Showing posts from September, 2016

Home Again

It's funny to think that John poo-pooed a trip to Ireland for so many years. I'm not quite sure why, since he always emphasizes the "Irish" majority (3/4) of his Irish-German roots. Perhaps he knew that once he visited, he'd want to return, soon. And so it is. We both loved this trip. The people, the gorgeous countryside, the sea. And the villages and larger towns, which hummed with vibrancy. It's actually a great thing that the sun doesn't shine as much as we seem to need these days, or we would seriously be thinking of moving. We lucked out with the weather, except for our first day in Donegal, when the wind blew a gale. Only a few spits and spots after that. Driving felt easier than in England and Scotland, perhaps because they painted a white line down the middle of all but the tiniest roads...psychological comfort, I suppose. We visited so many places, but I think my initial list of favorites include: Our walks. The breezy and chilly trek out

Serendipity Has a Price

Once we arrived in Dublin, we knew there was one day trip we should try to make: to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Newgrange, the 5000 year old Neolithic ritual center and passage site. The easiest way to get there was via tour group and I'd done some research and discovered Mary Gibbons. The reviews said she was an excellent guide and very engaging, which sounded perfect.  We aimed to do this tour next week but she was fully booked when I enquired on Friday night. However, in a matter of a few moments, we learned she had a cancellation for Saturday, so we grabbed it.  The pickup spot was about 25 minutes away at the Doubletree. We hoofed it down there and made it by 7:45 a.m. First of all, it was a big tour bus, so John started getting hives immediately. (And muttering one-liners even before the main group of our compatriots joined us.) Once everyone got loaded onto the bus, including the Filipino family who held us up and the Italian girls who were late getting on the bu


This trip to John's homeland has made for some interesting people watching. We've seen hints, or had downright eerie encounters with people who resemble (some very strongly) his family members.  It's so interesting that three generations removed from this small island, tue strong family resemblances of the Boyles, McCanns, and Cavanaghs. His grandfather Tom, his Uncle John, his father Bernie at the pub in Westport, a younger version of Marion, and her siblings. I saw John's brother Tim on Sunday, walking out of a shop on Duke Street. ​We've also seen all three of the O'Shea cousins.  And today's the lunch at Hugo's, we sat next to my old friend John Clarke, gone now gone from this world over 5 years ago way too soon. John, who reveled in his Irish ancestry, sat with me many evenings over thirty years ago at the Irish pub on College Avenue in North Oakland and introduced me to Harp Lager with a splash of Roses Lime. Today, it was that same tanned

On to Dublin

Thursday was gray, so we decided to make our way directly back to the airport to return our car. In some ways, John was in heaven because after the first 45 minutes of our trip, we hit the M6. He wasn't quite sure to do with all that space! And the speed! Our little Scoda Citgo almost burst its pistons to keep up with the 120 km speed limit. The trade-off, however, was boredom. Freeways or motorways or autostradas or whatever you call them are boring compared with the smaller roads. No scenery to speak of. No quaint villages. Oh well. The business at the airport went very smoothly and we found the queue for the Aircoach in all the madness. A two day strike of,the bus drivers had begun and so there were no traditional bus services either Thursday or Friday. Thank gosh Aircoach was running! Eight euros to the Donneybrook stop and we were close. A short walk to 47 St Ann's, Ailesbury and we were there. Navigating the intersection was tricky, but we lived to tell the tale.

The Burren

Planning a trip to a new place is always a challenge. You do your research, make good guesses about what you will like to do and see versus what to skip, and plan your itinerary. Then you take the trip and realize what you will change if you come back again. We will spend more time here, in this region known as the Burren. And, if possible, I will splurge for more nights and come back to  Gregans Castle hotel again. I chose to stay here for our "splurge night" instead of Ashford Castle, where we did the Hawk Walk. The castle was insanely expensive and seemed to be created to target Americans. This hotel is not cheap, but seemed like it might be a nice destination. Ummm, yes. The food was incredible and the restaurant was closed the night we were there! We were forced (hah!) to eat smoked salmon and leak risotto with a poached egg in its bar, a perfectly comfortable place (prior to cocktails in the drawing room). The horror! The Burren is so stark and such an inte


We decided to schedule one specific "experience" when we were here and it wasn't the typical one. No fishing expedition cycling tour, or boating trip. And especially no trips to Game of Thrones sites or the isle of Skellig Michael (the final scene of Star Wars). Instead we went on a "hawk walk." We picked the Ireland S ​ chool of Falconry at Ashford Castle and scheduled an extended walk, which included a private walk with a guide for an hour and a half. The castle itself is quite a setting, just outside the village of Cong in County Mayo. Yes, it is a castle...a place that Americans spend, at minimum $700 per night to say they stayed in a castle. I can spend money very easily (e.g., business class plane tickets) but I had no interest in staying at the castle with a bunch of obnoxious Americans. But we got to visit the grounds to access the school of falconry, so win for us! The school is set at the corner of the estate, in what appeared fort-like with

A Glorious Day

We knew how lucky we were on Tuesday when the weather cleared and we had an incredible, sunny day. We could feel how the staff in our hotel responded, and we could feel how happy people were, walking along, their faces turned towards the sun. Apparently they've had a terrible summer and have been hoping for a better September and October. We started the day with a plan and it changed--the best part of being flexible. Our first stop was at the site with two claims to fame: 1) it was the site of Marconi's wireless transmitting station to Nova Scotia (1910-1918 or so); and 2) the two men who completed a transatlantic flight in an airplane (Adcock and Brown) crash landed their plan very near this station, in the bog! They completed their flight 11 years before Lindbergh, and their names are plastered over lots of things in Connemara. We thought we'd be here a short while (how long does it take to read a few markers, right?) But it turned out that the site is very larg

On to Connemara

Westward again, to Clifden, the main village in Connemara. We had a gray drive to our destination, but the skies began to clear and brighten so that our sunset view at dinner was spectacular! We chose the Ardagh Hotel , 2 km out of town, mostly because it sounded lovely with a good restaurant. Absolutely correct on both counts...  The dinner menu is very interesting: an emphasis of local ingredients prepared using both French and Asian techniques. The first night I had a wonderful dish of local scallops in an Asian preparation with absolutely fresh and delicious local vegetables. We started with local oysters as well. Big ones, which we usually don't like but they were briny, not mushy.

Observations, Ireland

After a few days traveling to and through the West of Ireland, I've noticed a few things, some completely obvious and some which may not be quite so easy to guess by an armchair traveler. First, the stereotype is true: so far, the Irish people we have met have been warm, friendly, and funny. This observation includes hotel staff, who are paid to be nice; restaurant owners, who make it their business to be helpful and cheery; and even teenage workers at gas stations (go figure) who generally could typically care less. Lots of smiles all around, even on a day like today, with gale force winds. Second, although I've been a passenger so far, it's my view that the Irish roads are better marked than the English or Scottish ones. Except for the narrowest lanes, they have center lines and bright yellow lines delineating the edges of the road. My driver (!!) tells me these markings make it much easier to figure out where you are, especially on the narrower rural roads. You

Donegal to Westport

We just spent two nights at Harvey's Point , a wonderful Irish country hotel. It was in a lovely location on Lough Eske and we used it as a base to tour County Donegal and the Wild Atlantic Way. The entire area was gorgeous and not terribly touristy, which we loved.  We headed south to Westport today and the wind picked up and reached what I would call gale force by noon. Thank gosh we had a small car! It had to be blowing steadily at 45-50 mph and gusting higher. We hugged the North Atlantic and stopped at the Carrowmore megalithic site. I still can't get over how people 3500 to 4500 years ago moved these stones into position from wherever they got them. Lots of levers, I assume. They were placed as part of burial rituals, or so the archeologists tell us.​ We'd planned to visit another similar site, but the wind and threat of rain was just crazy, so we adjusted and visited the National Museum of Country Life instead. Two important things: this place had a tea room


Our first few days in Ireland have been relatively calm. I, of course, have taken longer to acclimate to the time zone change than John. He sleeps any time, any where, which makes me cranky, especially at 2:30 a.m. But I'll survive. Our first hotel, in Trim, was ordinary, but acceptable. The location, however, about 45 minutes from the Dublin airport, in a small village with a very ancient castle, was a perfect introduction to the land of John's "people." We were able to pick up the car, navigate there, and check into our hotel, and not even say a cross word. In my next life, I'm going to be able to function on 2-3 hours of poor sleep. We wandered through the castle, ate a very mediocre late lunch, and found a pub. And also found some of John's relatives, sitting at the bar. Eerie. (Not really, but the resemblance to Bernie and Tim were uncanny.) On to Donegal...

Time to go!

Planning for our Ireland trip has been more challenging than I thought it would be. I really knew nothing about the country, or next to nothing. But lots of maps and weeks of reading Tripadvisor have  helped me become more comfortable with our itinerary and the realities of what we could accomplish in two weeks. We've started the countdown to our departure date now!