Category Archives: Travel Notes

Travel: May 27, 2014: Morning in the Museum

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This post has been sitting in my drafts for, well, years, waiting for me to upload photos from inside the museum—I do so love a museum that allows photography.  I won’t do much editing of its text.  Now that so much time has passed, it seems unwise for me to try to edit my thoughts, clouded as they’ll be by the passage of time and the fondness of memory.  So, here’s a post from 2014.

My last post from Japan may be somewhat short.

We spent most of the day at the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park and spent our whole time in the Japanese Gallery which has its own building.

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The entrance to the museum

I end up in a lot of museums whenever I go abroad and am left on my own to decide the itinerary. An AP art history class in high school left me exhausted but well-educated and, what’s more, interested. The National Museum in Ueno boasts an impressive collection of artifacts relating specifically to the history of Japan, of which I was only able to see a part, which has been neglected somewhat by traditional textbooks—including those assigned to me in all of my classes. I find art and relics a good way to learn about a nation’s or culture’s history.

I am also pleased to report that photography is allowed within the museum with the usual stipulations (no flash, which you wouldn’t want anyway, since it would create a glare on the glass). So called “important cultural property” was labeled as such, so a guest with time only to quickly peruse the collections could easily identify which pieces the museum considers most interesting. All labels were in English and Japanese.

Some rooms seemed to display collections based more on use than period.  There was a whole room devoted to swords and sword fittings, which was one of the first that we visited.  There was another room that housed Bugaku and Gyodo masks used during court dances and ritual ceremonies.

 

 

As interesting to me as the pieces that fit into the Western imagination of Japanese art, were the pieces that showed the influence of other cultures on the Japanese artists.

 

 

The museum also had a few interactive stations where guests could, for example, make themselves a postcard using rubber stamps of traditional Japanese motifs.

On our way in, we’d been sidetracked into wandering between the tents of a crafts market setting up in front of the museum. I’d been waffling over whether—or maybe what—to spend my money on, and we weren’t convinced that all the vendors had yet arrived, so we planned our trip to the museum so that we’d have some time afterwards to return to the market and shop.

I didn’t take any pictures in the market, but left with souvenirs for myself and for friends. I’d spent fairly little money on souvenirs during my trip, so I allowed myself to splurge a little, coming home with a piece of framed glass enamel and ceramic tiles that I made into coasters for thank you gifts to those in America who helped me on my journey. I’m fairly certain that I bought both of these directly from the artists.  I always prefer helping small businesses and individuals when I can, even though I myself benefit from a big company, but especially when it comes to arts and crafts.

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And then… then it was time to hop on the train to Narita Airport.

Kari and I spent as much time as we could together, eating dinner at the airport and doing a bit more souvenir shopping for the few people for whom I hadn’t yet found gifts (and because the banks don’t take coins when they change currency for you), but all too soon it was time to face security and board the flights home.

I forgot how beautiful those tiles were.  I only kept one for myself.

All photographs are mine.  Click to view them more largely and read the captions, and I really recommend that you do.  The dates on some of these amazed me and may amaze you.

 

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Travel: August 11, 2018: A Trail Less Traveled

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After breakfast of toast and beans with a view of Maenllwyd Guest House’s garden, we set off early to make the bus back north a little ways to the trailhead for the Minffordd Path up Cader Idris.

We left before any of the attractions of Machynlleth were open.

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Rain was predicted for later in the afternoon, but I was determined to make it up one of the mountains that I’d come to this country intending to climb. Since Snowdon had defeated me, I wasn’t going to let rain keep me from Cader Idris’ slopes. I am glad my sister loves me.

We had a welcome—a very welcome—surprise climbing onto the bus. We happened to hit a day when all travel with the TrawsCymru buses was free. I don’t know why it was free. A holiday weekend, I think. But we were blessed; this happened to be the day that we needed to travel the farthest by bus. But this first leg was just a short hop, 18 minutes north.

There’s little at this bus stop. There is the Gwesty Minffordd Hotel. There’s a car park at bit off the road, where there are toilets. There is a welcome center with a café a little ways past the car park. There’s no town.

The driver—I wish I’d gotten his name; I think I recognized from our travel on TrawsCymru the day before—kept the doors opened when we disembarked to make sure that we knew where we were going, kindly ensuring that we had proper directions to the trail.

Waving goodbye, we set off.

I was maybe a bit distracted by anticipation. I don’t remember seeing the trail map. I remember seeing the stairs.

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The first twenty minutes or so of the trail was a steep climb, mostly up stairs, to get above the treeline. A stream, Nant Cadair, cascades down the mountain beside the trail, sometimes quite close.

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I stepped just off of the path to get this shot onto a rock shelf.

Once above the treeline, the path evens out, the going gets easier, and the views get better. Above the trees, you get tantalizing views of the valley below.

 

 

At one point, the path dissects, one route going left and the other right. The sign was in Welsh, and we weren’t sure which route led most swiftly to the top. We lingered a moment for the group behind us to catch up and asked if they knew. They didn’t either. We decided to part ways with that group, so one of us would be right.

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We went right. We were wrong.

Ours was the longer route to the peak of Cader Idris, climbing first to the peak of Mynydd Moel.

The way up Mynydd Moel continued to be fairly easy, and though it became clear not too far along our route that we had chosen the way that would not lead us to the mountain lake, where I thought we might stop and enjoy lunch, we continued. We had Mynydd Moel all morning almost to ourselves. We maybe met another five hikers, all coming down from the peak; they must truly have gotten an early start.

 

 

We stopped and ate our lunch on a stone wall that the trail dissected. My sister decided to sit and enjoy the peace while I saw a style not far up the trail that looked a very attainable goal, and I thought from our vantage point then could have been the peak. It was not.

 

 

Over the style, a short way along a sheep track through the heather and bracken, a second valley opened up on the other side of this crest of Mynydd Moel’s.

 

 

 

 

The main trail continued along the mountain’s spine, and had the rain not been forthcoming, and my sister not waiting patiently, I might have continued along it, because without a week’s worth of clothes and necessities on my back, the climb was much easier. And I wanted to reach a peak.

But I turned around.

I was satisfied.

I’d explored.

And I’d explored alone.

Retrospectively, being on the less-walked trail let us set the pace. It was a serene experience to stand on that mountaintop and hear nothing but the wind and the insects and the peace.

If I go again, I’d like to see the lake. I’d like to see the peak of one or both mountains.

But I would not trade the experience that I had.

The climb down from Mynydd Moel was far easier than the climb up.

All in all, we were up and down the mountain in about two hours—though we didn’t reach the peak—either peak.

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That dark blue line tracking to the right shows our route. I climbed just over that hatched black line, which is the fence, then along that dotted black path a ways before turning around. I think we came in from that white spine off of the yellow road.   Looking at this map, I climbed 420 meters or 1377 ft above sea level, which is still only half of either mountains’ heights.  Topographical map found via Walking Englishman via GPSVisualizer. His own journey upwards was much more complete, and the pictures are excellent. Click the map for the link.

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Looking at his route, I can see we really only did a short section of the full loop of the two mountain peaks.

We stopped to catch our breath and drink water and chat with a couple with their dog at the café.

We trekked back to the road.

Then we realized that there didn’t appear to be any bus stop on the south-going side of the road.

And we panicked a little.

The people at the café were tremendously kind, using their cells to help us determine the bus schedule.

There is a road sign across from the Gwesty Minffordd Hotel. That is the bus stop. It is unmarked, but the bus drivers must know to look for weary hikers.

We sat in the grass while the rain began and waited for the bus for what seemed a very long time and was probably forty minutes or so (buses only come by every 90 minutes, for any future adventurers).

Once on the bus, our route took us south. We switched from the TrawsCymru T2 to the T1 in Aberystwyth, taking the layover time to wander the streets, mostly Terrace Road, near the bus stands and find some dinner.

Mostly, this was a dinner quest, since we’d had trail snacks for lunch, and we didn’t end up being particularly adventurous, opting for KFC to eat as daintily as possible on the bus, an easy and quick takeaway meal and filling after a morning’s hike.  I’m only discovering now that we were only two or three blocks from stumbling upon the ocean!  I’ve said it before in these blogs, and I’ll say it again; research every stop and look at maps beforehand.

The second bus took us to Carmarthen, and from there switched onto a train, which took us to Swansea.

We arrived at Swansea in the dark and the rain, but we had been sitting all day, and from here, my sister knew her way. We walked either 15 minutes to the main city bus station or the 45 minutes to her dorm room.  Honestly, I was tired; I don’t remember much of this leg of the trip.

For all that, this was probably one of my favorite experiences on this trip.

And in just about three days, we crossed all of Wales North-to-South (it can be done in less time than we did of course), starting from Holyhead, down through Snowdonia National Park, and then down along the west coast to Swansea Bay.  Google Maps doesn’t allow me to input more than one route on public transport at a time, so I can’t give you the several days’ complete picture (or not without—and perhaps I may—tracing it myself onto a map that I print).

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Made with Google Maps.  We followed the blue and green lines, roughly a 4 hour journey (once we got on the bus) from Dôl Idris Car Park to Swansea, probably more with our layover in Aberystwyth.

All photos are mine.  Most can be viewed almost full screen if you click on them.  The maps are otherwise attributed in their captions.

Travel: August 10, 2018: Rain Clearing to Shooting Stars

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It was raining on and off the following morning when we woke. We went downstairs to breakfast, served by the wife of the man that we’d met the night before. We chatted a while enjoying a full British breakfast. After breakfast she offered to let us keep our bags in the living room downstairs after we’d checked out so that we could explore the town unburdened. Between climbing just a piece of the mountain the night before and the rain, we’d well decided not to climb Snowdon on foot, but I hadn’t quite given up hope of reaching the top, so we set out first to the station for the Snowdon Mountain Railway. We were greeted by a sign saying that they were sold out for the day, so that dream will have to wait for another visit. And next time, I will hope to have it planned a few months out so that I can get a ticket to ride the train to the top—or at least to the midway station.

Since we couldn’t go up Snowdon especially, I wanted to find the castle. That we managed to do. We walked along A4086 past the Royal Victoria Hotel until, just outside of town, we found a blue sign that I believe designated a public path. It wound through a small valley and through a bit of woods and up the hill to the foot of the castle.

The castle is little more now than a round tower keep and a scattering of low walls. Built in the 13th century by Llywelyn the Great, Llywelyn the Great’s grandson Llywelyn the Last imprisoned his brother Owain Goch ap Gruffudd in that tower (probably; there is some debate as to which castle housed Owain) in 1255 after the Battle of Bryn Derwin, at which Owain and Dafydd fought against Llywelyn for control of Gwynedd and acceptance of Norman oversight. Owain was released after 22 years. In 1282, following Llywelyn’s death, the third brother Dafydd took the throne. He tried to free Wales from the rule of Edward I, but was routed. Very briefly, he stayed at Dolbadarn in his flight. His stay was probably less than a month, after which the Normans occupied Dolbadarn. The Normans took a lot of its stone and timber to build Caernarfon Castle. Parts of the castle continued to be used into the 14th century, but by the 18th century, the castle fell out of use and into ruin.

The castle sits on the hilltop beside Llyn Peris, which is divided from Llyn Padarn by only a narrow landbridge. We didn’t much see Llyn Peris, only a glimpse of shining water below, but the views of the mountains between the clouds were beautiful and somewhat haunting.

 

 

 

We wandered back into town, ducking into shops, including one that sold honey, mead, and love spoons (Snowdon Honey Farm and Winery), searching out trinkets and gifts. We stopped for coffee and cake at Pantri. We wandered through the crowded shop and out into the seats that were in the adjacent backpackers’ shop. While we were there, the power went out briefly, which we overheard had not been an uncommon occurrence lately in the town. It did not diminish the town in my eyes, and I feel already like I left a small part of my heart by that lakeside town in desperate need (I hope) of a used bookstore—if only I had the courage to bring them one.

Wet and not wanting to much remain outdoors, we thought we would leave earlier than we’d thought for our next stop, Machynlleth.

To get to Machynlleth, we had to take the bus north to Caernarfon. It turned sunny on the ride. When we arrived in Caernarfon there seemed to be some kind of festival. There was bunting strung over some of the streets and fair rides and games in the square beside the castle.

 

 

 


We stopped for directions and then for ice cream at a brightly colored shop called Palas Caffi and awaited our bus.  Some day I would like to return to Caernarfon.  I would like to have a full day to explore the Norman castle.  I would like to explore the city more and find a better view of the harbor, which pressed close to the castle.

In one small hilltop town, we passed a woman on horseback, who while the bus passed, pulled her horse over to talk to a friend who leaned out his car window.

We passed views of the ocean, through the narrow streets and stone buildings of Dolgellau and by Cader Idris and Tal-y-Llyn Lake, both of those last two familiar to me from Susan Cooper‘s The Grey King.

 

 

 

The bus for Machynlleth let us out just past the clock tower.

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Map created using Google Maps. Our route is the blue and green not the white.

From there we had to walk to our next bed & breakfast, but since we were early, we stopped first for dinner. We found a pizzeria manned by a Florentine chef just off the main road in the back of the courtyard for the Wynnstay Arms. It was delicious, made to order, and the conversation was good. We talked about Italy while we waited.

Fed, we continued down Heol Maengwyn. The Maenllwyd Guest House was pink house just outside of the bustle of the town in a residential area.

We settled in for a reasonably quiet night in a room at the top of the house. In our room, there was a binder of information about the area and about the bed & breakfast itself. There was a map that marked the standing stone for which the Maenllwyd Guest House was named (Maenllwyd means gray stone), so I set out for an adventure, winding my way around gardens and along the pavements of residential neighborhoods. The standing stone itself was located in the middle of a cul-de-sac with a bench beside it, not quite the mystic sight I had hoped for.

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I kept wandering after finding it. Behind the street I was on rose a rugged looking hillside, and I thought there was likely a way to get to that hillside. I found one. There was a gate behind the houses with the sign that made me suspect that the hillside was public land, so I let myself in and climbed through paths in the bracken.

Somewhere on that hill, I found a ring of standing stones—a much more mystical sight. I did step into it. It seemed quiet, but I think I was projecting my thoughts of what a ring of stones is supposed to be. I was transported nowhere. I seemed to miss no more time than I spent standing and spinning in a circle to look out over the surrounding hills.

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Oddly though I can’t find the photo I took from within the ring.

I kept climbing. I eventually turned around when I found a sheep, and began to question anew whether I was actually on public or private land.

 

 

 

(In researching, trying to figure out where I had been, I have come to think that I was on land belonging to the golf course. Maybe the ring of stones was just meant to be another obstacle to play around. Maybe it’s just atmospheric. But later in the trip I came to believe that there was a ring of stones in nearly if not every Welsh town—more likely newer installations than old. I might be very off my mark there. I would love someone to confirm or correct me.)

Back at the Maenllwyd Guest House, I showered in our private bathroom, and sat in bed watching with my sister a British puzzle-solving game show called the Crystal Maze hosted by Richard Ayoade.

I wanted to stay up late enough for it to be full-dark, past 10 PM.

We were in Wales near 2018’s Perseid meteor shower. Both the Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales and Snowdonia National Park in North Wales are designated International Dark Sky Reserves. We intended to spend all of our nights in South Wales in Swansea, a much larger city than any of the towns were we slept in North Wales. Here in Machynlleth we were on the southern edge of Snowdonia National Park.  Just after 10 PM, which was the earliest websites said I would be able to view the shower, I went out into the back garden of Maenllwyd Guest House. It was not so dark as I would have imagined or as dark as I would have hoped, but even with the back light on, bathing the garden, I was able to see the Milky Way, a feat that I have managed only a few times in my life.  And in the space of about 20 minutes, I saw 5 shooting stars.

All photos are mine.  Most can be viewed almost full screen if you click on them.  The maps are otherwise attributed in their captions.

Travel: August 9, 2018: We Reach Wales

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Hey! You probably thought that I forgot that I was supposed to be writing these travelogues for you. Well, I didn’t, and I am sorry that they have been so scarce. Today, we’re going to Wales, so hop on nearly every form of public transportation (as I proudly told a surveyor on my journey back to the US), and journey with me.

We were up very early the next morning to walk back into town to catch a pre-booked bus to get to the port. Our shuttle boarded on O’Connell Street around 7:15, and our ticket warned us to be early to the bus stop (though I don’t actually think that was as necessary as they made it seem). We were taken along the river to the check-in, then boarded on another shuttle, which took us directly onto the ferry, we were unloaded, and conducted upstairs to a plush lounge with seats facing the front of the boat, lots of tables both at the windows and further into the center of the boat, a bar, televisions, a movie room, arcade games. It didn’t feel all that much like a boat. But I found us seats near the front where I could at least pretend to be standing at the bow and watching the sunrise and looking out for land. I’ll admit that I fell asleep for a good deal of the crossing. I read through some of it. I went wandering at one point trying to find a way to get to the sea-air, but without success.

 

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Route map courtesy of the Stena Line webpage

We docked in Holyhead in North Wales, went quickly through security, and crossed the bridge into the city to find lunch.

My sister took the crossing less well than I did.

I didn’t feel hardly any motion from the boat, even watching the horizon ahead. I could tell that we were moving forward at times, and I could see the boat turn once or twice, but I felt any movement far less jarringly than on any bus or train or plane.

Lunch acquired, sandwiches and coffees, we mostly played the waiting game. We were expected in Llanberis that night, and to get to the town, we had to take a train to Bangor and then a bus from there to Llanberis. The port and the train station are within the same building so finding the station was easy as was finding help with the schedule and the best route and the best lunch if only we’d asked sooner.

The train to Bangor got us there with lots of time to spare between arrival and departure. I wandered the city a little. Retrospectively, I wish I had looked at a map. I went up Holyhead Road and got so far as College Road before turning around then went down Farrar Road to High Street. I missed most of the sights. Y’all, learn from me. Consult maps. Use map apps. Know some of the sights before arriving. I hadn’t planned for a long layover in this city and knew practically nothing about it other than that it was the spot we needed to change modes of transportation.

We waited for a while at the bus stand, reading mostly, though I met a nice Welshman there and we talked for a little bit about Wales and Welsh before his bus arrived. I perhaps made the mistake of mentioning that I’d tried to learn a little of the language before arriving from Duolingo, and of course, confronted with the problem of speaking, my practiced phrases fled me, but he took me through the sounds of the nearby Llanfairpwllgwyngyll so that I’d have that as party trick.

The bus ride took us up on (I think; please correct me if I am wrong) Elidir Fawr at one point, negotiating narrow and windy mountain roads, and at one point having to wait for an oncoming car to back up to be able to continue forward—which certainly made me forgive the driver for running late to Bangor. The bus route isn’t the most direct route between the towns, but the views of Llanberis and Llyn Padarn from atop the mountain were worth it.

 

The bus dropped us not too far from our bed & breakfast, Idan House, on the north-end of High Street. We actually saw it from the bus and got off a few stops earlier than the Llanberis stop to save some walking.

We checked in with a nice, older man, who showed us to our bedroom at the top of the house. The view was amazing. We could see Llyn Padarn and Elidir Fawr rising behind it, the lakeshore not but a block or so away.

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With our bags put down and a little more settled in, we went out exploring the town. Mostly we were looking for dinner. We settled on Indian takeaway and took it to the park by the lakeside where we had a view of the Elidir Fawr and Dolbadarn Castle too.

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Our meal done, we wandered the city some more. We passed our first free-range sheep on public land. We found a path that pointed toward the local waterfall, Ceunant Mawr, and followed, trying to find the overlook. I think we missed our turn off the paved road, but continued up beside the railway line and beside houses and woodland and meadow until we reached a sign saying that we’d reached private land and weren’t to go any farther. Un-penned sheep greeted us at the top and another wonderful view of Elidir Fawr in the setting sunlight. We were near the waterfall; we could hear it and see a bit of it through the trees on the opposite side of the railway line, but never got a photo-worthy view. The climb was steep and exhausting. It dashed our hopes of being able to conquer Snowdon on foot the following morning.

 

We worked our way back down, back into the park beside Llyn Padarn, and then back to the b&b to settle in for the night.

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Llafn y Cewri seems the sort of monument with which one poses. It was erected in memory of the Welsh princes and resembles one of their swords.

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Our first day’s travel in Wales, following the blue not the white line.  Created using Google Maps.

All photos are mine, except the one of me, which my sister took.  Most can be viewed almost full screen if you click on them.  The maps are otherwise attributed in their captions.

Travel: August 8, 2018: A Gray Line Through Wicklow

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All photos are mine.  Click to view them in more detail and to read captions where applicable.

Today’s tour is courtesy of Gray Line Tours. We booked through a site, wicklowmountainstour.ie, which offered even more of a discount than did booking through the Gray Line site, but it was confusing because none of the email addresses were what I would have expected.  Gray Line was helpful and quick to respond when I wrote fearing that our purchase had been illegitimate.

Another of the bucket list items that we sought to check off was a walk through the Sally Gap in the Wicklow Mountains. My sister was long in love with the film P.S. I Love You and wanted to recreate the scene where the American woman is wandering lost along the road.

No tour that we could find and no public transit will get you near the Sally Gap, a crossroads in the middle of the Wicklow Mountains National Park, nor could I even find a way to hire a cab to drop us there, though I did my research only online and didn’t actually call any companies to ask if it was a possibility, international rates for phone calls being what they are.

There were many different sites and tours offering to go through the Sally Gap and the Wicklow Mountains National Park, and several offering photo opportunities at a bridge in the Park where the two main characters of the film kiss, but when I started tracking the tours back, they all seemed to boil down to three or four different companies. The one walking tour ran only once or twice a month and not during the time that we needed it to be.

I contacted one company and was told that a walk such as what my sister wanted would be impossible. Because I was running short on time, I did not email ahead to ask Gray Line if they thought that such a walk was possible. Sometimes it is better to have fewer expectations.

When we arrived at Gray Line’s office, the Dublin Visitor Center on Grafton Street, there was already a long line out of the door, and none of the people in the line were there for the tour that we were. But my sister wound her way to the front to pick up our tickets while I watched for the bus, not really sure what I was looking for but hoping that I’d know our tour bus when I saw it. Ultimately, from the office a guide emerged and called forth groups for different tours and led them to the correct bus around the corner in front of the Bank of Ireland, another tour before ours but then ours.

My sister managed to pick up our tickets from the desk inside and have them in time to be called forward, but the tour did leave a few minutes later than was advertised.

Once on the bus, things went more smoothly.

The tour is supposed to visit Glencree German Cemetery, but the day of our tour the company had learnt that the roads to get there were impassable so we got more time at Glendalough (the “lough” is pronounced like “lock”) instead.

Since we weren’t there to go to Glencree and I’d forgotten that we were with this tour supposed to stop there (I did look at a lot of tour itineraries), I didn’t much mind, but I hope no one on the tour was particularly upset.

Our bus pulled out, heading south this time, where we saw St. Stephen’s Green and more sites important to the Easter Rising.

We were driven along some narrow mountain roads past a hut-like construction that from our guide’s story I suspect may have been a set piece for Vikings, past Lough Tay to the bridge called the P.S. I Love You Bridge, though it’s real name, I think, had something to do with sheep (our guide mentioned it, but now I can’t find it online anywhere). While our driver went on to turn the bus around, we were given 15 or so minutes to climb around the stream and photograph the hills and the heather—our guide said it wasn’t heather, but everything else I’ve read, and my own instincts, think that it is—perhaps a specific kind of heather or heather locally known by another name, but I think heather nonetheless.

 

Turned around, we headed just a bit farther back the way we had come to an overlook point that looked down on Lough Tay or Guinness Lake and the valley that it occupies, and were given another ten or fifteen minutes to go explore the area, to take photographs, and enjoy the scenery. On this tour, I learned a lot about the Guinness Family and their legacy not only of world-renown beer but also of philanthropy.

 

It started raining just as it was coming time to get us back on the bus.

The views out the window were obscured by trails of water across the glass.

Thankfully the rain had all but stopped by the time we arrived at Glendalough, and the sky cleared as we wandered the ground of the monastic settlement.

We were pretty much set loose on the grounds. We wandered first through the cemetery, a blend of old plots with illegible headstones and newer markers.  We did a lot of careful tiptoeing and stepping and apologized often to the dead as we unavoidably trod on gravesites.  Between the headstones are the ruins of the settlement: a nearly in tact chapel, a ruined cathedral, a priest’s house, and a tower also nearly in tact.  An archeological group was doing some excavation just outside of the graveyard, cordoned off and too far away to be disturbed the tourists.

 

Most of the buildings on the site are from the 10th-12th century, the settlement having been destroyed by Norman invaders in 1214.  Visit Wicklow has a lot of good information about the individual structures around Glendalough.

We walked out from there towards the Lower Lake.  The way through the woods is fairly broad and flat.  I think it was even paved.  There were occasional benches to sit and trash bins.

 

We didn’t go much past the edge of that first lake, but went back towards the modern village, such as it is, ducked into a few shops, two of which were permanent structures but more of which were pop up tents, and saw a sign for a sheep dog demonstration. We tried several routes to find the entrance to the event without success, though over the wall that bordered the road we could catch glimpses of the sheep and the young Border collies, one of which was definitely a pup. Unfortunately, we eventually found out, we’d missed the beginning, and the next demonstration wouldn’t begin until after we were supposed to be on the bus back.

We sat for a little while, having nowhere else to go in the time that we had, on the hill beneath the trees just a short ways inside the monastic settlement’s stone gate, overlooking the road.  Sitting beneath the trees on the hill was peaceful with the cemetery behind and a sheep pasture beside and more pasture across the road below.

The last stop on the tour was Avoca, a small village known for its hand-weaving center but also as the filming location for the BBC show Ballykissangel (1996-2001).  We ate in the pub, Fitzgerald’s, which frequently appeared in the show. I got the sense that visiting this pub was like visiting the Cheers bar in Boston. But the food was good, the service quick, and fairly inexpensive.  There were only a few people there besides our tour.  One of the televisions inside the airy pub was playing episodes of the show, but I was more interested in the airing commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Amiens on the other television behind the bar.

We didn’t have much time to explore Avoca itself.  We crossed over Main Street to a small park overlooking the river that gives the town its name , and we went up the road a little ways past the lot in which our bus was parked to see what was over the hill’s crest.  Looking down the road we could see the Avoca Handweavers, but we didn’t go down the hill towards the museum and factory because we didn’t want to be late for the bus back.

This tour wasn’t necessarily what we were hoping for, but the places that we did visit were beautiful.  I just wish we’d had more time to wander in the mountains.

To the best of my ability to track our travels through GoogleMaps, my photos, and my recollection, this might’ve been our route, but I’m much less certain on on our route out of or into Dublin.

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Which would mean in all that this is what we managed to see of Ireland, only really a third of the country and a fourth of the island.

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We got off the bus around 6 PM on O’Connell Street. We spent the evening ducking into bookstores—on my sister’s suggestion not mine, though you know that I happily acquiesced. We visited larger more corporate bookstores like Eason and little used shops too. We wandered and found St. Stephen’s Green, and ended up—by my own faulty sense of direction, I’ll admit—down by the Grand Canal.  The canal was pretty, but I didn’t take any pictures; I was too busy consulting maps.

Again, thank God for GPS! When our map failed us—we’d wandered too far south and were off the edge of one of the maps that we had, and I don’t think that I consulted the other, though I should have done—we pulled out my phone, and turned north. We passed the Bleeding Horse Tavern, a tavern that’s been at that site since 1649 (I didn’t realize at the time that it was any point of historical interest, but I remember commenting on the name; I found it on that second map after I had got home and was researching these blog posts), and continued north around the side of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

We ate our wrapped, convenience store sandwiches (purchased the night before in case the pub on the tour offered nothing that my sister could eat) in the park beside the cathedral before heading back to the dorm to pack and sleep for an early morning.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral was the most prominent tourist site near our dorm; it seemed like a place that we should spend some time.  We were never there when the doors to the cathedral were open, but we were able to say hello to the building this way.

 

All photos are mine.  Most can be viewed almost full screen if you click on them.  The maps are otherwise attributed in their captions.

Travel: August 7, 2018: Coast to Coast in a Big Green Bus

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Click on the photos to embiggen and to read captions where available.  All photos are mine.  Trying to decide on pictures for this post was so hard, and I have so many more that I want to share.

This day’s travel was courtesy of Paddywagon Tours.

At Destiny Student – New Mill, we were about a 20 to 25 minute brisk walk from the meeting place on College Green. I’d asked the front desk for better instructions to our meeting place the night before and been supplied with a map and a route. The route we were given took us up a residential street, New Row South, then up past St. Patrick’s Cathedral, turning at Christ Church right along Dame Street.

We found the green Paddywagon Tours bus easily on Dame Street and confirmed with the driver that we were in the right place. He welcomed us convivially and sent us off to pick up coffees and breakfast since we were a few minutes early.

Fortified with caffeine and sugar, we climbed back on the bus. Once we were all assembled and the bus took off, our guide talked us through some of the sights out the window, the Bank of Ireland with its bricked in windows to avoid the light tax and Phoenix Park with its herd of deer. And the tour continued as we got out into the country, our guide talking us through Ireland’s history from the four kings of Ireland, to Strongbow’s arrival at the behest of Mac Murchada, the former king of Leinster (mid-1100s), to the Burren, and the penal laws when being Catholic was outlawed (mid- to late-1600s). He explained the importance of peat and the importance of the potato. He talked about the Potato Famine, better called the Great Hunger (mid-1800s), and about the tension between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, including what he has witnessed himself as a tour guide (ongoing but finally, thank God, cooled after the late 1990s).

He was a fabulous tour guide, and I wish I could remember his name to commend him personally!

I learnt more on this tour than I did on any other, from my history classes, from stumbling upon Tumblr posts, or from guidebooks. I laughed at some of the bad puns, and just had to smile at his enthusiasm, while my heart sank with his sadder stories.

Between stories, he played us a mix of more modern Irish bands like the High Kings singing primarily more traditional pub songs.

Meanwhile, out the window, the Irish countryside rolled past. It’s green. Everyone says it, but it is true—and we were in Ireland during a drought, so I imagine I have seen the country less green than it might usually be. There were far more cows than I ever imagined. On earlier train rides through England, I marveled at the number of sheep. Here I marveled at the absence of the sheep and the abundance of cows.

We passed a great diversity of landscapes: fairly flat fields with far off rises, a peat bog, and then rocky mountains like I’ve never seen before: rocky but not in the way that, say, Croatia’s or Montenegro’s mountains are rocky. From a distance they looked like mounds of gray stone rising from green fields. Nearer, you could see the tracery of green breaking through the rocks. And the mountains were crisscrossed by low stone walls: stone walls to nowhere, fencing nothing, built by a starving people to whom the government refused charity and refused “handouts,” making them work for rationed food even if the work accomplished nothing meaningful. That sentiment stung. It rang too familiarly in my ears. I don’t like the idea. And I think those walls will haunt me.  I think we are not far at all from repetition of that same government refusal, though the work left behind by our starving people may be more ephemeral.  In some ways I think we are already there.

 

We stopped to stretch our legs in the small fishing village Kinvara. Just briefly. We walked along the park-edged harbor and turned up the hill along a road called The Quay to catch a quick glimpse of the town farther inland, peering up and down Main Street, before returning to the waterside and walking around the corner from the park. Across the water we could see Dunguaire Castle. True to form, I only took pictures of the boats and the water.

 

Our tour continued along the Galway Coast, but we had chosen seats on the wrong side of the bus for there to be photos; sorry.  Driving along the coast we learned about another export of the country, though: seaweed.

We stopped a little while later at an area the tour called “the baby cliffs” near Bothar nA hAillite. I’m not actually sure what Bothar nA hAillite is (it might be the road’s name?), but it was the nearest marker I found on GoogleMaps to the place where we stopped, which I was able to identify in part because one of the photos uploaded onto GoogleMaps showed a Paddywagon bus.  We climbed about on the rocks a little, getting as near as we dared to the sea. I’d done enough research to know that the Burren is home to all kinds of unique plant life, so I was peering into the mossy, grassy, crevices in the rocks too, though I don’t know enough to identify any of the wildflowers.

 

I have no pictures from Doolin, the next place we stopped to stretch and to search out lunch. I thought I did, but I don’t. It was a tiny place. We stopped along Fitz’s Cross, a few shops side by side along the street, two hostels, a pub, a café, a welcome center with a courtyard behind the lot with benches and fire rings and picnic tables. It looked like someone had set up a corner for a celebration when we were there. We grabbed sandwiches for lunch, ate in the courtyard, and hopped back on the bus, finally arriving not long afterward at the Cliffs of Moher.

I was unprepared for how beautiful and rugged and wonderful these cliffs are! I know everyone says that you must see them, but I’d sort of dismissed the hype. Believe the hype. Go see the cliffs. You can’t get anywhere near the water. If you get near the water… I doubt anyone will see you again, but just looking out over these rock faces topped with green grass and lines of people who seem dust specks in comparison with these monstrous heights in photographs—! It’s beautiful.

Our tour guide had told us to walk out towards the right for a better view of the cliffs, towards O’Brien’s Tower. We’d been fiercely warned not to climb over the rock walls or get too near the edge. I’m glad we followed the advice.

 

Past the Tower too, the stone walls and paved walkway abruptly ended, and a well-worn dirt track along the height of the cliffs replaced them. There was a less-trodden trail below this. Perhaps the trail we took for most of our journey out was meant to be the top of an earthworks divider between a tourist and the cliff, but everyone else was walking it too, and it was still some distance from the edge. It took a steady foot, though; not for the fainthearted and not for the wobbly. We came back along the lower trail when we’d felt that we’d gone far enough, letting those unacquainted with the views stay up higher to gawk.

 

We ducked into the museum, but frankly, it wasn’t much, though the structure of the museum within a hill is in itself intriguing. We sat to watch a digital animation of the fauna of the cliffs, in the air and in the sea, but it wasn’t very impressive, frankly. And we didn’t stay to read plaques for the exhibits; outside the museum was too pretty.

So we struck back out along the left side of the cliffs, climbing up the top of the iconic view. We didn’t go far that way, though, because we were coming close to our deadline to be back on the bus. We perused the stalls set up by the museum’s exit, and overheard a couple from our tour group admitting to their friends that they’d become engaged on the cliffs.

 

Our tour guide found out too, and every song remotely about a man and woman in love was dedicated to the couple from there on out.

Clambering back on the bus, we struck back east again, passing Dough Castle, a heartbreaking monument to all those but particularly the children who died in the Great Hunger, Bridge Street in Ennistimon, and the ruins of Clare Abbey. We stopped again to stretch across the street from Bunratty Castle, though there was not much time to explore the area around the castle—or any time to enter the castle itself.

 

Though we were still a good ways away from Dublin, I haven’t any more pictures from that day until after getting off the bus that evening. Maybe I slept. I know we listened to more Irish music. I was awake long enough to hear the story of one man’s discovery of his link to President Barack Obama. We passed the town, Moneygall, that was home to Barack Obama’s great-great-great grandfather, where now a rest stop is named for the former president, owned by a distant relation.

At any rate around 8 PM, we got off the bus on the north side of the Liffey near O’Connell Street in Dublin after stopping one last time at a rest area for toilets—I think that a requested stop of one of the other travelers, to which I’m glad our tour guide acquiesced, not because I needed another stop, but because it’s nice that a stop can be added because of a need.

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I can’t swear that this was our route, but this was our route, the best I can figure using GoogleMaps and my photos.

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We ended up shopping at some of the tourist shops on the northside that evening, meeting a man in one of the shops and having a long conversation. We crossed over the pedestrian Ha’penny Bridge (built 1816) around sunset though, where I snagged this stunning photo looking west, crossed through the beautiful pedestrian streets of the Temple Bar area, and found our way back to Dame Street, ate some delicious, fancy, branded burgers (Greek-flavored lamb for me, Cajun-flavored chicken for my sister) at BóBós Burgers and sat long into the night after a bit of confusion about whether or not we asked for the check, but it was pleasant to sit, pleasant to talk, and no one seemed fussed about us sitting.

*I want it noted that it IS possible that I am misremembering which tour guide gave us which information, but I do remember that this was the more eloquent of the tour guides, particularly about more ancient history. Both talked a good deal about their own experiences in Ireland and recommended places to visit. More on the second tour guide in the next Travel Notes post.

All photos are mine.  Most can be viewed almost full screen if you click on them.  The maps are otherwise attributed in their captions.

Travel: August 6, 2018: Evening in Dublin

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Click on the photos to embiggen and to read captions where available.

This trip began with a long wait, and then a lot of dashing.

When delays on my first flight, supposed to be just a quick hop from the local airport to a larger, international hub, caused me to miss my original flight to Dublin, the American Airlines representative at the airport was admittedly very quick to find me the next possible flight, which had me in Dublin the same day, but later in the afternoon rather than the early morning.

 

I did not land in Dublin itself to nearer 4:00 PM. Getting into the city, my sister and I dashed to Trinity College. When she had left me to do most of the planning for our stay in Ireland, I had asked her what bucket list items she had to check off in the country. I had none—or had only one that I learned was a scant possibility too late to plan. (I wanted to visit the island where Luke Skywalker hides himself in this newest trilogy, but never dreamed that island was in as accessible a country as Ireland. Next time I’ll have to find my way to Skellig Michael; this time it was not possible to squeeze in. And I did not want to cross the border into Northern Ireland, just to keep things as simple as possible, but I would too one day like to see Giant’s Causeway.) Seeing the Old Library of Trinity College was one of those things.

Trying to figure out the bus system proved confusing for both of us, tired as we were from a day on planes and in airports. We’d found a manned booth outside of the airport’s exit. We overheard one of the employees giving directions to a less expensive bus into the city, and we first sought out that stand, but then couldn’t quite figure out the machines to know what ticket to buy. So we returned to the manned booth, and bought the ticket for the waiting bus.

We arrived at Trinity College with only maybe twenty minutes to the exhibit’s close (heads up: it and practically every other museum close at 5:00 PM), paid our €14 entrance fee, and fairly ran through the exhibit on the Book of Kells. The information on the maze of walls was undoubtedly interesting, but we peered at the items in display cases without much time for reading. There was a case explaining how the monks achieved some of the vibrant colors on their manuscripts, then a case with four open books, two of which were sections of the famed Book of Kells and two of which were books of similar age. The Book of Kells was written around the beginning of the 9th century, the Garland of Howth was written around the 8th or 9th century, and the Ricemarch Psalter c. 1079. The detail and the color and the preservation of the books was itself pretty stunning, but what really stole my breath was the Old Library: two stories of bookcases in niches, clearly a library in use with tomes tilted where books were missing and a few books laid haphazardly on top of others. Busts lined the hall between the shelves, first of important figures of literature and science and philosophy, but later names we did not as readily recognize, local figures maybe or figures of importance to the college itself. We’d looked before leaving for the trip for ways to get into the Old Library bypassing the Book of Kells exhibit and the €14 entrance fee, but we hadn’t been able to find any way to do so without either making friends with a student or having a legitimate reason and approved letter for permission to study within the library; we had time for neither.

 

As the Library was closing, we next wandered the grounds of the college. We were trying to find the psychology building, but never did. My sister had at one point looked at going to Trinity College herself, so she had wanted to see what she might have had, where she might have lived. It is a large, beautiful campus, and looking at a map now to see where was the psychology building, I think we didn’t stumble into maybe but a third of it.  It feels a bit like a city unto itself, with its own park and its own back alleys and streets, buildings old and ivy-covered and new.  My sister and I both attended more rural undergrad universities, and I think both of us had prettier campuses.  I didn’t spy any water feature on this campus–not the part that we made it to; she had a large duck pond and waterfall into a river on her campus, and we had a number of creeks and a much smaller pond.  We both had more grass.

 

We meandered a bit on our way to our dorm, and stopped to duck our heads into Christchurch and the entrance to Dublinia when we passed it and to explore the area around Dublin Castle. Maybe someone can explain to me: In both we saw red, yellow, blue, and green used side by side. Being me, I recognize the four Hogwarts House colors pretty quickly, but why were they used together in Dublin?

 

 

We stayed at a place in an area known as the Liberties. When we’d gotten into a friendly conversation with a man in a shop, and he asked where we were staying, he was appalled by that answer. Though the dorm was farther out from the city than was necessarily ideal, it seemed safe enough—after we had found it, and knew our way. Finding it was a problem. I had to pull out my Maps app to get us there. A paper map didn’t do us enough good; streets are not marked as clearly I feel in the UK as they are in the US—or perhaps I don’t know where to look for street signs. Too, there was construction not far from the dorm—on the next building across the street. Perhaps the trouble was more that he lived North of the Liffey, and we were staying far to the South; he was not alone in mentioning that there was loyalty to North or South Dublin among their residents.

The dorm itself, Destiny Student – New Mill, which I think is used during the school year especially as student housing, was really quite nice, with a lot of shelves around the desk and around the bed. The bed had padding on both sides that were against the wall, and there was a cushioned bench at the end as well as a comfortable desk chair. The window was most of the fourth wall of the room and overlooked the courtyard and facing buildings. There were doubled blinds, which made the room plenty dark to sleep in at night. There was a locked gate. And the help desk was open 24-hours, so that we needed to check out quite early was no problem. By booking the room through the website, I was able to get a free towel for us, and we were given soap and shampoo as well. The bedding was included, two comfortable pillows, clean sheets, and a white duvet.

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A view from our dorm room of the courtyard

It was directly across from the Dublin Liberties Distillery. The distillery itself was not yet completed and not open to the public when we were there. The general manager says that he has plans to make it so.

For now at least, the area was quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Even the construction didn’t disturb my sleep.

All photos are mine.  Most can be viewed almost full screen if you click on them.  The maps are otherwise attributed in their captions.

Shelfie: July 27, 2018: Next Week in Wales

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Time for my announcement!

This will probably be my last post for a little while as I am preparing next week to leave on a plane that will take me first to Ireland where after a few days I will I board a ferry and finally make it to Wales, a corner of the world that stole pieces of my heart long ago–probably as long ago as the first time that I read Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence, which I’m fairly sure was some time before or around 2001, when I was but a wee thing not even introduced yet to Rowling’s Harry Potter.

Almost every free day that I had in July and the last bit of June has been taken up with more and more frantically researching, Pinning, and Google searching various places and things to do in both countries, skimming travel books, comparing prices and itineraries of this or that tour, trying to plan travel routes that will get us in any timely manner between one destination and another, emailing tour companies and hostels and B&Bs and student housing facilities with questions, finding the appropriate currency, finding the appropriate bags in which to pack for two weeks abroad, knowing that I intend to carry everything I bring with me up and down two different mountains, trying to plan a trip that will tick bucket list items for both my sister and I while being as inexpensive as is possible and while she and I are 5 hours off one another, my lunchtime her dinnertime so by the time I want dinner it’s nearing her bedtime–  Breathing has been difficult.  Forget writing.

This is really the first international trip that I am taking where I will be doing most of the planning–accompanied by my lovely sister, who is currently living in one of these two countries, but who wishes to see sights on this trip that she has yet to see, so where we’re both going a bit blindly.

You might remember my trip to Japan, where a great friend met me in the country where she lived and took me to her favorite sights.  I relied on her quite heavily to get me to where she wanted us to go, and did very little research, and had very few expectations prior.  I had to.  (I’ve learnt more Welsh more solidly than I had learnt Japanese before that trip, but I think my Welsh will be less useful, and frankly I still can’t say much, though I can convey that I like tea, and I have hello, goodbye, and thank you down pretty solidly–all of which are important.)

To create this post, I went through the house and found all the books I had that I read that were set in either of the two countries (and allowed one that leans very heavily on Welsh history and mythology but actually takes place here in the mountains of Virginia.  I will be in the same town where Owen Glendower set up a Welsh parliament.  My sister’s university also has a building named after the rebellious Prince).  I have read surprisingly few books set in Ireland; this might have to be mended when I return.

When I return, I hope to turn this blog into a travel blog for a little while, so that I can share with you all my adventures and some of my pictures, all of which I hope will be magical.

Pinned Ya: Tracking My Travels

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I suffer from wanderlust. There is too much of this world that I have not seen—and really, I have seen more than many do. Around the time I went abroad in my junior year of college, I found TripAdvisor and enjoyed seeing the map slowly fill with places I’d been.

tripadvisorRecently, though I found Pinterest and of course in the intersection between searches for travel destinations and tips and home décor and do-it-yourself projects, I found the various ways that people track their travels across the globe. And I’ve wanted that—a physical tracker to display and to look at and dream. Well, within these past two weeks, I’ve tried two different ways of marking my travels on maps.

I originally wanted a globe with pins of my travels.

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But they are very expensive.

My sister bought me a globe, but it is not cork, and I wasn’t able to push a pin into it. It’s still beautiful and excellent for dreaming of future travels. It looks so classy.

Later she found a cork map. I’ve seen cork maps marked very elegantly, and with such a map, one is not limited to pins that will still allow the globe to turn past its cradle.

sales_mapThat was the first map on which I was able to mark my travels.

img_0773It’s not large, just about 9.5” x 14”. Australia is only 1.25” wide. I like how this one looks. With the pins, it looks like I’m fairly well traveled, but this map has no borders between countries and very little detail (Ireland seems to have been absorbed into the Great Britain).

I like it, but I wanted something that more accurately tracked my travels too.

I caught my roommate about to toss out a map sent to her by SmileTrain (I don’t know much about this charity, but since I’m using their map, I thought a shout-out was appropriate). img_0811

img_0816 img_0814img_0812 This one is 30.5” x 20.5”.  Australia is 3.25” wide. It does have borders between countries and between the states of the United States and the providences of Canada; Ireland is a separate island. Country capitols are marked with red stars. The more detailed coastlands make it easier still to determine the approximate placement of a city. I decided to mark each place I’d been not with a pin since I have no cork back on which to keep this map but with a purple Sharpie—purple because it’s my favorite color and soothing but also because it’s a color not used on the map. The Sharpie allows for more overlap than does a pin. There were a few marks that I made that I realized afterward were maybe a bit too far in one direction or another, and the Sharpie didn’t allow any second chances, so those marks had to stay, but because I was using so many fixed markers to determine the placement of cities, I was not very off, I don’t think, in any of my marks—always within the correct country or state at least.

I did not add any labels to this map, and I’m not sure if I will do, because I’m not sure how to do so without pins of some kind and because I rather think that even the smallest dangling tags could easily look messy and cluttered.  Though I do sort of love the idea, and it would be nice to be able to remember the cities’ names when time has passed. I expect even names inked onto the map would map it look cluttered quickly. Any examples of or thoughts on that?  I suppose I could do a legend off to the side, or maybe even write a list of places I’ve been in the white space of Antarctica….

Maybe something like this?

travels(Obviously this is still a work in progress, and Word does not appreciate place names.)

This map makes me look much less well traveled, and that’s probably far more accurate. It shows the gaping gaps in my education and in my travels—from just skirting New Jersey to never having been in any country of the Americas except my own or in Africa or Australia.

The first map says to me “well done.” The second says “keep going.”

Of course the size contributes to that perception, but I think so too do the more accurate marks, where points like Perast and Kotor, Montenegro are almost on top of one another and the four places that I marked in the Iwate province of Japan look like a crooked line (and should really actually probably be more clustered than they are).

I expect I’ll keep them both, because my bedroom already would be the envy of a pirate captain—and not because it has a modern, cushioned bed—and because, you know, I’ve put in the work.

I don’t advocate one method of marking your travels over another—though I will say that size will effect your and others’ perceptions of your travels—but I thought I’d share what I’d learn from my own crafting.

The maps that I’ve made will embiggen if they are clicked upon.  The maps others have made will take you to the sites of their original postings if clicked upon.

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