Lands of Lincoln pt 2 (southern Indiana)

Three states get to claim Lincoln as their “son.” Kentucky gets bragging rights because he was born there. Indiana gets bragging rights because he lived there for a few years when he was a boy. And Illinois (the self-proclaimed ‘Land of Lincoln’) gets the biggest claim of all because he lived there for most of his life.

Several posts ago, I mentioned going to Lincoln’s Birthplace National Monument in Kentucky. Today’s post will be about the next leg in the Lincoln journey – southern Indiana.

Being one of (at the time) only two National Historic Sites in Indiana, we of course had to go the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in the aptly named Lincoln City, Indiana.  After leaving the George Roger’s Clark Memorial in Vincennes, Indiana, we headed south east. About an hour and a half into the trip we stopped for gas and I realized that I’d left my wallet at the George Roger’s Clark Memorial when we purchased our Christmas ornament (our classic souvenir for trips). So…. luckily I had enough gas to get back to Vincennes to retrieve my wallet.

Ugh — adventures can be a challenge… and I have a bit of a habit losing my wallet on trips (I also accidentally threw my wallet away on the way to the Smokey Mountains once… that was fun). However, despite our setback, we headed back in the direction of Lincoln City and went to the National Park.

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View of the museum from the flagpole (pictured below)

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Closer view of museum

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Looking out from the museum

The site is beautiful! There is a small museum, but the majority of the sights are outdoors. There is a lovely hike you can take that shows you various milestones in Lincoln’s life — it’s called “The Trail of 12 Stones.”

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Tombstone of Lincoln’s mother

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The “ninth stone” on the trail – taken from where Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address

Along the trail is also a living history museum of a replica of how the Lincolns would have lived in the early 1800s.

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That’s a real sheep, folks!

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They wanted to come home with us, but we didn’t have enough room in the car.

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The living room/kitchen – Gabriel couldn’t get over that the ceilings were so low. “Wasn’t President Lincoln really tall, mom?”

The whole experience there was wonderful. I’d really love to back again. The rangers are the museum were amazing. I didn’t realize that there was a fee to get in (only $5) and they only took cash for the fees. However, they let us in anyway without seeming put out at all. When we got home a few days later, we wrote them a very nice card and included a donation because of their generosity to us.

The most wonderful part about the Junior Ranger program that I’ve mentioned several times in this blog is how excited the rangers are to interact with the kids. We have been to almost to twenty sites operated by the National Park Service and without exception, every single one of them have been eager to talk with Gabriel, show him around and talk about the history and science behind the various places.

At Lincoln Boyhood the two rangers actually argued over who would get to swear Gabriel in as a Junior Ranger! In the end the settled on letting the intern do it since she had never sworn in a Junior Ranger before. It was so cute to watch her get excited about it!

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Our time at Lincoln Boyhood was wonderful! I also recommend stopping by Santa Claus, Indiana which is very close to Lincoln City. In Santa Claus it is Christmas all year round! Even in the June heat!

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We stayed at the luxurious Motel 6 in Dale, Indiana (that’s sarcasm if you couldn’t tell). It wasn’t much to speak of, but it was cheap and clean and had a pool! That was all Gabriel cared about! 🙂

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Dale, Indiana is a very cute little town that has TONS of “mom and pop” restaurants.

Thanks for reading about our adventures in one of the Lands of Lincoln!

The Way Back

After several days in Arizona, we were finally headed back to Las Vegas to fly home. The flight from Vegas was much cheaper than Phoenix, but it required a much longer drive. However, there was the up-side that we could stop by the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead.

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We didn’t have a ton of time, so we didn’t go into the museum because there was an entrance fee and we knew that it really wouldn’t be worth it for the amount of time we could spend there. However, if you have time, I’m sure the museum is quite lovely.

We did spend a little walking around and looking at what we could. Gabriel had lots of questions and my dad spent some time explaining a few things about the impressive structure in a way that my young son at least pretended to understand.

For those of you who don’t know about Hoover Dam, I’ll help explain some of the history to you.

The construction of the dam was of such a magnitude that nothing like it had ever been done. Over 100 people died during the construction, and it took only five years to complete it (two years ahead of schedule).

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Statue commemorating the lives of the builders – you can see the bypass behind it

The dam was originally called the Boulder Dam because it was proposed to build it in Boulder Canyon (it was then actually built in Black Canyon). There was talk about naming after President Hoover (the sitting President at the time); however, he was not a “favorite” President… what with the Great Depression and all that. Consequently for a while people called it both until the 1940s when it was approved to officially name it Hoover Dam despite the running joke that it might leave the country high and dry like its namesake.

The reason the dam was built was for hydroelectric power, as well as for irrigation to the surrounding area. Another interesting fact  is that until 2010 you could drive over it on your way out of Vegas until they built the bypass. The bypass led to a much more direct path across the Colorado River. Looking at it from the air, it’s kind of a no-brainer.

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Though we were a bit disappointed in not being able to go into the museum, we were very ready to start the final leg of our trip home to Indiana.

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Hoover Dam Bypass – officially called “Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge”– you know, because that’s easier to remember

Next week we’ll take a break from my adventures with my son and I’ll tell you about my road trip to the American West (at least west of Indiana).


If this is your first time to the blog – check out my other adventures as a single mom with my son!

St. Louis, Missouri
Kid-venture 2: Mammoth Cave
Scotland in Kentucky?
The Grand Canyon Adventure Begins
An Acrophobic’s Grand Canyon Experience
Driving around the Grand Canyon (Day 3)
There’s more than a canyon in Arizona!

There’s more than a canyon in Arizona!

The last few weeks of my blog have been highlighting a trip I took with my son and my mother to the Grand Canyon. The first few days of our adventure were taken-up with the joys that the canyon had to offer. Honestly, you could spend weeks there and still not see and do everything you want to. We focused our trip around the south rim of the Canyon because that is where most of the ranger stations and lodges are, but there is LOTS to see around the north rim as well. I hope to be able to go back some day and go up there instead.

But four days into our trip, we decided to see more of what Arizona had to offer! There are so many National Parks, Historic Sites, etc. all over the Southwest, but since my son was still relatively young,  we stayed “pretty close” to the Grand Canyon for our adventures.

In our research for the trip, I decided to let Gabriel pick some of the places that we would go see. The first place he wanted to visit was Montezuma Castle National Monument, so that’s where we headed first.

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On the road to Montezuma Castle

I think I said this in an earlier blog, but the thing that surprised me the most about rural Arizona is how beautiful the desert can be. I honestly did not expect to be blown away by the rugged beauty of Arizona. I’d been to Arizona before, but the city (Phoenix), not out in the middle of nowhere. The browns and reds and greens and the blue of the sky create this magnificent palette of colors that I’d never seen in my other travels.

“MontezumA Castle, Mom! Not MontezumaZ”

My son is a bit of a know-it-all when it comes to things he loves, and Gabriel was OBSESSED with the National Park Service at this point in his life. I kept accidentally calling the monument “Montezuma’s Castle” (because as an English teacher, that makes more sense to me), so he corrected me a few dozen times while we were out there.

For those of you who have never been, Montezuma Castle is a cliff dwelling perched high into a cliff face that had to be accessed through retractable ladders. Very cool!

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Close- of some of the rooms closer to the ground

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The “castle” isn’t really a castle… and despite the name, it has NOTHING to do with the Aztecs or Montezuma. Interestingly, it got its name from a faulty assumption that it had something to do with the Aztecs, when it was actually left vacant quite some time before Montezuma was even born. So it’s name is very inaccurate, but … hey, we do what we want here.

The castle is a five story complex of interconnected rooms and, according to the National Park Service information, it was constructed over about 300 years (different additions added on over time). Unlike some other cliff dwellings in the American Southwest, you cannot go up to Montezuma Castle. I thought Gabriel would be upset by this, but he couldn’t have cared less! He loved walking down the paved path and looking up at the impressive construction.

There are also a few replicas that you can interact with down on the ground that, for some reason, I didn’t get pictures of. It is definitely worth the trip from the Grand Canyon or Phoenix… or Indiana!

There is also a well near by that Gabriel didn’t care to go see, but a fellow blogger wrote about it recently – you should check out her post here —> (Gen-X Traveler).

More Cliff Dwellings Ahead… but first!

After leaving Montezuma castle, we drove through the beautiful Sedona, Arizona. It’s a lovely little town– very commercial, but still cute. It reminds me a lot of a desert version of Gatlinburg, Tennessee– a little kitschy, but still worth seeing. Honestly the area around the town is what you want to see. There are SO many hikes and so many rock outcroppings to lose yourself in (in a good way) that it makes the little town very worth it (just like the Great Smoky Mountains make Gatlinburg with it).

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I wanted to stay here for days and explore, but since this trip was more about Gabriel than about me, we moved on after eating lunch at a two-story Burger King with the most amazing view!

Walnut Canyon: Where I nearly died of fear about 1000 times in the span of one hour

So… here’s the thing about me and being a mom… I wanted to do what my kid wanted to do, and I didn’t want to be the kind of mom who told her kid no because of my own fears. Having said that, Walnut Canyon is not for everyone (my mom stayed in the ranger station and I DO NOT blame her one bit!). The visitor center is very lovely and you can see some beautiful views from their floor to ceiling windows, but that’s not what Gabriel wanted to do…

Walnut Canyon has a couple of trails that you can take, one that is paved and relatively flat, and one that requires going down into the canyon via a group of 240-step winding stairs. Before getting to the stairs you read quite a few signs warning about strenuous return trip and the limited (and dangerous) accessibility ahead.

Once you get down into the canyon there is a gate… like a point of no return… because the trail is so narrow it is one-way only.  It is so narrow that in most places it was more narrow than my hips, no railing, and a gloriously awful looking “plummet to your death” kind of drop-off. My knees were literally shaking on the mile (or so) loop around the cliff dwellings.

The upside? Too many to count! You actually get see and GET IN the cliff dwellings and see how the people of long ago lived. It was fascinating. The view was so beautiful (as long as I pretended I couldn’t see down.

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Also, this face:

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Gabriel was SO excited! He walked bravely on the trails and was not phased one bit by the height or how close he was to scary-scary-bad-death. And through my gritted teeth and trembling knees and hands (and heart), I began to appreciate the trip around the cliff dwellings because of my son’s joy.

As a National Park Service Junior Ranger you learn about lots of things concerning the parks, one of which is that you do not take ANYTHING from the park other than what you bring in. So Gabriel asked me to take pictures of about twenty different rocks that he wished he could take home with him (how adorable is that?).

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I only included one rock picture 🙂

 

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Cliff dwellings to the left, scary-scary-death to the right

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One of the few places where the trail was almost wide enough for me to not be afraid, but keep in mind where that ceiling is… and I’m 5’2” on a good day.

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Gabriel telling me (and other families nearby) about the history of the people who lived in these types of cliff dwellings.

The trip back up, was a challenge, but we made it all without stopping because Gabriel wanted to “get back to Nanny so she wouldn’t be worried.” All in all it was well worth the fear and trembling. Not only was the view beautiful, but my son got to experience something he’d being researching for weeks even though his mom is a wimp.

When all was said and done, he had a few more badges to add to his backpack!

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If this is your first time to the blog, don’t miss out on our other adventures here: 

The Grand Canyon Adventure Begins

An Acrophobic’s Grand Canyon Experience

St. Louis, Missouri

Kid-venture 2: Mammoth Cave

Scotland in Kentucky?

An Acrophobic’s Grand Canyon Experience

Several weeks ago I began sharing with you the adventures that my son and I have taken together over the years. We started our travel adventures when he was in the first grade by going to St. Louis, then later that same year we went to Mammoth Cave and Lincoln’s Birthplace National Historic Site. Two weeks ago I continued with one of our bigger trips, all the way to the Grand Canyon.

Today’s blog recounts our first full day at the Canyon.

We woke up early that morning so we could get to the Grand Canyon’s supply store as soon as it opened so my father and his buddies could get the supplies they couldn’t keep in their luggage.  They wanted to get as early of a start as possible for their rim to rim to rim hike (south rim, down into and across the canyon, up the north rim, and then the return trip). We then took the group to the trail head and snapped a few pictures before they set off on their adventure.

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My dad with his gear

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The Crew

After wishing them luck, Gabriel, my mom, and I went off to the ranger station to get Gabriel’s workbook so that he could get his Junior Ranger badge and add it to his growing collection. Once we had the workbook, we were off to the rim to discover what the Grand Canyon was all about.

Several things … nearly everything, in fact… surprised me while we were at the Canyon. For one, I was not anticipating it to be so cold at the Grand Canyon. My midwestern mind knew we were in Arizona and Arizona is hot, right? I’d been to Phoenix several years before and it had gotten up to 124 degrees Fahrenheit one day. But at the rim of the Canyon (a much higher elevation than Phoenix) it was actually quite chilly, hovering closer to 30-40 degrees in the morning.

Another thing that surprised me is how much my fear of heights (acrophobia) would bother me while we were there. Now, I’m no dumby, I knew the Canyon was big and deep, I’d just assumed it would be more of a gentle sloping kind of height, or that there would be a guardrail at the least. Nope!

My fear kicked in pretty quickly as I tried to keep my fearless child from plummeting to his death every ten minutes! Of course I am exaggerating, but I had been completely clueless at how open the Grand Canyon would be for the more adventurous of humans (not me). And Gabriel was loving the views and was even transfixed with bugs (that we also have in Indiana), and keeping up with him and making sure he was in no way close to the edge was a full time job, it seemed.

I’d made a little formula for how close I could get to the edge and still feel safe (yes, that’s how crazy I can be when it comes to heights). I decided that I needed to be my height (a bit over 5 feet) and a few feet extra in order to be safe (just in case I rolled while I fell face first?). 

That didn’t last long with Gabriel, but luckily for me, we were also with my mom who seemed slightly more rational than I was about the proximity to the edge of the canyon. She would brave closer with Gabriel, while I turned away… because somehow that kept them safe (I don’t know, but it made sense in my mind).

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Mr. Adventure Man – always climbing on something. 

 

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One of our first views of the Grand Canyon

The other thing that surprised me about the Grand Canyon was the massiveness of it. Of course I knew the Grand Canyon was… well, grand! I just didn’t have any frame of reference for what that meant. I was continually frustrated that my camera could not capture how massive it was. Every picture I took was amazing, but the pictures are NOTHING in comparison to the reality of the Canyon. It was beyond anything I’d ever known before.

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In the pictures the colors are not nearly vivid enough, the scope not nearly broad enough. But I tried to capture what I could in my mind as we went around to some of the places we needed to see for Gabriel to be able to get his Junior Ranger badge work completed.

We learned many fascinating things about the Canyon, the habitats, and the wildlife surrounding it. One of the interesting facts that I still remember is that the only place that you can see the Grand Canyon all at once is from outer space! Even in an airplane, you can’t take the entire Canyon in at once… it’s too big! You have to be out of Earth’s atmosphere to see all of it at the same time. DUDE.

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Always ready for a picture

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Canyon selfie (at a safe distance from the edge)

Once we’d filled out the workbook for the Junior Ranger badge and completed the necessary tasks (like picking up trash that others rudely left behind), we went to a ranger station so that Gabriel could get sworn in. The Canyon (unlike the other parks we’d been to) swears in several kids all at once just due to the volume of kids getting the badges, but it was still a very cool experience, and again, one that Gabriel almost felt he wasn’t “good enough” for.

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Gabriel feeling very intimidated by the “old” kids.

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Signing his name to his certificate

The Grand Canyon has several restaurants in the park ranging from relatively cheap cafeteria style to very fancy sit-down places that have incredibly expensive food. Since the Canyon isn’t near any large cities, the park has everything you could need for an extended stay. There’s even a Catholic church in case you need a little Jesus with your nature.

Our lodge was outside of the main village (with several hotels, stores, and restaurants), but was just a quick walk away from the rim and a few convenience-type stores. In the evening we went and got some coffee (not Gabriel) and watched the sun set over the Canyon. There were tons of places to sit around outside and Gabriel especially liked the carvings in the stones of several different local birds.

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Showing off his own wingspan 

Our Grand Canyon adventure will last a few more weeks. Next week, join us as we drive around the park and see a few very cool places on the south rim!

Blarney: Everything but Kissing the Stone

According to dictionary.com, the definition of “blarney” is “flattering or wheedling talk; cajolery. Also, deceptive or misleading talk; nonsense; hooey” (my personal favorite is ‘hooey’)

The village of Blarney, Ireland is so far from the definition, it is comical! Blarney is an adorable little village that has Blarney Castle at its focal point. The Castle is where the idea of kissing the Blarney Stone comes from… but more on that later.

Situated on the south west part of Ireland, Blarney is a stone’s throw (pun intended) from the major city of Cork. The main source of revenue in the village is the castle and its grounds, as well as the near by Woolen Mills and various hotels and bed and breakfasts. There really isn’t much to the non-castle part of Blarney, but nevertheless it is a massive tourist destination.

The lovely map we got at the tourism office

On our trip to Ireland, Blarney was an obvious stop because of the history of the castle as well as the mythos surrounding kissing the stone. We left Youghal and Cork and drove to Blarney and happened upon a wonderful little bed and breakfast that is still around today, Meadow Bank. I’m not sure if it is owned by he same wonderful lady, but if it is, you MUST stay here on your trip!

The grounds were gorgeous and our room looked out on the back garden lovely flowers and landscaping. Even now, nearly 23 years later,  I remember the comfy room, the beautiful common areas, and the sweetness of the proprietor. She was very kind and gave us all kind so advice on what to see and what to do in Blarney.

A picture with the owner of Meadowbank

After checking in we went to the Woolen Mills and shopped there. I was in heaven! I wrote in my journal that I wanted to buy all of the sweaters that would fit into my suitcase. However, I limited myself to one sweater. I kept that sweater until I had actually worn holes in the elbows (over ten years later), and even then I wore it! On my solo trip to Ireland, I took it with me to wear one last time, and then I left it in the “free bin” at the hostel for some poorly dressed tourist. It was difficult to let it go, if you can believe it– and when I was in Ireland last year I looked for a replacement, but I just couldn’t find one that spoke to me the way that one had. I also still have a gold celtic cross pendant I bought at the Woolen Mills that day in 1997, though I don’t wear it often.

I love this add for the Woolen Mills! I’m so happy my mom kept all these little things!

We ate at the Woolen Mills for dinner that night as well, and learned about the laid back way that the Irish (and much of Europe) likes to eat out… slowly. I remember being frustrated that we had to wait so long for the bill and for them to pick it up. We Americans do not relish the idea of eating out the way Europeans do, and it truly is a shame that we are so impatient.

Anyway… enough of my rant on impatient Americans (of whom I am one myself).

The following day we asked the owner where there was a church we could go to for Sunday services, and she mentioned the Catholic church next door.   However, we asked her if there was a protestant church nearby(we attended a Nazarene church back home), and at the time we did not understand the context that the Irish place on “protestant.”  Consequently, didn’t quite understand her bristling at the question until later. To the Irish, “protestant” means the Church of England… and all that drama with Northern Ireland, which was very much resurfacing in 1997. So we acquiesced and attended the Catholic church instead so as to not offend our very kind hostess.

After leaving the service, we went to go see the famous Blarney Castle, and to kiss the infamous stone. Blarney Castle was not everything I was expecting, but despite that, it was even better!  The castle was huge, you could see it from quite a distance towering over the trees. But what I didn’t realize is that it would be in ruins.

Even so, you can go up in the castle and even see a few rooms, but mostly it is broken down. That does not in any way detract from its beauty, though. There is something majestic in and of itself about ruins. From what I remember, the castle was built sometime in the 1400s, and at some point the Blarney Stone became known as a way, after one has kissed it, to give you the “gift of gab” or the ability to persuade through flattery.

In my mind, I imagined some rock that you kissed and went on your merry way. This is partially true. You do kiss the stone and move on; however, what I didn’t know is that you lay down on your back, hold on to a railing and bend over backward over a cavernous opening in the battlements while a little old Irishman holds your legs down so that you do not plummet to your untimely death.

My mother walking along the battlements

That was a no for me.

Here is a picture my father gloriously snapped when I realized what had to be done to kiss the stone. I am wearing my new sweater!

My parents did kiss the stone, and tried to persuade me to do so as well. Nevertheless, I did not, nor do I have any regrets about not kissing it! I find myself to be pretty naturally persuasive. 🙂

After I regained the use of my legs and my stomach stopped flipping around, we climbed down from the castle and explored the grounds for hours. Honestly, you could explore for several days all around Blarney Castle! It is fast and beautiful! Even in 1997 I was taken aback by the size and variety of the grounds. Today Blarney holds a different place in my heart. On my most recent trip to Ireland I got some heart-rending news just before heading to Blarney, and as I write here, walking around the grounds at Blarney helped mend my soul that day.

Musicians playing traditional music on the grounds near the castle

So many fun places to explore

Back in 1997, I was sad to leave Blarney, but there were many more adventures to be had on our two week trip! Check back next Tuesday to read about our time in Kenmare.

 

Other posts from my 1997 trip to Ireland:

The Gift that Launched A Thousand Trips

Dublin: love at first sight

Powerscourt: Surprised by Beauty

Glendalough: My First Love

Waterford: More than Crystal

Waterford: More than Crystal

On our two week trek around Ireland, we found many interesting sites both planned, like Dublin, and unplanned, like Powerscourt. And after the “high” of Glendalough, I didn’t know if our trip could get much better, and we’d been in Ireland less than a week.

The 1997 tourism map for Waterford

The next stop on our trip was scheduled to be Waterford. We actually spent the night there the evening we left Glendalough. Our accommodations for the night were Diamond Hill Inn (now Diamond Hill Country House). I honestly remember nothing of this bed and breakfast, so I’m sure it was not terrible, but not as memorable as some of the other places we stayed.

That evening we didn’t get much of a chance to explore other than eating dinner. In my journal I wrote about how nice the restaurant was, but since the idea of public journaling (essentially what blogging is) was not even a glint in my eye in 1997, I didn’t anticipate ever wanting to know the name of the restaurant again. Consequently, though the food was amazing, all I know is that it was somewhere in Waterford.

The next morning we hopped over to the Waterford Crystal Factory.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Waterford Crystal is internationally famous for their plethora of famous additions to our culture. Probably the most notable item to the majority of people would be that Waterford Crystal makes the “ball” that drops in New York City on New Year’s Eve. However, they are also responsible for chandeliers in some amazing places like Windsor Castle (London, England) and the Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.). Waterford Crystal also makes everything from paper weights and vases to the statues for the People’s Choice Award winners.

We spent about two hours at the factory going on a tour and then ogling the showroom where you can buy things for between (at the time) £4 to £10,000 — side note: Ireland didn’t change to the Euro for another four and a half years. We had a lovely time, and even teenage me didn’t mind touring the crystal factory where you get to see all kinds of methods for shaping and engraving the crystal. It was actually quite fascinating. I highly suggest taking a tour and checking out the showroom and all of the beautiful things you could never possibly afford, and then buying something a bit more modest.

Waterford has much to offer. For one, it is the oldest city in Ireland. According to Ireland’s tourism website, the Vikings developed a settlement there over a thousand years ago. However, my cousin Tom would insist here that I clarify the term. “Viking” was originally a verb – to travel or to be a part of a traveling expedition. The term was then applied as a noun meaning people from Scandinavia who went viking. (How’d I do, Tom?)

Nevertheless, Waterford got it’s name from Old Norse Veðrafjǫrðr, which means “ram fjord”. However, the native Irish eventually took the city back, and then eventually the British wanted to stake their claim as well. It is a beautiful place with a wonderful port that is well situated to defend, so it is no wonder it was a contested location.

After we left Waterford, we traveled south and west to Dungarvan, another beautiful costal city.

The wind and rain pelted us as we got out to look at the beautiful St. Mary’s Church of Ireland. The ocean was dark blue and incredibly intimidating as the waves crashed long the stone wall around the church. As I would later realize was a common theme in much of Ireland, Dungarvan was both beautiful and intimidating.

After a quick look at names on tombstones, we hopped back into the car and drove a bit further west to a town called Youghal. Also a port city, Youghal was also commandeered by the Scandinavians as a base when they would go on raids along the south coast of Ireland.

My favorite thing about Youghal was the pub where we ate. I checked online just before  writing this, the pub still exists – Moby Dick’s

Photo courtesy of Youghal’s tourism website

It was a cold and rainy day and we had quite a bit of fun there because the pub owner was trying to have a conversation with my father, and my dad simply could not understand his accent. Though, I’m sure time has rounded the edges of my memory, I remember a conversation something similar to this:

(something unintelligible from the owner)

Dad: I’m sorry, what was that again?

Owner: What language do ya speak?

Dad: English. American English.

Owner: (laughing) Well, ya haven’ a prayer of understandin’ me then, have ya!

We all laughed, and somehow conversation became a bit easier – perhaps the owner knew to talk slower and louder for our benefit. We had a glorious meal, and the sun came out for us for a while so that we could walk along the port and see the vessels in the harbor.

After leaving Youghal we continued to drive and came upon some very typical Ireland- beautiful vistas, sheep, and even peat marshes!

Since the road was completely blocked with sheep, we stopped and the sheep parted around us, jumping and baa-ing loudly. It was hilarious!

This was all-in-all a lovely day trip. It was only two hours of driving between Waterford and Blarney where we ended up staying that night– but you’ll have to wait until next week for the blarney on Blarney! 😁

 

Other posts for this trip:

The Gift that Launched A Thousand Trips

Dublin: love at first sight

Powerscourt: Surprised by Beauty

Glendalough: My First Love

The Gift that Launched A Thousand Trips

atlas close up dark dirty

Photo by Aaditya Arora on Pexels.com

I am obsessed with traveling. I know this about myself, and people often point it out to me. I will see someone that I haven’t seen in a while, and often their first question is something like “So, where was your last adventure?” or “Where are you headed next?”

Sometimes people ask why I love to travel so much, and it makes me stop and think. I’d just kind of assumed that everyone had the same cravings to go and do and explore like I have. However, I’ve learned over the years that isn’t true. Some people hoard and save their money for things other than airplane tickets and Airbnb stays. Who knew!?

My family has traveled since I was a kid. I remember trips to Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, New England, and abroad as far back as the third grade (and maybe we traveled before then and I just don’t remember). And I look back on those trips with very fond memories.

However, the trip that really solidified my love of traveling was my high school graduation gift from my parents. They told me that I could pick anywhere in the world that I wanted to go, and we would all go there. To this day, I have no idea where they thought I would pick– maybe Australia (because I’d been obsessed with Australia since my childhood babysitter went there), or New Zealand (to visit a former foreign exchange student). But I do think they were shocked when I told them that of all of the places in the entire world, I wanted to go to Ireland– the land of my ancestors to see if we couldn’t hunt down a tombstone with our family name on it (this was before ancestry.com and the internet being useful for anything other than chat rooms).

So, for the next several weeks I am going to reminisce about the trip that launched a thousand trips (give or take)– my first trip to Ireland in the summer of 1997. I dug out my old journal from the trip, and I’ve plotted out the story of discovering where my soul resides to this day: Ireland.

The true challenge will be getting good pictures– so bear with me as I dig through 23 year old photos that were taken on actual film and probably printed out by a teenager at the one-hour photoshop.

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Glendalough, Ireland 2016

The Light and Dark of Athens

Athens was a bittersweet day and a half for our tour. We had a wonderful time exploring the many beautiful things in the city — too many to name in one post, truly. The city is magnificent, but with the magnificent comes the harsh realties of heavily tourist filled cities… thieves.

Our first evening in Athens was very lovely in many ways. One of the wonderful things about Europe that I wish we would embrace here in the US is the delicious tradition of gelato. Yes, we can get it at the grocery store, but in Italy, Greece, and even Ireland (which will be the topic of my next series) had gelato nearly at every turn! Without fail, in every city in Italy and Greece, gelato was a part of the day. In Athens we went to a lovely little “gelateria” called DaVinci’s where we got the most delectable gelato of the entire trip… so of course I took a picture of it!

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I had no shame as I enjoyed every last morsel of this gelato, that I thought might be my very last of the trip (I was wrong, but for less than great reasons– you’ll find out about that next week).

After the gelato, Raquel took us to a very scenic look at the Acropolis by night. We walked and we walked and we walked… at Raquel’s lightning pace, by the way, and it was too much for a few of our number. As chaperone, I stayed back with the stragglers, so I didn’t get to see it in all of it’s glory by night, but I did snap a quick (albeit blurry) photo from where I had to stop. And even though I didn’t get to see the “amazing view” – what I saw was beautiful enough!

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And though I felt very safe walking around at night in Athens, the subway was an entirely different beast. We stayed close together and attempted to watch out for each other, but at some point, one of the gentlemen in our group who insisted on keeping his wallet in the cargo pocket of his shorts (despite being told multiple times not to), lost about 300€, but was fortunate enough to keep the vital things, like credit cards, ID, and passport. It was a frustrating experience, yes, but a lesson well learned to listen when Raquel tells you not to do something!

The next morning we took a tour of the city, starting with the cite of the first modern Olympics, the Panathenaic Stadium.

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The Panathenaic Stadium is very impressive, especially when you realize that it has (in some form) existed since the fourth century! Made entirely of marble, it’s amazing that it went largely unused after Christianity rose to power. It wasn’t until the modern Olympic Games came back in the late 1800s that the stadium was excavated and renovated.  Many events happen here even today — a classic marathon takes place every year, and the final hand-off in Greece of the Olympic torch happens here.

Back on the bus we passed many more impressive sites, but I wish we would have been able to get out and walk around a bit more. However, the purpose of the trip was to get a survey of both Italy and Greece in an eight day time frame, which simply does not leave time to walk around Athens for days and days. Photos out the window of a bus don’t come out very clearly, but I did get a relatively nice picture of Hadrian’s Arch. Hadrian is everywhere in Italy and Greece– he was kind of a big deal. Our guide, Raquel told us that the gate was a divider between old and new Athens.

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Then we moved on to the Acropolis, which was breathtakingly historical. SO many things contributed to my love of it, but I simply could not stop thinking about how people from a time so long ago walked where I was walking. I even took a picture of my shoe after walking around in the Acropolis just so I could remember the dust of the Acropolis was on my feet at one time.

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I know it’s a little silly, but I probably sat and looked at that dust for a full minute pondering the mass of humanity who had been there before me.

Pictured below is the gate that you have to walk through to get to the Acropolis.  There is exactly one way in and out, and this was the way it was originally constructed for security purposes. I find that fascinating that they worried about security even back then. Obviously we have different means of hurting people now, they still needed to think about how to make the place safe even way back then.

The most identifiable structure is the Parthenon (pictured below). And it is very beautiful. It was under construction while we were there as they struggle against nature and time to keep the structure a semblance of what it once was.

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However, the portion of the Acropolis that fascinated me the most was the Temple of Athena. The sculptures were so beautiful, and the history of the people of Athens and the myth of Athena is just so interesting to me. There is even an olive tree there that is said to have been planted by Athena for the people of Athens. IMG_8797IMG_8798IMG_8799

Here are some of the views from the Acropolis:

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The ruins of the Temple of Zeus

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Another cite, just outside of the Acropolis, was where it is said that Paul first preached the gospel in Greece. He was atop a large rock, situated so that everyone entering and exiting the Acropolis would have heard him. You could go up on the top of it, but I found it more interesting to stand and look up at the people and imagine what it would have been like to listen to Paul. What did he sound like? Did people listen or dismiss him as a lunatic? I stood there for quite some time and tried to soak it all in.

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Later that night, we were once again reminded of the frustrations of traveling. On our way back to the hotel, one of men in our group was robbed on the subway in a classic trick. Someone pretended to fall just as the subway approached a stop, and has he tried to help her, someone else cut the string on his passport lanyard (that he was wearing under his clothes), and got away with his passport, wallet, and money just as the doors were opening. It created a huge headache that included him having to file a police report that evening and then making a trip to the American Embassy the next morning… which should have been a problem because we were supposed to leave the next day. Alas, due to an airline strike, our flight was canceled, which resulted in relief and anxiety for different reasons.

That evening we spent wondering what would become of us the next day instead of our flight, but we were greatly distracted by a night of Greek food, singing and dancing while Raquel tried to find suitable activities for us to do the following day, which you can read about next week!

 

Now for a Break from the Normal Programing: 2019 in Review

Credit to my fellow blogger, WriterInSoul, for inspiring me with her own year in review post. I’m usually a travel blogger, so I wondered if anyone would even be interested in a year in review kind of thing, but this type of writing can often be therapeutic, in a way. And this year has definitely been a year of highs and lows. I know that a years have ups and downs– and I have had much lower lows than I did this year, but I think the whiplash of sudden change from so good to terrible in an instant is often more unsettling to the soul than a long period of turmoil.

Twenty nineteen was a year of extremes.

The year started off very well. On the 5th of January I drove to surprise a friend with a meet up for her birthday. Rachel and I were roommates in college, and she was passing through the hometown of one of our other friends, Jana, on her way home (northern Illinois) from her hometown (Memphis, Tennessee). So Jana called and asked if I could show up and surprise her when they met for ice cream.

IMG_3132So, I hopped in my car and drove the two hours to see her for thirty minutes. And it was glorious. We laughed and got a little misty-eyed, too. Then she hopped in her car and drove north, and I hoped in my car and drove east, but not before I stopped and visited Jana’s father, who I am fortunate enough to also call my friend. He showed me the truck he was restoring, and we sat in the garage and talked about life and, of course, drank coffee.

He is one of the greatest men I know. Though he is not perfect, he and his wife are both the epitome of caring and giving people. Whenever I come to central Illinois, I am welcome to stay at their house on a moments notice. Like that night, I simply buzzed by on my way out of town for an hour or so of chit chat.

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In March I went on a wonderful spring break trip with students to Ireland (my favorite place in all of the world), and we had a amazing trip! Everything went right, the weather was amazing, the traveling from place to place went smoothly, and we were able to have some of the most amazing experiences ever! I got to hold a sheep!

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But less than 24 hours after this picture was taken, the lead chaperone, my dear friend Chase, got word that a former graduate had died by suicide. I write at length about that experience here, but I will write here that the death shook me to the depths of my being. “Bear,” as everyone called him, had been in my creative writing class the year before.  He was nearly always smiling, and when he wasn’t it was because he was angry that someone had mistreated someone else.  He was a self-proclaimed defender of the weak.

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Bear with his ‘Life on a Cardboard Box’ project. “Get it, Pdise? I misspelled ‘brawn.’ It’s funny!”

He rarely wrote seriously, always the clown, but when he did share his heart, he wrote about the death of his brother and how that changed him and left him heartbroken many years later. We’d talked about mental health and how he just wanted to make people’s days better so they would have a reason to smile.

An hour after we got the news, we were off to a new place to see and experience. I didn’t know how to handle the whiplash. I cried much of the day, and avoided people as much as I could (which is not easy when you’re the chaperone of a group of students), but as I mentioned in the blog post I linked earlier, the grounds at Blarney Castle gave me the solitude I needed.

When we returned to the states, there was the funeral to go to. I didn’t stop crying until well after I returned home. And even now, I feel some level of guilt that he didn’t know how much we would all mourn his loss.

Summer followed quickly, and with it the end of the school year. My summers are usually pretty tame, and I try to soak up as much time with my son as I can. I did a lot of reading, and went to several open mic nights where my uncle and cousin played and sang.

I also got a roommate over the summer, Nina, a former student who wanted to break out on her own, but with a little support. She’s been a blessing to our family now that my son gets on the bus by himself now rather than going to my parents’ house in the mornings. And she’s a great buddy for when my now teenager would rather keep to himself than hang-out with his boring mom. It has made that transition much easier for this mom, that’s for sure!

Nina and me as we try out “lip masks” for the first time – do not recommend!

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and this year, my heart was heavier than usual as I walked in the Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention fundraiser. With Bear’s death on my mind as well as the other losses to suicide the school had faced, I felt like I moved a little slower. But I walked with a glorious friend, Amber, and her daughter who made the walk easier. We talked about all kinds of things, and they lightened my load. A day that could have been easily one of the hardest I’d had in a few months, had a positive spin to it, and I left the walk feeling much better than I thought I would.

The group that walked this year from Cascade High School

Just a few weeks later I got a text message from Chase, the chaperone who’d broken the news of Bear’s death to me just a few months ago.

“Call me” it said.

I was busy getting ready for work, and I was a little annoyed that she didn’t just text me with whatever she had to say. So I finished my hair and pushed the button on my phone to call her on speaker while I put on my shoes.

She was crying when she answered the phone, and my gut sank. I knew that someone was hurt or dead, and my mind whirled wondering who it could be and how bad it could be.

Nothing prepared me for her words. “Dylan is dead.” And again, my mind searched for meaning in this sentence. Dylan who? How did he die? Was it a car accident? But she was crying too hard to answer my questions. But I knew who it was. I just didn’t want to know. And just like that, in less than a year, we’d lost two former students to suicide. And this one was not only a student, but the son of a co-worker – the woman I’d walked with at the Out of the Darkness walk.

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I’m not entirely sure how I drove to school that day, only that it was through tears. And I’m not entirely sure how I told my first period class the news (the administration wanted to students to hear it from a person, not the PA system – which is a good call, just hard), only that it was though tears. And this time there was no Blarney Castle to clear my mind. I taught all day, I coached the Spell Bowl team (some of them crying on the bus) to win the county meet, and went home to be a single-mom. It wasn’t until bedtime that I was able to sit and try to process it all. Being truthful, I don’t know that I have completely processed it yet. I’d never had Dylan in class, but I knew him very well – he was an outgoing kid who loved to help others, he’d gone on the Italy/Greece spring break trip with us, I’d helped him edit papers for his English class, and he was the child of a co-worker and friend. So I knew him better than the teacher/student relationship.

It has never ceased to amazing me how the world can simply upend itself with one phone call. A few brief words and the trajectory of life is completely altered. That day was one of those days. And the haze of the next few weeks is honestly hard for me to remember. Hugging crying students, co-workers, sitting on the floor in the hallway talking to a student about how to keep moving when life feels so heavy.

And the year kept going up and down. My best friend had a miracle baby. My other best friend had a stroke and was in the hospital in Chicagoland for weeks and I couldn’t go see her. I felt like a failure as a friend because she needed people to help her, and I couldn’t make it up to her when she needed me the most. Up – down – up – down.

November and NaNoWriMo came along with tons of students who wanted to write novels with me. My 41st birthday. The end of the semester, and finally Christmas.

So much up and so much down.

But the big lesson I’ve learned this year is to make sure the people I love know that they are loved. I’ve learned I need to check-in with people with more than the often trite “How are you?” Also, I’ve learned that it is very important to take care of myself- to do things that are good for me physically and mentally.

Over the last calendar year I’ve lost 30 lbs and done my best to get more in touch with who I am and focus less on what I do not have. I have become less downtrodden over my seemingly terminal singleness, and realizing what being single can allow me to do: travel selfishly, invite people to live in my little home, and be available for people easier than if I had to take someone else’s wishes and calendar in mind.

Thank you to all who have been a positive influence in my life these last twelve months. I appreciate your encouragement, your mentorship, and friendship even though I am not the best when it comes to returning phone calls. 🙂

I anxiously await what I have to learn in twenty-twenty.

A Surprise Trip to Thermopylae

IMG_8703As I traversed Italy and Greece with my students (with the help of EF Tours), I enjoyed seeing the joy and wonder on the faces of my students as they witnessed the beauty of Europe. It was especially exciting to see the students see something they’d learned about in school. Seeing it makes learning so much more real, I think. And our surprise stop in Thermopylae was exactly that for one young man on our trip.

This young man, Brandon, is obsessed with Leonidas (of the movie 300 fame). Brandon was talking about how he wished he could go see his statue in Thermopylae while we were in Greece, but his GPS told him that it was several days away, and he was intensely defeated.

Leave it to our glorious tour guide, Rochelle.

We were at a gas station getting petrol for the bus. Side note: I had a very delicious cappuccino from an actual cappuccino machine… AT A GAS STATION… for the equivalent of about $1.75. This is one of the many reasons I love Greece.

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Rochelle heard him talking (I think) and casually mentioned over her shoulder that Thermopylae was, in fact, our next stop… and it was only ten minutes away from where we were.  I thought Brandon would start crying… in fact, I’m not a hundred percent positive that he didn’t cry.  Apparently he hadn’t taken his GPS off of the “walking” setting instead of the “driving” setting. Hilarious!

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Brandon’s face when he found out we were going (photo credit Chase Bauer)

Before you know it we were out of the bus at the statue.  In the middle of nowhere is the giant Leonidas towering over the bleak landscape. Rochelle pointed out to us the pass that the three hundred Spartans had defended. Historically there were more than the three hundred Spartans (an additional 5600 soldiers from other city-states), but they were still greatly out numbered by (depending on who you believe) anywhere from 300,000 to 2,000,000 Persian soldiers. When other soldiers fled or surrendered, the Spartans stood firm.

On the statue, which was erected in 1955, is an engraving of the phrase “ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ” which roughly translates to “Come and take them.” This was apparently Leonidas’ reply to Xerxes’ offer to spare the lives of the Spartans if they would lay down their weapons.

The joy of this trip was truly in seeing how moved the students were by the immensity of the statue and their awe of the tale of supreme sacrifice and bravery against unimaginable odds.

We would all like to believe, I think, that we would be able to show that kind of bravery. Leonidas and the Spartans are the epitome of that bravery. The monument is a tribute to that and also a reminder that we all have bravery within ourselves – the courage to do what is necessary and to show honor and perseverance.

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The whole group – including the folks who joined us from California (photo credit: Chase Bauer)