Camping in the Smoky Mt. (pt 2)

Great, the campsite was closed.  Now what are we going to do?  When in doubt, pull out the handy dandy map.  We decided to travel about 10 miles down Hwy 32 to another campground.  All the primitive sites were going to be too far for one of my friends to hike out in the morning because she needed to get to work.  We sucked it up and headed for a normal campground.  The map doesn't do Hwy 32 justice.  That's a really curvy road.  My arms were getting a workout for those 10 miles.  Towards the beginning of the road we passed the painting truck laying fresh yellow paint on the center lines.  Apparently the truck driving told my friend in the car ahead of me to not touch the yellow lines.  I thought he was just telling her to slow down.  She grew up driving mountain roads, so she tends to go a bit faster than me.

I quickly figured out not to touch the yellow lines.  Let's just say the road has my tire marks painted on it, and I have splashed yellow paint on the bottom of my truck.  Farther down the road we found evidence of someone who was having too much fun crossing over the lines.  There were tire marks all over the place.

When we arrived at the campground I went to register a site.  One of my friends ran into the park rangers.  They informed us 1) to set up camp and then register and 2) to keep all food items (including toothpaste) in our cars.  They had a bear sighting earlier that day.  The primitive camp (#37), who's trailhead started at the campground, was also closed because of bears.  Even though it was a regular campground, it was rather small.  It only had nine campsites.  A river ran right next to it.

The next morning we tore down camp and tried to figure out if we were all going to be able to hike to the Moose Creek waterfall.  Unfortunately, it wasn't going to work.  My friend of TN left us to get back to work and we went in search of the Moose Creek trailhead.  It was an easy hike.  The waterfall was only two miles in.  Again, because of the rain two days earlier, the waterfall and creek were moving fast.

After the hike we hoped in the car and headed back to Raleigh. It was a fun birthday weekend.

Camping in the Smoky Mt. (pt 1)

This past weekend I traveled to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to go camping/hiking.  A friend and I headed out from Raleigh on Saturday.  We were meeting up with another friend who lives in Tennessee.  The weather forecast was not looking promising for Saturday night.  There was a cold front coming through and it was being ushered in by thunderstorms.  It looked like it was going to be a wet night camping.

During the drive, the friend in Tenn called and said her parents had offered their mountain cabin for the night.  It would add another hour to the drive and put us near Pigeon Forge, TN.  After reviewing the radar and discussing the options, I was told to make the decision.  In spite of my plan to hike out and camp that night, I opted to get my butt kicked again at pool at the cabin.  Yep, I lost 4-2.  This has been an ongoing quest to finally beat my friend in pool.  She's many games ahead of me right now.  It all started with a fun trip earlier in the year where we had our own version of the Olympics (air hockey, bowling, pool, darts, mini-golf, arcade basketball, skee ball).  I won overall, but she consistently schools me at pool.  To my defense, games 2 and 3 this past weekend were lost due to my own inabilities.  I scratched on the break and then hit the eight ball in too early.

While we were playing pool and watching Auburn beat Ball State (I had to explain to my friend where Ball State was located since I'm originally from Indiana) our other friend was upstairs making a great hiking resource on her Smoky Mountain map.  She had all these hikes outlined with mileage.  The next morning we discussed where we were going to hike.  Since my Tenn friend had to go to work (apparently they didn't get the email that it was my birthday and she should have the day off) and would be joining us later, we choose an area on the northeast side of the park.

She went to work and we headed to Cosby, TN.  Don't blink or you'll miss the town.  We had planned on camping at site 34, but it was going to be too long of a hike out in the morning.  We also learned that the trail was flooded in a couple spots because of the rain the day before.  Since we weren't camping on the trail we decided to make it the morning/afternoon hike.  There was a waterfall about 3 miles into the trail.

Also because of the rain the streams and waterfalls were really rushing.  I ended up taking a bunch of photos.  After we saw the waterfall on this first hike we kept going to see the campsite we weren't staying at that night.  We hiked about 3/4 mile before the way was flooded.  This wasn't going to deter us, so we split up and tried to find the best way over the water.  Yes, walking through it was an option, but that would be too easy.  My route ended with me stuck.  My hands were on a log and my feet were on dry land about 3 feet back.  I looked over to my friend and explained, "I'm stuck."  Her idea was to use the plants behind me to pull myself back.  This resulted in my left arm slipping into the water and brushing some plant along the way.  This caused my lower left arm to turn red and start burning.  Since I didn't pack any Benadryl (lesson learned) we decided it was best to head back incase it got worse.  In about 10 minutes my arm was covered with bumps.  By the time we got back to the car it was almost cleared up.
We still had a bit of time before our other friend joined us.  With nothing much to do since the other trail was the one we were going to do hike to our campsite, we decided to check out the like in Cosby.  We went into the only bar in town.  My friend was ready to leave quickly after arriving.  I was enjoying the hole-in-the-wall southern experience.  I thought, this must be the stereotypical view that some liberals have of southern Republicans.  It was like being transported back in time.  I think we stayed for about fifteen minutes.  We then decided to run back into Gatlinburg.  That idea was quickly abandoned when we passed a smalltown used bookstore with coffee.  I was compelled to turn around and check this place out.  I didn't get any coffee, but I did leave with a copy of Into the Wild.

Since we spent so much time at the bookstore, when we left we headed back to the hiking parking lot and made dinner.  Once everyone was there we finished prepping our packs and headed out to the trail.  Oh, the plans of mice and men.  Just after the entrance to the trail we were greeted with this sign....

After a good laugh, we came up with plan B.  I'll explain that in the next post.

Confessions of a Humanities Major

When I was in college, my favorite professor said once, "I became a Humanities professor because I like books with pictures in them."  He also told us to go play in traffic after class each Friday.  I'm not really sure how that fits into this story, but I think it's funny.

I started college as an education major with my emphasis on history.  Then I became a history major believing I should spend my time in college learning the material I wanted to teach.  And then I stumbled into a humanities course the spring of my sophomore year and quickly changed my major.  Within the humanities major at Stetson you picked three areas of study.  One of my areas of study was art history.

I took two or three art history courses.  Why they scheduled those classes for 9am is beyond me.  It was early in the morning, and due to the slides we had to watch, the room was dark.  This combination made it difficult to stay awake.  In order to prevent this from happening, I purposely sat in the front row.  I figured that the guilt of falling asleep in the front row would keep me awake.  Honestly, I wasn't bored in the class and it wasn't the professor, it was the environment.  This method worked about 90% of the time.

During grad school I took a 17th century art course.  And that winter I visited Rome.  During our trip we did the obligatory visit to St. Peter's and the Vatican Museum.  As I mentioned in a previous post, it was great to see the statues and paintings I had only seen in books, but really it was way too crowded a place for me.

We went to the Vatican Museum after St. Peter's.  We went from room to room looking at lovely art.  As we passed through each room there was a sign that read, "This way to the Sistine Chapel."  Ah, the one thing I was looking forward to at the museum.  After what seemed like the tenth room, and tenth sign, the whole event was becoming more annoying then exciting.  Finally, we made it to the Sistine Chapel.

**I did not take this photo.**

Here's my confession:  I wasn't impressed.  There was no standing in awe, or moment of breathless wonder at where I was standing.  Frankly, the room was packed with people.  There was a guy yelling at people to be quiet and to not take photos.  The ceiling is really high and I can look at the art in better detail in my books.

Ok, I feel better now :)


The last weekend of World Youth Day events ends with a pilgrimage to the camp area where the Pope will say Mass.  No tents are allowed in the area (rule not followed by some).  There was roughly 300,000 people sleeping out under the stars.  We walked four miles to get to the location.  And there were hundreds of port-a-lets.

At the edges of the area were a bunch of vendors selling everything from food to religious items.  During the week I had thought about getting this really pretty crucifix.  It was on a stand and was gold in color.  It was about 14 inches high.

That night one of the youth decided to go walk around.  He asked if anyone wanted anything.  I gave him $20 and said if he saw the crucifix again to get one for me.  And away he went.  I went to bed.

Early in the morning a rain storm came through.  Not the best way to find out, but my sleeping bag is pretty rain proof.  It just leaked along the zipper.  I slept as long as I could, but at one point my sister woke me up.  "Hey, we've got something for you."  I slowly opened my eyes.  The area was still foggy from the storm and it being around 6am.  As I opened my eyes a gold crucifix started to come into focus.  All I could reply was, "You brought me Jesus?"  I felt like I was in the middle of a Monty Python movie.

Religious Flag

World Youth Day happens each year around the world.  It was started by Pope John Paul II.  Every few years they have a huge gathering of the youth in one country.  In 2002 it was held in Toronto, Canada.  I joined my sister's group that was coming from Okinawa, Japan.  There was a group going from my home diocese, but it was going to cost $1800.  My trip cost about $400.  The difference?  No fancy tour bus and a hotel.  We stayed with a host family and relied on public transit.  I met my sister and the youth she brought at our host church in Misasaga, Canada.  It's a small town outside of Toronto.

The students didn't bring a country flag with them and felt out of place since all these other groups had a flag.  Even though they were all military kids they didn't want to get an American flag since they were coming from Okinawa.  We finally found a Japanese flag and they wrote "Archdiocese for the Military Services."

While walking around the main exhibit area we were approached by a man from Japan.  He inquired about our flag.  Turns out that the Japanese and Vietnam Catholics fly a different country flag when they are at events like this.  It's a way to know they are not enemies with each other.  They have a national flag that's also a religious flag.  The things you learn.

Learning to Dance

While I was in the Dominican we helped paint the church and ran a summer school to help the children get ready for school in the fall.   After four years of French class, I found myself teaching eight year olds Spanish numbers, colors, and vowels.  It was helpful having Sesame Street flash cards.  I'm still not sure why I took French.  At some point I want to take a conversational Spanish class.  It was really funny because with our host family I could say a sentence and not conjugate a single verb and the kids knew what I was saying.  They would then explain what I was trying to say to their parents.  It worked well.

What did not work was trying to ask a question with my mouth full of toothpaste.  Before I started brushing my teeth I forgot to ask where I should spit.  This was hard to do once I had started brushing.  After about five minutes of funny hand motions she figured out what I was asking and took me out back of the house and showed me where to spit.

I learned a lot during the trip.  One fun thing I learned was how to Spanish dance.  The families there didn't take a second thought at clearing out their living rooms so that we could dance.  Oh course, Sister Bernie did end up telling us we couldn't have dance parties every night, these people need to sleep.  I learned how to dance the merengue and the bachata.  And when there are five American girls and ten Dominican guys, you don't get much of a break from dancing.  It was also fun watching the older ladies dance.  They are really good.

Learning About the Poor

During my senior year in high school I signed up for a mission trip through my church to the Dominican Republic.  The Diocese of Orlando has a sister Diocese in the DR.  There are medical trips, habitat for humanity trips, and one trip just for the youth.  I had to fill out an application packet and once accepted I had to attend three retreats to prepare for the trip.  It was a great experience.

The main activity at one of the weekend retreats was to really learn about how people think in third world countries.  What does it really feel like to be poor in one of these countries.  As part of that lesson we had an 18 hour fast.  At the end of the fast, and the end of the weekend, they brought us all in for dinner.  Once we were in the dining room they split us up by a color dot that was on our name tags.  Four people sat at a lovely table with lasagna.  Six people sat at a picnic table with fried chicken.  The rest of us sat on the floor with plain beans and rice.

Sister Bernie explained the rules for the evening.  People at the lasagna table represented the upper class, those at the picnic table were the middle class, and the rest were the poor.  The people at the upper and middle class tables were allowed, one at a time, to come and give the poor some of their food if they so choose.  But the poor were not allowed to go to their tables and eat.  This was even more discouraging since I had recently broke my leg and was trying to find a comfortable way to sit on the floor.  I was rather depressed about this whole situation.  I was hungry and uncomfortable.  No special privileges for the injured.

At the end of the meal Sister Bernie asked those in the poor section why we didn't just get up and eat at the other tables.  To which we answered, "Because you told us that we weren't allowed to."  And her reply, "Exactly, and now you know how the poor feel.  They've been told they aren't allowed and so they don't.  They feel like they are destined to live their whole lives in this situation and it won't, can't change."
That was probably the best exercise I've ever been apart of in learning about poverty.

When we got to the Dominican, Sister Bernie made it clear that we were not allowed to let people call us Americans.  If that happened we were to go introduce ourselves to them.  We are all individuals and need to interact on that level, not on some preconceived notion of what an American is in their head or Dominican is in our head.

God Must Like Chevy's

Last August I went to the Outward Bound base in Yulee, FL to take a Wilderness First Responder course.  Because we were extra folks on base, we were either living off base, or on base in a tent.  All throughout the week we were hearing updates on Tropical Storm Fay and her approach to the Florida shore.  As she was getting closer to shore they started taking precautions around base.  The night TS Fay was going to be crossing the Jacksonville/Yulee area, they had us all take down our tents.  Those of us who had been living in tents that week spent the night in the staff lounge house.

In the middle of the night TS Fay paid us a visit.  You could hear the winds pick up and thunder booming.  Apparently, at some point in the night a tree on base was hit by lightning.  When I woke up the next morning, someone from base asked me, "Are you the owner of the black truck?"  "Yes."  "You're really lucky!"  Then they proceeded to walk me out to my truck where I saw where the lightning hit.  It hit the tree I was parked next to.  And it split the top in half.  One half landed to the side of my truck.  The other half landed behind it.  Not a scratch on my truck.  The Dodge next to me was not so fortunate.  The front end of his truck had a big dent.

A Little Miracle In Ireland

My friends were going to meet me in Shannon.  We all flew in and out of that airport.  My flights went fine from Orlando to Ireland.  Not so for them.  They had a late flight leaving Chicago and their transfer was in Atlanta.  I'll rank airports in another post, but let's just say Atlanta is not on the top of my love list for quick transfers.  My friends ran to their next plane and made it just as the doors were closing.  Unfortunately, their luggage was not so athletic and did not make it on the plane.  They didn't realize this until they arrived in Shannon.  This would have been a more devastating predicament had the newest, and last Harry Potter book not come out that very day.  When I stepped out into the main terminal I saw them at the rental car desk, each with a huge book in hand.

We left the address to our cottage in County Wicklow with the airline, got in our Yaris, and headed east.  It took us a few hours to find our cottage.  First, the Irish don't believe in posting street name signs.  When reading the map, go from town to town, don't bother looking for street names, you'll just get lost and confused.  Once you let go of this ingrained way of driving it's a snap to get around Ireland.  Too bad it took us till almost the end of the trip to learn this trick.

The airline said we should call them in a day and they would give us more details about the luggage.  The gentleman we rented the cabin from was nice enough to call them for us that next day and he said they would be delivering it the following day.  Since we knew nothing was being delivered that first day, we took off and explored County Wicklow.  Did you know there is a beautiful waterfall just south of Dublin?  And sheep will get REALLY close to the edge of the road.

The day for delivery arrived.  We were a bit stomped on how they were going to get ahold of us since we didn't have a phone in the cabin and no international coverage on our phones.  The plan was to hang out all day waiting for the arrival of our luggage.  Once it came we were jumping in the car and heading up to Dublin!  What to do all day?  My friends settled in with their Harry Potter books and I took lots of naps.

By midday we were getting a bit concerned that the luggage had not arrived.  Heidi and I decided we would walk down to the nearest gas station and call the airline.  This was a dangerous task since the gas station was about a mile away down a road with no shoulder and lots of big trucks.  With cat-like reflexes we made it safely to the gas station.  We first tried to find a pay phone outside of the store.  Found one, but it wasn't working.  Guess we'd have to see if they have a phone inside.

The lady at the counter was really nice and let us use the phone.  It was a pay rotary phone.  First time for everything I suppose.  Heidi called the airline, but the call dropped.  Arg!  Not to be dismayed, she called again.  While she was talking to the airline an older gentleman walked into the gas station.  We were at the counter making the phone call and he walked up next to us to get directions.  As we listened in on his conversation, we realized he was looking for our cottage.  He was our baggage guy!!  Heidi quickly hung up the phone and we introduced ourselves as the owners of the luggage.  He explained that he couldn't find the cottage and was about to give up and drive back to Shannon.

We went out to his truck, got the packs out of his car and walked triumphantly back to the cottage.  And that night we headed up to Dublin to celebrate our little miracle.

Welcome to San Jose?

Last spring I made a two for one trip to California.  I spent a week out there.  The first part of the trip was in So Cal visiting my sister and her family.  This was a lot of fun.  I got to watch my nephew play t-ball, take my nieces on a "camping" trip, and zipped around on Molly's pink scooter.  At the end of the visit I flew up to San Jose to visit a friend.  She played pro soccer in San Jose.  My sister and family joined me for my friend's game in LA before I flew north.  The soccer team was getting into San Jose a few hours after me, so I needed to find something to fill the time.

I took a taxi from the airport to what I thought was going to be the closest Starbucks to her apartment.  The taxi pulled into the lot and while he was filling out my credit card slip he kept the meter running.  At the point we pulled into the parking spot the meter was around $16.50.  By the time he was done it had reached $19.10.  Well, I had already decided to give him $20, so it was his loss that he made less of a tip.  I'm not paying for your time running my credit card.

After getting out of the taxi I set up shop in the corner of the Starbucks with my carry-on luggage, backpack and computer bag.  I was going to be there for about three hours.  About 20 minutes after I had settled in, a older gentleman entered the store and sat down at the table next to me.  He had a portfolio of room and building designs.  It was no surprise he turned out to be an architect.  This was good, since he didn't turn out to be a great person for the "San Jose Welcoming Committee."

He spent the next 25 minutes talking to me as he waited for a client to arrive.  In that short time I learned lots of stuff about this man.  Not all of it in sequential order.  These things I learned:  he left New York because of the blacks, he doesn't like San Jose because of the foreign nationals, and he sat down next to me because I was the only white person in the store.  I was stuck between utter shock and bizarre entertainment listening to this man expunge on his extremely racist and bigoted ideologies.  He was a self proclaimed racist.

At some point in the 'conversation' he started talking about the economic situation in the county.  From that portion of the conversation he explained that the main two groups destroying our country are the Jews and the Presbyterians.  Apparently, the Jews run all the banks and the Presbyterians run all the newspapers.  Both are controlling the national through their respective channels.  While I've heard the first accusation before, the second was a new one for me.  Conspiracy theories and Presbyterians aren't usually in the same conversation.

Eventually his client showed up and we parted ways;  me still in shock, and him unaffected by his thirty minute rant.  Welcome to San Jose?

What Country Did You Belong To?

I went to Nairobi, Kenya in 2001 for a soccer mission trip.  We were there for just over two weeks coaching soccer.  It was an awesome experience talking with the people there and really learning about the culture.  (Side rant: it's rather annoying when people speak about Africa as if it's a small nation somewhere on the globe.  Really?  It's a huge continent!!  With hundreds, if not thousands, of different cultures and histories.   Ok, rant over.)  We had chapel every morning before soccer started.  It was a nice way to start the day.

The first Sunday we were there we all attended the church that was sponsoring the morning chapels.  As I was sitting in the church, my eyes started wandering.  I really enjoy looking at the architecture of churches. There is so much said in how they are structured.  I think it's a lost appreciation, or art, in our modern "don't make it look like a church someone might get offended" mentality.  As I started examining the art work, I came across a rather large painting that made me laugh to myself.

I'm sitting in the middle of a church full of Kenyans, they're all black.  The only white people in the church were the four of us.  On the side wall at the front was a painting of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.   And it just so happened that Jesus was a blonde, blue eyed boy.  Wow!  I had no idea.  Frankly, I was pretty sure he was from the Middle East.  This painting would have been great for a game of, "which country was Kenya a territory of in history?"  If you said England, you are a winner!!!

And while the English apparently forgot to take home their completely inaccurate painting of the Holy Family, they also left their love for tea.  The Kenyans have both amazing coffee and tea.  Instead of using water, the folks at this church used hot milk (probably for sanitary/safety reasons, but it made the tea even better).

Best Place to Eat in Rome

My friends and I accidentally started a trend.  When we were in England we ate a lot of Italian food.  Which was great since our next trip was to Italy.  By the end of the trip we decided we should try in each country we visit to eat food from the next country we wanted to travel.  And so, the hunt for Irish food was on when we got to Rome.

By the end of the fourth day we were pretty much done with Italian food.  I like sauce on my pasta.  The Italians do not.  Since I was not going to change the culture, I thought it was a good time to change what I was eating.  One day while we were walking around the Roman Forum area, we decided to take a side street.  This was either an act of divine intervention, or extreme luck.  Either way, we found an Irish restaurant just one block from the main street.  It took us a couple minutes trying to decide if it was open and where the heck the door was located.  Finding the door helped us obtain an answer to the first question.

It was open and it had amazing food.  I ordered a roast beef sandwich.  Ah, the taste was enough to erase all the bad, no sauce, pasta memories from my taste buds.  We ended up going there a couple nights in a row.  In fact, the t-shirt I bought from there was the only souvenir I bought for myself while in Rome.

On one of our visits we decided to play some darts.  It was rather funny because we had to wait on these two guys to finish playing so we could use the house darts.  After their game we got up and took the darts from them.  We were pretty sure they were disappointed at the fact we were waiting on the darts, and not to talk to them.

Don't Trust the Clocks

Or, "This is not a trip of assumptions!"

I had just spent the previous semester studying Seventeenth Century art.  This was great timing since I was now in the mecca of 17th century art: Rome, Italy.  All the paintings and churches I had studied were at my disposal.  And even though I only got a B- in the class, I was the official guide of Bernini and baroque for the trip.  I think I learned more than my grade reflected.  So, I'm not that good at writing an outline of the book as I read.  I was never great at taking notes.  Ok, end rant now.  Moving on...

I really wanted to find the church where the "Ecstasy of St. Theresa" was located.  My traveling buddies were not so excited about this venture.  We decided I would get up early and take the bus to the church and then we would meet up at St. Peter's in the afternoon.  Great idea, yes?

Two things I learned from this endeavor: Santa Maria della Vittoria is not located on the tourist map and the clocks in Rome are not all set on the right time, nor do they all work.

I eventually found the church.  It's rather small.  If you've seen Angels and Demons, the church is in the movie.  It is a lovely church and much less "Disney" like than St. Peters.  Yes, I know it is the Vatican and all, but there were so many people there, it was hardly a place for a quiet moment with God.  I'll take a small church any day of the week.  

Of course, finding my friends was a different matter.  I was relying on the clocks around town to help me keep track of time.  I know, I know, I should have been wearing a watch.  Eventually I figured out that these clocks were all wrong.  None of them matched another on time.  This made for an annoying day trying to meet up with my friends.  I did end up finding them in the square at St. Peters.  And the quote of the day (it's officially in the travel journal quote page), "This is not a trip of assumptions!!"

You Can Drive with the Captain

We had spent a lovely morning at the Bunratty Folk Park.  For lunch we had the most amazing meal ever!  We all had Irish stew, Bulmer's cider, and freshly made apple pie.  The last item on the list being the most amazing.  It was made in one of the folk houses in the park by this very nice older lady.  That's her job, she makes pies all day for the restaurant.  Not a bad gig.  The folk park was built around Bunratty Castle.  It's a historic castle, and every evening they have a castle feast kinda like Medival Times in Orlando.  It was a bit too rich for our budget, so we headed off to see the Cliffs of Moor instead.

When we arrived at the Cliffs of Moor it was drizzling out.  Not letting this interfere with our fun, we got our umbrellas, put on our jackets, and headed out to the edge.  It was so beautiful.  Just like in the movies.  After spending about an hour walking around the top, we decided to check out one of the boat tour signs we had seen driving in.

We got to the boat tour, and after a small "discussion" as to whether Heidi was coming with us, we all bought tickets and got on the boat.  It was so much fun.  The only problem was that it was the last trip of the evening.  This meant that the boat was not coming back to this launch.  Instead, we would go all the way to the harbor where the boat was docked at night.  From there we would be given a ride back to our car.

As they were docking the boat, one of the deckhands informed the three of us that we would be getting a ride back with the captain.  Well, that was cool.  How did we get that privilege, and how were the rest of the people getting back?  Turns out the captain was an older gentleman, probably in his upper 70s.  He had a small beat up old silver car.  On the way back he told us his life story, how he got to be a boat captain, about his wife and grandchildren, and how the only thing different between winter and summer in Ireland is the temperature of the rain.  It was an entertaining ride back to the car.

And the rest of the group?  Oh, they waited for a little bus to come pick them up.

Ghost Tour in York

I was going to name this post, "Why you shouldn't ever take me on a ghost tour," but that seemed obnoxiously long.  Or my other title was going to be, "Ghost tour, or just a bunch of really sad stories about people's deaths,"  Again, a bit long.  This story is about the only ghost tour I've ever been on in my life.  I guess it's good I experienced this activity in York.  It's been on the Discovery Channel as one of the most haunted cities in the world.  Since we were visiting England in the dead of winter (no pun intended), and there was nothing really to do in the evenings, we decided to go on the famous ghost tour one evening.

I learned two things that night.  No, three things.  You shouldn't take me on your next ghost tour, it seemed like a bunch of really depressing stories of death, and that English people think the sidewalk is called "the pavement."

When we started the tour, our lovely tour guide, who looked liked he just got done working a shift at the Haunted Mansion in Disney World, gathered the people together.  He insisted we all gather on the pavement.  Fine, I'll stand in the road.  I'm standing in the road like you asked, why do you keep pointing the the sidewalk and asking me to get on the pavement?!?!  At this point, my whitty side was overly humored and kept this 'discussion' up for another minute before complying with his confusing request.

During the tour he told us about kids being murdered and stored in the basement of an orphanage, about a girl being locked in her house because she had the plague and her family left her, and about this girl who fell three stories to her death in the middle of a party held by her father.  All in all, it was a rather depressing evening.  It was this last story that convinced me never to go on another ghost tour.

Our guide told us the story about the little girl.  He also said that on some nights they can get her spirit to appear in the window on the third floor.  As the people gathered for this impromptu seance, my friends and I all back away from the group.  None of us talked to each other until we were moving on to the next sad story.  As we began to talk we asked each other what we did when he asked the group to gather and call up the spirit of the girl.

We all had the same answer.  None of us did it.  In fact, quite the opposite, each of us stepped back and started praying for the repose of this girl's soul.  And this is when we decided that we should not go on any more ghost tours.  We were bad for business.  Instead of 'calling for the dead' we were trying to help them move on.  We all felt this was probably counter-productive for the ghost tour business.  Plus, who wants to walk around a town at night listening to depressing stories.

On a side note: we did learn a lot about the Roman soldiers and how far north in England they traveled.  In fact, there is still a Roman column up in the town.  Fine, no depressing stories, but I'll take a bit of history any time.

Finding the Middle of Town

We had spent three lovely days in York, England.  It's supposed to be one of the most haunted cities in the world.  One night, because there was nothing else to do, we went on a ghost tour.  Oh, but that's a story for another post.  Right now I'm going to tell you about our trip to find our next bed and breakfast.

We were headed to the Lake District of England.  It's pretty much due west from York, but since we had a limited visit to the UK, we decided to make a detour north and visit Scotland.  It was snowing and cold.  We left shortly after arriving.

The directions to the next B&B seemed pretty easy.  We just needed to find the middle of town in Hale, England.  At that point you turn left and follow the road up to the house.  Perhaps if we went straight to Hale instead of the little jaunt to Scotland we would have arrived in the daylight.  Again, my travels aren't about thinking that far forward.  Which is odd since I'm an ISTJ.  You'd think I'd demand more details.  I think I enjoy traveling with E_FPs too much.  They are quite the non-planners.

Well, Erica was driving, as she always does when we travel overseas.  This is also perplexing since she utterly detests driving and finds the whole experience stressful.  Add driving a manual on the opposite side of the road and you end up with several funny stories that you can laugh at later.  Laughing at the moment would probably result in a punch on the arm.  I've never tried this theory out, but the look on her face confirms my suspicions.

We followed the directions to the center of town.  Only problem, the center of town resembled a scene from a scary murder movie.  Were we in the right place? (A common phrase on my travels)  We had crossed over a small one car bridge that end at a 't' in the road.  At the other side was a small wooden sign that had Hale carved into it.  Behind the sign was a tiny church and a graveyard.  In the middle of the day I'm sure we would not have given it a second thought, but at night, we were a little worried.  After pausing for a minute to review the directions, and contemplate our apparent ensuing death by a crazy undertaker, we turned left and continued down a small dirt road.

Ah, we finally made it to our B&B.  It was winter, so we were the only tenants.  Our host was very friendly.  It would make a great escape for someone wanting to write the next great novel, or just get some peace and quiet.

Stuck in a Seinfeld Episode

Walking through Bernini Square looking for dinner, who would have thought it would end up feeling like a Seinfeld episode. We found overselves at the door to the Ristorante La Fontanella. There was a group of people standing outside the door. It appeared it was locked even though people were eating inside. The group said they were waiting for a table. Again, this was strange. Why would they be standing outside a locked restaurant? A few minutes later a lady came to the door and let the group in. Then she proceeded to lock the door behind them. Do we really want to eat here? The prices were reasonable, but what were we getting into?

An English party finished eating and left the restaurant. They recognized our confusion and simple said, "don't worry, it's worth the wait," and walked off. Eventually the lady came to the door and let us in, once again locking the door behind us. We never found out why she kept the door locked, although my theory was to protect the amazing deserts on display right by the front door. The food was really good. I'd definitely recommend the restaurant, but don't be surprised if the door is locked.

How to Shop at the Maasai Market

You'll find the Maasai market in Nairobi, Kenya.

Rule no. 1: If you hear a hissing noise behind you, GET OUT OF THE WAY!!! It's the sound of a "delivery" man bringing items to one of the 'stores'. A store consists of a platform made of dirt about a foot high and maybe 6' x 6'. The walkway between stores is about 2' wide. So when you hear that noise, you typically end up jumping onto one of the store platforms. If you don't he will run you over.

Rule no. 2: Learn the art of haggling. The first day we went shopping I wasn't that good at it and probably did not get really good deals. But the next time, the next time I was prepared. It was actually a lot of fun bargaining with the store keepers. In fact, one time I didn't get the price I wanted so I just left. As we were getting ready to pull away in the van a man popped his head in the van with the items and I got them for the price I wanted.

**Not at this market, but on the side of the road we had a fun moment of "men are the same all over the world." One of the ladies with us had negotiated a price for these sandstone animal figures. Then another salesman went up to the man in our group to see if he would want to buy any. After a few minutes of haggling, he finally told the salesman the price the woman bought the items for and the salesman's response? "Well, we can't have you beaten by a woman, so I'll sell them for that same price." Once again proving, men are the same all over the world :)

Rule no. 3: Items like pens, locks, sunglasses, etc. can be used as currency. These are items that are hard to find for cheap, so buy a lot in the States and use them when haggling in the market. I bought a chess set for $7 and two ink pens. Good deal :)

Rule no. 4: As in all open markets, keep your money in several different places on your body. That's just good practice when traveling.

Be Careful What You Ask For...

It had been a long day of driving in England. We'd had a lovely time in the Lake District, but were all three ready for bed. We had a reservation at a hotel chain in Reading, England. I was going to be leaving the next day back to the States. On our way there we stopped in Stratford-upon-Avon to say hello to Shakespeare's hometown. It was dark and everything was closed, but we were there and that's all we needed. We had a bit of trouble finding our hotel and by the time we got there it was rather late.

My friend went to the front desk and got our keys. She confirmed with the man that we needed a cot in the room because there were three of us. We walked down the hall and opened the door only to find a baby crib in the middle of the room. All three of us, with our heavy packs on our backs, fell over laughing at the sight. Why was there a baby crib in our room? And yes, my friends felt I should take the baby crib since I was the smallest. After composing ourselves, one of my friends went back to the front desk to clear up the matter.

Turns out, in case you ever need to know for your England travels, a cot is a baby crib. What we needed was a "put-up" bed. I'm not sure how the front desk looked at three adults checking into their hotel and not question the fact there were two beds and a crib in the room.

30 Point Turn Around

Cars are small in Ireland. Roads are small in Ireland. Put both of these together and what do you get? Well, you get three Americans deciding halfway up a one way road that they should probably turn around. Sounds easy, right? That's exactly what we thought. How hard could it be to turn a Yaris around?

As we found out, it's a bit more complicated than it seems. Maybe it wasn't exactly a 30 point turn around, but it sure seemed like it at the time. But every moment of brilliance needs to be captured on film. So, in the middle of this little adventure, I made sure to take a photo. As you may see, both occupants of the vehicle are smiling and having a good time. Because as GK Chesterton once said, "An adventure is merely an inconvenience rightly considered."

Cutting the Kayak Trip Short

It was going to be a fun three day kayak trip in NSW Australia. And you would think that by taking two Naval Academy grads (one of which went on a NOLS course) you wouldn't do anything dumb like forget to bring matches, or extra water with you. It probably didn't help that one member of our crew decided she would just not eat for the three days. Yes, we were a bunch of brilliant minds who apparently had all gone on vacation. After a few hours of kayaking in the beautiful Kangaroo Valley, we noticed something, it all looked the same. Did we really want to spend another two days of our vacation looking at the same thing? Especially when we knew there was surfing to be done in Bondi Beach? It was decided that night, while listening to the wild goats yell, that we would head back to the put in spot and try to get a ride back to town.

The next morning we kayaked back to the put in. It was right at the dam, and there was construction going on at the time. We had the phone number to the kayak rental shop written on one person's hand, although it was smearing off. We went up to the construction site and they let us use their phone. After an hour of trying and getting only the answering machine, we decided to find a ride into town. I stayed with the boats and my other two friends got a ride in a cement truck. They said it was really funny because they were the first Americans this guy had ever met. He asked them questions ranging from "Are Americans like they show on Jerry Springer?" to "How do you feel about healthcare in America?"

They finally made it into town and were quickly recognized as those American girls who came in with a taxi. We were famous :) While they were trying to find the kayak outfitter I was back with the boats. Off in the distance I saw a group of canoes coming to shore. This gave me a weird hope that our outfitter would be coming to pick them up. Well, I was almost right. Our outfitter did arrive, but he was dropping a group off. He looked at me and said, "I think I passed your two friends on my drive out here." And yes he did. We put the three kayaks on the trailer and he gave me a ride back into town. We passed my friends and picked them up.

Finally we got back to the outfitters. We got our stuff together and the guy offered to give us a ride back to the train station. On the way we had to stop by his house and pick up his two little daughters. It was a fun morning of trying to change our plans. Of course, we then ended up talking to this guy from the Australian Army on the way back to Sydney...but that's a story for another post.

A Very Long Day Indeed

We woke up at 6am. It was cold and dark, and we had a four hour drive ahead of us to the airport. We had to go from Ayers Rock to Alice Springs. Once we got to Alice Springs we had to hop on a plane to fly back to Sydney. Once we were in Sydney we had to find the train to Nowra. And once we got to Nowra we had to find a way into Kangaroo Valley.
Here's how the day played out:
Ayers Rock to Alice Springs: 4 hrs
Alice Springs to Sydney: 3 hrs
Sydney to Nowra: 2 hrs
Nowra to Kangaroo Valley: 45 min.
Needless to say it was a long day of travel. It did give us a few good stories to share. You see, before we left for Australia we knew this part of the trip would be a bit tricky. There was no public transit between Nowra and Kangaroo Valley. We needed to get there because we were going on a 3 day kayak trip. We decided to take our chances that if we couldn't find a bus, that we could at least find a taxi. We arrived in Nowra about 8pm at night. It's winter there, so it was already dark. One of my friends went up to a taxi driver to ask about pricing to get us into town. He was a little surprised that we were trying to get to Kangaroo Valley, but offered to take us there for $50 since he lived on that side of the hill.
On the way he told us about how the valley had been flooded and that the most dangerous animal we may encounter in the water would be rabid bass. He also told us about how he used to work as part of the road crew and one time he got covered with leaches. His wife had to pour salt all over him to get them off.
He was true to his word about the price and when his meter hit $50 he turned it off. He helped us try and find a place to stay that night in town. Both hotels we checked said they didn't have a vacancy. Our cab driver said they were probably lying (which we agreed since there were hardly any cars in the parking lots) but that they were just being lazy. Eventually he dropped us off at a car park (kinda like an RV park) and we pitched our tent. It was an adventure just sleeping that night. We had brought a junior two man tent for the trip. We had to fit three adults and three full hiking packs in the tent. Somehow it worked. Finally we ended our very long day of travel about 10pm.