10-03-2015 Belfast, the Titanic, and the Devils Causeway

Ireland Day 13 and 14

Good morning.  I took a little break from the Ireland posts for a few days.  Currently in Rocky Point the skies are partly cloudy, the temperature this morning before daylight is a balmy 50 degrees F with rain coming tonight and tomorrow.  Much needed, although the timing could be a bit better.  It is Halloween, and the rain is set to begin around 5 this evening.  Bummer.Kayaking Pelican Bay (33 of 46)

Our home.  Pelican Butte reflected in Pelican Bay on a gorgeous fall afternoon.

For us, the weather has been perfect, almost. We have been moving part of our home to Mo’s apartments in town, leaving the other part here at the big house in Rocky Point.  Mo’s brothers were fabulous, Dan and his wife coming from the Portland area and Don coming from Spokane to help us do the heavy lifting.  moving with Don and Dan (1 of 19) Original plan was to simply use the pickup and trailer, but after many days of sunshine, rain was forecast for our single moving day, so we rented a U-Haul. 

don and dan don dan and dogs

moving with Don and Dan (13 of 19) Good plan!  We never could have done it otherwise, and we never could have done it without all the great help we had from Mo’s wonderful brothers, and the dogs of course.

After the move, the sun came out and we slipped out on the creek for a gorgeous fall kayak.  Kayaking Pelican Bay (2 of 46)Brother Don, who builds his own very fine wooden kayaks, was less than excited about our older kayak, since it developed a big leak in the back end, and he spent much of the trip bailing with a sponge.kayaking on Recreation Creek with Don (21 of 26)

But those are other stories to come later.  I still have a few more tales of our trip to Ireland to complete. 

Belfast continued: On Saturday morning we woke once again to impossibly good weather, with a bit of cloudiness, but no rain in sight.  We had prepared for this trip, knowing that Ireland was always rainy, knowing that we would have to deal with raincoats and umbrellas and be willing to accept that there is a price for all this green. 

Belfast from the Bus (1 of 8) Somehow God and Mother Nature smiled on us for the entire 15 days we spent in Ireland, with an unheard of two weeks without rain except for that little spitting shower we encountered at Newgrange early on in the trip.

1-10-03-2015 Belfast The day began with a bus tour of Belfast rather than a walking tour. 

1-10-03-2015 Belfast1 Since the city is not exactly charming, I didn’t mind that much, especially when we saw the graffiti, and the giant fence between a Catholic and a Protestant neighborhood to prevent them from throwing bombs at each other. 

1-10-03-2015 Belfast2 All the guides proclaimed how peaceful things were now, how wonderfully calm it was and yet the depression and sadness in the air was palpable.  I can imagine, like most big cities, there are wonderful aspects to Belfast, but we didn’t really have time to explore in depth.

Belfast Titanic (1 of 32) After our bus tour, we took in the Titanic Belfast, the world’s largest Titanic museum located at the port of Belfast where the Titanic was built. If you click on the link to the museum, you will see some rather impressive moving graphics. The videos on the website are very good, showing what I tried to manage with my phone to much less success. Belfast Titanic (12 of 32) The museum is huge and glitzy, and quite Disneyesque,  There are several floors of excellent displays relating to the design and building of the great ship, as well as its demise.  There was a cafeteria and a restaurant, a bar and a gift shop with lots of Titanic memorabilia for sale.  Belfast Titanic (21 of 32)

In spite of how well done and obviously expensive the museum was, the commercial aspect of the whole thing really bothered me.  Let’s make a bunch of money on the crash of a ship and the loss of all those lives.  It didn’t feel like a memorial, but more like a Disney ride.  Belfast Titanic (19 of 32) The museum is part of the Northern Ireland attempt to increase tourism in Belfast, which still lags far behind that of the Republic. Still, riding the little cars that followed a track through the darkness to the sounds of the rivets pounding steel was fun.  The museum does an excellent job of showing the complexity of building a great ship in the early part of the 20th century.Belfast Titanic (23 of 32)

However, we had something much more wonderful in store for us that afternoon, the finest reason of all to visit Northern Ireland, an excursion to the Giant’s Causeway on the Atrim Coast.  Just a little over an hour north of Belfast, the Causeway is a magnificent exposure of huge hexagonal basalt columns that resulted from ancient lava flows from fissures in the underlying limestone.

Belfast Devils Causeway (48 of 49) Quoting from the UNESCO website:

The Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast is a spectacular area of global geological importance on the sea coast at the edge of the Antrim plateau in Northern Ireland. The most characteristic and unique feature of the site is the exposure of some 40,000 large, regularly shaped polygonal columns of basalt in perfect horizontal sections, forming a pavement. This dramatic sight has inspired legends of giants striding over the sea to Scotland. Celebrated in the arts and in science, it has been a visitor attraction for at least 300 years and has come to be regarded as a symbol for Northern Ireland.

The property’s accessible array of curious geological exposures and polygonal columnar formations formed around 60 million years ago make it a ‘classic locality’ for the study of basaltic volcanism. The features of the Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast site and in particular the strata exposed in the cliff faces, have been key to shaping the understanding of the sequences of activity in the Earth’s geological history.

Belfast Devils Causeway (15 of 49) The visitor center was excellent, filled with fascinating displays that we chose to forego in favor of the real thing.  With just under three hours to spend, we wanted to enjoy the hiking, the views, and the geology, although I  would have  liked to see the displays if there had been time.Belfast Devils Causeway (17 of 49) Belfast Devils Causeway (27 of 49)

We had just enough time to walk the trails to the famous part of the Causeway so often pictured in photographs, with hundreds of people playing on the steps of the columns and crawling around with delight. Belfast Devils Causeway (25 of 49) It might have been nicer if not so crowded, but I guess that is also the price to pay to visit a World Heritage UNESCO site on a sunny Sunday in early October in a land where it has been raining for months.

Belfast Devils Causeway (37 of 49) Belfast Devils Causeway (38 of 49) Once we passed the most popular area, and continued along the narrow trail, the crowds thinned a bit and we had time to drink in the magnificent views of basalt flows, columns, the red interbedded laterites, and basalt chimneys.  Again, it was an exhilarating and beautiful hike, and the area is managed extremely well with the visitor center built into the side of the mountain and using renewable resources for power.

Belfast Devils Causeway (43 of 49) It was a wonderful afternoon, with the sounds of the sea and crazy wild trails to follow along the rocky coast. 

 Belfast Devils Causeway (23 of 49) Mo and I talked about this as I was writing, and for her, the Causeway was one of the highlights of visiting Ireland, and for me it is still a toss up between the Causeway and the Cliffs of Moher.  I would suggest not missing either if you choose to visit Ireland.

Note: Since I am already nearing the end of my monthly data usage allowance, with 13 days left to go, the link to the photos on SmugMug will be added to this blog at a later time.  Check back if you want to see them, or remember to go to my SmugMug photo page with the link listed in the left sidebar of the blog.

Next: Leaving Belfast, we return to Dublin, and our last day in Ireland


10-02-2015 Sligo to Belfast via Derry

Ireland Day 12

The next morning dawned foggy, and we traveled north toward Yeats grave at the church at Drumcliff, near the base of another forgotten important mountain….geez.  Ya think I should just give up on this?  LOL.  With the thick fog, we could barely see the outlines of the mountain, but Isabella brought out photos for us to get the idea.  I left this part in just to remember how hard it was to remember everything as we were actually traveling.  The mountain is called Benbulben, loved by Yeats and chosen as his final resting place.  Sligo to Derry via Drumcliffe (41 of 68)

Standing at the tomb of Yeats in the midst of the magnificent collection of Celtic Cross tombstones was perfect in the fog.  Sligo to Derry via Drumcliffe (19 of 68)  We saw the oldest Celtic Cross still in existence, used in the early days of conversion to teach the Celts the gospel.  Sligo to Derry via Drumcliffe (22 of 68)The shop at Drumcliffe was another gem, and I wished I hadn’t left my wallet and cash locked up in the bus.  I am really trying to keep from buying “stuff”, especially since I don’t have suitcase room anyway.Sligo to Derry via Drumcliffe (21 of 68)Sligo to Derry via Drumcliffe (28 of 68)

A few miles north of Drumcliffe we again made an unscheduled stop at a Neolithic site.  Creevy Keel was constructed around 3,000 BC, with a court cairn, and a beautiful portal with the portal stone still intact.  Seems as though the Druids use this site often for prayer and ritual. 

Sligo to Derry via Drumcliffe (51 of 68) Isabella loves the site, and always tries to show it to people who are receptive.  However, she refused to enter the passage, or go near the portal stone, saying that the “energy” of the place was difficult for her.   Sligo to Derry via Drumcliffe (44 of 68) Listening to her talk this way, I understood that even though she is a good Irish/Italian Catholic, she is very much connected to the old ways as well.

Sligo to Derry via Drumcliffe (63 of 68) After our morning stop, our route meandered northward toward County Donegal, famous for the Donegal tweeds, and also quite popular with the Irish because the estates are bigger, the houses more spread out, much like semi rural areas in the US. Daughter Deb asked about how folks live, but I have to say I don’t have a clue.  Traveling through a country like this, on a tour, or even in a rented car of your own, and visiting the beautiful sites that are the tourist destinations, or even the destinations for those on local holiday, doesn’t really  give much of a clue what actual daily life is like.  My sense, however, is that it isn’t all that different.

Derry to Belfast (107 of 127) What I have noticed from watching the news, from reading the papers, and from many of Isabella’s comments, is that the Irish are very fond of their great literature, their artists, their poets and writers, their playwrights.  In spite of all the unrest and the violence between the Protestants and the Catholics, it seems to be a gentle place.  The apparent ethic is a commitment to the environment and “green” politics and actions are everywhere.

Derry to Belfast (110 of 127) On our tour of the western part of the country, we saw a bit of homeless, but more like a person or two here and there on a bridge who had imbibed too much.  In Belfast, it is a different story, but more on that later.  After just two weeks, I would say Ireland is a gentle country, with wonderful friendly people everywhere.  Everyone is kind and willing to help with directions and conversation.  The big “thing” here are the pubs and one is encouraged to go into the pubs and strike up conversations with the locals, but that hasn’t been as easy as they say.  Much of the time the pubs are filled with the tourists, and locals are hard to find.  In order to get a better handle on what it is like to live here, you would have to come here and stay awhile, and actually have enough time to sit in a pub and become a regular, buy some rounds, and then talk to the locals.

At the moment I am 32000 feet high over the Atlantic as we fly home to the USA, and after so many hours the brain is not exactly brilliant. Still, it is a good time to write, and better than waiting till we get home when I know we will be crazy busy.  I did so well managing to write every single day of the trip in real time that now it is extremely difficult to attempt to recreate days past from memory.  These kinds of trips seem to do that.  So much happening so fast that it is hard to track it.  Especially here on the airplane with the photos tucked away in my carryon in the overhead bin.  I cant even use them to trigger the memories.

But I’ll do my best.  Derry and Belfast are in Northern Ireland.  It has taken me almost the entire three weeks to even come close to really understanding the separation between the two countries and how they came to be. 

Sligo to Derry via Drumcliffe (68 of 68) Derry changed all that.  When we crossed the border into Northern Ireland, there wasn’t any real border to speak of, unlike years past before the Peace Agreement.  Still, there is a palpable difference.  More than just the fact that the signs are no longer in both English and Gaelic, and the roads are measured in miles.  There is something in the air that feels different.  The farms are bigger, more really big farms rather than the sweet family farms we have grown used to with their small cottages and charming yards.  In Northern Ireland, all the way from the border, through Derry, and Belfast, and on south back into the Republic, there is an obvious gentry and separation between the have’s and the have-nots.Derry to Belfast (17 of 127)Derry to Belfast (21 of 127)

Derry itself was a surprise.  Until this visit, I remembered Bloody Sunday only vaguely, but when we began our tour of Derry with a local guide on our bus for a short time, the story unfolded with harsh clarity. Derry to Belfast (48 of 127) Isabella stepped aside for a time as the raven haired blue eyed young Irishwoman with the strong brogue told us the story of “The Troubles”, and we disembarked from the bus to stand on the site of Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972.  It was the beginning of The Troubles, when the British police killed many people who were demonstrating against the discrimination against the Catholic population by the British Protestant police in power.  The British claimed that the demonstrators had started the ruckus with bombs, but now, many decades later they have recanted and at last apologized to the families of those killed, stating that the killings were wrong and unnecessary.  There will eventually be some kind of compensation but that is still in the works.

The Story of Bloody Sunday is a harsh one.  This afternoon, many days after we visited Derry, I am still somewhat confused and haunted by this long complex chapter in Irish history.  Searching the many facets of the IRA, of the rebellion, the Troubles, and Irish historical timelines is like going down a rabbit hole.  One thing leads to another and before long the photos are not processed and the blog is not written.  If you want to go into it more deeply, here is a link from Wiki to get you started.

Derry to Belfast (24 of 127) Derry to Belfast (25 of 127) In this part of Derry, there is an area called Free Derry, where protestors are given a platform for free speech and demonstrations, and there are many sad murals around the squares protesting the terrible happenings during those decades.  President Clinton was instrumental in helping to reach the Good Friday agreement in 1998 proclaiming peace.  There are 6 counties that chose to remain loyal to the British crown, and the rest of Ireland is now the Republic of Ireland.  All of this is incredibly complex, and the discord between the British and the Irish goes back centuries rather than just decades.  I find it hard to really understand why any of the counties would want to remain with Britain rather than be part of the Republic of Ireland, but Britain was not about to let go of the largest industrial city and the best port on the island of Ireland, so after so much difficulty, there was finally an agreement reached between the two countries.

Derry to Belfast (33 of 127) Derry to Belfast (34 of 127) We enjoyed a walking tour of the city walls, with more stories of the history of the town with 50 names.  Called Derry, then changed to Londonderry by the English, then back to Derry after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the best name is “The Walled City”.  The walls were built by the British to keep out the wild Celts who wanted to eliminate the British from Ireland.  Derry to Belfast (38 of 127) Derry to Belfast (47 of 127)

Our guide is proud of Derry, and its efforts toward peace, claiming that they have worked hard for that peace, and although there is still a definite separation of Catholics and Protestants in the  city, she said it has changed a lot, with mixed marriages becoming more common and more collaboration between the two sides.Derry to Belfast (78 of 127)Derry to Belfast (82 of 127) We walked across the Peace Bridge, designed and opened in 2011 as a monument to that peace process, with its symbolism of hands reaching across the river between the protestant side to the south and the catholic side on the north.

After the bus portion of the tour, we walked the walls of the city, Derry known as the “walled city”.  The Brits built the walls after they occupied the city in the 1200’s and the Celts refused to give up their land and kept causing trouble.  The walls were built so well that they were never breached, hence another name for Derry, The Maiden City.  Walking the walls was wonderful, and trying to absorb all the history of the area was challenging.

Derry to Belfast (90 of 127)Derry to Belfast (84 of 127) Walking across the bridge from the Catholic side of the city to the Protestant side, we explored the historical fort site at Ebrington.  The fort is no longer in use, but the city of Derry is developing the site as a celebratory place for parades and gatherings to honor the peace process for which their city has become renown. Derry to Belfast (88 of 127)

I have to share one of my favorite murals of all time, from the walls of the old fort.  Look closely. Derry to Belfast (89 of 127) Derry to Belfast (91 of 127) Derry to Belfast (92 of 127) Derry to Belfast (93 of 127)After the official tour, Mo and I spent some time wandering the inner city, looking for food that wasn’t one more “self serve” cafeteria, and found an interesting looking place called Nando’s.  Derry to Belfast (71 of 127)Derry to Belfast (61 of 127)Derry to Belfast (55 of 127)It is mainly chicken in an upscale fast food sort of place, where you order your food at the counter, but then it is delivered to the table.  The food is spiced by a pepper called peri peri, from Africa, and the theme of the restaurant is Portuguese, and represents Portuguese sailors traveling to Africa and bringing home great spices.  Derry to Belfast (57 of 127) It was interesting, and I loved the great food, all fresh and spicy.  I had a quinoa salad with peri peri and Mo had some great wings that were pretty darn spicy as well.  It was a nice break from all the generic even though excellent choices at the self serve’s.

Derry to Belfast (106 of 127) Leaving Derry, we continued toward Belfast, via the new superhighway that is a collaboration on the part of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.  There are other examples of this kind of collaboration, including wireless communications and electrical power for the entire island of Ireland.  Derry to Belfast (114 of 127) Again, the landscape was dominated by large industrial agriculture, and as we approached Belfast, the ambience of heavy industry colored much of what we saw.  There are big steel mills in Belfast, and at the moment some of them are going down and there are going to be several thousand people unemployed as a result.

Derry to Belfast (118 of 127) Belfast itself felt crowded, dreary, and not at all inviting.  We approached the city center, with Isabella pointing out various landmarks along the way through heavy traffic.  I would imagine that seeing Belfast for the first time from this perspective may have colored our impression of Northern Ireland, but it definitely did not feel as charming to us as our previous 12 days in the Republic.

Dinner on this night in Belfast was included, but as is often the case with these included dinners the venue was less than optimal.  We were in the beautiful pub, but in an upstairs room, with the chairs so crowded that we could barely lift a fork, and the noise level so loud that hearing anyone talk was next to impossible.  The food was OK, however the service was horrendous. 

Derry to Belfast (121 of 127) Our hotel was right downtown, and Isabella regaled us with all the possibilities for our evening, but by the time we got to the hotel, which was actually quite nice, we knew that if we were going to get out, we would have to do it quickly.  We decided to go find the Crown Bar, one of the most beautiful pubs in Ireland according to the guidebooks, but the walk entailed negotiating lots of construction, and many men hanging around drinking, or lying around on the sidewalks drinking.  I have no photos from this night walk through town because I didn’t feel comfortable at all carrying my camera around with me, or even the phone.

The Europa Hotel was considered a must see, a place that the Clintons frequented among other world dignitaries, and we walked there, but it was just a big fancy hotel lobby with a bar and wasn’t all that inviting.  We tried walking back to the Crown, but it was so loud and so crowded we couldn’t even get in the doors.  Instead we settled for an Irish Coffee in our hotel pub where we had previously had dinner, and were happy to avoid the streets and get back to our room.

Derry to Belfast (124 of 127)The Park Inn hotel was actually quite nice, and we enjoyed the room with a bed that was probably the most comfortable of the trip.Derry to Belfast (125 of 127) Derry to Belfast (126 of 127)

The link to the rest of the photos of the part of the day from Sligo to Derry is here

Another link to photos of Belfast is here.

Next: We see the Belfast Titanic Museum and another high point of Ireland, The Giant’s Causeway.

10-01-2015 Galway to Sligo

Ireland Day 11 Galway to Sligo

01 Galway to Sligo (31 of 173) This last three days have been intense to say the least.  It is a bit like visiting Yosemite, The Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone in three consecutive days.  Crazy, and yet on a two week trip to Ireland, when we might not ever return, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss any one of these beautiful landscapes, so it is worth it.

01 Galway to Sligo (9 of 173) This morning when we woke in Galway, the fog once again shrouded our hotel and Galway Bay.  I didn’t sleep much last night, who knows why.  Something that seems to be a problem for me is getting all the “stuff” charged.  The camera is a battery hog, so I do have to get those lithium batteries (I have 3 thank goodness) charged up, most important.  Hmmm…I am talking like our tour guide, with her strong Italian accent always saying “Most Importanta!”  It has become a bus joke. The other bus joke has to do with her fluency with the language.  She is doing an excellent job, and speaks several languages, but sometimes when speaking to us, she will forget the exact word for something and now when she hesitates, the entire bus choruses the word to her in unison.  Silly, but if you are on the bus for long periods small things become incredibly entertaining. 

01 Galway to Sligo (11 of 173) The original plan was for a leisurely drive along Galway Bay, but with the fog, the driver chose to take the more direct route directly to Connemara. Our destination was the Connemara Marble Factory, where the beautiful green Connemara Marble (actually it is very hard granite) is quarried nearby and then fashioned into beautiful jewelry.  The finest is the deep green Ireland Jade, but several other green colors are also quite beautiful.  I enjoyed the demonstration by the factory manager, with all the beautiful raw material washed down so we could see the colors and then views of the polished sides as well.  Gorgeous stuff!  Reminded me a lot of the “jade” that is found in the far northwestern part of California, where I picked up a gorgeous polished piece that still graces my garden. 

01 Galway to Sligo (4 of 173) We enjoyed the tour, and the prices for the beautiful jewelry in the showroom were better than any we saw any time later in Ireland.  Definitely worth buying at the factory if you like the jewelry.  I found a sweet small keepsake shamrock fashioned in the green jade that will be my Ireland memento, small enough to fit in the suitcase. 

01 Galway to Sligo (13 of 173) I mentioned to Mo that I had thought that Connemara was a large park, not simply a marble factory, as I watched the foggy landscape roll by.  As we entered County Connemara, however, the fog began to lift ever so slightly and we got a glimpse of the beautiful mountains that surrounded us as we traveled through the Inagh Valley.  Home of the movie “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, we passed the Quiet Man Bridge featured in the movie and stopped for an obligatory stop at a replica of the cottage where the movie was filmed.  Actually the movie was filmed at both the original cottage as well as the replica because the local people were tired of all the movie folks taking over their village so they built the replica in a more remote place.  I guess that movie has been re-digitized, so I think it might be fun to rent it.

01 Galway to Sligo (25 of 173) The skies magically cleared more and more as we continued north into the “peated land”.  Even on rolling hills there is up to 15 meters of organic peat soil that has been used as fuel in this part of Ireland.  The peat is cut into bricks with a large knife, stacked to dry, and then stored for winter much as we store firewood in the west.  In the midst of the peat land, there are turloughs. 

01 Galway to Sligo (27 of 173) A turlough, or turlach, is a type of disappearing lake found mostly in limestone areas of Ireland, west of the River Shannon. The name comes from the Irish word “tuar”, meaning dry, with the suffix “lach”, meaning a place (in an abstract sense). The “lach” suffix is often mistakenly spelled and/or thought to refer to the word “loch”, the Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Scots word for lake. They are found in Irish karst (exposed limestone) areas. In the United States we have karst topography in the southeast part of the country and in Florida, where we often hear news of sinkholes that are common in karst areas.

The turlough features, however, are almost unique to Ireland, although there is one example in Great Britain in a place called Llandeilo. The turloughs are of great interest to many scientists:  geomorphologists are interested in how turloughs were formed, hydrologists try to explain what makes turloughs flood, botanists study the unusual vegetation which covers the turlough floor and zoologists study the animals associated with the turloughs.

 01 Galway to Sligo (30 of 173)It was a fascinating landscape, made even more so as the wild glaciated granite Connemara Mountains became visible as the fog lifted completely and was replaced with brilliant sunshine.  Another amazing sunshiny day in Ireland, something none of us expected, and incredibly rare.  Even more rare, is the run of sunny days without rain that have graced every single day of this tour.  Incredibly lucky for us!

01 Galway to Sligo (32 of 173)We stopped at an overlook near Lough Inagh Lake for some photos of the fabulous reflections of the mountains on the silky smooth water.  There must be gorgeous trails to explore throughout this park, and again, I would love to have the time to stay here for a week or more to explore, hike and bike.  Then again, it probably would be raining, as is did all summer, with the poor Irish sad about daily rain and no summer at all this year.  They seem to be as excited as we are about this Indian Summer reprieve that just happened to show up for our visit.

01 Galway to Sligo (35 of 173) Our destination was the Kylemore Abbey and Castle, a jewel beside a lake backed up by the beautiful mountains.  Kylemore was built quite recently, finished in 1871, a song of love from William Henry to his beloved wife.  The view of the Abbey is probably another one of those iconic Ireland views that most people have seen at one time or another.

Later: I knew this would happen. I am lost. I left off last writing about our trip through Connemara and Kylemore Abbey.  At the moment, it is 1AM in Belfast and neither of us can sleep.  Mo is reading so I thought maybe I would try to catch up.  My mind is a mushy blur!  Worst part of this is that my usual method of recreating the memories in my mind is unavailable to me.  Two 32 GIG cards for photos, and a couple of days ago I had to switch out cards.  All the previous photos are tucked away safely.  No photo reminders.

01 Galway to Sligo (44 of 173) 01 Galway to Sligo (48 of 173) Kylemore Abbey has such a great story.  I suppose I will simply link to it when I write the blog, because it is really worth reading, but probably not worth trying to recreate.  Click on the link to read about it in more detail. First it was the site of a hunting lodge, where Mitchell Henry took his beloved wife Margaret.  She loved it so much, he bought it for her, and then built this magnificent castle for them and their 9 children.  Sadly, she only lived there for four years after its completion before she died from dysentery caught while they were traveling in Africa.  Yeah.  Dysentery.  We take a lot for granted when we travel nowadays, such as antibiotics!

01 Galway to Sligo (60 of 173)The house is quite impressive in that way of castles, and nicer than the Medieval castles we have seen so far, and probably a lot warmer.  Even more magnificent than the castle, however, were the gardens.  Long winding paths for a mile or so in each direction along the lake were planted with trees from all over the world.  Walking under the shade of these gorgeous trees, with views of the mountains and lakes was so restful.

The house was sold to another couple, the Duke and Duchess of Manchester, much less romantic and wonderful than the first.  The Manchester’s were gamblers, and the wife was constantly changing the castle, removing much of Margaret’s beautiful marble work and replacing it with the heavy woods that are still there today.  They gambled the house away, and it fell into some other uses before finally becoming the Abbey that it is today, and now home of the Benedictine nuns. 

At Kylemore, the nuns reopened their international boarding school and established a day school for local girls. They also ran a farm and guesthouse; the guesthouse was closed after a devastating fire in 1959. In 2010, the Girl’s Boarding School was closed and the nuns have since been developing new education and retreat activities in addition to crafting items for sale in the Kylemore gift shop. 01 Galway to Sligo (55 of 173)01 Galway to Sligo (58 of 173)

Some especially interesting pieces in the Abbey were the tapestries, vestments, and paintings that were hidden by the Benedictine nuns while they were in exile in Belgium during the during the 16th century when Irish Catholics were under persecution by the protestants in control.

01 Galway to Sligo (81 of 173) We also loved the little church that Mitchell built for his wife after her death to honor her.  It was done in Gothic style, but all the decorations were lighthearted, with no gargoyles but only angels and flowers and vines.  It was beautiful, with pillars made with four colors of marble from the four provinces of Ireland.  01 Galway to Sligo (74 of 173) 01 Galway to Sligo (76 of 173) Just down the path from the church is the small mausoleum that contains the remains of Mitchell and Margaret.  Nearby is a triangular stone that is said to grant wishes if you can manage to toss a pebble backwards and get it over the stone.  Mo succeeded! 

01 Galway to Sligo (82 of 173) At Kylemore, there is a magnificent Victorian walled garden, with a perennial border like those I used to study in my English gardening books back in the days when I could actually grow something.  I do miss that Northern Idaho soil and climate.  Spokane  and the Inland Northwest is probably one of the best gardening sites I know of.

01 Galway to Sligo (94 of 173) 01 Galway to Sligo (98 of 173) 01 Galway to Sligo (106 of 173) 01 Galway to Sligo (112 of 173) We had plenty of time at the Abbey to enjoy the peaceful environment, have a snack and a coffee, do plenty of walking and take photos.  It was the perfect amount of time because when it was time to load up in the busses, I was completely ready to sit back and relax.  I have been wearing the fitbit, and Mo and I have been averaging much more than our 10,000 steps per day!

01 Galway to Sligo (119 of 173) 01 Galway to Sligo (120 of 173) Driving north we meandered along Killary Harbour, the only true fjord in Ireland, a place where the mountains meet the sea and there is no active river feeding the water.  01 Galway to Sligo (131 of 173) Of course, at the moment I can’t remember the name of the fjord, or the name of the town that was at the head of the fjord that experienced something like a huge flash flood just a few years ago, that wiped out the hotel and much of the town.  I have to look that one up as well, since Isabella referred often to the thought that no one really understood what actually happened or where the water came from.  Remember…no rivers there.  Just the shallow rocky slopes of the Connemara granite all around, reminding me a lot of the rocky parts of Southern Utah that generate huge flash floods when there is nowhere for the water to go and no infiltration.

01 Galway to Sligo (133 of 173) Along the shoreline where we stopped for photos of the fjord were some Druid trees.  Isabella seems to be quite receptive to sharing some of the Old Religion stuff, although she is fairly subtle about it  She made sure that we knew these were Druid trees, and to many of the people on the bus, had to explain that yes, the Druids are still around, and highly active in Ireland.  It is an earth religion, honoring the trees especially.  Isabella talked often of how the early Catholic monks so easily converted the Celts to Christianity because they kept many of the Pagan traditions and incorporated them into their rituals.

01 Galway to Sligo (165 of 173) 01 Galway to Sligo (167 of 173) As we continued north we came to one of the more delightful small towns along the way, the port village of Westport.  With an entire half hour to explore this wonderful town, it was a bit frustrating to get back on the bus.  There were shops that were full of really interesting crafts, weavings, art, and sidewalk cafes. 

We explored a real supermarket, with all sorts of wonderful fresh food, including fresh game meats, and many kinds of Irish butter.1-10-01-20105 Galway to Sligo

Ah yes…the tour thing.  Still, at least we got to enjoy it a bit and decided if we ever came back to Ireland, it would be another place to hang out for more time.

As we descended in elevation from the Connemara mountains, approaching the city of Castlebar, the landscape again began to shift.  The houses looked a lot bigger and the entire area felt quite affluent.  It felt much like the Bay Area of California.  Fewer little cottages, and a lot more quite large houses with solariums and gorgeous large estate like yards.

Although Mo and I have enjoyed the amazing clarity of the air for the last ten days, around Sligo that started to shift as well.  It looked as though there was a forest fire, and I asked if that ever happened in Ireland.  Oh no, Isabella reassured us, but the smoke that we saw and smelled was from the burning peat, the major source of fuel in this part of the country.

IMG_5287When we arrived at our hotel in Sligo, it was almost dark, and once settled in to the very strange very modern very brightly colored Glass House, we took to the streets to find something to eat.  Although the hotel had a restaurant, it was time for something different and we at least wanted to see a bit of the town along the river.  The pub was dark and much like all the others, so we passed it by, wandering down an area called the Italian Quarter.  Perfect.1-10-01-20105 Galway to Sligo1

The whatever it was named restaurant…(by the time this gets to the blog I will have the photos and will get all the names right)…. Bistro Bianconi was rated 4.5 stars by Tripadvisor and the smells emanating were enticing.  IMG_5299 We had a wonderful dinner, Mo had pizza and I had Spaghetti Napoletano, with Caesar salads to start and a great glass of Malbec.  We dined next to a nice couple from the tour, and noticed many others found their way to this restaurant, a nice break from all the Irish fare.  Even so, the Caesar salad was more Irish bacon and some other meat than lettuce.  I am getting really hungry for a LOT of greens and fresh veggies.

IMG_529801 Galway to Sligo (9 of 11) The hotel, right along the river, seemed like a big cruise ship, but was comfortable enough once we settled in.  Instead of 3 twin beds in a row, this time we had a huge king, and plenty of room to spread out with our “stuff”.  Although it was the only one night stop, so we really didn’t need to spread out that much. I was afraid the bright colors might keep us awake, but after our great day, and a great meal, with such a comfortable bed we didn’t have any trouble at all.

It is always fun trying to figure out the plumbing in other countries, and Ireland is no exception.  I couldn’t figure out how in the world anyone would get to the actual water tank portion of the toilet.  They seem to be installed directly in the wall, and the top of the area over where the tank should be is completely closed in.  Would have loved to talk to someone about this.

1-10-01-20105 Galway to Sligo2 The incredibly deep tubs are wonderful for a soak, and are so long you could slide right down to your chin, but what a bear to get in and out, especially with just these wiggly glass doors to hold on to.  Of course, the heated towel racks are a great luxury, but don’t do very well as handles.

For the rest of the photos for this amazing day, click here.

Next up:  North from Sligo, visiting Yeat’s grave at Drumcliffe, and leaving the Republic of Ireland to enter Northern Ireland.

09-30-2015 The Burren and the Cliffs of Moher

Ireland Day 10

Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-9 This morning dawned with the view from our hotel window of the stone wall with the cemetery behind it misted by fog.  Somehow the good night’s sleep and lack of doing stuff had re-energized my spirits and I wasn’t the least bit concerned about the fog.  This was our day to see the Cliffs of Moher, another extra excursion, one where the tour company was careful to warn us that it could be completely fogged in.  I decided I wasn’t going to worry about it, and if the fog lingered throughout our morning, I would just take misty foggy interesting photos of the invisible cliffs.

IMG_5234 In addition to the Cliffs of Moher, we were to explore the Burren.  With my trusty book on Irish geology, I had read about the sandstones and limestones of the Burren, perused the photos and the diagrams and stratigraphy but nothing really prepared me for the drama and wonder of this limestone uplifted plain adjacent to Galway Bay and gateway to the Aran Islands.  Who knew.

Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1) The route toward the Burren and the cliffs followed the coast along Galway Bay, with fog making everything misty and magical.  We passed the Flatley pub, owned by Michael Flatley’s parents, (creator of Riverdance) and stopped in another charming little village for a coffee and a rest stop. 

Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-13  Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-17 I expected to be enthralled with the cliffs, but had no idea that the Burren would be so magical.  The fog stayed with us for most of the drive south and west toward the cliffs, and yet as we went higher and higher into the wild landscape, the fog began to lift as well.  Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-8 Burren means “rocky place”, and it is an understatement.  The limestone plateau and glaciated mountains are some of the rockiest I have seen other than Southern Utah.  Most fascinating are the fields, all beautifully fenced with gorgeous limestone walls that were built from rocks gathered in the fields. 

Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-26 The soils are extremely shallow above the limestone, so in order to make something that could grow grass, farmers cleared the rocks, built the fences, and then covered the fields with seaweed and sand to make soil.  I couldn’t figure out how they kept them from being salty, other than the high precipitation leaching out the salts, and the process was completed over centuries.  Now the fields for the cows and sheep stand in sharp contrast to the extremely rocky and stony surrounding landscape.

Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-44 On the coastal portion of the Burren, we stopped on a cliff overlooking the sea to climb up into the Burren rocks.  It is a karst landscape, with the limestone dissolved by rainwater and has underground caverns and tunnels that are filled with air.  Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-45 This air comes in from the warmer areas along the shoreline and heats up under the ground, making the Burren much warmer than it should be based on its location.  Plants grow here from alpine to mediterranean in the grikes (deep cracks) between the clints (distinct blocks of solid limestone).  Botanists come from all over the world to study the plants growing here.

Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-35 Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-41 Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-42 We had a great time climbing and hunting for tiny flowers, breathing in the magnificent ocean views to the west.  I could spend a lot of time in this place exploring. Even with the sunshine , it was still a bit windy and chilly so Mo and I were happy for jackets and scarves which we haven’t had to use much so far on this trip.

Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-50 Not far from our stop at Black Head, we came to the beautiful visitor center for the Cliffs of Moher.  It is a newly built center, with a ton of parking for the big tour busses that must be a huge part of the Irish economy.  Built into the side of the mountain, it reflected the green mindset of much of what we have seen in Ireland.  It is a very green country, not only in color but in its commitment to the environment.

Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-59 Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-60 Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-63 Mo and I decided to begin our time at the cliffs with a visit to the center, but before we had much time inside, Isabella found us and said, “You need to get outside while you can since the fog has lifted and it could always come back”.  Best advice of the entire trip so far!

Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-67 Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-71 Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-77The Cliffs extend for several miles in both directions from the center, with paved trails that go both right and left.  We randomly decided to go right, and it was an excellent choice since we saw the iconic sites that I have drooled over in photos ever since I knew we were going to Ireland. Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-100 The cliffs are more than 600 feet high and are famous for their swirling winds that can blow people right off to the sea below.  A few years ago, Ireland built beautiful walls from the local slate to keep people safe from their own folly.  I would have been grateful for those walls if it had been windy or wet, but with a dry trail and very little wind, we felt just fine walking the narrow packed dirt pathways adjacent to the cliffs.

I can barely describe how this felt.  The paths are worn into deep soft green grass, with only a few places that have steep limestone steps to negotiate once it leaves the “official” pathway and becomes the “Burren Trail”. Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-84 From a high point, I suggested that Mo go ahead so I could get photos of her on the cliffs from a distance, and then I would go and she could return and get some of me.  It was a great plan, with photos that show the magnificence of the cliffs with each of us in turn looking very tiny next to the drops.

Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-89It was probably the most exhilarating hike I can remember.  Mo and I hiked the Na Pali coast on Kauai and this was every bit as thrilling and a whole lot easier without the steamy heat.  It is a world class iconic landscape, like seeing the Grand Canyon or Yosemite.  What an incredible treasure.

Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-81 This is the first night I have been especially frustrated with having no access to my photos to share with you. (Aren’t you glad you are reading the blog?!) I didn’t take the phone on the hike, which I have sometimes just to get a photo or two to put on facebook, but I suppose a phone photo of the cliffs would be a sad imitation anyway.  In fact, I think any photo would be a sad imitation of the real thing.  Put it on the list of ten things to see in the world.  Really.

Burren and the Cliffs of Moher (1 of 1)-105 The drive back to town was gorgeous as well, with the fog lifted and the sunshine illuminating all that wild landscape that we couldn’t see this morning.  The limestone steps of the Burren are huge mountains, glaciated in the last Ice Age, with the soft green valleys below a stark contrast to the rock.

This time, when we got back to the hotel, we didn’t linger long, and without even a change from our hiking boots, we took off walking toward the Spanish Arch, the Latin Quarter, the Pedestrian’s and Eire Square.  It was my goal to try an oyster in Galway, home of what are called the best oysters in the world.  Most pubs and restaurants have oysters, but I had hoped for something steamed or fried for my first time. 

quays pub Instead we landed at the Quays pub where they served fresh, raw oysters on the half shell. I ordered one, and it came with Tabasco, horseradish, and lots of lemon.  With a glass of Guinness for support, I loosened the little slimy squiggly thing with my fork, covered it with the stuff, and tipped up the shell.  I had no desire to actually taste it, much less try to chew it!.  What a surprise!  It slid down so fast there was no taste at all really, except for the incredibly delightful fresh smell of the sea beforehand.  Once it was down I looked at Mo in shock wondering…what is the big deal either way??  It happens so fast and there isn’t any real taste either.  So I have yet to see the lure of raw oysters, but maybe someone who loves them can tell me why they are so wonderful.  And yes, I will have to ask MBZ from Texas who swoons over Galway oysters, if she chews or what.

1-09-30-2015 Burren and the Cliffs of Moher After the little appetizer, we had fresh haddock fish and chips that was perfect.  Lightly breaded the way we love instead of that greasy beer batter stuff, it was the freshest sweetest white fish I can remember eating.  Served with a tasty salad of cole slaw and cucumbers and a whole dish of tartar sauce, we both managed to eat the entire portion and most of the wonderful chips (fat french fries) that are so prominent here in Ireland.

After dinner we found the  historic Spanish Arch,  the obligatory swans on the river, just two of them when we arrived, and the busy life on the pedestrians where folks were laughing and eating and walking and pubbing.  IMG_5248IMG_5255 Checking out a few of the pubs was fun, but after awhile they all begin to look the same.  They are lovely, though, with many small rooms and “snugs” and incredibly dark wood everywhere.  Most of the pubs we have been in have several bars on different levels and pretty cool art work. IMG_5280IMG_5253 IMG_5254 IMG_5261 IMG_5281I just can’t imagine all that drinking being the focus of life, which it definitely is in Ireland.  Probably not just the drinking, but all that laughing and singing and socializing must be a big part of the draw.  At 7 in the evening however, the party atmosphere hadn’t really begun in earnest, and my batteries suddenly ran out completely as we headed back to the hotel.IMG_5282

My mind is filled with the day, the cliffs, the rocks, the green fields and sheep, the sea.  Somehow the pubs take second place to all that, but I am still glad we found fabulous fish and that I finally ate an oyster.

Next: Another magnificent day at Connemara National Park and Kylemore Abbey

09-29-2015 Killarney to Bunratty Castle to Galway

Ireland Day 9 Killarney to Galway

01 Killarney to Bunratty (1 of 1) whewwwwwww……..I was trying to sleep, and realized that there was no way I would manage it till I sat down and wrote a bit about the last couple of days.  Melody, Deborah, Deanna, you keep me encouraged to keep it written when I might just give up in exhaustion.  Thanks, really for that.

(Writing on the evening of the 30th). The last two days have been as different as day and night.  Yesterday seemed long and dull, with my love affair with Ireland sorely tested by AFC  oh…excuse me    ABC.  Another bloody castle.  In Eastern Europe, Melody and I learned that a castle wasn’t really a house, it was more like a community fortress.  Well, here in Ireland, I have learned that a castle is more likely to be a house, a fortress for one family.  Most often in the form of a tower, and they are everywhere!  Often in ruins, but also in full fledged Disney mode, with Medieval Banquets and tours of the winding steps and stories of the murder holes.

01 Killarney to Bunratty (1 of 1)-60 The steps are narrow and the entry doors are tiny so that only one person can enter at a time.  They wind upwards in a corkscrew to the left so that right handed men who attempted to go up the stairs couldn’t manage to wield their swords.  They have dungeons, with stairs leading downward with the last step being a good 40 feet or so.  Your bones break with the drop and you lie there and die.  If you are attempting to raid the castle, and manage to get up the stairs, there is a place where the floor falls out from under you and you crash to the bottom, easy prey for boiling oil, or even worse, hot sand and rocks.  gee, sounds fun. 01 Killarney to Bunratty (1 of 1)-63

The first time we heard these stories at the Blarney Castle they were interesting, but the second time around at Bunratty Castle, it all seemed a bit tired.  Maybe it has something to do with me being more than a bit tired yesterday as we visited Bunratty Castle around midday and the Bunratty folk life village.

01 Killarney to Bunratty (1 of 1)-2 Morning dawned in Killarney yesterday with dull clouds and a dreary feel to the day.  The high point of the day actually came early in the morning immediately after we left when the bus driver took us on an impossibly narrow road to a high point overlooking Killarney National Park that was once a Druid site, and then a Christian site, and now just a beautiful site overlooking Killarney Lake and the Killarney mountains across the valley.

Once we left the beautiful area of County Kerry and Killarney, we spent the rest of the day on the Irish version of a freeway, except for a dip into the little village of Adare. 01 Killarney to Bunratty (1 of 1)-21 One of the iconic images of Ireland has always been the charming little thatched cottages, but I had no idea what was actually involved in creating and maintaining a thatched roof.

01 Killarney to Bunratty (1 of 1)-24 As Isabel said, only the well-to-do can afford such a luxury, with the maintenance requiring up to 60,000 Euros every five years or so from very specialized craftsmen, who are in short supply.  Walking the charming town was interesting, and while the thatched roof cottages only date from the recent early 1800’s, they were fascinating.  All through the town were lovely gardens and charming cottages. 

01 Killarney to Bunratty (1 of 1)-28 01 Killarney to Bunratty (1 of 1)-29 The story of the burning of some of these historic cottages just last summer was a sad one, with no real date as to when they can be replaced. An old pigeon cove was in back of the visitor center, another very old historic structure. 

01 Killarney to Bunratty (1 of 1)-45 We continued northwest toward Bunratty, which didn’t appear to be any kind of town anywhere near the castle attraction.  The “authentic” folk village was charming and interesting in some respects, with thatched roof cottages, but more importantly, for the first time we smelled burning peat.  Traditionally the major heating source for much of Ireland, the peat blocks were stacked like firewood  ready for winter.  01 Killarney to Bunratty (1 of 1)-41

01 Killarney to Bunratty (1 of 1)-39We did enjoy the castle tour in spite of the Disney feeling.  It was nice seeing the local school kids who emerged from their tour just as we approached for ours.

01 Killarney to Bunratty (1 of 1)-46Isabella had figured out by this time that I was into rocks and geology and she was careful to point out the fossils embedded in the 600 year old slate floors.  Once again, tucked away in a corner was another Sheela Na Gig bas relief.  The furnishings and tapestries reminded me of you Deborah, and all your love of fine tapestries.  It is amazing to me that these incredibly intricate thread paintings can last so long and still be so beautiful.01 Killarney to Bunratty (1 of 1)-48 01 Killarney to Bunratty (1 of 1)-50 01 Killarney to Bunratty (1 of 1)-5101 Killarney to Bunratty (1 of 1)-64 01 Killarney to Bunratty (1 of 1)-65 The thing about a tour that can get really tiresome is the timing.  The day before, when we wanted to spend a lot of time at some place or the other, we were allotted 20 minutes. Today, at Bunratty Castle, when our tour was completed, where there wasn’t a thing to look at except another huge WalMart of Ireland Blarney Woolen Mills, and an old bridge in the midst of reconstruction, we were allotted three very long hours.  01 Killarney to Bunratty (1 of 1)-70 I did finally figure out that it might have something to do with check in time in Galway, and the city was just another hour or so north of the Bunratty stop.  Mo and I managed to while away the time with a Southwick Amber Ale, another quite tasty beer that was similar to my favorite Alaskan Amber.

The pub on the corner across the street from the castle was called Dirty Nellie’s, and it claimed to have been in existence since 1600 something.  It was a pub for the officers who guarded the castle, so seemed authentic enough, and the smoked salmon and brie panini I had for lunch was excellent.

01 Killarney to Bunratty (1 of 1)-7401 Killarney to Bunratty (1 of 1)-68 By the time we reached the busy city of Galway, with 77K residents and traffic, we were both so dang tired we couldn’t stand the thought of doing one more thing.  Isabella gave us all sorts of instructions for where to find a pub, which pubs were the good ones, where to shop, where to eat.  Really, Isabella??  Although I have to admit, there are a few travelers with us who are shopping wonders, coming back to the bus with bags and bags of stuff and always wanting to find more. 

Especially good at the shopping thing is this couple from who knows where, but the woman is Greek and has rocks on all her fingers that are blinding, a laugh you can hear anywhere, and a very fun and friendly and ohgodkeepmeawayfromher kind of personality.  Her husband is even louder, and he is the one that always has the Irish Whiskey in his water bottle all day, has made good friends with Isabella who ambles to the back of the bus for a nip now and then, and loves to pull out his wallet to indulge his wife. They spent a few thousand dollars at the Waterford Crystal shop.  Actually, before the tour was over, I found myself really appreciating this sweet couple who were celebrating 30 years of marriage with this tour of Ireland.P1040827

They have gathered an entourage of party folks who like to bask in their kind of light and drink and shop as much as they do.  I heard that at the medieval banquet last night (which we were grateful was an optional excursion so we could skip it), they were the ones chosen and crowned King and Queen for the evening.

IMG_5283harbour-hotel-galwayWhen we first arrived at the Harbour Hotel Yesterday afternoon, we looked at each other in dismay.  The hotel facade looked like some sort of industrial building, and the view to the east was of a giant stone wall.  Once inside, however, everything seemed quite pleasant, and the hotel was very nice.

harbour-hotel-galway-18-560x360I can’t believe that I didn’t even take a photo of our room, but with one bed instead of our three this photos is a pretty good rendition.

Mo and I were gratefully on the same page with each other, and at the same moment.  We needed down time! After checking into our room, with a nice window that opened, and another huge bathtub, we had jammies on within minutes and were settled in for the evening.  We were both perfectly willing to crash with no supper, but room service was available so we ordered a salad and a sandwich and a glass of wine.  No shopping, no pubbing, no walking, and finally some sleep in a comfortable bed with nice duvets and decent pillows.  The bed situation is funny.  We have had everything from one queen bed, to a queen and a twin, and this time three twin beds in a row.  Always nice to have a bed to throw stuff on.  Sleep was long and sweet, and neither of us felt the slightest twinge at missing explorations of City Galway.

More photos from this day are linked here

Next: Another high point of the trip, The Burren and the Cliffs of Moher.