London: The Ultimate Drawn-Out Adventure (Part 4)

We met up with the ‘rents in London (yep, still in London) and went to Borough Market. It had a lot of great food to buy, stalls to wander through, and weird vegetables to look at. Some of them, like this fractal-y cauliflower thing, were just too cool not to take pictures of.

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And then there was the food, most beautiful of which was the German sausage and Indian food.

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London: The Ultimate Drawn-Out Adventure (Part 3)

Next up in my London adventure was a day with my sister, seeing all the Big Famous Things. First stop? Big Ben of course!

Between the buildings we could even see the London Eye, also known as the Millennium Wheel. The giant Ferris wheel looks cool, but was just too expensive and far away to be worth the time.

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For those who don’t really know anything about those big famous buildings in London (besides, of course, that they’re big and famous), Big Ben is the clock tower attached to the Parliament buildings: the House of Commons, and the House of Lords. IMG_0751

I hadn’t realized how beautiful and ornate the clock on Big Ben really is — probably because it’s so hard to see all that gold detailing in photographs. Lucky for you, I got a zoomed-in picture, which does a slightly better job.

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Next to Big Ben is, of course, Westminster Abbey.

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After taking out pictures, we strolled over to the Churchill War Rooms, which has a really wonderful and slightly interactive walk-through of the underground bunkers where Churchill and other leaders strategized and lived during the war, as well as a museum of Winston Churchill’s life. The museum really creates a whole experience out of learning, and I definitely recommend it. Even the cafe serves WWII era foods, which are “rationed” throughout the day if the kitchen runs out of ingredients.

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If you go, however, keep in mind that most of the entrance fee is actually a “voluntary donation” and you don’t have to pay as much as they’re asking for.

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Across the street from the Churchill War Rooms was a cute little park, with an even cuter cottage.

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After the Churchill War Rooms we made the long walk over to Buckingham Palace. Now, to be perfectly honest, I expected to a lot more “wow”ed by this famous building than I actually was. It’s gorgeous, to be sure. But it looks a lot like the government buildings in Washington, D.C., and isn’t quite as impressive as the Palace of Versailles, which I had visited just a few weeks prior.

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London: The Ultimate Drawn-Out Adventure (part 2)

After touring the Tower of London, we took a walk along the River Thames (pronounced “tems”).

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We passed a lot of pretty cool things, like this “hovering” statue street performer:

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And this fountain, which raises and lowers it’s water “walls” so that you can stand inside without getting wet:

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Then we went mud-larking. That is, of course, the entirely professional, technical name for the activity. The banks of the Thames are home to tons of interesting finds, including tons of pottery fragments from even a few centuries ago. People in London used to use the Thames as a kind of ultimate trash pile for roof tiles, dishes, and other odds and ends that weren’t useful anymore. Today you can distinguish a piece of pottery’s age by the color of its glaze. Most recent is red, then blue, and then green.

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London: The Ultimate Drawn-Out Adventure (part 1)

You may have noticed that I never actually posted my pictures from London. I went three different times, and kept thinking that I’d post them all together… later. Well, now it’s later. So get ready for all the London stuff you never knew you wanted to see. First up is the Tower of London, circa September 2014. IMG_0633

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Pretty, right? Well it gets better. At that point the grounds crew and a whole load of other people (volunteers?) had just started setting everything up for the massive art installation to mark the first day of British involvement in World War I. IMG_0618

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One ceramic poppy was “planted” for each British military fatality during the war. And outside of being a hugely visible way to mark the date and number deaths, it was also an absolutely beautiful means of remembrance. IMG_0625

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The inside of the Tower of London was also pretty neat. We jumped in line to see the crown jewels right away, before all the midday crowds swamped the place, and it was a very good decision to do so. Afterwards, we snuck into the tail end of a tour group that was just starting out, and got to hear about almost everything. IMG_0627

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Happy Holidays to One and All!

My blog posts may be way behind, but I did actually look at a calendar (or maybe someone mentioned it) and noticed the rapidly approaching winter holidays. So I’d like to wish you all a very merry whatever-you’re-celebrating. I, for one, will be lighting Hanukkah candles and exchanging presents beginning tomorrow night — and maybe y’all will get a post about the perfect fried potato pancake recipe (my dad’s, duh) later on.

In related news, there’s a great new blog that I’m very excited about called A Home for the Holidays which collects and posts anonymous letters for people without welcoming families. Christmas time has the highest rate of suicide out of the whole year, and I think if everyone knew just how much they’re wanted on this earth, we could change those numbers. I encourage all of you to write a short letter and welcome a stranger into your hearts this year. After all, what else are the holidays really about, if not spreading the love around a little?

P.S. – If you don’t have a tumblr to submit with, you can send me a message and I’ll get it posted for you.

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Someplace Unpronouncable, Wales

After leaving Ireland, we spent a few weeks in a lovely small town in Wales. Don’t ask we where exactly, but possibly somewhere near the Brecon Becons, and it probably had a nigh-unpronounceable name. That’s all I got, folks.

It sure was pretty, though.

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 There was this cool bench made from old pieces of wood. It was pretty awesome, and I probably would have sat on it if not for the risk of bugs (seriously. I can’t even sit on grass anymore.), and the fact that it had just rained. And no matter how cool the bench is, no one wants to be walking around with damp pants. (I was going to clarify “pants = trousers” for you non-American folks, but then I realized the statement really works either way.)

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Unlike the US, Wales has life preservers prominently placed near every large body of water. In fact, I’m pretty sure I saw them throughout the UK. This one had a bird nesting in the warm, protected hollow created by the life preserver’s stand.

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Near the lake was an amphitheater made of earthen bleachers and a large “stage” in the shape of a pig.

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I couldn’t resist taking this picture. A town nearby is apparently called Ysgwyddgwyn. And if anyone who isn’t Welsh can tell me how to pronounce that without looking it up, you get a prize. (Except giving out prizes after discriminating on the basis of Wlesh-ness would be kind of unfair. So you get a cute picture of something Welsh, probably. Posted publicly. Because everyone deserves cute things.)

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I couldn’t let you go without seeing a picture of normal Welsh weather — I mean, you didn’t think all those sunny pictures were normal, did you? They were taken during one of the half-day breaks in the rain! We even had one day with hail, shown here.

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 This last set of pictures has a bit of a back story. Well, first off, they’re pictures of pretty clouds. I like clouds. I appreciate them so much more after a year of blank white skies from air pollution in China. But I didn’t realize how much of an effect those blank skies were having on the people around me, who didn’t get to leave them at the end of the year.

I was hosting another team English competition in one of my 10th grade classes last Spring; all of the students were frantically trying to name blue things: blue notebooks, blue pens, blue jackets, and so on. It took a few minutes to get all their answers up on the blackboard and correct grammar. When I was done tallying the points I took a look at all the answers and told the students they’d forgotten one — the sky! It was so obvious to me, I couldn’t imagine why they hadn’t said it. Surely a student at my old high school would have gotten it immediately. Finally, one girl raised her hand and said hesitantly, “but teacher, the sky is white.”

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“In Dublin’s Fair City…”

In Dublin’s Fair City
Where the girls are so pretty
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone
As she wheel’d her wheel barrow
Through streets broad and narrow
Crying cockles and mussels alive, alive o!

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Molly Malone is one of the most famous residents of Dublin — though some would argue that she’s not there, and never has been. Molly is one of the city’s great myths and the subject of Dublin’s unofficial anthem; a poor fishmonger who died of a fever, and whose ghost continued to hawk her goods long after her death. Some historians say she may have lived in 1600s Dublin, and while there is no definitive proof that the song was written about a specific Molly, there were certainly many women with similar life stories. Today Molly Malone stands on Suffolk Street, still waiting for someone to buy her goods.

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After hanging out with Molly, we took a stroll down through Temple Bar. Now, to be clear, Temple Bar is the name of a specific bar, as well as the street it stands on, and the district containing that street. The district is known around the world for it’s fabulous night life, and the bar itself pays homage to the original Temple family owners with a couple of neat plaques.

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But Temple Bar isn’t the only place with nice signage. This next sign is possibly my favorite for it’s sheer practicality.

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This next one takes the cake for awkwardness. I don’t know who chose the name of this drug, but they may want to reconsider.

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We took a quick stop to watch a street artist…

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…and then it was off to bed.

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Cliffs, Castles, and Churches (Bus Tour #3)

Next city on our British Isles whirlwind tour was Galway, Irealnd. Galway was also the home of our third, and final, bus tour. So. Here we go!

Our first stop was Dunguaire Castle in Kinvara. It was a pretty nice, picturesque stop, with just enough time to run up to the castle and peak inside. Climbing up to the ramparts cost extra, though.

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We parked next to some cute little mostly-authentic Irish cottages.

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 On our way to the next stop, we passed some great views:

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Next up was Corcomroe Abbey. There’s a cemetery outside, and most of the church itself is in ruins, as you can see from the lack of roof. The one section with a roof is the chapel, and our tour guide’s brother actually built it! According to our guide, his brother is very protective of that roof, so Roof Builder Man, if you;re following the Corcomroe Abbey roof, don’t worry. As of September 2014, it’s totally fine, and very pretty.

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                                                              Can you find me?                                                                         (I had to run around the back and partially climb up the wall to get this shot. That grin is actually my gritting my teeth as I do one very long pull-up.)

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…some more gorgeousness…

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Our guide took us to an pre-Roman European ring fort that happened to be along our route. We were actually supposed to stop at a different location with all the other tour buses, but because of the amount of rain we’d had recently, it would have been totally flooded. The fort, for defensive reasons, was on top of a hill, and thus perfectly dry.

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Our next official stop was at Poulnabrone Dolmen, a neolithic portal tomb. Now, that top piece is pretty dang heavy. How do you think people got it up there without modern technology?

Think about it, and I’ll tell you the answer two pictures from now!

IMG_1386IMG_1388Have you thought of a good way of lifting that stone on top of the others? Well actually, the original builders didn’t lift it at all! They actually erected the side stones, and then build a huge earthen ramp — a small hill, if you were, right behind the side stones, and simply pushed the top stone up the ramp and into place!

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Stop number five was Leamaneh Castle. It’s been around for a while, and has been owned by a descendent of Brian Boru (probably the most famous king of Ireland), Henry VIII, and “Red Mary” who may or may not have frightened Oliver Cromwell into leaving her and the surrounding area alone by marrying one of his soldiers and then throwing the new husband off the roof.

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We passed through the town of Lisdoonvarna, famous for it’s annual matchmaking festival. Young people come from all over the country–and sometimes from other countries as well–to find their perfect match. However, the man who runs the festival also happens to own a pub in town where many of the events are held. So basically the whole festival funds his pub. Not a bad business strategy, if I do say so myself.

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Lunch. Finally. We stopped in Doolin and got Irish lamb stew, which, according to our tour guide, is pretty much the only dish Irish people eat Irish sheep in. The rest of the sheep get exported.

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And then the main attraction: The Cliffs of Moher.

Be careful! According to these signs, people do some pretty stupid stuff. First of all, don’t climb over the wall. Or the cliffs. Or, you know, just don’t climb things.

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Second, don’t run off the edge of the cliffs. Or, possibly, balance on one foot right on the edge. You may cause a small avalanche and possibly fall to your death.

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On one side of the cliffs is tiny O’Brien’s Tower. Cornelius O’Brien was a descendent of Brian Boru who was an early believer in the economic power of tourism. He built the tower for select visitors to stay in; it later became a popular viewing platform. Unfortunately, there is now an extra fee to go up to the top.

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If you walk along the right side of the cliffs for a while, you reach a farm. You don’t actually have to stop there, though. You just can’t sue the farmer if you die of cliff or cow.

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On our way back to Galway we passed another castle. There are a lot of castles in Ireland, ok? They’re just everywhere.

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Last stop was at these beautiful rocky cliffs. Some people had trouble walking on them, but the view was worth it.

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Market Day

On our last day in Belfast we went to St. George’s Market. It’s a huge room filled with booths selling food and crafts, and if you like markets (like I do) then it’s the place to go in Belfast.

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Lookout Point

Belfast city center has a lovely little look-out point at the top of Victoria mall (inside). After climbing up approximately fifty-bajillion stairs (read: about six staircases), you read the viewing platform. Of course, if you’re lazy, you can take the elevator.

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Some of the surrounding roofs are “green roofs,” meaning they use sustainable methods to lower their environmental impact. The ones below have grass planted on the roof to absorb runoff and add insulation. In other cases they might be covered in solar panels.

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