New Year’s in Yosemite

To ring in the new year, we decided to carpe the diem as non-parents and rough it in snow-and-ice-covered Yosemite National Park for four days. We stayed in a [heated] tent cabin in Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village), hiked and hiked and hiked, and spent our early evenings in the cozy lobby of the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly…and probably always…the Ahwahnee).

It was a fantastic trip! We’re looking forward to returning this Spring with Sean’s cousin and his wife. I’ll be 31 weeks pregnant, but I’m still planning on hiking…and attempting to keep up!

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The Emerald Isle

All our eight days in Ireland left us wondering, Does it actually rain here? The only evidence that it rains most of the time there were the chlorophyll-rich hillsides and the absolute disbelief on locals’ faces when shading their faces from the sun each bright morning. We truly lucked out weather-wise.

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Not that it’s hard for my Canadian husband to get a sunburn, but his calves got pretty crispy on a hike off the West Coast of the Emerald Isle. Other than that — and a scraped up hubcap courtesy of yours truly — we had an injury- and incident-free trip.

 

We drove in a loop over the course of a week:
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While each spot was unique and memorable, I think our favorite was Dingle — for our fantastic bed & breakfast, the music-filled nightlife, the fresh seafood, and especially for its proximity to the Blasket Islands.

We stayed at the adorable and newly renovated Cill Bhreac House in County Kerry, just outside the Dingle town center. Orla, the owner, was a tireless hostess who fed us hearty Irish breakfasts, recommended the restaurant we ended up eating at both nights we were there (Anchor Down) and the pub we hung out in both nights (Paudie’s Bar), and gave us precise directions for getting to the Blaskets, as well as taking the ferry over to County Clare.

We bought an awesome book called Ireland’s Best Walks by Helen Fairbairn, as well as Rick Steve’s guide to Ireland. Both highlight a hike on Great Blasket Island, which we completed with two Irish companions — a man named Padrig and his Jack Russell Terrier, aptly named Marco Polo. Marco helped us negotiate the rocky and sloping island terrain and guided us along the narrow trails.

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Quick history: Great Blasket Island was inhabited by some hearty Irish people up until 1953, when the Irish government could no longer guarantee the islanders’ safety and urged them to abandon their cottages and extremely modest “town”. (At its population peak, Great Blasket had only 153 people; that was in 1841.) Nowadays there is one hostel on the island, but no permanent residents. Abandoned homes and other buildings remain, giving the island a rather eerie feel. Though we visited on a pristine day, it was not difficult to imagine the hardships that the islanders faced, being so cut off from civilization and bearing the brunt of wild Atlantic storms year after year.

The hike took us about four hours to finish. The summit, An Cró Mór, 292 meters above sea level, would have been our turn-around point had we not decided to descend to the southwestern tip…and then summit a second time before circling back to the harbor. It was worth the extra time and effort, as it gave us a better view of the Skellig Islands (you know — where it turns out Luke Skywalker’s been chilling this whole time), and gave us bragging rights for navigating a part of the island that most hikers skip.

 

If you ever get the chance to get out to Great Blasket Island — either to hike or to relax on the beautiful white sand beach — we would recommend catching a boat from the little man-made harbor in Dunquin.

Choosing to drive to Dunquin and depart from there, rather than departing from Dingle, gave us the opportunity to see more of the Slea Head Drive, which is a grand part of the rugged roadways along the west coast of Ireland called the Wild Atlantic Way. Dunquin itself is also stunningly beautiful.

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After our hike, we thoroughly understood Padrig’s Irish mainlanders’ joke about Great Blasket residents:
Q: How can you tell that a group of people are from the island?
A: They walk single-file.

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Four Days in Switzerland: Day 4

On our fourth and final full day in Zurich, Sean and I hiked up Zurich’s own little mountain, Uetliberg. Just a 20–minute tram ride away from the centre of the city is the trail head that leads up to the top of this mountain, which gives spectacular panoramic views of Zurich and its beautiful surroundings.

After familiarizing ourselves with our neighbourhood on Day 1, seeing the main tourist attractions of the old city on Day 2, and venturing outside the city to Lucerne on Day 3, Sean and I wanted to get out of civilization and head into some wilderness; and afterward savour some of stuff we missed while sightseeing on Day 2, namely more coffee and chocolate.

So here we are at Day 4: Hike, then Backtrack & Savour

Uetliberg’s hiking trails are rocky and quite steep at times. It’s well traversed by locals and tourists alike, but we went early enough that it was nowhere near busy. We said “Gruzi!” to people as we passed them and enjoyed summiting in less than an hour.

After heading “home” to the Langstrasse area, we showered up and then went right back out again to enjoy the Old City at a slower pace and with less of an agenda. Sean bought himself a nice new watch, we both had some chocolate, and we went to a cafe with the best coffee in Zurich, according to a few websites and particularly Maria at Coffee Me Zurich. It’s called Grande, and it’s right along the Limmat river, and we did thoroughly enjoy our cappuccinos. We also had delicious sandwiches and salads on the street leading up to the library (Zentralbibliothek), and I had fun snapping photos of the narrow streets and tall cathedrals that make European cities so majestic.

If ever given the opportunity to return to Zurich — or anywhere in Switzerland — both Sean and I would jump at the chance!