stevenpiziks: (Default)
Darwin and I are going to Ireland.  Yay!

We've been talking about it for a long time.  I love Ireland and have visited before.  Darwin has always wanted to go.  He was uncertain about going this summer, and I pointed out that for the first time in years, I'm not under contract this summer, meaning I can go without worrying about a writing deadline.  So he decided it would be a good idea.

The first part was settling on a date.  After some finagling, we choose the second and third weeks of August.  And then when we had the dates all set, I played with the ticket buying program and discovered if we stayed one more day, the plane ticket prices dropped by over $200 each.  That would more than pay for an extra night in Dublin, so we happily extended the trip.

Then we had to figure out where to stay.  After more finagling and discussion, we decided to do what I did last time--spend a few days in Dublin, move to a rural cottage for several days, and then come back to Dublin for the end.  In fact, I discovered the same cottage I stayed before at was available!  Clonleason Gate Lodge  is an easily driveable distance from several archaeological sites we want to see, and there's a bog and a ruined castle nearby, so it's a perfect place for us.  We booked it.

And we ran into problems with finding places to stay in Dublin.  Man!

Darwin and I don't like hotels much.  (Who does, right?)  They're sterile, the amenities are limited, they're small, and if you're tired and just want to hang out for part of a day, you feel foolish sitting in a hotel room to do it.  That's why we like renting cottages or flats.  You have all the amenities of home, you have more space, and if you want to zone out for a day, you feel like you're doing it in your own living room. 

Like a lot of people, we use Airbnb to book places and have had wonderful results in the past.  This time, though, the places that turned up were too expensive or badly located.  When we were looking for a place to stay at our arrival, two times we tried to book places and the host turned the booking down, once because the host said she was looking for people to stay for at least a week, and another who just didn't answer.  At last we managed to find a nice flat.

But the REAL challenge was for the few days before we left.  We needed a place Friday through Monday, and the number of places dwindled sharply, or were REALLY expensive.  In the end, we gritted our teeth and booked a place that was quite a distance from the center of the city and still more than we wanted to pay.

And then . . .

I was surfing around the web site for Trinity College.  TC houses the Book of Kells, which we'll want to see, and I wanted to find out what the College's museum hours were.  Quite by accident, I discovered Trinity College rents out its student rooms and apartments during the summer. (!)  The location would be perfect, of course, and the prices were startlingly low.  In fact, booking a two-person apartment for three nights would cost about $200 less than the flat we'd found, and several hundred less than any hotel.

I canceled the flat and booked the flat at Trinity.  My only regret is that there wasn't an apartment available for when we arrived--they only had rooms with a single bed.

So now we just need to rent a car!



stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
After eating a custard-filled long-john as big as my head at Cops and Doughnuts, Darwin and I lugged ourselves farther down the streets of Clare, Michigan.

We dissected yet more buildings, then came to the railroad tracks and the grain elevator past them.  The grain elevator is always located near the railroad tracks in towns like this, of course, because in the old days, the grain was loaded onto trains.  These days, the shipping is usually handled by truck, more's the shame.

Music wafted toward us in the distance, so we followed the railroad tracks behind several buildings.  Darwin pointed at one in the distance and wondered aloud if it had once been the train depot.  As we got closer, it did have a depot-esque look to it--octagonal, with a little tower on one side.  The exterior was covered in new insulation--renovation in progress.  We wandered around the front and found a sign that proclaimed the Clare Depot was being redone.  Darwin nailed it!

The music was getting louder, and we followed it to a city park, where we found a little concert in progress.  A local folk music group was playing in a gazebo to a fairly large audience in lawn chairs.  Darwin and I found a seat at a picnic table and listened for a while.  The music was very nice.

But after a while, Darwin became restless, so we continued walking.  We came across a big, rounded church building with a lot of stained glass in it and an historical marker out front.  It had been built in 1909 on the site of an existing church that dated back to 1874 and was done  in the Greek style to show that small town America could be cosmopolitan, too.  It was arresting, actually, and we walked around it, wondering what the inside looked like.  On a whim, I tried the front door.

It was unlocked.

What the heck, right?  We went in.

The doors to the main cathedral were unfortunately locked.  But the doors next to them, leading down in the basement, were unlocked.  The lights were out and everything was dark.  I went down the steps.  Darwin hesitated, but he was curious too, and since all the lights were off, it was clear no one was around.

The basement was obviously an add-on, probably from the 40s or 50s, with a corridor of rooms that were offices and playrooms and such.  This ended in a huge open area for gatherings, complete with a kitchen sectioned off by accordion screens.  I remembered those from when I was a child!

At the back, I found what I was hoping for--a staircase.  It went straight up into the main chapel.  Ha!

I climbed it and found myself in the apse, which is the "stage" holding the altar and the pulpit.  The stained glass windows ringing the dome were lovely from the inside.  Four pillars held up the dome, and they were each named for the four prophets who wrote the four Gospels.  The altar was simple and made of wood, with silver candlesticks on it.  Opposite the pulpit was a freestanding screen with a computer projector. (!)

We stayed several minutes, but Darwin became nervous fairly quickly, so we left the same way we'd come in.  On the way out, we found a toilet that was running, and we fixed it, so that was our good deed for the day.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Darwin and I headed into downtown Clare to see what we could see.  And we continued to be delighted and surprised.

Along the way, we paused to dissect a number of buildings.  Darwin and I love doing this together.  We're both amateur architectural historians, and we like to pick apart buildings to figure out when they were built, and how they were renovated, or what their original purpose might have been.  Since there's rarely anything to tell us what the actual history might have been, we can always be right!

Anyway, a great deal of small town America west of the Appalachians was constructed in the early 1800s. There was a pause during the Civil War, and then another boom in the late 1800s.  If you look closely, you can often see what buildings were done in the early 1800s, and which were done--or redone--in the late 1800s.  Look up when you go into these buildings.  Many of them have the original lathe or tin ceilings.  Then there was another pause, followed by a boom in the 1920s, when poured and molded concrete was all the rage.  This was replaced with brick and mortar during the WPA and PWA period of the 1930s.  (This was when many of those big, b!usiness-like post offices were built.)  The 1940s were still using brick.  The 1950s shifted to that awful stacked stone and aluminum.  The 60s decided slim and blue was the way to go (ugh), and the 70s went for that awful, nasty dark brown crap.  (Sorry, but nothing good came out of the 70s.)  Darwin and I have become adept at spotting these things, and it's great fun, especially when we find a cornerstone or plaque that proves us right.

Clare had a bunch of fun buildings to dissect, and then we came across:

COPS AND DOUGHNUTS!

Cops and Doughnuts is a bakery, though saying the place is a bakery is much like saying Cedar Point is a park.  The bakery was originally called Clare City Baker and was started in 1896, and it remained a fixture in downtown Clare.  It fell on hard times several years ago, however, and was in danger of closing.  Rather than let it vanish, all nine of Clare's police officers pooled their money and bought the place to keep it going.  They renamed it Cops and Doughnuts.

The place includes a bakery (open 24 hours); a diner (open until the bakers need the cooking facilities in the evening); a store that sells t-shirts, cop memorabilia, Amish baskets (no, really), coffee mugs, and bumper stickers; and a police museum.  The latter is a little gem for all you law-enforcement buffs.  They have police equipment dating back a hundred years (including some scary looking handcuffs, a handcuff ring, the jail door from the original Clare city jail, and one of the first breathalyzer machines), uniforms, hats, photographs, radios, and rows and rows and rows of patches from police forces all over Michigan.

But the bakery.  Oh, the bakery.  I worked at a bakery in college, so I know for bakeries, and this place had it down.  The doughnuts and fried cakes were clearly made by hand, not by a machine.  The glaze was high quality.  The pies and breads were fresh, fresh, fresh.  The air smelled of sweet sugar and fresh fruit.

Darwin and I spent more than an hour there.  I bought a basket.  And a doughnut.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
As I mentioned, my sister is getting married this weekend.  Darwin and I decided to make a four-day weekend of it.  I wanted to visit Breckenridge, the small town where I spent my childhood and where Darwin has family in the local cemetery, and we thought we'd also bum around the area to see what was what.

Cadillac, where my sister lives, lies some distance from Breckenridge.  The small town of Clare, however, is halfway between the two, so we decided to headquarter there.  Were we in for a surprise!

I surfed around and found a place to stay on AirBnB.  Darwin and I much prefer renting an apartment or cottage to a hotel any day!  There was only one suitable--affordable--place in Clare, a place that billed itself as a small apartment downtown.  Darwin was unimpressed with the photos, which looked like a unit above a storefront, but I persuaded him.  After all, it was there or a motel.

When we arrived at the address, we found an 1880s red brick Victorian mansion, complete with square tower in the center.  The house, it turned out, had been carved up into apartments by the owner, who was renting them out as a bed and breakfast, but without the breakfast.  :)

Inside, we found a beautiful, self-contained apartment with polished knotty pine floors, high ceilings, bright paint, intact mouldings around the doors and ceiling, and decorated with antiques, including a radio from the 60s that still worked. (!)  I turned it on, and the tubes glowed amber while they warmed up.  It also had a full kitchen, complete with a formica table exactly like the one my grandparents bought in the 50s.  On top of the fridge was a green picnic basket that was a duplicate of one my mother had for years and years.  It was strange, like stumbling over pieces of my childhood.

We were delighted with the place!

After a few minutes of upacking, we set out to explore downtown Clare.
stevenpiziks: (Carved Rock)
Darwin and I are big bed and breakfasters.  It started because we both dislike hotels as sterile and dull.  We had to stay out overnight, and we decided to look for a B&B instead.  I forget if it was his idea or mine.  We were pleasantly surprised to find that B&Bs cost about the same as a decent motel, once you factored in the cost of breakfast.  We booked a room at one and loved it.  Since we're both history buffs, we had endless fun picking out historical details of the house and its architecture and looking up its history on-line and figuring out what was original and what was changed.

So now whenever we need to stay somehwere, we look for a B&B instead of a hotel.  This was the case last weekend when we took Aran to MCTI.  Registration was Monday, but on the same day, we had the memorial for Darwin's father, who died a couple months ago in Harrison.  The only way to make both events was to overnight near MCTI, register Aran as early as possible, and rush up to northern Michigan.

In Kalamazoo, I found Hall House Bed and Breakfast.  The web site said the attic had been turned into a suite that could sleep five adults, so we booked it for only slightly more than a motel.  Perfect!

Hall House was beautifully restored.  The place was built in 1923 by a builder, so the place was solid.  Granite front steps, original inlaid tile in the foyer, original lintels to the doors.  There was what looked like an old-fashioned telephone in the entryway which turned out to be an intercom that had typewritten labels on it: Maid's Room, Butler, Kitchen.  It gave insight into the original daily structure of the house.

The first thing I noticed when I entered was how the place smelled.  The walls and floors gave off the exact same smell as my grandparents' house, and their house was built in the 20s as well.

The dining room was huge.  It had a grand piano and four tables in it, with a sun room off to one side.  All the floors were original, and finished with a smooth, warm varnish.  A grand staircase went up to the second floor landing, where the families rooms were.  A little hallway led off to the back staircase and the servant's quarters.  I pointed out to Maksim and Aran how the back staircase let the servants in the old days get around the house and stay out of sight as much as possible.

The innkeeper was a very nice lady who met us, gave us keys, and showed us to the garret suite.  It was the entire attic.  Lovely!  A twin and a double bed were tucked under the eaves of the front sitting room, which also had a wet bar, mini fridge, sitting table, and living room suite.  The back room was the main bedroom and bathroom.  Everything was decorated in a mix of modern and antique.

Maksim thought the place was completely awesome.  He flopped onto the twin bed and settled in to relax.  Aran was a little nervous about the day tomorrow and hid behind his phone for much of the evening.  Darwin and I wanted to go out an explore, since it was early evening still.  The boys didn't, so we went on our own.  (More on that later.)

We were the only ones in the house, so in the morning, we had the dining room to ourselves.  The innkeeper made us a great breakfast of gourmet eggs, fruit, muffins, and various breads.  Maksim thought it was the best ever.  We enjoyed it very much.

B&Bs rule!
stevenpiziks: (Default)
Kala is down in Tennessee for a few days.  There's a recreation of the Parthenon down there, and she wanted to see it--as well as go someplace warmer for a little bit.  She was planning to drive, then discovered that a flight was only $150.  Well geez!  These days, driving to Tennessee would cost at least $80.  For another $80, she can regain eight hours of driving.
 
I had to get up EARLY on a VACATION DAY to take her to the airport.  Not thrilled.  On the other hand, I'm going to Ireland later for longer than she'll be gone.
 
Kala was a little worried that traffic would be bad on I-94 heading toward Detroit because we'd be driving on it at 7:30 in the morning.  I reminded her that a lot of people have Good Friday off, and at 7:30, traffic would be light.  Turned out I was right--the highway was practically empty.  We wondered aloud what dreadfulness Northwest Air, the world's worst commercial airline, would put her through, but Northwest had the only viable flights to where she wanted to go and she was stuck with it.
 
Dropped her off without trouble, then drove equally easily back home.  A bit later, Kala phoned to say her flight was delayed by over half an hour.  Some time later, she phoned again and told me she had arrived but her luggage had not.  V. nice.  It showed up on another flight and was delivered to her hotel later that evening.
 
Loathe Northwest Air.
 
But now she's down there, with no snow and warmer weather.

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