Keep St. Johns Weird-er

Since we moved out of the hustle and bustle of downtown to the ‘burbs of Portland and squarely into the quirky neighborhood known as St. Johns – named for a hermit who first settled the Peninsula.  It is said that he was a quiet, saintly man — and also that he didn’t frequent the local brothel — earning him the nickname Saint John.

One of the mottos that any visitor or newcomer to Portland hears over and over is “Keep Portland Weird”.

yep…it’s weird alright.

Portlanders are very proud of their city’s reputation for eccentricity and declare the statement broadly on entire building walls.   This propensity for odd behavior manifests itself in the behavior of its citizens.  It’s like we have all decided to flow through life listening to our own beat and expect you to do the same.

There’s just something about this town that’s so wrong in all the right ways.  Never fear Portland — you are in no danger of losing your bell-ringing weird status!

The funny thing is that if Portland is weird — St. Johns has to be the bacon dripped salaciously over the majestic maple delight donut of weird.  Thank you Voodoo.

You see — St. Johns has just a little something something — extra-especially weird.  It’s hard to describe.  An odd blending of old, new, down-on-your-luck, newly made middle class, and re-gentrification mish-mashed together and centered around a downtown core of tiny Mom and Pops and ubiquitous dive bars.

Just like a nice breakfast blend on a foggy morning, all the flavors of St. Johns come together nicely — creating a sum total greater (and weirder) than each individual.  So I guess the St. Johns’ rallying cry should be “Keep St. Johns Weird-er”!

What a Marvel…

In preparing for our European adventure, we put one city on and took them off the list several times – unsure if we should visit or not.  It is Spain’s 3rd largest city and not one of Rick Steve’s Best of Europe.  We did, however, enjoy Samantha Brown’s episode describing the amazing aquarium and science museum and the fantastic paella to be had there, so we headed to Valencia after visiting Barcelona.  We stayed in a really great, modern studio apartment just outside the city center but accessible to everything via bus.   We took two days exploring the city and checking out the sites and then headed for our big day at the museum.

The aquarium was really well done and basically deserted when we went so we had plenty of time to check out the animals.  We marveled at a fish we had never seen before swearing it looked like it was half-eaten and missing parts but really cool in that – I can’t look away from it’s grotesque but really intriguing body – kind of ways.

Sunfish - looks kind of like a huge clam...

Sunfish - looks kind of like a huge clam...

We saw some really cool exhibits and liked the way they did the tunnels overhead – the jellyfish – and the dolphin show.

cool fishies pic in one of the tunnels

cool fishies pic in one of the tunnels

cool medusas (as they call them in Italy where we swam with them - yipes!)

cool medusas (as they call them in Italy where we swam with them - yipes!)

I know, not sure how I feel about this one but at least the dolphins looked engaged and like they were having a good time...and yes, Maylene's camera operating skills are mad to be able to catch them in mid-air.  I swore I couldn't do it, so she took over and showed me! ;-)

I know, not sure how I feel about this one but at least the dolphins looked engaged and like they were having a good time...and yes, Maylene's camera operating skills are mad to be able to catch them in mid-air. I swore I couldn't do it, so she took over and showed me! 😉

Next, we were off to the science museum with high expectations after the really pretty well-done and very modern aquarium.  We were definitely not disappointed by the architecture or enormous size of the facility.

exterior of the science museum

exterior of the science museum

It was definitely spacious and perhaps, maybe even a bit too large because it didn’t seem like they really had a handle on the exhibits.  There were a few hands-on, interactive ones that would work especially well for kids.  We couldn’t help cracking up though over the largest exhibit of all – the Marvel Comics one.  It was cool but basically a big advertisement for the comics and many of the displays were broken.  Bummer – decent effort but maybe a little more in the delivery!  Unfortunately we didn’t even make it to the ono paella – we were too excited by our in-house kitchen and the prospect of cooking our own food to eat out.  The paella had to wait.

our wonderful, modern kitchen

our wonderful, modern kitchen

Poh-ta-gee Revenge!!

So in a way very much like Montezuma’s Revenge wreaks havoc on the poor, innocent traveler to Mexico, Maylene and I have fallen wickedly prey to da Poh-ta-gee Revenge in Portugal.  We have both been stricken by food poisoning (we think).  I had it for five days and Maylene is now on day 3.  I think the worst is over for me but hers just keeps progressing.  It’s kind of crazy.  Tons of pain and lots of mad dash races to the bathroom!

where we spent most of our time...

where we spent most of our time...

Couple that with the fact that we had no internet access in our rooms – that we had to use the lobby – and we’ve fallen dreadfully behind in our posts.  We hope to catch-up over the next few weeks, so please bear with us.  And while you’re at it, send nice healing thoughts to Maylene – I know they’ll help her feel better.

***Update*** – we are definitely both better and yes, Maylene’s symptoms lasted for five whole days as well.  Yuck!

They’re Harmless…Really…

When booking our hotel room in Madrid, there were a lot of considerations – as always.  A strong one was that since I couldn’t find availability anywhere – including our hostel – for Fri/Sat night, we could only stay for two nights and we needed to be in a central area.  I chose a “cheap” hostel near the Gran Via metro stop just off of the Puerta del Sol – one of the main squares of the city and a chill destination – conveniently where the Self-Guided Tour of Madrid from Rick Steves’ Best of Europe begins.

Rick had let us know to expect prostitutes in Madrid so we were prepared for it and he assured us that they are harmless.   Indeed, they are — but I nearly hurt myself laughing so hard after Maylene told me she was propositioned on her way to get us dinner.  LOL!  Good times!  And there were sooooo many of them working all hours of the day and night.  Anytime that we were awake – they were too – and working the street below our room.   Great people-watching from the 2nd floor balcony!

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view down the road toward Puerta del Sol

view from our balcony - the friendly prostitutes usually work right below this window

view from our balcony - the friendly prostitutes usually work right below this window

Knowing that we couldn’t find accommodation in Madrid, we decided to head back south (where it’s warmer) and found a room in Malaga.  We pre-booked it and would be charged in full if we did not arrive due to cancellation restrictions.  When we arrived at the train station, we needed to buy a seat reservation since the trains require them in Spain (for the most part).  This is all very normal and we’ve never really had problems obtaining same-day reservations.  After first waiting in the (relatively short) but very wrong line – we found the right information center and the very chipper woman behind the counter nearly gleefully informed us that all trains leaving Madrid and heading to Malaga were completely and utterly booked today.  All day.  All of them.  The outlook for tomorrow wasn’t very good either.  That’s like 8 train loads of people per day heading to Malaga.  You see, she said in Spanish and I’m paraphrasing — it’s Fiesta on Monday, so everyone is heading out of town.  And apparently into town too.  Crazy.

We freaked out just a little and then decided to check out the bus stations.  We grabbed nearly the very last seats on the last buses leaving for Malaga – a 7 hour ride away and arrived 30 minutes delayed at 22:30.  Oh yeah – I’ve mostly converted to 24-hour, Euro time.  And you know what has freaked me out more – yesterday I completed a US-based online form yesterday and input the date as 19/12/09 – the European standard — HAHAHA!!

Playing High Roller in Monaco Baby!!

Before beginning our journey vagabonding around Europe, we knew we wanted to go to Monaco — Maylene’s “things-to-do-before-she-dies” list included playing a round of blackjack there and we wanted to visit a tiny country – we’ve missed them all so far except for Monaco!

When I began searching for a hotel, of course I found that they are all VERY expensive.  That’s why it was so nice to be able to use one of our Welcome Rewards nights to stay at the Fairmont Hotel Monte Carlo.  It is the #1 hotel in Monaco on TripAdvisor and ironically enough, I worked my Server Assistant butt off at the Brown’s Beach House restaurant of the Fairmont Orchid hotel in Hawaii many moons ago, so it was a nice bit of self-satisfaction to be able to stay at one of the properties – even if only because we earned a free night to do so.

The hotel was impeccable and the service excellent.  More than that though, we were super-impressed with our room which overlooked the Mediterranean Sea and included a balcony with table, 2 chairs, and chaisse lounge to really enjoy it.

the view from our balcony looking left toward Italy

the view from our balcony looking left toward Italy

Having “splurged” on a taxi to get there (rather than walking/public transit as we always do) — we had read in the marketing materials that it was situated on one of the F1 turns and it definitely was — so you had the most amazing cars driving around the turns, tires squealing – shifting gears — but the inside of the hotel was super quiet.  In fact, we didn’t notice until much later that our room was built on stilts driven into the water and that a multi-lane road ran underneath our hotel.  From our spot on the fifth floor, all we could hear was the crashing of the waves beneath us.  Perfect!

side view of the hotel on stilts over the water

side view of the hotel on stilts over the water

road running underneath the hotel - looks like a Project Gotham Racing map section!

road running underneath the hotel – looks like a Project Gotham Racing map section!

The in-house casino had just what we needed to check off that bucket list.  While there were only a few blackjack tables open and the cheapest was 10 euros per hand (we watched someone dropping 500+ euro per hand on Casino War — nuts).  Not only did we play – on the cheap table of course – but we ended UP 40 euros – primarily because Maylene ROCKS and racked up the chips, more than doubling her money – you do the math — yes, I lost most of mine — haha.  We quit playing when we (ok, really it was mostly me) became too tired at around 1:30 in the morning but made sure to catch the gorgeous sunrise before enjoying room service breakfast.  What luxury!!

Sunrise over the Mediterranean Sea

Sunrise over the Mediterranean Sea

Speaking of luxury — we saw some of the most humongous yachts in the Monaco port.  They were incredible.  I had to ask Maylene if they were cruise ships or yachts! =)

here's two of the "cruise ships" from where we stood on the dock

here’s two of the “cruise ships” from where we stood on the dock

here are those same two ships but closer for detail

here are those same two ships but closer for detail

hey look -- it's the Mickey yacht!

hey look — it’s the Mickey yacht!

check-out the name of the luxury yacht parked in Monaco's marina

check-out the name of the luxury yacht parked in Monaco’s marina

...sigh...

…sigh…

Nice…it’s nice…

We were so happy to arrive in Nice after spending so much time in Northern Europe.  This part of the French Riviera is right on the coast and has a broad promenade with a pebble-beach where you can soak in the sun.  At least 10 degrees warmer than in Paris, we wore short-sleeves and loved the vacation from sweaters and scarves.

from our vantage point on the beach looking East toward Italy

from our vantage point on the beach looking East toward Italy

from the beach looking West as the sun set

from the beach looking West as the sun set

we began with shoes off and pants rolled up...

we began with shoes off and pants rolled up...

and stayed long enough to end with shoes on and pants down...

and stayed long enough to end with shoes on and pants down...

Nice has fun window-shopping (though everything closes at 7) and several theaters so we were lucky enough to find New Moon or Tentation (as it is known in France) two days before it is released in the States — sweet! It was subtitled in French but at least we learned a few new words!

a billboard advertising the movie in the Paris subway

a billboard advertising the movie in the Paris subway

We also had an in-depth conversation with former sailor in the French Navy, Phillipe (~55 years old).  He approached us while we sat on a bench and with cheap beer in hand (of course), proceeded to practice his “American” with us.  Apparently Clint Eastwood and John Wayne are his daily English tutors and let me just say – he had the accent down.  He put us to shame with his excellent skills and we admired his steady hand with the beer.  He’s traveled the North Atlantic and Indian Ocean with the French navy but he’s still 15 on the inside and sleeps with teddy bears.  Most surprising though was that he didn’t want anything from us – just to talk.  Totally random moment.  You just never know.

Where the Magic Happens

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Where the Magic Happens

Is there anything more magical than being in Disneyland on your birthday?  At any age, I contend there’s not.
We had just finished with a wonderful six days of touring Paris and decided to use one of our free nights from hotels.com to stay on the Disney resort at the Santa Fe hotel.  It is accessible to the park via convenient shuttle bus running every 12 minutes.  Perfect!  We weren’t sure when we arrived how many days of free tickets to the park we would have, so we were very happy to learn we had 3 days to explore the two parks.  The first day we focused on the Walt Disney Studio and the first thing Maylene convinces me to ride is the Aerosmith roller coaster.  Anyone who knows me, knows I don’t really care for roller coasters – especially the ones that do loops and cork-screws.  Take me on the kiddy rides any day!  So I decide to go into the coaster entry with her to keep her company and find out it does the crazy upsidedown stuff.  As we approached the front of the line, I seriously considered ducking out but then had my Amazing Race moment where I thought – if I was on the Amazing Race, would I do it?  The answer is, of course, yes because all these other people are doing it – must be okay.  So I did and I even rode it again.  Can’t say that I really care for these types of coasters, but I can handle them better now.  I rode every ride in the park except for the Tower of Terror but I don’t really think that counts.  =)  Space Mountain was definitely scarier in Paris than anywhere else I’ve been including a few corkscrews and a loop.  Maylene had a blast.  All of the pictures taken of me on any of the coasters shows me in sheer terror or quiet zen.  Only exception is to this rule is Big Thunder Mountain – we rode it like six times in a row at the end of my birthday because we wanted to squeeze every minute out of the tickets and Maylene wanted to do something that I really enjoyed and boy do I like Big Thunder Mountain – it’s also the best one I’ve been on with excellent design and a lot of pitch dark moments.  Fun!
We went all out for my special day – princess hat – lunch with the characters and when the little kid nearby celebrated his birthday with a cake, I joined in and pretended all the clapping and singing was for me! 😉  Good times!
Disneyland in Paris is very much like the one in Tokyo or California – doable in a few days and a lot of fun.  The way they made the train station terminate at the park entrance, right next to the shuttle buses made it perfect!  Great job logistically.
Now I guess we’ll have to make our way to Hong Kong and if the timing is right, maybe we can be there for Maylene’s birthday!

Is there anything more magical than being in Disneyland on your birthday?  At any age, I contend there’s not.

We had just finished with a wonderful six days of touring Paris and decided to use one of our free nights from hotels.com to stay on the Disney resort at the Santa Fe hotel (it’s the spend 10 nights in a crappy hotel and use your free night to stay in a fancy one plan).  It is accessible to the park via convenient shuttle bus running every 12 minutes.  Perfect!  We weren’t sure when we arrived how many days of free tickets to the park we would have, so we were very happy to learn we had 3 days to explore the two parks.

Happy Girls

The first day we focused on the Walt Disney Studio and the first thing Maylene convinces me to ride is the Aerosmith roller coaster.  Anyone who knows me, knows I don’t really care for roller coasters – especially the ones that do loops and cork-screws.  Take me on the kiddy rides any day!  So I decide to go into the coaster entry with her to keep her company and find out it does the crazy upsidedown stuff.  As we approached the front of the line, I seriously considered ducking out but then had my Amazing Race moment where I thought – if I was on the Amazing Race, would I do it?  The answer is, of course, yes because all these other people are doing it – it must be okay and there’s usually a million dollars on the line.  So I did and I even rode it again.  Can’t say that I really care for these types of coasters, but I can handle them better now.  I rode every ride in the park except for the Tower of Terror, but I don’t really think that counts.  =)  Space Mountain in Paris was definitely scarier than Tokyo, California, and Orlando with loops and corkscrews.  Maylene had a blast.  All of the pictures taken of me on any of the coasters shows me in sheer terror or quiet zen.

Only exception is to this rule is Big Thunder Mountain – we rode it like six times in a row at the end of my birthday because we wanted to squeeze every minute out of the tickets and Maylene wanted to do something that I really enjoyed and boy do I like Big Thunder Mountain – it’s also the best one I’ve been on with excellent design and a lot of pitch dark moments.  Fun!

Whhheeee...and just my speed!

Whhheeee...and just my speed!

We went all out for my special day – princess hat – lunch with the characters and when the little kid nearby celebrated his birthday with a cake, I joined in and pretended all the clapping and singing was for me! 😉  Good times!

IMG_1651

Disneyland in Paris is very much like the one in Tokyo or California – doable in a few days and a lot of fun.  The way they made the train station terminate at the park entrance, right next to the shuttle buses made it perfect logistically.

Now I guess we’ll have to make our way to Hong Kong and if the timing is right, maybe we can be there for Maylene’s birthday!

The Parisien Biggies

The Parisien Biggies

Eiffel Tower, River Seine Cruise, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Sacre Couer, Latin Quarter
On our very first night in Paris, I dragged Maylene immediately off to the Eiffel Tower and we arrived at dusk, staying long enough to watch the sun set from the middle viewing level of the tower.  It was HUGE!  Absolutely overwhelming in height and base size.  I thought the elevators would take you straight up to the top like the Space Needle, but they actually go kind of diagonally, following along the curve of the legs of the tower. We didn’t go all the way up, mostly because of the very, very long second line to get there but had been told that the second level was the best to see the city with anyway.  It was too cool!  We were inside the tower at the top of the hour when the lights began to twinkle showing off for the tourists.  Just outside of the tower is the River Seine and a selection of cruises that are fantastic at night with all of the Napoleonicly large buildings lit up.  After disembarking from the cruise, we were treated to an even more spectacular light show with the tower showing off it’s myriad of colored lights set to music.  My mouth gaped open the whole time.
From the tower, the Arc de Triomphe looked absolutely enormous and I knew that we would have to see it close-up.  We headed over there one day after visiting the Louvre and arrived at about 18:15.  Luckily for us, it was the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall and they were doing a special honor for the tomb of the unknown soldier who rests at the monument.  It was inspiring to see all of the veterans paying respect to their comrade in arms.  Apparently they do a nice ceremony for the soldier every single day but we were lucky enough to come on a special anniversary.  It is huge by the way but I think that the emotions that filled the monument on that night were even bigger.
Our visit to Notre Dame coincided with Veteran’s Day in the US and in France.  It was really special to be there to see the soldiers preparing for the commemorative service and to be able to buy a poppy of rememberance from a retiree.  The cathedral itself is very impressive.  The many spires and gargoyles make it a joy to behold and we really liked the high gothic arches found in the interior as well as the mini-chapels dedicated to various saints.  We were really hoping to go to the Deportation Memorial just around the corner to recognize the 200,000 French Jews who were sent to concentration camps in Nazi occupied France.  Unfortunately the memorial was closed – maybe they were doing a special thing – oh well.
We spent a lot of time in Paris at large must-see sights and brilliantly interesting museums so we made sure to focus on at least a few neighborhoods to get a better sense of community.  Upon a friend’s recommendation, we visited the Sacre Couer/Monmartre neighborhood one afternoon and found it to be lovely.  We spent time at the neighborhood park just below the Sacre Couer church and watched the local children playing soccer – what ball control!  We only left because Maylene was blessed by a little sparrow and we decided to take the hint before his friends joined in.  We really liked all of the quaint stores and the cool sights laid out before us.  We even enjoyed what I called “crap alley” which is a street that leads to the Sacre Couer and is just filled with low-class souvenir shops and men trying to tie a bracelet on your arm so you have to pay them.  But – I have to say that the crepes were yummy!  Unfortunately they insist upon putting nutella in most everything but we managed to get away with a sugar dusting only and really liked it.  We walked back toward the Pigalle neighborhood and I was only too excited to see the real Moulin Rouge – windmill and all — fun!
We wandered aimlessly around the Latin Quarter after visiting Notre Dame — what a cool place.  Since the establishment of the Sorbonne University in the area in the 1300s (?), it has been a hotbed of revolutionary thought and wide-eyed university students challenging the status quo.  It got its name from all of the students originally speaking and writing exclusively in Latin.  Much of the area is filled with winding, cobblestone streets and tiny restaurants and shops but a lot of them have been paved over – intentionally by the government as a means to prevent the cobblestones from being used as projectile weapons in protest.  I love a little Bohemian, upstart neighborhood like that.

Eiffel Tower, River Seine Cruise, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Sacre Couer, Latin Quarter

On our very first night in Paris, I dragged Maylene immediately off to the Eiffel Tower and we arrived at dusk, staying long enough to watch the sun set from the middle viewing level of the tower.  It was HUGE!  Absolutely overwhelming in height and base size.  I thought the elevators would take you straight up to the top like the Space Needle, but they actually go kind of diagonally, following along the curve of the legs of the tower. We didn’t go all the way up, mostly because of the very, very long second line to get there but had been told that the middle level was the best to see the city with anyway.  It was too cool!  We were inside the tower at the top of the hour when the lights began to twinkle showing off for the tourists.  Oh yeah – and we were only too happy to learn that Team America’s destruction of the tower was included in the video montage starring the iron behemoth.

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Just outside of the tower is the River Seine and a selection of cruises that are fantastic to take at night with all of the Napoleonic-ly enormous buildings lit up.  After disembarking from the cruise, we were treated to an even more spectacular light show with the tower showing off it’s myriad of colored lights set to music.  My mouth gaped open the whole time.

IMG_0692

From the tower, the Arc de Triomphe looked absolutely enormous and I knew that we would have to see it close-up.  We headed over there one day after visiting the Louvre and arrived at about 18:15.  Luckily for us, it was the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall and they were doing a special honor for the tomb of the unknown soldier who rests at the monument.  It was inspiring to see all of the veterans paying respect to their comrade in arms.  Apparently they do a nice ceremony for the soldier every single day but we were lucky enough to come on a special anniversary.  The monument really is huge by the way, but I think that the emotions that filled the monument on that night were even bigger.

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Veterans honoring the tomb of the unknown soldier

Veterans honoring the tomb of the unknown soldier

We’ve had a lot of special moments like that.  In fact, our visit to Notre Dame coincided with Veteran’s Day in the US and in France.  It was really special to be there to see the soldiers preparing for the commemorative service and, of course, to be able to buy a poppy of rememberance from a retiree.  The cathedral itself is very impressive.  The many spires and gargoyles make it a joy to behold and we really liked the high gothic arches found in the interior as well as the mini-chapels dedicated to various saints.

The Cathedral for Mary

The Cathedral for Mary

Gothic interior of the cathedral - 3 stories high

Gothic interior of the cathedral - 3 stories high

We were really hoping to go to the Deportation Memorial just around the corner to recognize the 200,000 French Jews who were sent to concentration camps during Nazi occupied France.  Unfortunately the memorial was closed – maybe they were doing a special thing – bummer.

We spent a lot of time in Paris at large must-see sights and brilliantly interesting museums so we made sure to focus on at least a few neighborhoods to get a better sense of community.  Upon a friend’s recommendation, we visited the Sacre Couer/Monmartre neighborhood one afternoon and found it to be lovely.  We spent time at the neighborhood park just below the Sacre Couer church and watched the local children playing soccer – what ball control!  We only left because Maylene was blessed by a little sparrow and we decided to take the hint before his friends joined in.  We really liked all of the quaint stores and the cool sights laid out before us.  We even enjoyed what I called “crap alley” which is a street that leads to the Sacre Couer and is just filled with low-class souvenir shops and men trying to tie a bracelet on your arm so you have to pay them.  But – I have to say that the crepes were yummy!  Unfortunately they insist upon putting nutella in most everything but we managed to get away with a sugar dusting only and really liked it.

Sacre Couer's "Crap Alley"

Sacre Couer's "Crap Alley"

We walked back toward the Pigalle neighborhood and I was only too excited to see the real Moulin Rouge – windmill and all — fun!

Somebody's happy much...

Somebody's happy much...

We wandered aimlessly around the Latin Quarter after visiting Notre Dame — what a cool place.  Since the establishment of the Sorbonne University in the area in the 1250s, it has been a hotbed of revolutionary thought and wide-eyed university students challenging the status quo.  It got its name from all of the students originally speaking and writing exclusively in Latin.  Much of the area is filled with winding, cobblestone streets and tiny restaurants and shops but a lot of them have been paved over – intentionally by the government as a means to prevent the cobblestones from being used as projectile weapons against them in protest.  I love a little Bohemian, upstart neighborhood like that.

Latin Quarter - in an area not yet robbed of cobblestone...

Latin Quarter - in an area not yet robbed of cobblestone...

Free Derry – no seriously, free Derry already

Before setting off on our Irish adventure, we had identified a few towns and sites that we really wanted to see.  Rick Steves had a show on Northern Ireland and let us know about this little town known as Londonderry.  It had these great murals from an uprising incident sometime in the past and would be an interesting town to visit.  Oh yeah, and the guidebook we picked up mentioned endearingly that it was the only town in Ireland to remain fully-walled with its original safeguards.

Before arriving in Londonderry, we spent a few nights in the town of Portrush and when asked by locals where we were going next, we’d get some interesting responses to “Londonderry”.  One younger woman told me to be careful of going out at night because there are sections of the town that are not safe – and even areas where the police aren’t allowed to enter.  She went further to tell me about the roving gangs of young men playing a game of 7-up in which they select the 7th person they encounter on the street and beat them bloody – two of her friends had this happen to them and lost teeth over it.  But she assured me “it really is a nice city”.  Ummm… Ok…..  Then, when we told our B&B host in Portrush where we were going next, she told us – “it’s a horrible city” and convinced us to stay in Portrush for one more night.  So, we approached the city a bit wary but still interested in learning more about it.

We knew that it was an unsettled city – that it still showed signs of The Troubles – that it was the scene of a clash between London police and civilians in what is known as Bloody Sunday.  We knew that we needed to learn more about all of it to understand the forces that have shaped the city over the years.  Lucky for us, the tourist information center where we booked our B&B placed us right in the center of it all in a neighborhood known as the Bogside and about one street over from where the Bloody Sunday massacre took place in 1972.  We knew we had to check out the area and the Museum of Free Derry.  After visiting and seeing the neighborhood, we’ve never called it Londonderry again.  It is Derry and deserves to be free – free from British rule and a part of the Irish Republic.  Our visit to Derry left an indelible impression on us – we hope that you’re interested enough to learn a little more about it and that you find the images we captured a portal to that understanding.

I know, a bit heavier than our normal post but what can I say?  When you meet the brother of one of the assassinated, it is heavy.

A monument that remains - a testament of the people's will for a Free Derry!  It was once the side of a multi-unit housing development and is now free standing.

A monument that remains - a testament of the people's will for a Free Derry! It was once the side of a multi-unit housing development and is now free standing.

A photo from the Bloody Sunday uprising - this banner is smeared with the blood of an unarmed young man who was shot by the police.

A photo from the Bloody Sunday uprising - this banner is smeared with the blood of an unarmed young man who was shot by the police.

This same banner is on display in the museum - a reminder of the slaughter of 13 innocents that bloody Sunday.

This same banner is on display in the museum - a reminder of the slaughter of 13 innocents that bloody Sunday.

This mural depicts the banner on the ground over the body of one of the boys while another wounded is carried off for treatment with the priest waving the white flag of surrender - he was shot too.

This mural depicts the banner on the ground over the body of one of the boys while another wounded is carried off for treatment with the priest waving the white flag of surrender - he was shot too.

This mural of peace is just over the area where the massacre took place.  The sign next to it calls for the release of people imprisoned without trial indefinitely - a practice that happened to people in the neighborhood since the 1920s.

This mural of peace is just over the area where the massacre took place. The sign next to it calls for the release of people imprisoned without trial indefinitely - a practice that happened to people in the neighborhood since the 1920s.

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In 1998 after years and years of pleading, a report was commissioned on the actions that took place on Bloody Sunday. It was supposed to be released IMG_9659in 2003 and since then has been repeatedly delayed. It is currently scheduled for March 2010 but one seriously wonders if it ever will be - by all accounts, it can only be a damning of the police and soldiers involved showing the blatant slaughter of unarmed civilians.

The Coach Isle

I know, I know — Ireland is supposed to be The Emerald Isle and not the Coach Isle and truly, it is green – very green — there are at least forty different shades of it – just ask Johnny Cash.  But truly, allow me the indulgence of temporarily re-branding the poetic name as is more accurate.

We’ve been on the island of Ireland and Northern Ireland for about two weeks now, arriving first in Belfast in the north and making our way south around the two countries and finally to Dublin.

Before we left Seattle to begin our journey we purchased two Eurorail passes, one universal country that has already been used and the second, a four country pass including Spain, France, Benelux, and Ireland.  What a total waste of money!  There is no real, connecting rail system in Ireland.  We’ve been able to take the trains just twice.  Once from Belfast to Portrush in the north and the second time from Killarney to Dublin – which is where we actually initiated our pass because otherwise it would have cost us nearly 70 euro each for the privilege of the four and a half hour journey.  By bus it would have taken six hours.

Most of the smaller towns in Ireland (and most of them are smaller towns in Ireland) are not even connected by rail whether due to an overall lack of infrastructure or, in Derry’s case, intentional governmental moves to punish them and reward the nearby unionist towns.

We spent a lot of time debating about whether or not to rent a car in Ireland or if we should just bus it.  None of our credit cards would cover car rentals on the island and buying the comprehensive coverage would have doubled the cost of renting.  Ireland has one of the highest per capita number of car accidents and the roads are truly horrendous.  We liked to joke about how they took a one lane road and turned it into two.  When they thought to add a stripe down the middle the road looks just like a bicycle lane.  Seriously.

Watching the tour buses and tourist cars playing chicken was funny – but only when you’re on the tour bus.  Oh yeah and I lost count of how many times the tour bus went around a hair-raising horseshoe turn overlooking a cliff with no guard rails.  To save ourselves the stress of driving and navigating these tiny roads, we opted for public transit and coach tours to see the more remote sites on the island.  Most of the “in-between” rides we had to take took about five hours – yes five hours – on a bus.  Now, I’ve done some bus traveling in my days – about 32 hours between San Antonio, TX and Spartanburg, SC by Greyhound.  But still.  It was a bit crazy and there were times I had to fight back motion sickness but we made it.  We did at least five or six days of straight bus travel with a combination of these five hour journeys on public buses combined with day trips to remote locations that last about eight hours and yes – we paid about the same for all of them – between 23 and 25 euros per person, whether guided or not.

So, I have just a little bit of advice to give.  If you go to Ireland, do not waste your money on a Eurorail pass and think twice or even thrice before renting a car, but be prepared to spend a lot of time on a bus – it is the Coach Isle after all.