Eclipse Trip Part 2: Totality in Nebraska

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Boarding the California Zephyr at Union Station, Chicago, felt very momentous, but we were a little unnerved to find that when the ticket said “reserved coach” it meant that we had a seat in the coach class carriage.  Any seat.  Not a particular one, just whichever ones we could find free.  This led to a bit of unseemly scrambling, but we were happy enough with the pair we found in the upper deck.  There’s plenty of leg room, and space to store bags.  We had to stay put until the ticket guy had registered our names and assigned them to those seats, after which we were free to move around.  And the first place to move around to was the sight seer lounge.

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This has a variety of seating facing outwards to large windows and a panoramic roof.  Space here is at a real premium, and there’s an element of “towels on the sunloungers”.  However, announcements remind passengers not to hog seats, to vacate them if going to be away for a while, and not to place bags or sweetie wrappers on unused seats.

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There’s a real sense of unhurry, and people take the opportunity to talk to their fellow passengers.  Lots of them had this journey on their “bucket list” of things they must do, and had been planning it for some time.  There were quite a few  Amish and Menonites taking a trip, and of course lots of eclipse chasers.  Having failed to secure eclipse glasses in The Windy City, I was delighted to spot a NASA ambassador from Langley Research Center, who provided us not only with eclipse glasses but many other maps and goodies besides.

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There aren’t an awful lot of announcements given during the actual journey – I was glad I had printed out the detailed Route Guide which gives a paragraph or so about each stop and the area we were traversing.  We did get an announcement when crossing the Mississippi, which is half a mile wide. I was impressed by the  mile-long freight trains carrying coal pass us in the opposite direction.  And we cross from Illinois to Iowa and some point, and from there into Nebraska.

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We would be leaving the train at midnight, so I hadn’t booked a sleeping car for this leg.  Sleeping car tickets include all meals, and so reservations for dinner are offered to those passengers first.  Coach class passengers have to try to get hold of the dining car attendant as they make their way about the train, and Roger was successful in snaffling a dinner reservation, but it is dear ($ 100 for the 2 of us, with drinks).  The tables are in groups of 4, and so you will end up with strangers, who are happy to talk.  We even found an openness about discussing politics, particularly Trump and Brexit, which was refreshing.

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This isn’t the most scenic part of the journey, and anyway it was dark at about 7.  We arrived in Lincoln at half past midnight, and worryingly outside the small station there was  no sign of any cabs and the police are doing something across the road.  Left with no other option, we hired an Uber at $50 to take us to the hotel, about 2 miles away.  I usually avoid booking hotels in the railway district of cities, as they tend to be less salubrious, but we were regretting not having a hotel that we could have walked to.

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Baymont Hotel is fine, but a bit outside the town centre.  And for breakfast you could have biscuits and gravy.  If you like that sort of thing.  Our Sunday morning Uber retraced the journey from the night before, but this time cost only $7.  Like most places, Sunday mornings are quiet but we enjoyed a relaxed mosey around Historic Haymarket which has tried to retain its old buildings, with painted signs, and helpful plaques at each one telling their history.  There are many independent shops, bars and cafes here, and it is a lively enough spot once things open.

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We had lunch at a fabulous burger bar, with the “cry and fry” fried onions and fries side dish,

before paying a visit to the helpful people in the visitor centre, located in the OLD railway station.

 

We had planned to spend eclipse day in Beatrice, but that was one of the sites chosen by NASA to broadcast from, and Bill Nye the science guy would be there.  Along with, of course, thousands of other people.   We were concerned that if we got stuck in traffic we wouldn’t be able to return our hire car in time, though the half past midnight train shouldn’t be an issue.

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The helpful visitor centre staff ordered us a taxi to take us out to the Enterprise car place on the edge of town, where the friendly staff gave us an upgrade to something with a sat nav.  Anytime we said we were from Ireland people’s eyes lit up, and they would tell us about their granny who came from Limerick, or how they wanted to visit Dublin.

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Driving in The States takes a bit of getting used to, especially at junctions, but we made it safely back to the hotel.  There are a few drive through restaurants nearby, and we chose one of those for a Chinese dinner.

Monday

Up early for eclipse day, and an anxious look at the weather forecast. There would be hazy high cloud all day, with little chance of it burning off.  The newsreader reminded people not to try driving whilst wearing eclipse glasses.

We set off for our alternate viewing site at the little town of Crete, where we found a good spot to park near to coffees and loos and the like.  We enjoyed a great breakfast at IMG_2136Sport 9, whose staff were clearly experiencing  a bumper volume of customers, many of whom also wore eclipse T shirts.  During a wander around town, I was charmed by the home made signs about the eclipse, and we were greeted warmly.

One passer by even invited us to join her and her family for lunch down the road.

First contact was at just after 11, and I did my traditional happy clappy dance.  For this part of the eclipse, the high cloud wasn’t a real issue.

Lots of people kept popping out of their shops and business, and putting on their eclipse glasses to look up to the sky.  I spotted a tiny patch of blue sky, and held my breath and crossed my fingers, and sure enough….it reached the sun just immediately before totality.

 

IMG_2140 There was the most beautiful diamond ring, and then a good 2 minutes of corona.  The eerie purple-black darkness gave a spooky feel, and I wondered at the cars driving past with their lights on – did they not even have 2 minutes to spare to stop and enjoy this wonder?  Well, most of the village was out in the streets enjoying it, and when we repaired to Als on Main for lunch, they had just re-opened after being closed for the event.

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I’m always a bit self-critical after these things – should I have gone to Wilber where there was a bigger festival?  Or found somewhere out in the open where we could watch the shadow race across? Or should we have braved the traffic in Beatrice?  But from what I could gather afterwards, the cloud was an issue in Beatrice so it was just as well we didn’t go there.

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On the way home, we followed a brown sign to see a lakeside recreation area.  And then of course, having tried to avoid it, we hit the Beatrice traffic on the Interstate.  But we made it to the hire car place in time, and across the road from it was an enterprising young man selling eclipse T shirts, so I bought one of those.

We then had a 6 hour wait until our train, so we found a good spot in one of the Irish bars and set about making new best friends.  I did manage a quick shopping spree before 6, and got some souvenir Nebraska wine, and some liquorice for an emporium dedicated to that particular sweet.

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One of our new best friends collects old beer cans, and I showed them my parkrun analogue tracker.  They help us with our bags to the station, where we discover that the train is delayed, and it’s nearly 2 am before it arrives.  There are many passengers sprawled around the station and platform, and we are all ready for our beds.

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The sleeping car is small. The lower bunk isn’t too bad, but the upper one is little more than an ironing board, with a webbing strap to stop one falling out.  I have to channel my inner Jack Lemmon and pretend I am in Some Like It Hot before falling in and out of a restless night’s sleep.

 

parkrun Bushy Tails: With added Bushy!

Well now.  Every parkrunner knows the story of how it all began, all those years ago with 13 runners in Bushy Park, London.

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Not many people know that there are other Bushy Parks.  Including one in Dublin.  Which only recently began a parkrun there!

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So along with quarter/half/full-cowelling, alphabeteering, regionairing, and spelling out words like “parkruncornetto”, parkrun tourists now have new challenge: Double Bushy.  Appropriately in Doublin.

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Last year I’d attended the Dublin Scottish Dance Club’s 50th anniversary celebrations, and used the weekend to visit Marlay Park.

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This year, I wanted to try a different parkrun, and was thrilled to discover that Bushy Dublin was a short drive away from where I was staying.

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Access:

The park is in Rathfarnham, and in fact the recommended car parking is at Rathfarnham Shopping Centre, which is what I plugged into my sat-nav.  It got me there, roadworks notwithsatanding, and I parked as requested in the middle, rather than encoraching on the space where the car washing folks are plying their trade.

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After crossing the road, and a wee bridge into the park, I turned right, and was a bit misled by a bootcamp group that were setting up by a shelter.

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But I had an inkling they were not parkun, and continued my usual “wander until you see recognisable signs” meander.  I must have looked particularly puzzled, as a cyclist stopped me and asked if I was looking for the parkrun start.  Yes! I answered enthusiastically, and he replied that so was he.  We set off in search together, allowing me to utter the phrase “Follow that bike!”

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If I’d turned left instead of right at the bridge, I’d have been there in 100m.  But hey, made it in time!

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Crowd:

There were a lot of people arriving by bike, and my new friend offered to let me use his to hold my bag of post run essentials (coat, car keys, water).  A fellow 100 shirt wearer came and chatted to me, he was doing his 170th run and was quite emotional about the journey it has taken him on.  Ther were a good smattering of younger runners too.  I’d had a bit of banter with them on Facebook beforehand, and they were really friendly and chatty afterwards, and even gave me a name check in the run report!

Lots of parkruns have Duke of Edinburgh award folk doing their bit as volunteers – here it was some great chaps from Terenure Mens Sheds – thanks lads!

Facilities:

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There isn’t anything in the park itself.  Parking as mentioned is in the nearby shopping centre, which is also where the loos are ( I couldn’t find many of these) and also post run coffee in Partners (where customers can use the loos.  Well, Partner’s (sic) customers can use them, it’s 2 yoyos for others).

Course:

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There’s about a km along the side of the Dodder river, which can be quite slippy and has a few water channels to watch out for.  Then it’s into the park itself with 2 laps around the pond, and a little extra leg.  There’s a small bit of this extra leg which has runners going in both directions, and the turnaround point is well indicated with cones. Back out onto the riverside walk, and you know you’re 1 km from the finish line. There’s no real inclines to worry about, and the paths are wide enough to accommodate the current 100ish crowd.  The park allows dogs to be off-lead until 10-00 am, so that’s a factor to be aware of.

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Gear:

My Garmin is starting to really play up, may need to start looking at replacements.  My 100 shirt was a talking point. No other cow cowls sighted. Although the paths are all tarmc, they were slippy, and trail shoes would be a good option. As the morning had dawned mizzly I hadn’t bothered with sunglasses.  So of course the sun came out!  But the mostly tree-lined course made sure this was not a problem.

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Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:

It’s Eurovision Day – I know, what am I doing away dancing and so missing the show! But I’ve been watching the semi-finals, suitably attired, and me and my running chums really enjoyed “Running On Air”.

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Time:

This is a pretty fast course, so run times are good.  Mine not so good, still suffering from some foot niggles, so I had to be content with a sub-32 result.  First in my age-cat, though!

And the rest:

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I was staying in a lovely wee Air Bnb place on Ballinteer Ave.  I enjoyed a super supper on the Friday night at the gastro-pub across the way – fish platter supreme with proper baby Guinness!

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I’d tried and failed to make these during my Euroviz party, to enjoy during Ireland’s performance.  But they wouldn’t stay separated.  Which may be a political prophecy.

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After my parkrun I explored Dundrum Town Centre, which is not the same as the town centre of Dundrum. I had the most lovely pasta dish

IMG_1613in Dunne e Crescenzi overlooking the dancing fountains.

This place ( ie shopping centre) fancies itself somewhat, and is proud of having a branch of Harvey Nicks.  Shame they can’t spell confectionary, though.

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I took a trip to Airfield, a sort of open farm / formal gardens place, and was most impressed by the stunning colours of the flowers.

The evening was taken up with the Dublin dance – 20 well chosen dances, and a fabulous supper, a truly wonderful evening.  I arrived back at my lodgings just before midnight to enjoy…..

Celebrations:

Consensus has it that the suitable celebration for running a Double Bushy is to have a double Bush – a large measure of Bushmills whiskey, from the oldest distillery in the world, and near where I grew up on the North Coast.

IMG_1619  I couldn’t find any Bush, so being in Dublin I settled for local tipple, Jamesons.

Slainte!

All My parkruns

Med Cruise: Day 6 – Toulon

I would find it very difficult to visit somewhere without having done some basic research into it.  I was amazed reading some reviews of our cruise that one passenger gave it a low rating because “there’s nothing to do in Toulon”.  It’s the main French naval base, and having been heavily bombed in WW2 much of its buildings were hastily erected to provide  a lot of housing quickly – in other words its not very pretty architecturally.  The clue for me was the word “gateway”.  Anywhere that styles itself “gateway to blah blah” is usually an indication that you want to getaway from it as soon as possible.  Toulon calls itself “gateway to the Cote d’Azur”.  On top of all that, it was a Sunday when we visited, so many places would be closed.  This was the best day to go for one of the organised shore excursions.

Our first stop was the pretty little post of Sanary sur Mer.  The market there was yet another feast for the senses – I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time on this cruise blog extolling the joys of the variety and freshness of the local produce, so I’ll try to resist posting yet another picture of glossy tomatoes.  I bought some delicious fresh macaroons, a punnet of sweet and sharp strawberries, and couldn’t resist joining the queue for this local delicacy, Cade.  It was a sort of chickpea flour pancake, cooked in a wood smoke oven, served with a little salt and pepper.  The texture reminded me of potato bread.

A passing local advised us to climb to the top of the tower, accessible behind the hotel.  It’s free to enter, but quite a few steps and ladders to climb.  The view over the little harbour, with the old-fashioned painted boats – pointus, the pointed ones – was just exquisite.

Our next stop was the seaside resort of Bandol, weekend retreat of choice for the residents of nearby Marseilles.  There was a display of classic British cars (Les Anglaises) along the promenade, and the island off the coast belonged to M Ricard, inventor of the eponymous aperitif.  We had a welcome sit-down in the shade and enjoyed tapas of mussels and aubergine, followed by a gentle stroll in the sunshine enjoying delicious ice-creams from a dizzying choice of flavours.  I went for lavender, this being Provence, while Roger tried a salty caramel.  During the ice-cream purchasing process, he managed to drop a 5 euro note, which a passer-by retrieved and returned to us.  Back on the coach, and we were back on board at 13.30.  The trip had cost 32 euros – they’re not cheap, shore excursions, but this was definitely one we were glad we had taken.

I managed a short session in the gym, and then had a GnT in the Lookout Bar as we set sail. At dinner, there was a crepe station set up, so we enjoyed freshly prepared crepes Suzette for dessert.  I even managed to catch the evening show in the Ocean Theatre, which was very good, high professional standard.

Cruise Tip Of The Day: Check where you’re going to be on a Sunday, as shops and other attractions may be closed.  And look out for the words “Gateway to….”

So, that year in summary…

Welll… I’d said it was probably the toughest year of my life. And possibly also the best. Here’s a photo montage of some of the highlights.

Including:

The Gambia, Calum’s Road, leaving in January in heavy snow, heavy laden bike, The Butcher’s Shop restaurant (where we got food poisoning), and a return to the original road on Raasay.

Severe weather conditions, but spring arriving!

Volcanic ash disruption, and alternative ways home. Prince Charles waving to me, and Meet the Meat.
New iPhone!

New abode – planes trains and automobiles.

Bad bananas and mad dogs.

Talented daughter and bf.

Pangalactic gargleblasters on 101010.

Parking fine and flat tyre.

Major work to the Beahive – shed, bathroom, boiler, furniture from IKEA, where I’m now on first name terms with the staff.

The many aspects of me – new hair, new bag, my Trilogettes, dressing up as Doc for a Back-to-the-future-a-thon, Beatrix, working out measurements in the Numbers room, balloons, bingo by the pool, dancing with Chris Hollins….and getting engaged!

I’ve ended the year 1/2 a stone lighter than I began, and I hope 2011 will be as full of adventure and fun !