7 days in Ireland: Death Ferry Part 2 and the Cliffs of Moher

A helicopter wasn’t in my budget. A native husband wasn’t appearing in the mist.

I had to get back on the boat.

What I didn’t mention in my last post was that a boat ride to view the Cliffs of Moher from the ocean was included in our day trip package. This meant the death ferry would be taking the scenic route on the way back from the Aran Islands. However, our bus driver had mentioned offhand that we had the option of taking a different ferry straight back to the dock.

When my beloved boat worker (nautical term) saw how affected we were by the ride over, he strongly advised that we not do the Cliffs boat tour. The water would likely be even rougher and the ride even longer. Jackie and I didn’t need to discuss it. Obviously we would not be getting on that boat.

So when we arrived at the Inis Oirr dock, we waited in the wimp line for a much bigger ferry as the rest of our bus bravely waited for the Cliffs boat.

By then the rain had passed so we were able to sit on the top deck of the ferry with a prime view of the horizon.

I sat down and silently stared at that horizon.

When the boat swayed dramatically. When it seemed impossible that we wouldn’t topple into the angry ocean. When small children cried. When giant crashing waves splashed my face. I stared.

This wasn’t the first time it had helped me.

When I walk the streets of Philadelphia and a group of men stare and whistle.

When I walk the streets of Antigua, Guatemala and a man asks, “how much?”

When I walk the streets of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico and a man walks up and touches me.

When I’m a woman existing in this world. A woman of color.

I stare at the horizon. I don’t stop staring.

I stare like my life depends on it. Because, well, it might.

Ferry from Aran Islands

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And this time, it saved me again.

My stomach was unaffected by the boat (which we later learned was nicknamed “the rocker” ). I don’t fully understand the science behind it, but looking at the horizon worked like a charm.

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I was even able to appreciate the views of the Cliffs of Moher from afar.

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Once back on land, we had 90 minutes to kill before the rest of our boat returned, so we occupied our time by taking pictures around the parking lot. But this was no Walmart Supercenter.IMG_1094IMG_1091IMG_1101IMG_1103IMG_1114IMG_1117IMG_1120

Once the other passengers returned, we headed to the Cliffs of Moher. The Cliffs are the top attraction in Ireland and that was obvious that day. Squealing tourists, young and old, swarmed the cliffs, selfie sticks in hand. It wasn’t quite the spiritual experiences I’d anticipated.

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The evening fog also obscured most of the view.

IMG_1137But as we learned in Ireland: if you don’t like the weather (or the tourists) wait 5 minutes. A few minutes into our visit, it began to rain and most people scampered for cover. The fog cleared and we were granted a few moments of peaceful reflection.

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The views were spectacular – ancient rugged cliffs jutting out of the endless sea. I imagine on a different day, we would’ve lingered much longer. But as the rain cleared and the sun emerged, I was ready to get back on the bus and head home.

It had been a very, very, long day.

 

 

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7 days in Ireland: Death Ferry to the Aran Islands

I almost moved to the Aran Islands.

Let’s back up. A lot of people recommended that we visit them. Friends, friends of friends, people on the internet.

The Aran Islands are a set of 3 islands located in Galway Bay on the western coast of Ireland, with a total population of 1200 Irish-speaking residents. (Fun fact: Irish is a language, also referred to as Gaelic)

I’m all about a rustic island experience, so before I even touched down on Irish soil I knew that it was one thing we had to do. Because we had limited time, we signed up to do a combination day trip of the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher (the other must-do).

The day of the trip we awoke early, got caffeinated, then made our way to the coach.IMG_0482IMG_0493The weather forecast for the day was a bit iffy – rain was projected in the afternoon. But the scenic drive to the dock was clear and sunny, allowing us to stop for a photo-op before reaching our destination. Ireland really is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve seen.IMG_0792

On the drive up, the driver asked several times if anyone suffered from seasickness. There were a few murmured yeses. He gave some simple age-old advice for avoiding it: stand or sit outside on the deck and stare at something on the horizon.

I’ve been on many boats while traveling and my only experience of (mild) seasickness was on a cruise ship when I was 12. Otherwise, I’ve had no issues. There was a particularly traumatic speedboat ride from Belize to Guatemala. (Though It’s possible that I was too busy coming to terms with my own mortality to feel sick).  I figured that after that experience I was immune.

Mistake.

For our tour, we’d take a ferry to Inis Oirr (or, Inisheer) the smallest of the islands, and spend 2 hours doing whatever we liked. When we walked down to the dock, there was some confusion about which boat we were supposed to board. As we stood in the long line, I remarked, casually “Well at least it’s not raining”.

It immediately began raining.  No, downpouring. We were the cold, wet paired-up animals, and the ferry was Noah’s ark.  But disconcertingly much smaller. Suddenly the packable rain boots that I’d decided at the last-minute to remove from my bag didn’t seem so heavy. As we waited, shivering in the pelting rain, two of the girls from our bus began pointing at another boat and running towards it. We followed suit.

Once we made it on the correct boat, the potential to be drenched to the bone was enough of a deterrent that I went inside, along with the majority of the passengers.

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Every time I tried to take a picture I almost flew across the boat

Mistake.

Off we went. I stood confidently in the center of the cabin, gripping a pole while not so subtly gawking at one of the workers. As the boat surged forward into the churning sea, we made eye contact and he gave me a wistful smile. I later identified the look on his face.

It was pity.

Rain pounded the sea. The sea pounded the boat. The boat pounded the deepest caverns of my soul. I did not know I could turn a shade of green. I thought that was only in cartoons. The boat swayed violently, leaving me clinging to the pole while my stomach clung to that morning’s breakfast.

Then the retching began. All around us, people began to moan and puke.

“Hey could you grab me a sick bag, just in case”, I asked the worker, smiling through extreme nausea. I may have twirled my hair.  I had nothing to lose – I was definitely going to die.

Do not throw up in front of this beautiful man, I thought, repeatedly.

Is this green woman really flirting with me? he thought, probably.

I locked eyes with Jackie who looked like she’d seen a ghost. Which, it had become clear, we would all become very soon. I casually asked him if they’d ever decided not to run the ferry. You know to avoid tourist deaths and all.

“Oh yeah,” he smirked, “when it’s much worse than this.”

“IT GETS WORSE THAN THIS?!?  Casual had fled the building. There was that smile of his again. He assured us that this extreme turbulence would only last for another 20 minutes.  And he was right. We rode that terrifying ocean coaster for 20 more stomach plummeting minutes. Then it was over. The sea calmed and he recommended that anyone who was feeling ill go outside for the rest of the journey. I left my beloved and lurched toward the deck.  The blast of cool fresh air gave me a sense of relief.  It didn’t last.

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What I soon learned was that even when the boat has steadied and you’ve been returned to land, seasickness can stick with you like a barnacle on a ferry of death. I’ve thankfully never been pregnant but I imagine it’s what a combination of morning sickness and a post-wedding hangover would feel like. Hopefully not a feeling you’re familiar with.

 

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I’d had a vision of exploring this quaint island on a rented bike, waving at the smiling locals as Enya songs played.

Instead I immediately stumbled toward the nearest pub (260 residents, 3 pubs) to order that miracle elixir Ginger ale. We only had 2 hours allotted on the island and it took the first 30 to be able to order. Every person ahead of us seemed to order elaborate hot chocolate concoctions for their screaming children as I sat slumped over the bar groaning as my stomach churned with agitation.

Hell is real. I’ve eaten there.

I knew then that I would have to move to this island. I would learn Irish and marry the man selling fudge on the road. I would get really into horses and survive the cold rainy winters with pints of Guinness and my hot Irish husband to keep me warm. I would never get back on that boat. I would die there.

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After downing two ginger ales, a cider and some chicken fingers (known as chicken goujons in Ireland), I started to feel a little better. We spent the last hour wandering around the island, which was as I’d imagined: quaint and beautiful.

A labyrinth of time worn stone walls held together by nothing but ingenuity.  Deep green fields scattered with wildflowers. A pony dozing in a small meadow.IMG_0960IMG_0966IMG_0971IMG_0973IMG_0975IMG_0976IMG_0979

A sandy beach edged by large pieces of limestone. Sweeping views of the cobalt hued sea that had tried to destroy us.  A 15th century castle peeking out through grey skies.

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A  warning sign that still makes me scratch my head. Is there only one dolphin? He sounds pretty intense.IMG_1034

Inis Oirr is an enchanting place. I just wish time limitations and a near death experience hadn’t prevented me from fully enjoying it.

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Unfortunately our time was up. Turned out the Fudge man was already married and I was out of options.

We had to get back on the $%@& boat.

To be continued.

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7 days in Ireland: Galway

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Every time I mentioned I’d be visiting Ireland, people said “you must visit Galway.” When Irish people in Dublin inquired about our next destination, they all nodded excitedly with approval. Everyone loves Galway.

We loved Galway.

And Galway loved us.

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Which is why I have very few pictures of our time in the city. I was too busy falling in love, again, and again.

With the cobblestone streets, with the food, with the…oh who am I kidding. My neck got a workout from all the double takes.

After 2 days there, we stopped in a pub for a pint and started chatting with the (gorgeous) bartender.

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He dazzled us with his life story and his knowledge about Galway.

(And, in what was the most peak Irish moment of our trip, he mentioned he’d gone to his doctor for persistent stomach issues.  His doctor’s medical advice? Stop drinking Budweiser.  Not, mind you, that he stop drinking, or, I don’t know, eat more vegetables? Just that he stop drinking Budweiser. All those chemicals, he explained. And of course, he made a swift recovery. Questionable medical system aside, I can not overstate how much I loved Ireland)

He asked us what we’d done in Galway so far.  It’d been 48 hours after all.

Um. We began naming bars and restaurants.

“Have you seen the docks”, he asked, confused.

“The Spanish arch?”

*Other places I can’t remember because I was lost in his eyes.*

Crickets.

What we’d seen were the works of art from multiple nations strolling through the city. What we’d done was had 2 amazing nights out with locals and other visitors who’d fast become friends.

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The greatest part of Ireland is it’s people and Galway was no exception.  It was a true gem because of it’s friendly, welcoming locals.

So yes, go to Galway. Bring a rain coat. Find a true local pub. Listen to live Irish music. Knock back some ciders. Chat with locals. You just might fall in love with this tiny drizzly city and the people who call it home.

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7 days in Ireland: Dublin to Galway by train

The journey by train from Dublin to Galway offers a nice visual introduction to the countryside of Ireland. The scenery that flashed by varied from suburban townhomes to sprawling lush fields. There are so many vivid shades of greens in the country but trying to capture it all from a speeding train was mostly unsuccessful. Also cows. So many cows.

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Things to know:

  • Passengers can book specific train seats in advance, like an airplane. When you get on the train check the small digital screen above each window to make sure the seat is not reserved.
  • The train ride from Galway to Dublin was about 3 hours.  Taking one of the bus services is a bit quicker and cheaper but not as comfortable.
  • If there was a quiet car, we didn’t find it. Bring headphones.
  • There is however, a food/drink service person that rolls around so you can drink your way through the loud phone conversation happening next to you.

Dublin to Galway by train

7 days in Ireland: Dublin

We arrived in Dublin bleary-eyed and disoriented, underfed and underslept.

After waiting in several more lines, and retrieving our luggage, we slumped into a taxi. Thankfully our driver was hilarious and entertained us with stories about Americans he’d driven. Like the young Mormon woman who was horrified by his profanity. His impression of her, in his best American drawl (“You just said s-h-i-t and have dropped several f-bombs”) was a great (temporary) energy boost.

Upon arrival at our hotel, we realized we were both starving and exhausted – two basic needs that could not be met simultaneously. It took most of our energy to conclude that we probably wouldn’t be able to sleep over the sounds of our stomachs digesting themselves. We decided to get food at the nearest source: the hotel bar. I was baffled when he handed me a breakfast menu, until I realized that I had no idea what time it was.

I ordered a salad under the assumption that vegetables would make my body forget everything I’d put it through in the last 24 hours. It didn’t.

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Magic vegetables

Until that day I did not know how close a human being could get to unconsciousness while appearing conscious.  As we ate we laughed deliriously about how tired we were.  Sleep deprivation and drunkenness look very similar and everyone that was sitting around us would agree.  It took longer to get the check than it did to actually eat our meals. This became a theme which I’ll discuss in a future post.

And then we crashed. For hours. I know you’re supposed to stay awake and fight through it. But you’re also supposed to sleep on the plane so all bets were off. When we awoke we were still exhausted but unwilling to waste any more vacation time in bed.

Our hotel was in Ballsbridge, a wealthy neighborhood in Dublin. After I booked, I was concerned that it would be a bit far out of the city but it ended up being very walkable, with plenty of pubs, restaurants and stores, and only a 10-15 minute walk into city centre.

We easily blended in as we stared at our maps, bewildered. And stared at oncoming traffic, bewildered. And stared at each other, bewildered.

I think it’s this way. Wait do we look left or right? When do we cross? Are we awake right now?

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With the guidance of some helpful (and handsome) locals, we found our way to St Stephen’s Green, a gorgeous public park.

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After a nice stroll around the park, we stumbled upon Hugo’s, a lovely French/Irish bistro. The charming ambiance and extensive wine list were just what we needed. IMG_0101IMG_0109.jpgI don’t recall much after that, since I didn’t take any pictures. I think we walked around a bit more, wandered into a couple pubs, but the gravitation pull of our beds eventually became overwhelming.

The next day we were feeling semi-human again and decided to listen to the recommendation of several friends and do a Hop on Hop Off Tour. It is the best way to get your first introduction to Dublin (and take brief accidental naps on the shoulder of the stranger next to you).

IMG_0144IMG_0146IMG_0148IMG_0160IMG_0163IMG_0165IMG_0167IMG_0168IMG_0171IMG_0174IMG_0178IMG_0218With our ticket we could take unlimited tours for 24 hours. We ended up riding in 4 different buses – some were more modern with a recorded tour and complimentary headphones – while the others had a driver with a microphone. Either way it was well worth the 20 euros.  (At one point we waited 20 minutes on a bus for it to take us one stop – a 10 minute walk. We were that tired.)

We didn’t do many of the more touristy stops because the lines were long and our energy scarce.  But if you have the stamina, there are plenty of great options like the Guinness Storehouse, the Dublin Zoo, Jameson Distillery, Dublin Castle and much more. Instead we spent time exploring the neighborhoods, eating at random restaurants and buying me a wool sweater so I’d stop dramatically shivering. Ah those Irish Summers.

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Temple Bar

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Best purchase of my life

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First Fish and chips. Good photo op, mediocre taste.

Dublin is a fabulous city. Many people recommended that we spend a short time there before heading onward but I loved it and could see myself living there. It was clean, charming, surprisingly diverse, and easy to get around by foot or public transport. People were friendly and pubs, shops and restaurants were aplenty. I’d go back in a heartbeat. My first husband is waiting after all.

IMG_0238After a night spent ogling European men at a pub (how are there so many attractive ones? Why do we live in the US??) and a delicious dinner of tapas, we called it a night.

Next stop: Galway.

2 days in Dublin Ireland

7 days in Ireland: PHL to DUB

A few months ago, as is typical, I became overwhelmed with the need to flee the country. Wanderlust is always rippling through my bloodstream. But, sometimes, I’ll be sitting in my wall-less cubicle, squinting under fluorescent lights to rage-read an article about Trump’s antics or the 17th reply all to an All-staff e-mail, when suddenly I become frantic.

WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE, I CAN NOT DO THIS ANYMORE, I HAVE TO GET OUT.

I think most people experience this in varying amounts and can cope rationally. Maybe they decide to start going to the gym or adopt a kitten or just have a beer after work*.  My entirely rational response has usually been to uproot my entire life and move somewhere new. But this time, at the exhausted age of 34, my reaction was to book a trip to Ireland. (After all I’d just moved, again)

I’ve always wanted to visit Ireland. Sure it looks pretty, and former visitors rave about it. But let’s be honest, one of my biggest reasons was vanity. Whenever I’ve traveled abroad, I’ve received the most attention from Irishmen. No matter where I’ve gone: Thailand, Guatemala, anywhere, they find me and they make me feel pretty. So imagine a country full of them! My weary, aging ego’s dream realized.  I recruited my friend Jackie as a travel buddy, and we booked our flights in June, for a late August arrival.

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Whirlwind: A Timeline

Sunday, April 2: The last of my New Orleans visitors flies back to Philadelphia. I miss them immediately

Monday, April 4 – Sunday, April 10: 7 day, 80 hour work week that is exhausting and defeating. I practically crawl out of the building on the 7th day.

Monday April 11- Tuesday April 12: Existential crisis ensues. My life breaks apart at the seams, jagged pieces cascading into the darkness. Just kidding, I FaceTime my mother several times and eat too much licorice.  I decide I am moving back to Philadelphia. Another existential crisis. What will I do in Philly? And when can I go? And how? Should I go back to advertising? Wait what? Where did that come from? You have a Master’s in SOCIAL WORK. 

Wednesday April 13: I start then later stop 5 applications for social worker positions in Philly. I spend hours on a cover letter that I never submit.

I feel suddenly compelled to send a slightly frantic message to an old friend who I worked with in advertising in Philadelphia. Unbeknownst to me, she just happens to be visiting New Orleans (!!), and offers to meet for drinks that evening. We drink wine and catch up and I pour my existential crisis all over her. Metaphorically drenched, she is insightful and encouraging and exactly what I need at the moment in my life. So is the wine. I decide to (maybe) make a(nother) career change (eventually).

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The days we have left

As a child, I thought I was immortal. It’s common belief of children, with their underdeveloped brains. Less common I’m assuming, was my conclusion that I was the second coming of Jesus Christ*.

I was never a religious child, but during my forced church attendance, I learned that Jesus was supposed to be coming back to town, and he was due any day now. In retrospect, I may have been paraphrasing. Naturally, I wondered, “well what if he’s back already? And what if he…is me”? (My views on gender fluidity were clearly before their time)

At the age of seven I had no shortage of confidence. I saw no reason to believe that I wasn’t Jesus reincarnate. I was filled with, what I considered, timeless wisdom. I believed that I would never be smarter than I already was (because I was just so smart). And, I knew that I was immortal, evidenced by the fact that well, I was still alive.

I remember standing on the porch of my childhood townhouse in New Jersey trying to figure out once and for all if I was Jesus. I knew that if I was, I had a lot of work to do. Wars to end, Poor to feed. After much contemplation, I rationalized (this was an entirely rational process) that if I was Jesus I would have the power to do anything. I gazed upon one of the neighboring town homes and thought, “if I were Jesus I could lift that building with my pinky finger”. Knowing the limits of my prepubescent strength, I was disappointed to realize that I probably wasn’t Jesus. Just a superior child replete with infinite wisdom.

That was also the moment I realized that one day I would die.

I spent much of my subsequent childhood fascinated by death. I was constantly asserting to my poor mother that I was dying.  It was technically accurate, but not what a parent wants to hear on regular basis from her strange (only) child. I  was convinced that I would die young. As each year passed, pushing back my impending death date, I remained steadfast. It was coming.  This all seems very odd and morbid, I’m sure. Death is not something that people like to think about in this country. We like to pretend that almost everyone lives to be 97, dying peacefully at home surrounded by tearful loved ones. Other kinds of deaths are tragic, unexpected, unfair.

The most freeing moment of my life was when I realized I was mortal. Since that day on the porch I’ve been keenly aware that you only get a certain amount of time in this world to do everything you want to do. For some people that is 100 years, for others it is much less. Not knowing how many days remain makes me ever vigilant about living my best life.

In the movie Troy,  Brad Pitt utters this line:

“The gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.”

I don’t generally like to quote movies that I haven’t seen, especially when it’s a quote that’s widely disseminated on Pinterest boards. But that’s it. That’s the sound-byte of my strongest life force.

It’s a myth that a shark must keep swimming or it will die. But I often feel like that mythical shark. I am always plotting, planning, ideating, dreaming of something bigger than my life. Because if I stop working towards something, I fear I will start to sink. The stagnation of an average misspent life, the life I fear much more than death, will drag me to the bottom.

I’ve started to feel lately like I’m floating. Not quite sinking but not propelling forward either. Just kind of bobbing in place, trying to figure out which way to go.

But Death looms nearby (or far away, I can’t be sure, I’m not Jesus) and I can float no more.  I’m going to shake things up (again) and make that seven year old weirdo proud.

Jesus may spend his days lifting houses with his finger, but this mortal has way more exciting things in store.

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This house was too heavy

*Ironically I later briefly dated a man who too believed he was the second coming of Christ. It was even his e-mail address. But at the age of 23 I think that’s just considered psychosis.

 

 

New Orleans, A love letter, part 2

Dear New Orleans,

I wrote to you nearly 3 years ago when we first met. At the time I was swelling with excitement and optimism. (I was also swelling quite literally after 3 rainy, sweaty, rum drenched months in Central America). I saw you through the eyes of a tourist. Your brightly hued architecture, your happily waving natives, your relaxed attitude.

Your motto, “laissez les bon temps roulez”. Let the good times roll.

Second line down Bourbon street. Shake your ass to a brass band. Stroll around the quarter, daiquiri in hand, singing in the rain. 

That’s what I wanted to do. The beat had been playing in my head for 30 years and I was ready to dance.

I hadn’t yet seen your dark side.  Because when you visit it’s easy to see:

The humor of navigating your pockmarked crooked roads

The beauty of your sunken homes, their sun weathered residents sitting on the porch mid afternoon.

The allure of your cozy 24 hour bars and laissez faire drinking laws.

The romance of your empty, dimly lit streets, staggered street lamps flickering your path.

The appeal of your fried, charbroiled, buttered, gooey, drenched, decadence for every meal.

Your magic.

In all those Instagram opportunities, it’s easy to miss what they also represent. Your corruption, your poverty, your segregation, your unemployment rates, your substance abuse, your lack of resources, your crime, your police shortage, your obesity rates, your health epidemics, your lifelong struggle.

After nearly three years, I can say with an odd sense of triumph, my years with you have been my greatest challenge. You have tested my confidence, my joy, my relationships, even what sometimes felt like my sanity. You have splayed opened my heart and you have broken it.

Most of all, you have laid bare your vulnerabilities and shown me that that is where true strength and resilience lie.

I was a different person when I arrived grinning at your door.  I am wiser, humbler, unfettered by the ghosts of the past. I have new burdens to carry but they are the world’s burdens and it was about damn time I started bearing my share.

I still believe you are built on magic. Your resilience and your beauty still take my breath away. I’ll be leaving you soon, my heart is ready to move on. But baby, it’s been a helluva ride.

“Y’all live longer up there but we live better down here,” A local said to me recently.

I couldn’t disagree.

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Dear Babies (1)

5 days in Portugal: Sintra

Ohhh Sintra. What is there to say about Sintra?

A lot. But I didn’t read all the placards scattered around town.

(My former man friend did. In fact he read every single one. Skimmed them? No, no, every word on every placard. In every museum, in every castle, on every sidewalk.  Hours of reading as I staggered through jet lag, seasonal allergies and a mild-to-moderate hangover. If you’re wondering why we’re not together, read every word in that paragraph and you’ll get this gist)

So instead I lazily present you with pictures of a town that looked like a living breathing postcard.

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