Friday, August 26, 2016

if you don't swim in this freezing water, you will literally regret it for the rest of your life

Bus tours are controversial.  Lots of people try to say that it's a tourist, not a traveler thing to do.  To these pretentious people, I roll my eyes.  What's fantastic about bus tours is that you get to see a lot in a relatively short amount of time. Why not see a much as you can so you know what you should explore deeper next time? What can I say, I'm a tapas kind of girl.  Also, if you do your research, you can get a tour guide that actually extremely knowledgeable and passionate about wherever you are going.

This crazed lunatic was our guide on a bus tour to visit a string of tropical rainforest waterfalls near Cairns, Australia.  Don't let the dopey, stoner look fool you.  Our guy, despite being literally barefoot all day, was all about the science and could thoroughly answer any crazy rainforest question I could dream up.  Because I am a winner and the fastest, I snagged the front seat of the bus and got to both bombard him with questions and take some killer shots through the windshield. One of the many things taught to me by my good friend Brett is that an Australian redneck is called a "bogan".

This was my view from the front seat! 

We had to drive up the mountains to get to the rainforests.  Our first stop is to visit a gigantic tree in the Atherton Tablelands, the Cathedral Fig Tree.  It's a parasitic, strangler type of tree that attaches itself to a host tree and absorbs it (this one looks like it ate all the trees).  

A great shot of both this ginormous tree and my gams!
(stolen from Bethany's Facebook)
Danbulla National Forest

Like toilet water, the vines twist in opposite directions depending on which hemisphere you are in.  

Also, notice how in all these pictures there are cloudy skies.  That would be because it's raining most days of the year over here, keeping the plants happy and lush.  The cloud cover plus the tree canopy create a surprisingly cool climate here, which unfortunately I did not plan for in a sundress and bathing suit.

Our next stop is Lake Eacham, a dormant volcano lake that is 215 feet deep all the way around. It's important to note that over here, Aussies rarely go swimming in lakes/rivers/the shore to avoid becoming a crocodile food.  Fortunately, the crocs aren't into elevation so we were free to go swimming in the rainforests.  This idyllic picture totally masks the fact that this water is absolutely subzero freezing. We were both extremely hesitant about getting the lake, especially me because I'm a baby. Beth rallied and said, "If you don't swim in this freezing water, you will literally regret it for the rest of your life." So we got in and didn't dry off for the rest the day.  The motto of the day was born.  

We can't feel our faces but hey, at least we're 
swimming in a volcano.
(stolen from Beth's Facebook)

Dinner Falls, Mt. Hypipamee National Park
A flowing glacier

I guess cows are more aggressive here... 
Millaa Millaa Falls, Millaa Millaa Park
So beautiful, so few degrees

This is a rainforest wild turkey!  They were constantly underfoot everywhere we stopped. The real question is where did this corn on the cob even come from? We are way deep in the bush at this point.

Bethany stalks a wild turkey

Josephine Falls, Woonooroowan National Park

In the end, we were very glad that we YOLO-ed our way through the cold waters, even though they definitely got progressively colder. I can't decide if the Great Barrier Reef or being in the rainforest is my favorite thing to do in Australia.  Cairns is absolutely incredible.  Although this the first trip into the rainforest, it definitely isn't the last! Stay tuned for more tales of rainforest adventures, including an awesome ziplining course down the mountain.  Please enjoy this video of us completed exhausted on the way back home.

This Barefoot tour is non-negotiable on your Cairns itinerary
Bethany took some great iPhone snaps in the water with a Watershot case
Fall in love with Australian Brush-Turkeys (just kidding, ew)
Learn how the Cathedral Fig Tree claims its victims 
Plan your trip to Lake Eacham 
Dinner Falls also has a buddy attraction called The Crater at Hypipamee National Park
Watch Millaa Millaa Falls hypnotically cascade 
Wooroonooran National Park is huge and full of natural wonders to explore 

did you like these australian waterfall pictures? check out more on my flickr!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

it's "hoooooooohhhhh-th", not "how-th", "hoo-th", or "hout"

Confession: To this day, I still have trouble remembering how to pronounce the name of the quaint Irish fishing village of Howth (Pro tip, it rhymes with "both").  Irish words can be a little tricky because they sound and are sometimes spelled so close to English words.  In truth, the two are from separate language families, Celtic and Germanic, and the alphabets are pronounced completely differently.  Take the Irish word for café, "cafaidh."  It's still pronounced café. Let's just say it's easy to sound like an idiot when traveling in Ireland.   

Also, proud owner of the most unintentionally hilarious web address ever
Howth!  I came to this little peninsula on an excursion from Dublin and walked the entire perimeter on a free seven-hour walking tour. Yes, you heard me! FREE, I SAY!  Hilly and verdant inland with sheer cliffs bordering the sea, this place is home to a medieval castle and one of the homes of William Butler Keats.  

Howth Castle, now with electricity!

Once there was a farmer who snuck up on a leprechaun drinking beer by a cook fire.  Quickly snatching him up, the farmer demanded that the leprechaun take him to his treasure.  The leprechaun kicked and fought but when he tired, he agreed to show the farmer where his treasure was buried in exchange for his freedom.  Leading the farmer into a thicket like the one in this picture, the leprechaun pointed to the bush that marked where the treasure was buried.  The soil was hard and rocky and the farmer didn't have a shovel.  He decided to go get the tool from home so he took off one of his red socks and hung it on the bush so he would remember the spot.  On the walk back towards home, the leprechaun pleaded for the freedom he was promised. A man of his word, the farmer agreed and the liberated leprechaun ran away into the forest.  When the farmer returned to the thicket with his shovel, he found a red sock hanging on every bush in the thicket!   

This is a local fairytale told to me by our Irish guide. 

William Butler Yeats lived here in his childhood.  To celebrate, here is a poem he wrote about a place that is not here, but is still lovely. 

Not Innisfree
The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles mades;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
And evening full of linnet's wings.
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core. 

This is the same hillside as the one in the previous picture.  See those pretty yellow flowers up there? They belong to the invasive gorse plant, highly flammable thanks to oily stem veins.  A massive gorse fire scorched this part of the hill a couple of years ago and this completely different vegetation is the result of the earth recovering. 

See those tiny white smudges in the rocks?  Those are a huge flock of puffins hanging out. Each speck represents three puffins.

Lobster traps

And one more Yeats poem to say farewell to Howth: 

Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet;
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Howth Castle History and tour
Book your own free walking tour of Howth
Kill two interests with one link and read more Irish fairytales edited by Yeats. DoublePlusWinning

did you like these pictures of Howth? check out more on my flickr page! 

Friday, August 12, 2016

beignets and ghost stories

There are many jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, face-melting places around the world. Sometimes, you don't have to travel too far from home to find them.  The French Quarter in New Orleans is vibrant, with music spilling out of every window, art on the streets, and the supernatural around every corner.  A heady blend of Creole spices permeates the air.  It's a perfect blend of old and new.

Please note that this guy is playing a washboard.

Danny Delancey works on a new painting in his The Stroll series.

Cafe au lait and fresh beignets at Cafe Du Monde

Back in the good ole days of Napoleonic war-mongering, France suddenly found itself in a coffee shortage. Enter chicory, a plant whose root can be roasted, ground, and mixed with coffee grounds.  NOLA is famous for brewing their coffee in this old French tradition.  If you've never tried chicory coffee, it tastes earthy like peat and smoke.  Beignets are French donuts: fried, airy, and smothered in powered sugar.  Cafe du Monde is the place to go to try these out.     

Masks were popular during festivals to protect the anonymity of the high class socialites when mingling with common folk.  You can find mask shops all over the city, with varying degrees of ornate design and artistry.  It was my personal mission to find the best around so I visited every shop I came across.  The incredible shop that this mask has easily the best range of unique, handcrafted art pieces.  Divided in two, the front showcased the fanciful and glitzy masks while the the back with housed leather grotesque masks. The mask I wound up purchasing was purple and black, with a burst of feathers along one side and a dotted veil cascading down the other.  

Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar, where the drinks are so good that even the dead keep coming back.
Spirits and the supernatural are alive and well in Louisiana; you can't throw a rock and not hit either a church or a voodoo shop.  Most of the walking ghost tours are filled with costumed fools trying to jump out and scare you but we were lucky enough to find one with a non-cheesy guide that focused on history and story-telling. This is Lafitte Blacksmith Shop Bar, a old forge originally owned by a pirate-turned-blacksmith who apparently likes to lurk in corners/stare balefully at patrons. He used to operate a smuggling business out of the bar and legend has it, there's still pirate gold hidden in the building.  It's a full house in here.  A lady ghost lives upstairs and is friendly enough but unfortunately has the creepy habit of only speaking your name repeatedly. This place has a awesome freestanding fireplace in the middle of the room, but everyone watch out for the red demon eyes that occasionally appear in the fire.  Despite the ghosts, this bar is great!  Drinks are poured strong and the vibe is cosy, easily my top choice for a neighborhood bar if I lived in NOLA.  

One more ghost story: The LaLaurie mansion is considered the most haunted place in the French Quarter, once home to French Creole socialite slash secret sadist, Delphine LaLaurie.  Neighbors witnessed her in a blind rage chasing a slave girl along this balcony; the girl's subsequent fatal fall arose the first suspicions that not all was right in the LaLaurie mansion.  Soon after, a fire was started in the mansion by a septuagenarian cooking slave chained to the stove.  While checking to see that everyone was evacuated from the house, the firefighters came across a sadistic torture room filled with caged and manacled slaves.  LaLaurie had been flaying people alive, deliberately breaking and resetting bones, and collecting blood but the embellished stories include far grislier atrocities.  She was chased out of the city by an angry mob and her fate after that remains unknown. The spirits in this house are reportedly active, loud, and violent, resulting in the property changing hands often. Once, Nicolas Cage lived here super randomly.  At this time of this blog post, no one lives here. Anyway, it's bad luck to walk underneath this balcony so the locals cross the street to avoid it.      

My cousin Mari silently freaking out during the ghost tour.
There's a lot more to explore in the French Quarter. Stay tuned for another blog post centering more around the art and live music scene!

Visit Cafe Du Monde in town or order chicory coffee online
Maskarade wins for best masks
Check out more of Danny DeLancey's work
Go on the Haunted History Tour, try to get Stevie as your guide
Give yourself nightmares with more stories of Delphine LaLaurie

did you like these new orleans pictures? check out more on my flickr page!