Love it or Louvre it, or where to find a moment of silence in Paris

I’ve been to Paris twice now. The first time, back in 2001, I was there for a week and a half just hanging out, drinking pastis in basement jazz bars, running through the cobbled streets in the rain, practicing my french on bored Parisian check out girls. I was a proper backpacker, staying in a hostel and making friends with fellow indie travellers until I felt it time to leave. One guy I met, a Canadian, had another friend who was house sitting in the Marais in a flat as beautiful as the one in Taken. Another, an English dude, was in Paris to spend time with his daughter. Me, I was there to wander the streets and see the sights.

And because I wanted to see everything in Europe in three months (bless) I had to be judicious about which sights to pay for. So I picked one of the big ones and said, “next time” to the rest. Versailles won.

So next time came well over ten years later, and this time the Louvre was our must-see. So, what did I learn about the Louvre that I can pass on to you?

I think this calls for a list!

  1. Don’t stand in the queue. Buy your tickets in advance!
  2. Arrive at your alloted time and sail by the line people in your very special lane.
  3. Get one of their brochure mappy things. You’ll need it because there are over half a million things to look at from art to objects to cities. Literally.
  4. No matter what anyone says: see the Mona Lisa. It IS that impressive. It IS mobbed with people. And who cares? It’s the most famous work of art in the world. Ignoring it is just lame. It’s like going to New York and not going to Times Square. Has to be done at least once.
  5. Pick a part of the museum far from the great ML and head there for some solitude.

After fulfilling #1 on the list above by purchasing our tickets at the billetterie spectacles at FNAC in Forum des Halles…

… we had just enough time to grab some lunch before our timed visit to the House of the Mona Lisa. The walk back to the Musée revealed more of Paris’ rich history.

The Fountaine des Innocents is the oldest monumental fountain in Paris. It’s kind of a big deal, having Pierre Lescot’s name attached to it. Did you know he was the architect in charge of a little museum called the Louvre?

What a coincidence!

And speaking of, we’re heading there right now. Follow me!

Item #2 on the love it or Louvre it list, the special advance ticket line was VIP only. There may as well have been a red carpet. We strolled in the pyramid and down the escalator, snapping pics along the way.

As you can see, I prefer to look up. Less people up there. How may of us take photographs of the underside of escalators?

I’m not going to lie. It’s busy in the atrium under the Pyramid, known as Hall Napoléon. And somehow I managed to get a fun shot, even caught one girl’s attention. Check out the red-haired lass looking directly at me.

Spooky.

That photograph was taken whilst fulfilling #3 on the list, grabbing a mappy thing. You’re gonna need it to find the ML and the VdM (Venus de Milo to those not on a first name basis). Besides the sheer volume of artifacts contained in this horseshoe shaped museum, there are four floors. Without some sort of map… good luck!

We set off on a wander, letting the crowds go their own way. I’m not even going to pretend we knew where we were going, so just enjoy these photos and note how the crowds thin as we go (#5).

We found ourselves in the Coptic Egypt Art Gallery and the Bawit Room beyond enjoying the rebuilt Byzantine Monastery Church with one of Egypt’s greatest icons…

In complete solitude. (see above, #5)

How about a painting on wood from the Bawit Monastery, circa 8th century?

We sat alone across the room Christ and Abbot Mena from for almost ten minutes, knowing it couldn’t last forever but hoping it would.

Our secret was out. As the tourists started walking in our cozy monastery hide-out, it was time for us to leave and find the big guns. Lots and lots of  photos to come.

Melpomene, artist unknown
Apollo
Winged Victory of Samothrace, front
Winged Victory of Samothrace, back
Aphrodite (Venus de Milo)
Aphrodite, Ramses, and another dude
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Centre
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Slightly distorted Galerie d’Apollon

That’s only just a few of the ridiculously famous artworks you’ll stumble across in the Louvre. Even the building is art. Ceiling panels, anyone?

 

I keep my cupid above the door, too.

Ornate angel cornice? Yes, please.

Okay, no more messing around. It’s time to find the famous lady herself. If we don’t get lost (#3 again).

Maybe past these sitting Egyptian dudes?

Or perhaps through the hallway of many sphinxes?

Past this sphinx?

Okay, maybe this one…

The Great Sphinx of Tanis

Is it around this moat?

Don’t be distracted by the modern art selfies…

Oh hai!

Maybe it’s this way. After all, where there are crowds…

You’ll find Mona. (Finally, #4)

Here’s a little advice on getting your photograph of the most famous painting in the world. Treat it like a mosh pit. Everyone is jostling for their place in front of the velvet rope so you can’t be shy, though try and be nice. If the museum were smart, they could charge even more money to queue up and get your pic of this piece. Instead it’s every man, woman and child for his, her or little oneself.

  • So just walk in, say excuse me, scusami, pardone mi, pardóname, entschuldigung, sorry, whatever gets you to the front of the crush.
  • Then don’t mess around.
  • Take your photo on the highest possible setting, not JPG, but RAW, so that later you can zoom in and crop to your heart’s content.
  • Have this setting programmed before you walk up.
  • With an iphone, just take the wide shot because the zoom function blows. I relied on Instagram to make her sweet smile come to life.
  • Be polite and get yourself out of everyone else’s way as soon as possible. Believe me, they are happier to watch you leave. But don’t hang about. Want to stare at her to figure out DaVinci’s hidden messages? That’s what the internet is for.
  • Oh, and turn around:
The Wedding Feast of Cana

You’ll barely have anyone in your way to view the massive and classic Wedding Feast of Cana. You’ll probably recognize this beauty from such classes as Art 101 and Art History.

So there you go, your beginner’s guide to the Louvre. Don’t worry about trying to fit everything in. Just wander, sit every once in a while, and enjoy the view!

Oh, I forgot to add something to the list.

6.  Wear comfortable shoes. There’s no way you’re going to see it all in one day, so save something for next time!

Au revoir!

 

Sleat, Ardvasar and a secret hike

And so we finish the last day of our Isle of Skye adventure on the Sleat Peninsula. Sleat is well regarded as “the garden of Skye,” a badge they wear with pride. To this visitor, it was just as beautiful as the rest of the island. Just with more trees. I approve.

Shortly after arriving at our bed and breakfast, the host told us of a hike down to a secret cove where we might spot some otters. Otters, you say? I cannot say no to cute wildlife sightings. So off we went.

We were told to take a short stroll up the single track road, past farms and other vestiges of rural island life.

Then at a little sort of bridge, instead of crossing it, take the path just before it on the left.

Little bridge

It didn’t look like much at the start being heavily overgrown, however we followed it down and found the path into the leafy canyon below.

It was then we heard a waterfall, so I kept my eye out for the little otters that were known to frequent the stream.

The otters were behaving elusively, if one could behave as such, so we continued down the narrow path toward the secret cove.

A brief aside whilst we are walking down this Sleat garden path to the shores below. Upon arrival at our B&B we were quite excited. At this point in 2013, Homeleigh B&B was a small bungalow with two bed and breakfast rooms, and it turned out to our good fortune that the double bedded room was available. At the time of our visit, the proprietors were a lovely couple who were about to sell on. We didn’t think too much of it at the time as our heads were filled with notions of secret hikes to secret rocky beaches and secret otter sightings.

I bet they told that to all the guests.

Anyway, the path continued along the brooke and broke through the canopy to give us a sneak peek of our destination, complete with a view to the landscape across the loch.

And more path…

… revealed better views.

And as we peeked into the cascading waters, we thought we heard something. An exploring otter, perhaps?

Alas, scuppered again. One last look up over the ferns to the stream brought nothing but otter disappointment. (Get it? Go on, read those last two words again.)

Reaching the rocky beach was a treat. And really, that’s the best descriptor for it. It wasn’t a huge challenge considering the hike was all downhill (not looking forward to going back up) and very short. It wasn’t the most beautiful of evenings, the sky being lightly overcast which gave my photos an interesting glow around the rocks. But it couldn’t match the dramatic blue skies over Ullinish.

Yes, the beach was a treat. And it definitely looked like it was a popular hang out for the area youth.

In the town I grew up in we had a pond. And that pond had access roads we’d walk along, creating our own paths to the pond’s edge until we found the best place for our debaucherous pastimes of sitting by a bonfire drinking cheap beer and skipping stones. One summer we put up a rope swing, and henceforth that’s what the little campsite became known as: The Rope Swing.

It felt like we had a place of our own that no one knew about. Of course everybody knew about it, and on occasion the police would come to break up our revelry. As you do.

But that summer we felt invincible, as the kids who hang out on the secret cove of Ardvasar probably felt as they skipped stones and drank cheap beer amongst the rocky shore.

My partner scoped the beach for some excellent skipping stones whilst I scoped for ideal desktop background images.

And how excited was I to stumble upon proof of our otter friends.

Dinner, perhaps?

Speaking of, the evening was getting on and we spied a pub on our way in. Time to wrap up our nostalgic secret hike with the real reason why we are here:

Time to skip some stones!

 

Six! Well done. Off to the pub.

The Ardvasar Hotel is the only game in town. It’s the closest hotel to the ferry, about 15 minutes walk, easy for those who are not laden with hire car like we are. Part of me wishes I’d booked this little inn, seeing as we were having dinner and drinks there, it would have been ideal to just wander up to our room and say goodnight.

But instead we just took in the view, dining al fresco watching the skies clear to blue and the tide go out.

And of course, a little bit of Instagramming.

The cows came out at low tide, dining on some pretty tasty grasses as we dined on sausage and mash.

And finally! Some wildlife. The fierce pub cat we shall call Stan.

Saying goodnight to Stan, we walked back up the short hill to our bed and breakfast. I’d like to say that it was a relaxing evening in our comfortable en suite room, however, upon returning to the Homeleigh, our hosts informed us that we were not allowed to use the ceiling fan, nor the pedestal fan. You see, her sick mother (bless) was in the room below and she couldn’t sleep through the noise of the fans.

Now I can’t sleep without the noise of fans, and it was hot as balls (excuse my French) so we were at a moral standoff. The customer, they once said, is always right. So if we just put the fan on, would anyone really be the wiser? But we couldn’t be those people. You know, those people who can’t follow the rules. So wanting to be respectful for the ill mother in the room below us we did as asked.

We even tried to get some respite from heat by opening the window. Alas, it was broken and could not open! The cold showers helped, though.

Not to malign a small business, but it was miserable, and turned out to be the last time I stayed in a B&B. The experience was so terrible that I’m not really over it almost three years later.

At least I was still awake at the wee hours to take this photo out the broken window of the sun trying to set, the moon keeping me company in the illusion of night blue sky. Glass half full.

In the spirit of friendship, I have good news. The Homeleigh was indeed sold and has been taken over by another lovely couple. Recent tripadvisor research shows that the new owners are far more accomodating and have three rooms to let. No mothers to be seen. I would even consider staying again as long as I’m able to use one of the fans.

Now, who wants to take a ride on a ferry boat??

 

The road was long and full of photos

I just watched the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, and even though it may not be shot there, I’m pretty sure we are all thinking that north of the wall is modeled after Scotland.

Lucky for me and my travel companion, our trip north of the wall was lush, green and full of sunshine… and 30C temps.

So we just left Loch Lochy behind and followed the A82 as it turned west, heading for the Isle of Skye.

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Why the Isle of Skye, do you ask? I dare you to google it and not be wowed by the photographs, to be taken in by its beauty. It’s the largest of the Inner Hebrides islands, and it has everything you could want for your summer Scotland vacation: stunning scenery to tramp through, dramatic mountains to climb, castles to visit, beautiful beaches, wildlife to spot, whiskey to try, and pubs with views for days. Even just driving through it gives you something new to look at everywhere you turn.

And this passenger couldn’t wait to get there. I was pretty excited when we reached the Skye Bridge connecting the mainland to the island over Loch Alsh. My iPhone, however, took some shameful photographs.

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And as we put our hotel info into google for directions on the last leg of our journey, we realized that there was still another hour plus of driving. After six hours plus all the stops for the food and photo ops, I was definitely starting to feel the strain. So imagine how my legal driving license carrying partner felt.

Bless.

We were heading to the Ullinish Country Lodge on the western part of the island. I’d found the place when researching, and it looked idyllic. Rustic location, close to walks and not far from some of the sights we were hoping to see: Dunvegan Castle, the coral beaches and, of course, Talisker. It even has one of the highest rated restaurants on the island.

Oh, and the island. Just as beautiful as expected.

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You can always expect a place with daily rainfall to be this lush and green.

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There were little waterfalls everywhere. Some of them frequented by tour buses, of which we did not want to fight for the view.

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As we crossed the interior of the island, the sun still shining strong well after 7pm, we were late for our check in at the lodge. But when we arrived, I almost didn’t even want to get out of the car.

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We quickly checked in and were shown our room, the Harpoort. It was upstairs overlooking the car part, but beyond that… totally Instagram-worthy.

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It had views over Loch Harpoort to the Cuillin Mountains beyond. This was, by far, the best thing about the room: it’s views. The inn itself could use an update, as some of the furnishings seemed a bit tired and may not have been to my taste, but in this writer’s opinion the tariff fit the decor. Other than that, the room was comfortable save for the mattress which I found way to bouncy. I think I even woke myself up when I moved!

Having unpacked and freshened up, we dressed for dinner. This is something I was really looking forward too and is the real highlight of the Ullinish Country Lodge. Dinner and Breakfast are included, and they are delicious.

Your dinner will start with canapés and drinks in the lounge. I didn’t take photographs of any of this, because my priority was to relax and enjoy the pampering. But I did find this one from its website:

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It’s a cute, warm spot with a fireplace and leather sofas. I think my grandparents would have liked the decor a bit more than I, however it was a lovely room for a glass of sparkling wine before dinner. And we were treated like royalty. We chose to take our drinks outside to the patio so as to continue enjoying the view. Shortly thereafter we shuffled in to the dining room for our five course dinner.

I do wish I was into taking photos of my food then (I can’t stop myself now) because everything was so beautifully presented. I felt that my dressing up for dinner was worth it because dinner sure dressed up for me.

After dinner, the guests retired to the lounge for after dinner drinks and conversation. And, to bring this post back to its start, we met a delightful couple, parents to an actor who played a secondary character on Game of Thrones. I was impressed by their son’s chops. They were impressed I wore heels to dinner.

And with that, the sun started its descent, sinking behind the Cuillin’s peaks and softening the sky with its pastel glow.

One last photograph before I say goodnight.

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Goodnight!

Richmond, England… we’re back!

In this writer’s opinion, the only thing missing from the idyllic North Yorkshire market town of Richmond is a railway station.

I’m sure any residents who come across this post will tell me why not having a railway station is a good thing. After all…

They have a flourishing weekly market on Saturdays!

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And at the market square’s center, a really old church! (Is that the castle tower?)

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Oh, and an obelisk. Impressive. (Hey, it’s that castle again…)

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And part of its charming skyline, a Norman Castle!

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Have you not seen our beautiful countryside? No need to spoil that with a train.

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But I digress. Check out my previous post on Richmond to see more pics of the exterior of Richmond Castle. But this visit? It’s what’s inside that counts.

So, of course, I start with a really, really terrible photograph of the opening times. In case you decide to happen by.

Don’t judge me.

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On to the interior. Really well kept. A few rooms surround the now grassy interior.

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Once the bustling fortress protecting this village, it’s now a lovely place to worship the sun!

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And seek out some amazing views.

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You really get a sense of what this market town’s about from the tower of Richmond Castle.

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Surely, Richmond’s placement, nestled in the very elbow of the A1 and the A66 make it a prime destination for travelers and commuters, even without a train line. I can’t say anything to the latter, but to the former? Why yes, it does make for a very excellent stop on one’s way, well, anywhere.

And that’s why we chose to happen there again, the lovely town of Richmond calling us a one hour side trip on our way north. I can say with some authority, now that I’ve spent a total of three hours there, that Richmond is the perfect place for a stop and stretch one’s legs and explore parts of it that were not previously explored.

Next time we will find out what the big deal is with that River Swale! The photos out there make it look incredibly special.

But back to our midsummer jaunt up to the Isle of Skye. Next stop: Glasgow!

 

 

(Please note, any adverts that appear here are nothing to do with me. Continue to ignore…)

 

 

Road Trip! Leicestershire to Scotland, here we go!

I know, you are excited. The very thought of sitting in a car for around 6 hours driving to another country is enough to make me squee with glee.

Wait, let’s think about that last statement for a moment. There aren’t many places in the United States that you can get in your car and drive to another country in under 6 hours. Sure, it doesn’t help that we have two very large bodies of water to either side of us. So does England, however you can still get in your car and, from most places in the country, be able to drive to another country altogether in 6 hours, including putting your car on a ferry or train to get across a channel or sea. If you live in Kansas, in 6 hours you are likely still in Kansas.

But I digress. Or do I? Because on this gorgeous, sunny Wednesday in July, me and my dear husband (DH) were packing up the car for a week in Scotland.

And it went something like this (warning, I do utter a curse word or two in this video):

 

I know, right? Sorry about the cursing, but I think the SUV driver forgot he was towing a bloody caravan!

Back to the road trip. Having done the drive up the A1 before, we decided to let the time lapse camera do the shoot for us, with the occasional video from myself.

And until those time lapses are finished, here are a few more of the videos, complete with singing, countryside and lorries.

Does it get any better than this? Windows down, music playing, sun shining. It felt like we were finally on holiday. And, because we were making the most out of the drive we’d done before, why not stop in Richmond… again?

Riders on the Storm may have been on the radio, but there was nary a cloud in sight as we pulled into the same car park as our last visit by the lonely, overcast cricket field.

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But this time…

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Again, the charms of Richmond overwhelmed us, and this time, with only one hour to spend in town… well, we had a castle to see.

Watch this space!

(Oh, and if any show up, sorry about the adverts. Photographd does not endorse any posting of ads by WordPress. But since she’s too cheap to upgrade, that’s what we’re going to get.)

 

I promised you a post about Eataly…

So I’ll keep it brief. After all, it’s been two months since we visited NYC, and my memory of it may be a little faded, but the photos I took keep it fresh in my mind. Like the daintiest of fresh pastas, it didn’t take long looking at the photos to bring it all back.

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Eataly is a gourmet Italian food market just next to the Flatiron Building at 23rd Street where you can not only have a meal or a glass of wine, but you can stand at a coffee counter, a la Italy itself, or take a delicious gelato on the go. There are areas for all delights: pizza (la piazza) meats (manza and rosticierria), fish (il pesce), paninis (panini), and vegetarians (le verdure), where we found ourselves on our last day in New York City.

We’d been walking around the 911 Memorial all morning, taking in its somber atmosphere and enjoying a moment of silence for those who lost there lives. We also enjoyed a few photographs to keep it fresh for us;

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When completed, the 911 Memorial is going to be a lovely public space. Though I wonder if they’ll have the kind of security we had on our visit. Queue after queue, ticket check after ticket check, bags searched and x-rays performed. But a lovely visit nonetheless.

Oh, did I mention it was freaking hot? Not much shade in the memorial queues, so it made our decision to get gelato instead of go to the Natural History Museum that much easier. We escaped into the air conditioned subway for a quick ride to 23rd Street and transported ourselves back to Italy.

It’s easy to spend a good amount of time at Eataly, and with row after row of imported Italian goods surrounding us, it’s not surprising DH did a little jig:

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Nice.

Our immediate thought was la Piazza. But after a look at the busy dining area we made a bee line to il pesce where the prices gave us a fright. And upon looking at the vegetarian menu, Le Verdure was the spot. Fresh, seasonal ingredients filled every dish. I had the Farrotto, Faro cooked a la risotto, and in my memory (because it didn’t last long enough for a photograph) it was filled with peas, parm and a little mint. It was delicious.

Top marks to the guys behind the counter.

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And, since you asked, here is the rest of our Eataly experience, in photo:

**warning, photographs of meat to follow**

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I wanted to take everything home with me, including the guys making homemade gnocchi. Surely they’d fit in my suitcase, no?

But alas, I could have none of it, for I was leaving later that day for England, and part of me knew that if I really wanted fantastic Italian goods, what better way to get it than in Europe?

I have one last thing to say to Eataly: come to Los Angeles!

Keeping weird in Austin, day 2; Bridges, Bats and Boats: oh my

Okay, so did you know, that Austin, Texas is the home of the world’s largest bat colony?

Fact.

The Anne W Richards Congress Bridge over Lady Bird Lake houses the world’s largest urban Mexican free-tailed bat colony. These little migrants spend the summer in Texas and the winters in Mexico. Who knew?

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Here’s the deal – at dusk, they start to leave their nests under the bridge in an orderly fashion, heading east to the fields to feed on juicy organic bugs, and then returning at dawn to spend the day in their little crevasses, protected from the Austin heat. It’s really quite a sight, and if you can’t get yourself a seat on one of the tour boats that cruise the lake and give you a prime view…

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… you can hang out on the bridge and see it from above. I recommend both.

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The tour is $10, and reservations are advised. It’s really quite a fun little trip, the boat master gives you a bit of history of the skyline and waterside sites, like when it was so hot in Austin that the brand new W hotel’s windows exploded. Oops.

They are also the local experts on this urban bat population. They get calls from lazy scientists about what time the bats took flight, how many there are, etc…

I took quite a few photographs, of which I will share with you, for that is how I roll. I can’t guarantee I’ll remember much from the commentary, though. Sorry about that. I’ve included some links to video I shot at the end of this post so you can hear some of what the expert boat driving guy was saying. Like things about guano and insects. Fun!

And it’s not a bad view.

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You can barely see it, however in that photo above, there is a Canadian flag in the little square between those three buildings. It’s not the Canadian Embassy, but a Hilton. On street view there are also Texas and American flags.

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See?

So who knows if it has to do with the hotel or one of the businesses in those buildings or just Austin showing its love for our northern neighbors. No really, I’m asking. Who knows?

So the boat launch is just below the 1st Street Bridge, and the steps down to the water is this little nugget of misspelled youth:

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Jesus always was a profit. Was the grafitti-er ronic or just a bad speller.

Take the little gangway down, pay the man, and boat up. And if you’re lucky, you’ll not only see bats, but other local wildlife. Like turtles!

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The first leg of the cruise is heading west down the lake to take in the sunset. The 1st Street Bridge is not the bridge we’re looking for.

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But this sunset is.

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Here’s the very knowledgable boat master, and behind him the Reggae Festival.

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I believe he is telling us something very important that I cannot remember. Maybe something about this railroad bridge and all the construction and revitalization going on all around Austin. Oh yes, I remember…

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There was a joke about the newest bird in Austin – the Crane.IMG_1072

Ho ho!

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And more sunset behind the railroad bridge, where we turn around.IMG_1077

And the Pac Man graffiti on the railroad bridge is revealed.

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Well? Will you?

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We’re lazily making our way back to the Congress Bridge, where the show will begin any minute. Around us on the lake are other tourists who’ve rented those banana bike things (see photo above), kayaks, stand up paddle boards and small boats. There are a few small cruises dotting the lake.

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Including one whose occupants are all dressed in steam punk regalia:

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Can you see them? Aren’t I being sneaky?

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There’s our hotel, the slick, grey and glass tower. The W Austin is quite a scene. I’d definitely stay there again if they lower their prices from $495. Seriously.

To the right of the W is the Owl Building. I’ll show you what I mean in a later post.

And just like that, the people gather on the bridge…

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And the bats come:

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They don’t just fly out all willy nilly, no. They follow each other down around each leg of the bridge, then out in a single file line.

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Who knew bats could queue? Maybe the girl on the banana boat bike:

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The almost million strong bat colony (the babies aren’t born for a couple months) keep this up until the sun sets. There’s more bats in Austin in spring and summer than residents.

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Happy trails, little dudes!

It’s time for us to head back too, just as Austin comes to life in the sunset, so must we.

I mean, we’re hungry. It’s time for dinner, already.

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I have some pretty cool video of this, but sadly WordPress would make me upgrade and pay for my blog in order to show them to you.

So if you fancy seeing this phenomenon of bats in action, of which you should because it really is quite cool, head to my Flickr page:

Austin Bats: the backstory

Austin Bats: they be flyin’

Austin Bats: bat queue

And finally, the last of the bats drop off Congress Bridge and fly out on their nightly hunt with Austin’s skyline in the background.

Austin Bats: the final push

Not too shabby, Austin.