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An apartment in Paris

Our flight to Paris was short and no frills. The seats were cramped and they charged for all food, even soft drinks (Aer Lingus). We ended up in mysterious Terminal 1 to pick up our bags. I’d seen the round terminal from the plane and wondered what it was–as no planes were parked against it. That Star Wars plane is just passing by.

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Turns out it’s a doughnut, with the hole in the middle filled with escalators!

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Inside of Terminal 1 is open to the sky and full of escalators. R. gets the photo credit.

We took the RER to Chatelet les Halles, and hard a hard time getting a cab but then – straight down rue du Rivoli! Paris!! I felt so happy to be back. No offense to Dublin, but it ain’t no Paris!

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This isn’t a great photo, but the point is, even a crappy view from a cab (with the driver’s hairy elbow) includes the Eiffel Tower, an obelisk, a fountain, a metro sign, the Grand Palais, cool streetlights, a statue of a lion, and SO MUCH PARIS.

Our apartment was on a street with fancy, high-end stores and a $$$$$ hotel, but the building itself was pretty run down. The inner ground-floor door had badly cracked glass and was permanently unlocked. The elevator barely fit two people so the rental agent took our bags up and we went up after. When he moved our bags to open the front door, a piece of baseboard fell off. The wall outside the apartment was patched and stained.

Inside, the apartment was fine. Spacious as promised, with furnishings in good repair, original if slightly sad art on the walls, and a kitchen with all the basics as well as a dishwasher and washer and dryer.

theapartment

I worked at the desk there in the back all week. It was a good setup.

The bathroom was a student art project gone wrong, with mirrors on all 4 walls including the inside of the shower, and the whole place stank of mildew. Seriously, when you are in Paris eating croissants you do not need to see your belly reflected into infinity in the shower.

Unfortunately the master bed really was a double. Truth be told, I had a hard time finding an apartment (at the last minute) and I looked at so many and all had weird beds – like you could tell they pushed two twins together. I ended up looking for two bedrooms because the ones were sold out, and tried to get one with a real king but the owner didn’t respond.

So there we were with a small double. R. was not happy. I struggled all week to figure out how to sleep on it. I basically stuck to the edge and tried not to move.

I had to get to work the moment we arrived because it was Monday, and Monday was a work day. The desk was perfect, big and deep and fit my monitor…ugh. The monitor. Chagrin. I have a monitor I bring with me when I travel. It fits perfectly in my suitcase. I surround it with shoes and rolled up shirts and top it off with my pillow and…I forgot it. I had to buy another one in Dublin and have it delivered to the hotel.

I worried about how I’d deal with being in Paris and being shut in and working, but it was a relief. Being a tourist is exhausting. I was tired after Dublin. Running back and forth to the conference, fitting in sight-seeing in between panel sessions, figuring out what to see, when things are open, how to get there, etc. and then being hungry and tired and trying to find food that doesn’t suck…day after day. Also I don’t like to be gone from work so long that I lose track of what’s going on and lose my “work brain.”

I worked from 3-10 (the internet was great) and got my head around things after not checking in at all while we were in Dublin. R. ordered great Thai food and we ate and chilled at home.

Tuesday I woke and went out early for a pre-work walk – and damn I was happy to be back! Paris is so pretty and just so Paris! I hadn’t been in five years. It’s hard to remember why I like it so much when I haven’t been in so long, I just knew I did, and the moment I stepped out of the apartment it hit me all over again and I was so happy.

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Filming in progress on the Pont Alexandre III just down the street from the apartment

Of course it’s the style. It fits together so harmoniously, and in large part due to the renovation by Haussmann in the mid- to late 1800’s. Previous to that, if this quote from Wikipedia is to be believed: “In 1845, the French social reformer Victor Considerant wrote: “Paris is an immense workshop of putrefaction, where misery, pestilence and sickness work in concert, where sunlight and air rarely penetrate. Paris is a terrible place where plants shrivel and perish, and where, of seven small infants, four die during the course of the year.”[2]

The odd thing is I wouldn’t like this style anywhere else. I don’t, in theory, like bridges with tall columns with gold deities atop them, but I like that here. I wouldn’t put a wrought iron railing on my balcony at home but in Paris I’m charmed.

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What I also like is that the city is alive! Yeah, I like the unified style, but they aren’t afraid to do modern as well. Everyone seems to acknowledge that they are living with a partner with a very strong personality – and they work to incorporate the present not apologetically but boldly. (Pompidu Center, pyramid at the Louvre, new Les Halles).

I dunno why this surprised me but Paris is overrun with scooters and shared bikes, just like San Francisco. I thought the special historical bubble would mean Jump bikes weren’t laying all over the place but there they were! I’m not opposed to this as I immediately signed up for a 7 day pass to Velip, the bike service equivalent to the rental bikes I use at home. I loved biking around. It made the city so much more accessible. Plus it was hot and walking in the beating sun is no fun, but biking was great! There are a fair number of protected bike lanes and more are being built. There are also protected bus-only lanes where bikes are allowed. The oddest bike path was a half-mile (?) long former tunnel for cars that ran underground along the Louvre. Super creepy with just me riding through it.

scooters

Why I “love” Paris

How I came to love the idea of Paris is probably typical for many U.S. suburbanites who live in bland cities with little history or grandeur. In fourth grade I began French class. Previous to this, I had no concept of life as it might exist outside of California. A faraway trip was to Los Angeles or Lake Tahoe. Strangers were people in cars you weren’t supposed to talk to. When I got my French textbook, I was amazed by the black and white photos of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and people wearing berets and riding bikes with baguettes in the basket. Add to this they had a whole different language? My mind was blown.

Our French teacher, Madame Holden, was very French, with a heavy accent and a tendency to burst into tears when we were bad – which was often.

A mashup of romantic Paris scenes wormed it’s way into my head through books, movies, and art/art history. Part turn-of-the-century belle epoque drinking and dancing, part 1920’s literary cafe scene, part modern day lovers strolling the Seine with a bottle of champagne – I can’t think of any other city (even New York) that lived so actively in my imagination. I almost forgot – Babar, my favorite childhood character, lived in Paris.

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After college, I saved money for a year and then went on a six-month study abroad – of course in Paris. It was my first trip to Europe, and I was beyond nervous. I remember emerging from the Metro at Châtelet Les Halles and being amazed as St. Eustace (a Gothic church built in the 1500’s) rose into view.

My time in Paris and environs was everything I dreamed it would be, but what is funny is that I barely spoke to a French person the entire time. I was terrified of being revealed to be an American. They were worldly and cool and I was not. I walked the streets day after day and soaked up the atmosphere, more ghost than person, especially given I didn’t have much money and couldn’t afford to shop or eat out (breakfast and dinner was included in our dorm lodging).

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Anyhow, the point is, my love of Paris was and is aesthetic and superficial, but so what? What’s the harm in innocent enjoyment of a place? I love San Francisco, which is beautiful, but I’m also caught up in local politics, annoyed by persistent problems like disruptive construction and streets with potholes, etc. Regular day to day stuff that you don’t know about or notice as much as a tourist. Eh, except for the construction noise. Oh right, and the garbage collection. Actually Paris is pretty noisy. But you get my point. I can forgive it for a week.

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How to move furniture in Paris

I don’t need to do a play by play of all the days. Monday – Friday went like this. I’d get up, shower in the hall of mirrors shower, look up “best baguette in Paris” on the internet and then walk to the place and buy one, feeling all happy and Parisian as I carried it home. Work, peer out the window at the workers from the fancy hotel smoking front of a gallery just over the property line of the hotel. Listen to sirens, motorcycles, and loud trucks picking up and dropping off laundry etc. for the hotel. Lunch, I’d usually just take a walk then make a sandwich at home when I got back. One day I had sushi. Rusty and I ate a good lunch at a cafe one day. Friday I worked straight through.

Highlights:

  • The rental bikes!! Velip! So great!
  • Baguettes! So crusty and delicious. But ugh. I ate too much bread and cheese.
  • Musée D’Orsay (in a former train station). Many great works in there, including many Van Goghs. I’d never been to the second level with all the art nouveau furniture and artifacts.

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  • Having dinner with my friend S. twice. It was really great to catch up with him. His apartment is pretty much the same with the addition of one nice piece of art and new awnings. He invited us to stay with him (he still called the second bedroom “our room”) however I know it is hard having guests in a one-bathroom apartment, and I really wanted to have a dedicated space to work. At S.’s I would have had to take over half the dining room table. Also it was nice having our own spacious apartment to spread out in at night. There were two couches and a big TV, so when we’d get home from a late dinner we could chill and watch Netflix for an hour and take a break from being foreigners. And S’s place got pretty hot, since it is west facing.
  • Beautiful forced march along the Seine at sunset with R. It really was so beautiful. It seems like there are many more food stands and restaurant boats than I remember from the last trip – granted that was in January! It was a warm night and all the places were packed and it was going on 10pm and I was ravenous. We got a great table at a place that turned out to be aggressively anti-tourist and after finally getting a menu, the waiter made a big show of accepting neither credit card nor cash so we left. We got pizza at Faust next door which was also slightly odd in that they had a huge, nice restaurant but were mostly busy doing a take out pizza business (people ordering at the bar then taking it out for a picnic on the river) so didn’t seem inclined or able to serve us. We did get food eventually and they were really nice.

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  • Anti-highlight: Atelier du Lumieres Van Gogh experience. We were really looking forward to what was supposed to be a projection-mapped immersion in Van Gogh. We expected something that would take advantage of props in a room to make it 3D but that was not that case. The room was large, but with support pillars throughout that were not integrated into the show. The projectors were fairly dim and did not do justice to the paintings. The whole room played essentially the same scene – stitched together – and they did some really tacky effects like separate the foreground, middle, and background to animate the painting, doing things like making boats rock on the ocean. Also, many of the images were out of focus. I don’t know if that was specific projectors being off or the resolution not being good enough. Oh god, and the music. Totally random soundtrack – a mix of different eras of music that did not play nice together and often didn’t make any sense. Classical, then opera, then a modern pop song. It was really awful. A smaller salon had a better piece, abstract space/planet/blob images with an original soundtrack. That was pretty good.

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  • Foundation Louis Vuitton Museum, building designed by Frank Gehry. We got there around 5:30pm, after my workday. It was funny to shuffle through the awful and ever present decomposed granite path and suddenly come upon the museum – a spaceship landed in a pine forest. Odd that forest by the way. I don’t associate pine trees with Paris. Anyhow, it’s the architecture that makes the place and is the real experience. All the curves and surfaces and light and surprises. The galleries were large and pretty and nearly all had a skylight. It was really fun to explore and since it was so late we nearly had the place to ourselves which heightened the feeling that we were on an adventure.

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  • Jardin d’Acclimatation, adjacent to the Foundation Louis Vuitton. This is a nicely landscaped park and small scale amusement park with little rollercoasters and a tiny train, etc. Best part was a huge tropical bird house maybe 30 feet deep and 150 feet long. I saw a red ibis for the first time in my life and wow those things are red! Also parrots, squabbling lorikeets, weird ducks, parakeets. It was great and super noisy with all the birds yelling and screaming. I’d have totally ridden the tiny rollercoaster but sadly the ticket offices were closed.

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garden

  • Fancy food dinner at Limon at the hotel Marignon.
  • BHV department store in the Marais. They had great furniture and kitchenware and artistic trays (?) that now I regret not buying and the basement is a hardware store. It’s odd, or okay, that I didn’t buy much on this trip. Souvenirs for my friends, but for me, only a necklace in Dublin that I’ve already broken when it got caught on my bike basket here. (I’ll get it repaired.) Ah – I also bought an old-timey key at BHV that would probably sell for 20 bucks here in SF but was only $3 in BHV because people need old-timey keys. Yet, I wanted more. Here are the things I wanted:

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sexypot

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Lunch at BHV. Modern interior with old stuff right out the window.

  • Highlight or anti-highlight? Living next door to the president. I noticed many soldiers with machine guns in the neighborhood, but chalked it up to heightened security in all of Paris due to the yellow jackets (protesters / rioters who’ve been stirring up trouble) but no, turns out the apartment is two small blocks from the equivalent of the French White House. There were bulletproof-vest-wearing soldiers throughout the neighborhood stationed in and around vans. Depending on the level of security…on light days you could walk on Rue du Faubourg st. Honore (our street) past the front of the residence built on the other side of the street and blocked off by a waist-high fence, but cars couldn’t drive there and there were guards blocking the street. On medium security days some other streets around the area were blocked for pedestrian or car traffic or both. On high security days the street in front of our house was blocked to car traffic, either completely or cars had to be searched, and people were allowed onto the street but their bags were searched. While this was interesting at first, it became kind of a pain as we had to detour often and it took longer to get home. This was definitely not a selling point for the rental apartment. Because of this, maybe, the streets immediately around the apt were not very lively. Dead actually, and there were a good number of storefronts for rent (on a street that was meant to be high-end and fancy.)

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  • Being across the street from the Hotel Bristol (rooms start at 1000 euros per night!). Mostly an anti-highlight, specifically because of all the noisy trucks that serviced the place. There are no back alleys on blocks like this, so 100 feet from the fancy front door where two doormen rush to either side of the Bentley or Mercedes or Lamborghini to open doors, there are 20 or so big orange bins filled with dirty laundry waiting for pickup. Which really shouldn’t be anything that should create 140 decibels–but the truck was old. Then there was the trash truck which was surprisingly small, but laborious to operate. The guy would disappear into the garage, come out with one can, load it, loudly compact it, then go back for another. We had the apartment windows open the first few nights because it was cool, but got woken up early due to the racket and had to keep them closed and use the AC from then on.

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Hotel Bristol as viewed from the window by my desk

  • Speaking and not speaking French. I’ve been listening to a french radio station on the internet for the past few years to try to improve my french comprehension. Toujours plus de hits – Alouette!! I hadn’t expected that THE FUTURE would have overtaken Paris and you don’t have to speak to anyone anymore because you can pay for everything with your phone. R. was really happy because he could do all the shopping with no problem, but I felt cheated. I got to speak french to a cab driver and the cashier at BHV who wanted to know if I had a rewards card. Then, FINALLY, I got to speak french for 30 solid minutes on our last day in Paris when I got a manicure. I didn’t bring nail care things on this trip so my fingernails were getting out of control after two weeks. I was riding my rental bike around and saw a a salon, stopped and asked if she had time for an express manicure. She, of course, looked at me like I’d asked for a car tire barbecued, then smiled and said yes. I docked my bike then came back. We had a really nice conversation for half an hour where we spoke nothing but french because she did not speak English and I DID IT!! I spoke French! Yes, because I was paying her she persevered. I was so happy.

This was a good trip. I’m grateful to have a job that let’s me work remotely. This is the first time we’ve stayed in an apartment instead of  a hotel and I loved it. After the plane trip back home I swear I won’t travel again for months but I’m ready to go again. : )

 

 

 

 

 

Dubliners

Dublin, Ireland. August 14-19, 2019

Dublin has never been on my top ten list, but R. has always wanted to go back (it was the first European city he ever visited) and tempted me with the fact that there was a big science fiction conference happening there this summer (yes, I’m a nerd, or geek. I forget the difference). The program looked great – not only lots of writing panels but authors I know from the Bay Area would be attending, and presumably we could meet up for drinks and dinner, which would be fun. 

The flight over was predictably annoying. I can’t ever sleep on planes without getting a neck ache, so I broke down and bought an inflatable neck pillow. What a joke! Fully inflated, it pushed my head too far forward. Deflated, it closed around my neck like lobster claws. I did not use it and did not sleep. 

headingout

Ah…who doesn’t love the sign saying you are going to Paris? Leaving from SFO.

Unfortunately – to get the good fare – we had to go through Paris Charles De Gaulle which is always a nightmare. The airport is huge. Plus, we had a short connection –just one hour – which always stresses me out. Fortunately everything worked out perfectly. R checked on his phone when we landed to find the gate and terminal of our next flight and we rode the train over to it with enough time to spare to get a quick sandwich. Oddly, we had to ride a bus out to the middle of the tarmac to get on our plane, via stairs. I didn’t know this was still a thing in this era of super security.

Finally – Dublin! We had a super talkative cab driver who gave us an overview of Irish history, disparaged the English, caught us up on an amateur Irish sport that fills an 85k person stadium. Sadly, I didn’t catch what the sport was. I could barely hear him and had been up for I don’t even know how many hours at that point. Interestingly, every cab driver we had pointed out landmarks where the English did something horrible. I’ve never experienced this before–being in a foreign country where events from the last century were a go-to topic of conversation with strangers. Did it have anything to do with us being from the U.S. I wondered, and having had our own troubles with the British?

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Old neighborhood with Google rising

We arrived at our amazing hotel in the Docklands, an area that was a scary place that our cab driver would never have visited when he was a kid. Now it’s the equivalent of Mission Bay in San Francisco, a neighborhood that sprang up out of nowhere in the last few years. Our hotel was next to a big Facebook office and Google is building just across the canal. The area is much more interesting then our Mission Bay. Way better architecture. San Francisco is way too conservative and it drives me crazy. 

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Theater, our hotel, apartment building, grand canal

Fortunately, a friend of ours arranged a dinner and night of Irish storytelling at a local pub, so we couldn’t nap/fall asleep for 10 hours and ruin our chances of getting onto the time zone. Still, we were a bit rough around the edges. I took a bath which helped with my sore neck and revived me. Trying to take a tram to the event did elicit new city confusion and mild arguing. “What zone are we in, what zone are we going to, how do we buy a ticket from this damn machine, are we supposed to punch our ticket when we get on the train…” ARGH. We did figure it out.

We got to the place early and ate chicken satay and sweet potato fries and regained our composure. The evening of storytelling was really nice. Food, drinks, Irish history, and good company.

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Harp-shaped bridge across the river Liffey

Full disclosure. I didn’t know much Irish history before this trip. No history course I took ever touched on it. I did a crash course via a six-part BBC documentary which left my head reeling. I’m not going to summarize other than to say…many different peoples from different areas, many settlements, much fighting.

The storyteller led with, “Ireland has always been a poor country…” The funny thing was, I hadn’t yet seen that, thanks to being in our odd, new neighborhood. I saw tech companies and cranes everywhere.

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View from the hotel roof

Is the tech boom helping average people in Ireland? One cab driver guess-timated that only about 30% of the employees at the tech companies are Irish. I can see why the country as a whole would be skeptical about a tech bubble, given that 150 years ago, the potato famine caused 1 million deaths and 1 million more people to leave the country – a 25% reduction in population overall. Many of the traditional stories she told weren’t morality or cautionary tales, but along the lines of “awful things happen that you have no control over so get used to it.” Yikes. I hope the current tech and building boom is a boost to Ireland in the long term.

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This is not the mall street, but the Temple Bar area (much more interesting)

Thursday we took a walk around town after breakfast trying to find the shopping street R. remembered visiting as a kid. We found it – but it was no longer cobblestones and was mostly chain stores, albeit many European ones so it still felt exotic. Still, it had my kiss-of-death store, Swarovski crystal, which makes me want to turn and run. 

bookstore

The true crime magazine section in a bookstore was huge. I had no idea.

After that we headed back to the convention center and went to a couple panels. Bad idea – we nearly fell asleep – and even worse idea – decided to go have a pint in a pub to “wake up.” Hmm. I did have my first pint of Guinness in Ireland, and liked it. I’m not sure if it actually tasted different (the huge factory was just down the road) or I was just in the mood. I generally an not a beer person.

R. gave up and took a nap and I went to the rooftop bar of our hotel intending to start this travelogue, but it was too much of a party scene to work (it would have been weird to pull out a computer). It was a nice day with big fluffy clouds and after I got over my huff of them ignoring me for half an hour (assuming I was waiting for someone) I relaxed and enjoyed the view. I met R. downstairs for dinner when he woke up. 

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The convention center

Friday I went to a few panels, then forced R to go see the book of Kells at Trinity college. A visitor next to me remarked, “I didn’t mind the queue but it wasn’t worth 14 euros.” I was disappointed for not quite the same reasons. I had no queue since I bought advance tickets, but the book was a letdown, small and in a dark room and you could (obviously) see only two pages. The old library beyond was great though, and contained my initials multiple times. 

library

There are multiple mm’s in the photo, trust me.

When attempting to leave the college grounds (there seemed to be only one way out) we were caught in a huge downpour and took refuge in the entryway to the graduate reading room. I’ve never seen rain fall in sheets before – not like this with a flat, wide viewing area. It was awesome. 

The weather in Dublin is nuts. I hate to extrapolate from less than a week here, especially given we had a heat wave in San Francisco while we were gone, but, ??!!??

It’s been windy the whole time. Hair in my eyes, hold-your-hat windy. I have to think it’s often like this because when I asked the hotel staff they seemed puzzled, like, wind? What wind? 

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The rain. It can be warm, low 70’s and sunny and then pouring a moment later. Then sunny. Again I have to assume this happens often because I took refuge under a big tree in Merrion square park with people who clearly live here (kid, dog) and they seemed to know in five minutes it would be over and it was. I made it to a shopping street when it dumped again so I popped into a shop for a cup of tea. It cleared up but by the time I’d stood and found a place to dump my cup, it was raining again. 

Anyhow, after the Book of Kells, we stopped at a pub for a late lunch. It’s so strange. It was my first time in Ireland and to me, an Irish pub has always been a Disney-esque theme bar, fake and trying too hard and I’ve never liked them. Now, I was in freaking Ireland and the pubs are just pubs and they are Irish pubs by definition! So much confusion for me to be in the real thing that looks exactly like the fake thing. I was amused by a mid-40’s couple next to me making out like high-schoolers. You go! Everyone in the place seemed legit Irish, which led me to a question I can’t answer…

What do Irish people look like? Who is Irish and who isn’t? This is part of the EU with people from all over. Is super-exaggerated make up Irish, or are those women from Russia? High heels or sneakers? What about that buffed dude with the tattoos? I hear many accents and languages and can’t guess who lives here and who doesn’t. That’s my brain, trying to figure things out, and I couldn’t.

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I’m so glad I found a way to put this in the post. He must be legit Irish.

Saturday we blew off the convention entirely in favor of sight seeing. We took a regional train to Malahide, a seaside town half an hour from Dublin that was promised to be charming, and was. 

weirdwindow

I could show charming…but how about this window display instead? What is going on with these outfits? This was not a used clothing store. All brand new. 

We didn’t make it all the way out to the sea, unfortunately because as we walked along the narrow bay, we saw a dark rain cloud approaching and feared a deluge like the one we experienced at Trinity college the other day where an umbrella would have been no help at all (and we only had one umbrella.) We hurried back towards town and en route hailed a cab to take us to the castle. 

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We didn’t tour the inside of the castle, but instead spent time on the grounds and in the pretty walled garden (which included a butterfly garden!) It was really nice to be on the great lawn, castle in view, with no other tourists in sight. 

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I like using portrait setting on the iphone on plants

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A castle and lawn, all to ourselves

That evening we had dinner with a friend from Scotland that I ran into the day before at a panel. Finally, we managed to meet up with someone. Though there were many people we knew at the conference, they were very hard to pin down. It was tough to make plans in advance as most of us had never been to Dublin and would have no idea where to hang out until we were there, so I figured plans would happen spontaneously. That didn’t happen for the most part. 

We popped back to the convention center to check out an 80’s dance party, which was a bit too well attended. The room was crowded, hot, and stinky so we called it a night. 

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Sci fi author John Scalzi catches my eye as he DJs during the party

Sunday I took a long morning walk, trying to get a better sense of the neighborhoods. From what I could gather, most older buildings in Dublin are one to three stories. Many places seemed to have had yards in the back in the past, but built extensions onto the houses – so no more yard. 

neighborhood

The canal I walked along was really lovely, with locks every couple hundred feet and bridges dated from the late 1700’s. Saturday night we’d been by this same canal and seen boats, which the cab driver said took people cruising and drinking. That would be fun! 

I hid out in a coffee shop during a sudden downpour, then made my way to meet R. On Grafton Street – a nice outdoor pedestrian mall area. I wanted to see St. Patricks cathedral, but it was Sunday and closed to tourists mid-day. I assume they were having services. I wasn’t crushed. I’m sure it would have been nice but I’ve seen many cathedrals and will see many more. They feel a bit obligatory vs. being my favorite type of building. 

I attended a few more conference sessions in the afternoon, then we had a great pizza dinner in the neighborhood with the tiny houses near our hotel. 

All in all, I can’t say I know much about Ireland after my short stay. Everyone was very nice but I mostly interacted with service people, many of whom seemed to be from Eastern Europe (heavy accents, name tags read Vladimir and the like). Conversations I overheard seemed pretty typical – people going about their business, trying to make plans, talking about work and sports and politics. I feel pretty comfortable in English-speaking countries, so I didn’t have the thrill of fear and excitement that comes with trying to do even a simple thing in a more foreign country.

Would I want to live in Dublin? Probably not, though that is based on zero information. I don’t like pubs much, or sports, though I’m sure many people who live there also don’t. If i were in Europe I’d rather be more centrally located. And the weather is pretty annoying, it’s not very warm in the summer and downright cold in the winter. The landscape is gentle rolling hills (as far as I saw) which isn’t quite jazzy enough for me. I’m glad I went…and probably won’t go back unless it is for an event. I didn’t fall in love with the city.

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Swans in the grand canal at night

A Seattle Digestif

July 12-13, 2019

We drove out of the gray and towards Bainbridge Island, where we’d catch a ferry to Seattle. It was well past time for lunch, so I picked a city on the map at random, which turned out to be a charming, Norwegian-themed Poulsbo. We ate overlooking the harbor, nearly overheating in the mid-70’s temperatures.

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I must have taken a car ferry before, but I have no clear memory of doing so. I was worried about how it would work, but it’s all very easy and well-organized. The intent is to make it seem an extension of the road. Signs on the road pointed to the ferry, and all three lanes passed by booths, where we paid and were directed to a numbered lane.

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It was thrilling and strange to drive into the bowels of the ship, park, and be allowed to walk to the open front that had no real railings, just a net. The kid in me kept expecting to get told to get back in the car, or to go to the passenger seating above.

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It was such a relief to be back in a bustling city. Even the quarter-mile drive from the ferry to the hotel had my mind reeling. What a cute restaurant. Is that Pioneer Square? Nice clothing store. Seattle Art Museum–Victorian Radicals: From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts & Crafts Movement. I’m going!

R. passed out on the very comfy king-sized hotel bed, so I met my brother and sis-in-law for dinner at a whiskey-themed restaurant in Pike Market. Crowded, loud, with barrel-aged Manhattans and cute, sweaty cooks shaking stainless steel pans over high-flames in the open kitchen…ahhhhhhhh…city living.

The next day I wandered through Pike Market. It’s a tourist attraction but genuinely interesting with its multiple levels and uneven floors and dead ends. I like it!

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I also went to the museum to see the Victorian Radicals exhibit. I loved the pre-Raphaelites when I was a teen, but to my adult eye, much of it seemed overwrought and pouty…hmmmm…much like the teenage girl I was. I was happy to see some really awesome work by woman artists, and which I thought was technically better than that of their more famous male counterparts.

museum

As the afternoon wore on I ran out of steam. Brain full. I was ready to go home. I think this was one of the more intense seven-day trips I’ve taken recently. Waterfalls, trains, Bollywood, Twin Peaks, family, bonfires, kayaks, gun batteries, the submarine I forgot to mention, bocce, cocktails, the flu that swept through the big house that I also forgot to mention, flightless geese, cider, sad goodbyes, ferries, harbors, Seattle stairs, eating dinner twice in one night, pouty art subjects and finally the flight home. R. and I both woke multiple times Saturday night with no idea where we were – and more importantly where the bathroom was. He got dressed to go and I asked why, and he replied because of everyone in house. Heh.

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A cement factory on the way to the airport

Sunday, San Francisco put on a show for me. The sunny blocks around my house sported dog walkers, kids in bouncy houses, couples drinking rose and laughing in the park, fresh fruit at the corner store, people jaywalking to get to the cafe, the inevitable weekend construction projects that irritate me but also ensure this neighborhood will still be here 100 years from now.

I’m so lucky to have a place I’m happy to take off from and happy to come home to.

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50 Shades of Gray in Port Townsend and Fort Worden

July 8-11, 2019

We drove south from Snoqualmie through Tacoma instead of taking a car ferry, which let us avoid Seattle completely and takes the same amount of time even though it’s more mileage. I’m not sure of Tacoma’s reputation, but what we saw of it was interesting–steep and nestled on the side of a hill with great old buildings. They have a really nice art store–better than anything we have in San Francisco at the moment. I got watercolor supplies as I’d determined at the last minute to do one painting per day to brush up on my skills (so to speak – ha ha!). (Spoiler alert – I only did two but that was better than I expected.)

From there we drove north, seeing mostly trees and occasional glimpses of Puget sound and working ports. To my surprise, the landscape became drier (compared to Snoqualmie). Not super dry, just not the lush wetness I’d expected. Maybe the Olympic National park grabs up all the rain in the summer?

driveinmovie

Awesome drive-in movie theater on the way to Port Townsend. I wish I’d gone! 

I’d expected Port Townsend to feel more isolated, but there were towns, houses, farms, and businesses all along the way and no real sense of transition when we arrived.

First stop, Safeway to get snacks, as I feared that once we arrived at Fort Worden the family reunion would be ON and it would be hard to get away. The store was lively and I got a kind of Sebastopol feel from the clientele…tattoos, hippy vibe, some colored hair, teen dressed in a candy-raver outfit, a few down and outers in faded cotton with tattered sandals. We ran into my aunt and uncle there (they came from British Columbia for the reunion) which was a fun surprise.

We drove down the main street and it was cute as promised, but smaller scale than I’d expected, maybe a dozen small blocks. Much evidence of artsy-ness though, and probably more bookstores per capita than SF has.

downtownporttownsend

It’s breaking my designer heart not to tweak the contrast on this,
but mid-level gray is most accurate.

The homes, once we turned onto a neighborhood street, were nicer and more upscale than I’d expected. All very well maintained, a mix of older and more modern structures, and with great landscaping and gardens. The place feels prosperous and I began to wonder who lives there and what they do for a living.

After only a few minutes, we arrived at Fort Worden. The town is small! I’ve been imagining and planning for this and somehow I misread the scale and assumed anything on a peninsula was the size of San Francisco.

I didn’t have high hopes for Fort Worden (it being a state park and me knowing that contracts to run these places often go to vendors that don’t feel the love) but overall it was very nice. It’s a late 1800’s military base that’s been converted to a park and conference center. The forts built in this era (for coastal defense) all look a bit alike, with many nondescript two-to-three story wooden buildings, plus fancy houses for the officers. They’ve done a great job repurposing the place, and now it’s got a nice restaurant, woodworking center, small press, marine center and museum, campgrounds, fitness center, a college of some sort, and is home to other arty-sounding organizations (based on the signs on windows). There was a painting workshop going on while we were there, and a week-long writer’s workshop starting next week.

officershouse

Victorian (as advertised)? I guess? Definitely in need of fresh paint.
That’s my house (left side only – they are duplexes.)

Our extended family rented four officer’s houses, all next to each other. Though they were built in the Victorian era, from the outside they weren’t really classic Victorian looking (to my eye), and all were a bit drab and in need of a fresh coat of paint.

The elders got the fanciest house, a Commander’s unit with six bedrooms. The interior was lovingly restored to Victorian splendor, with nice carpets and wallpaper and books and art and decorative plates, mirrors and antique clocks. All that stuff. A little too fussy “bed and breakfast” for my taste but well done.

We popped in there to get the key to our place, hugged a few people, and hurried to our house to unload the perishable groceries…and…our house was SUPER CRAPPY. Stained grey industrial carpeting, no art other than a few lame photos of cannons that were too small for the frames, peeling paint on the ceiling, beige walls chipped and gouged, no decorative plates, no fancy lamps on marble side tables – nothing! Not that it was empty. We had a couch and two chairs in the living room, a dining table that seated six–but the wooden chairs were missing crucial pieces that made me nervous to sit in them. The bedrooms were awkwardly furnished, ours having an oversized wooden dresser placed in front of the window (partially blocking the view), a table in the corner perhaps meant to serve as a desk, but with no chair, and a double bed that clearly was not going to hold two full-sized adults comfortably.

thebathroom

There was only one shower for the seven of us staying there, and the bathroom looked like something from a prison. They’d screwed a piece of frosted plexiglass over the window so we couldn’t open it. Why??

That aside, all the houses had great, deep porches and those were tons of fun. We moved from porch to porch throughout the days, socializing. We’d gather at the big house in the afternoon (they had the most chairs) and have drinks and hors d’oeuvres. The houses fronted a huge lawn (aka the parade ground) and the smaller kids ran wild there and it was easy to keep an eye on them. My aunt, super sweet of her, brought a fully-loaded piñata and got us all out on the lawn the first night to wack it. It was a great way to see and greet everyone because, due to being in four separate houses, we were never quite sure where anyone was at any given time. Though I’d have liked us to be all together more often (we were only all together twice) it would have been like herding cats to try to coordinate group activities.

kayaking

Okay, the weather was occasionally very nice. But only for a few hours, so I don’t have to change the title of the post. 

Instead, we randomly encountered each other and spent time in smaller groups hanging out on the beach, walking to town, going to the store, visiting the light house, checking out the marine mammal center, hiking on the hill, kayaking, grabbing lunch, playing bocce or board games, etc. It worked out well.

The weather was mostly shades of gray with occasional sun and rain. Not cold. The temperature was very pleasant. Oddly, the grayness had a kind of glare that irritated my eyes. A bright diffuse light that came from everywhere and nowhere. I didn’t want to wear sunglasses because that made things too dark, but I kept my hat on, brim pulled low, to deal with it.

sailboat

As I walked the beaches and the charming streets, I hoped I’d fall in love with Port Townsend but I never did. It has the right elements on paper, but in real life it didn’t work for me. Firstly, where were all the people? I know it’s a small town but the residential streets were deserted. I could walk all the way from the fort to the downtown and see no creature but deer (which were weirdly lounging all over the place). No one mowing the lawn, no one washing their car, no one biking. So freaking odd. Clearly people live there because of the immaculate yards. I like neighborhoods to have people in them. The dead end street I live on in San Francisco, which has about 50 houses on it, is abuzz with activity on a normal day. I guess that sounds hellish to those that prefer the peace and quiet of small towns but I love it.

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The beaches and water views were nice, but not as dramatic as I expected. I thought I’d sit on the bluff and watch the clouds drift around and the light play on the water and the mood shift but nothing much happened. It was like being on a lake, with no waves, just a gentle lapping on the shore. The tide did go in and out, but that just meant more rocks exposed, less rocks exposed. The sand is a grayish tan, and the bluffs are made of the same. The rocks and pebbles are kind of nice but I was hard-pressed to find any I wanted to add to my collection. The huge driftwood logs on the shore are interesting but you get used to them.

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Does this look like heaven? You should move to Port Townsend!

I guess, bottom line, peaceful, gray, quiet coastlines aren’t my thing. My soul did not connect with that landscape.

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I did like all the bird sounds everywhere. That was really nice. And I saw an eagle! I’m not sure I’ve seen one in real life before.

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I feel like not being able to see beauty everywhere is a kind of personal failing, along the lines of, “only boring people get bored,” but aesthetics are subjective. And listen – I tried to take nice, artsy pictures here but I struggled. I didn’t feel moved. Rarely did I grab my camera and think – I’ve got to get this right now. I had to pull myself out of the gray and think – I might be able to do something with this later. And as I write this post, the photos look nice and I feel happier looking at them then I did being in the place, which is weird.

beach bonfire

One of my favorite places was not in Port Townsend, but 11 miles south in Chimacum–Finnriver farm and cidery. https://www.finnriver.com/

finnriverart

It’s an organic farm with a huge covered seating area where they serve food and (obviously) cider, and have guest food trucks and music and other events.

finnriverseating

The evening we were there, a woman hosted a science fiction trivia night in a room off the bar. They had bocce and cornhole and hula hoops, and the setting was lovely–it felt like I was in Napa or Sonoma valley.

ciders

Overall, the family reunion was a success, and Fort Worden was a good place for it. If we’d have been somewhere more exciting we’d probably have never seen each other at all. This event was about spending time with people, not sightseeing. I was really sad when everyone began to pack up and drive away on Friday. All my whining about wanting us to have held the reunion in Hawaii was me wanting a vacation, and overlooking the reason for the trip–which was family bonding. Yeah, I like vacation but I’ve got to devote more time to the extended family. They aren’t gray–they are amazing, interesting, creative people and I love them.

 

Snoqualmie, Washington (pre-family reunion)

Monday, July 8, 2019

I’m sitting on a balcony at the Salish Lodge in Snoqualmie, Washington. It’s cloudy, and is either raining or else heavily misting so I’ve got an umbrella propped up on the table in a vain attempt to keep my computer dry. It’s the kind of rain that you really can’t hide from–it swirls and floats right under the umbrella. The waterfall below is doing its thing, which is to provide a pleasant and uniform white noise.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We are headed to Port Townsend, Washington for a family reunion. I know, I know, everyone tells me, “It’s beautiful there,” and I’m sure it will be, but I’ve got to kvetch a bit first, because it isn’t fair that I open with arriving there all awestruck by the lovely.

I love my extended family. I feel really lucky to be born into a family of interesting people who get along very well. Our only struggle is that we’ve got a lot of Type A’s and that sometimes leads to everyone trying to be the sheepdog and no one wanting to be a sheep, but that’s not so bad.

My complaint is that I’ve got a full time job and my vacation time is precious. When I take a week off it’s a big deal and I want to go somewhere I want to go. So you say “Family Reunion” and I say “in Hawaii! In Mexico! Somewhere in the southwest!” not – somewhere where it’s going to be 64 degrees, partly cloudy, and sometimes raining. Because that sounds a lot like a foggy day in San Francisco.

dairyfreeze

What’s worse is that if I wasn’t lazy and distracted by work, I probably could have found some great house in Hawaii and pitched it to the group and maybe I’d be in Hawaii right now, eating pineapple and getting ready to go snorkeling. So, it’s my own fault I did nothing and let someone else herd the cats.

Anyhow, Saturday we flew from San Francisco to Seattle. The brown haze covering the central valley gave way to clouds as we travelled north. The car rental place ran out of small cars so we ended up in a huge four-door Cadillac. We thought it might be fun, but it’s too big–we don’t know where we begin and end, but it does have great acceleration.

We came a few days early (the reunion for some reason runs Monday – Friday) to check out the Salish Lodge, aka the Great Northern hotel in Twin Peaks. The waterfall below me is the one featured in the opening credits, as is this hotel, perched on the cliff above it. (I was a big Twin Peaks fan back in the day, and R. only discovered it recently and is a current fan).

What’s odd is that Snoqualmie is kind of in the middle of nowhere and kind of not. It’s only 40 minutes from Seattle and when we sit in the restaurant all we see is trees forever, but it’s really just off the freeway.

When we arrived we were both kind of tired from the flight, which is silly because it was only an hour and a half, but the whole airport experience is always draining. R. laid down for a nap and I decided to walk into town, which is less than a mile away. I crossed a cool bridge, and in the pretty river below were the remnants of a collapsed bridge. Not too far past that, the Northwest Railway Museum has old train cars right along the road. Very nice!

oldtrainengine

The town itself is small with a few restaurants, an intriguing-looking bowling alley I didn’t go into, and a great hardware store that I did.

When I got back, R. and I went to the overlooks near the hotel to view the falls. It’s a very nice waterfall and I liked it, but it’s only a couple hundred feet. It’s hard to beat Yosemite Falls (which is over 2000 feet and you can stand right at the base of it.) Also, it was a total mob scene due to the long weekend, and we had to wait to get a spot at the railing.

thegreatnorthern

We ate at the casual restaurant, The Attic, at the hotel. The food was good, and went to bed early.

This is a very nice hotel. My only complaint is that there is no common area with a view. I like being able to bring my laptop to the lobby or café and get something to drink and write and people-watch. The lobby is nothing to speak of–a few chairs clearly meant only for waiting for the rest of your party to join you before you get the car. There is no separate bar area. The Attic is fairly small and people eat at the bar, and you certainly couldn’t set up a laptop there. Any spot with a view is reserved for private events. This balcony is nice, but the continuous hiss of the falls does get irritating after while, and there is no people watching.

Sunday morning we had a GREAT breakfast here in the fancy restaurant. Sadly I couldn’t finish it all, which is a crime. They have there own beehives here and do a fun thing where they dribble honey on a scone from three feet above it.

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I coaxed R. into going into town on foot (past all the neat old train cars on the side of the road). We wanted to ride the historic train, which isn’t a historic train exactly but random historic train cars pulled by a modern diesel engine. We bought tickets online as we walked, which was lucky because it was sold out…because….Bollywood film crew!!

The conductor (very cute in his conductor outfit) let us know a Bollywood film crew would be filming on the train, and that they’d be in the center car. They let them on first. It seemed to be cast, crew, and their extended families. We got onto the front car to stay out of the fray, and because it had cool red velvet couches.

filmcrew

It turned out they were actually doing the filming in our car – which was really fun and made what would have been a pretty ridiculously short train ride a lot of fun. The train only goes a couple miles south to North Bend – which had more Twin Peaks buildings and really nice steep high mountains behind it (Mt. Si maybe?), and then reverses and goes back past the station it left from, and one more mile to the hydro electric museum and supposed views of the falls but you can’t actually see them because of land and trees. So, it’s a pretty silly ride. However – a few minutes in – after we opened and closed the windows to suit the women sitting next to us, the film crew came in with a huge camera, a boombox, and started filming the male star walking down the aisle, finding his love sitting alone on a seat, tapping her on the shoulder, then sitting next to her after which they hold hands and gleefully look out the window.

It was great fun to watch, and I loved that we didn’t have to sign releases and they probably didn’t have permits or anything. They did have super expensive equipment so I have no idea if this is a “real” movie or what. I liked that the main actress was not thin and she was nice and friendly and said hi when we stopped for half an hour at another part of the railroad museum.

historictraincar

Back at the hotel I napped for an hour (I had a terrible sleep Saturday night) and then took a walk to the base of the falls. The forest here is so beautiful. So many different types of trees and the ground so lush with a wild variety of plants. We don’t have that in California–it’s just too dry. All I could think though on the super steep walk down was “I’m going to have to walk back up this. It’s going to suck. OMG, all these little kids. They are going to have to be carried back up. What are the parents thinking? Oh those shoes! She’s going to break an ankle!”

I might walk a little way down again today and just sit on a bench and listen to the birds and stare at the plants and try to quiet my crazy mind. I think of myself as a pretty laid back person but when I get out to actual nature like this I realize I must be pretty wound up in the city because it’s really hard for me to stop analyzing and just look around and absorb.

The path didn’t get that close to the base of the falls and the view was just okay. The walk down was the pretty part.

We drove into town for Mexican food (so so) and watched the end of the final match of the Gold Cup soccer game. Back at the hotel we had a drink at the bar.

This morning, Monday, started cool and rainy and is now partly clearing, and warming up a bit. We ordered room service (always a fun treat) and split the enormous eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, scone breakfast meant for one. Mmmm. In an hour we check out and hit the road for Port Townsend! I’m so happy I don’t have to spell Snoqualmie ever again!

riverabovefalls

Beauty and Frustration in Yosemite Valley

I need to get out of town and away from screens and the internet. My day goes from ipad to laptop to iphone to TV or kindle. There’s glass between me and life and I need the cliché dose of nature to clear my head. I log onto the Yosemite reservation site, not really expecting to get anything at the last minute, but there are tent cabins available. I book one, sure that R. will be willing to go on a last minute trip.

The first glimpse of Yosemite valley literally stops traffic–people careen to the left and right turnouts when Half Dome and various waterfalls come into view. It really is jawdropping, but we’ve been in the car for longer than we’ve expected and just want to freaking get there. The 180 miles from San Francisco to the valley have stretched to a five-hour trip thanks to traffic and two-lane roads meandering through the stoplight-filled downtowns of the central valley.

It’s been a nice drive. No complaints other than the usual, which is that it is impossible to get in or out of the Bay Area anymore. We planned a Sunday–Tuesday trip specifically to avoid traffic and we still find ourselves shaking our fists and asking, “What are you all doing on this road?” The You All of course, being Us. We are part of the problem. So many people.

bridalveilfalls

We don’t pull over at first few pullouts, but when we get to the valley floor we can’t help it. It’s too much. Too pretty. Thank god we do because Bridal Veil Falls is magic. It’s a half a mile hike from the road and a complete change of climate. A cold mist fills the air before we get anywhere close to the bottom and I shiver in my tank top. I’m glad I keep going because when the falls hit the granite they make rainbows. Everyone is soaked and ecstatic.

Which makes our arrival at our lodging, Housekeeping Camp, all the worse. The Camp can’t help but be anything but a crushing disappointment after what we’ve just experienced but I’d swear someone actually tried to take our souls, pull them from our bodies, and grind them into the pine needles.

tentcabin

Housekeeping Camp looks more like a refugee camp when we arrive at sunset. A blue fog of smoke hangs over the forlorn canvas structures. The ground is bare dirt. “Park wherever you can,” the buffed, outdoorsy, 20-something dude at the reception desk tells me. My fellow guests have taken the “wherever” to heart and crammed their automobiles in and around the stones the separate the camp from the road. We squeeze into a space next to a giant pickup truck.

I chose a riverside tent which promised, I dunno, something about waking up and looking at Half Dome. What we got was a creepy, inland, poo-brown concrete block and canvas prison tent, surrounded by other prison tents and located next to our car/the road/the giant dumpster.

I’d warned R. that Housekeeping Camp was a nightmare. Thanks to me expertly managing his expectations, he is pleased by all the “space” we have. He’d pictured a seven by seven tent with no furniture, so what we go was an improvement. 8 x 15 (?) with a patched canvas roof, double bed, bunk bed, shelving unit, two outlets and an indoor and outdoor light. Woo hoo!

Never mind our plastic-covered double bed is littered with sand. The canvas roof and door filthy and held in place by black tape. The bear box opens with a shriek and groan no matter how slowly and carefully we let down the steel door. The fire pit littered with trash. We can’t see the river.

Deep breath. It’s okay. We’re here.

We brush the sand off the bed and unroll the sleeping bag. We put our food and lotions and toothpaste into the bear box as per regulations. We hurry to the store to buy firewood.

We’re good. We unpack. We get the Christmas lights in place despite bringing too short of an extension cord. The river isn’t that far away. The scenery is pretty in an August-in-Los Angeles kind of way. I read that housekeeping camp is the only place you can have a campfire in the valley and I understand why now. I’m bathed in smoke. I don’t know if it’s the wood or the nature of the valley but every fire creates a veil that drifts and swirls but doesn’t dissipate. We move left, right, we can’t escape.

smokeonthewater

We’ve got to create our own fire if we want to eat. We do, and add to the smoke. Our lukewarm sausages and buns are pretty good because we’re starving. Now what? The family next to us is already in bed. The group of friends across from us is drunk and raucous and we listen to their tales of socialism and home invasion. The long, one-act play is entertaining to a point. The only mom in the group is also an audience member, pacing the periphery, bouncing her cute, animal-costumed baby against her chest. Hopefully it won’t be eaten by a mountain lion. Seriously–there is a sign warning parents not to let children walk alone. This little one can’t walk so hopefully she is safe. Though if the mom was trying to camouflage the baby, dressing it as a bunny might not have been the best choice.

Eventually R. wants to go to bed. I’m determined to see the fire burn down. He does, and I don’t, because a camp ranger comes by to “remind” me that all campfires must be extinguished at 10pm. With water.

fire

Heavy sigh. I don’t have a bucket. I find a Taco Bell cup in the car and go back and forth to the bathroom faucet until I’ve put out the perfect-for-marshmellows embers.

Now I’m in bed at 10 p.m. instead of my normal midnight. R. is recovering from a cold so he’s okay with this. He’s snoring and I’m crammed next to him in a double bed (we’ve got a queen at home.) We spend the night wrestling in a non-sexy, exhausting way.

We wake at 6 a.m. to the grumble of a diesel truck and the beep beep beep of heavy equipment. The truck is delivering Pepsi to the store near us. The beeping comes from across the river. Something under construction. Seriously?? I can’t believe this. I thought last night was hell with all the smoke but this is too much.

I get up. R. stays in bed. His ability to sleep in is legendary. I open the bear box as quietly as I can and eat yogurt for breakfast.

Now – to hike! I’m groggy but excited. It’s a beautiful day. A sweet pine-scented, sun-drenched, high sierra dream. I cross the stone bridge near camp. The Merced river is high. It’s been reaching flood stage on and off all spring. What surprises me most about it is not the strange green color of the powerful, turbid water, but the variations in the sounds it makes. When I’ve listened to streams before, they sing a steady song, something along the lines of tinkle tinkle tinkle. This river is wild, roaring and hissing and swirling unpredictably. What’s happening upstream? Giant chunks of snow slipping down slopes, boulders tumbling when the ice that has held them all winter melts? Big things, to affect this volume of water.

moremeadow

I try to make my way to the hotel formerly known as the Ahwahnee. They had to change the name to the Majestic because when Delaware North lost its government contract to run the restaurants and hotels, they claimed they owned many of the famous names – including YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK. It’s basically extortion. While this goes through legal channels the park changed the names so the new company could take over the concessions without a problem.

I have a few moments of peaceful bliss before coming upon the road-working crew that woke me up. They are grading and paving a new road with the usual assortment of Cat equipment. A woman stops the motor grader to allow me to cross the fresh asphalt.

From here on, the hike is idyllic. Where are the hoards? I pass charming cabins, presumably to house staff, and spot the webcam with the view of a meadow and Half Dome I’ve been watching.

I find the trail to Mirror Lake and it’s just me, birds, oaks and pines, mosquitoes, and giant granite boulders. I love this landscape. I can’t believe the sheerness of the rock that surrounds me. I make my way to the bottom of a small waterfall I spotted from camp and stare straight up at the sheets of water cascading down. It’s amazing and I’ve got it all to myself. I need this nature time. The flora and fauna I see in San Francisco is ragweed and homeless people.

cascade

Mirror Lake is looking a little fetid these days. Turns out it was never a “real” lake. Entrepreneurs in the early 20th century (?) dug out the area to make a place for Half Dome to reflect perfectly. Now the prissy park department has decided to let it go back to being a meadow…I read on a fancy display sign next to the paved path. <– You get my drift? Fer god’s sake, it’s been a fake lake for 100 years. People love it. What is and isn’t “natural” in Yosemite is up for debate. Dredge the one acre and let people have a special moment. It’s famous!

After I get to Mirror Lake I really want to hop on a shuttle and go meet R. for lunch. I’m tired. But argh…turns out the shuttle is a mile away. I trudge on.

I wait at the shuttle stop with a bunch of other pink-faced tourists. Extreme hiking Dad is trying to convince his five-year old daughter–who’s sitting exhausted on the dirty ground–that they should walk to wherever it is they are going since he has no idea when the shuttle will show up. She resists and I support her. “It will be here soon,” I say. “I’ve been here 15 minutes and it comes every 20.”

Fortunately it does show up and the little girl is saved. : )

Lunch is pathetic. I’m sooooo hungry but I’ve got a choice of four greasy meat things on buns or pizza. All too heavy for a hot day with more walking ahead. I get pizza and only eat two slices and give the rest away to a family. I love when people take food from strangers! Humans are trusting – sometimes!

R. and I try to get on a bus to Yosemite Falls and are turned away from the first one. The buses are crammed. Standing room only squished like sardines crammed. We walk back a stop and wait on the other side because those buses seem emptier, and do manage to catch one, ending up on a 45-minute tour of the park. Which is pretty okay, but the bus is hot, and the driver angry from having to yell, “Move to the back of the bus! All the way back, not partway!” at every stop.

Looks like I had the trail to Mirror Lake to myself because everyone in the park is going to Yosemite Falls. I can see why. The approach is dramatic. We hundreds of tourists are tiny specks compared to the super-sized attractions around us. We try to ruin Yosemite but can’t, it is just too awesome.

Yosemitefallstrees

The falls are immense and like the river, wild and irregular, the huge plumes more like an avalanche than water. The spray is so thick that anyone who ventures out on the bridge over the river comes back soaked. I hide behind a log, prep my camera and jump up for a quick shot.

dramaticyosefalls

We decide to walk back to housekeeping camp from here, though we end up west of where we meant to cross the river in a beautiful, huge, spring-green meadow. The views are amazing…of everything. The scope of the place is astounding.

swimmers

On the other side of Swinging Bridge we find more great photo ops – the falls reflected in a still spot on the river.

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By the time we get back to camp we’re beat. We planned to eat dinner out but parking is awful (most lots are full) as is traffic, and we can’t face riding the bus for 45 minutes – if we manage to get space on one. We get beer and pretzels from the store and sit by the river to enjoy sunset on Half Dome, but it isn’t the most spectacular thing we’ve seen today. I’m embarrassed to admit I’m a bit bored. I should recognize this as a symptom of being overstimulated but I don’t. I miss my usual toys. I’m trying to have a tech-free few days and except for a few tweets and instagrams, I’ve kept off the internet and I don’t have my computer. I brought a good old-fashioned paper book to read but after seven pages I’m reciting the overwrought prose out loud to R., who isn’t interested. Neither am I.

I’ve had a great day and am ready to chill but no chill is to be had. Chill being a comfy couch and sushi delivered. The evening campfires are lit and smoke chokes the camp. It seems worse tonight. We both cough. We opt not to build our own fire and eat cold turkey sandwiches for dinner. It’s now 9 p.m. and we are completely unable to entertain ourselves. Pathetic? Maybe. We retreat to the forced snuggling of our double bed and listen to an audio book.

I wake pre-dawn, having to pee, which involves getting up and getting dressed. It’s 5am though I haven’t seen this hour in years, I feel pretty good. I’ve slept six hours and that seems to be enough. We leave today and I was worried I wouldn’t have time to hike, but I’ve now got loads!

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I’d like to be in the big green meadow for sunrise so I set off. All the service trucks are on the road, getting in before the gridlock, but overall it’s peaceful. I check the weather on my phone and find out the river is at flood stage right now. The first sign I see of this is a two-inch deep coating of water over a ten-foot length of the path I’m traveling. What to do? There is no way around it. Though I don’t want to get my feet wet this early, I’m wearing all terrain sandals, so I go ahead.

I make it to where the meadow should be and find a lake. The meadow is completely flooded. This doesn’t seem strange. I didn’t know the meadow well enough to miss it and the lake looks fine where it is.

I cross the bridge and shuffle through cold water to a grass island and watch the sunlight creep its way down what might be El Capitan…not sure what all the big masses of rock are called. I’m surrounded by birdsong, though I don’t see the birds themselves. As the light slowly approaches me, I acknowledge I’m not a sunrise person. Daybreak isn’t particularly glorious or amazing. I know what comes next–whereas sunset thrills me…the start of night…of mystery. The period at the end of the sentence that was the day. Sunrise is ellipses. Not a thing in itself but the start of everything else.

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The sun is up and it promises to be another beautiful day. I really want to see Yosemite falls again. We saw it in the afternoon and I know it will look completely different now. Every feature in Yosemite has a different golden hour. The problem being that the paved path that leads to it is also part of the lake, fast moving water rushing over the black asphalt. I can see the shore, near the lodge, and it isn’t that far. What the hell. My feet are already wet.

The water isn’t just cold, it’s ice cold. Freezing. By the time I’m halfway across I’m knee deep and my legs are burning. I wonder how long it takes to get frostbite but don’t bother to look it up. It takes only taken five minutes to cross but it feels like longer. I stumble out of the river lake, embarrassed because I’ve done something kind of stupid. Fortunately no one is there to chastise me because they are all SLEEPING. As they should be.

My legs are both numb and burning and I towel them off with my sweatshirt. I take the paved road by Yosemite Lodge instead of the nature path because I’m temporarily sick of nature. I can wiggle my toes if not feel them. I think they’ll make it.

The cafeteria at the lodge is open and I go in for two eggs scrambled and multigrain toast and a chance to thaw my feet. The population of the sunny room is split between dazed people such as myself, and sporty people wearing backpacks with too many straps and pockets.

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When I’m fed and dry I head across the road to the falls and am rewarded by rainbows! Yosemite falls makes rainbows in the morning. I’m so glad I came. I people-watch from a mist-free location. It warms my heart to see adults completely in the moment, and so gleeful in the face of a thunderous and powerful and beautiful force. Thank god Yosemite is a clumsily-managed national park and not a for-profit venture. We don’t need zip lines and the Yosemite Under the Falls Experience. Okay now that I’m thinking about it, I do want that because it would be amazing. And that probably will happen, but back to my point. Watching my fellow humans “have a moment” is really nice. That woman could be a CEO or a waitress and she’d be making the same face. We stand together in awe. I guess that’s what keeps people coming to this place.

I take the long way back to camp, hiking a trail on the north side that puts me surprisingly high above the valley. On the map it’s just a fingernail from the road. I’m completely alone again, just me and the lizards and the birds. My analytic brain calculates the chances of me being raped and murdered and thrown in a crevasse and my creative brain says it’s zero. I’m sweaty and tired and safe and happy and very much living the moment, mosquitos and all. Success.

I needed a few days off the grid and in nature, and although I wasn’t technically off the grid and the nature was interrupted by the hideous structures in Housekeeping Camp, the nature still got me. Despite its awesome power and clear ability to smash and flood and eat unattended children, something in us wants to look up at a clear blue sky and impossibly vertical cliffs and gushing water and rainbows and smile at a stranger and proclaim, “Wow!”

Thanks, Yosemite.

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Last Day FOMO

Tuesday September 6, London

I’m always a bit frantic on the last day of a vacation. Did I see everything? Did I do everything? Did I get everyone a souvenir? Do I need to?

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I had it in my head to go to a real English hardware store. There, I’d find some amazing only-in-England thing. I didn’t know what. Maybe a keep off the grass sign, or some interesting nails. Or seeds for a flower I’d never heard of.

I found a well-rated one not too far from the hotel and headed north across Blackfriar’s bridge. I had fresh eyes after all the mud and was really appreciating London. I found a tiny, charming pedestrian alley and zig-zagged my way to my goal.

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Unfortunately the hardware store was lame. Barely even a hardware store. They sold small appliances, a few pots and pans, what you’d find in the hardware section of a supermarket.

Not to worry–my next destination was a real British toy store. “More a museum” the Internet said. Well…it was in Camden Market and was about 10 feet square.

The London Transportation Museum was right across the square so I decided to go to that…and discovered it was overrun with children! While it wasn’t specifically geared towards kids they were allowed in for free and there were lots of full-size buses and trolleys and tube cars they could play on and in. No disrespect for the kids, just the atmosphere was more playground than museum.

There was a special design exhibit about signage etc. for the tube, and it was the most badly-presented thing I’d ever seen. Every sign…explained by more signs…everything on top of each other. Crazy!!

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I was near the British museum so I decided to visit the Egyptian exhibits. Always great! I don’t know if this cool ceiling was there when I last visited but it is really nice.

It was getting late so I took the tube to St. Peter’s, which the nearest stop to the hotel I could get to without making a big circle and changing a bunch of times. Our hotel isn’t well-located as far as tube stops go. I peeked in the church but they were getting ready for mass so I didn’t stay long.

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My cell phone was having trouble with the map (lots of high rises?). I asked for directions from some construction guys–who pointed me in the wrong direction. I walked many blocks before realizing.

That night we had a fun event. A friend of R’s is opening a vinyl-centric, audiophile bar and cafe in King’s Cross, and was having the soft opening Monday and Tuesday nights. We were really excited to be in town for this. The area is very interesting. A nearby canal, and old grain silos (?) and other buildings being redeveloped.

We got to the cafe to find that it was under construction. Nowhere near being done. Boxes everywhere, sawing and hammering, workmen screwing tabletops onto bases. No party. : (

While I wish he’d have let us know, I didn’t regret going to that area. We got dinner around the corner at a great place called Grain Store. We were seated near the open kitchen and it was like watching a reality show, the French chef yelling at the sous chefs who were frantically cooking and plating food. They did everything with their bare hands, serving and arranging the hot food. They must be permanently burned!

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I went to bed tired but still worried I had more to do.