Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ireland--Day 7 and home again

Saturday--August 22--This morning we returned our car rental. (The Dublin Airport had us confused for a bit, but eventually we found Car Hire and returned our car.)
Then we took a shuttle bus in to Dublin. Here is a cool bridge we saw from the window of our bus.
It's called the Samuel Beckett Bridge. It looks like a harp! Another thing the Irish love, aside from their design and their music, is their authors--Yeats, Joyce, Beckett, and many more--we heard about them all the time.
As we walked toward St. Stephen's Green, we saw that they were having an art show all around the iron railings of the park. Just a few Saturdays a year there is an open air art show/sale and we were lucky enough to be there for one of them. So we walked around the outside of the park looking at a very eclectic assortment of art from local artists. I even considered buying some, because that is something that I do--consider buying art. Yeah.
I borrowed this picture from an Ireland tourist page. Apparently I was getting tired of taking pictures by this point in our trip.
The hotel had no breakfast so we bought some pastries. Anika had an enormous crepe full of Nutella and pecans. She was nice enough to share. 
Next we went to the Museum of Ireland, Archeology. I remembered this place from my first visit to Dublin, primarily for the huge quantity of gold collars and dress fasteners on display, and also for the staggeringly intricate decorative work on the brooches, chalices, shrines, crosses, etc. This style of interwoven metal work is central to my image of Ireland. It is style and art and mythology at the pinnacle of a culture that now seems almost like a fairy tale. And my pictures of it are rubbish. So here's a detail of the Cross of Cong from the Wikipedia page.
When we at last reached our tolerance for antiquities, we went and had lunch at another shop. Sandwich for Anika, kebabs for Casey and me. I really miss kebabs. 
And then we just did some touristy things--shopping for souvenirs, looking around at the architecture, hanging out in the playground to take advantage of Dublin Free Wifi. It rained a little and was chilly. Do you know that Ireland averages in the 70's even in summer? 
Our last activity in Dublin was an evening of dinner and storytelling at "Ireland's Oldest Pub"--The Brazen Head. It claims to have been in operation on this site, though not this current building, since 1198. 
The courtyard and downstairs was very crowded and smoky. Our venue was on the third floor. We sat by the window at a round table with a teacher from Italy, a teacher and her friends from the east coast states (going by accent), and a teacher and his wife and two kids from Canada. 
Our host, a man named Ollie, told us stories and sang us songs in between courses of a traditional Irish dinner. (Anika had cabbage and bacon, Casey and I had Irish stew. They also had Beef and Guinness stew, which we'd seen before, but didn't try. Guinness is a major personality in Ireland.) 
It was the Italian teacher's birthday, so we sang happy birthday to her and another guest in the room. She shared her piece of birthday cream pie with the whole table. But I think she'd have preferred as her present that Ollie stop opening the window behind her. I kept my sweater on the whole time.
It was a really fun evening. A nice end to a very nice trip. 

The next day, Sunday, was Anika's 18th birthday. We gave her a granola bar to eat in the hotel bed just before we left.

I won't go into the details of coming home except to say two things--1. Nutella counts as a liquid, so don't try to take it home in your carry-on to eat as lunch during your six hour layover in Philadelphia. It will be confiscated.  2.--(should have know this one) apples and any other produce are not allowed over international borders. And once you've declared it on your customs form, you might as well eat them as you are waiting in line because they can't give you time to eat them once you reach the end of the line. (I had this idea that we had to produce them as evidence, once we'd declared them.) We had to throw them away. 

Hooray for being home! And hooray for Casey's dad, Steve, who drove us both to and from the airport. And hooray for our kids at home who hid in our darkened house and then jumped out to surprise Anika for her birthday. And they made cupcakes, too.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Ireland--Day 6

Friday, August 21-- We woke up feeling that we had slept rough. But at least the breakfast was good. There were two young women at the next table who spoke with strong Irish accents to our hosts ("Tanks a lot.") but spoke Irish to each other. (At least, we think that's what it was.) At one point children in Ireland were forbidden to speak anything but English in schools. Very few people learn Irish as their native tongue these days. It was nice to hear it.
After breakfast, we drove to Ennistymon for the ATM--this B and B also took cash, but not cards.

Then we went to the Cliffs of Moher. This, aside from Dublin, is the only place I visited all three times I've been in Ireland. It's always impressive, but since Casey and I were here 19 years ago, they have installed a mile of retaining walls to keep people back from the edge. There is also a modern visitors' center cleverly dug into the hillside to minimize the impact on the scenery. It has an enormous gift shop, where we bought a book of leprechaun stories and several Irish penny whistles.
The first time I came here with my friends, Ruth and Mary Alice, Ruth and I went right out onto that flat stone ledge and lay on our stomachs to look over the edge. (MA preferred to keep her distance.) You can't get within 100 feet of that ledge now. I remember looking down on hovering gulls.
They now have an app you can download onto your phone that will take you on an audio tour of the cliffs. There's even free wifi there. 
A number of movies have had the Cliffs of Moher in them--notably The Princess Bride (the cliffs of Insanity) and Harry Potter (the cave where Harry and Dumbledore found a horcrux.) There are higher sea cliffs to the north (Slieve League) but they are not as sheer nor as accessible. They come with warnings about treacherous footing, and be careful in the rain, etc. We felt fine with our "Disney-like" safety walls. (That's how one blogger referred to them.)

Next we drove to Bunratty Castle and folk park--because everyone should get a chance to walk up one of those tiny spiral staircases they have in old castles. It was a first for Anika. 
Traffic was heavy in both directions on these stairs. I felt like I was getting to know some people quite well just from squeezing past them multiple times as we all went up and down. 
This castle had fallen into ruin before a couple came along who loved all things medieval, and restored it. The original family had moved to the more comfortable manor house across the park in the 18th century. The rest of the park today consists of buildings moved from many different areas of Ireland to be examples of lifestyles typical for laborers, fisherman, blacksmiths, millers, farmers, etc. from Ireland's past. One house was moved here when they wanted to build an airport where it stood. There is even a church--moved stone by stone and reassembled--that originally came from County Tipperary. As we went into the upstairs attic room of a prosperous farmhouse from the 1800's I had such a strong physical memory of having been there before--with Ruth and Mary Alice, while suffering from a bad head cold--that I almost felt sick. At least this time the weather was cooler. It gets hot in attic rooms.
It rained off and on all day.
Anika was enchanted by the donkeys. She thinks they are so pretty.

It was getting to be late afternoon by the time we started driving toward Dublin. We went through one million roundabouts before we finally got to the M--equivalent to our freeways.  Now and then we'd pass a ruined stone tower in a field, or a modern wind-farm full of white tri-bladed turbines. Anika fell asleep. We got off the M for gas in a little town called Borris-in-Ossory. The gas attendant recommended we go on to Port Laoise (pronounced port leesh) for dinner. On the way, we saw a rainbow. (We also bypassed a toll zone on the M, so that was our tiny pot of gold.)
It was tricky to find parking in Port Laoise, and we were realizing time was getting on. We felt grumpy. Luckily, we found a nice shop where we got Anika a chicken sandwich and us a barbecue chicken pizza (which was really good). They both came with chips. We felt better.
Tonight was the only night we hadn't made arrangements for where to sleep. We stopped in one little town and asked at a B and B for a vacancy. She didn't have any and neither did any of the friends she called for us. (This method would work for the off season in Ireland, but not in summer.) So we went to a nearby hotel, considered staying there, but in the end we used their wifi to book the same hotel near the Dublin Airport that we had booked for our last night. That way we'd be close when we went to return our car in the morning. And we got to leave our luggage there while we went around Dublin our last day. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Ireland--Day 5

Thursday, August 20th--

This morning we talked with the couple who ran our B and B about things to do in the area. They suggested that we drive toward the west coast above Galway to see the scenery--a narrow valley between mountains where the road runs right beside a lake . . . sounded just like home to us. In fact, though Ireland is fantastically green and lovely, I think some of the impact may have been lessened for us because we also come from a "region of outstanding natural beauty" (sign post label for the north coast of Northern Ireland. Equivalent to our "Scenic Byway").
Instead we went to The Museum of Country Life. It was harder to find than it needed to be--it had signs saying it was 5 miles ahead, but no sign at the actual turn, and we missed it the first time, and had to guess on the way back. But it was well worth it. We learned all sorts of interesting things about daily life in Ireland from just before the Industrial Revolution and leading up to modern life. We ended up spending 2 1/2 hours there. That included the gift shop--Casey couldn't believe how much time Anika and I could spend in gift shops--often without even buying anything.

The cone shaped hat is actually a mask worn by "strawboys", who are uninvited but expected guests at a traditional Irish wedding.  (Be generous with them or they will let everyone in the community know how cheap you are.) The Irish common folk used to make a lot of things out of straw--ropes, roofs, horse collars, hen baskets. Speaking of hens, I got a kick out of this old Irish myth--apparently all the chickens in Ireland are believed to have come originally from Denmark. At night when they cluck and mutter to each other on settling down, they are really discussing whether or not it's time to go back. 

So then we headed for Cong. Our host, Jimmy, had told us it was a nice place to visit--it's where The Quiet Man was filmed. Later we saw an amazingly ornate cross that was found in Cong and is now in the Museum of Archaeology in Dublin. Cong is a very tiny town on an island between rivers. The streets are only one way. They have a museum devoted to The Quiet Man movie. They have a woolen mills and, of course, a Spar. We bought some more groceries, (Cranberry Wensleydale, Grommit!) and also some fries at the Quiet Man Cafe.
After Cong, we drove through the grounds of the nearby Ashford Castle that has been turned into a very posh hotel. We just took pictures from the outside because we didn't want to spend the time or the money to see the inside of a hotel.

In fact, our main goal for the day was simply to spend the evening in a pub in Doolin listening to some traditional music. Once again, it took a fair amount of time to drive there. The roads just got narrower the closer we got. It's pretty nerve wracking to pass a tour bus, and pretty frequent. We wondered what happens when two busses pass. . . . Our B and B was actually in Lisdoonvarna, and took a bit of finding. Unlike our other B and Bs, this one was uncomfortably small, and also smelled. But at least we spent most of our evening in Doolin.
This is the view from the parking lot of the pub where we had our dinner and evening of Trad.

We told the waitress who seated us that we intended to stay for the music, and she asked another tourist couple if we could share their table right in front of the place where the musicians set up. They were from upstate New York and we enjoyed talking to them about their favorite things to do in Ireland--this was their sixth or seventh trip.
Anika had fish and chips again. Casey had a spicy lamb burger with spicy fries. I had cabbage with bacon--it turned out to be more bacon (really, ham steaks) than cabbage. And it was so yummy. But I felt like I ate way too much meat while I was in Ireland. Every B and B served the "full Irish" breakfast of bacon, sausage, black pudding, white pudding, toast, brown bread, and eggs. We started asking them to serve us less after a couple of days. 

The musicians started up about 9:30--a young lady on fiddle, accordian, and Irish bagpipes (not all at once) backed up by her dad on flute and a young man on guitar. She also sang. We bought one of her CDs.
Every once in a while the man on flute would let out a whoop, with hardly a break in the music. I never caught him at it.
It was standing room only by 10:00. We felt pretty lucky to be so close and have seats. Truly a fun night. We left about 11. It was then that we noticed this artwork on the outside of the pub.
The Irish do love their music.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Ireland--Day 4

Wednesday, August 19th--Today we planned to take the ferry to Rathlin Island to see the puffins. Anika has loved puffins ever since she wrote a report on them in 4th grade. Unfortunately, we found out that the puffins leave Rathlin in late July. We decided to go over anyway. The ferry ride was nice, as it wasn't raining yet. We noticed the pilot steering with only one knee.

Rathlin is small and picturesque--but fairly modern in architecture. 

A reminder that Northern Ireland is indeed part of the United Kingdom.

We decided not to take the Puffin Bus out to the bird sanctuary (gannets and kittiwakes notwithstanding) and instead walked along the harbor to try and see some seals. It started to rain, sideways.
We did see some seals. They were planking.

pretty place, Ireland

It seems hardly possible that this is the first time I can remember being rained on in my three trips to Ireland. They have a saying "If you can see the mountains, it's going to rain. If you can't see the mountains, it's raining."

After the seals, we were pretty much done, but our return ferry was scheduled for noon. As we walked back to the harbor, we saw that the slow ferry was loading up, so we took that one instead. We sat inside and read the paper. Ani did the crossword. (The Daily Mail is a mix of regular news and tabloids. Kind of trashy.)

We had to go back to our B and B (Teach an Cheoil, it means House of Music) because we didn't have cash this morning to pay Michael with. He had thought he'd be home, but wasn't, so we left the money in a baggie under a rock on his doorstep. We bought some groceries at the Spar to eat for lunch.

Next we went to the Dark Hedges.  It was a little tricky to find, down several winding roads and past confusing car park signs. I'd never actually heard of it, but Anika had and wanted to go there. The internet says it's "one of the most photographed natural phenomena in Northern Ireland." Considering its next door neighbor is the Giant's Causeway, you might think that doesn't mean much. But it really is pretty cool. It was still raining, and that only added to the spooky vibe of this two hundred year-old tree tunnel.

I didn't manage to get a very good picture but just to prove we were there . . . .

 There were quite a few people and their cars here, so it was tricky to get a shot without them.

The individual beech trees are massive and beautiful. For better pictures of the whole, try here.

It took a while to drive to our next site--Here's how Anika spent the drive:
We teased her for missing the countryside as we drove. She never fully got over jet lag and this happened just about every time we drove for more than half an hour.
Casey found a nice spot to pull over so we could eat our lunch. We had bread and cheese and fruit and Toffee Pops and Jammie Dodgers. Just across the road was this amazing stone tower? silo? Apparently, just part of the farm. (!)

We drove west along narrow, winding roads to visit a stone circle. Wikipedia says there are 343 stone circles in Ireland. Rick Steves' guidebook says more than 400. We picked one because it was on our way southwest. It's called Beltany stone circle. This article explains some of its history. It's in the middle of a field on a hill, at the end of a tree tunnel that I would have been impressed with yesterday. 

At the top of the lane leading up to the hilltop, there was another spooky tree tunnel. Only, it's actually just looking between the rows of a tree farm. 
Did you know that Ireland was almost completely deforested during the 17th and 18th centuries? Much of the lumber was sent to England to fuel industry and building when their own supply grew short. 
Beltany stone circle
There was a stone head found here, which eventually was given to the Irish Museum. We went there and saw a lot of artifacts, but this one is "not currently on display."  I'm concerned. By their own admission the museum has lost a number of artifacts over the years. I can understand that in a country as rich in artifacts as Ireland is--they dig new treasures out of the bog all the time. But stone heads are not so common as, say, gold collars and dress fasteners. Those are practically a dime a dozen. Why is the head not currently on display? Did it get lost? Did someone drop it?

Anyway,  we walked around the circle widdershins--maybe because that's the way roundabouts go in the States. We found ourselves going around museum displays that way, too, against the flow of traffic. And then we'd realize we were reading the placards out of order, and have to start over going clockwise.
Leaving Beltany circle after eating wild raspberries from the bushes.

It was late afternoon when we left. We still had to drive for a couple of hours to get to our next B and B in Swinford. We had arranged this one through email but hadn't gotten confirmation. Luckily they were expecting us. We were tired of driving when we got there, so we ate the rest of our groceries for dinner, and then watched Netflix before bed--a vacation from our vacation.
Our B and B--Deerpark Manor

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Ireland--Day 3

Day 3, Tuesday-- August 18th
When we dragged ourselves out of bed this morning, we decided just to eat our leftover pizza for breakfast so we could be on our way. We took a taxi to the airport. Owen, our driver, was unlike our first cabby in that he talked a lot. He told us all sorts of things we could do when we got back to Dublin. "Worst you could do is, you take the Dart out to Malahide Castle and folk park . . ."  It took me a few beats to realize he was recommending that we do that.

So we rented a car. It was really the best way to get around--but still nerve wracking to drive on the left side of the road--and I wasn't the one driving. Several times that first day I involuntarily reached for a steering wheel. Casey was an excellent driver, especially as we didn't trade off any, so he never got a break. (It is cheaper to rent a car with only one driver.)

It only took half an hour to drive out of Dublin and arrive at our first stop: Newgrange.

This portal tomb is one of the oldest buildings on the planet. It dates to 3200 B.C. The outer wall of white quartz stone with black river stone polka dots was rebuilt according to their best guess in the 1960-70s, but the inner chamber is exactly as originally built. The roof is made with overlapping slabs of stone much like the logs in a kiva--it has been watertight for five thousand years.

 picture borrowed from the historic site linked above

They called it a portal tomb, because some human remains were found inside, but later they thought it was more likely a place of religious ritual. They are keeping an open mind about it these days, as they've proved themselves wrong in the past. I heard a man ask our tour guide, "What is this standing stone for?" Her reply, "You tell me. We don't really know."

The passageway is oriented so that the sunlight only comes in through a "window" above the door at dawn on the winter solstice. And only for 15 minutes or so.  (and a little bit for the three days before and after.) Without the electric lighting they installed, it's pitch black inside for the rest of the year.

 Picture from the past, courtesy of Irish Archeology 
At some point in the past the walls fell down, the dirt covered them, and the mound was overrun with plants. In 1699 the landowner sent his workers to quarry the mound for stone. Luckily, they started excavation exactly over the doorway and reported back to the owner. More luckily still, he was the kind of guy who preserves old ruins. And so it's still here today. The triple spiral (or triskele) on the door kerbstone shows up in a number of ancient cultures. 

There are other sites you can visit near Newgrange (Nowth and Dowth). You can also see a few small mounds lower in the valley that they have left to be excavated when they have more advanced techniques of archeology.

We returned to the visitors center and ate our lunch from the cafe there--twice baked potato, vegetable soup, and brown bread. Irish brown bread tastes just like a bran muffin with no sugar added. And it's one of the things I remember most from my previous visits to Ireland.

After lunch, we headed north. It took about 3 1/2  hours for us to drive all the way to the north coast of Northern Ireland. That included the detour we took when I, as navigator, told Casey the wrong way to go. In my defense, the maps we had were very spare of details, and the road system is very different from our own. We stopped at a Spar (very common grocery/convenience store chain) and asked for directions. The clerk told us he wasn't local and directed us to Jade, who told us the best way to get back on track. When she learned we were headed for the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, she emphatically declared, several times, that she "would never walk the bridge!" as she is afraid of heights. We decided to press on anyway. We bought some pears and crisps to snack on.

We expected to have to pass a border when we got to Northern Ireland, but no. There may have been a sign. Some people we met in Ireland disregard the actual political separation and assert that "It's all Ireland." But no one has gotten too violent about it for a while now. 

As we neared the coast, the roads got narrower and windier. At one point as we came over a rise, the ground dropped away so suddenly that Anika and I both gasped--it looked like we were about to drive off the mountain into the ocean.  But no, and just ahead of us was the Carrick-a-Rede bridge.

The original bridge was built so fisherman could hang down nets and catch the salmon running through the channel. 

There is a long path from where we parked to the bridge. We did a lot of walking while we were in Ireland.
It was about 5:30 by the time we finished here, but we thought we'd drive to the Giant's Causeway anyway. It was just past 6:30 by the time we got to the visitors' center and they stop admitting visitors then. But we realized we could still go to the Causeway, just not through the center. We had to walk, instead of being shuttled, but it was free. 

Giant's Causeway is the number one thing Anika wanted to see in Ireland. 

This is the view as we walked toward the causeway showing the spires up on the mountain that are also hexagonal basalt columns and are nicknamed "the chimneys."  And the saying is, "if the chimneys are smoking, Finn's at home." Finn is a giant from Irish folklore and is supposed to be the builder of Giant's Causeway. The story is pretty amusing.

So we climbed all over and took a bunch of pictures. Anika walked out to the end of the causeway and stuck her hand in the ocean. 

I think she liked Giant's Causeway

And I liked this emergency phone so bizarrely protruding from this rock. Another example of Irish style.

By now it was past eight and we needed to get to our B and B to check in. We drove around the town of Ballycastle, asked at a chip shop, and then a Spar. They came through for us again--Adam googled it for us in the back, printed us a map, and then explained how to get there 7 or 8 times. Then he followed us out to our car to return Casey's pen and explained it to us again. After that we drove straight there. 

We still hadn't eaten dinner, so we asked our host, Michael, to recommend a place to us. He told us we should hurry back into town and eat at The Cellar before they stopped serving for the night. It was a good recommendation. 

We ate well, went back to our B and B and slept well.