Freak Alley

On a recent solo road trip I took to visit a friend in Salt Lake City, I stopped in Boise as an interval to break up the long drive. I had never been to Boise, I honestly wasn’t quite sure what to expect except for maybe a lot of potato references. There was actually no mention of potatoes my whole time there. Instead, I met a handful of joyful and friendly residents of Boise, some of who showed me the beautiful culture of the city. One friend brought me down a road called “Freak Alley” which is a whole alleyway dedicated to graffiti art drawn by local residents. As we strolled down the alleyway, I got absolute chills (it helped that a group of three young men were in a circle in the middle of the alleyway serenading us with jazz tunes–one on drums, one on guitar and one on the trumpet.)

I went back the next afternoon to snap shots of all the art that moved me. I had been feeling pretty lonely during a lot of my solo road trip and this art work I came across touched me in a way that I needed it to the most at that time. I realized that this is the beauty of art–these artists, who knows where they are right now, but they were with me that night and day that I viewed their work. Kindred spirits, all of them. Check out their amazing work below:

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Following the Heart; Adventure Part Tres!

 uniquegeology2Along the sea coast on the edge of the Antrim Plateau at The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.

Thanks for continuing with me as I recall my recent adventures overseas to Iceland and Ireland.  I left off from my last adventure blog-post, Following the Heart, Adventure Part Dos with my take-off from Iceland to Ireland.  My arrival into Dublin airport was quite magical as I was greeted by a rainbow as soon as I got outside and boarded the double deck bus that would scoot me into the city center.  My friends from Portland were not able to get similar dates as mine to Dublin, so I had four days of solo travel until they arrived.  To stay on the cheap side of things I booked one night at a hostel and three nights with a Couchsurfer girl.  I have utilized Couchsurfing many times in the States, both by hosting many travelers and traveling to different states and being a guest, but this would be my first experience with it overseas.

rainbowThe first view of Ireland for me from my double deck bus en route to Dublin.

As soon as I arrived to my hostel and dropped off all of my luggage I met up with two Chilean guys that I met from the Couchsurfing “Dublin Travel Board”, we all clicked right off the bat.  They were like-minded adventurous spirits and we instantly shared our similar stories of traveling, it turned out that they were country-hopping and would end their travels a few weeks later in Russia.  They had been in Dublin for a couple days already, so they showed me all of the city’s main hot spots and they knew of cool happenings that night.  My first night in Dublin was spent dancing with my new friends to the talented Daithi O Dronai who is an Irish DJ that incorporates a synthesized fiddle into his set.  I am not really a huge electronic dance music fan, however this kid is wildly talented and if you’re into that type of music, I highly recommend that you check him out!

The following morning I parted ways with my new friends and researched directions to get to my Couchsurfer’s apartment as she was expecting me later that morning.  According to my phone’s GPS, it was about a 30-minute walk to her place from the hostel.  Even though I had a pretty heavy backpack, I decided I’d walk to her place.  I wanted to burn some calories from my first night of Dublin debauchery (i.e. more food and drinks than what I normally consume.)  The fresh air as I exited my hostel to walk towards my Couchsurfer’s place was a welcome chill.  The 30-minute jaunt turned into 60-minutes of walking and soon I realized that I was completely lost.  The street signs in Dublin aren’t very user-friendly, most of them are on the buildings of the street and that’s if you’re lucky.

I came upon half a dozen people or so that were Dublin locals and they had never heard of the “Marrowbone Lane” that my Coushsurfer lived on, I was starting to believe it was just a make-believe name, as it was kind of comic book sounding anyhow.  Unfortunately my phone had died yet again, but I had my Couchsurfer’s address and phone number written on the palm of my hand. The one hour of being lost turned into two hours, but Dublin’s colors really shone bright to me in that two hours.  Every single person I came across was so incredibly sweet and helpful, truly listening to me as I explained to them my situation and pulled up the handwritten-GPS of my palm to show them the address of my Couchsurfer.  I also discovered that when people asked me where I was from in the States, when I first said “Oregon” I just got me confused looks, so my new story was “I am from California” and I’d get big smiles as people nodded their head with familiarity,  haha.

Two elderly Irish men walking their dog helped me find my way for about three blocks and Marrowbone Lane was finally discovered, but the exact number of the address my Couchsurfer gave me was nowhere to be found.  Communicating with the two elderly Irish men wasn’t the most fruitful as their Irish accents were so strong it literally just sounded like a different language to me.  They kindly directed me to a convenience store where the patient clerks behind the counter let me use their phone to call my Couchsurfer.  That was the final success as Cindy, my Couchsurfer, answered her phone right away and informed me to stay put at the convenience store and she would come grab me.

xmasdubChristmas décor in my Couchsurfer’s ‘hood.

My first evening with Cindy had a very dreamy feel to it.  It happened to be Christmas Eve and she knew about a gathering from Meetup that was going on at a local neighborhood bar which was called a “Bono” meetup.  Unbeknown to me, Bono (the frontman of the rock band U2) is an Ireland native and apparently Dublin locals are pretty obsessed about it.  Word had it on the street, that he’d possibly be making an appearance near the bar where the Meetup was.  After having a drink and chatting it up with some of the locals at the Meetup, we joined the group to walk a few blocks over to where Bono was supposed to appear.

It was a small crowd at first, maybe about 50 of us, but over the next hour it turned into thousands of people waiting on this small street in front of a shoe store where Bono was supposed to appear.  I was perplexed as to why people were so certain that he was going to show up and after chatting with a couple locals, I discovered that he had been at this exact shoe store exactly a year ago on Christmas Eve, so people were more so just living for the past.  There truly was no guarantee that he was even in Dublin at all.  The waiting got a little redundant until some Irish cuties jumped on top of a giant trash dumpster to the left of me and started playing their acoustic instruments.  They started playing some classics which turned into a sing-along with them, one of my favorites being “No Woman No Cry” by Bob Marley.

Cindy and I headed back towards a pub called M.J. O’neill to meet with my two Chilean friends again for Christmas Eve dinner.  As soon as we entered, it was so loud with beer glasses clinking and jolly voices alongside laughter that I could barely hear my friends.  We soon discovered that it was very popular for the Irish locals to attend mass on Christmas Eve and then consume a bunch of calories at the nearest bar afterwards.  M.J. O’neill had three different floors and about three to four different bars within each of those floors.  The main floor had a gigantic buffet of Christmas fixings and of course the classic fish ‘n’ chips if you wanted to do the usual Irish fare.  My friends and I grabbed the only place left to eat, a standing table on the third floor and watched traditional Irish music with dance as we chowed our delicious food down.

oneillsOutside of the lovely M.J. O’neill where my new friends and I spent Christmas Eve.

Christmas was chill, lazy and perfect to catch up on relaxing after being on the go constantly as everything was closed in Dublin on Christmas Day.  Cindy and I cooked a home-cooked meal while watching old cheesy Christmas movies.  The days following Chirstmas with my Couchsurfer were pretty solo as she ended up having to work on job- hunting most of the time. I spent a multitude of time getting lost in the city of Dublin by myself, but people were so eager to help the lost “Californian” girl that I had no troubles eventually finding my way.  Irish people are seriously some of the kindest souls I have ever met.

dontbeafraidThis sign appeared to me and calmed my frazzled nerves during one of the many times I got lost :).

I met up with another sweet Couchsurfer from the “Dublin Travel Board” named Mikhail who is from Romania originally, but has been living and working in Dublin for the last six years.  He took me to the famous Temple Bar in Dublin where we had a delicious hot whisky and talked about so many interesting subjects, he is into metaphysical stuff like me so we had a lot to chat about.  He took me on a much needed nature hike alongside Dublin Bay that ends at a beautiful lighthouse with a sweet graffiti message at the end.  The sunset above the water was pure magic and exactly what I needed after having spent so much time in the city.  Afterwards, we met up with some other Couchsurfers from the “Dublin Travel Board” and went on one of the famous pub crawls in the city.

sunsetdublindublincoastrespectandunityThe beautiful walk on Dublin Bay to Poolbeg Lighthouse.

On my last solo day in Dublin I took a tour at the Guinness Storehouse, which just so happened to be in Cindy’s backyard practically.  Even though I am not a fan of stouts what-so-ever, Guinness is the famous beer of Dublin, having been around since 1769.  I figured it would be one last solo adventure on my own before meeting up with my Portland friends later that day.  The tour was mediocore, my A.D.D. kicked in, but luckily it was a self-guided tour where you watched different videos and read plaques on the walls.  I eagerly hopped up the stairs to the last setting of the tour which was a beautiful, circular-windowed bar at the top floor of the building that had perfect views of the city, I turned in my “Redeem One Free Guiness” ticket and chilled at the top, soaking in the wonderful atmosphere.  There were astounding views of Dublin through the wide glassed windows, jolly families chattering around me and one of my favorite tunes “Waiting” by the Devlins   playing on the overhead speakers.  It might have been the beer-buzz that was talking, but that exact moment in time felt so beautiful ….as if it was just a great dream.

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guinesshorseandbirdA dreamy stop at the Guinness Storehouse.

I met up with my Portland friends, Kat and Charlie, later that morning at the airport.  We had planned on Charlie doing the driving because Kat and I were both a bit hesitant about doing the whole “other side of the road” driving, but as soon as they informed me that they were both running off about 1-2 hours of sleep, I realized I needed to face my fear and do the driving.  I was super anxious with the thought of driving the rental car out of the Dublin airport, through Dublin traffic and through the endless roundabouts while driving on a completely different side of the road.  I have slight dyslexia, so I truly was curious if my brain was going to be able to compute this new direction of driving.  I took a few deep breaths, followed signs as they were noted and actually acclimated to the opposite side of the road incredibly fast!  It turned out to be a blessing that I drove first because then I was so comfortable with it that I ended up driving most of the trip.  I get car sickness pretty quickly as a passenger, so it was quite perfect for me to be the driver.

ireland5A photo-collage that I made entitled “Irish Animals Like to Give Me the Stare Down.”

Kat, Charlie and I traveled together for almost two weeks and one of my favorite memories ever was from our third day together.  After waking up the earliest that we had ever awoke on that trip, we parted ways with our Air BNB in Cork, Ireland to head a few hours away to Fanore, Ireland.  Kat had done some research a few weeks prior about a 5k run that was going on there.  The 5k was to help rebuild a wall of a cemetery in Fannore, one of the most surreal benefits that I had ever supported, haha…only in Ireland!  Halfway through the run you were able to have views of Fanore beach, on the west coast of Ireland.  All of the animals we came across quietly stared us down as we were getting our run on.  That 5k was the least competitive run that I have ever done, I loved that fact because competition is what I usually dread about races.  There was no huge timer and photographers at the end, just a friendly older Irish man handing us medals and we came back to where we started the race.

ireland4irealnd3On top:  Me, Kat, and Charlie after the 5k, Below: Awesome Irish runners of the 5k.

After the race, we headed another of couple of hours away to our Air BNB in Galway and chilled out for the rest of the day there.  The following day, which happened to be New Year’s Eve day, we decided to venture out to the Hill of Tara in Meath.  The Hill of Tara was at one time the ancient seat of power in Ireland’s historic and pre-historic times.  That afternoon, I was hit with the nastiest cold ever with an incredible fever and body aches.  I really wanted to explore the Hill of Tara though, so I overloaded on Ibuprofen.  Walking around the land on the Hill of Tara was incredibly inspiring.  The energy of the whole area felt very mythical and the historic feeling of it was incredible.  A cemetery is at the entrance as you climb up the hill to get to the top and then rolling hills greet you alongside all of the ancient monuments.  As I quietly strolled the hills, I had to pinch myself to question whether I was dreaming or if I really was spending my last day of 2016 in this magical land.

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fullsizerenderHow my New Year’s Eve went down: The Hill of Tara and then beddy-bye for me.

As the evening drew near on New Year’s Eve, my illness got worse as I realized that my Ibuprofen overload had ripped my stomach apart.  I spent New Year’s Eve night wrapped up in my pajamas watching YouTube videos and reading in bed as Kat and Charlie explored fun in the streets of Meath, Ireland.  My evening of rest had me feeling so much better fortunately that to make up for my dreary New Year’s Eve, we got to spend a magical day at Newgrange.  Newgrange is a prehistoric monument that dates back to 3200 BC, making it older than the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge.  Walking on this land on my very first day of 2017 was surreal.  As a bus courted us out the the ancient megalithic monuments, I again found myself pinching the skin on the back of my hand questioning if it was all a dream.   My favorite part was when our tour guide did a demonstration of what it looks like inside the monument as the sun rises inside the monument (they mimick what it looks like with a demonstration shining light through the little window inside.)

newgrangeirealnd10Happy Happy 2017, first day of the New Year’s spent at Newgrange!

Our last few days in Ireland were spent in Northern Ireland and then back to Dublin for the final night.  Nothern Ireland is considered part of the United Kingdom (the southern part of Ireland is not which means their currency is different as well.)  In Northern Ireland, we hit up The Giant’s Causeway, which is an area of unique geological formations that were built up from and ancient volcanic eruption.  The Giant’s Causeway is in the Northeast coast, with spectacular views of the sea coast on the edge of the Antrim plateau. We also spent some time in Belfast exploring the Titanic exhibit, as this is where the Titanic was built in 1912.  On our final day in Dublin I braved the crazy streets for one last jog before the long plane ride back to the States and witnessed a bicyclist get hit by a car, thank goodness he got away okay with just a few scrapes, but that was an intense last moment of an otherwise blessed trip!

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 ireland12In order from top to bottom: 1) The Giant’s Causeway. 2) Kissing the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle in Cork. 3)Another castle that I don’t remember the name of :/  4) Unique geological formations at The Giant’s Causeway. 5)Walking alongside the water in Belfast (right by where the Titanic was built!) 6) A mural in Dublin.

Following the Heart; Adventure Part Dos.

image6The Northern Lights as seen from Iceland.  Photo Credit: Eyal Saiet

As promised from my previous post, I am going to blog about my adventures overseas that I was blessed with throughout the last half of December and first part of January.  I am currently going on a third day of being cooped up inside after Portland’s worst snowstorm in decades, so it’s forcing me to finally write and I am loving that fact!  Who would of thought that one of the things that I dread most (snow) would bring me to finally working on one of my prized passions (writing)? I will take it. 🙂

So after playing around in the Redwoods for a few days and volunteering at a meditation course for ten days, I headed back to Portland for a quick reorganization of my backpacks before flying overseas to Iceland.  My friend Heather was gracious enough to let me crash at her place in Portland for the couple nights before my flight.  The day I was to fly out of Portland I decided that it would be a good idea to go on a long run at my most favorite park in Portland, Mount Tabor.  As soon as I left her house, my jogging shoes almost stepped on half a globe lying in the street.  I kid you not, how synchronous is that?  I took a picture of it for proof!  I took it as a good indicator that I was on the correct path.

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My flight to Reykjavik, Iceland was easygoing, I sat next to a sweet young couple that held hands the whole plane ride and excitedly told me about their plans to rent a car to drive around the whole country of Iceland for nine days of holiday.  The 7 1/2 hour flight from Portland to Reykjavik went incredibly fast as I filled it up with movies, music, reading, and a couple meditation sessions.  We had a smooth landing and arrived at around 8:00 in the morning.  As I embarked on the one hour bus ride from the airport to the main Reykjavik bus hub I noticed that the sun wasn’t even close to coming out.  It hit me that I arrived to a country that is notorious for short winter days and it happened to be December 21st, the shortest day of the year….yikes.

My sweet Air BNB host, Dia, picked me up from the bus terminal and navigated the snowy highways cautiously, she informed me that they hadn’t had any snow up until two days prior to my arrival.  I felt as if I was back in my homeland of Minnesota, the dark day mixed in with the fresh powder of snow was all too familiar.  After arriving at Dia’s house and stashing my stuff, the sun was just starting to come out, around 9:45am.  Dia explained to me how to get into town from her place with the city bus that had a bus stop directly in front of her apartment.  I had been up for almost 36 hours at that point, but I was so excited to explore that I definitely caught a second wind.

The city bus pulled up in front of Dia’s apartment pretty quick after I arrived, I greeted the driver and plopped down on the warm seat.  Hearing all of the Icelandic language being spoken around me along with the grey glow of light peaking through the city bus windows had me pinching the back off my hand to question if I wasn’t just actually dreaming.  To me, being sleep deprived upon entering a foreign land is one of the most surreal experiences ever.  It was really nice being on the bus and taking in the brand new views without having to worry about driving in the massive amounts of snow.

image2-2 A view of Reykjavik harbor in the distance

I got off the bus as soon as it entered the main Downtown area of Reykjavik.  I marveled at the cute European shops and art murals lining the streets.  After walking the streets and just taking in the new culture for about an hour, some hunger pangs hit me.  I realized I hadn’t ate a full meal since lunchtime in Portland the day prior.  My first stop was at an ATM which involved the ATM eating my Icelandic money back into the machine and there was no phone number anywhere listed on the machine.  I went into my head and spiraled a bit thinking, “Damn, it’s colder than Minnesota here and Iceland stole my $80 and I don’t know why I decided to come to Iceland in December, am I crazy?!”

Upon the mini-freak out, I decided to anchor in at a little convenience store and munched on a unique Icelandic cheese panini.  I wrote half a dozen post cards and watched the day-to-day workers and students passing by the front window.  After eating and calming down a bit, I decided to venture back out into the city.  I walked a lot for the rest of that day, getting lost a multitude of times and stopping in to warm up in stores every 20 minutes or so as it had been a while since I have had to deal with below freezing weather.

Anxiety hit me from time to time because it had been a while since I traveled a foreign country on my own.  I tend to have a bit of the good ol’ A.D.D. too and sometimes forget that I need to be paying attention to landmarks and street signs since I didn’t have another set of eyes with me.  At one point I got so in a trance taking pictures of the beautiful graffiti art that encompasses Reykjavik that I got lost, trying to find my bus stop.  It just so happened that a blizzard decided to start at the same time.  I didn’t end up bringing my warm winter jacket to Iceland because I knew I’d only be in Iceland 3 days and I didn’t want to trudge it around for the 2 ½ weeks that I’d be in Ireland.

image2-3image1-5 The trippy artwork that inspired me to get lost in Reykjavik :).

I brought out my paper map of Reykjavik from my backpack and after looking at the street signs, it hit me that I was completely turned around.  I asked a couple that walked past me in the desolate residential neighborhood I was in for directions and they informed me with broken English that they weren’t from Iceland either.  I started to head down what seemed like the correct direction, only to be brought into an even more desolate residential area. The snow was coming down so hard and it was becoming hard to see.  My clothes were completely cold and sopping wet.  I realized that if I were to have another mini-freak out it wouldn’t help me to get drier or find my way out of being lost.

The neighborhood that I found myself lost in was eerily quiet, I could only here the soft patter of snow landing on the ground and parked cars around me.  There wasn’t a store, person or car driving in sight.  It felt slightly as if I was in a nightmare that I had created all on my own.  Again, my inner child started freaking out in my head and that’s when it hit me that I was forgetting to breathe.  I practice meditation not to escape life, but to utilize it as a tool for when difficult situations (such as the one I was in) arise.  The breath centered me and I came back to the logical reasoning of heading back from the direction I came from before going further into the void.  I came back upon the street where I initially realized I was lost and ran into a human angel that stopped, looked at my map and pointed me into the correct streets to get back to the bus stop.

The bus stop had a warm store near it that I got a hot espresso from and warmed up my bone-chilled body the best I could.  I glanced at the clock in the store and it hit me that I had been up officially for 43 hours, instead of further exploring the city, I decided in my sleepless state of mind that would probably be best to head back to Dia’s place.  And it’s good I did because I got lost two more times realizing that I had taken two of the wrong bus transfers to get back to Dia’s place.  When I finally was on the right bus, my head kept nodding off as if I was a heroin junkie and I almost missed my stop because I was half asleep.

After sleeping for 12+ hours at Dia’s, I ended up sleeping through my alarm and missed catching the tour bus that I had signed up for the day prior that was to take off at 10:30 that morning to a few Icelandic nature spots at the famous Golden Circle.  My mind went into spiral mode again “oh mannnnnnnnn, an ATM stole $80 from me, the food has been crazy expensive here, and now they’re probably going to make me pay for a second ticket because I was a slacker that slept through my alarm.”  I came back to my breath yet again, “Chill Ilona!  Chill!  The girl that sold you the ticket yesterday was an absolute sweetheart and she will be a sweetheart about this situation too I’m sure.”  I was completely correct on that accord, the girl was super kind again when I got to the tour bus location and she booked me onto the next bus without any extra fee.

image5 Making peace with the bitter cold in front of Gullfoss waterfall.

The Golden Circle was beautiful and jaw-dropping despite the bitter cold.  The tour consisted of Gullfoss waterfall, Strokkur geyser and Thingvellir National Park, but it was a speed version of it as we only had four hours of daylight, it made me crave thoughts of coming back to Iceland in summer months and driving around on my own.  As we loaded back onto the bus to head back to Reykjavik, the stars looked amazing and the clouds had an other worldy color that for a split second I mistook for possible Northern Lights.  I realized that I had only one last night in Iceland and it would be spent in the city, so my chances of seeing the Northern Lights, I was told by many, was slim to none.  The tour bus driver informed us that some people come to Reykjavik for a whole week and never end up seeing the Northern Lights, it’s truly all about timing, clear skies, and luck.

image4 Strokkur Geyser doing it’s thang!  It goes off every 5-10 minutes.image3-2 Thingvellir National Park, where you get to walk between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates!  They are pulling apart at a rate of a few centimeters per year.

After the bus dropped us off, I walked the city streets unsure of what to do next or where to go, I stumbled upon a delicious Chinese buffet.  As I settled in with my Icelandic beer and first mouth-watering plate, I turned my almost-dead phone on, I had just a little bit of battery juice left.  I noticed a few messages from a fellow traveler that I met through an online traveling website and had been corresponding with the couple weeks leading up to my trip.  He had rented a car and was just coming back from the countryside into the city and wondered if I’d like to go find some hot springs with him?  PERFECT!  What an excellent last idea for my last night in Iceland, I thought to myself.  My new travel buddy, Eyal, arrived to the Chinese buffet at the speed of light and joined me for a drink.  After we talked and gained a rapport, I realized I was with a cool human and we started our hot springs hunting.

The first hot springs that we were trying to get to didn’t end up existing, or if it did it exist, it didn’t want us to find it.  The second hot springs we came about was in a first ring city right outside of Reykjavik and it turned out to be a foot-soaking hot springs.  As we headed back to his car we both looked up and spotted green skies.  Wait what?  Green skies?!!?!  The colors grew thicker and wider and stretched upon the sky as if it was an amusement park light show.  It danced and changed length or size.  Eyal broke out his camera and started taking time lapse photos.  The wind chill was hitting our bones, but at that point the light show above our heads was so wild that I didn’t care if I got frost bite.

By the time the natural light show was over, we attempted to go to one last hot springs, only to find that there was no water in it.  I was so completely elated that I got to see the Northern Lights that I was happy to head back to my air BNB without having a hot springs soak.  Eyal and I agreed to drive to the airport together the next morning since we both had flights around the same time, only his was to Norway and mine was to Ireland. My host and her husband were home and they let Eyal crash their floor impromptu and Dia packed my backpack with chocolate from an Icelandic chocolate factory that she works at, it was a lovely last night in their home.

Stay tuned for the Ireland adventures on my next blog post!  Thanks for reading 🙂