There's nothing worse than a blogger who doesn't update often enough. Except maybe an airline who loses your baggage. But thanks to the persistence and, I suspect, numerous threats of American Express Travel Services I was only out of a bag for about 14 hours. Not too bad given the possibilities.
I could list my many excuses for not updating the blog recently but I'll skip the whining and get to the travel. I spent 4 nights in the city of Marseille - a place that many people warned me against visiting because of its "criminal activity." I never really learned the specific activities they meant but I found the city to be very warm and accessible if somewhat dirty. The hostel was located in the Old Port area which is filled with tons of restaurants and shops and nearly 3,500 boats ranging in size from tiny fishing vessels to replica pirate ships. I asked the hostel staff for safety recommendations and they just advised to avoid the Old Town area after dark. I followed the advice (actually I pretty much never went out on my own after dark anyway) and didn't have any problems.
I took a daytrip with two hostelmates out to the Calanques which are rocky, cliffside coves into the Mediterranean Sea. They were absolutely beautiful and incredibly peaceful even with nearby crazy dudes jumping off the cliffs into the waters some 20 feet below. I also took a less than successful daytrip by train out to the towns of Aix-en-Provence and Manosque. I had asked the hostel reception desk for "small typical Provencal towns - sunflowers, lavender, all that jazz" but neither town really delivered. It was also my first (!) day of bad weather on the entire trip so that definitely put a damper on things. Luckily the train ride provided some nice views of fields and mountains but somehow I still came back feeling like I'd wasted a day.
Bastille Day in France turned out to be very reminiscent of our 4th of July - parades, fireworks and all things red, white and blue. Less barbecuing though. And then, finally, the day had come to head on to Ireland! I had been counting down the days for what seemed like forever and was very excited to see Nathan after more than a month apart. I flew out Friday night and spent the wee morning hours in Gatwick airport - an experience which was interesting to say the least. I quickly learned that airports in the middle of the night are not unlike refugee camps. People are sleeping, or attempting to do so, anywhere and everywhere - floors, chairs or the much coveted benches -and eating any morsel of food they can get their hands on. I got 2 painful hours of sleep there before catching my 6 AM flight to Dublin. Why did I pick these flight times? I haven't a clue.
Despite the lost luggage, Dublin was great and the plethora of bars and old buildings reminded me a lot of being in college. We took a tour at the very modern Guinness factory and had a lovely tapas dinner. The next day we drove up to Belfast in Northern Ireland. There's no sign letting you know you've crossed the border but there are subtle changes. The speed limits are suddenly in miles per hour instead of kilometers and the warnings just sound more British. ("Give way" instead of "Yield"). I should add that driving in Dublin and Belfast as an American is absolutely terrifying - the driver sits on the right, drives on the left, shifts with their lefthand and OH YEAH they don't label any of their freaking roads! It's like someone has tied your legs together and is yelling RUN! but you're not sure which direction they mean.
Somehow we made it up into the slightly less terrifying country roads, stopped at the mindbending Giant's Causeway and Carrickarede ropebridge and made it all the way over to Mullaghmore, a tiny, tiny fishing village in County Sligo in western Ireland. The sheep and cows most definitely outnumber the human population here and it's perfect. We took an absolutely beautiful 2 hour horseback ride along the beach and through dunes and cattle fields this afternoon. Nathan, a second time rider, most definitely earned himself a Guinness or ten for putting up with the plodding Big Ted, his trusty though unmotivated steed. I, an experienced rider in my youth but a nonexistent one as of late, was overjoyed to be back in the saddle. I nearly teared up just putting the helmet on. The guide let me canter along the beach and walk into the surf and I'm pretty sure you couldn't have slapped the smile off my face if you tried. I delayed washing my hands afterwards for as long as possible to keep the smell of horses lingering.
So now you're all caught up and I have just 1 week left of my trip! We're in Ireland, heading down to Doolin, the Aran Islands and Athlone, until Saturday and then I have a few spare days until I fly out of London on the 27th. I predict my next update will be filled with sheep, neon green hills and Guinness aka more of the same.