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Read Don's blog and poems of our year around the world 2011

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Fishing village on Lamma Island, Hong Kong

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Very Scottish Day
Friday was our last day in Northern Ireland. I do hope that Scotland will be as nice as we have found the Irish Island.

We went to the station and purchased our tickets for the boat crossing from Belfast to Stranraer, Scotland that included our 2 hour bus ride to Glasgow. I couldn't find any rooms available in Stranraer, which is a very small beach resort town. I didn't have enough time to find a hotel room on line, but I was confident that we would find a room in Glasgow. Besides, we have decided we really want to stick to country capitals so we see the best art galleries and architecture, and so on. We had 5 hours before our ferry left, so we went to the Belfast! What a great museum! It is 5 floors of Irish art, Irish history and natural history. They had on display the treasures of the Armada that sank off the coast of Ireland, stuffed animals and birds that are on the island, as well as extinct animals, an Egyptian mummy, history of the "Troubles" of Northern Ireland, paintings of Irish artists and a wonderful clothing exhibit. I was so busy looking at the exhibits, that I totally lost track of time. Don's new watch came in handy, and we barely made it to our boat in time. I could have spent another hour in there!

The ferry crossing was a short two hour ride through misty rain. The coastline hills were topped with clouds and the green fields were dotted with sheep and cattle. There were only a few brave sailboats on the North Channel. This is the second ferry we have been on in Europe that is unlike any other ferry I have been on. It is like a miniature cruise ship. There were several restaurants, a youth area with arcade games, an area for gambling machines, a nail salon, a movie room, a coffee shop, and the list goes on. The ferry was so wide, that we hardly felt a wave. How so unlike our ferry rides in the Caribbean islands!

When we landed on Scottish soil, we were the last to board the bus for Glasgow, just to find that there were no more seats. We were asked to get on the bus to Ayr and that that bus driver would drive us the extra 30 miles to Glasgow. So we ended up getting chauffured in our own bus to Glasgow, just Don and I. That was pretty special! Once we got to Glasgow we started our search for a hotel and we could not find one! The city was host to the 2011 World Pipe Band competition and the 8000 competitors and 40,000 attendees had taken up most of the hotel rooms. The taxi cab driver offered up his spare room to us and we were just about ready to take him up on his offer when we finally found a room. Whew! We had a good night's sleep and got up this morning to check out the Bag Pipe competitions.  It took place in a large grassy area with the usual booths of local food and drink, and the more unusual: bagpipe accessories.  There were bagpipe bands practising in every corner and open area of the park. I loved seeing all the different colored kilts of every design. The combinations were astounding, since there must have been over 100 bands playing. There was a Scottish dance competition as well, starting with the 9 year olds and ending with the adults. We spent about an hour enjoying watching their fancy foot work.  Then we moved down to the Highland Games. That was the highlight of our day! There is nothing better than watching men grunt and throw 20 pound stones across a grass field. We watched them muscle their way through the Log Lift, Atlas Stones, Dead lift, Pole Push, Farmers Walk, Tossing the Caber and Pitching the 20 pound Sheaf. You just felt the testosterone oozing! Seriously, it really was fun to watch.

It started to sprinkle again after a relatively dry day, with even a few peeks of the sun. We decided to call it quits and go back to the hotel. We felt like we had spent a very Scottish day that we totally enjoyed.
3:51 pm edt 

More Rain in Northern Ireland

There is a difference between Ireland and Northern Ireland but it is not the rain. There are raindrops on the south and the north ends of the island. The drizzle kind of rain, the kind that alights nano drops of moisture on each strand of your hairdo. The kind that tickles down your face and puts spots on your eye glasses. It really isn’t that bad but it is August and I wouldn’t mind seeing some sun!

So what is the difference between Ireland and Northern Ireland that I have noticed? Northern Ireland is part of the UK so they use British Pounds, the kind of money that we didn’t have when we needed to pay the taxi cab for driving us to our hotel. Oops! We’ve never done that one before. Speaking of money, the UK  paper money is printed by the banks, not the federal government, like us. So when we took money out of the Northern Bank, we got pounds notes that reads “Northern Bank promises to pay to the bearer….etc., etc.”  Can you imagine if you went to Wells Fargo Bank and the money had their name on it!

Another difference we noticed is that we don’t see Gaelic written on signs. I miss that funny sounding language (to me, anyway). The buildings are different as well. Our Belfast taxi cab driver told us that Dublin is the art city and Belfast is the industrial city. The buildings here are much more business/functional appearing. Dublin has wonderful buildings with lots of character where as the buildings in Belfast seem more plain. There are a few beauties, like the Opera House where we watched “Dancing Shoes”, a musical about George Best, a famous Northern Ireland soccer player. Another ornate building is across the street from our hotel and is an old Methodist church that has a mall inside, but you would never know it. The exterior hides it well. The churches are very beautiful in this city and there are a lot of them. There is an amazing modern building that is being built that will be open next year and will house the Titanic Museum. It is a square glass building with 4 steel ship bows protruding out of it. It is going to be beautiful. Did you know that the Titanic was conceived, built and launched from Belfast? I never knew that and was excited to take the tour of its origin. Pretty interesting.

Another thing I didn’t know was that C.S. Lewis was born in Belfast. We hired a taxi to take us to Campbell college where he attended school, an old brick building that is still an exclusive school  today. We drove past his family home “Little Lea”, and saw his statue in front of the Library. The taxi driver drove us by some of the many murals in East Belfast. The ones we saw were political in content or patriotic.  We only saw a few of the many murals that are in East Belfast. Wish we had time to see more of them.

One thing that the north and the south have in common are their pubs. We went to a pub tonight after the musical and enjoyed an hour of wonderful Irish music played by a talented musician. It was great seeing everyone singing to the Irish ballads along with him. I am not into the bar scene, but the pubs seem more like a place to unwind after work and hang out with friends. All in all, we had a good, full day of Northern Ireland hospitality, something else that the two Irelands share- hospitality.

2:27 pm edt 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ireland, a very cool place, literally!

We rarely know what the time is or what the temperature is where ever we have been. We finally resolved the time issue: Don bought an Irish pocket watch so now we will know the time. I had bought a cute watch in Barcelona that I lost less than 24 hours later, leaving it in a hotel room in the south of France. So much for that timepiece! So now Don is in charge of the time. However, we still have not figured out how to know the temperature. Ireland has been cold, like Paris was, so it is just as well we don’t know exactly how cold. It has sprinkled on and off the two days we have been here, and then suddenly, the clouds part and we see a glimpse of the sunshine and then it is gone, as quickly as it came. That explains why everything is so green! It is so beautiful here. The grass is the brightest green, in spite of the gray skies.  The cows and sheep are so fat here, lounging around eating to their hearts content. Don’t tell the cows in Africa how good their cousins have it in Ireland. There would be an uprising for sure!

We took a boat called “The Oscar Wilde” from Cherbourg, France overnight to Rosslare, Ireland. We thought it would be just an ordinary ferry (that is what they called it!) but it was more of a cruise ship than any ferry I have been on. Our room was huge: two single beds, a desk, table, chairs, a closet and bathroom and lots of space to walk around in. Pretty nice! We had dinner in one of the 4 restaurants on board and intended on going to a movie they were showing, but fell asleep before it started. We landed in Ireland just before noon the next day after a really good night’s sleep. We got on the train and headed for Dublin. On the way, we talked to a mom and her son who were sharing seats with us and they told us all their favorite places to go in Dublin, as well as pointing out the house owned by Bono of U2. They told us to go to Trinity College to see if they had some rooms available to stay in. That sounded great, and sure enough, there was a room that we could stay in for the night. Pretty cool staying on a famous campus, sleeping in a room that was from the 19th century! Who knows which literary genius once slept here. We took the tour of their library and saw the Book of Kells, an illuminated book of the four gospels from the 7th century. The Book of Kells was all hand inscribed and was supposed to be a showpiece rather than a reference. If the scribes made an error while writing a page by hand, they would paint an animal or design over the error. Or if a word didn’t fit on the line, it would be put on another line. It was to look pretty, and it really did!  They had several other books as well as two floors of old books, floor to ceiling. Pretty impressive!  We also went to Grafton Street for lunch, went to the Literary Museum and then went to a play in the evening. We had walked by the theater and were told that they were sold out. However, they told us to come back at 6 PM and wait in line for cancellations and sure enough, we got in. It was probably my best play I have enjoyed, laughing out loud (LOL) funny. Hay Fever by Noel Coward. The acting was great and I could understand almost every word. I love Irish English! After the show, we went to a pub to have a pint of Guinness because, after all, we are in Ireland. It was pretty good!

We left Dublin and rode the train down to Waterford: Don was sure that I would enjoy the Waterford Crystal Factory and I did. It is amazing! They have factories in other places in Europe, but this is the specialty factory, where they do special orders and cut crystal items by hand. And they are still hand blowing every item before they put them in a custom made mold!! No wonder it costs so much and I was so impressed, we decided to buy a set of goblets and a crystal clock. We are coming up on our 10th anniversary so we are having the clock engraved for the event! 10 years already! How time flies when we are having fun! Once we did the order and paid we had just enough time for a slice of pie and coffee then we caught a cab for the train station to get to Galway, on the Atlantic ocean. It doesn’t take that long to get anywhere on this island, but it is long enough that we really should have bought some food somewhere to bring with us. The train had no food, so we didn’t get a chance to eat until after we arrived in Galway, sometime after 10 PM. Not that we couldn’t miss a meal every once in a while, but we were pretty hungry. It took us a little while to find a room since all the hotels were booked….this evidently is the “hot” spot on the island, inspite of the cold. We found a little B & B that is just that…LITTLE. Our room can’t be more than 6 feet by 9 feet.  The bathroom is so small, you can hardly close the door for the sink being in the way. But, it is a clean bed and the price was about the size of the room and it was available, so we are good.  We will be gone in the morning.

What do I like about Ireland? It is beautifully green! Rolling hills dotted with cattle and sheep within rock walls. Castles and old churches. Old houses made of stones. I could draw a few months here! The people are very friendly and helpful. The crosswalks instruct you which way to look for traffic. I love it! They truly trust people. We have only shown our Eurail pass once and all the other times we have just told them we have it and they say “OK” and don’t even ask to see it.  The country has produced lots of good writers and poets. There is a lot of street music, what we had expected to find in Paris but didn’t. When we were eating at Brewley’s on Grafton Street, a group of 12 teenagers stood on the street corner and played wonderful Irish music until it started to rain. It was so great to see them playing their traditional music and they made some money to boot! I love their nationalism. They all speak English since school is taught in English, but they have to learn Gaelic, as well as another language. Every road sign has both English and Gaelic. Don and I decided that Gaelic sounds like a record being played backwards.

Where are we going from here? We plan to go to Belfast and catch a ferry over to Scotland, then down to England, if it isn't embroiled in a looting riot. That will add three more countries to our growing list.

Woke up this morning and it is RAINING. Looks like the worst winter day in San Diego, not a summer August day. It is nice to have a change in weather but it doesn't help the photographs one bit! We will soak in the culture instead! Latest umbrella.

5:42 am edt 

6 Months Out and Still Going Strong

We are at our halfway point. It has been six months since we started out to circle the globe in a year. There have been a lot of changes for both of us and in our families, since we left. First bit of family news is that my son CJ and his wife Paige are expecting #4 soon after we arrive home in February. That was good timing, you two! 

Don and I have changed as well, besides gaining a few pounds and cutting our hair shorter and growing a beard (Don, not me!)  We were talking about how we felt about the world before going on this trip and how we feel about it now. I do realize that I have only seen a small part of the world, but my views have been changed by what I have observed.  I am so grateful that I have been able to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the already 30 some countries we have visited.  Talking about a city or a country we have visited brings pictures and experiences to mind now, instead it just being a name.

With each country, I have found it hard to leave. I have wanted to stay longer, see more, learn more about the culture, and meet more people. It is hard to get a quick overview of a country then not be able to experience it, as we race through. The only people we really get to know are the B & B owners, the employees of restaurants and the post office personnel.

I only unpack my bag if I am going to be more than 1 night in a hotel otherwise my clothes stay in the suitcase, many times just wearing what I wore the day before.  

We are pretty good at washing our clothes as we shower, or in the bathroom sink. And we are pretty good at wearing the same thing several days in a row as well!

We found we prefer the B & Bs to hotels but sometimes we have to stay near the station for an early train so we get a hotel nearby. We stay in 3 star hotels whenever possible, 2 stars if we have to. I rely heavily on Trip Advisor, my favorite internet locator of B & Bs and hotels. The Eurail website, OBB, also has a locator for hotels near the train stations that we have used several times. We have never looked up a restaurant but just relied on our hosts to tell us the best places to go. Or we simply follow our nose to good cooking! McDonalds is also a great place to eat under $50 and I swear it is better in the rest of the world than at home.

Sometimes we have only had a few hours in a city or just a day and we ask our hotel or the bus driver or train attendant where to go. Another trick we learned was to look at the postcards and see what the area is famous for then hire a taxi to take us there. We also found that the double-decker tour buses are great for giving us a quick overview of the city then we can go back and visit what we want to spend more time at. 

I have a good nose for directions and can keep track of the turns. Don has a good memory for street names and shop names. Between the two of us, we generally can find our way back to our hotel at night, if we remember what city we are in!

Travelling by train overnight isn’t a bad way to go as long as we set an alarm. I fear waking up to find that we are at our destination with no time to get dressed, or worse to have missed our destination! I wake up every few hours to check the time and that just doesn’t make for a restful night. Sleeping on the plane from Brazil to South Africa was a great way to spend an 8 hour flight. Didn’t get too much sleep but what I got cut the time so the flight didn’t seem quite as long. Riding through the night on a bus isn’t a bad way to go for a long ride either. Don, on the other hand, whose legs are usually longer than the given space, finds it so much more difficult to get comfortable. By the time he falls asleep from sheer exhaustion, we are at our destination!

Then we have the communication challenge!  We rack our brains to remember words we learned in school 35+ years ago. We find that we can’t joke around with the people we meet. They don’t understand our sense of humor, nor we theirs. We can’t have meaningful conversations when we only know the rudimentary words to get by. We feel comfortable being around people who are speaking in their language but if we hear English, we instantly perk up! It is so comforting to hear our language! 

We didn’t realize how much we move in our own country unnoticed until we were in Africa, where every move we make is noticed. We kind of stand out there! It is so nice to blend in while in Europe!

 We have found we need to take days off from our vacation! Who would have thought! We also have to take days off from each other! Who would have thought that? Don and I have such different personalities, and our differences are so much more pronounced when we are together 24/7. I am much more a homebody, content to watch, until I feel a part of my environment. I think it took me 3 months to just get over my anxious feelings about travelling.

Don jumps in looking for an opportunity to be a part of where we are.  He wants to DO everything where as  I will EAT anything.  I like to plan the next move; Don wants to see what will serendipitously happen next. He will go, go, go until exhausted and I like to go more slowly, testing the water first. However, there are mornings I can hardly wake up and Don is roaring to go, and then the next day, he is sleeping in and I am anxious to get going. We balance each other out, but sometimes the balancing is what bothers us the most.  He had to convince me to go bike riding in Paris. I don’t like riding bikes in a city I don’t know but Paris really was fun and easy to get around in.  I am so glad that he encouraged me to go bike riding! And he is taking a liking to some strange foods.   

Are we going to do the next 6 months any differently than the first? Oh, probably not. It’s been working pretty well so far!  As the saying goes> If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it!

5:25 am edt 

Pari is for mi!

Ok, I have had to change my tune. Now that we have spent the last 7 days in Paris, I now see the appeal of the city.  I can’t get over how there is an abundance of man-made beauty everywhere. It is like the city made a vow that everything in Paris had to have some ornate decoration on it or else it couldn’t be built. A wonderful idea that we should do in the states but I don’t think that most of the popular art is all that pretty and it needs to be pretty. (That reminds me: when we were in the Louvre, there were two modern pieces of art and they were hideous! One of them at least took some skill, but not a pleasant piece to look at!  So forget doing modern or current art unless it is pleasing, please!

Even the French people have grown on us. We did our usual mailing from the local post office recommended to us by our host, and the ladies behind the counter were having a great time, joking and kidding with each other and then they had fun trying to speak in English to us. Loved their sense of humor and the fact that they would kid with us. Humor, we have found, is one of the hardest things to use in a foreign country. The intent is lost or misunderstood (Are they making fun of me or the way I speak?) or the words or phrase don’t translate well (Now there is a pig that really can fly!)  We have embarrassed ourselves enough times to realize that we should just give up using humor except between Don and I! I think that our favorite French we have run across have been our host and hostess in our B & B in Paris. The first one we stayed at was full the last three nights of our Paris stay, so he referred us to his friend who was just opening a B & B. (Peet of “A Room in Paris” was wonderful as well but he is from Holland). We were the only guests of Didier and Valerie so we got to know them fairly well in the three days we stayed at their place. They are a wonderfully sweet couple that I hope we stay in contact with them. Didier definitely has a delightful sense of humor!  That reminds me, I had promised that I would tell you how to get into these flats. First you have a street of buildings with shops underneath and apartments above it, 3 – 5 floors. There is a beautiful large wood door, many times a double door, just enough for a little car to fit through. There is a code to punch on the keypad and the door unlocks. Then there is a door, or several doors behind the large door that leads to the upstairs units. That either requires a key or a code. Then you climb the stairs or take the mini elevator that seems just large enough for either your luggage or you but not both, then unlock the apartment. You really feel safe behind all this security, not that we ever felt unsafe. The disadvantage is that when the electricity is cut off, the doors all unlock, which is good, so you can escape if need be, but then you are also unlocked!  And if you are not home, this could be a problem!

We spent two days going to the museums. We left on Monday on bikes that you can rent on the street (there are 27,000 rentable bikes in stationary racks in 1500 locations) and we headed down to the D’Orsay, Picasso Museum and the Rodin Museum. They were all closed! Silly us for thinking it would be open on a Monday. So we tried again the next day, Tuesday, and I think that everyone that had wanted to go to the D’Orsay saved it for Tuesday like we did. It was crowded but what an amazing museum. It was art from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s. Pretty much the Impressionist period, my favorite.   We spent 4 hours drooling over Manet, Renoir, Cezanne and Monet, and the many others. We hopped on our bikes and returned “home” after a light dinner. The next day we headed out a little earlier to the Louvre. We knew that it was a 2 day excursion but we really wanted to see art that we enjoy, and most of the art in the Loucre is OLD art but definitely worth seeing.  We decided to walk from our B & B to the Louvre, not that far but a couple miles. Bad idea when we had to stand in line for more than an hour to get the tickets, then spend the rest of the day standing in front of paintings. Oh well, we weren’t thinking that well in the morning! Since Don and I look at completely different art, (Don looks for designs and patterns and I look at colors) so we decided we would go our own way and meet in 6 hours. We both headed for the Mona Lisa, of course, to get the icon out of the way. One just had to follow the crowd because everyone had to see the Mona Lisa as well. There was a huge crowd around it and there were 4 guards controlling the crowds. Mona Lisa looked just as sweet as her photos! I am glad that I saw her in person. What impressed me the most about the Louvre was the quantity of art in their huge group of buildings. I do hope that nothing will ever happen to the Louvre. There is so much history and fine art there that it would be tragic to lose a single one. I must admit that we did overdose on 1700s art, but it was all good! I found some new favorites and was glad to see more art of my all time favorites. I think that there was one American artist that I saw there. That’s all! We didn’t spend much time on the statues or Egyptian art, but there was tons of it (pun intended!)  If I was all into Egyptology, that is the place to go. I hope that Egypt doesn’t mind so much of their history being in France. France is less likely to have buildings destroyed in some war than Egypt is.

Those two museums took up the two days we had left in Paris. It was a wonderful way to leave Paris to head up to the northern shores of France. There was so much more to see but we have to save something for the next time we come! We have to return to see our padlock that we gave Didier and Valerie to attach to the Charles de Gaulle bridge, along with the other thousands of  locks, for our anniversary: 10 years on August 18th! Yahoo! The padlock reads: "10th Anniversary, Love Forever, Don and Mimi". Nice!

So why did I change my mind on Paris? It just took time for me to adjust to the Parisian life and to get rid of my expectations and enjoy what was there, not missing what was not.  And buying a few new dresses helped too!

5:17 am edt 

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Mimi Lamp


It all started here, a little gallery in Idyllwild, no better place on earth. Or so I think.  My husband Don and I are on our way around the world this year. Watch my website for new drawings, sketches, watercolor washes of places we visit.

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