Settled in remembering our west coast tour:

Cory and I have been been settling into life back in Chicago for about two months now.  It’s good to be home!  Here are a few memories and reflections about our last six weeks on the road:

–       Frist stop Andy and Jenny in St. Paul. We played koob in the front yard and had dinner and beers at the Groveland Tap where Andy and Jenny work.  We also got to see the beginning of bump of Jenny’s belly!!!

–       Then drove two ten hour days to Glacier, had a crazy stop at a $5 side of the highway campground next to a county jail, across from a truck stop bar at the edge of an oil boom town in North Dakota.  Slept like babies?

–       Got to Glacier!!!! Super beautiful, stunning mountains, alpine lakes, rainbows, storms and sunshine.

–       Took 2 days to drive to Bellingham, nice stop at a well-maintained Army Corps of Engineers campground in the Idaho panhandle.

–       Arrived in Bellingham to Steph, Moose and Merlin! Steph took us to a couple cool bars, an epic hike in the north cascades and pointed out an oyster shop to stop at on our way down to Seattle. The oyster place gave us 2 dozen for the price of 1.

–       Next stop, Seattle with Nika, Gordon, Lucy and Bea. Gordon took us on a sweet mountain bike ride; I still have an awesome scar from flying off a ramp and landing all wrong. Lots of fun playing with those two monkey girls and eating well with the Waddles.

–       Quick breakfast the next day with Christopher and Taryn Roberts who were welcoming their new baby to their family.

–       Spent that night with my collage friend Ashley and her husband Kirby in their amazing house that they spent a year literally building themselves by hand in the Columbia River Gorge.

–       Then on to Portland to hang out with Lauren Murphy and her beau, Austin. Tons of fun, river swimming, watching movies in the park and eating from the Portland food carts.

–       On to Bend Oregon to see Cory’s friend Chris and his family.  Then, Crater Lake National Park, which was awesome! So blue and clear and beautiful. We hiked down the one trail that goes down to the water, 2 miles of steep switchback to get to a rocky edge that we dove off of. There are parts of that lake that have 150-foot visibility.

–       Spent the night in Ashland OR with another college friend Mitra. She cooked a great dinner for us in the backyard of the farmhouse her and her partner live in on the edge of town.

–       Crossed the boarder to California, they stop you like it’s another country if you come by car. Rolled into the Redwoods National Park, went on a cool hike, ran around the beach, all the National Park Campsites were full, but we found a private one that did the trick.

–       Drove southeast towards Mt. Lassen National Park to find Cory’s college friend Nat. Spend the next two nights in a super nice log cabin near the park with Nate and his wife Erin, and both of their parents. Great conversations, food and water skiing J

–       Down to Lake Tahoe, breakfast with Lauren Olsen, Tom, and Dylan Boyle! Then Dylan took me rock climbing for my fist time outside. It was super challenging and fun. We ended the night with pizza in Sacramento and a good nights sleep in Dylan’s backyard guesthouse.

–       Then on to the bay. Spent five days at Claire and Lauren’s house in Oakland,  grabbing meals with Suey, Ben Graham, Jason Gronlund and the Bower girls.

–       At that point Cory and I split ways for a bit, I rented a car and picked up Lindsey and Mel from the airport and drove to Yosemite National Park. Cory met up with Tessa in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, then drove on to Albuquerque to hang out with Lucia and Krishna, then on through Colorado and eventually Denver.

–       Me and my girls hiked five days in the park and followed it up with some small town partying and hot springs, slept for 3 hours in a hostel on Fisherman’s Warf, then flew home, me to Denver to be reunited with my love.

–       In Denver we swam in Aaron and Yan’s swanky pool with Ben, Amy and Kieran, and went out to dinner with Cory’s snowboarding friend Joe Perg.  Cory caught up with old friend Sara Shriver and her son Asher.

–       We then woke up at 6am, drove 18 hours straight to Chicago, listening to This American Life and Dan Savage podcasts, and arrived at our lake front high-rise apartment. We unloaded, looked for a half hour for a parking spot, then rolled out our therma rests and sleeping bags and fell asleep to the sound of Lake Michigan waves rolling in 39 stories under us.

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Welcome Home 2.0

Back at home on the Manistee!

Back at home on the Manistee!

In 2004 when I came back to the United States after spending six months in Latin America I was interviewed, hired, and working at ONE within five days of my return.  While I was thankful for my good fortune in finding meaningful work so quickly, I remained startled by the rapid transition from processing the valuable lessons I had learned overseas to the daily realities of community organizing in Chicago.

This time around, our entrance back into the country has been a bit smoother. We have been welcomed back in the tender bosom of freedom, conspicuous consumption, sequesters, meaningless violence, democracy, global elite partiality, internet snooping, and conservative economic ideology by some of the best circumstances imaginable… good friends, relaxing locales, quality food, and loving family.  This context has provided a good opportunity to reflect on our travels and prepare for immersion back into life in Chicago.

Despite all that we learned about our country overseas, it is truly good to be home.  We still have one leg of our trip left but we are both very excited to be able to actively prepare for reintegrating ourselves back into our communities, work, and the struggle for justice here in our homeland.

We’ve planned to continue our trip through the summer with some ambitious goals to wrap up our 14 months of travel: 1.) Find an apartment; 2.) Celebrate two weddings; 3.) Begin to reconnect with our professional lives in Chicago; 4.) Canoe the Manistee River; and 5.) Visit friends and family on the east and west coasts.

Here’s a quick snap shot of our first few weeks back:

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Volunteering in the Land of the Little People

West Cork countryside near Ballydehob.

West Cork countryside near Ballydehob.

If you hang out in Ireland long enough you can hear tales of faeries and leprechauns, but you’ve got to seek it out because there are so many people who just don’t have the depth of experience to believe in the little people anymore.  Laura and I might be on our way to believing as our time in Ireland was filled with magic, joy and perhaps a bit of luck.  At the very least we agree hands down that Ireland has the nicest people of anywhere we have been.

Sunset as seen from Seb and Linda's back yard.

Sunset as seen from Seb and Linda’s back yard.

Our travels with Mo and Selina delivered us to West Cork, the southwest corner of Ireland, ancient home to faeries, freedom fighters, and hard working Irish farm families.  Also, more recently, this area has become home to many “blow-ins” – immigrants from many parts (mostly England) who showed up in the 60s and 70s seeking the romantic landscapes and a connection to old ways in life.

Linda, Aine, and Seb on Hare Island

Linda, Aine, and Seb on Hare Island

In the town of Ballydehob, we spent a week with Linda, Sebastian and their two daughters Sińead and Áine.  Linda grew up in Cork and her family is from the immediate area.  Sebastian is from France, where the whole family had been for many years before moving to Ireland six years ago.  We spent a week working with them on their homestead at what turned out to be a unique time for them.  For us it turned out to be an excellent final chapter to our time overseas.

Laura feeding the goats with her hair.

Laura feeding the goats with her hair.

Working with Seb to lay a concrete floor.

Working with Seb to lay a concrete floor.

While we were there we helped with building up a new lawn/bonfire area, moving their chicken coop to it’s new home, working with the vegetable garden, and helping to lay a concrete floor in their home.  The work was varied and exciting and we got a real sense of what it takes to raise a family on an Irish Homestead.

 

 

 

On top of all the work done at home, Linda and Seb also worked part time in town.   Our time there was very rewarding and accompanied by the good company and delicious cooking of Linda and her family.

Buckwheat crepe with egg and cheese as prepared by Linda!

Buckwheat crepe with egg and cheese as prepared by Linda!

 

 

We also found time for mini adventures.  Our down time found us hiking, biking, horseback riding, traditional French dancing, and celebrating our two-year anniversary among other things.  The day before we left we set out to explore a bit of the Celtic Sea.

Laura on the back of Gypsy.  Aine's tough irish horse.

Laura on the back of Gypsy. Aine’s tough irish horse.

Learning traditional french folk dancing in Skibereen.  Seb played accordian for the band

Learning traditional french folk dancing in Skibereen. Seb played accordian for the band

Seb and I were in kayaks, Laura, Linda and Áine all squeezed into the family punt – a tiny blue and red rowboat.  After some time paddling about, we eventually came into a little bay on Hare Island where Seb immediately found a fisherman unloading huge crabs from his traps.

Linda rowing Laura and Aine to Hare Island

Linda rowing Laura and Aine to Hare Island

Seb with box of crabs.

Seb with box of crabs.

We quickly arranged for a boat-to-boat sale of six crabs.  From that moment on, dinner became highly anticipated – especially by Seb and myself.  As we walked along the island beaches we talked about the new potatoes and carrots that would soon be pulled out of the ground to be served with the boiled crab and the fresh mixed greens that would go along side…

 

 

it wasn’t long before we were heading back to shore. As you might guess, dinner turned out to be everything that we had hoped for – fresh and delicious!

Cory with his crab :)

Cory with his crab🙂

Another day Laura and I rode bikes to town to check out the local pub.  The trouble of it is that even though Ballydehob is a tiny town, there are seven pubs!!! Laura and I were not up for seven pints so we had to modify our route a bit.  In honor of Jim Daley, we started at J. Daly Public House, a tiny room in the front of Ina Daly’s house.

J Daly and Levis's in downtown Ballydehob.

J Daly and Levis’s in downtown Ballydehob.

We sat down at the bar and chatted about the area, farming, and the relative quality of Guinness and Beamish stouts – apparently Guinness has more chemicals.  When it came to local music, she recommended that if we wanted to find it, we should go out in the street and listen for it.  Taking her advice landed us right next door at Levis’s Pub, a similar public house that had a local session going on – four violins, a squeeze box and two guitars settled us in and we soaked up the unique ambiance in this slightly larger front room.  Until recently Levis’s actually belonged to Levis who had passed two years earlier at age 104!  To get to the women’s bathroom Laura had to go through the dining room and upstairs past family photos.  This apparently is the real deal Irish Public House.

This is the guy who sold us those crabs!!

This is the guy who sold us those crabs!!

As the night wore on, we went for a walk and found ourselves back at Levis’s.  The music was still going strong so Laura convinced me to go back in.  And good thing that she did!  Once inside again, we quickly made friends with Levis’s grand nephew Joe and his partner Caroline. They somewhat magically offered us free tickets to see a renowned traditional band and a ride to Cork City – our intended stop to celebrate my birthday on the way back to Dublin.

Celebrating our anniversary with take out fish and chips on the deck of the fanciest restaurant in town :)

Celebrating our anniversary with take out fish and chips on the deck of the fanciest restaurant in town🙂

Things really worked out for us in West Cork.  We enjoyed our time with Seb and Linda, Sińead and Áine; as well as the magical experiences like fresh crab dinner, free concert tickets, and fresh green salads on a daily basis.  Just like we were wee little people or something! What an experience.  Caroline joked that we were like a commercial for Ireland’s current tourist marketing campaign – the Gathering 2013.

Laura rowing Linda and Aine in the Celtic Sea

Laura rowing Linda and Aine in the Celtic Sea

In Cork City we had a blast hoping from music venue to venue seeing LAPD, a super group of old time Irish traditional musicians, Fred, a very popular local band headed up by none other than Joe, the bar keep from Ballydehob, and finally Elly O’Keefe, a local singer songwriter.

LAPD live in Cork! aka Liam O'Flynn, Andy Irvine, Paddy Glackin, Donal Lunny

LAPD live in Cork!
aka Liam O’Flynn, Andy Irvine, Paddy Glackin, Donal Lunny

What an excellent week!  I was worried about having a rough go during our final week away from the United States but we remained enthralled and engaged the entire time and did not once worry about or long for our impending flight over the Atlantic.

tree graffitt in Cork city

tree graffiti in Cork city

When it came to it, we got into Dublin and out to the airport with the ease of well seasoned travelers.  Now we are back in the States and excited to explore our homeland a bit more before settling back into Chicago reality come August.

Laura walking through Dublin on way to airport bus.

Laura walking through Dublin on way to airport bus.

I’ll take this moment to give a shout out to Laura Mullkoff, the best world travel companion one could hope for; as well as to everyone who made our overseas travel such an incredible experience.  Watch out USA here we come!  Healthier, smarter, happier!  And we are driving on the right side of the road!

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Ireland With Our Peeps

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Sitting on the Cliffs of Moher

I’m going to start this post in Scotland, because the night before we meet up with Maureen in Ireland we stayed with some old college friends of mine, Rachel and Cedric, in Glasgow. It was awesome to reconnect with a former Bowerite (my co-op before Stone Soup), and former classmate from my art education program.

For the past 2 years Rachel and Cedric have been living in Glasgow, Cedric getting his masters from the Glasgow school of art, and Rachel working a few odd jobs, and getting much more involved in art herself. In the 12ish hours we had in Glasgow they cooked us a good meal, took us to a couple pubs, and talked to us about Detroit, socialism, art and Glaswegians. Great to catch up with them, hopefully we will see them in Detroit or Chicago sometime soon.

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Maureen and Cory on the ferry over to Northern Ireland

So, the next day, we flew, for the first time since Turkey, to Dublin. Cory’s sister Maureen was waiting for us at the baggage claim. Super excited to see her we spent some time hugging, then walked over to the rental car counter. There we were met with huge disappointment that the 5 euro a day deal I found online was too good to be true, they did not accept our visa card as insurance and required that all renters purchase their insurance, the lowest cost being an extra 27 euro a day. OK, there goes our plans of keeping the car the extra week and a half we will be in Ireland after Mo and Selina leave. We knocked back our 17 day rental reservation to 6 days. Then took the bus into the city and quickly emailed Selina telling her that she needed to pick up the car when her plane landed the next day.

 

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Not the only car like this we saw

It was fun to have Maureen to ourselves for a day, we wandered around Dublin hitting up the Guinness brewery, the grounds of Trinity College and seeing some great live music in the streets.

Selina arrived the next day, as soon as we were starting to realize what a difficult task it was that we assigned her. . . But Selina is extraordinary and pulled through like she was ready to win the amazing race.

The four of us and all our luggage squeezed into our “mid-size” left hand drive right hand shift VW Golf diesel, and headed north to county Donnegal. Selina and I chatted like crazy trying to catch up on a years worth of missed gossip as Cory and Maureen feigned interest but were happy nonetheless.  After a few hours we made it up to the most northern tip of Ireland, where Denis Shanahan (Cory’s Dad’s friend who we spent time with in Barcelona) has a cottage.

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Our band photo at Giant’s Causeway

 

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The mural that greets you when entering Derry, painting during times of repression and kept alive and repainted over the city today.

We stoked the fire, started by the older neighbor, who started it when she heard we were on our way, with peat, coal and wood. Cooked a nice meal and crashed out. The next day we visited Giants Causeway, taking a ferry from the tip of the peninsula that Denis’s cottage is on to the Northern Ireland.  The park was full of beautiful geological formations. On the way home we stopped in Derry and got a lesson on Bloody Sunday and the troubles.  It was hard to understand why after almost 100 years of independence northern Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom.

 

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Camping in the hostel’s backyard on Achill Island

After 2 nights in Donnegal we meandered south, ending up on a gorgeous island called Achill. We chose that island because it had a bridge to it and we were not really appreciating the cost of all the ferries to the other island in the area. Achill Island, among other things is home to a beautiful old mansion turned hostel that allows camping in their back yard. So, we set up the tents, cooked another great meal in the hostel kitchen and had a couple pints in their attached bar which was surprisingly full of locals and not backpackers.

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Old timer dancing with Selina and me in Galway while some musicians sat in the booths and played great trad music.

The next day we drove slow checked out some beaches, eventually making it to Galway. We decided to spend the night in a hostel to maximize our city day/night. Mo took us out to a great dinner thanks to a gift from Hugh Dad, which required that part of the gift be spent on a nice dinner with us. We heard some great trad music, danced in a few pubs and felt like we did Galway right. The following morning both Cory and Mo took their time picking out real Irish sweaters to complete the experience.

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Selina and I on the Cliffs of Moher!

Back in the car, on to the Cliffs of Moher! They were more stunning than the pictures can do justice. We spent quite a bit of time walking along the ridge, and found a couple great places to lay in the grass and let the strong wind blow on us.

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pre-erceted bell tents

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Glamping it up

That night we found another campground, this one with pre erected bell tents that were cheaper than the cost of setting up our own tent. We cooked in the outdoor kitchen, keeping warm with whiskey gingers, and ended the evening with a sauna in the sweat lodge that the campground owners had built themselves.

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Ring of Kerry, in a ring of clouds

 

Our last day on the road we kept going south circling the ring of Kerry. The drive was gorgeous.  We stopped in the small towns for coffee and lunch breaks, and at every pretty turn off we saw. We even climbed up a good size hill and got some great views as the clouds rolled in and out, blocking our vision completely at  times and opening up expanses of sea and rock at others.

 

Around 7 that night we rolled up to the home our helpX host for the next week. They are a lovely family with a French dad, Irish mom, and 2 teenage girls who have spent half their lives in France. They are now settling into their homestead in west county Cork. They were so sweet to let Selina and Mo spend their last night with us in our new place. They had a huge room that they built inside their barn which was like a big studio apartment, super comfortable for the 4 of us.

That night we had some tea and cake with the family, got to know them a bit, then stayed up unpacking, repacking, organizing, and eventually playing our Italian card game with Selina and sleepy Mo. We were both really sad to hug them goodbye in the morning. They got up and headed back to Dublin pretty early, but we will be home real soon now and be catching up with loads of friends once we get there.

Can’t wait to see you all back stateside! We’ll be doing one more post from abroad about our last help exchange experience, which was one of the best yet🙂

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Oh, the Highlands…

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We’ve always heard how beautiful the Scottish Highlands are, you probably have too.  Well, it’s true.  And it is a rare beauty that is hard to describe in words.  So let me tell you about it.

IMG_2900The landscape here is one altered by millennia of human interaction.  The hillsides appear naturally barren, yet the soft austerity is the result of intense forestry and the inability of trees to reclaim the land once they all had been cut down and the hills populated with sheep.  The intensely yellow gorst shrub remains and accents the lonely setting with bands of stirring contrast.  These incredible hills are invaded by the North Atlantic flowing through channels and around islands to create stunning transitions from craggy peaks to dark blue seas and the adjacent loughs.  It’s probably best if you just visit yourself.

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The best thing about the Highlands however is that my old college friend Amy Flowerree lives there with her awesome partner Neil and their incredibly fun daughter Alice.  Their invitation made this week long divergence from our planned route an easy choice.  Not only would we get to see them and the storied landscape, but they also are WWOOF hosts, so we were also able to help out and learn something along the way.

Amy, Laura and Cory outside of the Wagon coffee shop.

Amy, Laura and Cory outside of the Wagon coffee shop.

For more than ten years they have been building up their property with a beautiful south facing home, a “pizza shed” with a wood bread oven, an office for Neil’s business, a cabin/tool shed combo building with a kitchen and room for three people, poly tunnel gardens (hoop houses), an industrial workshop, and an old travellers wagon complete with a wood burning stove and coffee shop.  Most of the buildings have sod roofs covered in grass.

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Amy outside of the tool shed / cabin where most of the WWOOF volunteers stay

Laura excited about green roof technology

Laura excited about green roof technology

Needless to say, it’s a pretty sweet set up they have established for themselves.  Laura and I were excited to be there.  The valley that they live in is opposite the Isle of Skye and there are only three other homes belonging to neighbors scattered about.  Amy and Neil’s house is the only one that is up in the hills away from the valley floor and even still there are five weeks during the winter when the sunlight does not reach their house!  They are about as far north as Juneau Alaska so the sun gets low and the days short in wintertime. We were really impressed with how they are able to be such productive farmers at 57 degrees latitude.

Cory excited about the poly tunnels

Cory excited about the poly tunnels

 

 

The work we did with Amy was pretty fun it mostly included planting and weeding in the gardens and making coffee and baked goods for the wagon coffee shop.  It is hard to really call it work though when the time is spent catching up with an old friend and accompanied by delicious vegetarian cooking and tasty samples from Neil’s craft beer collection.

Bringing brassicas to the new field for planting!

Bringing brassicas to the new field for planting!

Having a good size piece of land is kind of rare in these parts because much of the land is still owned by the local lords who come to vacation for a few weeks during the summer.  Really, I am not kidding – this is Downton Abbey type shit.  Lord Crumley or whatever his name is still owns ALL of the fishing rights to the river that flows through our friends’ property!  Neil and Amy are certainly lucky to have land for farming and community building in this area.

Laura closing the polytunnels for the night.

Laura closing the polytunnels for the night.

Laura putting up a locally made yurt

Laura putting up a locally made yurt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In fact there is a rather nasty history to the place.  In the 18th and 19th centuries the Land Lords decided that sheep were more profitable than tenant farmers and unilaterally evicted most of the people from their lands pushing many families to less valuable land or out of the country completely.  The legacy of these “clearances” is still recognized and often discussed today.  Many families are missing from the land and the sheep still remain.  Despite the absence of humans, you could feel the impact and appreciate the complexity of the human and geologic history that has crafted this space.

Standing on ridge above Amy and Neil's place looking down the valley

Standing on ridge above Amy and Neil’s place looking down the valley

Laura on bike ride to Isle of Skye Ferry

Laura on bike ride to Isle of Skye Ferry

We also had some time for fun and adventures.  One day we rode down to the sea with Alice in tow behind Amy’s bike and stopped at the pub on the way home to meet some of the locals.  Another day Amy and I rode bikes up her valley and then explored this beautiful tiny gorge that wrapped itself around the river for about 300 meters and created two waterfalls.  Along the way we explored ancient ruins and ran into John “The Bird” who monitors local eagle populations.  He told us that he has been at it for 30 years and felt that the birds were almost family to him.  He reported sadly that in that time the local population has gone from five mating pairs to just one.  This news was delivered to us as we stared out the graceful and barren landscape on the high end of the valley.  Looking out we could see many cliffs, rounded peaks, sheep pastures, a few trees, and a touch of sea that waited around the corner.   Heading back to the house I got a real sense of the peace that can be found in this remote landscape.

Amy hiking up river to gorge with hidden waterfalls

Amy hiking up river to gorge with hidden waterfalls

Laura and Amy with Alice in tow.

Laura and Amy with Alice in tow.

Alice and Amy enjoying the sun!

Alice and Amy enjoying the sun!

Our visit to the Highlands was a great mix of good times, fun work and natural beauty.  Like most legs of our trip it left us wanting more.  More time for walking through the hills, islands and peninsulas, more time getting our hands dirty in the gardens, and of course more time with our friends.  But, alas the green hills of Ireland called and we had to answer.

Communication sent from Ireland calling us home.

Communication sent from Ireland calling us home.

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Western Europe Dash – Italy to Scotland, by Sea and Land

(This section of time is actually from April 27th to May 13th, we are working hard to catch up on the recent stuff, and will be posting a lot soon)

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Cory looking out the window on the train to Scotland

Leaving David and Helen’s hamlet was a bit sad, we had spent close to 2 weeks getting to know them, and settling into a routine. But, the road calls, and we had to get to Scotland where we have another WWOOFing site set up, this time with an old friend of Cory’s from college.

So, how do you get from Italy to Scotland with out flying, trying to do as much cool stuff as possible – All in two weeks??

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Beautiful church in Florence

 

First stop was Florence, with both of us being lovers of art, we figured it would be sacrilegious not to stop there. So we took the regional train, booked a cheap pension and had about 24 hours in the city of sculpture, cobblestone streets, and fine food. I think we did it right, lots of walking around, street food during the day, a really nice meal in the evening, that we stretched out with wine, dessert, and Scoper – the new card game we picked up at David and Helen’s.

 

 

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Cory on the Spanish Steps

The next day we rode some more regional trains down to Rome. When searching on line for a hostel, I came across a camping village that is right outside of the city.  It has hundreds of prefab tents already set up and ready to go, and was only 18 euros a night. Can’t do much better then that in a city like Rome, so we dropped our stuff in the tent, and met up with old friends from Stone Soup.

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Stefano and Cory on a 8 story bamboo tower outside the contemporary art museum

Our friend Stefano and his wife, Irene, are originally from Italy, lived in Chicago for a few years, and are now settled back in Rome. They actually helped me out my first year teaching, arranging for a friend of theirs who is a graffiti artist to paint a mural on the wall of our school with my classes. The mural was never able to be completed, but the connection was worthwhile for my students and myself.

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Beautiful graffiti in Rome

 

We spent the evening getting a graffiti tour of Rome with them, checking out the contemporary art museum, and getting a great meal. The next day we ran around Rome by foot, checking out all the popular sites that we had missed during our time up in the hills and out in the country.

 

That evening we collected our things and rode a train to the outskirts and got on a boat to Barcelona! The boat was much cheaper than the trains, but not quite as cheap as flying would have been. We opted to not get a cabin to sleep in, so we dozed in the seating room, and when we woke up we used the money we saved from that to buy spa passes, and spent the whole next day in the exercise room, the sauna, and hot tub that looked at the turquoise water of the Mediterranean Sea. Our faux cruise ended with a huge spontaneous but choreographed dance session put on by a Spanish high school glee club coming back from a field trip to Italy – pretty much the best possible welcome to Barcelona.

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On the boat, Rome to Barcelona

 

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Gaudi park in Barcelona

Then, Bracelona! We spend almost a whole week here. The first few days we stayed with a good friend of Cory’s dad, Denis Shanahan. He is living in Barcelona with his partner and their nine-year-old daughter, Caroline. We had some great conversations and meals with them. Highlights would be Cory teaching Caroline how to skateboard, checking out Gaudi’s Park Guell, and my favorite, going to a small singing session in a pub. Denis sang a few beautiful songs from Iteland in both English and Irish, and I sang a couple of my favorite John Prine songs.

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our great couchsurfing hosts in Barcelona

 

The second half of the week we stayed with a couple that we met through the couchsurfing website. They were a great couple, from Moldova and Barcelona, we had some good meals with them and they took us out on the town a bit.  The weather warmed up as the week went on and we soaked in the sun on bikes, checking out the city and the beaches.

 

And, of course, the reason we came to Barcelona in the first place, for Cory to see a football game! Our good friend Roy’s brother, Willy helped us out with this. We ended up with free tickets for great seats to see Barcelona vs. Betis. They won, and even I, who have no interested in soccer at all had a great time.

happiness is a red a blue flag

happiness is a red a blue flag

The day after the match we got on an overnight train to Paris. We had an amazing time in Paris, staying with Cory’s good friend, Andy Feldhammer’s cousin, Jeff. Jeff lives in downtown Paris in a cute little apartment with his wife Perrine and two-year-old son Milo. We spent the couple days we had wandering the winding Paris streets, visiting the Musee D’Orsay, walking around the river Seine, one of the bridges connecting the left bank to Notre Dame is covered in locks! I don’t think you’d be able to fit anymore if you tried; each lock has initials of lovers who have locked their love to the bridge and thrown the key in the water.

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Bridge in front of the Notra Dame in Paris, full of locked love

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Best meal in Europe

Besides all the wonderful things that make Paris wonderful, we got some extra wonderfulness with our connections with Jeff and Perrine. Jeff is a food and wine writer for Time magazine and other publications, the first night we arrived they offered to cook us dinner. It was the best dinner we have had in Europe yet. Roast duck legs, fluffy potatoes, and a beautiful salad with local greens, marinated eggplants, sun dried tomatoes, and almond slices. In typical French style we finished the meal with a cheese plate, followed by a dense chocolate cake with coconut ice cream. After filling our bellies we stayed up late talking about living abroad and raising a multilingual family. We really hope to see them again someday, such great people!

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The tower bridge in London

 

After two nights in Paris, we took a train through the Chunnel to London. It was so strange, the UK customs we’re on the 2nd floor of the Paris train station, so we arrived in the UK before leaving the European mainland. After a speedy, pretty train ride we arrived in St. Pancras International train station. A group of community organizers from all across England we’re finishing up a training downtown and a bunch of them met us at the station to talk to us about what they have been up to. It was neat to see such a large group of newer organizers chat about things they are excited about.

 

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Inside the Globe theater

After the meeting we met up with our friend Steve, who has been living in London for the past 7 years. We spent the next two days sleeping in his swank apartment and riding bikes around the city. Highlights were, checking out the houseboat scene on the small canals, catching The Tempest at the Globe theater, grabbing standing tickets in the yard for 7 bucks, and running through the Tate Modern, which was free, apparently all museum in London are now free. After our 2nd day we rounded up our stuff and headed to the train station once again. This time heading even further North, to Kyle of Loch Alsh in Scotland.

IMG_2740IMG_2836The train ride up there was the best of our European train experiences. We had a 2 berth sleeper, slept soundly as we rolled north, woke up to snowy landscape with the sun beating down on the white hills. We switched trains in Inverness and had a 4 hour ride in the middle of the day through the Scottish highlands, it was more breathtaking than many of the New Zealand landscapes we came across a few months ago. High mountains, vast lakes, rocky hills, with a few houses, sheep and other animals scattered in between.

In Kyle of Loch Alsh we were met by Cory’s good friend, Amy Floweree. She drove us over the Isle of Skye to her beautiful farm where we spent the next week settled in one place, enjoying good food, wonderful people, and a bit of healthy work. (more on that week soon)

Enjoy the photos of some of the highlights below:

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The Reason We Went to Spain

Inside Camp Nou. We got there early because I was so excited about how good our seats were!

Inside Camp Nou. We got there early because I was so excited about how good our seats were!

Hey Everyone! This is Cory.  Years ago when we started planning this trip, I said to  Laura that if we are going to go to Europe, we need to go to Barcelona; primarily, because the Futbol Club of Barcelona has been my favorite team for at least ten years.  Their payers, strategy, and ability to play the beautiful game embody most everything I love about the soccer.  Their stadium is the largest in Europe and if we were going to be near during futbol season, I insisted that we get a seat in it.  To my surprise, Laura was a great sport about the whole thing and has worked with me to make this dream possible.  (Our time in Spain has been great, but that is a different story. I am here talking about the Match between Barca and Betis that took place on May 5, 2013)

So there we were, walking up the street towards Camp Nou with tickets in our hand.

Flying the flag! Yes we own this now.

Flying the flag! Yes we own this now.

Outside Camp Nou.  Notice Andres Iniesta behind me and that the tickets look like credit cards

Outside Camp Nou. Notice Andres Iniesta behind me and that the tickets look like credit cards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The week before the invincible Barca had lost big time to Bayern Munich in a two game series.  The winner moved onto the final of the European Champions League. In the days before the match we had felt disappointment in the air.  But hey, we showed up on the day of the game and people were feeling the spirit, albeit the crowd was a bit subdued.  Our tickets were excellent seats and we got comfy pretty quick.

Laura smiling at a futbol game!

Laura smiling at a futbol game!

Laura has never been interested in soccer and this was the last best possible chance I had to get her interested, amazing seats in the most famous stadium in the world… and the results? No dice… However, Barca’s Camp Nou when packed to capacity can hold 99,000 people – about three times the size of Wrigley Field in Chicago.   Now it wasn’t at capacity but the place was energized and crowd quickly got into the game.

Dani Alvez crosses the ball to David Villa for Barca's second goal.

Dani Alvez crosses the ball to David Villa for Barca’s second goal.

I’ll spare you the play by play but I will say that my good friend Aaron Shaffner always gets excited when the lesser team scores first– it means the better team is forced to step up their game.  Well this happened and we weren’t disappointed.  Barca had to come back from being one goal behind two separate times and in the end won with four amazing goals accompanied by assists from some of my all time favorite players.  Here are the highlights, if you want to get into the feeling.

Messi enters the game

Messi enters the game

Perhaps the most exciting point of the game was when the coach decided to sub in Lionel Messi (best player in the world) the atmosphere got electric – you could feel the fans getting excited.  He stood on the sideline waiting for an opportunity to come in and this arguably unsettled the other team so much that they were scored on by David Villa – who turned out to be the player subbing out to allow Messi into the game!  Within minutes Messi scored again.  It was classic good guy futbol and we enjoyed every minute of it!

Messi scores of set kick after being in the game for three minutes

Messi scores of set kick after being in the game for three minutes

Thanks to everyone that made it all happen!  Specifically Roy Maddock and his brother William.

Laura cheering for Barca victory

Laura cheering for Barca victory

happiness is a red a blue flag

happiness is a scarlet and blue flag

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