We'd packed, planned and prepared for every possible thing and finally it was time. On the 30th of May, we loaded up the car with the dogs and our giant international suitcases to drive to the mountains for two nights, pre-flight. We were going to be leaving our dogs with a friend up at our mountain house. And we were flying out of Charlotte which is a shorter drive from Newland than Raleigh.
On Monday, May 2 (our anniversary!), we flew from Charlotte to London to Dusseldorf, Germany. My brother was there smiling at the airport to greet us. We proceeded to take the train to the city he is living in for the summer with his wife and son, Bochum, Germany, about an hour and a half away.
We spent four nights in and around Bochum followed by three nights in Ghent, Belgium. We did one side trip to Bruges, Belgium. Both Ghent and Bruges have many Medieval buildings in tact. Here are pictures from Germany (mostly Bochum), Ghent and Bruges Belgium.
|The bakeries were amazing!!|
|Nate and I at Bochum Central Park|
|Asparagus season - asparagus everything!!|
|Todd and I outside a restaurant in Bochum|
|My nephew Simon riding his balance bike - all the rage among German kinder!|
|Some delicious beer at a bar in Bochum|
|Some kind of danger sign|
|Bochum Central Park is FILLED with rabbits!!|
|Bar selfie - the kids behind me are playing a bar game with stacks of coasters that we couldn't quite understand. Still interesting to try!|
|A familiarity to any Starbucks patron|
|More delicious pastries in Bochum|
|Brother Nate and his son Simon on a day trip we took to a town near Bochum|
|Todd looking out the castle window|
|Some kind of crazy German drink comprised of wheat beer and fruity stuff|
|Todd entertaining our nephew at a restaurant|
|Getting labs while in Germany. Quite the adventure that was!|
|A renovated castle restaurant we visited which had (Todd claims) the best waffles in all of Germany|
|Aunt Laura entertaining nephew Simon - he pretty much thinks I'm the bomb|
|Picture of me taken on top of the castle with awesome waffles that I'm sure involved climbing a ton of steps - go me!|
|Simon charging ahead on the self-guided tour|
|Just another torture chamber picture, no big deal|
|Some guy was selling a bunch of Nazi memorabilia at a flea market in Ghent. Why not?|
|A beautiful city garden in Bruges, Belgium|
|Adorable owl chocolates in Bruges, Belgium|
|View of old buildings from the canal tour perspective in Bruges, Belgium|
|Deliciousness everywhere in Belgium|
|A late night walk, viewing lighted up buildings in Ghent, Belgium|
|There were town squares everywhere in Belgium|
|An old canning machine at Zot brewery in Bruges|
|So many interesting confectioneries in Bruges|
|Another night time picture: view of buildings across the canal|
|Night reflection of lights in Ghent, Belgium|
|Best. Waffle. Ever. Eaten canal-side in Ghent|
|View of the canal in Ghent, Belgium|
|The dragon head! Used to sit atop a famous tower in Ghent, Belgium|
|Delicious beer, anyone??|
Part Two: Ireland!
On May 10, we had a hellishly long journey - three trains, two taxis, two planes, one bus and our wonderful tour guide/host/friend Tom - to get from Ghent to Dusseldorf to Dublin. We had a horrible delay at London City Airport. (If you've never heard of that airport it's because it's so damn small!!) At least we were comped a bunch of vouchers. The airport was having technical difficulties with their monitors inside the terminal so there were a huge number of people who had missed flights crammed into that place.
Our time in Ireland, spent mostly with Todd's best friend Tom, was very enjoyable and relaxing. We were so fortunate in that Tom took us to parts of the west coast that we didn't see on our last trip and not only was the scenery amazing but (something you totally can't control which is usually cloudy/rainy and yuk) the weather was incredible too!
We stayed the first night at Tom's, traveled on the West coast for four nights, and then spent the remaining four nights back at Tom's (with Maria, too!)
|Our first stop setting out for the West coast in Ireland was, of course, a distillery. Here, an old wheel in Kilbeggan Distillery.|
|Ah...vats of fermenting whiskey|
|The bloody Cliffs of Mohr!|
|I kicked ass hiking around at the Cliffs. Go lungs!|
|A really ancient burial or ceremonial structure|
|There was some creepy/cool stuff at some of the old grave sites we visited at ruins of abbeys. Here, the virgin herself.|
|Grave markers outside the old abbey|
|Ruins at an abbey|
|Tower at one of the Abbey ruins. Nothing phallic going on here!|
|I love the stones that are so old you can barely read them: smoothed by the sands of time and overgrown by mother nature.|
|Former mill and attached house that Yeates built/restored. Right next to a beautiful river in the middle of nowhere Ireland|
|Everyone loves an Irish door, no?|
|My go-to alcoholic beverage in Ireland. If only I liked whisky!|
|Guinness sign in Old Irish|
|Deciding on whiskey...so many choices, so little time...|
|A Connemara pony! These horses are bred specifically to be shorter and stouter than other houses so they can best work the soft, watery terrain of the region.|
|Connemara National Park: I managed ~1/3 of the way up and Tom and Todd made it all the way to the top!|
|A picture of a bog woman...so fantastically creepy!! There are 4 famous bog people in Ireland. We saw their eerily preserved bodies in person at a museum in Dublin.|
|Kylemore Abbey still functions today. It is a tourist destination primarily because of its enormous formal and other various gardens|
|Baby sheep from the tour of the sheep farm. Baby sheep are the best!! We saw them all over Ireland and I couldn't get enough.|
|The baby sheep are about 5,000 times cuter than this in person. They are especially cute when you drive past them on the road quickly (sorry, Tom!)|
|The last part of our western tour was driving out Achill Island. It was so beautiful, the sea and the soft cliffs seemed to go on forever. Here, view of the beach in the next photo.|
|A little too cold for swimming, eye? But plenty warm for a good old Irish sunburn! (~70 degrees)|
|This cool stone circle structure we visited, much older than Stonehenge|
|A cool trail/pilgrimage marker of Saint Somebody|
|"It's not religion, it's more than that. It's history."|
|The gorgeous Maria and handsome Tom taking us out for our last night|
|The only store Todd has ever been excited about going into in the history of forever|
|Waiting for the train to take us to Dublin. Tom showed me something foreign: being on time.|
|A door arch into a church ruin|
Our trip home was thankfully uneventful. I took some medicine to make me drowsy. Back in Newland, our suitcases stuffed with chocolate, whiskey and souvenirs, we spent a couple of days hanging out and seeing family before we drove back to Raleigh. I spent much of those days, as well as a day when we got home, sleeping a lot of the day. I felt down, my glands swelled up a little, and I was a little sad to be home.
After those few days, a strange thing happened. When I travel I, probably like a lot of people, think about what it would be like to live in the places where I travel. As I started thinking about what things made my European vacation unique - more socially minded society (Germany), great beer any place at all that you go (Belgium) and the simplicity of life in small-town Ireland - I then started to think about what made my city unique.
While most of North Carolina is completely backward, our little piece of it is not bad. There is a huge handmade/local movement here for everything from honey bees to beer and vegetables! I love that I am two hours from the beach and three hours from the mountains. And most of the people who I associate with are not mean or discriminatory toward people who are different and - most of all - a lot of people around me disagree with the shenanigans the state legislature has been up to.
In addition to the refresher about the things that make me happy where I am, I also realized a couple of things I wanted to start doing differently. The big one was that I need to find a good, steady yoga practice. I've been away from yoga for too long. Secondly, I knew that there were some personal issues I'd been having with people that I needed to let go of and just move on. Lastly, I had really enjoyed not having constant access to facebook, texts, email and the internet. I simply could not believe the amount of mental space that takes up in my brain all. day. long. I strive now to be less digitally connected and more connected instead to books, my writing and all of the amazing people in my life.