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. 
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