365 Daily Prompt: Road Trippin’

You’re going on a cross-country trip. Airplane, train, bus, or car? (Or something else entirely–bike? Hot air balloon?)

The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon

Photo credit

I am definitely a bit rusty on my Blogging since coming home, so it’s time for a prompt to help motivate me! This question is so perfect right now, since I’ve been talking to my friends about travel and I’ve been daydreaming about vacations.

I like to drive, always have. I find it calms me down. I drive a manual transmission 2005 Honda Accord. I like being in control and driving down the freeway with hardly any cars to my right and left. Before I did my 15.5 hour solo trip down to Irvine a few weeks ago, I had only driven 3-4 hours tops. That was with my parents. I did well on that long solo trip though, thanks to my stack of CDs and the trusty GPS.

If I were to embark on this cross-country trip, first I’d want to see Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe in California. I’ve been to Yosemite before, but two hours is rather short and I did not get to see El Capitan. I’ve always heard people rave about Lake Tahoe. I wonder if it’s worth it. This is why it’s on the list.

My next stop would be the Grand Canyon, in Arizona. The views are breathtaking, I’m told. From here I would travel to the South: San Antonio, Texas for something deep fried to eat, then listen to some good jazz at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, and see Savannah, Georgia, the city John Berendt wrote about so eloquently in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Finally, and I’m not sure how I would get there, I would spend some time in Boston, Massachusetts and learn more about our nation’s history and then I would go to New York City, New York.

Yes, this trip could be wildly unrealistic, but it certainly covers all the places I still want to see in this amazing country.

What do you think? Does it sound exciting enough? What is your ideal trip, and what mode of transportation would you want to take?

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Jennifer Jopson: Lessons From Travels Abroad

My guest blog for Jered on Live Declared.

Top Five Irish Adventures

Traveling to Ireland soon? Are you struggling to pin down the sites you want to see? Consider these places for your trip. You can visit them all in a week!

1. Glendalough, Co. Wicklow
Known as the “glen of two lakes”, Glendalough boasts a scenic landscape that is hard for anyone to resist. The Upper Lake is a nice place to take pictures and skip rocks, and the walk to the 6th century monastery is both peaceful and mysterious. The graveyard is interesting, as several of the tombstones are indecipherable due to their age and St. Kevin’s Cross and the Round Tower are part of Irish folklore. Glendalough is also kid friendly, as there are grassy areas with natural features to scramble around on. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a hike up to the waterfall. I highly recommend the Wild Wicklow Tour–my guide was friendly, flexible and knowledgeable. You’ll see much more than Glendalough itself.

The monastery at Glendalough is utterly charming.
The monastery at Glendalough is utterly charming.

2. O’Neills, Co. Dublin
One of the most handsome, traditional pubs in Dublin, O’Neills is a gem that not every tourist knows about. It’s not far from St. Stephens Green and Trinity College. O’Neills is a great place to meet up with friends or to soak up the ambiance–they do traditional music every night and the food is pretty impressive. The Carvery is excellent (come hungry!) and the main menu offers something for everyone. While you should also experience Temple Bar, if you like to get away from hordes of people and always wanted to hear traditional music in a pub, this might be the place for you. I took my study abroad friends here and since then we’ve all returned numerous times.

My favorite place to unwind in Dublin.
My favorite place to unwind in Dublin.

3. Galway City, Co. Galway
You haven’t seen Ireland if you haven’t been to Galway in the West! They hold the biggest arts festival in the country and 20% of its population are college students. The main city is walkable–you can see most of it in two hours. Don’t rush, though, as you’ll want to enjoy a meal here and listen to street music. They have a farmer’s market, several fun shops and some beautiful attractions. The Spanish Arch area out by Galway Bay is a must-see, as well as Galway Museum right behind it and the Galway Cathedral close by.

Galway has an artsy feel: do not miss out!
Galway has an artsy feel: do not miss out!

4. Connemara, Co. Galway
Words can’t really express this place. The views are incredible. Driving around the peat bogs and seeing the idyllic-looking horses in the tall grass is essential to the Irish experience. My family drove quite close to Connemara National Park, which I hear is a must-see as well.

Take the Sky Road in Connemara for an awe-inspiring experience.
Take the Sky Road in Connemara for an awe-inspiring experience.

5. The Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare
Though the Cliffs are probably the most popular tourist destination in Ireland, they are stunning. You can take a hike along the cliffs, called the Burren Way–for hours if you like. I had two hours to explore the Cliffs, and it was plenty of time for me. I would’ve liked to walk along the Burren Way for a considerable amount of time, but since I was on a tour I made a point to take photographs I’d love and study the various angles of the Cliffs. A word of caution: people do fall off the Cliffs, so stay AT LEAST three feet away from the edge. I’d double that amount in the event of strong winds and rain, because you have a higher chance of losing your balance and slipping. Just use your common sense and don’t risk your life for a picture! I recommend the Wild Rover tour for those of you who will not drive in Ireland: you’ll get two hours at the Cliffs, some time to stretch your legs and enjoy The Burren and two hours in Galway. The guides are fantastic, and the value is excellent for the price. I took the Wild Rover tour to Belfast, the Giants Causeway and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which I also recommend because unlike the Cliffs, there are no stone barriers at all–you get to walk around it all.

Pick a clear, sunny day to visit the Cliffs of Moher for the best views.
Pick a clear, sunny day to visit the Cliffs of Moher for the best views.

Thanks for reading! Please share your thoughts: did I miss something people have to go see? What was your experience like in Ireland?

Parisian Getaway

As I sit here listening to jazz, I’m content to reminisce on my two-day trip to Paris this week. It all went by so fast, but my friend Sangeeta and I made the most of it. Our goal was to see the main sights, try a few pastries and get an introduction to one of the most famous cities in the world all within our budget. Did we succeed? I think we did.

While Paris is a lively hub and has beautiful architecture, to me it is too large to love it all. The Louvre and the occasional street corner are special, but in general there are too many tourists and shopping districts. Also, it seems like most of the large buildings (hotels and apartments) try to outdo each other and don’t succeed, as they look similar and thus lose their magnificence. Since spring has just begun, the flowers are sparse and the trees are still dead. If I came later in the year, my impression of Paris would probably be different.

The Louvre, Musée de l’Orangerie, Eiffel Tower and the many delicious desserts were my favorites. Each site has a unique feel to it: the Louvre is stately and very well composed; I loved the endless rooms and its warmth, Monet’s waterlilies in the Musée de l’Orangerie mesmerized me and I noted the individual, muted brushstrokes and how they contributed to the vitality of the entire composition. The Eiffel Tower was grand and close to what I expected–the walk from the Metro to the tower itself was suspenseful, because it took five minutes to get there and it seemed like we should have been there already. Though we caught glimpses of the tower during the day, seeing it at night and going all the way to the top was a treat. It was worth the wait. Finally, the food: I tried the chocolate-filled beignet, glacé and the Nutella and banana-filled crepe. If I could study gastronomy in Paris, I would!

As for the French, I was continually surprised by their hospitality and kindness. We talked to two nice people who helped us navigate the Metro and around the Palais du Luxembourg. Out of the four restaurants we went to, only one owner was truly nasty to us. (We sat down for a moment to consult our Metro map and the owner kicked us out of our outdoor table when all the other tables were empty).  Overall, though, I found myself saying more “mercis” and “bonjours” than I thought I would.

The next time I visit Paris I plan to sit in one of the many gardens for a few hours and enjoy the sun. I will spend time walking around St-Germain and the Latin Quarter, two places I’d want to see more in-depth. I’d want to do day trips out of Paris, and have a picnic (maybe do a hike?) I also wouldn’t mind buying inexpensive gifts for friends, drinking chocolate, eating pain au chocolat and a huge baguette, and window shopping for fancy clothes and shoes. I’d like to make the effort to learn a few French phrases and pronounce the words right, too. Someday I’ll make it happen.

I won't forget the smell of those crepes.
I won’t forget the smell of those crepes.
The difference between reading about one of the greatest pieces of architecture in history and actually being there is incredible. No picture can replace the experience. — in Paris, France.
Eiffel Tower. The difference between reading about one of the greatest pieces of architecture in history and actually being there is incredible. No picture can replace the experience.
Louvre Pyramid and fountain
Louvre Pyramid and fountain
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel looking out at the Louvre pyramid — in Paris, France.
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel looking out at the Louvre pyramid.
Cellist playing sweeping crescendos in his song, before we hit the Jardin des Tuileries — in Paris, France.
Cellist playing sweeping crescendos in his song, before we hit the Jardin des Tuileries.
The Louvre
The Louvre
Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral

I’ll leave you with some other photos of the trip. There are so many things to see in Paris, and if you go I recommend staying for more than two days. Take time to enjoy the city and indulge your senses.

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Belfast: A Divided City

What one can appreciate about Belfast is that it doesn’t lay claim to any one thing. It has a walkable city centre and all the modern conveniences a tourist could want. Impressive architecture pops up in the least likely of places–the Titanic exhibition near the port (next to the cranes and the storage sites), the huge mall called Victoria Square which is lovely lit up at night and too posh during the day. There is a deep, reverberating sadness about the place because of its violent history, particularly the Troubles. In short, Belfast is not a cookie cutter of a city.

I spent two days in Belfast and while I didn’t love the city I was certainly curious about it. I had heard that the Black Taxi Tour was a must, and so I made sure to go. For two hours my small group and I experienced the rougher parts of town in the safety of the British black cab. Highlights of the tour include Shankhill Road, Falls Road and the Peace Wall. The Shankhill and Falls Roads are Protestant (Loyalist) and Catholic (Unionist) areas, respectively. Large murals and small communities make up these areas, and the Peace Wall separates the opposing sides. Now, I am no expert at all with Northern Ireland’s history, but I do gather from what I’ve read on the subject and from the conversations with Irish people and on the Black Taxi Tour that the Protestant and Catholic conflict is not merely religious. It’s political by nature and though the violence is not what it once was 30 years ago, there are still tensions and riots. Our cabbie and tour guide was excellent and gave a pretty even view of both sides of the conflict.

After the tour, some of us decided to get lunch at the Crown Bar in the city centre. The Crown Bar is Northern Ireland’s most famous pub, and one of my goals was to get inside and eat a delicious meal there. Unfortunately we didn’t anticipate a 40-min wait to sit down at an upstairs table so we left and went to Brennan’s Bar across the street. It worked out perfectly! Not only did we have a huge, cushy table to sit at and interesting conversation about the rules of rugby, but just before we got our food we saw four Scottish men come in wearing kilts. Priceless moment. Brennan’s wasn’t the first pub we went to that weekend; the night before we did a pub crawl with the whole student group on the trip–so around 100 other people. I’ll never forget my conversations with my new friends, the locals and the dancing they convinced us to do!

To make the trip even sweeter, we went to Carrick-A-Reed Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle and Giants Causeway, all in North County Antrim. Fantastic weather, too. I wasn’t so sure the rope bridge would even be open, since the wind was blowing hard earlier in the morning. After bouncing around on a wobbly bus for over an hour, I was grateful to stretch my legs and walk on the windy trail up to the rope bridge. As far as rope bridges go, this one takes the prize! It’s one thing to see pictures of something but quite another to experience it for yourself…there was no way I was going to miss it. The Irish Sea bashes against the rocks here, and it can unnerve some people who look down and see the action. But I was ready and pleasantly surprised to find that the bridge was quite sturdy and that the view didn’t scare me. I marveled at the bridge’s simplicity, the oddly shaped grass on the side of the cliffs and the threat of the elements. A person standing on that bridge is vulnerable whether they are comfortable standing or not. It’s a thrill, really. Dunluce Castle stood in ruins, and the most interesting thing about it was the number of people who fell down on the slippery grass on the way to snap a picture. Thought for sure I would fall, but I didn’t. Giants Causeway was incredible! I liked the hike–a series of hills, stairs and then the paved road that led to the Causeway itself. Sea foam sprayed up in big clumps in the first few minutes while we stood and watched at the shoreline. The waves rushed in, powerful and white. We got to climb all over the famous hexagonal, basalt rocks and wonder how they got there in the first place.

All in all, it was a special weekend here on my trip abroad. If you decide to go to Belfast and see North County Antrim, you will learn about an important influence in Irish Republic history and explore the rural beauty of part of the United Kingdom.

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Daily Prompt: Local Flavor| The Etnian Way

Write a piece about a typically “local” experience from where you come from as though it’s an entry in a travel guide.

Hold onto your maps and hats, folks, and make sure that you are indeed in the middle of nowhere. If you’re driving and have passed the Callahan area on N. Highway 3 Road and slow down and see an “Etna city limit population 759” (or, if you drive past Yreka, to Fort Jones and continue on 6 miles), you’ve made it. If you continue a short distance down N. Highway 3, make a right and pass Dotty’s Korner Kitchen, you’ve gone too far.

Welcome to the small and beautiful town of Etna, CA. For our purposes, let’s say that it’s in “extreme Southern Oregon,” or just 90 miles south of the border and in the true, splendid wilderness area in Northern California. From any direction on the outskirts of town you will see fields, ranches and farming animals, hills, trees and absolutely no malls. This landscape makes up the gentle Scott Valley that its citizens call home.

What will you spend the day doing here? Well, first of all, take the time to breath in a little fresh air. Get out of your car and go for a walk around town. It’s hot and fairly sunny with a slight hint of wind at your back, which is the ideal walking temperature. Go up the main drag and wave to everyone you meet. (They’ll wave back, we promise). As you continue up Main St., stop by the fruit and vegetable stand and then cross the street and stop at the Scott Valley Drug & Soda Fountain, where you’ll be treated to the very best Dreyer’s hand-scooped ice cream.

From there, take a right down Diggles Street past the post office and the health clinic and continue until you are intersecting Howell Ave. Etna High School will be to your right, but your destination is to the left, at the Etna City Park. Work your way over to the entrance. Wow, what a crowd! There certainly are a lot of cars and people out today. You know, because today is the start of the Scott Valley Bluegrass Festival. The annual event is quite popular and that’s the main attraction for you today–you heard about it from a friend of a friend, and realize you want to be here to see it all for yourself. In fact, this cultural identity is oftentimes a draw for out-of-townees.

Sure enough, the banjos and harmonicas are working up a frenzy and there you are standing in the midst of a huge crowd that cannot get enough of the band on the stage. Take a front row seat, and then later get up and dance to the music. When it starts to hit late afternoon-early evening, ditch the party a little early and do some scenic driving up to Etna Summit. There are at least six lakes past the summit, and you decide to go to Taylor Lake, the spot a dancer with a tambourine told you about at the bluegrass festival. Look out at the lake and watch the sunset. No cars, no hum of the city life…it’s just you and nature now.

Come back down off the mountain when you’ve seen enough. Drive back into town and go to the Etna Brewing Company to finish up the night. Do enjoy a bowl of robust Porter chili (it’s the best) and wash it down with a recommended specialty beer. Take the locals up on the offer to buy their company T-shirt.

This is the real Etna. Thanks for visiting, hope you come again soon!

Photo Credit

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