Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Photo of the week... month?

September 27, 2010
mani walls at the Deurali Pass, Solu-Khumbu, Nepal

This time last year, I was two days into a three week trek from the middle hills of Nepal up through the Himalayas and back again. When I returned, having neither had nor desired internet access for nearly a month, I found myself fielding quite a few questions about my whereabouts. I find myself now in a similar situation, though the adventure is quite different and accessibility is certainly not the issue. My friends, I have embarked on a quest called Grad School, and I'm afraid it has effectively sent me off the grid for awhile... just not in such a literal sense this time. I am pleased to say that after much wandering, I think I've ended up where I'm supposed to be after all.

This photograph was taken at the top of the first mountain pass on my trek, traversed on this day last year, which is oddly appropriate having just cleared the first major hump, hurdle, mountain pass, of my academic career. Ah, and like a ripe cheddar, it appears I've only gotten cheesier with time. You know you missed me.

I'll be back.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Want to be: In Bruges

Prison, death, it didn't matter. Because at least in prison, and at least in death, you know, I wouldn't be in fucking Bruges. But then, like a flash, it came to me, and I realized, "Fuck, man, maybe that's what Hell is. The entire rest of eternity spent in fucking Bruges!" And I really, really hoped I wouldn't die. I really, really hoped I wouldn't die.
-Ray, In Bruges, 2008

Shunning happy hour at one of my new favorite B-more haunts in favor of some lazy, antisocial time at home after finishing a busy two week anatomy and physiology course, I spent a Friday night in, folding laundry and watching one of my favorite movies of the past few years, In Bruges. For those who are not familiar with the film (to whom I recommend renting it)... two hitmen, Ray and Ken (played by a brilliantly sensitive Colin Farrell and the always incredible Brendan Gleeson, respectively), are sent by their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), to hide out in Bruges and await further instructions after a botched job in which Ray accidentally killed a little boy. Ken is eager to take in all of the historic sights of the city, while Ray is wracked by guilt and pissed off that they have been sent to Bruges, of all places. Guilt and morality, drug dealers and dwarf actors, arguments with American (or Canadian?) tourists and Hieronymous Bosch paintings come to life... bizarre hilarity naturally ensues.

Though Ray asserts that hell would be an eternity spent in Bruges, the film has put Bruges (and Belgium as a whole) on my radar, and I tend to side with Ken and Harry in falling hard for the charms of the canal-lined medieval city center- It's a fairy tale fucking town, isn't it? How can a fairy tale town not be somebody's fucking thing?

File:Bosch laatste oordeel drieluik.jpg

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Night Souvenir: a wooden turtle, mon!

Knowing that I'm fan of all things turtle, my sister, Laura, nabbed this lil' guy in Jamaica past spring. Truly a product of my Mom-mom, who is always after a good bargain, she was excited to hone her negotiating skills in the Ochos Rios craft market and left with quite a few steals.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A midsummer night's inspiration

"3 guys, 44 days, 11 countries, 18 flights, 38 thousand miles, an exploding volcano, 2 cameras and almost a terabyte of footage... all to turn 3 ambitious linear concepts based on movement, learning and food ....into 3 beautiful and hopefully compelling short films.....

= a trip of a lifetime."

Thanks to my Swiss Miss for sharing these incredible short films Eat, Learn, and Move (shot by Aussie Rick Mereki... who I keep wanting to call "Rick Moranis") that make me want to get up off my bum and LIVE.

Oh, and Andrew Lees- call me?

Friday, August 5, 2011

you know it is going to be a great day when...

...you can see the Himalayas from your window in the middle of monsoon season.

Confession: Today wasn't a great day... it probably wasn't even good. Internet service calls, frequent phone calls to the landlord about small but vital tasks that should have been completed weeks ago, staying put for nearly 7 hours to wait for an important UPS delivery that couldn't be left on an inner city stoop... these are the annoyances of getting settled into new digs. But at least I have electricity without rolling blackouts, hot water, and reliable internet (I think), right? Right?! Those are big important things I should be happy about, yes? (Lindsey, this is Baltimore, not Kathmandu- it's OK to adjust your standards).

A year ago, I came home from work in the morning to find this magnificent vista visible from the balcony outside my room. During the monsoon season, it is rare to get such a clear view of the Himalayas from Kathmandu (these particular mountains are part of the Langtang range), so catching such a panorama is the sort of moment that instantly brightens days.

With a few monumental, exciting, scary things just around the corner, I have found myself caught up in details, bogged down by small concerns rather than propelled forward by the tiny notions that can make one's day. I don't expect to look out my window and see 6000 meter mountains breaking through the clouds, but I know there are little day-makers amongst the daily annoyances. At the very least, it is still Shark Week.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Live every week like it's shark week

For those of you who don't already live every week like it's shark week, I've got good news for you...

It actually is shark week!

And I haven't blogged about sharks in almost two months!

Fun fact: this is perhaps the only television event that will see my entire family sitting in front of the tube.

Did you know that sharks like to sunbathe and can even get a tan? Sharks: they're just like us!

Happy Shark Week, y'all!

jaws comes home

Monday, July 25, 2011

hot town, summer in the city

After another brief hiatus, I'm back, bitches. Well, "back" to the few of you who noticed my absence. Thanks for stroking my ego and warming the cockles of my heart. Or was that just the heat wave?

I've just returned from a long weekend in New York, which primarily revolved around sweating buckets and guzzling iced teas, but also featured several noteworthy guest appearances by friends accrued throughout various stages of my life.

Observations that are by no means revelatory in any way...

Sangria with this gal might not heal all wounds, but it doesn't hurt. Pret a Manger iced black tea with red fruits is probably one of the best remedies for surviving 100 degree weather. Realizing you've forgotten your book is a bummer-- until you pass the Strand kiosk on the SE corner of Central Park. 9 times out of 10, a dive bar with the right company will trump whatever's trendy-- especially if there's skee ball involved. Everything dies, baby that's a fact, but maybe it is better to bear the news of a deceased childhood pet in the presence of friends, Mexican food, and several midday Margaritas. Sometimes you need the friend who can break your stubbornness by saying trust me that it's too late for you to take the subway back alone, please get in a cab in a stern voice. Harry Potter exhibits are one of very few exceptions to the avoid-Times-Square-like-the-plague rule. The Lobby Bar at the Ace Hotel just might make a person want to spend an entire weekend afternoon studying. Being able to use walking as a means of transportation is a simple pleasure better appreciated after relying on a car for a long period of time-- though probably appreciated even more when the heat index isn't 110 degrees F.

Though I took no photographs, I can offer the following, taken by a friend in a Dingle diner (County Kerry, Ireland). Though I try to avoid behaving like a tourist while actually in the city, clearly I relish the opportunity to act like an NYC tourist in the Emerald Isle?

thanks, FregTK, for exposing me as the asshat I really am

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Photo Essay: Belfast's Queen's Quarter

Home sweet hostel for my stay in Belfast was in quiet Queen's Quarter (and look what I just did there), a 15 minute walk south of the Europa Buscentre, the main transportation hub for the city. I found Belfast to be rather tranquil on the whole (though conflicts would break out in Western Belfast only days after my departure); nevertheless, I still appreciated the relative calm of Queen's Quarter after a day of traveling. For most of the day my empty room suggested that I had snagged a single by default, but I returned from a late dinner to find that I did indeed have a roommate for the night, an amiable American who was making her way out of the country just as I was beginning my adventure. Unfortunately for me, she'd be getting up by 6 am the following morning to get to the airport. Such is the hostel life.

Between my roommate stirring and the sun announcing its presence through the skylight in my bedroom, I found myself wide awake before 7 am, still more than an hour before breakfast. Solution? Spend an hour enjoying the architecture of Queen's University Belfast and the enchanting Botanical Gardens adjacent to the campus.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Great Walks: Giants Causeway Coast Way

Though tour buses from Belfast descend upon the Giant's Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland every day, the causeway coast is best explored at a slower pace over the course of at least an overnight or two. Some of the best vignettes of the causeway coast can be seen from along the 16.5 kilometer (10+ mile) walk between the Giant's Causeway and the infamous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Beyond the volcanic columns that sink into the cerulean sea there are miles of dramatic cliffs, white sand beaches, over-saturated fields of grazing sheep, and quiet fishing harbors to behold.

After landing in a bitter cold and rainy Dublin only 48 hours earlier (which had me reevaluating my decision to bring only two sweaters on my "summer" vacation), I woke up to flawless weather in County Antrim. When the sun shines in Ireland, the color palate is unbelievable; you feel as if you may have mistakenly wandered into a Photoshopped version of the world, one in which someone has cranked up the saturation beyond credibility.

But it is real life. For reals.

Lacing up the hiking boots that had carried me through the Himalayas last fall, I set off on my walk. Having visited the Giants Causeway the previous night to watch the sunset and had the place almost entirely to myself, I was a bit overwhelmed by the multitudes gathered by daylight at Northern Ireland's only UNESCO World Heritage site. I challenged my glutes to the stairs that led me up the causeway cliffs and moved beyond the masses. From there, I passed the occasional couple or small guided tour group, but was left mostly alone to contemplate the views, my thoughts, and my hangover with the ocean to my left and rolling hills of sheep pastures to my right. Hugging the cliffs for the first half of the walk, the path eventually winds down to reveal several kilometers of sand and dunes known as White Park Bay Beach. While no stranger to the strange, I was not expecting to share the beach with more cows than humans. Apparently this is just a day "down the shore" in Northern Ireland. Feeling like a beached cow?

Only kilometers from the finish, I passed through Ballintoy Harbour and was wooed by the Harbour Cafe's afternoon tea special, a ritual that I wouldn't mind adopting in my regular life. As soon as I sat with my pot of tea and warm fruit scone, I became cognizant of my heavy legs and worn-out feet. I could have easily sat in view of the harbor for an hour reading the collection of Colum McCann short stories that I had brought along for the journey, but something told me I should keep walking. Female intuition? I finished my walk just in time to catch the last bus and headed back to a much appreciated hot shower at my hostel.

Though a five hour walk is not an inconsequential undertaking, the coastal walk is not terribly strenuous; save for a few short uphill climbs (the highest cliffs are about 100 meters), the walk is almost flat. In windy or rainy weather, I can imagine it to be rather treacherous, but with mild temperatures and sunlight it is pleasant and refreshing-- especially after a long night involving copious amounts of Irish spirits! Pack plenty of water (there are a couple places to refill along the way), a snack, and lots of layers, as the weather on the Emerald Isle has a tendency of changing every five minutes.

Tip: If you are staying close to one of the end points of this stretch of the causeway, get a ride or take a bus to the opposite end and work your way back. Staying up past sunrise the previous night (slash that morning?), I got off to a late start and didn't begin my walk until almost noon. Though not limited by daylight when the sun sets at 10:30 pm, the local buses stop running fairly early. I reached Carrick-a-Rede in time for the last admission for the rope bridge, only to realize that the last bus back to the Giants Causeway/Bushmills was leaving in 10 minutes-- not enough time to walk another kilometer to the bridge, wander around the tiny island, and walk back. Had I taken the bus in the morning, I would have explored Carrick-a-Rede and had plenty of time left to set a leisurely pace for the way back. You live, you learn.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Dublin Highlight: The Celt Pub

Traveling alone on my first trip to Dublin (I would return about a week later in the company of five gentlemen), afforded me the opportunity to wander aimlessly through the streets, sort out my mental map of the city at a leisurely pace, pop into a cafe on a whim or take an hour to find the perfect meal, to even give up entirely and plop down for a Guinness (or two... or three) in lieu of dinner. Having no competing interests to deal with can be extremely liberating, and I find that going for a long walk is often my favorite way to get to know a new city... even if a bit lonely at times. Ultimately, I do probably favor my time spent in Dublin with my companions. Being in the presence of people who make you happy is a simple enough luxury at home; being able to travel abroad with them can be an extraordinary treat. But while I prefer the conversation and the mere existence of companionship, I cannot deny that there are obvious merits of having alone time in a new place.

My aimless wandering in Dublin lead me to The Celt, a pub on Talbot Street, which is north of the Liffy River and away from the chaos and throngs of tourists in Temple Bar. Though they serve food and I wandered in hungry around 9:15 PM, my state of indecision and my indifference towards my growling stomach had me opting for a Guinness and a seat at a small table where I could read Joyce and rest my legs. By the time I was ready for another round, a duo with a guitar and fiddle had begun to play and I knew I wasn't going anywhere as long as there was music to be heard. The two young, handsome musicians energetically cycled through traditional Irish music, well-known Irish folk songs, classic covers, and even a rendition of Poker Face, which was surprisingly awesome. I put down my book and sat with a contented look on my face, Guinness in hand, until they finished at half eleven and I waltzed back to a good night's sleep at my hostel.

The following evening, I began a similar quest for food and ambiance, stopping by several "traditional" pubs recommended by Lonely Planet, only to be disgusted by the presence of big screen TVs and disappointed by the lack of the craic I was searching for. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? I headed right back to The Celt, where another night of live music was already underway, this time by a trio of a guitar, fiddle, and accordion. Though the offerings were similar, they were no less enjoyable than the previous night and I delighted in realizing I had already committed some of the Irish drinking/folk songs to memory.

Three of my favorites are Galway Girl, Whiskey in the Jar, and I'll Tell Me Ma (Belle of Belfast City), and I've included versions of each below. Just imagine you are sitting in an Irish pub, beverage of choice in hand, and listening to a handsome young lad (or lass) play one of these to a tiny, but enthusiastic, crowd.

Though I gushed about it when my companions arrived, I never ended up going back with them. Sorry, guys-- we'll always have Dublin, yes, but it seems like only I will have The Celt.

If you go: The Celt is located at 81 Talbot Street. They have live music 7 days a week beginning at 9:30 PM. Get there early to grab a seat!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Four years of July 4ths

Yesterday marked the first 4th of July that I have celebrated in America since 2007. Ergo, I thought I'd take a look back at where I've been during my last few fourths. (and try saying "few fourths" several times fast)

July 4, 2008 (Mt. Lykaion, Arcadia, Greece): Hey, at least there were sparklers. And a crop of Americans. And a balloon toss the following weekend. And nothing says Independence Day like a balloon toss! Same, same. Just a little different.

July 4, 2009 (Accra, Ghana): Two fellow Americans and I were treated to a nice lunch at a beachfront restaurant in the capital by our French NGO director (I'd unfortunately be gone before I could return the favor on Bastille Day). Obama was visiting in a few days, so there were unusually high numbers of American flags and pro-USA sentiments flying around the city. And lots of unnecessary road painting in the name of Barry O. So much unnecessary road painting. A bit less of an American 4th of July than the previous year.

July 4, 2010 (Kamakura and Tokyo, Japan): Though I had spent the previous few days with American friends, Independence Day itself marked my independence; I spent the day alone wandering the temples and shrines of Kamakura as a day trip from nearby Tokyo. On the return train, I was hit on by an American military man stationed in Tokyo, which was probably the most "American" part of my day. Definitely my least patriotic 4th of July to date.

July 4, 2011 (Washington, DC, USA): And then there was flag cake. Spending the holiday in the nation's capital, surrounded by friends and food, is definitely the best way to make up for lost time.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Photo Essay: Chesapeake Bay overnight excursion

As previously mentioned, not long after returning from Ireland, I was crewing a short sailing expedition on the Chesapeake Bay with an overnight in Annapolis and St. Michael's.

Here are a few shots from the trip:

(1&2 Annapolis City Dock at night; 3&4 a short spinnaker run down the Bay; 5&6 Hooper Straight Lighthouse and a restoration in progress at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michael's; 7 St. Michael's Marina; 8 leaving St. Michael's at sunrise)

Friday, July 1, 2011

What ever happened to Ireland?

A dead computer battery.

A few days of sailing on the Chesapeake Bay, away from said misbehaving computer.

A few hundred Ireland photos to sort through and upload to a friend's server so that he can compile a huge collection of photographs from the three photographers on the trip.

Excuses, excuses, I know.

There's a lot of Ireland to go around, and I'll be getting to it very soon. Until then, let me pay tribute to the footwear that carried me from Baltimore to New York and all over the Emerald Isle. Because my feet is my only carriage-- if you don't count an Aer Lingus plane, several buses, and a Ford Mondeo.

Inch Beach, Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry, Republic of Ireland

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New York bagels

If there is anything guaranteed to make you feel even more gross after a day of international travel, it is schlepping your luggage through the NYC subway in the summertime. Fact.

My gracious host for the night, guest blogger and frequent travel buddy, Julie, was kind enough to point out that I didn't exactly smell like roses after my 12 hours of travel that deposited me at Columbus Circle, fresh off the 1 train. Kinder still, she let me use her shower. What a friend.

But I ask you... how many things are better than waking up to a gorgeous morning in the Big Apple, feeling surprisingly not jet-lagged (though I have a feeling I may be speaking too soon), and walking a few blocks to get a fresh bagel with scallion cream cheese and lox? Definite points for America, my friends.

I'm back in action after over two weeks in Ireland that far exceeded my (already high) expectations. Over the next couple weeks I'll be detoxing (so much meat and Guinness!) and decompressing, revisiting the trip that took me through historically significant cities and breathtaking natural wonders, as a solo journey and in the company of old and new friends. This is also exciting for me, as it is my first time traveling internationally since starting Litterulae ab Mundano a few months ago. Like always, my appetite for travel has been whetted, but my wanderlust heart is left longing for more...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Running while traveling

I write a silly running blog, so when Lindsey asked me to guest-post on her blog, my immediate thought was, "I have to make this work as a cross-post!." However, I then suffered from a bout of blogger's block, so I have to give a nod to my fellow guest blogger, Ursina, for coming up with this subject and Runners World for sending out a timely "Running while Traveling" email.

Some of my best travel experiences have come at times when I've combined physical activity, be it running, hiking or biking, with discovering a new place. But as I'll be traveling a little bit at the end of the summer while training for a marathon (admittedly domestically, I'm not a jet-setter like my dear blog-host), I will focus on running and leave hiking and biking for another day. 

Lindsey's friend Kate has done a great job of covering Lyon, the city in France where I studied abroad. Part of what made my experience in Lyon special was getting to know the city through long runs to the Parc Tete d'Or or along the Rhone river. While running in a new city isn't without its downsides (older French ladies who quite ostentatiously turn their noses up at women wearing shorts come to mind), it is a great way to get to know parts of the city a bit further than walking distance.

The other advantage of running in a new place is that you get the chance to discover parts of the city like a native. I live in NYC and still discover parts of Central Park or the running paths along the city's rivers that I hadn't previously known about. However, there are risks to just setting off on a run in one random direction in an unfamiliar city - the key to running in someplace unfamiliar is to plan ahead.

Runners World has a tool called "RouteFinder" in which one can plug in a city and find running routes that other runners have loaded into the system. While the international routes are a bit thin (I looked at Paris and Dublin), they still offer a decent range of distances and the ability to map. http://www.runnersworld.com/route/routefinder.html

MapMyRun has tools to track running distance and has a community feature where you can see runs that other runners post. http://www.mapmyrun.com/routes/

RunThePlanet has tons of routes, including places to run in Antartica, if you're into that. http://www.runtheplanet.com/runningroutes/

My next bout of travel running will occur in Newport Beach, CA, where I've already discovered a few great runs (pictured).



thanks so much to Julie for the post... and be sure to check out her running blog, Feet Don't Fail Me Now at http://feetdontfail.tumblr.com/

Thursday, June 16, 2011


June 16th. Bloomsday. The day in which Ulysses takes place. The day that Leopold Bloom wandered the streets of Dublin. The day that is now recognized every year as a literary celebration of James Joyce.

My first introduction to Ulysses came during a course about "scandalous arts" in which we read the final chapter, referred to as Molly Bloom's soliloquy, and discussed the obscenity trial of Ulysses (in the US in the 1930s).

My second attempt to tackle Ulysses, though I suppose my first real attempt at the whole, was during a three week trek in the Himalayas. Having torn through my other three novels during the first week of trekking, I opened Ulysses. "If it is the only thing I have to read, then it will get read," said logic. At this point in the trek I was already well over 4,000 meters above sea level. The walking would be much shorter due to the altitude, leaving me with far more down time. Perfect for reading, right? Not so much. Ulysses demands your full attention at sea level. At altitude, especially hovering around 3 miles above sea level, your brain is foggy, to say the least. I read half of Ulysses before telling myself to cut it out, I'd never remember it. How much do bragging rights about reading it count if you read every word, yet finished just short of comprehension?

My third attempt... is... now? Ulysses came with me to Ireland, but as I am writing from the past, I cannot predict how this battle is going. Even if it is not complete at this point, I will still appreciate Bloomsday for all that it is and know that probably 95% of my fellow revelers have not read the Joyce masterpiece cover to cover. And who knows, perhaps by this point I am among the 5%... but I know better than to count my chickens before they hatch.

June 16, 2011. Bloomsday in Dublin. I am there.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The other Swiss mountains

A guest post from a fellow citizen of the world. (Thanks so much to Ursina for writing about her native Switzerland while I'm away on vacation!)

Many images come to mind when thinking of Switzerland. For me they include my family and childhood memories. You might be thinking about cheeses and chocolates, watches and army knives, even tax havens and banks, and of course the Alps. The Alps do cover about 60% of the country and are the geographical aspect most important in our history, culture, and tourism. But when I think of Swiss mountains, I also think of the Jura Mountains, which cover about a tenth of the country stretching from Geneva in the Southwest to Basel in the North.  If you are thinking Jurassic Park right now, you are spot on. The Jurassic time period’s name is derived from the mountains. Lindsey would probably explain the etymology of the word right about now… so Wikipedia tells me "The name 'Jura' is derived from the Celtic root 'jor' which was latinized into 'juria,' meaning forest," thus forest mountains.

To me the name “Jura” means much more, it is also the name my family uses for the house from 1667 that my Mamama and grandfather bought over 40 years ago.  My parents recently renovated the house and it is frequently full of cousins, aunts, and assorted family dogs.  In fact, my parents are up there right now with Clemens (our German pointer). To further complicate these matters, there is also a Swiss canton (similar to a state) in the Jura Mountains region! The area has a very interesting history; it is here that Swiss watch making was born (the Watch Museum in Chaux-de-Fonds is a must), because the high altitude made farming in the area inefficient. This also makes it one of the poorest areas of Switzerland. This forms the backdrop to the creation of Switzerland’s youngest canton, Jura. After what my mom calls “an almost civil war” (which was just some uncivilized protests), the inhabitants of the area who speak French and are predominantly Catholic decided to secede from the predominantly German-speaking Protestant canton of Bern, the largest Swiss canton, and like anything in Switzerland, the entire country voted on it and approved the decision.  Interestingly, the southern part of the area decided to remain Bernese, and that’s where my family’s “Jura” house lies.

Beyond the history and fascinating geology, the area is a haven for any outdoor enthusiast (except the type looking for sharks). Hiking and biking, swimming and horseback riding, cross country skiing and even scooter rentals; there’s a trail, map, and place for everything. One of my favorite hikes is around the Étang de Gruère, a bog lake that you can swim in during the summertime. It’s refreshing, but if you kick up the bog bottom you come out covered in black stuff. Another favorite is climbing up the ladders and steep path through the Combe Grède chine to the top of Mount Chasseral; from the top you can see Mont Blanc in the Alps on a clear day. The scenery in the area is made even more beautiful by the many cows and horses that often graze together on the same meadows. Hiking paths routinely lead through the meadows and cows might even come up to you and give you a cow’s lick.

 Mount Chasseral, via

So next time you’re in Switzerland, consider a trip to the Jura, the other mountains, and stop by for a beer and some local cheese at our “Jura” and maybe you’ll even spot these twenty donkeys I encountered nearby last year.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How to squeeze more travel out of your budget

 The Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland, via

Travel doesn't come cheap. But it doesn't have to burn through your bank account, either. One thing that I have become really adamant about is that it is possible to squeeze a little more travel out of your budget if you are willing to be a bit flexible.

I'm leaving for Ireland on Saturday, almost a full week ahead of my friends who will be joining me in renting a castle in County Clare the following week. Knowing that I had the luxury of time on my side (and let's face it, time is often the other huge constraint when it comes to the ability to travel), I decided to look into the possibility of extending my trip on the front end. Flying Aer Lingus, I was able to choose from a matrix of dates and varying prices. I could have left with my friends on Friday the 17th and flown into Shannon, or I could have chosen on Saturday the 11th and flown into Dublin for about $150 less. Guess which one looked more appealing to my opportunistic eye? Granted, it will cost me a little more than that to spend an extra six nights in Ireland, but not too much more if I play my cards right.

As I am staying in hostels, my accommodations will average about $25 per night, allowing me to break even with the money I saved by going early. And some of these are places with real character, like, say a converted old wine cellar in Dublin or a cottage on the Antrim Coast steps away from the Giants Causeway with a full breakfast included. Sure you give up a bit of privacy staying in a hostel (though most hostels do offer private rooms, which are very affordable if you are not traveling alone- an option I have exercised in the past), but when you are traveling alone and looking for a bit of conversation, hostels are a great place to meet fellow travelers and perhaps even chat with friendly owners.

I'm flying out of JFK, which is definitely not close to me by any stretch of the imagination. However, to fly out of Washington (which is not even super convenient) required an indirect flight, less flexible flight options, and was more expensive. I decided to stick with JFK and my Megabus tickets to New York from Baltimore over two months in advance set me back a grand total of $10.50 round trip. Add in LIRR tickets to meet the friend that will drop me at the airport (who I will later meet at the Shannon airport!) and to get back into the city on the way back, and I'm still paying less than $25 to take a much less expensive direct flight from JFK-DUB. Not bad. And not super inconvenient, either.

Throw in a few bus tickets (at around 10 Euro a pop), lunches, dinners, and few attractions (a black taxi tour of Belfast, Bloomsday festivities), and I'm still looking at less than $200 to spend an extra week in the Emerald Isle and further justify my plane fare.

As a single traveler with some extra time on my hands, I have the luxury to choose less expensive options that stretch my wallet and my travel itinerary. This time around it means that I will get to explore a bit of Northern Ireland and experience Bloomsday in Dublin in addition to a week of exploring the West from a castle. Not a bad trade-off for making a few frugal moves, right?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Paris by Photograph

This joins the ranks of ridiculously cool photography projects that I wish I had thought of, but actually am happy that I didn't have to do the tedious work for. Though it appears to be a continuous time-lapse video, each frame is actually a photograph. Cool, huh?

Le Flâneur (music by The XX) from Luke Shepard on Vimeo.

Monday, June 6, 2011

the IMF buys me dinner (and a pint or two) in Northern Ireland

My adventures in the Emerald Isle must be upon me because tonight I dug into the IMF. Now this is my personal international monetary fund, not of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn variety, which lives in an old Harney and Sons tea tin and is home to a variety of currencies, current and retired, left over from trips abroad or received as souvenirs from others, as is the case of the now-extinct Austrian schillings and the Dutch guilder. Hunting for Euros and Pounds, I recovered only half a Euro, but discovered a whopping 12.45 pounds. Not bad for a raid on the IMF tin. Though I will be touching down in Dublin on Sunday morning, I will spend my first few days in Northern Ireland taking in the Antrim coast and the troubled political history (and extensive political murals) of Belfast and perhaps Derry/Londonderry where my 12.45 pounds should fetch a plate of fish and chips and pint. Maybe two if I'm lucky.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

this blog supports a ban on shark finning

Today is one of those days when I become Lindsey the shark-blogger. I am also being incredibly lazy and must admit that my inspiration to talk about sharks again came from a post on Matador. Actually, I'm incredibly lazy squared because I'm just going to share the entire article with you sans any kind of originally on my part.

7 reasons to ban shark finning 
by Mary Pfaffko 
Diver finds dead sharks that died a slow, painful death after being discarded off a finning boat. 
Fins are sliced off of sharks while their live bodies are tossed back into the ocean like trash. Here are 7 reasons why this practice should be banned.

1. Our most ancient species are endangered.
Sharks have existed since before the dinosaurs and pre-date humans by hundreds of millions of years. Once kings of natural selection, sharks are now facing extinction due to finning. Shark populations are extremely vulnerable because they take up to 20 years to reach sexual maturity and produce few young. The current demand for fins makes it impossible to restore populations to previous levels.
Since 1972, the number of Blacktip, Tiger, Bull, Dusky, and Smooth Hammerhead sharks has fallen by over 90%. Already, 18-20 species of sharks are listed as endangered by theInternational Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
2. The soup isn’t that good anyway.
No one is asking people to stop eating delicious soups, and shark fin soup is certainly not one of them. Shark fins are tasteless – fins are full of cartilage, which simply serves as a thickening agent.
The soup has been served for centuries by Chinese at special occasions such as weddings so the hosts can impress their friends with excess wealth, since it can cost up to $100 per bowl. For the most part, the limited number of wealthy Chinese meant that the practice was sustainable, but the rapid growth in the Chinese economy since 1985 is directly correlated with the recent sharp decrease in shark populations.
3. Changing shark populations destabilizes marine ecosystems.
Changes in shark populations alter the ecological dynamics within the entire ocean because sharks are apex predators and play a major role as ecological stabilizers.
The domino effect: decimated Blacktip and Tiger Shark populations along the east coast of the US led to decreased shellfish populations, which led to decreased water quality since shellfish filter water. Another domino effect: fewer sharks increase octopus populations, which decrease lobster populations. At this rate, the oceanic ecosystem that has evolved over millions and millions of years would collapse.
A recent study by the Monterey Bay Aquarium found that more than 75% of people surveyed support a shark finning ban.
4. This isn’t just in Asia.
Outside of Asia, California is the largest market for fins. The Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 prohibits the possession of fins without the corresponding carcass in U.S. waters but does not prohibit the importing or distribution of fins, so some of the fins that are legally imported through Los Angeles and San Diego are actually illegally obtained in U.S. waters.
California Assembly Members Fong and Huffman have introduced Assembly Bill 376, a bill to ban the possession, sale, trade, and distribution of shark fins in California. Washington, Hawaii, and the Northern Mariana Islands have already passed a similar law and Oregon and Guam are considering it.
5. Finning cashes in on cruelty.
Now that we’ve overfished the Bluefin Tuna, industry has turned to the sharks to cash in. Fins are worth up to $600 per pound. What happens when we overfish all of the sharks?
6. It’s a wasteful practice.
Usually, only the fin is saved while the rest of the shark’s body is chucked overboard. Shark meat isn’t popular because of the high ammonia content, meaning that the carcass must move quickly from sea to table with the utmost care to prevent health hazards to the consumer. Shark meat isn’t valuable enough for fishermen to carefully store the huge carcasses on their ships.
7. Longlining is killing more than sharks.
A “curtain of death” sweeps through the ocean, catching anything that goes for the bait. These “longlines” are meant to catch tuna and swordfish, but they actually catch anything that takes its bait, including endangered sharks, leatherback and loggerhead turtles, and seabirds (such as albatross). Over 25% of the longline catch is chucked back into the sea, usually left for dead.
In most areas, longlining is perfectly legal and practiced routinely.
Ban Shark Finning Worldwide
A recent study by the Monterey Bay Aquarium found that more than 75% of people surveyed support a shark finning ban. On the other side of the world, China’s most powerful television station, CCTV, has donated $70 million in time to air informative commercials about finning. The NBA’s most famous Chinese basketball player, Yao Ming, is plastered on San Francisco’s MUNI buses as part of WildAid’s campaign to end shark finning.
What you can do
On June 10, 2011, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) will be holding its annual Splash Ball in San Francisco, CA. The theme of this year’s ball is Shindig for Sharks to raise awareness about the devastating impact finning on shark populations and the planet. For more information or to buy tickets to the Splash Ball ($95 per ticket), visit theSplash Ball Eventbrite site.
In addition to supporting state bans, visit Stop Shark Finning for ideas about other actions you can take. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

picture perfect: a relaxing long weekend at Lake George

We all know that the best laid plans can often go awry... and sometimes the plans that materialize in an act of spontaneity go off without a hitch. My Memorial Day weekend was an instance of the latter, with an invitation late Thursday sending me packing and hightailing it to Philadelphia the following morning to catch my ride to upstate New York for the holiday. My hostess was a friend and former roommate from university, Lauren, and her parents, who have a beautiful house on the northernmost tip of Lake George. Several of our friends had spent a wonderful weekend at the house last summer, which I regretfully missed due to a previous engagement (and by that I mean I was living in South Korea), and I was excited to finally get to see the place that my friends, and more importantly Lauren, always speak so fondly of. Maybe not equally important, but certainly pressing, was the need to unplug for a few days. I had spent far too much time in front of a computer screen during the previous few weeks (which might come as a surprise given the relative dearth of postings) and was eager to leave my laptop behind and turn off my cell phone. I read. I slept. I took in three wonderful days of fresh air. I went for a boat ride. I caught up with my friend and enjoyed the presence of her family in what certainly seems to be their collective happy place. I was spoiled by her mom's cooking. I powered down, slowed down, and caught up on the things I truly needed. And I thought I would be without plans for the Memorial Day weekend.
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