Category Archives: Europe

European hiking

2015 – Looking back at my year

In Ireland
In Ireland

Is it egotistical to spend some time looking back at my year?

Yes, I hiked, went to a lot of meetings, and visited national parks in the Southeast.  I’m not much of a reflective person, and always want to look forward but here goes the highlights.


1. First, my day job.

I scouted and led many hikes for Friends of the Smokies, Carolina Mountain Club and the Great Smoky Mountains Association.

View from Mt. Le Conte
View from Mt. Le Conte

If I get to choose a favorite, it has to be the overnight hike to LeConte Lodge in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

2. For the first time (and probably last), I was a hike leader for Family Nature Summits. This past year, the one-week nature camp was based at Lake Junaluska in Waynesville.

I led four hikes in five days. Both granddaughters came. Isa, only five at the time, was a great trooper. With Lenny and Hannah’s help, I was able to get out early, some days as early as 7 am, as required.

3. After three interim superintendents in the Smokies, Cassius Cash became the permanent superintendent. I am lucky to be able to know him and most of the staff. OK, folks, we all have our own rock stars.

Superintendent Cash, trail crew leaders and FOTS leaders
Superintendent Cash, trail crew leaders and FOTS leaders

4. Chimney Tops Trail in the Smokies, was completely, refurbished. Friends of the Smokies, who funded this project through their Trails Forever program, had an official opening. We all climbed to the top, accompanied by Tobias Miller, another star of mine.

5. I finished visiting all the national parks in the Southeast, for my forthcoming book, Forests, Alligators, Battlefields: My Journey through the National Parks of the South. It included six new parks and many that I went back to for fun and extra research. The book will come out March 15, 2016.

6. I laughed at the silliness of A Walk in the Woods and almost teared up at the Everest movie.

Marcia giving me an award
Marcia giving me an award

7. I received the Distinguished Service Award from Carolina Mountain Club. Oh my gosh! I was gobsmacked-astonished, astounded, totally amazed. Me? Really?

8. I went to Italy in May with Lenny and Ireland in August with Beth R. See the picture above. Both destinations were on my bucket list. And again a big thanks to Beth for putting up with me for almost a month.

9. I finished my six years on the board of the Great Smoky Mountains Association. All good things must come to an end.

10.  I’m looking forward to an awesome 2016. Stay with me.

Last stop, Derry~Londonderry

Bogside in Derry
Bogside in Derry

Last stop, the Tilda City, Derry~Londonderry, at the very top of Northern Ireland. This is how everyone refers to it, certainly all the print information. In casual conversation, most people say “Derry”.

Derry is within a stone’s throw from the Irish border. I can see the Republic of Ireland from here – County Donegal.

But maybe saying a “stone’s throw” is not the best expression. You might say that the modern troubles started here in the late 1960s. Plenty of adults that I talked to were affected by it all.

There even was a march from Belfast to Derry in 1969, reminiscent of the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery, AL. But now all is quiet. It’s a small vibrant city, with a growing number of visitors.

imageAs I entered the city, the first thing I saw was the “Hands across the divide” sculpture – two men reaching out to each other, but not quite touching. Speaking of men, it felt like the demonstrations and fighting  between the IRA and the British were very much a man’s war with the “grannies cooking the food.”

Peace Bridge
Peace Bridge

I took a walk across the Peace Bridge, which links the traditional Republicans and Loyalists areas. According to my host, born and bred here, this bridge has made a tremendous improvement in the relationship between different groups.

I also took a tour to the Bogside, the traditional Republican area of small, neat houses, just off the city center. During the fighting, Bogside declared itself free of the authorities; the sign above remains.

Like the traditional areas in Belfast, the Bogside has murals as a reminder of the troubled times and hope and peace of the present and future.

image Here’s one of my favorite of peace icons. You’ll recognize Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa. The man in the top left corner is John Hume, a former MP from Derry who was instrumental in the Irish peace process and won the Nobel Peace Prize.

But there’s so much to Derry and Northern Ireland than reminders of the Troubles. The city has walls surrounding the whole small center, walks along the River Foyle, museums, old churches … I’m starting to sound like their tourist bureau.

I’m so glad I came to Northern Ireland after hiking in the South. This is such a vital part of Ireland, though I’ve only touched the surface. All good things must come to an end. I’m making my slow journey home, looking forward to leading my next Friends of the Smokies hike and other commitments.

Thanks for coming along for the “walk” and thanks for all the new Irish friends I made, from South and North.



Belfast- More than the troubles

imageThere’s much more to Belfast than the ‘troubles” of yesteryear.

I had bumped into a Loyalist parade yesterday.

In contrast, I signed up for a walking tour in the Republican side. You might think of the conflict as Catholics (Republicans who align themselves with the Republic of Ireland) and Protestants (Loyalists who want to stay part of The United Kingdom) but Republicans and Loyalists are the terms used here.

There is a group of former political prisoners who now give tours of Falls Road, a Republican neighborhood of mostly small, modest houses. See for the Coiste Irish Political Tours.

Bobby Sands, MP
Bobby Sands, MP

Only one other woman, Mary from Chicago, had signed up. Joe, a very fit man of about 60, introduced himself and quickly told us that he had been in prison for 17 years as a former? IRA member. We walked past murals depicting heroes of the latest conflict, the most famous being Bobby Sands, MP. Sands was the leader of a group of prisoners who went on a protest hunger strike and died in 1981.

The strangest murals were of the revolutionary groups supported by the IRA, including the Palestinians, The Basque separatists and the ANC. It’s almost as if they supported these groups because they were revolutionary, independent of their affinity to the Republicans.

imageThis is not the only way to see the murals.

Nothing stops you from just walking around yourself on the major and minor streets. But I know that I would have missed a lot, not knowing all the ins and outs. You can also take a black cab, which are advertised in the tourist brochures. The cabs drive to certain sites and tell you about the events but the quality is mixed. Besides, getting in and out of a taxi every few blocks would drive me batty.

The walking tours are not as popular , probably because you walk for three hours without a chance to sit. Our last stop was in a large cemetery to see famous graves. Then we ended at the Felons Pub, opposite the cemetery, started by guys who were constantly going to funerals. We each got a glass of beer but I traded mine in for a cup of tea.

Titanic Memorial
Titanic Memorial

But enough about the ‘troubles’. Belfast is coming back as a thriving small city. It seems to have more massive Victorian buildings than London, mostly because the city is small and all these ornate structures are close to each other. During Victorian times, it was the linen and shipbuilding capital of the British Empire.

The Titanic was built here, though it sailed from Southhampton. As a sign says:

The Titanic

Built by Irishmen

Sunk by English men