Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Monday, May 20th

Black

      Jog this morning! Followed the coastline for a bit, then went down a little side road. It was a lovely day, and there was green on both sides. White flowers bloomed and the air smelled just like it should. Not a whiff of anything else! Had to make it back in time for breakfast. Focus on what is important now after all.  The Irish do breakfast right! It usually consists of meats like bacon and sausage, porridge, yogurt and cheese, soda bread, fresh jam or bread. And always hot tea and some form of coffee (depending on the location).

New Grange.
    We did not walk into these, but they are ancient burial grounds that are dated from before the time of the pyramids.  From afar the look to be giant grass covered hills. The tip off that they are man made is their unusual size and smoothness of the slopes. Inside is a dark warren of passageways. We are told there is a man chamber, which has an opening that is perfectly aligned with the summer and winter solstice so that the light will shine in and perfectly illuminate a beam of light. It is possible the people who built this thought this was when the dead’s souls can leave this world. Sounds awesome, but we gave it a pass. Seeing it from afar sufficed.
 
Slane
                While on the road, we passed through this small town in county Meath. We found a little artsy type store that functions as a co-op. Meaning that around 13 artists bring their works to this shop, and volunteer to work once every two weeks at the store. It was extremely interesting, with all different kinds of styles. Pottery, jewelry, purses, poems, cards, digital design, antique furniture refurbished and painted nicely to look more modern. The last one was done by the lady in the store the day we stopped. She is a cheerful one, who has fibromyalgia. But she says even though it is excruciatingly painful, she does her best to get out of bed, and do what she enjoys. I found that really inspiring.  
                We found a poem we liked, although didn’t entirely understand the meaning, one of the ladies shopping at the store (who of course knew the lady already working there) told us it was by an Irish poet, Francis Ledwidge. He had gone to war, because he did not want the British saying their brothers did not help them out and fight along side them. He died in the war at a young age, but left behind wonderful collections and books of poetry. 
                Tourism seems to be tough on this town, she said few tour buses go through and stop now since they closed the bus parking lot. However, the business is doing well! I think this carries a lot of meaning in what kinds of places the people of Ireland shop at, or perhaps they just enjoy supporting good friends. If you ever go through this area, do stop. It’s lovely and charming, and there is a bakery that I eyeballed (but was not open when we went through).   


                Trim Castle

 



                TRIM CASTLE The only castle we paid the fee to get into, and completely worth it! It is the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland. Very much intact, and allowing the imagination all kinds of freedom with such a well put together set up. We decided to do the tour inside the castle itself (deff worth it). We saw the different levels, heard the history of the castle, which was built in 1176. It is a crucifix in shape, and includes 20 sides with its towers, and is surrounded by a ditch, curtain wall, and moat. Originally used for defense, since the fellow who built it, Hugh de Lacey, previously had his fortress made of wood burnt to the ground by the inhospitable Irish. Can’t really blame them for doing so. King Henry II gifted the land to de Lacey, who would pay knights to go to other areas, build castles, and take over those other areas as well.
                We heard of the improvements and extensions the son, Walter, made when he took over, and the reasoning behind it. Eventually it was no longer needed to be a defense fortress that could survive under siege, because the soldiers and Irish town people had intermarried and all was peaceful. Perhaps most interesting to me was the spiral staircases all turned clockwise. This was explained that since most were right handed, this provided an advantage to someone defending the top of the stairs. While a right handed invader at the bottom trying to ascend, whose left arm would be first, would find it very difficult to get a sword around the side of the stairs. Let’s not forget the booby traps on the stairs as well! Prisoners who thrown into a pit, whose names was based off the French term “oublier” or oblivion, since they were forgotten once put in there. All around the castle, outside the walls, was a moat. While it is lovely now, surrounded by green meadows and other ruins, it sounds like it was a very serious place at one point. Trim Castle was not bought by the OPW (Office of Public Works) until 1989…before then it had belonged to a duke or a lord or somebody who eventually could not afford the upkeep. Before then though, it wasn’t a public place, it only recently was cleaned up and set up for tours.
      
                The family stayed just outside of town again at a lovely B&B called the White Lodge. It was run by an ex homicide police officer. It wasn’t far from town at all, but the idea of walking in the dark to a touristy bar was not in my energy for the night. Curling up with a blanket absolutely was. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Sunday, May 19th

NORTHERN IRELAND

                Pulled out early to head for Northern Ireland, officially part of the U.K. and uses pounds instead of euros as it’s currency. (exchange rate beware!) Our first stop was the Dunluce castle. This medieval castle is on the Antrim coast. It was rather intact and extensive, despite being on the coast and exposed to the constant elements. Lydia and I really enjoyed it, and we made sure to wander around all the areas possible without paying (sounds terrible of us, but we enjoyed the ruins  as we could without all the cost). It was interesting to take the lower walkway below the castle, looking up at the steep towers, ducking through an archway that leads to the ocean…perhaps that once served as a dock? Underneath the castle we could see a small tunnel as well. Needless to say, our imaginations were ricocheting around excitedly.
                Bushmills Irish Whiskey Distillery

   Rather interesting, despite my skepticism that it would be. Lets face it, I like drinking whiskey, seeing the process and touring facilities isn’t usually my thing. It turned out to be good, especially since I know absolutely nothing about differences in taste and terminology thrown around. Best of all, the tasting at the end. I was excited my family was on board with getting a shot of each kind they had there. Don’st ask me specifics, there were 4… and varied from most recent honey gold color, black bush, 10 year old malt, 16 year old malt, and 21 year old malt. There was also a Irish Honey one as well but we did not get to try. It  was a wonderful part to the afternoon. I can’t explain the differences, but it was so very good. Every single sip. I wish we could have sat back and just relaxed, whiskey that is good should not be tossed down (it makes your nose sting) but sipped slowly and appreciatively. Best with good friends.

                Giant’s Causeway!



    In my opinion, worth the long drive up north. If your not into natural  phenomena’s, or types of rocks found in only a couple locations on the planet,  it might not be worth it. However, if you do dig these things (like me, and certainly like my sister) then it is a good thing to swing through.
 We walked through the tourist area, with the serious amounts of crowds, followed the coast and then instead of cliffs…there were these hexagonal shaped rocks!! I don’t mean a small cluster, or a distant patch. The whole beach side became these tightly packed stepping stones. Many were flat to walk upon, or else they would become long and cylinder shaped so one could step up or down them. Some were even too tall for that, just able to lean against, or look up at in the one spot. There were some different shaped ones, with 5 or 6 sides. Bu there were all symmetrical, and fit together so very well. Lydia and I had fun bounding all over the place and taking pictures. I didn’t even fall! This is impressive with my high pull of gravity, and the center of some of the flat hexagons the water would collect and turn the rock slick.






       Rope Bridge
Let me be perfectly clear. I hate heights. I mean it, I do. This rope bridge is suspended 30 meters inbetween two CLIFFS, over the ocean. 98feet!!!! But Lydia wanted to do it, and these sorts of things are always more fun when not alone. So, we went traipsing over this rickety bridge made of NOTHING BUT ROPE. And couple bits of wood here and there. Apparently it was used by the salmon fishermen to go to the little island to check their nets. Fishing was a huge part of this area for over 100 years until the industry vanished from too few fish. I cant imagine going over that flimsy bridge in all kinds of weather and winds. It crosses over the mouth of an old volcano. apparently you can see the different type of rock below you on the way back? I didn't look down, but I suppose it would be an interesting contrast, if one wasn't focusing on things like moving forward and breathing at the same time. 



A quote was posted on the walkway there by Charles Leonard Thomassan, when he visited in 1851 from Kentucky, USA. “For the boiling breakers are every dashing themselves madly between the rocks hundreds of feet beneath, and the rope bridge is thrown about by the wind like a fabric of thread. Few trust themselves upon this airy fabrication but Mr. Wilson and I for the honor of the old Kentucky braved all the terrors-and passed to and from the rock”.

    From this point on Ireland, on a clear day like we had, you can see a small smudge of land in the far off distance. This is Scotland! Not nearly as far as I imagine…adding to the list for future adventuring.

               








  Our last sight of the day was the Dark Hedges
We were given directions and told it’s one of the favorite hidden treasures around here. It is right on a public road. We followed impeccable directions down unassuming country roads, when suddenly, we saw the trees on a road of a left hand turn. These trees make you feel like you could enter Narnia or any wonderful and imaginative place.  The trees bend and reach towards one another at the top, shaping a type of doorway. They do this for a whole stretch of road, so it becomes a long tunnel. The light is muted by the leaves and it is extremely peaceful.




                Made it back into the Republic of Ireland for the night, in Blackrock. We pulled in late (9pm)  and dove into the nearest open pub (difficult to find serving food this late on a Sunday). But she served us some hot soup and soda bread and we had a pint while trying to find a B&B to stay at. Worried about finding a place, she called herself to check for room availability at one of the street. Just a few miles outside of town (so no socializing this evening). Thank goodness there was room! We were given precise directions and told to come back if we could not find it. No worries, we dragged into the room and plopped onto the well cushioned and appreciatively pillowed accommodations and knocked out. But not before we opened and shared that bottle of French wine. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Saturday, May 18th

                Westport helped us decide to make The Long Drive to go and see Giant’s Causeway. It is not that far compared to other places… just 6ish hours. But that takes around a day of driving up, and about  a day of driving back is lost. That time counts. But we were all interested enough to justify it..and we plotted a course that would make the drive worthwhile.
                Donegal
Info center for maps and general directions and guidelines. It was pouring rain, not a soft day in any means besides the sarcastically said kind. Due to the dreary weather we had skipped out on seeing the town and went straight for the maps ( be warned: I am generally useless in the car with maps because I am too nauseated to be reading maps and finding which road goes where). We met the nicest lady there. She reminded me of a leprechaun in her mannerisms and general warm demeanor. Or perhaps a fairy godmother, if they have those in the stories here? She had deep smile lines on her face, and crinkle along the corners of her eyes. She talked to my mom and I like we were friends, not some random lost strangers.  Her hair was all tight curls colored blond, and her bangs were a bright pink tuft on her forehead.  The biggest glitch in our plan was that we intended to sleep up north close by to the Causeway, however, there was a biker’s event just finishing up, so limited rooms were available. She made a few calls for us, up north, asking about availability, and if they knew anyone who had openings? The answers were not positive. So we came up with another plan. She spoke so very highly of the scenic route around Donegal’s Peninsula, I was enthralled (even with the bad weather). So she rang up Nora, at the Brae B&B in Ardara (a small town northwards). After having gotten 3 phone calls saying all full, and a printout without any openings forseeably available…we opted on this more coastal route.
    And let me tell you, all the rain did was convince me that I need to revisit this area again when the skies are clear.



    We drove through Killybegs, a small fishing town. The harbor was filled with boats of all sizes, but certainly all functioning. The town looked practical, but we did not investigate on foot. Following this, we then wound our way up the Slieve League Cliffs.  I am not entirely sure, but I think someone said these cliffs were bigger than the cliffs of Moher? It was hard to tell. By the time we arrived at a certain part you could drive up, the rain had picked back up to dumping buckets. We opted not to walk the scenic route (This time this time!) or the trails along the ridge.  In this area, the mist settled low, swirling close to the earth. The fog here is not the peaceful kind like we have in PA, which clings to the low places and makes everything still. If you looked into the low dense clouds, they were constantly in motion as the wind whipped the heavy mists and sent the clouds boiling in the sky.




       The cliffs of Moher had smooth grasslands leading up to their their plummeting drop off. The space around their overlooks was wide open and grassy. It was wild, but peaceful in that way. The Slieve cliffs had no pretenses of peace. While we drove up to the outlook, the sides around us spiked. The road bent and doubled back on itself, winding around the rocky outposts. Above us on one side, you could see the cliffs rugged continuation upward, while on the other side, they determinedly stood against the thundering ocean. We reached the outlook, peaking over the edges of the protective barriers to look down. The rain became sleet against our faces, and wind seemed to gain strength from the cliffs and the weather, so I only got a few glimpses of the cliff walls. The mist was so heavy, I couldn’t tell you how high they rose in front of us. It was wild and it was wonderful, I can’t wait to come back to see it again.  The most useful part of this rainy day was that 3 hikers had gotten caught in the ugly weather. We asked if they wanted a ride back down the mountain, and the one that spoke English out of the group gratefully accepted. We crammed all of our luggage into the back, and squeezed all 7 of us into the 5 seater Nissan we had rented. It wasn’t too difficult, not for that short amount of time. I’ve been in smaller vehicles far more crowded.   They were from France, and we talked back and forth (my sister and I grasping at what little French remained from highschool). The one lady rattled off a sentence, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I understood. Anyways, it ended well enough. Everyone thawed out by the time we got to the bottom and pulled up next to their car. We exchange hugs and la bise (I think it’s called, the kissing on the cheeks) for goodbyes. Then their came a knock on our car window, the one lady had returned with a box of tea cookies (Les galettes de belle isle, with sets of 2 wrapped in the box) and a bottle of wine from her region. It was so incredibly kind of them! And completely unnecessary!!! We were just glad we were there.
     Pulled into the snug little town of Ardara for the night. The Brae house was plenty cozy with a space heater that we turned up. Dinner, just down the street at an old pub and restaurant called Nancy’s. A delicious fish dinner, followed by a hot irish coffee. By the time we had ducked through the rain back our rooms and had a cup of hot tea…things were much improved. Lyd and I went out on the town for the evening. We settled in the corner of a nearby pub. Mostly kept to ourselves, though talked to the matronly bar tender, and a few older locals.

Most frequent questions: “Oh, your American? Where are you from?
Most common follow up questions: “do you like Ireland?”
   That’s okay though, I love Ireland, and where I am from has become part of my identity on this trip.
A guitarist started playing for the evening, and the crowd ebbed and flowed. A song was played, per request of one of the people we had chatted to throughout the evening, specifically for the girls from Pittsburgh.  It wasn’t the young place we had intended, but around 12:30 (or 00:30) another wave of people came through. By then, the Irish whiskey I had been having caught up with me, and just when we were being bought drinks I began turning them down,  did not want to test my sister’s ability to carry me, even though our B&B was within convenient staggering distance.

                We ended up staying until after 3 AM. I found a friend in someone carrying a cup of tea to the lady at the bar and managed to have a cup for myself. Unconventional I know, but this tactic made my night much longer and much more memorable: as it was spent in conversation where I did not act any more stupid or giddy then my normal spectrum entails. The topics were lively, and covered a range of subjects. Some cultural, some personal. The whole time, people would stop by and say hi to one of the locals sitting with us, or hello to me or my sister. The general agreement at the end of the evening is that my sister and I are “good craic” …as in good fun and enjoyable to be around. Even though this town was extremely small and remote, it was one of my favorites. Because when you walked into a pub, you only felt like a stranger due to not knowing everyone there. Once people got to talking with you, there wasn’t a dull moment. 

Friday, May 17th

Clifden
     Slept like it was my job and decided to go for a run. I got a bit turned around and ended up on a road lower than the one Eileen of our B&B recommended. Beach road turned out to be lovely in the morning though. Followed along an inlet that opened into a small bay, all the while greenery was covering the hills to my other side. A small boat puttered out in the morning (few people are up and busy in the morning hours I’ve noticed)  and I followed along my land route until the end, when the bay opened into the Atlantic, then turned around. Sky road (the intended loop) I tackled just halfway because of my lovely lower detour. This one took me gradually uphill when I bounced out of the road surrounded by trees, I saw to my left the grass covered hills that sloped towards the ocean and the entire view was at my feet and in front of me! It was beautiful, the whole entire run I could see the Atlantic displayed before me, and the rocky coastline continue lower on my left. There were a few islands splattered a short distance from the coast, the only ones venturing into the big water that continued on to the horizon.
The ocean sometimes feels like the only place for your restless mind or wandering heart. It is vast enough for you to find stillness and peace while still including all the movement and vibrancy that is true in life.
“It’s always a risky thing to fly faster than your heart, but somehow a body just can’t help it.”
                                                                                                                                ~Peggy Parsons














A Morning In Clifden
       Breakfast was wonderful. Eileen served our food on her fine china, tea was from her grandmothers teapot. The classic set up made mom so happy, I was too terrified of breaking something. These tight little set ups make me feel like a bull in a china closet.  One trip and I could take out an antique placement in no time! Ack! After eating we talking of her family and all. How they always shop in the states for clothes because the prices are so much better on clothes and makeup (like Clinique and all). She talked of how her husband has a farm, which will go to her son. She told us how it is becoming more common with the next generation of couples getting divorced, and the family’s lands are divided up and sold off. It is important to realize that farming has been such a traditional part of the communities here, and they have been consistent through generations. It is a staple of every county we have been in, and to divide up and sell it leaves few options in making a living for those remaining in the small countryside area. She told us how many of the next generation has to move to the bigger cities (like Dubin) or going to live and work in places like Australia. The recession doesn’t seem to be something they have recovered from here, it seems to just be something they are learning to deal with.
    Actually ended up spending some time in the area here. Yeah we shopping, I even picked up a colorful scarf.  Mostly though, just walked around. Our family ended up going to different shops, so when I got bored, I’d end up talking to shop owners. So if you are ever in Clifden, make sure to stop at the little art gallery on the end of the street across the road from the B&B. Also, a very interesting running outdoor type store. The owner leads runs around the area, and has designed his own shirts with little uplifting phrases printed on them. Think along the lines of the Life is Good type shirts. But just for Connemara. 
       From there we had lunch at the outlook I’d run to in the morning, inside the car due to the seriously high winds.  Then we drove down to Omey Island


Now the interesting part of this island is that I am fairly certain you can only get to it during low tide. Because when the tide is out, the beach between the two becomes a broad strip of firm sand for cars to drive across to the island. We walked across the land, which was sadly not a warm and sunny beach but a windswept coastal edge. Someone in Dublin later described the western side of Ireland as “very rugged”, with “lots of character”. They were absolutely right.  But I really liked it that way. Except the narrow, winding roads…while some may finding it entertaining, I wanted to fling myself out of the car. partially due to motion sickness. partially because it is so beautiful outide, even with the cold wind. It is a shame to have to drive through inside a car. 

                Westport

       Pulled in not too unreasonably late.  But took the second B&B we came to. One cannot get too picky if  you want a good price, close to town, and are coming in after 5pm.  After last night's stay, it was nothing  to get excited about. Nice enough owners, just generic place in comparison. Everything was clean and tidy though, and Lydia and I got our own room again. Focus on the little wins. Dinner we split off for some pizza then revamped for a bit in our room before going out for the night. Things don’t get rolling until late, so it is important to relax beforehand. We did pretty well, started out at a relaxed place. Chatted with a few people while having a drink, and a guitarist played in the background. Throughout the evening we picked up momentum. The next place had more up to date, rock music..with a mass of people from all ages and different countries. Talking wasn’t a problem, everyone had to shout their conversations. Listening was a bit of a dilemma. But was certainly a lively evening. Lydia and I have an excellent policy of not leaving each other and always having one another’s backs. It is employed no matter what country we are in, but is certainly well applied. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Thursday, May 16th

Galway
     The Quey where all the pubs and restaurants are located, also contains all kinds of stores. There were jewelry shops that ranged from diamonds for in various settings for engagement rings, and fun stores that displayed an assortment of sparkles. We had fun looking into windows, wandering through stores. I did venture into one clothing place, which was a huge mistake, as somehow the clothes here look so much better on me. I barely escaped with my finances intact. The same can be said for a jewelry store next door as well.
      My sister and I walked up towards the old Claddaugh town that used to be the main fishing village. We did not make the whole way along this area. Instead we re-routed to the museum which had a progressive history of Ireland, including a statue that was once located out in the main Quey and was a site of many a marriage proposal and such. There were also a lot of posters and signs from the war with the propaganda printed to motivate men and boys to enlist. An interesting walkthrough, we did not give it the time that was deserved.




Kylemore Abbey
    A brief stop that did not include going into the Abbey, but certainly got an appreciation for while watching it. There are still about a dozen nuns there and it had been previously used as a boarding school for girls. Among the trees nearby there was a serious church too. We could not see this today but if I was to do the trip again I would include this if there was time.








 
Connemara National Park
        Trails! Wonderful neat wide trails! There were 3 distances offered and we took the middle one (just under 2 miles) it was a beautiful hour outside and we meandered (so so slowly) around the base of the mountain.
   We were told they have a saying here:
                   If you can see the mountains, it is going to rain.
                    If you can’t see the mountings..it is raining.
This is solid advice. The weather changes faster then that of P.A. I know we can wake up to one season and go to bed in another. But here, it changes within 15 minutes!!! And rarely towards sunshine (not complaining though, that we are rather accustomed to).




        When we set out on the trail, a wide rainbow occupied the sky, vanishing behind the mountain, then made a faded appearance on the other side. The stripes of color were bold and each color was represented, distinctively in their place.  It is one of the best rainbows I have actually seen. While walking,  Lydia appreciated getting to see Peat Moss. On the national parks land it is protected and unable to be cut, dried out, and sold.  She bounced along the trail, stooping over now and again to crumble the dirt between her finger, while commenting on how rich and nutritious it looked, or wondering what minerals were contained. While I wish I could call her crazy and feel superior in my indifference, but I was right there alongside her, asking questions and smelling the dense scent of the damp soil. We wound around the path until we reached the high point of the trail (still the base of the mountain) which gave us a bird’s eye view of the lake country by Connemara. The land rolled and then flattened, like a rolling pin had gone over it and we were perched near the edge. The lakes were indiscernible from this distance, nothing but giant pools of reflected sky that broke up the greenery that surrounds us here.
   

            
               
Clifden
      This area had come highly recommended, and we are very glad we stopped by. We arrived in the evening, so while we thought it looked nice, we didn’t expect much from it.  The B&B we decided on was Ben View B&B (simply because I had mis-read it as Benvenue, which reminded me of the name of the barn at home and therefore made it good). When we walked into the open door, saying hello, the proprietor greeted us with a warm smile while she carried an old cloth to wipe her stained hands. Her name is Eileen, and she was polishing brass she said, there is so much brass in the house passed down to her from her mother that she polishes it every other week..usually for about 4 hours. She stated this not like it was a chore, but simply part of her routine. Later, she told us a quote her mother said, “There’s no point in having brass unless you take care of it and make it look nice”.  The house had been in the family since her grandmother. Her grandmother had moved the family rooms upstairs and opened a small café type place for people and workers who would come through when the train station was just across the road from their house. Every now and then she would keep a permanent border upstairs as well though. When her grandmother died, her mother, with good business sense closed the café and turned the house into a B&B.  Eileen told us this was back in the 50’s and 60’s when tourism started picking up a lot. It was named Ben View because you used to be able to see the 12 Bens ( the mountain chain) from the front window. A few buildings now stand in the way. She told us you can object to a building because of ruining your light and all kinds of thing, but you cannot object to a building being built because it ruins your view. I thought it was great that one could object to a building and be reasonably listened to at all! If we said that in the states they would laugh so hard your only hope is for them to fall over, hit their heads, and have the type of amnesia that would make them forget all about building.  We learned how low tourism really was for the area. She used to have over 30 American tourists through fall and early spring. this year, she said less than the fingers she has on one hand. How does a small town recover from that? Eileen told us how everyone likes American tourists best because they spend more (we can't get things from Europe at home like others that are closer!) Our family would be a bit of a disappointment on the spending aspect, unless it comes to food of course! Then I would qualify as a favorite. 

      We got all settled in a small upstairs room and headed out for dinner. I had a beef stew with mash potatoes on the side. Even though I am not a huge fan of gravy, I very much enjoyed it here.  Ireland’s meats are usually from the cows here on the island. The organic and health conscious side of me was jumping up and down with glee, no hormone fed, mass produced, synthetically processed meat!! My honed skills as a chicken wrangler would be so much more functional here as well.

      When we returned Eileen told us she had no more guests come, so she has a spare room! And without any additional fees, my sister and I had a room all to ourselves. It had suddenly become a glorious evening. We ventured out for a little bit, but while finding music, and not finding any seats…we headed back to our delightful, empty, rooms. When traveling with the family, whom one loves, sometimes a bit of space is invaluable for the over-all peace and tranquility of the trip.