Geysers and Olympics in Iceland

We boarded a bus headed for the famous Geysir: from which all geysers worldwide get their name. It blew its top every eight minutes, as predicted. I could have watched it all day.

The prior night, we watched the Opening Ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics and … wow! My favorite part is a tie between Mr. Bean playing Chariots of Fire and the Queen parachuting in with the new James Bond. In Reykjavik, we were glued to the screen. Every few minutes in the parade of nations a new group would cheer — that’s an Irish pub for you.

Eric and I cheered for every nation we’ve visited, of course, so people asked us first, “You’re Croatian?” Then, Ecuadorian? Then Fijian? I want every country we’ve visited to bring home the gold. Especially the places where we spent the most time, like Ecuador and India. Those are the favorites.

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Bells of Beguinage in Leuven, Belgium

We visited a Beguinage in the Flemish city of Leuven with Marie-Louise and George-Henri, Eric’s mother’s lifelong friends. This brickwork fairy-tale borough originated in the late middle ages, almost a thousand years ago when a women’s movement known as the Beguines arose in northern Europe. These women were not nuns, per se, but they lead a quasi-monastic life in closed communities, devoting themselves to prayer and labor. We had already visited a picturesque Beguinage in Bruges, but in terms of scope and serenity, the one in Leuven really took our breath away.

A Rousing Bloomsday in Dublin

In 2011, me, Eric and our friends Allison and Ariel read James Joyce’s Ulysses together. I fell in love with its carefully crafted schema and felt immersed in Dublin. I had a copy of Ulysses on my iPhone and flipped through it on long train rides.

So when our round-the-world tickets from AirTreks.com got us as far as Italy in May and we were looking for the next stop, we both thought of Dublin. I found a cheap flight from Milan to Dublin on June 9 — in time for Bloomsday — and we were all set.

Bloomsday, for those not in-the-know, refers to June 16: the day the book takes place beginning in the morning and ending late in the night.

We quickly realized when deplaning in Dublin that we were not in Italy anymore. A gale-force wind and freezing rain greeted us. I quickly donned my torrential raingear and did not take it off until we left for Scotland a week later.

From Dublin

We headed directly for the James Joyce center to sign up for activities. The next day we braved the cold and wind on a “Footsteps of Leopold Bloom” walking tour that included Davy Byrne’s pub and Sweney’s chemist — both featured in the novel. Our guide was a Joyce scholar and motorcycle enthusiast who treated us to dramatic readings along the way.

After the tour, we discovered my favorite place in Dublin: St. John Gogarty’s pub in Temple Bar. Sure, I’d heard about Temple Bar and all the drunken silliness that goes on there. But Gogarty’s with its rousing band, delicious pints and scrumptious seafood chowder (with brown bread) is, I think, the best place on Earth. Between readings at St. Stephen’s Green and other Bloomsday-week activities we returned twice more. Take my advice and buy a CD from the band even if you think it’s silly. One of the bandmates said after a long chorus of Molly Malone, “You’ll be at home saying to your spouse, ‘Remember when we were sitting at Gogarty’s’ and you’ll put on the CD …”. He was right.

By the end of Bloomsday we had walked miles but still didn’t want it to end. Maybe just one more pint. We headed across the street from our hotel to a shady looking pub, which turned out to be a not-shady-at-all Japanese restaurant. Inside we found our tour guide and the staff of the James Joyce Center, along with Senator David Norris (who we saw reading at St. Stephen’s Green earlier), conversing with Joyce himself!

From Dublin

Though it turned out not to be Joyce — no matter how convincing — but a hat seller who lived across the street from the Joyce Center. The employees had seen him many times and wanted desperately to dress him at Joyce. They finally asked and he was more than willing. Now he plays Joyce every year.

Tourism is hard work

Image of Timex Expedition Trekking Watch

One surprise on the trip thus far has been: It’s never boring. I had packed my knitting and yarn, sodoku puzzles, decks of cards, wind-up toys and juggling balls thinking that without a job I would often be twiddling my thumbs. These items quickly became dead weight and were found abandoned by happy hotel workers. Like Will says in “About A Boy” about jobs: “I really don’t know how people fit them in.”

For one thing, we spend a lot more time eating. Every meal (and three coffees/chais/snacks) takes an hour and a half. That time is just sucked into a vacuum. We wake up at 8:30 and go to the usually included hotel breakfast. Somehow, we’re always done at 10 or 10:30. Then sightseeing until 4 (with a2-hour lunch). Snacks and coffee until 5:30. Then we have a minute for some Internet and travel planning. Then it’s dinner. Now it’s 9 p.m. and we’re sacked out by 9:30.

That’s the other thing: sleep. Left to natural rhythms and no alarm clocks, we sleep from 9:30 until 8:30. About 11 hours. It does seem absurdly long, but so does an hour and a half for breakfast. But tourism is hard work and we need our rest. Of course, sometimes Eric is reading his Kindle when I fall asleep and working on his laptop when I wake up, so maybe it’s just me that needs 11 hours. I know right now I could use coffee and a nap.

Beating the heat in North Goa

Image of a green classic car in Goa

It’s Sunday morning in Assagao and I can’t wait to head down the street to a little place called “Villa Blanche” and its famed brunch. I had signed up the day before to reserve our seats. Despite the 96 degree heat (and 99 percent humidity), Villa Blanche seems cool and comfortable with only a few small fans.

A young man quickly comes for our drink order. Eric has the Ayurvedic Cooler and I have the fresh Ginger Lemonade. We then steal away to the buffet.

The proprietor of Villa Blanche tells us she is going back to Germany next week, though she is Italian (and of couse speaks perfect English as well). The buffet includes recipes from her German grandmother, her half-year home of Goa, Italy, and oddly America.

More than anything, the brunch items created a perfect American 4th of July picnic: potato salad (American-style, popular all over Goa), coleslaw, muffins, brownies, and even deviled eggs (labeled “American mustard eggs”)! With a flag on the wall or a stuffed bald eagle I would have been very confused about my current location (more so than usual …). The constant fireworks going off in the neighborhood didn’t help.

On that subject: Firecrackers seem to go off all the time in India. The Catholic chuches in Old Goa even had a sign posted “Do not light fireworks inside.”

I quickly filled up on the delicious fare at Villa Blanche. To work it off, we hopped on our rented scooter (250 rupee per day, about $5) and headed to Little Vagator beach — recommended by our host at Casa Tres Amigos. Sadly, we were so haraunged by agressive vendors (including not one but two women who pulled at my leg hair and suggested removal tecniques at various prices) at Vagator, we all but ran back to our scooter.

Over the bridge, we found the “Russian” beach of Morgim. It was much more low-key. Most of the oversized unfriendly faced Russians looked like they had spent the better part of a month convalescing on their beach chairs. Most likely waiting out the Siberian winter. I wasn’t prepared to wait it out with them. I bought a Frisbee and we moved on again.

After crossing back over the bridge, Eric was flagged down and fined for not having a motorcyle permit. We had heard that in a situation like this, the cop will just take whatever cash is in your possession. Eric had 1,500 rupees and so that was the fine. At least we were wearing helmets (mandatory on that highway alone).

So minus a few rupees, we headed back to our hotel to cool off in the pool — so much easier than the beach in the end.

Saturday Night Market in Assagao

Image of Night Market in Assagao

Night markets are a big tourist attraction in a lot of places in Asia, and I’ve heard from many travellers who enjoy market shopping, however I am not one of them.

So when our hotel (more a group of thatched huts than a hotel) was loading up a Jeep for the Saturday night market in Assagao, we were encouraged to join. With nothing else to do, we piled in.

Walking through the market is never much fun for Eric and I because we can’t buy anything. For one: we’re on a budget and for two: we have to carry whatever we buy on our already tired and creaking backs. So we trudge through the market with chins in our chests trying not to look at anything. Not the best way to enjoy a market! But if you look at anything people run over and start putting products in your face and quoting prices and then you’ve just got to say no in the end.

Even with our heads down we could tell we had arrived at the food. Now we had money to spend. Eric found the beer tent and I found a lamb kebab. It turned out to be mostly ineditable, but it was exciting to have familiar food in my hands after so long.

There was a large stage where we found some seats and the real show began. A rockin’ band played Elton John, The Police, and a few Hindi songs. The dance floor filled with crowds of impossibly skinny young men, arms in the air, hips pounding, along with two Russian toddlers and their nanny.

At one point the dancers formed a long conga line and all donned their motorcycle helmets. Then snaked around the dancefloor gyrating wildly; I think it was to a great cover of “Summer of 69.”

The best part of the night was the requests. An enthusiastic older gentleman was emcee for the night. Before each song he would shout something like, “This one goes to Ali in Iran who absolutely MUST hear some Queen!”

He often got very angry at their crowd for their lack of involvement or enthusiasm. Seeing the dance floor was all dudes he exclaimed, “Last I looked I thought we had some women in this country! I will buy beers for the next five women who come to the dancefloor.” of course, this had little chance if success as the only thing women in India do less of (in public) than dance is drink, at least from what I’ve seen. During Holi in Udaipur they all hid in their homes, coming out only on upper floors with giant buckets of water to pour on Eric and I. But that’s another story.

Now, the band has changed and the crowd and dancers have turned on the new band. Like in Thailand (Pattaya and Chang Mai), the opener always seems to be the best band. Maybe to draw people in from the street. We decide to call it a night and take an overpriced taxi back to our casa. The other couples had just returned as well. The market maybe just needs a better second band.

Monkeys and Masala in Pushkar

We opened the window to get a little fresh air going through — if hotel rooms are anything it’s stuffy — and a few seconds later a tiny man jumps on our windowsill. He sees me and shrieks. Then I see him and shriek. As it turns out, it was not a tiny, hairy man with a tail, but a monkey. About three minutes later, I hear Eric shriek followed closely by monkey shriek. Eric makes the astute observation that any other animal, encountering a very recently surprised human, will run/fly/crawl/slither away. But monkeys act just like us and grab their cheeks and scream, then turn and run. It’s clear we’re related.

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Markets and rootop bars dominate the scene

I’ve had a few surprising encounters in Pushkar. This morning at breakfast I saw a planter sprout legs and walk away. It wasn’t the bhang lassi but a turtle, taken as a pet from the ghats I think.

Walking down to the ghats and around Pushkar Lake, a Brahman priest ran up to us — which I’d read might mean a hefty donation. But it actually turned out to be a fun and uplifting mini ceremony. He wished us both good luck and we threw flowers into the lake ridding ourselves of bad kharma. Then put some red powder on our foreheads. Which prompted others to wish us good luck on the walk home.

I’m also excited to report I have found sweets in Pushkar. There are many sweet shops with milk sweets and sweets soaked in syrup. I picked out a few and they were wrapped in a bag (handmade from newspapers) and handed over.

In India, people make do. At the post office they don’t have boxes, but they sew up whatever you want to mail in a canvas sack — no extra charge. Samosas and sweets are delivered in newspaper. Plastic bottles are used for all kinds of things. Your restaurant leftovers go out the front door to cows and pigs. Our current lodging — the Pink Floyd Hotel — has bicycle tires framing each rattan chair, and old blankets have been turned into ottomans.

Oh and the masala! I’m not sure yet what ‘masala’ really is, but whatever you order in Pushkar is Masala. Omelet is masala. Tea is masala. Pizza us masala. Spaghetti is masala. Lucky for me, I think it’s delicious. In fact, I’m trying not to think of a time when my pizza/sandwhich/tea is not masala or I become sad.

We had planned to stay only two nights in Pushkar, but with the perfect weather, sweets, and masala-everything, I asked to stay another night. Our host replied, “Stay forever.” Why not.