A Pause

21 Apr

I want to take a break from writing about my travels and take some time to reflect.

I want to go back to a hot summer’s day about three years ago. It was family reunion time for the Weaver household. As it often goes with families, we spent much of the time joking and telling stories and reliving the past. The adults consumed lots of wine and I, the youngest and only teenager, looked on with the skepticism only a 16 year old can impart.

Weaver Family reuion circa1960

Family reunion circa 1960

Most of that long weekend was a loud, raucous and mildly stressful blur and the tiny beach side rental cottage was usually filled to bursting, but there was one afternoon when the heat and humidity got to be too much for the majority of the family. The house was silent except for the buzz of flies and hum of fans. Family members sclathed themselves over sofas in a sweaty stupor. While the “grown ups” sat about, my brother Will, my cousin Jack and I decided that it was the perfect afternoon to go adventuring.

As you know, one cannot go adventuring without provisions, so we made greasy fried onion and cheese sandwiches wrapped ’em up in newspaper and plonked ’em into a knapsack along with a couple of cold ones (for the legal drinkers only, of course). With that done we were ready, and so we set forth, prepared to conquer the wilds of Rhode Island. As we walked the three of us joked and teased, completely comfortable together. Despite the fact that I was (and still am) younger by 5 years, and a girl to boot, the boys treated me as an equal, a partner in crime. We were united, facing the world head on together, like the three musketeers. We clambered through dry, thorny brush and over piles of rubble; ignored the “Private: do not trespass” sign nailed to a tree and finally plunged through a wall of honeysuckle out onto a grassy, hedge lined pathway. Sucking on honeysuckle blossoms, we meandered on, waiting to find the magic that one expects to find on adventures.

Nature's candy

Nature’s candy

Just when we were about to give up, we found it: we found our magic. It was a small grassy oasis surrounded by a sea of shrubs and vines and there, spread out before us, was the actual sea, glistening in the afternoon sunshine. We plopped down in the shade and marveled at our luck. As we chewed our sandwiches and sipped our beverages we contemplated life and laughed about our family and told stories from our shared childhood. It was as if space and time slipped away, it was just us, in a beautiful place, sharing each other’s company. We lay there for hours, sometimes chatting and sometimes just enjoying the silence together.

As the sun started to set, we headed back home to our family. I felt as though we were co conspirators in our adventure; it was an experience that was just ours. A moment of perfection that no one could ever take from us. As we strolled through the evening air, I felt closer to Will and Jack and a feeling of pure happiness surrounded me. Every time I relive that afternoon, and I do quite often, I am filled with that same happiness and serenity, despite the bittersweet quality of the memory: almost exactly two years ago, my wonderful cousin, Jack, died and this is one of my last memories of him.

the Three Musketeers

the Three Musketeers

Although I can’t see him or talk to him anymore, Jack lives on. He is in every incredible thing I see: the view from Notre Dam at sunset, the rolling, wintry hills of Scotland and the ragged coast of Ireland. He is in every breath of wind, every ray of sunlight and every drop of rain that falls. It is Jack’s passion and ‘live life to the fullest’ attitude that inspires me everyday. I want to, like him, find adventure and wonderment everywhere I go and to not waste a moment that could be spent experiencing this wonderful world that we live in.

Here’s to Jack, one of the greatest people I will ever have the fortune know.

End with a smile

Can’t help but smile

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Vacation within a vacation

15 Apr

After our traumatic experience with the chickens, Bridget and I decided we needed to take a break from farming. So we took a week off to see a bit of  Scotland. We started off with four glorious days in Edinburgh. The first thing we did after checking into our massive hostel was to climb up to Edinburgh Castle.

The Castle

The Castle

It was one of those rare Scottish winter days when the sun was shinning and it wasn’t freezing cold. Actually, for that whole week the weather was incredible, our guardian angels were looking out for us. Despite my hatred of climbing hills, I enjoyed the hike because the view was stunning. We could see the whole city spread out beneath us. Thankfully that sight of the city made the climb worth it because entrance to the castle ended up being ridiculously pricey, what poor backpacker can pay £15 to see a castle?

Not too shabby

Not too shabby

It so happens that when you are travelling you start off wanting to go to every historic site and into every famous museum. This desire wears off very quickly. So by the time Bridget and I wound up in this city so full of amazing museums and cool sights, we were done with days packed full of “culture.” It is not as if we spent the entire time sitting around doing nothing. We walked all around the city and got in some superb people watching (my favorite activity). In the evenings we entertained ourselves with sangria and a relaxed game or two of Jenga (4 glasses of home made sangria for £8, now that’s one delicious deal).

Scrummy Sangria on a Budget:

1 bottle of very cheap wine

1 bottle of very cheap “sprite” soda

2 oranges (on offer), I squeezed, the other sliced (decoration!)

1 punnet of strawberries sliced

mix it all together and enjoy!

yup

yup

Just walking around a city can really give you a sense of the place and even though we didn’t do much besides walking I was able to fall in love with the city. It is just the right size, the architecture is incredible and the people are friendly. One day I will be back for the music festival.

The monument

The Edinburgh monument

We said goodbye to Edinburgh and headed to St. Andrew’s: the home of golf and more importantly where Wills (Prince William) met Kate (Duchess Katherine).  If you ever go there I advise that you don’t stay too long. We were there for two days and we were super bored by the end (no offense people of St. Andrew’s). The town is so small that even after just an hour of walking around we were recognizing people. Despite it’s small size and lack of things to do, the town (village?) is really cute and the seaside is lovely.

The ruins of a cathedral, spooky

The ruins of a cathedral, spooky

We enjoyed an afternoon sitting in Starbucks (horrible, I know) and had a great time making up stories for the passersby. By the second day however, activities were running low. There is only so much time you can spend reading self help books on the floor of the local bookstore. So, unless you are a student or a golf fanatic I wouldn’t recommend staying more than an afternoon in St. Andrew’s.

Next stop on our whirlwind tour of Scotland: Dundee, known for two things: Jam and Jute. We met up with a friend from Paris who goes to the university there and let’s just say it was a bit of a crazy weekend. Also, if you are a little hung over, don’t climb up Dundee Law, even if the view is incredible.

Was it worth it...?

Was it worth it…?

We left Dundee a little worse for wear. I was so tired from a week of too much fun that I fell asleep on the floor of a bus station. For some reason I got lots of dirty looks… Although it was a great week, we were glad to be on our way to Willowford farm and our next WWOOFing experience.

Next up: I finally get to experience caravan life!

home, sweet home

home, sweet home

I would like to finish this post with a request: After the recent bombings in Boston, I ask that we all send our thoughts and prayers out to everyone affected. I hope that in the future we will not know days such as these.

“Hope is like peace. It is not a gift from God. It is a gift only we can give one another.” 

-Elie Wiesel

Chicken Run

12 Apr

Have you ever been in the same room as 2,000 chickens? You probably haven’t; I would count yourself lucky. It is a terrifying experience.

At Overlangshaw farm in the Scottish borders, where I spent 3 weeks in February, I got my first experience with dairy and chicken farming. The first thing I noticed when Bridget and I arrived at our second WWOOF spot was the view. It was one of the most stunning views I have ever seen, and I got to watch the sun rise and set over the magnificent vista everyday for 3 weeks. Every day the sky was different- filled with unique beauty. It was one of those sights that seemed to make everything better and always filled me with an intense feeling of peace.

lovely.

lovely.

After traveling with my dear friend Bridget for a little over a month and sharing most of our time and space together, our relationship was a wee bit fragile. Eventually everyone has to learn how to be in a relationship of any kind. Traveling tends to put a lot of extra stress on any relationship, as Bridget and I quickly discovered. All of our suppressed emotions came to a boiling point that first day at Overlangshaw and right in the middle of collecting some 2,000 eggs we had our first ever row. I am the kind of person who tends to shriek a bit when I am upset while Bridget is very good at remaining calm and manages to still sound human during heated arguments. Had anyone overheard our argument I am sure it would have been tremendously comical.  Both of us needed that fight. Although it was unwise to hold in all of our irritation for so long, at least we eventually we managed to air our grievances. After several hours of cold silence pierced only with curt, formal words things went back to normal and for the rest of that stint of our journey we had a tremendous amount of fun together.

We got up every morning just before sunset and after a hurried breakfast we went out to greet the day and our new best friends: the calves. Our first job of the day was to give the 8 (eventually 10) calves their breakfast. I fell instantly in love. Each one had their own distinct personality. Several of them were actually complete jerks and we did not get along, but there were three that were just wonderful. I felt so supremely lucky to start and end my day with some of the world’s cutest/sweetest animals.

the perfect one

the perfect one

After the awesomeness of baby cows our morning took a slight downturn. It was chicken time. First we had to open the chicken houses. There were 2, each the home for 2,000 chickens. When I opened them up a wave of hot, stinky air would wash over me. Next up: egg packing. A conveyor belt would pick up all the eggs, so all we had to do was pick ’em up, clean the crap off  ’em, stamp ’em and box ’em. After a while we got pretty quick and stopped breaking quite so many. It was then that the truly awful part of the day commenced: checking the hen house. Twice a day one of us had to enter the hen house and walk all around it to make sure everything was fine. It was like something out of a horror film. Try to picture a dark, long room, reeking of chicken shit and hot poultry (to a degree in which breathing is difficult). Imagine that you can barely walk what with all the birds crowding around you, pecking and your clothes and when you finally reach the end, you realize you have to turn around and go all the way back… Despite the immediate awfulness, I must admit that I always felt super bad ass when it was over and ultimately I am very appreciative of the whole experience. But now the awful story and the experience that slightly scarred me.

similar to what I experienced

similar to what I experienced

It was not uncommon to come across a lone dead chicken and I could deal with them without bating an eye lid, but there was one morning, near the end of our stay, when I was in checking on the hens and I turned a corner and what did I find? Not one dead chicken, not even two, I was luck enough to stumble upon 154 dead chickens. That is how I learned about chicken smothering. Chickens are very skittish creatures and the littlest thing can send them into a mass of frenzy. In this case they had run out of food, a fact that Bridget and I had failed to pick up on . When something sets them off they basically just huddle into a corner until they smother each other to death. I now have the deaths of 154 chickens weighing me down. Bridget and I both felt sick, sure we didn’t really know what we were doing and no one actually blamed us, but it felt almost like we outright killed them. I think I will forever be extra nice to chickens.

Moving on to nicer things…

best job ever

best job ever

The middle of the day was very unstructured. From 10 until 5 we rarely had much to do. Usually we would make second breakfast, my new favorite meal and then we would watch some tv and bake cakes. We were always asking for jobs, but usually there wasn’t much for us to do, until we found our calling: ice cream making assistants.  We made vanilla ice cream, chocolate ice cream, cheese cake ice cream, maple walnut ice cream, mocha porter ice cream and much much more. Every batch was made with organic milk and eggs from the farm. It was the best ice cream I have ever had and I got to eat bowls and bowls of it every day! If you ever want to gain some weight I recommend eating second breakfast and eating ice cream everyday.

I won’t put this at the top of my WWOOF experiences, but as general experiences go, it was up there. Bridget and I laughed so much that our stomach muscles got sore. We got to live in a place over looking valleys and mountains with incredible sunsets. We learned a hell of a lot about chickens and how not to kill them. And finally we met some really cool farmers and gained a whole world of new experiences.

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Our faithful egg carrier, Landy

Finally, A big thanks to Sheila, Martin, Lucy, the cows and the chickens we didn’t manage to kill, for giving us a great time and teaching us a lot.

Evil, thy name is rhododendron

20 Feb

I swear, it is evil

 

It’s WWOOFing time! After a month of being a tourist and lazing about, I was more than ready to get my hands dirty again. It was pure luck that landed me and Bridget at Craichlaw Estate in Southern Scotland. When it comes to WWOOFing you never really know what you are going to get. Every new host is completely different. Perhaps they are different for the better or perhaps it is for the worst, but you can never truly know what it is going to be like.

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The house, or should I say mansion?

Craichlaw turned out to be a large estate and our hosts were Andrew and Mary who ran the huge operation and graciously welcomed us into their museum status home. Bridget and I were fortunate enough to be given the best possible digs. We had our own apartment complete with separate bedrooms and individual bathrooms: it doesn’t get much better than that!

For the two and a half weeks Bridget and I worked our little tushies off. Our primary task was clearing the surrounding wood of that little rascal rhododendron. If you were to take a quick glance at our work you would think we were merely moving large bushes over about 50 feet, and sure sometimes it felt like that was all we were doing, but at the end of the day we managed to ride the land of a whole lot of nasty, invasive plants.

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Our trees will look like this one day

In addition to plant hacking we helped plant over a thousand trees on top of a hill. It was rough work, but the view of the sunset from atop the hill made it all worth it. The sky was a different color in every direction and where ever you looked you could see for mile upon gorgeous mile.

Most mornings were were lucky enough to get to feed the animals. There were 2 horses, 5 sheep and a whole mass of piglets. Plus, we could coo over the neighbor’s super cute calves (as in cows, not legs).

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Ruby, the 7/8 thoroughbred horse

The pigs were the most entertaining. Whenever you entered the pen the piglets would crowd you and nibble your boots and the HUGE sows would nudge you rather roughly with their massive heads. There were several occasions where I barely escaped falling face first into the puddle of feces and urine that was ever present. Being around animals can have a very calming effect, but I don’t recommend it if you don’t like getting a bit dirty.

During the many wet and rainy days we would sit inside chatting or listening to music while we polished the large collection of old leather bound books. We found one that was printed in 1642! If we weren’t outside or polishing books we helped make bread or uncatalogued furniture. It might sound like we worked a lot (and we did), but it was great fun and it felt amazing to spend so much time out doors in such a beautiful place. We were also spoiled with delicious food and great company.

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An afternoon walk with Daisy

I want to sincerely thank Andrew and Mary for giving us such an amazing experience. I came away with more new knowledge than I ever expected. The whole point of this whole experience is to get out there and experience new things and meet knew people. Sometimes things don’t work out, but in this instance they could not have been better. The bar has been set high.

Next up: Have you ever been in the same room as 2,000 chickens? Well, I have!

**I apologize for all errors, if it annoys you that much, don’t read it!**

Lazy in London

17 Feb

Hey folks!

A lot has happened since I last wrote about a month a go. It might take a couple posts to catch up, so bear with me. After Paris Bridget and I headed to London. The cheapest was to get from one city to the other ended up being a bus ride. However, if you can, I recommend splurging for a train. We left Paris at noon and got to London at about 10:30 pm. Three of those ten hours were spent sitting in a parking lot waiting to cross the Chunnel.

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At least we had Stella to keep us company

I hate to admit this, but for the sake of honesty: I spent my first week in London sitting around watching TV and eating junk food. To be fair, I had just spent 10 days being a crazy tourist in Paris and I needed some R and R.

Eventually, I did manage to make it out of the house. Since I have already been to London several times and have seen most of the sites already and because I had just spent a week sitting around, I decided to walk around for a whole day. I think I walked up and down the Thames river about a hundred times. I walked all around Parliament, the Globe theater  ST. Paul’s the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Oxford street…just about everywhere you can go (that is just a slight exaggeration). It was a beautiful day, but after 6 hours of traipsing around I was chilled to the bone and the next day I opted for an inside adventure.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral

Before this trip my favorite museum had always been the Met in New York, but now a new and fantastic establishment has moved to position numero uno: The British Museum. I spent four hours there and still wanted more. If anything good has come out of British colonialism, it is the collection at the British Museum. If you are ever in London, you have to visit.

Near the end of my visit the city was hit with a snowstorm (nothing by New England standards, but London came to a standstill). I went for a walk through Regent’s park in the snow; it was incredibly beautiful. The snow muffled the city sounds and covered all the city grime. I felt like I had been transported to a new world. Of course, that uplifting feeling dwindled quickly as I got colder and colder. But, I did discover yet another incredible museum. The Wellcome Collection is the perfect place for those of us who love quirky things  and don’t mind feeling slightly uncomfortable. In addition to Henry Wellcome’s collection of curios including a real live chastity belt and Napoleon’s toothbrush, there was a temporary exhibit called Death. It might sound morbid, but it wasn’t. I don’t know how to explain it, but it was actually a positive experience.

Although I didn’t get up to much and spent lots of time lounging around, I would say that this part of my trip was a success. However, I was excited to be on the road again heading for Scotland and some new territory.

 

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Enjoying the snow

PS: For all those Grammar Nazis out there: I know my punctuation etc. is rarely spot on, but please forgive me, nobody is perfect

An American in Paris

9 Jan

Finally, I am updating my blog, sorry for the wait.

I just got to London a couple days ago and only now am I able to chronicle my French adventures. I won’t tell you everything, cuz that would be boring, but I can give you some highlights.

If you, like me, enjoy meandering through old grave yards, next time you are in Paris you should stop by Cemetery Pere-Lachaise in the 20th arrondissement. There are even some famous people buried here, but even so, all of the graves are really quite beautiful.

Nobody famous....

At the cemetery

One piece of advice: Never go to the Tour Eiffel on a weekend, even if it is mid winter, the lines will be torturous. However, obviously this is an un-missable site. I went there around 9 pm and climbed to the 2nd floor (it is A LOT of stairs) and it was amazing. The Tower is definitely at its best during the night. Sadly, I didn’t get any pictures of it…

In 10 days I managed to see most of the city and I can easily say that my number one favourite place was the view from Sacre Ceour as the sun sets. You can see the whole city laid out before you and you can watch the Eiffel Tower light up.

Sacre Ceour

It might be a lot of steps up to the church, but it is definitely worth it. My second favourite part of Paris was going into Notre Dam during a night time service. I am not a religious person, but the magic of that beautiful building plus the angelic singing brought tears to my eyes.

As for spending New Year’s Eve in Paris, I don’t particularly recommend it, unless you have heaps of money to spend. Not that my night wasn’t awesome in it’s own way, but it had it’s rough bits. Plus there are no fireworks in the city, which in my opinion is quite lame.

Where I rang in the New Year-let down

Where I rang in the New Year-let down

 

I stayed in 2 different hostels while in Paris, the first and best was walking distance from Sacre Ceour and had a fabulous atmosphere. I met a great crowd of fellow backpackers. I definitely recommend Le Montclair Hostel. The next place was rather awful even if it was dirt cheap.

French food: I can’t say much about…I haven’t really had any. I do know croissants though. You can buy them anywhere and every single one is delicious. You can also buy crepes on every street corner. Other than a mountain of baked goods, I mostly ate frozen dinners and McDonald’s hamburgers. It might be embarrassing, but that is reality for those of us with little to spend.

Mmmmm

Mmmmm

I hate to say that I can’t last very long in museums, so it was impressive that I managed 2 hours in the D’Orsay (which is a wonderful museum). But I spent only 30 minutes in the Louvre, just enough to see the Mona Lisa….but if anyone asks, I saw all the important things.

Another bit of advice: if you are going to Versailles, which you should, go on a nice day. When I went it was cold and rainy, so I didn’t really get to wander the gardens as much as I wanted too. But even so, the palace is quite awe inspiring. Honestly, it’s a bit dreadful that anyone every spent so much money on a house…

Mary Antoinettes bedroom!

Mary Antoinettes bedroom!

One our last day in Paris, after my insistence, my travel buddy Bridget and I headed to number 8 rue de cherche midi, home of Poilane bakery. I read a fascinating article about the bakery in the New Yorker shortly before leaving for this trip and decided that I had to go there. I hate to say this, but I was massively let down. Although the shop is absolutely gorgeous, the goods are not. The croissants were a bit stale and he famous bread wasn’t that great. I might have been anticipating it too much, but still, if it is supposed to be the best bread in PARIS, it is supposed to be excellent. It’s similar to how the famous macaroons at Laduree are not that delicious; definitely not worth  €1.75…

Bread!

Bread!

I have always dreamed of Paris and thought that it would be perfection itself. Honestly though, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Don’t get me wrong, it is an amazing city, full of amazing things, but it, like anywhere else has its short comings. Maybe it is because for years I have built up Paris as the most amazing city in the world, of course nothing is that great, but still.

Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing time and met some great people (incidentally I met zero French people…); it was an excellent beginning to this 5 month adventure.

Next time I go to Paris I will bring tons of money so that I can really live it up and experience the best that Paris can offer.

PS Don’t take a bus from Paris to London, it’s 10 hours long…

The Reek

5 Nov

The Reek

Alright. I am back, finally. I guess I never realized how hard it would be to sit down and think of something to write that people would find interesting. It seems that every time I try to write a new post  my mind goes blank and all I can think of is what I had for breakfast…and I am fairly certain that no one wants to read about dry toast and too strong coffee.

So, instead of breakfast I will write about the mountain I climbed in Ireland. Granted it was a rather small mountain (2.507 ft),but it was a mountain none the less and I was proud.

In County Mayo, just outside of Westport sits Croagh Patrick. It is said that hundreds of years ago Saint Patrick spent 4 days and nights atop the mountain and now it is a place of  pilgrimage. On Reek Sunday, which is the last Sunday in July, hundreds of people climb the mountain in the middle of the night. The most incredible part of this pilgrimage is the that the climb is done barefoot!

Now, I did not climb the mountain on Reek Sunday, nor was it the middle of the night and I did not climb barefoot, but I did climb it  (those that know me can attest that ANY physical feet is impressive when it comes to me). Not to be rude (I am going to be anyways), but you have to be crazy to climb this mountain barefoot. The whole way up is quite steep and VERY rocky. Sometimes rocky can just mean that the mountain is made of rocks, in this case the mountain is just covered in small rocks that are not at all secure. I am not particularly “cool” with heights or falling down rocky slopes to my death, so needless to say it was slow going and my heart got a little panicky several times. Anyways, after 2 hours of hard climbing (going down was easier, but waaaaayyyy scarier) we (the 2 French WWOOFers and I) got to the top and we all felt very accomplished and decided that we were Warriors.

Such a warrior

 

From the top of the mountain we could see for miles around us. Ines, Olivier and I were blown away by the sight of Clew Bay and its many islands (365-one for each day of the year!). We were also awed by the small church that was built a century ago. Back then there were no airplanes of trucks to haul bricks and boards and the builders got their supplies up the steep slope on the backs of donkeys. I am not a religious person, but if I were I would find this simple, unadorned building to be the perfect place to worship God.

The Church

I loved this “epic” journey up Croagh Patrick because it gave me yet another opportunity to soak up the beauty of Ireland and another chance to better understand the rich and inspiring culture.

The view

Although this is not the best of posts, I would like to dedicate it to my dear cousin Jack who would have been 25 tomorrow. He dedicated his short life to living and was not scared to follow his heart, every day his life inspires me, so here’s to the mighty Yak.

Jack built this wall in Easkey, Co. Sligo

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