Thursday, September 07, 2023

Brief Summer Escape to Colorado

I'm deep in the throes of summer Seasonal Affective Disorder sapping my energy, and ramping up my electricity costs and anxiety levels. Though less common than winter Seasonal Affective Disorder, I assure you summer SAD is a thing. When you've endured record-breaking drought with temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for sixty plus days and counting,  you start to dread ANYTHING that means you need to leave a dark room with an air conditioning vent aimed at you and a tall ice-water nearby. This sense of dread very much includes getting into a hot car with hot seat belts and a hot steering wheel to travel from air conditioned space to air conditioned space. As I watch my plants wither and roast, my grass turn crunchy, and the drought restrictions grow, my large rain barrel is nearly dry just from keeping a few selected plants alive. 

Our electricity has gone out a few times this summer, and though it was only for thirty minutes or less each time, it inspired a terror in my soul. How does one stay cool when it's literally 105 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and the electricity goes out? Do I run a luke-warm bath and sit in it? Fun fact: there is no cold water coming out of our pipes this summer. I take most showers with only the "cold" water tap running, and that water runs warm. It's a depressing and desperate feeling that this awfully bright, hot, drought-plagued summer serves. 

Chad and I escaped Austin for a few days in Colorado to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary in a much cooler climate. For those of you thinking 25th wedding anniversary must be a typo, we got married at ages twelve and fourteen respectively. We had to have a note from our parents for the Justice of the Peace to marry us. Hahahahahahahaha. But seriously, wear sunscreen, drink plenty of water, get regular exercise, and make sleep a priority. Your future self will thank you. I know, ugh, boring, and not the quick fix you want.

I sublimate my travel anxiety by researching and planning our trips heavily. I make reservations for flights, hotels, restaurants, and attractions months in advance. I book our pet sitters as soon as I know we're traveling, usually two to four months in advance. I wish I could be more impulsive and impromptu, but that's a recipe for disappointment for me personally. Plus, I love looking forward to all the stuff I planned. I'm glad I reserved so many things well in advance for this trip, because there were crowds everywhere we went.

Our first stop after arriving at the Denver airport, and picking up our rental car, was a pre-booked entry at the immersive art experience Convergence Station, a.k.a. Meow Wolf Denver. Chad and I went to Santa Fe's original Meow Wolf a few years ago, and loved the experience. We enjoy being surrounded by art in a choose-your-own-adventure exploration. There's such a joy in finding a hidden passage, or stumbling from magical environment to fantastical landscape, all in air-conditioned comfort with a well-planned narrative that one can choose to follow, or not. Convergence Station / Meow Wolf Denver created experiences and storylines quite different from Meow Wolf Santa Fe, while keeping the bar high for imagination and execution of the art installations. If you visit any of the Meow Wolf attractions, give yourself at least three hours to explore.

After Meow Wolf in Denver, we stopped in Boulder on our way to Estes Park. We drove around gawping at the oh-so-cute and charming Boulder shops and houses. I did some research on Atlas Obscura before our trip and found Boulder Dushanbe Tea House, where I booked a dinner reservation well in advance. It is such a unique and beautiful space. According to their website, the tea house was a hand built gift from Boulder's sister city of Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The menu at Boulder Dushanbe Tea House offers many vegetarian options, and of course, many different tea options. I love fancy tea. I had the side salad and Indian samosas with Lady Grey's garden tea. Chad had the Persian chickpea kufteh with a refreshing iced tea cucumber mint mocktail. After our dinner, we hit the road for Estes Park with some daylight to spare.

Chad and I first went to Estes Park, Colorado about ten years ago for a friend's wedding. We stayed in the beautiful, historic Stanley Hotel in the main building. Yes, the hotel that inspired Stephen King to write his bestselling, iconic book The Shining. During that stay, we took the ghost tour around the property which gave lots of history of the hotel, and a behind the scenes look at the hotel and the grounds. We did not see a ghost on that tour, but we were startled by a prairie dog scurrying through a service hallway in the hotel basement. During this trip, we stayed down the hill from the original structure at the relatively new Aspire hotel and spa, which is still part of the Stanley Hotel Resort. Our suite at Aspire featured a separate living area and a full kitchen with a dishwasher. So fancy! (We don't even have a dishwasher at our home. Long story short, installing an automatic dishwasher in our seventy year old kitchen will require a $30,000 remodel, repipe, and rewiring job. The timeline for the project would take at least a month. I'll just wash the dishes by hand, thanks.) While the Aspire hotel didn't serve the same sense of history as the main building, or as the Lodge at Stanley Resort, Aspire did have a pool and all the modern luxuries such as air conditioning, plenty of electrical outlets, and yes, a full kitchen in our suite. The Stanley Hotel and resort is nestled in the entry to the Rocky Mountain National Park with stunning vistas in nearly every direction. 

Stanley Hotel

Mr. Stanley

Stanley Hotel Garden

View from our balcony at Aspire at the Stanley Resort

We didn't take the Stanley ghost tour on this trip, but we did attend a performance by a master of illusion and mentalism at The Underground. Jon Tai was the illusionist in residence during our trip with his show titled Road Signs. This wasn't like a Vegas, glitter-bomb, razzle-dazzle, magic show with a deafening live band accompaniment. This was more of a gentle artistic exercise in community building amongst the audience with sweet surprises sprinkled from beginning to end. Can confirm that I did gasp and giggle with delight throughout Jon Tai's show. Chad and I and hope to catch up with him elsewhere in the future. Follow him on Instagram to find his performances. 

The weather in Estes Park during our trip was twenty to thirty degrees cooler than it was in Austin, which we relished. Seriously, sweet relief from the heat back at home! The sun could get intense at times, especially at that altitude. A few afternoon rain showers during our stay in Estes Park were most welcomed. 

On our first full day in Estes Park, we took a stroll along the well-manicured Estes Park Riverwalk. A paved path runs along a babbling brook with Disney-esque landscaping. The Riverwalk conveniently backs up to the main commercial street. It's a tourist town area with so many candy shops, t-shirt shops, beer pubs, coffee shops, restaurants, local food trucks, art galleries, wine cafes, more t-shirt shops, and oddly, an Orange Julius like from the malls of yore. (Ask a Gen X or Millennial if you are too young to know about this. They'll be so excited to tell you.) Finally I saw a store I needed to visit. Chad and I like to buy a book or two from local independent bookshops when we travel. Established in 1928, MacDonald Bookshop in Estes Park carries plenty of books in a cozy environment. I picked Happy Place by Emily Morgan, and loved reading it. 

Later that day, we left the main drag for our anniversary dinner. Dunraven restaurant has floor to ceiling windows on two long walls with beautiful views of mountains and the diminutive Lake Estes. Dunraven has a nice atmosphere, without being stuffy or exclusive. I was overdressed in my Free People maxi dress and heels, but it was our anniversary, and I wanted to feel cute. I ordered the eggplant parmesan, which was delicious. The serving size was so enormous, that I took over half of it for later. (Because, as previously bragged, our suite had a full kitchen. And yes, we totally ate the leftovers.) Chad ordered cioppino (seafood stew served over pasta), and despite being real far from a coast for fresh seafood, he loved it. A complimentary drool-worthy tiramisu magically appeared at the end of our meal. Thanks, Dunraven, for actually acknowledging that box I checked for anniversary celebration when I made the reservation online.

On our second full day in Estes Park, Chad and I hiked in Hermit Park. Initially, we thought we could hike to Kruger Rock, but it proved too challenging for flat-landers like us, unaccustomed to the high altitudes. We were both sucking wind pretty hard only a quarter of the way up the trail. A kindly hiker and her dog stopped and suggested we try Moose Meadow for a gentle, idyllic wander. Moose Meadow offered charm all along the way! We did not struggle to get enough oxygen on this gently sloped meander through a wildflower field and mountain forest.

After hiking at Hermit Park, we were sweaty, and not looking or smelling too cute. We needed a super casual place for lunch. Notchtop Diner serves satisfying, casual breakfast, brunch and lunch, no reservations needed. Lots of our fellow diners wore hiking clothes. Chad loved his garden omelette. I leaned into my comfort food craving, and had a perfect grilled cheese sandwich with tomato slices added. 

Cute feature wall next to our booth at Notchtop

On our final full day in Estes Park, we took a private tour of Rocky Mountain National Park. Local naturalist, Bruce, picked us up at our hotel, and drove us into the park imparting wisdom along the way about the history, landscape, flora, and fauna. By going with a guide to the park, we did not have to make a reservation for timed park entry. Bruce flashed his guide permit at the ranger station, and we were welcomed. Bruce got us to the correct spots to see mountain sheep visiting the watering hole, a giant moose near a snow field (yes! still snow on the ground in late July!), and a few elk along the way. It was magnificent. 

Don't be too jealous. Our trip wasn't perfect. I had altitude sickness in the form of bad waves of nausea and slight dizziness during my first twelve hours in Colorado. From past experience with altitude sickness, I prepared by making sure to stay well hydrated, having ginger chews to settle my stomach, and making sure I ate so my blood sugar didn't drop too low. I still felt bad despite my efforts. While we were exploring Meow Wolf, I had to stop into the bathroom a few times for fear of vomiting. I bought an overpriced iced tea and bottled water in an attempt feel better. The iced tea was delicious, so I shouldn't complain.

While we ate dinner at Boulder Dushanbe Tea House, I had to breathe mindfully, and eat the side salad I ordered sooooo sloooooowly for fear of being sick. I didn't even try a bite of Chad's dish, because it was too pungent for my stormy stomach in the moment. He said it was really good. I drank an entire pot of hot tea, and lots of water, which offered some temporary relief from the altitude sickness. 

The drive between Boulder and Estes Park serves lovely scenery on switchback curves ascending into the Rocky Mountains. I had to breathe slowly through my mouth and keep my eyes forward, only forward, to avoid vomiting in the fancy rental car. Chad commented on the scenery, and if that pretty scenery was out the side window, I just couldn't look. It's like the altitude sickness and motion sickness were trying to form a super-group in my digestive tract.

There were so many fellow tourists at shops and restaurants in Estes Park. It felt like no matter where I tried to walk, stand, or sit, I was in someone's way. I'm so glad I made an advance reservation six weeks ahead of time for our anniversary dinner at Dunraven. Dunraven seated us right on time, but the parking was in ridiculously short supply. Chad paid to park at a marina, a quarter of a mile down the hill. The restaurant was crowded and noisy. Cascades restaurant in the Stanley Hotel the next night also had hectic crowds, and even with an advance reservation we had to wait fifteen minutes for our table. Our server at Cascades was excellent, but clearly very busy, smiling through what seemed like a super stressful job. (Please be patient with the human service workers doing their best to help you. Tip generously.)

One thing that low-key gives me the ick about the Stanley resort now, versus when we visited in the past, is how far the resort leans into the whole paranormal, supernatural, cursed schtick. It feels like the mall store Hot Topic came in as the event director, which is to say, a bit tacky. I appreciate the history of the Stanley resort. I appreciate that Stephen King took inspiration from the place. I personally don't like to exploit tragedies or trauma by displaying alleged cursed objects, or by cherry-picking events and embellishing them explicitly for shock value. The current vibe of the resort felt a bit like a low budget, ghoulish, morbid, ages 21 and up, haunted mansion redux. That opinionated judgement given, Stanley resort is still a very nice place to stay. 

Chad broke his front-top-center dental work on our last night in Colorado. His broken veneer made him self-conscious, but fortunately caused no pain. He was able to see our dentist for a temporary cosmetic fix the day after we arrived home.

We returned home to Austin amidst 105 degrees Fahrenheit. I'd cry about it, but I don't want to risk dehydration. 

Thursday, January 05, 2023

Manic Hobgoblin's 2023 Resolutions

Manic Hobgoblin currently resides in a P.O. box in Delaware.

My inner Manic Hobgoblin previously lived in my head rent-free, and inspired all sorts of big ideas and projects. Some of the things inspired by Manic Hobgoblin, such as landscaping projects when Chad and I first bought our home, turned out well. Other things inspired by Manic Hobgoblin over the years have lead to burnout, such as the years when I held three jobs at once. Manic Hobgoblin thankfully went missing during the worst of the pandemic "stay home" days, but he has resurfaced. 

Manic Hobgoblin has taken up residence in a P.O. box in Delaware (for tax purposes) where he launched a Limited Liability Company. Manic Hobgoblin tried to convince me to become an early investor in his LLC with an exciting opportunity to get in on the ground floor, but I refused. I can't tell what the LLC even does, and Manic Hobgoblin can't sit still long enough to coherently explain it. I highly suspect that Manic Hobgoblin's LLC is a scam. I blocked his phone number, but Manic Hobgoblin uses fake accounts on Instagram to slide into my DMs. I try to ignore his mania and toxically obstinate optimism. I don't have the time or energy that I once had for his nonsense. Manic Hobgoblin said he'll leave me alone if I share his new year resolutions on the blog. 

1. Streamline all processes into an easy to follow flowchart, thereby removing uncertainty from most of daily life. (Editorial note: I've seen the flowchart. It looks like a pile of spaghetti. There is nothing easy to follow about it. Also Manic Hobgoblin has failed to account for human emotion in all circumstances.)

2. Make a viral video for YouTube. Parlay that into a successful YouTube channel with 1 million subscribers in the first year. (Editorial note: You can't just make a viral video. It gains traction organically, or you've paid for the likes and subscribes.)

3. Recoup losses from cryptocurrency investments with a class action lawsuit. (Editorial note: Oh no, Manic Hobgoblin! I told you that cryptocurrencies are highly volatile. Your best hope with a class action lawsuit is to recoup pennies on the dollar. )

4. Sign a lease for the LLC on a bigger property in Delaware with waterfront views. (Editorial note: That will certainly be a step up from the P.O. box.)

5. Win the HGTV Dream Home, and actually live it. (Editorial note: The federal, state, and local taxes will bankrupt you. You have to immediately sell it if you win. And you can't just resolve to win it.) 

Regardless of Manic Hobgoblin, I don't personally make new year resolutions. I try to do my best each day to be kind, and to take care of myself, Chad, and my pets. The closest thing to a resolution for me is setting a Goodreads goal of reading forty books this year.

Saturday, December 17, 2022


🎄?=🙅‍♀️✈️ 🚗

I don't travel for major holidays including, but not limited to: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day, and Halloween. I don't travel for major holidays for a variety of reasons. The roads are more busy, and thus more dangerous, and thus more time-consuming for long distance travel. Air travel is more expensive, more crowded, and more likely to have a chain reaction of delays and cancellations during major holidays. It is more difficult and expensive to book a pet-sitter during major holidays. The most important reason I don't travel for major holidays is that people build too much expectation of what that holiday should be. There is such a slim chance that your dream holiday will be exactly fulfilled on the prescribed timeline. It's a recipe for disappointment. It's pre-ruined. 

Your idea of the perfect Thanksgiving will likely be ruined by my chosen dietary restrictions (vegetarian) and food allergies (peanuts and pecans, with a side of soy sensitivity). You will not enjoy my opinions of how Christmas is simultaneously too commercial and too sanctimoniously divisive even within the same church denominations. I will very likely cry because someone there says something hurtful to my tender feelings. I will very likely anger someone without meaning to; not realizing I've stepped on a culture war landmine. Maybe I'll anger someone on purpose, because we disagree, and I'm done staying silent. I don't want my holiday ruined because some family dynamic was tested by an ultimatum that backfired. An example of this was the year my husband and I traveled halfway across the country for Thanksgiving. What should have been a festive dinner of eight people at the fancy dining table was instead an angrily silent Thanksgiving dinner for only four people at the informal kitchen table with way too much food for four people walking on eggshells. 

When I stay home for major holidays, I enjoy the company of my little chosen family of my husband and my pets, sometimes a few friends. If someone in this small group ruins the meal by repeatedly opening the oven so that nothing gets cooked properly, or by forgetting to serve the desserts, or by leaning into an argument, or by maligning a certain breed of dog that happens to be my sweet shelter dog's breed, or by flipping over a board game gone too competitive, or by slicing their thumb during meal prep and spending the evening in the emergency room, (these have all happened to me, or near me, at major holidays,) then at least I'm close to home. I can easily make a hasty retreat to feed myself, relax with my sweet dog and cats, soothe my nerves, cocoon with a good book, or zone out to a movie that I like. I'm not stuck far away from the comforts of home for a few more days of tension, anxiety, and unmet expectations. I don't have to deal with hectic travel on top of the emotionally draining and fraught holiday interactions. 

I will travel to see you any other time of year. If some aspect of that series of interactions is imperfect, then at least the stakes weren't as high. We can more easily and immediately forgive each other; rather than stewing in resentment that the imaginary script wasn't followed to the letter. 

But during major holidays, I will send you glad tidings from over here.

To those who celebrate, merry Christmas! 

To those who get offended by acknowledging any other kind of holiday or celebration outside of Christmas, you can go now. Your portion of this blog post is over. 
Stop reading. 
Move on with your day. 
No one will notice if you bow out quietly. 

Are they gone? 

To those who celebrate, happy Hanukkah! 

To those who observe the celestial changing of seasons, I wish you a comforting and relaxing winter solstice. 

To those who generally celebrate the festive feeling of this time of year, happy holidays! 

To those who observe Kwanzaa, enjoy! 

To those following the Gregorian calendar, I'd like to pre-wish you a happy new year! 

To those who partake in the airing of grievances for Festivus, um, I'm so unclear on this holiday. I hope it's what you expect it to be. I won't be there. 

If I have failed to acknowledge your holiday of choice in the appropriate manner according to your exacting standards, then file it under "pre-ruined." I didn't do it on purpose, but here we are.

Thursday, October 06, 2022

I'm Not Scared of Ghosts

Many years ago my extended family took a road trip to Disney World when I was a kid. My immediate family (Dad, Mom, myself, and my sister who is seven years younger than I am) lived in Birmingham, Alabama at the time. We met up with my Uncle Maury, Aunt Vickie, and cousin Marissa in Orlando, Florida. My Aunt Vickie commented with some degree of wonder that neither my little sister or I seemed scared in the Haunted Mansion. We just stared and gave a few giggles of delight at the grim grinning ghoul animatronics and projections. Aunt Vickie also noted that I was oddly quiet on the infamously daunting roller coaster in the dark, Space Mountain. My sister and I weren't scared by manufactured chills or thrills, but we were afraid of real world threats to our safety.

Hitchhiking ghosts from Disney's Haunted Mansion

I currently live in a seventy year old house in central Austin. When Chad and I first moved into our home sixteen years ago, Dr. Blackstock, an older man from across the street (now deceased) would chat with me whenever he saw me out front working in the yard. He spun yarns of how our house was once hit by a car during a police chase with suspected bank robbers. He said that's why some previous homeowners built the limestone facade planters on the front of our house. If another car hits the house, then the car will be damaged worse than the house. Dr. Blackstock also pointed out a few of the BB gun pellet holes in the original windows on our house, reminiscing about how his children (now grown, middle-aged adults) staged grand battles with the children who lived here back in the day. (Those original windows now replaced by fancier energy efficient, double pane windows.) When botanical surprises would spring from the ground, Dr. Blackstock told me that at one point in the 1990s our home was occupied by owners of the local plant nursery, and how amazing it looked when everything was in bloom. 

Also when we first bought our home, an older lady would sometimes loiter in a car out on the curb. We guessed that the person driving her was her daughter or some younger relative. The older lady would lean out the passenger window, and tell us how her husband poured the concrete path, and poured the concrete for the posts of the laundry lines in the backyard. She asked wistfully if they were still there. The laundry lines are long gone, but (much to our unspoken chagrin) yes, that concrete is still back there, even today. We invited the lady in a few times, but she always declined. I think she just wanted to see the old place still standing and have her memories. We haven't seen her or her younger driver in about twelve years. 

Time and progress march on. Chad and I have witnessed cozy old homes around us demolished to make way for five bedroom, five bathroom, McMansions. We have suffered through years of construction dust and noise as the old state property across the four lane street from our corner lot is developed into urban infill, mixed use property. I admit that the paved walking trail and manicured landscaping around the large retention pond is beautiful with multi-acred rolling hills of lawn and grand old Oak trees undisturbed. The giant homes, multi-story apartments, and multi-story parking garages for the tall office buildings are less so beautiful, but very modern and shiny-new. 

A pedestrian crosswalk with traffic signal now occupies the sidewalk right outside our windows. Most pedestrians stick to the sidewalk, but the occasional person cuts through our front yard. I don't mind the people who walk on the grass, but I do sigh with frustration at the careless oafs who step on our planter bed flowering plants and kick the river rocks from our planter beds into the street. These defiantly destructive people broadcast a sense of bowed-up, come-at-me, looking-for-a-fight, danger. And they're literally in our front yard. 

Late each night between 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM I take out the trash, and visit with our outdoor cat, Sabrina. I bring Sabrina more food and sit on the front steps to brush her soft shiny ebony fur. Sabrina and I look at the sky, and listen to other critters (bats, owls, opossum, raccoons, and the occasional coyote) going about their nocturnal business. Usually the human pedestrian and automobile traffic is less present by this time of night. But a few nights ago, around midnight, Sabrina and I heard a masculine human voice. The utterances sounded far away, and were undecipherable, except for the word "hey." Sabrina seemed unbothered by the voice, so I stayed with her outside. Every few minutes, the voice sounded as if it was moving closer to our house. Still the only word I could pick out was "hey" among the other vocalizations. I reached a point where the voice sounded too close, and kind of eerily insistent, but I didn't see any person. Sabrina purred at my feet and leaned on my legs, desiring more brushing. I whispered to her, "Sorry, babe, but I'm scared. I'm going inside. You stay safe." 

If I could be sure that this disembodied voice belonged to a ghost, I would have stayed put with Sabrina. I was honestly more afraid and more certain that the voice belonged to a living person. Maybe someone inebriated, or desperate, or confused,  or maybe someone with bad intentions. Living in this sweet little old house, in the center of a rapidly growing city, I'm not scared of the ghosts of what was. I'm much more afraid of the physical realities of what is, and what is to come.

Saturday, September 03, 2022

Last Full Day Dublin

Our last full day of Irish adventures began with a pre-opening hours exploration of Dublin's EPIC Irish Emigration Museum. This museum captured my interest immediately with modern, interactive, immersive experiences covering everything from the reasons people left Ireland through the contemporary worldwide impact of the Irish diaspora in music, arts, entertainment, literature, science, engineering, politics, and labor. Each section of the museum presented a new invitation to explore. I highly recommend Dublin's EPIC Irish Emigration Museum. Our entire tour group enjoyed this experience.

Entering the EPIC Irish Emigration Museum

Epic sculpture depicting the many waves of emigration from Ireland

My favorite experience room was the library with glowing books!

After leaving this museum, we hopped back on the tour bus. A local Dublin tour guide joined us, and narrated history while pointing out significant structures as our bus wound its way through Dublin. Stops included St. Stephen's Green, Trinity College Library, and that quintessential Dublin tourist trap: Temple Bar

Look at this very refined tree at St. Stephen's Green.

gorgeous gardens at St.Stephen's Green

more gorgeous gardens at St. Stephen's Green

idyllic little corner of Trinity College Library

Trinity College Library: ultimate old book smell

clueless tourists loitering at Temple Bar

Just a half pint for me, please.

Author James Joyce sitting at Temple Bar.

Chad reading some plaque at Temple Bar.

supercute Dublin pub

Dublin has some beautiful areas, and it is a city packed with history. It is also a big city with international influence. There are dirty parts, smelly parts, traffic, clueless tourists stumbling about (myself included), so I think just two or three days in Dublin is perfect. The Irish countryside is where the real beauty lies.

One place we did not get to experience while in Dublin was the Kilmainham Gaol, a foreboding former prison that is now a museum of Irish nationalism history. This museum was fully booked to capacity for group tours on that day, but came highly recommended for insight into Irish political history.

After our guided tour of Dublin, it was back to the hotel for a quick wash up and brush up before the evening dinner and entertainment. Our tour group posed for a picture outside the hotel before boarding the bus. 

Our (mostly) jolly holiday tour group. I seriously love nine of these people.

Most of our group loved the traditional Irish song and dance night at the Merry Ploughboy. Chad and I fell more in the camp of politely smile and bear the evening's show. Remember in an earlier post when I told you to go ahead and enjoy what you enjoy? It's acceptable for different people to like different things. I appreciate the cultural heritage of dance and song, but that doesn't mean I need two hours of it at ear-splitting volume. Guess what the vegetarian option was for dinner at Merry Ploughboy? Yes! It was veggie curry! Are you psychic? Quick, what are the numbers for the lottery?

After the dinner show, our tour group members said our goodbyes to each other in the hotel lobby. I hugged a select group of my favorite tour companions, and ducked out before my not-favorite tour companions could make their way across the crowded lobby. Most tour group members still keep in touch on WhatsApp.

The following morning, the British tour group members had to be in the hotel lobby by 5:45 to catch a ferry at 6:15. The nine Americans from our group, Chad and I included, got to sleep in a bit, and have a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. Our cab showed up right on time to take us to the Dublin airport. The Irish airport staff were all so friendly, even at customs! Everything went smoothly for our flight from Dublin to Boston. We very much enjoyed the Delta Comfort Plus seats on that flight. We looked forward to the Delta Comfort Plus seats on our next flight from Boston direct to Austin. Hahahahahahahahahaha! 

We had a four hour layover in Boston. Our flight did not board on time. I started feeling antsy. The Delta gates at the Boston airport got more and more crowded. Chad started to feel bad, and bundled himself in a travel blanket, like a six foot tall, gangly, swaddled baby. I figured he was just exhausted from so many days of travel. Chad perked up momentarily when we saw Conan O'Brien walk by in all of his unmistakable lankiness. 

I started hearing announcements that some flights had their gates moved.  I thought maybe our flight would be delayed a bit. No big deal. Hahahahahahaha! At the time we should have been taxiing the runway for takeoff, the announcement came that our flight from Boston to Austin got canceled!  The Federal Aviation Administration ordered a full ground stop at Boston airport that night, because flight routes were jammed up with inclement weather, and many of the short-staffed flight crews were about to go over their safety mandated work hours limits. The line to get to the Delta service desk was hundreds of stranded travelers deep. Even if we stood in that long line, the best Delta could offer was a cot on the floor at Boston airport for the night, and maybe a flight to Austin with a connection through some other city in about two days. 

There was not a spare hotel room to be found near the airport. That day in Boston was popping with events: Boston Red Sox MLB game, Boston Celtics NBA Finals game, and a PGA golf event in town.  Despite feeling bad, Chad got on his phone and found a hotel for the night in a suburb thirty minutes ride outside of Boston. He also booked an American Airlines direct flight to Austin the next day. Guess where our seats were on that flight? Chad had the middle seat of the back row next to the bathroom. I had the middle seat in the next to the last row! Hahahahahahahahahaha! 

I was just so happy to be going home finally, albeit a a day later than planned. Big thanks to our cat-sitter from Loving Pet Care for showing up an extra day on short notice!

A not so fun souvenir of our trip came in the form of positive COVID-19 tests the morning after we got home. Yes, Chad and I were both vaccinated, and both had a booster. Thanks to those shots, our illnesses weren't too bad. Honestly I couldn't untangle the jet lag, from travel exhaustion, from COVID-19. We both stayed home for ten days, and produced negative COVID-19 tests before rejoining polite society. We saw on the WhatsApp trip member group chat, that lots of other group members also caught the dreaded COVID-19. Thankfully, all recovered. (You may be wondering: each tour group member had to show proof of vaccination to be allowed on the tour.) 

I'm so glad that Chad and I got to finally take this trip to Ireland! Republic of Ireland is a beautiful place with welcoming people. That said, I would not book through the same company again. I thought there would be more train travel. Apparently this is a common complaint for this particular Irish tour package. Our tour bus carried our luggage from place to place, making the train travel completely unnecessary. I'm not sure that we saw much from the train that couldn't be seen from the bus. Also, Chad and I felt very out of place for the age demographics. Some of our tour elders were so welcoming and lovely, but others went out of their way to make us feel like sore thumbs sticking out. I get it. We were unwitting interlopers with our (relatively) good knees and our young at heart, middle-aged joie de vivre. I didn't love all of those monotonous hotel dinners. I would have liked getting out to local restaurants more. For a first trip to Republic of Ireland, wow, we saw all of the things! I'm glad that we had a company planning and booking everything for us. I also wish we had been able to skip some things we weren't interested in to allow for more time at other attractions we liked better. 

Thanks for joining for the Irish trip travelogue! I hope you've been able to get outside of your pandemic bubble safely, or that you've happily embraced your inner homebody.

I never shared our trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico from October 2021. Maybe look forward to that soon on this blog? Or maybe I'll write a ghost story over here? 

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Ninety Minutes in Galway & Strangers on a Train to Dublin

When I tell friends about my trip to Ireland, many ask, "Did you go to Galway? Didn't you love Galway? I loved it!" Not wanting to disappoint my enthusiastic friends, I smile and nod, and let them gush over their time in Galway. Truthfully, our tour group spent a little less than ninety minutes in Galway before we had to hop on a train to Dublin. We were set loose with the only direction to meet our tour leader outside of the train station at an appointed time. Left to our own devices, Chad and I walked very quickly a few blocks radius around the train station, snapping photos of anything that looked important or charming. We didn't spend any time in the local pubs. We didn't soak in the ambiance. We didn't chat up any locals. We just hurried through the city center. 

A cute pub that we didn't enter

I don't know, some church or maybe a prison?

Oscar Wilde statue

Galway Hooker Monument (I looked it up later.)

Some other cute bar that we also didn't enter

Walking ahead of me is Chris, an Englishman with lots of photos of his grandkids.

Chad and I made it to the train station on time. We took the modern, bland, commuter train to Dublin. We had to chat with some American tourist randos who sat with us on the train. I should really get better about putting in earphones and staring moodily out the window. Chad and I are both cursed with the people-pleaser, try-hard genes, and are usually too polite for our own good. At this point in our trip, I was happy to chat with most of the members of our own tour group, but I really didn't want to expend the emotional energy to feign interest for other American tourist strangers. On the train near us, there was also a group of young women in their best and brightest going out clothes, hairdos, and extensive makeup. They were headed to a concert in Dublin by Irish rock band The Script. They were giddy with excitement, and so cute with anticipation of their first pandemic era concert. 

In Dublin, our group tried to check in at our next hotel, but none of our rooms were ready. Our tour leader, Richard, sat in the hotel lobby guarding luggage for several hours while the rest of us ventured out for some free time in Dublin. Chad and I walked with Trish and Reg (two of our favorite tour elders) to Guinness Storehouse for respective pre-booked self-guided tours. The route covered 2.9 km/1.8 miles. Trish kept a brisk pace with me. Reg started to lag near the end, and Chad hung back with him. 

Trish told me that she caught some man checking me out. I laughed and explained that I'm happily married, way too old for that young man, and that he probably wasn't even looking at me. Then Trish asked, "So is Chad older than you?" 
I replied, "No. I'm actually older. I robbed the cradle by two years." 
Trish looked impressed and proclaimed, "He's your toy-boy! Well done!" Trish told me that her daughter is a a few years older than I am, and said conspiratorially, "So I could be your mum." I think of Trish more like my fun, cheeky, British aunt who can walk really fast.

Guinness Storehouse is like Disneyland for all things beer production and distribution. It gets crowded in some sections, especially in the 360 degree panoramic bar on the top floor. I don't like the taste of Guinness beer. Blech. But I enjoyed the whole Guinness Storehouse experience. If you're a tourist in Dublin, go to Guinness Storehouse. Book a timed entry online beforehand to avoid long lines. 

Our hotel in Dublin was the Belvedere Hotel. This hotel looks deceptively posh in the lobby with crystal bedazzled light fixtures and a sparkly bar just off the lobby. However, the hotel seems like two old buildings were joined into one bigger building with split-levels, meandering hallways, a labyrinthine system of short staircases, and two elevators for two separate wings of the hotel. We got lost a few times. There was no central air-conditioning in the hotel. Chad and I borrowed a fan from the front desk, opened the windows a smidge at night, and slept well. The bathroom was very modern with a walk in shower partitioned off by a clear glass wall. Unfortunately, the shower drain couldn't keep up with the healthy water pressure. Each time Chad or I showered a mini flood formed all over the bathroom floor. On the bright side, the view from of our hotel room windows was charmingly Irish with row houses featuring colorful entry doors.

The vegetarian option for dinner at Belvedere Hotel was a delicious and light pasta dish. Finally, something other than veg curry! After dinner, many of our tour elders headed out to Dublin pubs for carousing and singalongs. Chad and I chose sleep, because we had a full day of Dublin sightseeing ahead of us. 

If you're not entirely sick of my Irish travelogue yet, come back next week for a final full day in Dublin. There's a lot of ground to cover still! 

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Running Late to Connemara Sheep Dogs & Kylemore Abbey

Ready for another jam-packed itinerary touring the Republic of Ireland? Get some Irish breakfast tea down your neck, because we are on a tight schedule. First stop is the Connemara Celtic Crystal Factory in Moycullen where we learned about the detail-heavy work of glass cutting, and the Celtic and Gaelic influences in the designs of fine crystal products made here. We watched a demonstration of the glass cutting by an actual Irish artisan. He had impressive skills and steady hands after many years of study and practice. Our tour group elders bought a lot of crystal vases, bowls and whiskey glasses at Connemara Celtic Crystal Factory. Chad and I met the shop cat. She was cute, but only wanted to be pet for about thirty seconds, thanks, and bye now. 

Irish shop cat about to say, "that's enough now."

Hurry, hurry, back on the bus. We're behind schedule, and the day has only just started. Our bus carried us through the verdant, rolling hills of Connemara, dodging many sheep and a few lazy cows to Glen Keen Farm. The main building of Glen Keen Farm is a cute lilac-pink color, and houses the restaurant and gift shop. Before heading inside, we met Jan, a sweet young sheep dog. Jan let me scratch her back while her caretaker teased me that she would probably hop on the bus with me after a good back scratching. Once our group all assembled, we watched Jan demonstrate her excellent sheep herding skills. It's quite impressive to witness.

Jan, the goodest dog in Ireland

The lunch at Glen Keen Farm was the best meal I had during my nine days in the Republic of Ireland. We were treated to veggie quiche, a small green salad, a carrot with swede salad, strong Irish tea, and fresh baked scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. The entertainment during lunch consisted of Irish songs and singalong, Irish musical instruments with explanation and demonstration, and old-style Irish dance. For the singalongs, it seemed that everyone in our group except Chad and me knew all the words and notes. Did Chad and I miss a tutorial on popular Irish songs? Was it a generational thing? Are we buzzkills who don't spend enough time in pubs? Probably all of the aforementioned. And I'm honestly fine with that.

Paul from our group on drum, actual Irish guy on Irish flute

Our group ran behind schedule nearly from the start on this day, so we jumped back on the bus very shortly after lunch. Our bus wound its way back through the rolling hills, meandering sheep, occasional scenic lakes (or loughs as they are called locally), and out to a bigger road. Soon enough, an imposing mansion appeared on the horizon with a dramatic backdrop of green hills and a lake in the foreground to provide an admirable reflection. Kylemore Abbey looks like a Victorian take on a royal castle. The mansion was built from 1863 to 1868 by Mitchell Henry, a wealthy politician and former doctor from Manchester England. Henry and his family lived there until 1903, when it was bought by the Duke and Duchess of Manchester. Since 1920, the former private estate has been owned and run by the Benedictine community. The grounds, gardens and exterior view of the mansion are breathtaking with so much to explore! Only a portion of the mansion interior is staged with period furniture and historic informational displays. I was slightly disappointed that more of the mansion was not open for guests, but there are still nuns living and working at Kylemore Abbey. I guess it can't all be open for gawping at? Like Sister Mary Annette needs for her humble quarters to be closed to tourists? 

Chad and I walked as fast as we could to see the two massive gardens, the lake path, the Neo-Gothic church, and the partial interior of the house. Despite our speedy efforts, we didn't have time for a visit to the gift shop with award winning chocolate made by the nuns. We didn't have time for the Tea House or the Kylemore Kitchen. I wish our group had another hour at Kylemore Abbey. Back on the bus, I heard some of our tour elders saying that they only made it to the gardens, or only made it through the house exhibit area. 

Kylemore Abbey exterior

Kylemore Abbey imposing wall

Kylemore Abbey bookshelf, complete with fancy tophat

On the way back to the hotel, our bus got caught behind a tourist in a rental car driving well below the speed limit, refusing to let our bus pass. Since our group ran behind schedule all day, this made us late for dinner. Our tour manager, Richard, called ahead to the hotel restaurant to let them know of our tardy arrival.

Cute view from a quick stop in Cong

At dinner Chad and I sat with our bus driver, Conor. We all bonded over Irish authors we like and our respective pets adopted from pet rescues. Conor's wife works with a local pet rescue group in their hometown of Donegal. Near the end of dinner, Conor asked, "Why'd you come with this group? There's tour groups from America." I explained that I booked the tour through an American company, not realizing that our group would be a majority of British (mostly English, a few Welsh) people. I also explained that I had no clues and no hints about the tours being so heavily favored by retired people, but that we were having fun with our group, and at times struggling to match their fast pace. I also confided to him in a hushed voice, "The other people in our tour group can outdrink us, outsing us, and don't need nearly as much sleep as we do. They are in it to win it!"

Technically our tour manager for this trip was Richard from Great Rail Journeys, but this was also Richard's first trip to Ireland. Richard did a good job of ensuring we mostly stuck to our schedule, and that logistics ran smoothly. Richard had prepared notes that he read about different landscapes and historical facts for locations, but it was bus driver Conor who told Richard how to pronounce Irish words and names. It was Conor who told Richard about the best local places to stop for lunch, restroom breaks, and scenic photo opportunities. It was Conor who told us all the local lore and local points of interest. So hail to the bus driver, an unsung hero, who not only delivered us safely to each location, but who also guided our tour to a large extent. 

Hail to the bus driver, Conor! Photo by Valerie from our group.

There's even more Ireland trip to recount. Drop by next week for more Irish sightseeing!