Tuesday, November 30, 2010
The coach came to a stop for the last time in Dublin at the Burlington hotel as we returned from the Abbey Tavern in the northern Dublin suburb of Howth. (Side note: with the unprecedented snow storm, the Abbey staff did not expect us to show. The Irish dancers parents would not drive in the snow and the 'trad' singers had gotten a wee bit into their cups. So, while they were in fine voice they were definitely a little off). Our group filed off the bus for one last time with most leaving in the morning. We all said goodbye to 'D' and our travel partners, our group settled in for our three days in the Irish capital city.
Dublin Day 1
Bright and early in the morning we cabbed it straight to the Guinness Storehouse. Housed in former fermentation building, the Storehouse is a 7 story multi- media valentine to all things Guinness. The gentlemen in our group were visibly moved by the story of water from the Wicklow mountains combined with Irish barley and hops. The other ladies and myself perked up once we reached the Gravity Bar located on level 7. It seemed a little strange to be imbibing well before noon. I don't know what was more heady, the beer or to have the entire bar to ourselves with the city laid out at our feet. The rest of the day passed quickly with a coach tour of the city, a visit to St. Patrick's cathedral, lunch at Gogarty's in the Temple Bar district and pastries at the divine Bewley's Oriental Cafe.
Dublin day 2
Tuesday a slight thaw and rain rather than snow. Big problem as we slogged to the General Post Office (the location of the 1916 Easter uprising that eventually lead to the Republic of Ireland's 1922 independence) to meet Pat Liddy of Dublin Walks. I was excited to see Pat again, we were one of his first tour groups when he opened his company in 2005. A Dubliner all his life, Pat is a renaissance man. In addition to his tour company his is an author of 11 books. He is passionate about all history, culture and all things Irish. From the GPO we wove through Dublin's back streets and alley ways learning not only Dublin history but Pat Liddy's 71 years of personal Dublin history. Pat is a civilized man, so stop three was at 'The Church' a former catholic church which was now a very tony bar and restaurant. After warming ourselves with Irish coffee, Jamesons and hot chocolate for me, we continued into Dublin's mediaevel quarter and Viking Dublin as well. Touring with Pat is to notice details you missed a hundred times walking the city streets. Pat showed us how the streets actually followed the 1100's city walls and how the original city streets were over 6' below the current city scape. We ended the tour at the Bull and Castle restaurant where I had the pleasure of visiting with this fascinating man for the lunch hour. If you ever get to Dublin, give Pat a call- you will thank me later.
On our last night out for entertainment, we enjoyed a fun-filled evening of Irish hospitality, food and traditional entertainment featuring Irish music and Irish dancers in the Arlington Hotel. The hotel is an expansive building and although the crowd was small the dancers were amazing and the three-piece band did an effective job of joining the crowd in sing-a-longs and acknowledging audience requests. The food was good as well and the lovely wait staff did commendable work in delivery of food and beverage. One of our party did participate in the dancing on stage with the dancers. She seemed to think the volunterring was well worth the experience and did gather a "groupie" from London. However, the largest surprise of the evening occurred when we found evidence of what we who reside in Lexington, MI already knew - that Leo's influence is felt the world over. Pam found on the toilet bath wall "Love you Leo" written. This is further evidence that Leo is a force of nature and that his charm is infectious to the masses. The next morning he did state that he went back to the Hotel (JUST KIDDING)but could not find the woman who loved him after much searching. -David
Dublin day 3- and evening
"I am afraid I cannot take you on your 10 o'clock tour of the manor" said the dapper museum docent of 29 Fitzwilliam Street. Tommy the Burlington concierage had made our reservation for 10 a.m. and while our group of 10 was on time, the other museum employees fighting their way in from the subway were not. He invited us into the museum gift shop and tea room to get out of the weather. We had just decided to continue on our way when the snow covered employees burst through the door and we were able to visit the townhouse. Dublin's Georgian mansions are all 29 feet wide and four stories tall. Housekeepers quarters and kitchen on the ground floor, dining room and front entrance hall on the second, the ladies budoir, family drawing room and formal drawing room on the third, with the nursery and governess quarters on the fourth. Number 29 is one of the city's best kept secret. Our cab driver had only taken one other group in 5 years of driving. David and learned of this gem through the great Mr. Steves and we visited the mansion in 2005 the other 8 of the 2010 visit though it extraordinary as well.
Lunch at O'Neill's pub and then a quick shopping jaunt through the Avoca Woolen Mill, Marks and Spencer as well as tea and coffee from Beweley's completed our day. By then the streets were slippery and cabs scarce. We walked through the streets of Dublin back to our hotel we passed its monuments, museums and parks all dusted with snow and ice. Its all very beautiful, but the airport has been closed and opened and closed several times today and as of this posting is closed. We planned on seeing you all soon, it may be later...
Monday, November 29, 2010
"D" turned the coach north from our Galway hotel on our way to Derry, Northern Ireland. With all the arrangement's, research and organization I hadn't really considered we were going to visit a place that during the 80s was nightly on the news for its car bombs and riots. "D" gave us a quick history lesson. How during the time of King Henry the 8th Ireland had been in effect stolen by the English from the Irish. And how during Elizabeth I reign, the northern Irish cheiftains had plotted with King Phillip of Spain to free Ireland and conquer England. History teaches us of Elizabeth's victory over Spain and the northern cheiftains. The chieftains fled northern Ireland and the English forcibly evicted Scottish, northern English and Welsh families from their homes and relocated them to Northern Ireland, the first Protestants in the Catholic country. Today as it was hundreds of years ago, Catholics far out weigh the Protestants- but unlike the the past few hundred years of rioting, car bombings, Sein Feinn and the IRA, the two sworn enemies live in delicate peace.
As we crossed the river Foyle into Northern Ireland, "D" explained before the peace the crossing would have meant hours of car searches by armed guards. "D" is my age. He commented before the peace he had been to the north three times. His children all under 10 had been three times already. As we rolled on to our walking tour of Derry, the roadside signs showed the kilometers to Londonderry. "D" watching us through the rear view mirror said he would let the guide explain the two names(we already knew that once the English left the Republic of Ireland, all city names that referenced the monarchy had been changed). Martin a ginger -haired charming man in his late 50s has lived in Derry his entire life. He is Roman Catholic and 41 years ago he married the Protestant police chief's daughter. He explained the city is both 'Derry' and 'Londonderry' depending on your religious views. We started our tour in the Bogside. The Bogside is as it always was a Catholic neighborhood. It was the site of the 1979 protests that ended in the death of 14 innocent men including six 17 years and under. The murals that decorate the gray apartment buildings depict the events of the 'Bloody Sunday' . For 38 years until this year the British government has insisted they fired into the protesters in self defense. Only in this past year did it finally admit responsibility and exonerate the 14 killed. To see this event and its aftermath through Martin's eyes was to feel the pain of generations. It is only now hundreds of years later, the people of Northern Ireland can enjoy the simple pleasures of walking, shopping and working wherever they want, freedoms and rights the rest of the western world has always had.
It was a somber tour group that checked into the Derry Everglades hotel. Dinner was just finishing when David and I could hear the songs of Mr. Sinatra in the lobby. I asked the waiter if that was a tape, he said it was live. Our group of 10 settled ourselves in front of the fireplace and in the hotel bar to enjoy Gerry Breslin, a local Derry singer and entertainer. In addition to old blue eyes, he sang Bobby Darrin, Glen Campbell and even Michael Jackson. He spoke of his available CD which contained an original song 'Jackie'. He further explained the song was about his cousin 'Jackie' whose dead body is depicted in the Bogside being carried away immediately after 'Bloody Sunday'. Gerry and Jackie were the exact same age - today he is enjoying a successful career in Derry, while his cousin has been dead since 1979.
The Giant's Causeway and Belfast
After the entertaining and moving evening of dance and mixed song, we went to bed with as new set of memories and with everyone in the group a bit closer. The next morning we embark for Belfast, the Giant's Causeway and Dublin.Finn MaCcool was a giant that once lived on the North Coast of Ireland and he had a great rivalry with another giant, Benandonner, across the sea in Scotland. The two giants would shout at each other across the water, and after a dispute about their respective fighting ability, Finn grabbed a rock and threw it towards Scotland, issuing a challenge to settle this claim. Benandonner responded with another rock, saying he could not swim. Finn MacCool then tore slabs of volcanic rock from the plateau around him to pave a causeway to let his rival cross.
Benandonner had to accept his challenge, came across the causeway and entered Finn MacCool's house to find the comparatively small (by giant standards) Finn dressed as a baby. Upon seeing the size of the "baby", and working out what size his father must be, Benandonner fled all the way back to Scotland, destroying the causeway as he crossed the sea to prevent . The remains are what we now know as the Giants Causeway.
The Causeway did not disappoint. The rock formations were surprisingly easy to navigate and the photos were spectacular. The views also from the countryside were spectacular as well. It is important to note the reunification of Ireland has already accomplished some important steps for travelers as even 10 months ago neither CIE nor any of the tour companies were able to freely explore the countryside areas in Northern Ireland in and around Belfast and the Causeway - we were quite lucky and impressed.
Belfast, from Irish: Béal Feirste meaning "mouth of the sandbars” is the capital of and the largest city in Northern Ireland and the second largest city in Ireland. The city suffered greatly during the period of disruption, conflict, and destruction called the Troubles, but latterly has undergone a sustained period of calm, free from the intense political violence of former years, and substantial economic and commercial growth. Belfast city centre has undergone considerable expansion and regeneration in recent years. The city while lovely and the visit emotionally moving was a bit intense. The rich and troubled political and religious history of the is still quite evident in the struggle between Catholic and Protestant Belfast and ultimately will decide the path of a unified Ireland. The people of Belfast still struggle at the precipice of conflict and peace. On a lighter note, for lunch we visited the Robinson Bar for a delicious lunch and draught. - David
Friday, November 26, 2010
The day began to a foggy, brisk early morning. The drive to Foynes, County Limerick was pleasant and we arrived to the Foynes Flying Boat Museum. I think that none of the group knew what expectations to hold for the visit. We went through the tour and understood quickly that the visit gave new insights into a luxury range of flyer options in the 1920s and 30s that most of the group would have never been able to experience. The museum was funded by legendary actress Maureen O'Hara who was married to Charles Blair, captain of the flying boat 'Yankee Clipper'. The town of Foynes was chosen as a hub for the flying boats as it provided a strategic port and one fully sheltered from the winds of the Atlantic Sea. The Foynes airport(location of the Flying Boat museum) also was the birthplace of the famous 'Irish Coffee'. The museum staff gave an Irish Coffee making demonstration and I was chosen as her assistant.
Onto the touring coach, we move onto County, Clare and the Cliffs of Moher and happier for the knowledge of the flying boats and the lovely port city of Foynes. The Cliffs need little introduction as they are viable aa one of the world wonders. In sheer cliff faces 700-800 meters from the sea surface, gulls dart in and out of the rock formation and sea tides lap at the base of the cliffs. In fact the sea and water over much time were the cause of the sheering of the cliff faces. Pam and I were here to visit five years ago and the grounds were in transit with temporary fencing and the cliff edge and a construction trailer serving as the gift shop and welcome center. Now the center in cut into the rock structure and manicured rock fencing shelters travelers and visitors from any danger and many of the temptations for hopping over the wall and taking that perfect photo or to gain the perfect view. However, the views are perfect and the grounds impressive beyond words. The Cliffs are magical and timeless. The extending sea provides dazzling play on light and adds even more depth to any photo. After a short time in the gift and welcome center, Pam and I come away with a few wonderful little watercolors from the day and the area and begin the journey to Galway. - David
On the way to Galway, the landscape turned decidedly lunar. The Burren is a world UNESCO Heritage site. It us easy to see by its wavy looking granite flat boulders, this was once the end of a river bed and the extremely hard granite, once silt and sand - not unlike our Missisippi Delta. After a few snaps we left County Clare and were heading on to County Galway and our hotel.
The clouds rolled in suddenly and the rain came down in sheets. It was obvious we would not be going to a pint at a local pub or even having our Galway City tour. The lovely Westwood Hotel was very warm and inviting after a long days travel. The hotel staff was very young and fun. I finally learned a few words of Gaelic from them (I'll have to post them phonetically since I am not sure of the spelling) 'Go row mah agot = Thank You and ,Ta falch aroo' = You are welcome. John the head bar man came and did a drink demonstration. An 'Irish Flag' is equal parts Creme de Menthe, Irish Bailey's Creme and Irish Mist all layered in a shot glass to look like the Irish flag. Andrea commented she had never had a shot before, so of course we made her do one in the warmy cozy bar. It began to snow. The Michigan contingent groaned and rolled our collective eyes. The US Southern and Australian members of our group were definitely not jaded by the white stuff and it was fun to see them outside catching the flakes.
'D' continues to be a real treasure. Tour company policy prohibits them from joining travelers at meal times and in the bar. Luckily for us, the policy is relaxed with groups as small as ours. We have enjoyed his company in the bar and at lunch. He is a true gentleman who loves his family and he will be missed upon our return.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
DAY 4- I am sad to report a valued member of my travel team passed away quite suddenly today. H.D. Blowerson, (affectionately known as 'Blowy') has been with me since my first international trip in 2000. Prized for not only his light weight and professional blow dryer power, but his discretion as well ( remaining staunchly unjudgemental during the final perm debacle of '02). Blowy was at the ready as usual. I plugged him into my adaptor and the adaptor into the Irish outlet, when smokes and sparks flew out of his vent. His poor blowdrier brain, had literally been fried. Throwing him away in the hotel room garbage can seemed undignified(and a fire hazard); so I handed him over the front desk clerk on duty at Dooley's Hotel in Waterford. Where I am sure, they arranged a fitting burial at sea.
Cobh,county Cork is the world's second deepest natural harbor (only Sydney, Australia is deeper). This makes the port city perfect as a final stop before the Atlantic Ocean. for both commercial and passenger vessels. Cobh (pronounced 'cove')means safe harbor in Gaelic. The harbor was the embarkation point for Irish immigrants heading to the new world, it was the final port of the Titanic before its fatal maiden voyage, and the Lusitania was sunk just out side the harbor, bringing the US and the UK into WWI. Today, Cobh is still a maritime city, with a tourism focus. Pat our guide walked us around the city harbor to experience where these world changing events occured.
Lunch was in Blarney, county Cork. Half the group headed off to the castle to kiss the world famous stone. My readers know, gabbing was never an issue for me or David, so we chose to hit the local pub and shops instead.
The day ended in wonderful Killarney, my favorite city from my last visit. The newly renovated International Hotel did not disappoint. Since it is off season, my entire group was upgraded to 'Executive Suites' with free internet and yes a jacuzzi tub (blogging and a bath, I feel like I have died and gone to heaven). Tonight seven of the group headed out to Sheehan's for traditional Irish music. Sheehan's was a favorite from our '05 visit, where we enjoyed the instrumental group 'Sunday's After Mass'<(still one of David's favorite CDs, currently in his player in the truck). Sundays was playing tonight as well, I told David he was their 5 year groupie and we all laughed. I don't know if the Sunday lads thought it was so funny when David told them the same thing. Stalkery. much?
Ring of Kerry County Kerry, one of the world's truoly beautiful sights. I loved every hill, valley and sheep I saw. Our bus driver 'D'has turned out to be a real champ. A part on the bus came loose today and was dragging down the road, so we had to make an unscheduled stop. I had to laugh at David, Jerry and another guy from the tour plus 'D'under the bus hitting the part with all kinds of tools to get it come off. We got an extra potty break out of the deal, so I was very happy. 'D' has ended up being a gem. He has gone out of his way for us. Today we saw a presentation on the Skellig Islands, a UNESCO world heritage site. Because of the time of year, the islands are unreachable by sea and typically after the presentation we would continue down the Ring. When we said to 'D' we would like to at least see the islands, he said, "Well you'll have to keep a secret", and he started off down this lane to the end that said 'Absolutely no buses' he said, "Remember gang, this is a COACH, so its ok", He is a very nice man and has definitely added to our trip.
Tonight we are back to Sheehans for a drink and traditional music. Tomorrow is a very early day- with the Cliffs of Mohr and Galway.
Happy Thanksgiving to all the friends and family back home.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Our second day in Dublin dawned cold and rainy. Banks it turns out suck the world over. (Just before leaving St. Clair County, I brought in all my change saved from last year. My bank informed me they no longer take loose change, yes that's right, my bank no longer takes money). Leo, Toni, David, Genny, Jerry and I trekked up to Grafton street to change some USD to Euros and break a few hundred Euro notes. Leo was told Ulster Bank wouldn't break large notes. The result was the same at National Bank of Ireland until he told them he was a customer and the teller laughed and then changed the notes (that's our Leo).
Our actual tour commenced at 2pm with a substitute driver B. (our official guide would not be showing up until Tuesday morning). B. and the local Dublin guide, T. were lovely, exactly what you would expect of Irish gentlemen. Quick with a smile, joke and wit. From Viking Dublin to modern Dublin, with a guided tour of Trinity college and the Book of Kells. For me the most touching was the Potatoe Famine memorial. Tall, wretched figures depicting Ireland's starving people.
Tuesday dawned bright and clear we were off to Waterford via Glendalough Monastery. Glendalough was the monastic home of St. Kevin, there has been a church on the site since 800 A.D. The oldest relic was a 1200 year old sacristry table. The church of St. Kevin is one of three on the site and is a wonderfully perseved 1000 year old edifice. Today this is a national heritage site, quiet and serene surrounded by sheep farms and picturesque scenery. I finally learned the significance of the Celtic Cross. St. Patrick patron saint of Ireland was a canny man. The Irish were pagans before St. Patrick converted them. The pagan's religous symbol was the sun. So, Patrick modified the Christian cross to include a circle - marrying the pagan and Christian.
Late afternoon found us in Waterford with a walking tour of the city. Our local Waterford guide was J., 'best local Irish guide' winner for three years in a row did not dissapoint. Through commedy and an impromtu improvisation of the marriage of Waterford Irish Princess Eva to Anglo -Norman Lord 'Longbow' explained the 800 years of English oppression.
Probably the most surprising and study in Irish contrasts would be our 'real' guide D. showed up today. After our Dublin tour, I thanked B. for a lovely day and said good bye. He sort of chuckled and then said to the effect, "D. will be here tomorrow, he's a little wound", I found out how much in the morning. My only other experience with an Irish coach driver was the lovely John. He took a group of 20 strangers and in 5 days felt like a favorite uncle. Walking up to our bus this morning, we were greated with a rotating seating chart followed by a 30 minute safety/rules/regulations speech. Here was Ireland's only Type 'A' personality. As we left the highway in Wexford on our way to Glendalough, I was planning to organize a coup de tat with the other passengers when D. said, "You will see older buildings, but none so important as the cream colored one with the monsters in front." He honked the horn as we rumbled past his smiling children calling out to daddy on his bus. I looked in the mirror and saw a truly happy man, who with his speech was just trying to make sure at the end of the day the 24 tourists in his care would be happy and he could continue to support those three dear little faces.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Flight to Dublin uneventful for our little group of 10.(Joan and Lynne, Pam and David, Genny and Jerry as well as Toni and Leo). Checked in to the Mont Clare on Merrion Square and since the rooms weren*t ready, decided to check out some of the local museums and St. Stephen*s Green, Dublin*s famous park. On the way down Merrion Square saw multiple photographers, news vans, people with banners, signs and Irish flags(Ireland*s economy has been forefront of the news lately, and meetings were being held in the government buildings near our hotel about a possible bailout. Media and protesters were camped out to learn the latest news as it was happening).
When trying to combat jet lag, food always help. A trip to Bewley's Oriental cafe was in order. Bewley's was richly decorated for Christmas but it was the food that was the star; scones, lemon merriegue and baguette sandwiches were quickly devoured.
The National Galley was the only museum open on our trip back to the hotel, so we enjoyed an hour of Ireland and England's most famous paintings before heading up to our room for a nap(Pam and David) or across the street to the pub (Joan and co.).
Foley's Pub on Kildare Street just around the corner from the hotel is where a much more subdued group met for dinner. Just as we were tucking into our fish and chips the entire media contingent from around the corner came in. I visited with a couple fo the lads from the local paper and they told me they had been staking out the building since 2pm (it was 7pm) and they had to get in from the cold. TV, radio and print people kept pouring into the bar and it definitely increased Mobile phones were on each in the ready for the promised press conference to come. Media competitors strolled from table to table to review the situation. And as quickly as all the media folk rushed into the pub they were gone, the press conference was called for 8pm and they all went to cover the story.
It was time for the live traditional music, we chose Dublin and Foley's was to begin at 8pm Sunday evening. Foley's was chosen for its sign out front 'Live Music', but like the media, just after 8pm our little group began to file suffering from illness and jet lag until only 5 stalwart Irish music fans remained(myself, Leo, Toni, David and Genny). Brendan Shanahan(not the Red Wings hockey player) did not disappoint. He started his set at 8pm and did not stop until 9pm with traditional songs, 'Red is the Rose', 'Biddy Mulligan' and 'Galway Bay' as well as more comtemporary 'Alleluia' and 'Knocking on Heaven's Door'. Happy but weary, we left at 9pm after Brendan finished his first set. (David caputered a little bit of the performance on his phone, I'll include it here).
Heading back to the Mont Clare we carefully weaved ourselves through the protesters and media, both hunkered down for a long night. This morning on Ireland A.M it was announced a proposed bailout from both the UK and EU had been finalized. As the reporter narrated the story, the video showed our little street down to Foley's pub. We didn't just learn Irish history, today we were part of it!
Friday, November 19, 2010
In the good old days before September 11th each international traveler was allowed two checked bags up to 70 pounds each. Shoes, shopping, accessories, full size toliteries I had a 140 lovely pounds to satisfy all of my obsessions. Fast forward to 2010, 1 free 50 pound suitcase per international passenger(not for long I am sure). Since I don't have enough time for therapy (excepting the retail kind of course) I had to learn to make it all work with 60% less. (I found Magellan dot com on the web has great packing information. More recently, in the September Conde Nast Traveler, "The Unsophisticated Traveler" wrote extensively on the subject.)
Late fall 2010, I am off to Ireland for 12 days. I've been to the Emerald Isle at this time of year before. It's a mixed bag of mist, rain, sun and temp swings from 65 to 30 all in the same day.
Here's how I packed.
Checked bag: (5) pairs of jeans. (5) cashmere sweaters (very warm and very light), (3) Cuddle Duds long underware, (2) long sleeve t-shirts, (1) full length down coat, (1) microfibre vest, (1) pair walking shoes,(1) purse with a long handle worn across the body (1) pair short dress boots, pjs, underware. And since all jeans and sweaters get worn at least twice, most importantly, accesories, indoor/outdoor scarves, statement jewelery anything I can use to change an outfit's look. Total bag weight - 38 pounds
In order to get all this stuff to my final destination unwrinkled, I use the following pictured packing method. I unzip the down coat and lay in the microfibre vest, underware and pjs. I zip the coat and then make a toliterie 'wall' in the middle of the suit case. The heaviest items, shoes, books, etc go at the bottom to stablize the bag when standing on its wheels. Everything else goes at the top of the bag where I make an 'envelope' of the jeans and sweaters. Cashmere sweaters that easily wrinkle are packed in drycleaning bags.(See photo)
Carry on: (1) cashmere sweater, (1) Cuddle Dud,(1) pair fleece lined walking boots,and my foldable nylon black rain trench coat. (1) pair each, socks, underware, pjs.Adidas yoga pants and hoodie. Travel size blow dryer, medications and all electronics. And in my TSA approved zip lock bag: 3 oz Toothpaste, bare minimum of makeup, 3oz hair product, 3 oz hair spray and hand sanitizer. With the above I can survive for at least 24 hours at my desitination should my checked bag get lost. Total carryon weight - 20 pounds
My purse: Eye shades, slippers, pashima shawl tied around the handle, book, magazines.
I wear pair of jeans, cashmere cardigan and long sleeved t-shirt. Just before take off I head to the bathroom and change out of my sweater and jeans into my yoga pants and hoodie. Once seated, I remove my shoes, put on my slippers, untie my pashima to use as a wrap to get a few hours of sleep. Right before landing I return to the bathroom and put back on my cardigan and jeans to arrive looking fresh and neat for my first days activities at my destination.
And finally to satisfy my shopping urges? I bring my oldest pjs and underware which I throw out at the end of the trip, leaving room for all my new treasures
Most important packing tip of all? The $5.00 nylon neck pouch that stays around my neck for the entire trip. My cash, credit cards and the holy grail to all travelers my passport stays safely under my tucked in shirt. If you only take away one message from this post, protect your passport at all times. A US passport is worth thousands on the black market, losing it can put a real damper on your trip. Make sure you make copies of your passport and leave them with someone back home in case your passport goes missing,