Where Did You Go in 2015?

Some of you may still have a little bit of holiday vacation left … You may well be taking the tree down or getting ready to start work or school on Monday. But maybe, just maybe, you’ve got a little time to curl up with a good #longread and your travel dreams.

If so, I wanted to be sure you didn’t miss the New York Times’s recap of “The Most Popular Travel Destination Stories of 2015.” Here they are:

• Paris: A $1,000 Day in Paris for $100
A Paris concierge’s idea of the perfect day on the town—but our reporter organizes a similar day at a tenth of the price. And you know how I feel about Paris. Let’s go!

• Lake Michigan: A Tour of Lake Michigan, My Inland Sea
Striking topography, time-worn communities and the reassuring permanence of an unchanging lake. My mother grew up in Chicago and regularly swam the lake; I’ve had this trip in mind for a long time!

• Tucson, Arizona: In Tucson, an Unsung Architectural Oasis
One of the city’s better-kept secrets is how often you can find significant examples of mid-twentieth-century architecture. I’ve been to south Arizon a few times in recent years, but never Tucson—and I have friends there! Need to put this on my list.

• Rome, Italy: When in Rome, Learn to Cook Italian
If you go to Rome to dine, you’re getting only a taste of Italian culture. For a 
full immersion, you’ve got to make some pasta and traditional sauces yourself. A good friend of mine lives in Rome, and I often read Facebook posts (and see photos) about the cooking! OK, I’m game!

• Montana, Wyoming and Idaho: A Rookie’s Road Trip
A car-averse traveler finds freedom in the driver’s seat, covering 700 miles and three states over three days. I think Ann Patchett did this in a Winnebago and made it sound fun. This article does too.

• Yorkshire, England: Where Dracula Was Born, and It’s Not Transylvania
Bram Stoker found inspiration for his famous Gothic villain in an unlikely place—a sunny seaside Yorkshire village. It’s been more than a decade since I was anywhere in England; I’d love to go again!

• Puerto Rico: The Many Faces of Puerto Rico
Gallery openings, vibrant restaurants, hotel development, and preserved examples of the old way of life play well together in Puerto Rico. From my side of the States, this would be a relatively inexpensive “exotic” vacation. Hmmm …

• Tuscany and Puglia, Italy: Italy’s Treasured Olive Oil, at the Source
In Tuscany and Puglia, making olive oil is a lifestyle, one threatened by bad weather and a killer bacteria. Food is my favorite souvenir!

• LA to Mexico: On a Gay Cruise, Just One of the Guys
A cruise that conjures up the thumpa-thumpa club scene does more than you’d think: it creates a worry-free space where being gay is the norm. This isn’t my demographic, but it might be yours. 🙂

• 6 Places in Africa: Into Africa—Vacation Ideas
The Times asked current and former NYT international news correspondents, who have collectively spent 25 years reporting in Africa, to tell what to do in the regions they’ve covered.

• Italy, Yet Again: A Honeymoon Through Italy
The reporter says: “We danced at midnight in Venice, motored through Tuscany and made memories. Just as newlyweds should.” I had a three-week honeymoon myself this year … but who says you have to be on a honeymoon to take this trip?

So there you have it—eleven fabulous stories to whet your appetite for travel! Where did you go in 2015? Where will you go in 2016?

Slogging to Dublin

29 September 2015, Tuesday
So this is how my journey began: screaming in my kitchen. From the taxi on his ride home, Gerry texted “OK” and I danced around the room, laughing, clutching my phone. He’d passed the interview for his visa. The only time I’ve appreciated the six-hour time difference is that text from the cab while I was still at home. It was a great way to start the trip, looking forward to the life to come.

I also spent some quality time with my new phone, configuring apps. Dowloaded Verizon Wifi Connect International, and WhatsApp. (What else do I need?) Checked my email for the last time before shutting down the computer,* and had one from Margaret and John’s daughter, Marina:

T. took Dad to the airport early early this morning, and his plane is on schedule. He’ll be in NY in 3hrs and 55min and then on to Dublin! I asked him if he was a little excited last evening, and he said he was very excited. 🙂

I myself would be connecting through Chicago—but first Kaci got me to Nashville International with my two large suitcases. One was mostly filled with the mattress pad that I’d purchased to help alleviate the hard-mattress problem I always encounter in Ireland; it would stay behind with Gerry’s mother, but we’d need the luggage space bringing Gerry back to Tennessee. I also had three items to carry on: purse, laptop, and CPAP, which is a medical device and exempt from the two-bag limit. Still, they’re all three small enough to easily fit in one of those rolling overnight bags you see in the overhead bins.

Yes, this is why traveling’s a slog for me, the five-foot tall, chubby, middle-aged woman.

I do enjoy the international concourse with the skylight and all the flags from the countries you can reach flying out of O’Hare. And there’s lots of places to linger and get some decent food and drink (if you have the time).

And people-watch. I’m not advocating taking a chance on missing your flight but wouldn’t it be fun to go flying through the international terminal on one of those golf carts with the driver beeping the horn in a steady rhythm? I’m thinkin’ yeah. 🙂

I get a little excited once I’m away from Nashville. The trip becomes “real.” And boarding the big plane was very nice, easy, low-stress loading; nobody anxious or pushy. I had an aisle seat on the right and, it turns out, an empty seat beside me. American Airlines was playing some great slow-jam music, which added to the calm ambience.

And even just three months after my earlier trip (and, more importantly, my continued weight loss), it wasn’t hard to fasten my seatbelt, and in fact I had belt to spare. Wow. Sometimes it’s easier to see/feel your progress in things like this than on the scale, you know? Getting in and out of the seat was a breeze compared to June.

So we got loaded, and then we sat on the runway for thirty-five minutes in the gathering dusk, waiting for other planes to land.

Interesting in its own way, the wait. Each plane began as a tiny twinkle, then quickly became this. One after the other, every two minutes.

Interesting in its own way, the wait. Each plane began as a tiny twinkle, then quickly became this (on the left, close to the horizon). One after the other, every two minutes.

Finally we were in the air. I chatted for quite a while with a young woman seated across the aisle from me, Ginger—an American gal who had married an Irishman. They were traveling “home” with their two little girls to attend a wedding. They’d met in Ireland and lived there for nine years—Ginger had a light lilt on certain words—but now his job has taken them to the States.

Absence of a seatmate made it possible for me to doze for two or three hours, but most of the time I read. I was reading Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys and truly laughing out loud. The scene where Grady persuades Crabtree to go rescue James Leer is just classic stuff. I love the movie they made from this book, but you should really read the book. I’m still chortling.

* I very rarely use my phone to check email. I’m either working—or I’m not.

Christmas in Dublin?

Oh, man. I’ve been in Dublin in February and September (twice!) and May … but never at Christmas. Gerry tells me about it, of course. The buskers and the arts and crafts markets that sort of spring up spontaneously are especially appealing.

Here’s a nice piece of travel writing about Christmastime in Dublin from the New York Times:

A character noted that entering a Dublin pub on a winter’s night — fireplace blazing and sleet lashing off the window — was like walking into a Christmas card. It’s not much of a stretch to say that, with its ivy-swathed Georgian buildings, winding cobblestones side streets and amiable spirit, the entirety of the city can feel that way too.

I particularly enjoyed the idea of special editions of books with a lovely cover from a local design firm. Nice!

The author finds the buskers appealing, too, and mentions the impromptu Christmas Eve street-corner gig Bono has orchestrated since 2009. (Here is the link to the 2013 “event” and also to the one in 2012. Liam Ó Maonlaí—Hothouse Flowers—knocks me out.)

Haven’t got enough? Here’s another video of the goings-on in Dublin at Christmas. For up-to-the-minute news, check out the nonprofit Dublin at Christmas on Facebook.

Many cities have magical Christmas traditions: New York has the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center that towers over the ice skating rink there … Chicago has its Christkindlmarket (I was there one year, and bought a fantastic stollen that—oh! it was good) … here in Murfreesboro we have a Christmas Tour of Homes (it benefits Oaklands Mansion) as well as a Christmas parade.

But a Dublin Christmas sounds like something I’d like to experience. Maybe 2016 or 2017 … Maybe one of my nieces will plan a Christmas wedding?

Grafton Street, Christmas, ©Clyde Court Hotel.

Grafton Street, Christmas, ©Clyde Court Hotel.

Happy Birthday! And Welcome to America!

30 May 2013, Thursday

We’ve learned it is much easier to turn in the car the day before—it is always likely there will be others turning in cars as the same time; the line can get long. If you are also trying to catch a plane, you could get nervous.

Or at least I could. 🙂 And I don’t like to be nervous or rushed. So when we turned the car in yesterday, we had nowhere to be but dinner and to bed.

This morning we were at the dining room when they opened for breakfast at 6:30, and by 7:00 we were getting on the shuttle bus to airport. For some reason the Dublin Airport has a shuttle bus lot; passengers are dumped here—nowhere near the actual departure gates—and must hump their luggage over to a terminal. In Nashville the shuttle buses pull up in front of departures (or arrivals) and let folks off right there. These are shuttle buses from hotels, shuttle buses from off-site parking lots, shuttle buses from car rental places (which are on-site). Doesn’t that make sense? They even do it that way in New York, for heaven’s sake. But … I guess it doesn’t have to make sense.

We had to go all the way over to Terminal 2 (fortunately there were trolleys). But by the time we checked the luggage, went through security and then through U.S. pre-customs (very handy, honestly), it was 9:00am. Good thing we didn’t want anything from the duty-free shops.

Wait, did I say pre-customs was handy? Maybe so, but it’s not pleasant. The customs agents are not friendly. Not nice. I mean, I’m a friendly, smiley, chubby middle-aged woman holding a United States passport; the customs agent was American. We were both Americans, not to put too fine a point on it, and I felt, at the very least, unwelcome and definitely under suspicion. Not a happy transaction.

To Gerry, a non–U.S. passport holder, they were even ruder. When the agent asked him how long he was staying and he said, “Returning on June 27,” this person gasped and said, “Four weeks!” (Why all the drama?) And then she asked him if he was employed and asked him to prove it. This sort of thing, frankly, pisses me off, as an American. Is this how we treat every humble person seeking to visit our country? No wonder others have a bad opinion of Yanks.

WELCOME TO AMERICA! (And you are, actually, considered to be in American territory once you’ve run that nasty little gauntlet.)

We had to show our passport five times from the time we entered the terminal to the time we got to the gate. And by the time we got there (again, 9:00), there was barely time for Gerry to buy us a couple water bottles and go to the loo, and then they were boarding us. I guess that’s a plus.

It’s so nice to travel home with someone. It’s particularly nice to travel home with the one you love—it makes an arduous journey merely long. And you can people-watch together.

I got quite a kick out of this young guy sitting across the aisle and one row up, already asleep, or trying to be. If I’d had to guess, I’d have placed him at nineteen or twenty, but you can see he has a bottle of wine (at 11:00am, which makes me tired just thinking about it), so he had to be at least twenty-one. He was traveling alone (we watched him come in, get settled) … with a bear. Yes, that is a very well-worn Winne-the-Pooh tucked under his arm. Gerry said, “Oh, he’s taking it back as a gift for someone,” but I say he’d have packed a gift. Or at the very least put it in the overhead bin or his carryon. But he held on to it for seven hours across the ocean. I’m just sayin’.

What do you make of this? Is that bear a gift for a younger sister he’ll be meeting in Chicago? Or a source of comfort? Hmmm.

What do you make of this? Is that bear a gift for a younger sister he’ll be meeting in Chicago? Or a source of comfort? Hmmm.

We lost him in Chicago, of course. And what was supposed to be a little one-hour layover turned out to be a two-hour layover, because, as it happened, President Obama was visiting the Windy City. It just about shuts down the entire city when a U.S. president comes to town.

However, we ended up having a fun conversation with a young Irishman sitting near us. (Anyone reading a book is fair game for me, you know!) He was twenty-four and a physical therapist. He’d been working as a freelancer in Ireland (you know: two weeks here, two weeks there) and had an opportunity for a two-year contract in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was very, very excited about it. Even more interesting, his girlfriend was following him. She is a schoolteacher, so she was trying to get all her paperwork in order to teach in North Carolina. Charlotte’s a lovely town (in spite of the fact North Carolina’s slowly becoming a red state), so I hope they have a good experience there.

I said, “Oh, your mother’s going to miss you.” My son is thirty and lives a four-hour plane ride away from me; an ocean of separation would be hard to take. But! He set his mom up with an iPad so she can Skype him. Good boy! He was truly delightful. From County Meath.

They finally loaded us but then the runways were backed up. Obama was long gone but O’Hare was still recovering from all the flights that had been held back. We had four flights in front of us, and we looked out the window and saw several behind us, so we were even later getting off the ground. However, they made it up in the air and we arrived in Nashville on time. A birthday miracle!

If you’ve been keeping score, you may have relized that Gerry hadn’t been to his Tennessee home in a year—since April 2012—and I’d had to leave my foxgloves before they were in full bloom, because spring was so late. So as soon as we got home, we had a walk around the yard.

The roses were in full swing.

The roses were in full swing.

The cats were a little bewildered at first, but they warmed up fast. The Feeders! The Feeders were back!

And since we’d put up the fence in March, we’d planned an ambitious landscaping overhaul, which involved killing some grass. We were anxious to see how it was all going.

Looking good! And Spot is … well, who knows. (Actually, a raised, flaglike tail is a sign of greeting.)

Looking good! And Spot is … well, who knows. (Actually, a raised, flaglike tail is a sign of greeting.)

My foxgloves had bloomed and were a bit blowsy, now, but still beautiful to me.

Foxglove, 30 May 2013.

Foxglove, 30 May 2013.

We unloaded the car, had a cup of tea, ate a little supper, and fell into bed, exhausted. And that, my friends, is how I spent my (mumble mumbleth) birthday. 🙂

NOTE: If you’re just joining me and would like to read about this trip from the beginning, you can start here. If you would like to read about other trips in chronological order 🙂 just click on “Where to Start” above.

It Always Starts with a Little Trip to the Airport

It’s been almost a month since I wrote my forward-planning post  (I’m writing this on 14 June). I’ve been back from the trip for two weeks. Jet lag hit me hard this time: it took me a week to recover, and, frankly, two weeks later I’m still waking up at 4:30am.

Jet lag (noun)
: a condition that is characterized by various psychological and physiological effects (such as fatigue and irritability), occurs following long flight through several time zones, and probably results from disruption of circadian rhythms in the human body —called also jet fatigue
— jet–lagged (adjective)
First Known Use of JET LAG: 1969

It occurs to me, however, I may have always been jet-lagged—but it was disguised in the cold / bronchitis / pneumonia I’d always brought back with me after air travel.

Oh yeah. I’ve flown a dozen times since February 2006, and every single time I got sick. It started with bronchitis and escalated; the last three trips I’d taken (two in 2011 and one in 2012) I ended up with pneumonia. I can’t even begin to tell you how not-fun pneumonia is, especially when you’re not at home.

I was determined to beat my flying jinx this time—and I did! (A concoction of essential oils to boost my immune system consumed for six weeks prior to departure, plus care taken with frequent antiseptic wipes on the plane.) I’m pleased to announce I didn’t get sick. Not even a hint! So now that I’m recovered from jet lag, let’s get started.

19 May 2013, Sunday

I was going to try to fit it all in one suitcase this time, I really was. That sixty bucks you pay to check a second bag is really more fun spent on Irish chocolate or something. 🙂 But then I weighed my CPAP machine—and it’s twelve pounds! I might have been able to keep the bag under fifty pounds going over, but I knew I wanted to bring books back. And chocolate.

What to do, what to do?

The math, that’s what.

If your bag’s over the fifty-pound limit but under seventy pounds, the penalty fee is $60. Or, the fee for a second fifty-pound bag is $60. I opted for the second bag and the extra pounds. When I got to the airport, I told the gentleman checking me in that the only reason I was checking a second bag was my CPAP machine—the truth—and he didn’t charge me for it. So I lucked out!

I’d had plenty of good fortune already. On Friday, my massage therapist—and good friend—Diana had asked me if I had a ride to the airport. No, I said, I’m just going to drive myself and park. I live a forty-minute drive away, and I dislike disturbing my friends’ busy lives (especially on a Sunday). I’ll just park and we’ll have the car right there when we get back, I said. It would cost about $120. That evening, Diana called me. Why don’t you park at my house—she lives five minutes from the airport—and I’ll take you. It won’t be a disruption, and it will save you all that money. And you won’t have to leave so early.

So I took her up on it, and she wasn’t kidding about the five-minute drive time.

I took a quick walk around the backyard before I left. We have a pair of magnificent foxgloves in the yard, and they were just starting to bloom. I was going to miss twelve days of prime blooming time, so I wanted to document, at least, what they might have looked like this year.

The gorgeous foxgloves, just beginning to bloom. And that’s pretty much all I’d see of ’em.

The gorgeous foxgloves, just beginning to bloom. And that’s pretty much all I’d see of ’em.

I’d intended to tuck my last two hardboiled eggs in my purse to have as a snack while I waited for the plane. (I always arrive early, because I don’t like to be rushed.) But in that last-minute second-piece-of-luggage dance, I’d forgotten. Actually, I’d neglected to eat altogether. And eggs would have been cheaper than the six-dollar Whitt’s sandwich I had. Normally I love Whitt’s Barbeque; it’s a Middle Tennessee institution. In particular I love the vinegar slaw they put on the sandwiches along with pickles. Here’s some news, Tennesseans: at the airport you pay 50¢ extra for the slaw and it’s … creamy. Not genuine Whitt’s slaw. Ick!

But wait. I’m on my way to Ireland, and nothing’s going to ruin my day! Next stop, the Windy City.

It’s very pretty to fly into Chicago on a sunny day. That lake—it’s huge! I should put it on the list for an excursion sometime.

The international flights terminal at Chicago–O’Hare.

The international flights terminal at Chicago–O’Hare.

And then on to the jumbo jet that would take me across the Atlantic. The flight was full, of course, and I ended up sitting next to a young Chicago family—husband and wife—traveling with their adorable daughter. She was somewhere in the twelve to fifteen months old range and cute as a bug’s ear.

Until we got airborne. Then she screamed at the top of her lungs for seven hours straight. I kid you not. Screamed. Normally a child can wear herself out carrying on like that, but not this one. She never stopped. It’s one thing to have a crying baby somewhere on the plane, but I gotta tell ya, in the same aisle, one seat away, is a whole new circle of hell. I wanted to shake her mother and say, “Liquid Baby Tylenol! Puts ’em right to sleep!”

Which is something I didn’t manage to do on this overnight flight. 🙂