Saturday, July 25

Home again, home again

I'm not quite sure what I refer to as home, besides America really. I've now been here for a week.

I spent the first 3 days in NY state about an hour north of the city with a guy that I'd met online. We had a really great time. However, even though our email conversations are incredible that "thing" that I was hoping for in person, just wasn't there. So back to the drawing board for the whole wanting to be married sometime in my 30s thing. However, the weekend was still fantastic and I wished that we lived in the same city so that we could hang out more.

Our three days were really fun. We met in Newark's aiport and headed to this dive Italian restaurant in a neighborhood that's a bit ghetto (although this is how I'm inturpretting most of Newark to be). Anyway, we had some great spaghetti and meatballs and wine served in water glasses. We asked for red wine and the only question was "You want that chilled or room temperature?" I'd never realized that was even a question...

Then we drove out to our B&B for the weekend, the Alexander Hamilton House. This place was great. Tons of information in narrative form about what to do in the area. We took our host's advice on our first full day and headed out to an incredible outdoor museum, Storm King Art Center. Think of all the cool art of Burning Man without having to be covered in playa dust.



T and I

At the end of our walk we ended up at a pavilion having a piano, violin and cello concert. Perfect.

Then that night we went to Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Ever since reading about this place on Kayaksoup's blog, I've wanted to try it. Holy fuck was that expensive. You all know me, I'm totally willing to spend money on food and spend it we did. However, I have to say that it was incredible. Truly a once in a life time meal. The restaurant is situated on a working farm. Almost everything your eating from vegetable to animal comes from the farm. We went with the 8 course farmer's feast and wine pairing, because if you're going to do it, then you should go all out, right? The presenations were incredible, service was spot on. Our only complaints was that in one course we couldn't really taste the pancetta due to the overwhelming presence of sesame seeds and that face bacon is a bit disappointing. It's funny now going back to L's blog to see that we had identical starting amuse bouches. Which would mean they've been serving them for over a year.... boring! Below are some of my photos, but her's are better, so go look.

Loved the first presentation:
All lightly salted and perfect.

Zucchini in a die
Slightly disappointing course. But I love that it's a die that's been skewered.

The next day, I woke up stuffed and maybe just a bit hung over. It was a low key day. We started by checking out the Croton Dam. This place is huge.


And while we were there empty. It was lovely to wander around. We saw some berries I'd never seen before (anyone?)

What is it?

After that T induldged me and we went out to a book store so I could get the next book in the series I'm reading (The Liveship Trilogy by Robin Hobb, I'm addicted). And then decided to do a tour of West Point. I'd never have thought of doing this. However, I really enjoyed it. It was pretty and I learned a lot.

Million Dollar View

Marching Cadets

We ended the day with a movie and a new Scrabble game. Darn near close to a perfect day.

And now I'm back in the Heartland with my family. I've been with my parents in Waynseville, Ohio, where their antique store is. My mom induldged me (I'm so spoiled, really) and made stuffed cabbages. Relatively easy, but a pain with all the rolling. However, with the two of us working together it went pretty fast. And was super delicious.

Cast of Characters for Stuffed Cabbage
In my kitchen, those would be Penzey's spices, however, I don't actually have any dried onion or garlic salt. In the past I've used fresh onion, but I think the concentrated flavor in the drying is necessary.

Currently I'm at my cousin's place in Amherst, Ohio. Last night I saw many aunts and uncles, a few cousins and their spouses and a 2 year old second cousin who's got a charming personality. It's great. But I don't want to live here.

The constant question has been, "What will you do after Russia?" All I can answer with is "move." At this moment in time I'm thinking Vancouver, Portland, Asheville, France, Spain or Italy. As always, I won't know until the minute I've decided.

Friday, July 17

Planes (2), Trains (3) and Automobiles (1)

Due to my super advanced planning and then plans being changed, I ended up having to fly from Scotland to Dublin, Dublin to London, taking a train from Gatwick into London Center, the tube to Kings Cross and then a train to Peterborough so that I could catch a bus to Oundle. The worst part about all that was that in trying to get into the tube, the gates closed on my bag while I was pulling it and the handle snapped off. So the rest of the day I was having to drag around my 17 kilo bag with no handle. Terribly annoying.

Nonetheless, after roughly 12 hours of travel I made it to Oundle. "Where?" You say or might say if you could figure out how to pronounce the town's name. It's north and a bit east of London. It's really cute.

OUndle School Great Hall

And that's about it. I was there to learn how to better use a math graphing software in my class. And while I learned how to use the software better, I can't say that I'm really that much more ready to use it while teaching. But my goal is to use it often next year. So we'll see how that goes.

I've also been slogging away at my masters course. Almost done!

And tomorrow I fly to America. I can't even begin to describe my excitement... So I won't.


I was very lucky to get to spend 5 lovely days in Kilcreggan, Scotland with the family C.

Family C

They live directly in front of the Clyde River Estuary surrounded by hills. Though it takes a while to get there by car due to the location of the bridge, a 10 minute ferry ride gets you across the water to the town of Gourok and from there it's a quick connecting by train into Glasgow. I wasn't expecting like Glasgow, but it was lovely!

Glasgow Train Station
Train Station

Willows Tea Room
Willows Tea Room

Glasgow MoMA
Glasgow MoMA
Somehow it was asking to be photographed in black and white.

They also took me out to Loch Fyne. The drive alone was gorgeous, but upon reaching our destination we went to an oyster bar and then a micro-brewery. Hello, perfect day. I was sad to leave, but a conference awaited me.


Ireland, Day 6

Day 6 in Ireland found me solo as Nat left on a 7 a.m. flight for Paris. Rather than exploring the city of Dublin, I instead headed south on the DART to the sea side town of Bray. From there I hiked along the cliff out to Greystones. Rather than stopping in Greystones, I hiked back to Bray. It was stunning.

Cliff Walk

I was alone practically the whole time, though occasionally passed other walkers. It was the perfect way to spend my last afternoon. I returned to the hotel early as I had an early morning start the next day.

Ireland, Days 4 and 5

Another driving day. After breakfast we walked over to Muckross Abbey to take photos. Then back in the car. We took the indirect route along the coast so that we could go see a ring of standing stones that date back over 1,000 years! They weren't nearly as tall as I was hoping for, but when you think of how old they are, it was pretty incredible.

Then it was driving, driving and more driving. We stopped in at a pub for a great lunch of lamb and mushroom pie and by 6 had made it to our final b&b, Ballyogan House. This is owned by a co-workers aunt and uncle and is gorgeous. We're out in the country and it is lovely. However, being out in the country meant driving into town for dinner. Boo, no beer for me. Food was meh as well, we went to a restaurant, definitely should have stuck with pubs! What was really unfortunate is that our hosts had dinner plans and we couldn't have dinner here, I think that would have been lovely. We've already seen the chickens out back and we're excited about fresh eggs for breakfast.

And indeed, breakfast was good. Better than the eggs though were Fran's homemade jams and marmalade. We left soon after breakfast and headed to Dublin where the afternoon and evening was spent with friends of Nat's. It was a good day, though not really remarkable.

Sunday, July 5

Giddy-Up, Ireland Day 3

First about our pub music. It was just "meh." We were hoping for raucous Irish pub music and instead, heard a version of "When You Say Nothing at All." Which is a song I happen to really enjoy, so hearing it with an Irish accent was fun, but we left shortly after that.

We woke up early and headed over to O'Sullivan's riding stables for our 3 hour trail ride. Nat got a smallish girl horse named Ginger, I was on a slightly bigger boy horse named Mystery. Nat's was lazy - all day "Come on, Ginger. Let's go!" and mine was a pig trapped in a horses body - he ate everything that was in sight. If it even looked like we were pausing his head went down often pulling me with him. He especially liked the ferns. But it was fun, and beautiful. We rode on trails that wound down to the castle and along the lake. There were also loads of people walking, this is really a pretty great place. We also go to trot for a bit, those are the parts I liked best.

It was pretty amazing to me how the landscape changed. Dense forest, rolling hills, to golden fields that reminded me of the midwest.

The four of us

It almost looks like Kansas

Ross Castle

After our 3 hours we could barely walk though. For me, the outside ligaments of my knees hurt for Nat, it's her spine. I'm not quite sure what part, but likely because it took her a while to figure out trotting so she was jostled around a bit, that and she has no ass to provide any cushion.

We headed into town, inadvertantly actually as I missed a turn somewhere, but along the way we saw an Aran sweater outlet, so of course we stopped and are now each the owners of an Irish sweater.

We had a late pub lunch that included watching rugby with a whole bunch of Irish folks. Man, that game is violent! Super violent! The Nat napped while I finished my homework (I'm taking a summer course for my masters, Inquiry into Learning. It's pretty great, but way more work than I want to be doing on vacation!)

Then, we had a chill night of going to see The Hangover. Go see this movie now. It was so funny, I cried throughout and almost peed myself at one point. Really, really funny. I'm impressed, as I thought it'd be funny, but then thought, "Who can write a script that will be funny throughout?" Well, apparently Jon Lucas and Scott Moore can!

Saturday, July 4

Sheep Run

Sheep Run
Originally uploaded by Traveling Em
The Prettiest Denny's Waitress has been inspiring me to take more video. This is of an agitated, "fatty" (Nat's description) sheep just outside our castle. Loads more photos up on flickr. Go look!

Friday, July 3

Kakashka Way - Ireland Day 3

One of our goals for Ireland was to go hiking. Originally we'd planned to hike the Wickwillow Trail hiking between b&b's. However, as you know, this is the start of my summer and I have to be packed into one small rolling bag for a variety of climates. No room for rain gear, really. So we nixed that idea and decided to just rent a car and hike on the nicer days. This didn't stop Nat from being very well prepared, she's equipped with hiking boots, rain pants and a rain coat. Me, I've got my rain coat (luckily I still have it!) and I brought my hiking sandals to wear on days it might rain so that my feet get wet and then dry again. We're an amusing pair.

Today at breakfast we were discussing our plans with Brigid. She was a wealth of information. She advised us that since it looked like it would be a nice day, we could take a boat trip across 3 lakes and then walk the Dunloe Gap. She told us it was about 7 miles and very manageable if you're at all fit. So we start with our breakfast first course, rhubarb compote with a bit of yogurt for me, porridge for Nat and ask her to book us seats on the boat. By the time we're done with that it's pouring rain. Pouring - cats and dogs. She comes out with our mains, full Irish for me, scrambled eggs with smoked salmon for Nat,

and says, "Ok, maybe we'll wait until 9:30 to book." By the end of breakfast the rain has stopped and we decide to go for it. The boat trip was great. A small boat with 6 passengers and 2 guides (1 official, Rory and 1 in training, it appeared).

Ireland is really everything you read about and dream about. It's green everywhere. There are hills and mist and big clouds. You know why leprachauns, sprites and fairies come here to recharge their magic.

Note all the horses in the pictures? Well, for those who want to see the gap but are physically incapable of doing the 7 mile walk, you can get a ride in a horse. The path the whole way is paved and wide enough to accomodate the carriage. And as such, the whole way is also covered in kakashka (Russian for you know what).

Tonight, we're planning on going to a pub for dinner and to hear pub music - smoke free! Yep, I'm loving Ireland.

Notes on Ireland - Day 2

This was predominately a driving day for us as we went from our castle in Wexford over to our next B&B in Kilarny:

View Larger Map

However, before we headed out, we spent an hour or so walking around near the castle and discovered some horses living near by.

Then it was on the road again. We headed through Waterford, home of the crystal and stopped at the visitor's center. The chandeliers and trophies were the most impressive:

I also tried to change money but apparently no one in Ireland, Bureau de Change or Banks, will change 100 dollar bills as they've had a rash of counterfeiting. I have never had this happen before. And of course, I'm traveling with dollars as I still have no ATM card. Luckily Nat changed a bunch of rubles to Euros before we left so I've been able to pay for our lodging with my credit card and use her as an ATM.

After a very boring lunch, we were off again. The drive was slow and a bit frustrating as we seemed to get stuck behind every tractor on the streets of Ireland. And then g00gle maps gave us the most direct, but longest in the sense of time, route. We traveled for about 10 km on a small back road, terrified our b&b was in the middle of no where and we'd have to retrace the road to get to dinner, we arrived to discover we were 400 m from the main road and a pub. Our latest b&b, Friar's Glen is also lovely. It's definitely more modern, we have a big room that doesn't smell like old, but the hosts are lovely.

We headed off to the close pub for a quick dinner of Irish stew and beer. And by quick, in both of us ordering the Irish stew, it arrived in less than 5 minutes. The meat was super tender, potatoes were not mushy but the broth, was well, broth, not a thick gravy as I'd expected and it needed salt in a bad way.

Thursday, July 2

Ireland, Day 1

Day one of vacation. Yes, I've been on vacation for two weeks technically and have already had a great trip up to St. Pete's, but that still didn't really feel like vacation. Nope, that feeling is just now starting to sink in.

Nat and I got up at 3:30, the school sponsored ride was coming at 4 to take us to Domodedevo (my favorite Moscow airport). Right as we were getting into the car, Nat realized she was flying out of Sherymetevo! Thank goodness she didn't get in the car with me as these two airports are way far apart from each other.

The story of my flights has been moved down below, to Ryan Air Rants. Long story short BMI to Heathrow bus to Gatwick and eventually get on my flight to arrive in Dublin. Nat arrives within 10 minutes of me via Paris and finally things are starting to look up.

And that continues. We have a great car rental experience at Dan Dooley (highly recommended). At Dublin's airport, after you exit customs just to the right are all the "big" companies, Avi5, H3rtz, etc. However I'd booked online through Payle55, not just for shoes anymore. Well, turns out they're actually run through a local partner, Dan Dooley. I show up to the counter and the woman is playing Tetri5 on some sort of hand held device, so out of touch I am, I can't even tell you which one. I actually have to clear my throat she's so into it. Anyway, she looks up, clearly having just offered directions all day and I say I have a reservation. After a look of mild surprise (yikes, that can't be a good sign...), she's very helpful, gives us a LOWER rate with all insurances and theft protection thrown in. After a coffee we head to the rental site. My first thought, "wait, the drive on the left here?!" (duh!) Quickly followed by, "Oh, god, the car is a manual transmission and the steering wheel is on the right!" I'm scared, as I'm our only driver (Nat says she's going to learn and get her liscence this year, at 30, but obviously there's no need in Moscow). However, relatively quickly, I adapt and we're off. Traffic sucks getting out of Dublin, but in just over 2 hours, we've traveled 134 miles to Killiane Castle for the night.

It's so lovely here. We're currently down on the southeastern side of Ireland in Wexford. Our castle room is small, but totally functional and the bed is really comfortable. Nat's first comment, "It smells like old house." And it's true, everywhere sort of does have a slight odor, but the place was built in 1470! Our window over looks a field of cows, it was just delightful. So it was right around 8 pm in Ireland when we arrived, 11 pm in Moscow and we were starving. We ask if they have dinner and they do not, but she advises us to head back to the main road. "The tavern in the hotel actually has really good food." Well, y'all know me and my food. As soon as she says "hotel" and "restaurant" in the same sentence I am skeptical. But we could walk (about 2 km, but I was done driving) and it had food, the only requirements at that point.

In the end, We had an INCREDIBLE dinner at the Drinagh Court Hotel! You could either order off the menu, or they had a condensed version of their menu, from which you could take 2 courses for 20 euros. This was the far cheaper option (in some cases cheaper than ordering just the single main off the menu). We took both of their soups - a cream soup of the day that turned out to be vegetable for Nat (yes, she was eating veg, but it was after all, cream based and her only requirement was that she wanted hot food) and the Atlantic seafood chowder for me. We also both ordered a pint of beer, Guinness for her and Smithwick's Ale for me.

The soup arrived scaldingly (made up word) hot and I can't even describe just how good it was. The chowder was full of seafood and highly seafood flavored without being fishy, topped with lovely contrastingly flavored croutons. Nat's soup, even though it was vegetable, was equally as tasty for her and since I always love veg, great for me as well. Along side came Irish soda bread with soft creamy butter. I could have died and gone to heaven right then.

But then our mains came. I had ordered the sizzling Schezwan duck breast and sizzling it was. It came on a red hot cast iron pan and smoking like crazy as there was so much sugar (I assume) in the sauce. But boy was the meat tender and the sauce, though sweet, very flavorful. Nat ordered the steak, which we had to send back as it was over cooked, but when the second one arrived she dived in and loved it. However, we each preferred our entrees to the others. Along side came choice of potato and veg. We chose "mash" and "garlic". It was enough food to feed an army. Really we could have just gotten one of the potato sides and definitely that would have been the garlic. Lovely au gratin garlicy potatoes. The veg side was (previously) frozen peas, cauliflower, squash and carrot (BLECH!), I ate all the peas from both and most the cauliflower. Nat took one bite of carrot to verify for me before I ate it and that was all the potato she ate. I felt bad as the portions were so huge (American sized) that we left more than half the food behind.

Ah, so nice. We followed up with a brisk walk back because at 10, the sun was fading and there are no street lights on the small road leading to our castle. It was heaven sleeping at night, window open, sound of rain and this morning of birds greeting the day (at around 5). It's still raining, but it's so lush and green and after all, it's Ireland, so no complaints from me.

This morning's full Irish breakfast was also lovely. My favorite part being a rhubarb compote and clove spiced apples from the granola bar:

Ryan Air Rant

I had a BMI flight to Heathrow, she was on Air France to Paris. In each of our cities we would then catch a budget airline to Dublin. I don't know what I was thinking. I bought a Ryan Air ticket (absolutely, no way, EVER again. FUCK YOU RYAN AIR) that went out of Gatwick. I don't know why I didn't look harder for a flight out of Heathrow. I guess I didn't think it would cost me almost $40 to catch a bus there.

Anyway, I get there. And promptly forget about my rain coat on the bus. Thankfully I remembered within 5 minutes (as opposed to the usual 2 days later) and further the bus hadn't left, it was in the car park! Phew.

Rain coat (and hoodie!) retrieved, I go back inside and am now able to check in. I was 4th in line, get up to the desk, hand over my passport, try to check my bag, only to be told that I hadn't prepaid for this. But, I was so certain I'd prepaid to check my bag, why wouldn't I have done that? I think what happened was I'd assumed it was the 9.50 x 2 "airport handling fee" because what else would they be handling if not my luggage. Oh, and then I also had to pay another 9.50 (all pounds) to check in at the desk because I couldn't do it online as I'm not a British citizen. So I go to the desk and ask the guy to look up my reservation, so certain was I that I'd paid for a bag. He says no. So then I look on my computer (I knew this new toy was good for something) and shit bag, no I really hadn't paid. So then I tried to pay online (10 GBP as opposed to the 20 airport fee) but of course I could only buy it for the return. So I had to go back to the second guy and pay the 20 pounds. I hand over my credit card, the one I'd just used to buy the return baggage and it doesn't work. Frustration level at a maximum especially as I still don't have an ATM card (remember last year's mugging and the bank refusing to send me a new one, well, I'll finally replace that this summer). So I whip out my cell phone, call Chase who says, "Oh, did you tell us you were traveling?" YES, 3 DAYS AGO. Grumble. Anyway, it all finally gets paid for and I check in .