards River Liffey. I made it to the station and waited the 13 minutes until bus 130 arrived.

Once back at the hotel, I got a taxi to the airport. Heavy traffic kept me looking at the meter in panic, but despite the 30 Euros it cost to get to the airport, it was a better option than walking to the bus stop and taking two buses - with luggage.

The flight was a rather short one to Glasgow - less than 2 hours. It was already dark when I arrived and I quickly found the bus to take me to City Centre. I would be staying at the Grand Central Hotel for the next two nights and this was a perfect place to stay.

The wide marble staircase was impressive. It was mostly covered with a purplish carpet but you could still see the marble on the sides. Most impressive was the 4-story purple and clear glass bead chandelier. Then there are the hallways. The widest I've ever seen in any hotel.

As I walked into room 414, I noticed that the staff had read my request to be both on a higher floor and in a room overlooking the train station as both requests were granted. Surprisingly one could hardly hear much coming from the train station. The bathroom was almost as large as the entire room I had at the hotel in Dublin, the most prominent feature being the metal towel warmer. It's not something I have back home, so it was nice to have during my stay.

Glancing over the Tempus Restaurant menu that was left on the desk, I decided I would give Scotland another chance at their food. The first dinner I had in Edinburgh did not give me much hope. Walking down the close to 150 stairs to the restaurant, I walked into another beautiful scene. The restaurant was small and elegant, yet one could hardly find a seat that night.

Dining alone did not scare me. I was seated next to a couple who seemed to enjoy their time together. At one point I struck up a conversation as I inquired about the dessert the man was having. He confirmed that it was the apple and plum crumble with cinnamon dusted vanilla ice cream and encouraged me to order one. I did, albeit I hardly had any room left in my belly to consume one more morsel of food.

The dinner. Since the cappuccino and brownie were the only 'food' I had all day, I was ready to order everything on the menu. And I almost did. I started with the cherry-tomato focaccia with oil and vinegar and moved to the soup. As I'd never eaten anything with butternut squash in any form, I decided to try something new. After the first spoonful, I wondered why I'd never had soup like this before. It was a superb roasted butternut squash soup.

The wait staff circled the rooms attending to the guests. I noticed some were wearing white gloves as they brought the food to tables. Sipping my wine, I wondered if my filet would be as I'd ordered. Although I realize nobody in their right mind orders a filet, or any kind of meat, well done with no pink remaining, mine was exactly as I'd ordered. The creamy peppercorn sauce that accompanied it was seasoned perfectly and the potato wedges tasted like potatoes, as strange as that might sound. The onion rings were good too and I even dared to eat the grilled mushroom that laid alongside the filet. Mushrooms are not something I eat - ever - but this version I enjoyed.

Then came time for dessert. A perfect ending to another day in a new place.

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 8 | THE REASON FOR DUBLIN

"Havin’ a bad day, are you?", inquires the bus driver in a thick Irish accent as I run onto the bus, frantically looking for the correct change. I wasn’t having a bad day and I wasn't about to let him turn it into a bad night.

I was trying to remember the bus stop the previous bus driver had told me was the correct one at which to wait when I wanted to return to the City Centre of Dublin. It was somewhere near the base of the entrance to the Clontarf Castle Hotel but seeing how it was already dark, I was unsure of the exact location. I ended up running to three stops in a minute’s time frame as the bus driver clearly was not going to stop at any one of them to let me board.

"You should try sitting in my seat and see what my day is like", continues the driver. Shock and disbelief crossed my face as I was trying to understand this barrage of words coming at me.

"Your day is already over, isn’t it?", the driver keeps talking, albeit I’m not sure what I did to deserve this rudeness. He was the first rude Irish person I'd come across and he was starting to really piss me off.

I tossed in what I thought was 2.40 Euros but ended up putting in an extra .80 cents. I must have put in a 2 Euro piece coin instead of a 1 Euro coin. Since the sign by the entrance clearly stated ‘Exact Change Only’, I did not get that money returned to me. Instead, the driver handed me a slip of paper with two parts – one, the price paid and two, the amount I overpaid with an address where to go redeem my money. Which was somewhere in City Centre – except it was currently closed (a fact he seemed all too happy to announce to me) so I couldn’t go anyways. I wondered what to do with the paper as I continued to puzzle about tossing in the incorrect change.

"You obviously have never ridden on a bus!", the driver shouts at me. No, I thought. In America we have these things called cars, I wanted to blurt back. But I didn't.

My mission was simple. It was the only reason I was in Dublin in the first place. To see Depeche Mode in concert at the O2. I was in a good mood but the driver tried destroying that. I was thinking of a million things I could say to him, but I decided to keep my mouth shut and simply sit down. It would have only ended badly and I was not going to give him the power of destroying this evening.

As I sat fuming at the rudeness of this bus driver, I saw a young lady board the bus. She sat behind me. At one point I turned to her to ask what I should do with the ticket, as I clearly did not dare ask the bus driver anything at this point. The lady was very kind and was surprised to hear of a rude Irish person. She told me that they get that way at times because they dislike their jobs - although at 640 Euros per week salary, one would think you wouldn't be so disgruntled at a job that requires you to sit and drive around all day.

I continued to talk to the lady and told her I was on my way to see Depeche Mode. She helped me further once we arrived at our last stop on Abbey Street by assisting me in buying a ticket for the tram that would lead me directly in front of the O2. On the way, I kept looking up at the map of stops and wondered which one was my exit. I started to panic as I realised the map's locations were all in Gaelic. I looked around for something in English, but did not see anything. The kindness of strangers won out again as I started to exit at the incorrect stop. It was the next stop, the last stop on the line, that was the correct one.

I was glad that one bad was balanced by good deeds and kind words from strangers. I wouldn't let one grumpy Irish man ruin the good impression I had of all Irish people. As I stood there, in front of the O2, I breathed a sigh of relief. I was finally there. The reason for my coming to Dublin was standing right in front of me.

Earlier that day, I set out on a walk to find 3fE - the coffee house I discovered back home whilst googling 'best coffee house in Dublin'. I headed out from the hotel by foot at 11.00 and then quickly realised that this was going to be a longer walk than anticipated. But I was determined to find this place.

The 2-hour walk was well worth it. As I sat down and waited for my single cappuccino, cranberry almond scone, and vegetable quiche, I noticed the uniqueness of the place. It was not stuffy as the big chain coffee houses - the ones I avoid at all cost. It was different. It was unique. The large tables in the center were crafted out of metal pipes and wood. I took a seat by the window and enjoyed the scene unfolding before me.

Twenty minutes after I'd arrived, the place was bustling. Not a seat could be found. I held onto my seat for quite some time, enjoying the great food and coffee that was before me. It was going to be my only meal until I reached Glasgow later that evening so I was intent on relishing every last bite.

The coffee. It was not bitter at all. It was smooth and creamy and a pleasure to drink. So much so that I ordered another.

The scone. Now that was a true delight. Standing at 2" in height and filling up both of my hands, I marveled at its taste. It was the best scone I've ever had.

The quiche. Initially I had intended on ordering a sandwich, but since this was a weekend, the option was quiche instead. I decided on the vegetable quiche and enjoyed that as well. I even ate the mushrooms, something I never eat at home.

All in all, my experience at the 3fE coffee house was a positive one. I implore you to check it out if you're in the Dublin area. It's a bit out of the way, but definitely worth it. Read up on their story. It's quite interesting.

As for how the rest of the day turned out...quite unexpected. Although I had my reservations about having to sit way up in section H in order to see the concert, it turned out better than expected. The opening band, The Jezabels, were brilliant. I'm surprised I've never heard of them before this night.

Then there is Depeche Mode - a band I hadn't seen since their Rose Bowl concert in 1988. I was in awe as I watched Dave, at 51 years of age, perform with such energy that one wonders how he can keep up that pace for so many months on end. It was a pleasure to watch him, even if it was way up high in section H, row 47, seat 30.

Dublin was never meant to be. It was an afterthought. It was unplanned. Yet sometimes the best things in life are those we don't plan.

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 7 | DOUBLE THE GIFT OF ELOQUENCE

Thirteen hours sitting on a bus to get to see the Blarney Castle and kiss the stone that supposedly blesses one with the gift of eloquence. In my case, I got to kiss the stone twice. Does that mean I have double the eloquence? Or does the second kiss negate the first?

The tour started out from Suffolk Street in Dublin City Centre.  As the bus pulled into the street at 08.45, there were 10 people on board - myself included. We drove close to two hours before our first bathroom stop. Somehow, from that very first stop, I was the last one to board the bus.

We continued for a while until we reached Cork where we picked up a handful more people who joined us for the tour to the castle. It was a beautiful city - the 2nd largest in the Republic of Ireland - and I was looking forward to seeing what the English Market was all about. The first driver exited the bus and made way for the guide - an older gentleman - to continue the drive for the main part of the 'tour'.

The new driver/guide handed us a map and circled the location of the English Market. We were given 20 minutes to find it and return. "Be back at the bus by 12.30", he mentioned. I was 3 minutes late because I wanted to photograph a metal ring on the seawall seeing how I hardly had time to pull out any camera to photograph anything during the short walk to 'tag the market' . Those 20 minutes was hardly enough time to cross the bridge and the street to get to the English Market - which I never found, even though I asked where it was.

Back in the bus, we continued onwards to Cobh where we were given 1 1/2 hours to find lunch and be back at the bus by 14.30. The consensus on the bus was that it was a useless stop. "Why did we stop here?", people asked. "We should've completely left out this place and stayed in Cork instead", an older man commented. He was right. Cork would've been a better option for a lunch stop as there was so much more to see. I guess the only reason was that the city is known to be the last stop of the Titanic before it sank. I walked around for a few minutes and noticed that most of the stores were closed for one reason or another.

As I started walking, I looked for a place I might find a quite bite to eat. In front 'Taste', I noticed a couple enjoying a Panini. That sounded good. I kept that in mind as I continued down and up the street. Noticing there was not much to be seen, I returned to Taste and ordered a grilled chicken sandwich thinking it would be toasted - thinking it was a Panini. It was not. When the waitress brought it out, it was on two large pieces of white bread and the chicken was cold. I questioned it and yes, I made her remake it since it was our only food stop of the entire day.

Another waitress brought out the food to me and asked if it was to my liking. It was. Although I would have liked to sit there and slowly enjoy the food, I knew that we had to be back at the bus by a certain time. The first time I was late, the girl in front of me asked 'I wonder what happens if you get left behind.' After that comment, I took all of my belongings with me in case that happened. I didn't want to find out. 

After my taste at Taste, I continued on the street going the other direction past where the Titanic Bar and Restaurant was located. I wanted to see if there were any shops worth exploring. No, there were not. I stopped in a Christmas shop devoid of any customers where I walked to the back simply for the sake of it not seeming as if I was walking in simply to ask a question...which I was. At the front counter was a young lady sitting and busily browsing the computer. I inquired if there was a place to get good coffee. She was more than happy to explain that Cuppacity just down the street and around the bend had the best coffee.

The cappuccino was not too bad and the free scone that came with hot drinks wasn't too bad either. I've concluded that scones are nothing more than fluffy biscuits stuffed usually with raisins or some other type of fruit. The one I had this morning at Keogh whilst waiting for the tour bus had cherries with a taste of almond, although the cherries were the maraschino ones - not exactly what I'd hoped for but you cannot be too picky whilst traveling. Eat when you can and whatever is the best option because you never know when your next meal will be. 

Seeing how I still had a few minutes until we had to return to the bus, I walked across the street to the gift shop. I browsed the various shelves, being careful not to knock anything over with my bulky backpack. I found a cute stuffed bunny that I thought my Cinnamon would like. I grabbed it and continued around the shop looking for something for the other two because you cannot bring one child something and not the others.

I found a tiny stuffed bear ornament for Sagey and a challenging memory puzzle for my oldest. It wasn't easy finding something unique for each child in the 5 minutes I had left. I almost left everything once I saw that the clock had struck 14.30. But I didn't because I was not going to leave the shop without getting something for my kids. I decided on those items and walked to the register where I kept checking the time.

The bus was directly outside the shop. If it left without me, at least I had all of my belongings and would have to find a way back to Dublin. The last on the bus again, I found my seat as we continued onto our final destination - the Blarney Castle. Two hours was our allotted time. Not enough time to really explore the castle and its surrounding gardens and walks, but it was a tour and I was realising that tours were meant only to get a taste of a place and not as a way for exploring an area in more depth.

I caught a full rainbow and spent some time photographing it as it quickly disappeared. Then I continued on the walked and came upon an opening at the base of the castle. It was a dungeon but I did not venture up the narrow stairs to explore further. I could have easily spent half an hour there, but time was of the essence.

At one point the rain started again and I continued on around until I got to the castle entrance. The sometimes spiral stairway leading up to the Blarney Stone was narrow and tight. There were various openings along the way that used to be bedrooms or a kitchen where I'd stop to photograph as it was a beauty to behold.   

Upon reaching the top of the castle, I was in awe of the view. I continued to photograph the horizon and noticed the sun would be setting soon. One of the two men working the stone told me I could stand up on the ledge to gain a better perspective. I looked at him and looked at the sign stating you are not allowed to climb up on the ledge.

Sure, it was dangerous and the reason I chose the Blarney Castle tour when I read you had to lie on your back high up above the ground only to be held onto by someone as you Spiderman-kissed the stone - although in my case I got to kiss it twice.

Why did I kiss the stone twice? Well, the guy manning the big camera meant to capture the shots of tourists meant to be sold as you exited the castle thought he'd save me the purchase by having him use my camera. I handed him the camera - as bold as that was - and asked if he needed another lens. He said he needed something wider, so I switched out the 70-300 with my most favourite 24-70.

What I didn't realise is that I forgot to switch the focus from manual to auto when I was photographing the rainbow. I also did not adjust the aperture correctly so when the 'photographer' snapped the photo, he commented on how dark it was. I got up and changed the aperture to 2.8. Then I laid down and kissed the stone again. I should have insisted that he use his camera. I would have gladly purchased the touristy photograph seeing how I would most likely never return here again - at least not in the near future. 

A bit disappointed, I continued on my way as I was not going to kiss the stone for a third time. I had asked the two men about the rumours of people peeing on the stone at night. They were both adamant that it was NOT true and something made up to detract from people visiting the stone. Plus, they continued, the area is armed with security cameras, one directly in front of the stone. Then I noticed a bottle of disinfectant sitting nearby. I remember a comment made by one of the girls on the bus about how she would need to set aside her phobia for the day so that she could kiss the stone.

Stone kisses out of the way, I checked the time and noticed it was close to 17.00. We had to be back at the bus in half an hour. I walked to the bus, as it was now getting to dark to explore anything else, and asked the tour guide where we needed to meet. "By the Woolen Mills", he replied. 

One could spend at least an hour or two in the great big store looking at all of the wool hats, scarves, gloves, and throws. A throw is something I've had my eye on since the one I had in my flat back in Edinburgh. I browsed the store, still keeping an eye on the time, and wondered what I could bring back. I kept going back to the throws and hats and wondered if the children would value anything I'd get them, or those items would simply be tossed around as they always seemed to be.

In the end, I hastily decided on chocolate from Butler's. My boy somehow does not like most chocolates, so I got him the white chocolate with vanilla bean specks. I chose three more different bars and headed out the door to look for the bus.  

Out in the parking lot where the guide stated he would be waiting, I started to wonder if I'd been left behind. It was a few minutes after the time we were meant to leave, but I did not see the bus. As it finally came into view, I noticed that once again I was the last to board the bus. We were on our way back.

The day was a long one and we did not make it back to Dublin until shortly after 22.00 - an hour later than the tour description stated. Would I do another tour again? Perhaps not. Although I did see much of the Irish countryside in those 13 hours to and from our destination, I would have liked to have more stories and information during that journey.

The upside to a tour like that is getting to meet new people. There was the couple in their 50s, traveling with their teenage daughter, who at the last bathroom stop bought two bottles of wine - at least one of which they drank during the ride back. Then there were the three college-aged girls traveling from Florida for an impromptu 4-day trip. They got a really good deal on both the plane ticket ($500 round trip from Florida) and the hotel they stayed at in the Temple Bar area.

As I searched for bus 130 to take me back to my hotel, I realised the importance of staying in the city centre. It would have been nice to drop off my bags at a nearby hotel and sit at a bar to get a chance to use my newly acquired 'gift of eloquence' - or double in my case - that Blarney imparted on me. Unless, of course, that second kiss negated the first.

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 6 | DUBLIN IS NOT EDINBURGH

"Why are you here?", asks the customs agent.

"To see a concert", I reply. 

"Which one?", he asks. 

"Depeche Mode", I answer. 

"Whatever works for you", he continues. And then wishes me a good time. 

I landed in Dublin today shortly after 13,00. It wasn't until well after 14,00 that I made it to the hotel, although the Clontarf Castle Hotel is a mere 5 miles from the airport. I learned from the Leith experience the other day and asked three different people how to get to Clontarf without having to take a taxi.

People are very friendly here in Ireland, I noticed. I was told there was no bus that would take me directly there. I had to take a bus to City Centre then take another bus - number 130 - for another 30 minutes or so. Really?

At this point, I would have gladly paid for a taxi because in addition to the hour and two busses thus far, I was told to exit at the bus stop at the base of Castle Drive where I needed to walk another 15 minutes - with luggage - up the hill to the 'castle'.  

When I finally reached the top of the hill, my illusion of a castle hotel was shattered when I entered my room. The reception area might be the small part left over from the original castle, but the room was nothing better than the Holiday Inn Express hotels we stay during our road trips, yet quite overpriced.

Wikipedia is correct when it says it's 'a much-modernised castle'. I should have read further the reviews on various sites, but it's not always possible to trust the reviews. After all, it was rated as a 4-star luxury hotel.

Sometimes I wonder why I decided to add Dublin to the itinerary. I guess it was the fallout of other plans I had that didn't work out as expected. Not everything works out as we'd like. Reality is not always what we wish it to be even after months of planning and looking forward to something. Regardless, I'll make the best I can of the three nights I'm here.

After dropping off my bags in the room, I went downstairs to the Knights Bar intending to have some whiskey. Instead, as I sat at the bar a chair away from an older retired gentleman, I noticed he was drinking Guinness in the pint glasses. I, too, decided to have one in the smaller half-pint size. Not bad, I thought.

As I started talking with the man, I learned a lot that I wouldn't have if I'd simply stayed in my room. It turns out he used to work at Guinness and lives around the corner from the hotel. Almost every day he comes to the bar and drinks about a half dozen pints. We started talking about cities around the world and he revealed that he's been to several of the major US cities - Chicago, New York, San Francisco - and many European cities.

When I asked his opinion of the three cities I'm visiting during this trip - Edinburgh, Dublin, and Glasgow - he rated Glasgow as the worst. He even went so far as to say that he preferred Manhattan to Glasgow. I told him I'd be staying at the train station and he said I should be ok but not to venture too far from there, especially after sunset.

Everyone I've asked so far agree that Edinburgh is a most beautiful city. I miss the simplicity it has to offer. The small winding and sometimes cobblestone streets. The authenticity of an old city without too much of the modern.

The man continued to list the cities he liked - Rome and everywhere in Italy he's been - and the cities he disliked - Paris and the French parts of Canada where they are rude, as he said, to any kind of English being spoken. He argued with the French-speaking people that he was Irish. They didn't care. It wasn't French. Italy, I gathered, was his favorite place. 

Upon inspecting the bar menu, the man warned me not to eat the food at the bar. He said the Fahrenheit Grill upstairs was pretty good but grossly overpriced. Since I hadn't eaten all day, I reluctantly decided on fries. They were oversized and not crispy but they would do.

The rest of my 'dinner' consisted of a scone, which I ate with clotted cream (a first time for me eating that), and more Guinness. This time I ordered a pint. The taste is much different than regular beer, of which I wouldn't know too much since I'm not a beer drinker. I prefer wines. Red and full-bodied.

Back at my room, I grabbed my laptop and headed back downstairs to the lobby to research a day tour to take tomorrow as it is my only full day. Saturday is the concert and Sunday late afternoon I fly to Glasgow. The concierge passed by and asked if I needed anything. I told him I was looking into a day tour and he said he could organise it for me if I'd like. Sure. And a taxi to the meeting point too.

Tomorrow will be an interesting day exploring the countryside of Ireland. I will climb the 125 stairs at Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone. Perhaps I will then be blessed with the gift of eloquence

TRAVEL NOTES::DAY 3 | OFF TO A SLOW START AND THE ELEPHANT HOUSE

elephant house edinburgh

Jetlag got the best of me today. I'd intended on getting up early to attempt a brisk walk or jog in the cold of Edinburgh, but sleep took over instead.

When I finally was able to keep my eyes open for longer than 10 minutes, I decided to start getting ready to find some coffee. Today was off to a slow start.

There is a nice coffee shop just up the hill and around the bend from my flat. My son would love it as it has elephants covering the walls and window ledges. Elephants were everywhere to be seen. The Elephant House is where I spent a good portion of the midday - as it was the middle of the day when I finally ventured out.  

I sat in the back near a window with a view of the Edinburgh Castle. The sun was streaming in and shining directly in my eyes. But I wanted to soak in the atmosphere regardless of the sun - which, by the way, is not something I would have expected in Edinburgh. I was hoping for some rain and clouds. Perhaps tomorrow. 

At first I wasn't sure what to order but I knew that coffee needed to be one of the items. The girl in front of me had ordered a scone, so I did the same. The scone turned out tasting like the fluffy biscuits back in the States. Not the scones I'm used to, but a wonderful taste nonetheless.

I had also ordered a banana which I saved for later and now remember that it is still in my bag. Then I saw that the soup of the day was an interesting combination of flavours - carrot and coriander. So I ordered that as well. I intended on being there for a while and combining my breakfast and lunch seeing how I wasn't sure I'd be eating anywhere else until I made dinner back at the flat. 

So, there I sat and watched people come and go. The couple next to me, directly at the window, were from Spain visiting for a couple of days. I struck up a conversation with them which was short but pleasant. They were not used to the cold as in Seville it was 20C degrees warmer. I told them that Texas was not much different.

Several tables away and in the middle of the room were seated random people around a large round table. I was supposed to sit there as there was one spot open, but I ended up gravitating towards the window - much to the chagrin of the person seating me who was trying to maximize space. It was crowded and getting a seat was not easy.

There was an older man at that table reading a book on Berlin. I watched with fascination as he moved his head back and forth quickly as he went through page after page. He appeared to be speed reading.  

The concept of group tables is not something one sees in the States - at least not anywhere I've been. It's a great concept albeit the Scottish are not known to be the first to strike up a conversation. This was confirmed by the girl who sat at my table - directly across from me. She commented on the journal I was writing in which led to another interesting conversation and another person with whom names were not exchanged.

All I knew of the girl was that she was from southern California studying a semester abroad in the field of physics. I asked her opinion of the Scots and she explained that they are reserved but once they warm up to you, they are quite nice and genuine. By contrast, she continued, the Irish are the exact opposite. Loud and boisterous and ever so friendly. She gave me a few suggestions on places to visit - Calton Hill and Arthur's Seat - and then she was off to class. She wasn't too happy about having to return home shortly before Christmas.

As I finished off the last of my now cold coffee and soup, I wondered where to go next. I gathered my belongings and left table 12, hoping to return another day for a new experience.

Last night I had googled 'kitchenware shops' and discovered Lakeland. I made my way to Hanover Street and was happy when I walked into the store. I needed a zester, as the flat had none, and ended up leaving with two small cake pans in addition to the Edgeware zester with the slide-on catcher for containing the zest. 

Small cake pans, measuring 4" and 5" pan with 3" high sides, gave me an idea to convert some of my recipes to personal cakes. I wanted to buy more of them in a 6" and vowed to return after my trip to Dublin when I didn't have to worry about weighing down my travel bag for the regional flight. They also had Niederegger marzipan - even the torte and fruit shapes.

Hesitant to approach the saleslady to ask about bulk spices, I was glad I did. Although her store did not carry what I had wanted, she took me outside the store and pointed me in the right direction to where I might be able to find them - which I did not, but that's not the point. She was friendly and helpful yet reserved. The salespeople I did not find pushy as in the States. They did not follow you around and guilt you into more purchases than you'd intended on buying. It was a pleasant and welcomed change.

More walking around the Princes Street area where I attempted to acquire a SIM card for my iPad as my iPhone is locked and thus not an option. I walked into one store and there was a 40-minute wait. I decided I'd rather not wait. Then I found another store, but that too was busy. I gave up and wondered if I should skip the card altogether. After all, it was a rather pleasant feeling to be disconnected - at least until I returned to the flat.

Back at the flat I readied to make dinner. I've not yet ventured out to a restaurant or a bar at night but I will soon. A potato gratin with sautéed onions and bell peppers and topped with feta with a mixture of 200ml of whole milk and one egg was dinner. Again, I found it challenging to make a meal that served only one portion efficiently. I ate half of the meal, leaving the other half for tomorrow.

Tomorrow I hope that jetlag will have passed and I can get an earlier start to my day with a return to The Elephant House for breakfast.

TRAVEL AND THIS ADVENTURE CALLED LIFE

colorado garden of the gods 2013

Life. It is not nicely packaged with a pretty bow around it. It does not come with a set of instructions. It doesn't even have any guarantees. What it does come with is possibilities. The way we see those possibilities will determine what becomes of this thing called life. The adventure that is ours for exploring, if we so choose.

People. They come into our lives for various reasons. Some are around for a short while to enable us to move forward to our next journey. To help us see something we have chosen to close our eyes to or to help us get over a fear of doing something we've never thought possible. Other people are around for a longer time.

Regardless of the time frame, we affect others along this journey. We shape their adventure as they shape ours, intentional or otherwise.

Think of it in terms of the ripple effect  or the butterfly effect where the outcome of your life is affected by that one interaction by that stranger on the train you would not have met had you not spilled coffee on yourself and had to run back to the hotel, causing you to be late and thus taking a train other than the one you had initially planned on taking.

Unpredictable. Such is both life and travel. Even with the best laid out plans we cannot predict what will happen in either case. 

You can sit at your desk researching a new city or country for months for your upcoming adventure, but then something or someone comes along and changes the course you initially set out to take. You might see that as unfair because you had everything planned out so perfectly - down to the restaurants you'd visit and the tourist spots you'd see for the day. Or you can see it as something that was meant to happen.

When I went on my 6-day journey up to the East Coast this past month, I had a different view of how that would turn out. I started out in Baltimore, where I stayed two nights alone at a hotel close to the airport, and then traveled to upstate New York where I met up with someone I met online over four years ago. She was my supplier of luxury handspun merino wool yarns I used for the newborn hats I hand knit for newborn photographers. She wrote a book and asked me to come to her book signing.

Baltimore was never to be in the picture. Yet, somehow it was meant to happen as it did. I'd never been to Maryland and was curious to see it as it was not too out of the way. I mean, it's not as if I was going to Tokyo.

The first day I spent walking around downtown Baltimore, in new boots. My trusty 20-year old lace up boots fell apart on my Chicago trip and I tried replacing them to no avail. After walking around for about two hours, I ended up with blisters limping around whilst looking for a not-too-scary place to eat.

I boarded the train to downtown Baltimore and exited at the first exit where I noticed many people leaving the train. I had no idea where I was and quickly grew to dislike the city. It was scary. I walked for hours all over the map and finally found a place to eat a sandwich and soup. It was in a nicer part of town where the medical university was located but I was ready to head back to the hotel.

On the train, I sat for what seemed forever but enjoyed the long ride back. I ended up striking a conversation with Joey, a 31-year old guy who shared with me his life story of growing up in downtown Baltimore. He was on his way to see his two children, ages 11 and 7. Tattoos covered his arms and neck - something he seemed to have regretted doing. He ended up telling me about his various times in jail when he was younger and how he decided he wanted to counsel youth about the choices they end up making and how those choices affect the course of our lives.

As I exited at my stop, he joined me on a bench while I waited for the shuttle to drive me back to the hotel. Little did I know I had to call the shuttle (which made no difference since my phone battery went dead at that precise moment), so I waited for at least an hour.

During that time, Joey continued his life story and we ended up exchanging many thoughts I would never had the chance to do had I climbed aboard the train 15 minutes before or after I actually did. Engrossed in our conversation, I almost missed the shuttle as it happened to drive by. I quickly said goodbye and went back to the hotel where I fell asleep as soon as my body hit the bed.

The following day, I decided I would go to DC. I've also never been to DC, so I was surprised what a contrast that city was to Baltimore. I had the hotel shuttle drive me to the train station where I purchased tickets for the MARC train. I waited, along with many other people, and when a train finally arrived I asked a lady if this was headed to DC. Yes, it was.

The train pulled away from the station and the conductor made his rounds to check tickets. "You're on an Amtrak train. This ticket is for the MARC train", he tells me. Panic struck as I envisioned being thrown off the train. I guess I should have known that a train for $6 to DC (as opposed to the $39 on Amtrak) would not have electrical outlets to charge your iDevices or laptops. I didn't know what to do. The man was kind. He told me that I needed to exit at the next stop and wait for the MARC train.

Waiting on the platform, I noticed two other people leaving the train. It turns out they too were visiting DC for the first time. I struck up a conversation with the two men and found out that the son was in the Army, stationed in Italy, and came back to the States for his grandmother's funeral. He and his father decided to explore DC for the day and invited me to tag along, which I was glad to do as they became my personal escorts on the walk through DC.

At times I wondered if I should simply leave and let them have their day together. But I stayed behind them, limping my way through the streets of DC. The new boots were proving to be a real problem, but somehow I made it to the White House and finally to Old Ebbit Grill where we had dinner at the bar and finally exchanged names. The father had just then realised we'd never introduced ourselves.

On the taxicab ride back to the train station, we parted ways once we returned to Baltimore. An unexpected day that would not have happened had I boarded the correct train. Perhaps I would have reached the Tryst coffeehouse - my initial goal - but I would not have experienced the company of two interesting people I suspect I will never cross paths with again.

Such is travel and life. People come your way and can influence your future in ways you knew not existed. Sometimes the unplanned is far more of an experience than the planned in both life and travel.

ON CHANGE AND REDISCOVERING YOUR IDENTITY

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When something in your life causes you unhappiness, you should yell as loudly as you can until everyone can hear you. You should complain and tear apart everyone else’s life because you’re not getting what you feel you deserve.

Right? No.

When something in your life causes you unhappiness, you should try to find a way to change it. Change is a natural part of life. Of growing up and moving forward. Without change, you stagnate. It’s as if your feet are stuck in quicksand with your being unable to move in any direction.

Stay-at-home moms are prone to losing their identity. It does not happen overnight, rather the transformation is slow. At first, you experience that lack of sleep which causes you to start yelling and complaining. Then, you no longer feel beautiful as the time you used to take on making yourself up is now consumed with feedings, diaper changes, potty training, cleaning, and making meals that the children might or might not eat. In time, you learn to accept this as your duty, your job.

Years pass and the children grow up. They start to go to school and you are faced with yet another change. You become chauffeur as you drive your children to school, to parties, to friend’s houses, to soccer practice, dance lessons, and anything that society makes you believe will make your child a ‘well-rounded’ person. In the meantime, you might take up a hobby. It could be photography or sewing or baking. Whatever it is, it becomes an escape, a way out of the norm. But time is limited and you need to make the best use of it.

As the children grow older and you have an increasing amount of time at your disposal - as they are in school for a full 8 hours a day - you might start to wonder ‘what next?’. ‘Is this it?’ ‘Is this what my life has become?’

In the meantime, you’ve lost skills necessary to go back to the job you once knew. Time has moved on and technology has advanced. You are faced with another decision but it’s not necessarily a simple one as up until now your identity has been defined as ‘Tommy’s mom’ or someone’s wife. Then one day you wake up and look in the mirror. Weary eyes stare back and you blink again wondering who that person is staring back at you. Who have you become? The more important question is ‘who do you want to be?’. It’s also not easy for the other spouse to understand. You’ve given him or her all these years of making meals, keeping the house as clean as possible, doing everything you can do and now you want something else. You want your own identity back. The one you had before marriage and children came into the picture.

Change is necessary in order to grow. It is not simple or easy and most of the time we tend to talk ourselves out of a chance we later wish we’d taken.

This is not to dissuade people from having children or that children bring about unhappiness. Quite the contrary, children can bring about a great deal of happiness. The challenge is in finding the right balance. 

You have been given the precious gift of life. It's important to use it wisely and to live life to the fullest. The moment you realise that you hold the key to your own happiness is the moment you know that only you hold the power - the one to change your future. The one that will bring about an inner peace and calmness you so greatly desire.

FLY HIGH, DREAM BIG

"You know what I'm going to do while you're in Glasgow for two weeks?"

"I'm going?!" I wasn't really paying too much attention to what was said after that. I also never thought about going for two weeks. One, maybe. Two sounds better though.

The possibility of my taking that dream trip to Glasgow alone, or anywhere really, is showing a flicker of reality. The power of self-fulfilling prophecy or that tendency towards persistence? Talk about things long enough and that dream might become your reality.

fly high dream big

Of course nothing is set in stone as one never knows if something will happen in the meantime to change the course of the plans. Life is strange that way. My father planned on traveling when he retired. His health declined for about a decade before he died at the age of 59. The diagnosis was "Lewy bodies with Pick's disease.  So, you never know when your time will come and you should try to realise that dream sooner rather than when 'later' becomes 'too late'.

This morning I started planning my virtual trip - you know, in the off chance that I went. I found a potential hotel and started studying the map of the UK. I've always wanted to see Edinburgh Castle and didn't realize it was only an hour's drive away from Glasgow. So, that is on my list of places to see. Another is the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park...and more castles. People watching, a lot of walking, visiting bookstores. A true adventure as I know nothing about Scotland - besides men wearing kilts and the beautiful highlands.

I guess the first step, and the reason this all started, is to buy that concert ticket. Even if I don't end up going for some reason, I lose only the cost of that ticket. As always, I'm skeptical and will for now plan this trip as a dream trip. Once I buy that plane ticket, however, that dream will turn into reality. Unless I somehow manage to talk myself out of it.

THE CASE FOR GLASGOW

"It's time for the boring housewife to travel", I tell my husband.

"Your anything but a boring housewife", he replies. Yes, I speak my mind. I'm controversial, hard headed, insistent, persistent, and now longing to go somewhere - to escape...if only for a while.

This week was kind of a tough week. It gets that way at times...especially when you start feeling the walls caving in. Random thoughts cross your mind - some shared and others you'd wished you hadn't shared. Life can be both interesting and strange but change is inevitable if you're ever going to 'snap out of it'. Sometimes people try to understand, but you don't want to risk bringing them down in case they don't.

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The truth is that I haven't been away from my children since they were born - not even for one 24-hour period. Before you have children you think you won't lose your identity. You fight it and then it happens. Before long, you're sporting the dumpy clothes and neglecting your looks. Those tall black boots that take five minutes to lace up are replaced by flip flops and slip-ons. The once red hair has faded into a mousy brown mess that gets pulled back and clipped with a hair claw. Makeup doesn't even enter your morning routine as you're glad to even get a chance to shower for longer than three minutes. The face looking back at you in the mirror is a person you no longer recognize. 

Your house is a mess and sadly you learn to accept it. Of course the possibility is still there where you could go get a job and pay someone else to raise your children. You could paste that fake smile on your face and pretend the day away but in reality you know that it's difficult. Get a hobby, meet up with friends are the suggestions. Hobbies I have. Friends - not so much. True friends are difficult to find. You know, the ones that know what you'll say before you even say it.

I'm well aware that my desire to take an exotic and expensive trip overseas in November is only but a dream I wished would come true. I imagine a plane ride where I can sit and read without anybody asking for something every 30 seconds. I imagine sitting at cafes drinking a double espresso and people watching before heading out to look for castles and random people to photograph. I imagine being able to be alone with my thoughts and finally getting a restful night's sleep after 7 years.  Then going to The Hydro to see Depeche Mode perform on the 11th. A girl can dream...

"You need to get a traveling job" are the last words I hear as the lights go out this night. So tomorrow it's back to the dishes, the never-ending piles of laundry, toys strewn about the house, and crap piles upon crap piles of everything and anything that will never be organized.

Perhaps no one will read this but I felt compelled to write down what's going on at this point in time. Thoughts and dreams that cross our minds in this randomness of life.

FIND YOUR AUDIENCE

Tonight's bedtime story was about a cow who had a dream to sing and dance. It was a book that Oma sent the kids for Christmas. Gloria was larger than the other cows and liked to stand out from the crowd. She knew she was different from the cows in her neighborhood and valued that uniqueness in that she did not want to succumb to the the life of an ordinary dairy cow. So, she performed for her peers but was laughed off stage. She eventually moved away and found a group of Hippos (much larger than her) who valued her talents and spoke greatly of her.

The story is a great lesson for children and adults trying to find their place in society. You might not have an engaging audience on any social media, but you will eventually find those that value all that you have to offer.

Never give up. Keep looking.