Warm wishes for a Christmas filled with love, joy, and peace.
Time to return home September 20, 2019
Our final morning in Ireland started with some last minute adjustments to our bags and a light breakfast. Our taxi arrived a bit early and I was feeling good about having plenty of time to get checked in and settled before the flight. The Dublin airport has two terminals and I had studied the website the previous night to make sure I knew which terminal we needed to go to. My memory isn’t the best, though, and when the taxi driver asked which terminal I couldn’t be sure I remembered correctly. There were signs for other airlines but not Iceland Air so I took a guess and we got out at Terminal 2. (Don’t hold me to this, it could change and may have since we were there. I checked the website at the time of this writing and found Iceland Air currently departs from terminal 2)
That was wrong. We asked for directions and found the skyway connecting the two terminals and hurried to find the check-in counter, where of course there was a line. We really had plenty of time, but waiting in lines before a flight makes me anxious. When I travel in the U.S. I always use the airline’s app, do the online check-in with the digital boarding pass and only have to worry about the security line.
Before too long we were at the counter checking in. As you may recall, we were supposed to fly home the day prior, but the airline had allowed us to extend an extra day to make up for arriving so late on the inbound flight. The change had seemed to go seamlessly until we checked in. Yes, they had our seat reservation but the checked bags and meals we had prepaid for hadn’t transferred to the new departure.
I wish I had made note of the name of the ticket agent as she was truly wonderful. She made some phone calls and received approval to check our bags without any additional fees. The food, though, she couldn’t help us with. We weren’t getting the meals until the second leg of the flight from Iceland to Orlando, so I figured I would try to work something out during the layover. Boarding passes in hand and checked luggage handled, we went in search of the VAT refund desk.
If you haven’t traveled to a country with a Value Added Tax (VAT) allow me to explain. This tax is only applicable to residents and those traveling outside the VAT zone are eligible to file for a refund on goods purchased that are being exported to their home. Food or services consumed during the trip are not eligible for any refund. To make it a bit more complicated, there are different ways you can refund the VAT. Some shops complete paperwork right at the time of sale exempting you from being charged the VAT to begin with; some provide you with a lengthy receipt that has to be turned in before leaving the country, and then there is the Horizon card. This card is swiped at participating stores and then you swipe it at the airport before departing for your refund to be processed. Some stores have clear signs about which process they follow, most do not.
Then there is the hunt to find the VAT Refund desk in the airport. The first set of directions we received seemed pretty good, turn at the sweets shop. Well, the Dublin Airport has multiple sweets shops. Were we supposed to turn at the chocolate cafe or one of the smaller shops that appeared every few feet?
We stopped and asked again then headed back the way we’d come. This time we saw a small sign that seemed to indicate what we were looking for. We turned down a hallway nearly bereft of people and found two desks with one person at each and some kiosks in between. We handed them our papers and they helped us with the documents that needed to be mailed then directed us to the kiosks to swipe our cards for the remaining transactions. When it was all said and done, I think I got back $7 or $8 US Dollars, certainly not more than $15. A number of my souvenir’s purchased in smaller shops apparently didn’t have the appropriate receipts. So, if you are considering applying for a VAT refund, consider if it is worth the headache of trying to figure out how many processes you want to follow and how much time you want to invest in finding the refund desk.
We arrived at the gate with plenty of time to spare and had an uneventful flight from Dublin to Reykjavik. Once we landed, we found an Iceland Air customer service desk and asked about our meals. Sadly, these agents weren’t as kind as the women in Ireland. Here we were told we were out of luck, that the food had to be ordered 24-hours in advance and no they couldn’t refund us what we had paid. Off we went in search of something to eat since it was an 8+hour flight. The cost was exorbitant and the choices were limited in the secure area. I wasn’t about to go through customs to get to the services outside security after the fiasco I’d had on the way into the country so I bit the bullet and bought an assortment of snacks.
Where the Dublin Airport was packed with various shops and places to eat, Reykjavik-Keflavik Airport was sparse and laid out in an almost clinical style, at least in the secure area. I don’t recall too much about the area outside security from our inbound flight. I was too tired and traumatized by the trip getting there I didn’t register too many of the sights.
There was a nearly a 4-hour layover and I don’t think I relaxed until the plane was in the air, worried about possible delays. All went well, though, and we landed in Orlando around 10:00pm. By the time we returned to my house and shared some highlights with my parents who had been house/cat sitting, it was after 1am local time (7:00am Dublin time) and we’d been up since 6:00am Dublin time. Tired but filled with many happy memories I fell into bed.
A few general thoughts and comments about the trip.
Since returning home, my mom has gotten a genealogy bug and has located a number of Irish and Scottish ancestors on both my maternal and paternal sides. I knew there had to be some Irish and Scottish blood in my veins as the land seemed to call out to me and I felt so completely at home everywhere we went. Now, of course, I need to make a trip to Scotland to explore my heritage there.
I love hats, but don’t get to wear them too often in Florida. I hate it when my head gets hot and sweaty. I wore one everyday in Ireland. I had 3 to choose from but I ended up only wearing two of them. One, a black wool knit cap my parents gave me for Christmas just a few months before the trip was perfect. It was warm, snug on my head against the strong winds, and remarkably rain resistant. Many thanks to the folks at Three Eagle Outfitters that recommended this hat to my mom.
One concern before we left Florida had to do with chronic neck, shoulder, and back pain. I have found that DoTerra’s Deep Blue cream works wonders on these pains so I stocked up on travel packets in case I had a flare during the trip. I took 20 packets with me and only needed to use two or three. That was a blessing.
On our inbound flight I had used a shopping bag as my personal item, which had been less than ideal. For the return I used a High Sierra packable backpack I’d brought along for day trips and this was much more efficient. I used this bag several days during the trip and it proved water repellent. It was a nice lightweight and when not in use packed into a compact rectangle. On the return trip, this held my iPad, camera case, itinerary notebook, a couple of the books I had purchased, wallet, cell phone and a few other sundries. The side pockets were great for holding my water bottle and some snacks. During day trips I was able to secure the zippers by using a carabiner to link all three together, making it at least a bit more difficult for a thief to quickly reach into the bag.
Once we were home, I contacted Iceland Air about the challenges we had encountered and I was pleased with the resolution they provided over email. The online customer support was much nicer than the agents we spoke with in the airport itself. We were able to get our return meals refunded and under European Union regulations were compensated for the inbound delay, with all the funds in our accounts within approximately 48 hours of wrapping up our correspondence.
I am sad to be ending this series and haven’t decided what my next series is going to be on quite yet so I will be taking a couple of weeks off. I will post some of my favorite pictures from the trip that didn’t make it into previous posts in the interim, though. Between Tricia and I we have close to 5,000 photos/videos! We’ve been home nearly 7 months and I just received copies of her photos this past weekend. I’m looking forward to looking through them to get her perspective on the trip.
Thanks for taking this journey with me. I look forward to sharing something new and interesting in October.
Some of the links above are affiliate links and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. There is no charge to you and I only link to items I have purchased myself.
A Wee Dram September 13, 2019
Our final full day in Ireland dawned gray with a misty rain. Over breakfast we met another pair of women who were on the second half of a whirlwind tour of Scotland and Ireland. We had a nice chat, swapping stories of our adventures thus far, then Tricia and I headed to the bus stop for one last round of sightseeing.
We’d been told by the B&B owner we could purchase a LEAP card to use on all the public transport at any convenience store. We found one blocks from the bus stop and stopped in to ask about the card. The clerk asked how long we would be using it and when he learned it was only for the day he explained we’d be better off just paying the bus fare.
There were plenty of locals waiting at the stop and one was able to help us out. The bus was quite nice, with comfortable seats, free wi-fi and a cozy temperature. I think I may have fallen asleep for a few minutes because I don’t recall much of the 30-minute ride.
When we got off the bus, we were right by the River Liffey and only a few blocks east of O’Connell Street. We planned to us the Hop On-Hop Off passes we had intended for our first day, so we made our way to the tourist office where the buses started from to get our tickets validated.
Our original plan was to ride the bus through a complete circuit then debark at our points of interest on the next trip around. Unfortunately, there was much more traffic than there had been during our previous trips around town earlier the previous week and the going was slow. When we reached Christ Church Cathedral we decided to get off and start our visits.
What a magnificent structure! I can’t imagine what the upkeep costs are for these massive cathedrals. The marble carvings and intricate ironwork is breathtaking. I had wanted to attend a choral program at either Christ Church or St. Patrick’s while we were in Dublin, but that didn’t work out with our delayed arrival. We did, however, get to be a part of noon prayers and the priest recited the Lord’s Prayer in Irish, which was pretty cool. There were also some workers finishing what appeared to be a restoration of some stones in the exterior courtyard and they asked me to help them seat the final stone. That was a cool experience. I wish we’d gotten a picture.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral wasn’t all that far away, however, my sense of direction is terrible and so we ended up going a number of blocks out of the way to find it. This was its own adventure though, taking us into more local streets with fruit stalls and quaint private courtyards. As we wandered I recognized some of the street signs from the Irish Country Doctor books. The main character, Fingal O’Reilly started his career in medicine in Dublin after graduating from Trinity College and served the poor souls of the Liberties, where I now found myself walking. They weren’t as run down now as back in the 1930s, when Fingal’s story was set.
On the walk from Christ Church to St. Patrick’s we must have passed three or four other large churches as well. The good people of Dublin certainly can’t say it’s too far a walk to get to a church!When we reached St. Patrick’s we were struck by the difference in size compared to Christ Church. It’s still a lovely cathedral and has characteristics that make it special in its own way. I was experiencing some back pain so I spent a good bit of time sitting down while Tricia went out to explore here. While I sat staring up at the stone ceiling I marveled how the builders had managed to create such a work of art that has stood the test of time. I couldn’t help but wonder what could cause the stones to be shaken loose, toppling down onto our heads.
From St. Patrick’s we joined the bus tour again, passing the Guinness Storehouse, Kilmainham Jail (another place I had wanted to visit), Phoenix Park, and a number of other sites I would have liked to have taken in. If you want to do the sights of Dublin via the Hop On-Hop Off bus I would recommend at least a 2 day pass. One day simply isn’t enough time when everything closes at 5:00 or 6:00 pm.
When we completed the loop and returned to the starting point, we debarked and crossed the street to the General Post Office. Known as the GPO, this was the site of the Rebellion stronghold during the 1916 Easter Rebellion. The GPO Witness History is an interactive experience that immerses visitors in the events of the Rebellion and was one of my must see destinations on this trip. By this time I had a migraine and my back was hurting, but it was still an interesting experience.
Because the exhibits are interactive, it does take longer to go through, but I was thrilled to see so many people really taking the time to experience everything. In addition to the exhibits, there’s a great 17 minute movie that takes visitors through the week-long struggle using old news footage, animation, a map of the city, and a timeline.
The gift shop has a broad selection of books on the rebellion, its leaders, and woman of the rebellion. I would have liked to have brought them all home, but my suitcase was quite full and my bank account would have been very unhappy so I only purchased two along with an ornament for my Christmas tree.
It was already close to dinner time and we had missed lunch, so we went in search of food. We headed toward the Temple Bar area where Tricia had found Gallagher’s Boxty House on Yelp. The city was much more crowded than the previous week, with St Patrick’s Day just around the corner there were vendors on every street corner with kitchy Irish stuff. We found the restaurant , which was nearly too warm with a fire going, but we were seated right away and the food smelled good. Tricia ordered a Gaelic boxty and I chose a hamburger. The hamburger I ordered was one of the best I’ve ever had.
I don’t drink much, a glass of wine now and then, but I really wanted to have a Jameson’s as that is what the good doctor Fingal O’Reilly always has at the end of a day. I got up the nerve to order it and, while I sipped it throughout the entire meal, I kind of enjoyed it. I doubt I could ever do more than one serving but on occasion in Ireland…
Feeling restored after a good meal, we hit the streets again in search of those final souvenirs we could tuck into the small spaces of our suitcases and give out as gifts to our friends back home. As the rain began to sprinkle again, we made our way back to the bus stop where a long queue was forming. We ended up being some of the last allowed to board the full bus. As much as I wanted to take a short nap, I was anxious to not miss our stop.
Back at the B&B the trial of making everything fit into our suitcases began. The compression bags we had used seemed to have lost some of their compression powers from being opened and closed so many times during the trip. It was close to midnight before we unlocked the puzzle and fit everything in.
Come back next week for a final recap of this memorable adventure.
Round and Round We Go September 6, 2019
Before we get back to the Irish adventure, please join me in praying for the people of the Bahamas. The devastation is tragic. I am thankful the storm stayed off shore when it reached Florida. The projections of this storm continuing up the U.S. coast and possibly into the Canadian maritimes as a hurricane is frightening. If you are in the path of Dorian, please take it seriously and stay safe.
The Hill of Tara, much like the Rock of Cashel, has a mythical quality to it in my mind. Both sites are so wrapped in legend and history it is hard to separate the two. I read about both in my teens or early twenties, a time when I was prone to romanticism and their deep ties to ancient lore seeped into my being. So mysterious is the Hill, we nearly missed it.
We exited the motorway and drove for what felt like hours down tiny “local” roads. I caught glimpses of some massive homes, wishing I could take my eyes of the road long enough to appreciate them. I wish we’d kept better track of time because I know we couldn’t have spent as long on this little road as it felt, but the next thing we know the GPS is telling us we have arrived and we are parked in front of a gate that looks like it goes into a private field.
I backed up and turned around, driving up the lane a little ways to a parking area. When we initially passed it we thought it was for a restaurant and couple of shops, but decided to park and see if one of the shop owners could point us in the right direction.
The shop owner assured us we were in the right direction and advised us to walk up the hill to a gate that should be open, but if not we could climb over it. Once we knew where we were going we noticed how obvious it should have been.
A biting wind tore at us as we walked up the hill, increasing in strength the higher we climbed. It’s not a long climb, but I’m sure the wind strengthened at least 5-10 miles per hour from where we started to the top. Gray clouds that had thinly veiled the sun on our drive grew thicker and more menacing.
We reached an old church first and it exuded a creepiness that Edgar Alan Poe would have reveled in. A tall tree, bare of any leaves, held dozens of huge nests with large black birds roosting, their cawing loud as if trying to drown out the roaring wind.
I’m not a fan of horror movies but I’ve seen a couple and I could imagine every terrible creature feeling quite at home in the church cemetery. I did wander around to take some photos, but honestly I couldn’t get out of the churchyard fast enough.
Once outside the cemetery wall, we wandered the rolling mounds of the Tara complex. The view from this height is stunning, even on a cloudy evening like ours. It’s said on a clear day, half of Ireland’s counties can be seen from this perch.
Some of the mounds had signs telling what ruins had been found below the ground and one was fenced off, I believe for an upcoming archeological dig. In case you’ve never heard about Tara, this was the seat of the high kings of Ireland and legend has it St. Patrick visited here in 433 AD. Going back even further in history, is the “Mound of Hostages”, a passage tomb and the oldest visible monument, which dates back to about 3000 BC.
For a historical fiction account of the era, particularly the triumph of Brian Boru I recommend two books that drew me into the lore of this place, Lion of Ireland and Pride of Lions by Morgan Llywelyn. The links I included above provide more information about the monuments you can now see as well as the history of the area.
We wrapped up our exploration when our fingers were too numb to take pictures and headed to our Bed & Breakfast in Swords. This was supposed to be our last night in Ireland so we had chosen a place a few miles from the airport and were scheduled to return the rental car that evening. It took a little over an hour to reach Swords, but Sibonah (the car GPS) didn’t want to be very helpful when it came to locating the B&B. I don’t know why we had decided to use her rather than one of our phones since she’d been unreliable the few previous times we had used her. All I can think is we were tired.
We made a couple of circles before reaching the B&B with a tiny driveway. We unloaded our suitcases and hauled them up to the second floor room. The hostess was a bit of an odd duck and was more concerned about a bag bumping the wall than our struggle up the stairs. Her cat was much friendlier, though, and provided a dose of comfort before we steeled our nerves for the drive to the airport car rental return.
This is the point when the wheels nearly fell off the bus. Tricia and I were both tired and we hadn’t had a real meal since breakfast. We were only 3 kilometers from the airport, but it must have taken us half an hour to figure out where the rental return was located. We drove round and round, getting more tense with each circle. Of course there was a ton of traffic also making it even harder to maneuver. I was trying to stay calm but I could feel the frustration rolling off Tricia in the passenger seat. I figured out to pull into a hotel parking lot on the edge of the airport property and sent Tricia in to see if she could get directions but that ended up making her more frustrated.
I sent up a silent prayer for guidance and headed out of the hotel, taking a different exit from the roundabout than we’d taken the other times and it turned out to be correct. It took a couple of minutes to get the car turned in then we were shuttled back to the airport terminal area to wait for a bus. This was the first experience with bus transportation for either of us, not just in Ireland but anywhere in the world.
The B&B owner had given us some directions on how to get to the bus stop near her house and the name of a bus, but she spoke so fast neither one of us was sure we’d gotten the information correct. A lady who worked at the airport joined us at the stop and we asked her about the bus. She was kind and provided us with the information we needed, then made sure we boarded the correct bus when it arrived. We managed to find the correct stop to get off and then had to walk a few blocks back to the house. A light rain had started again and we were thrilled to get back to our room.
Thank goodness for an in-room kettle and several bags of tea. Instead of venturing back out to find dinner, we made tea and finished off the pastries we’d purchased at Lidl early in the day. A cup of hot tea, a hot shower, and a bed have never been so appreciated.
Hurricane Dorian August 30, 2019
I’ve been kept busy this week with tracking and preparing for what is now Hurricane Dorian. Next week I will continue posting about my Ireland adventure with an essay on our visit to the Hill of Tara next week.
To all those in the ever-changing path of the storm, stay safe.
Rain Drops & Blossoms August 23, 2019
I could have spent longer exploring the shops of Galway but we were scheduled to meet up with another of Tricia’s friends from Facebook for dinner. We returned to the B&B and shared some our adventures with our hostess Pauline. The laundry we had left drying that morning was mostly dry by this time and Pauline had even been kind enough to fold them. She truly went above and beyond to help us out of this mess. We left a handful of stubbornly damp items by the fire and went to freshen up before heading to Donnelly’s pub.
Donnelly’s was one of the places recommended to us by the couple we’d met during our delay in Iceland and Pauline had highly recommended it as well. Turns out that Tricia’s friend Clare and her husband George also often stop in here when they are visiting Galway.
We arrived shortly after 7:00 pm with Clare and George only a few minutes behind. An observer would have thought Tricia had known this couple for decades the conversation flowed so quickly upon their arrival. With a very few exceptions, everyone we met in Ireland was warm and friendly. George and Clare were generous, funny, and just lovely to chat with.
We stayed out way too late and by the time we returned to the cottage the wind was howling. I lay in bed listening to it rage against the walls and felt like I was back in Florida during a hurricane. The morning came and despite the vicious wind, there didn’t appear to be any damage around the cottage. We packed up, something that was becoming a more arduous task as we accumulated souvenirs that hadn’t yet found a home within our suitcases. Pauline was already at work, so after checking several times to make sure we had collected everything we locked up and dropped the keys through the mail slot. (I love that there was a mail slot! I’ve never seen one in real life before.)
In our original plan, this would have been our last day in Ireland so we were headed back toward Dublin. Since we had been able to extend the trip a day to make up for our delay arriving, (if you missed that misadventure click here) we were able to take a more leisurely drive from Galway to Dublin. We decided to stop at Birr Castle, about 90 minutes from the cottage.
The sun was shining, with the ubiquitous clouds so we debated wearing our raincoats, but decided to risk it. At the ticket counter, we learned the castle itself wasn’t open yet for the season, but the grounds were and I really wanted to walk around. I’d seen some of the grounds on Netflix, Tales of Irish Castles, and was looking forward to exploring.
Just past the welcome center/gift shop, is a large play area for children with a gigantic tree fort. I imagine this place is mobbed with kids in the summers. Since we were the only people around, Tricia and I had to detour through the fort to check it out.
A fine mist began once we left the play area, but quickly turned to a steadier drizzle. We jogged across an open expanse to a small pavilion and caught our first glimpse of the castle; truly an impressive sight. The Parsons family has lived here for more than 400 years! One of the Earls in the 1800s was fascinated with astronomy and had a giant telescope constructed. It remained the largest in the world until 1917.
When the rain reduced to a light mist again, we ventured from the cover of the pavilion and within an hour the sun was shining again. There are more than 120 acres of gardens to explore, so it could take a person days for a full examination. There are so many picturesque spots that I imagine many of the residents have at least dabbled in painting trying to capture the beauty. A river with rushing rapids nearly kisses the base of the castle wall then makes a stately path through the property.
Despite the chilly weather, there were a number of flowers blooming. I’m enamored with fresh blooms and trying to capture their beauty in photographs so I took more than a few artsy photos here. One area had a walkway of cherry trees which were in bloom. I felt like I was walking into a cotton candy tunnel. I don’t know if a picture could possibly do justice to this area.
At some point my mom texted to tell us to be careful driving as Winter Storm Gareth had moved onshore overnight and was said to be causing flooding. This information helped explain the crazy wind the previous night. The flooding wasn’t surprising either. I believe I mentioned earlier that there had been rain for weeks prior to our arrival as well as pretty much every day of our trip. Most of the rivers, streams and lakes we had passed were exceptionally high, just waiting for one more storm to push them over the banks.
Tricia finally pulled me away from the gardens and we tried to get lunch at The Thatch, a pub a mile or so from the castle. She’d found it on Yelp and was set on having lunch there. When we arrived there wasn’t a single car and I deduced it wasn’t open yet but she insisted we try the door, which of course was locked. We headed for the motorway again, hoping to find another place to eat along the way.
We weren’t too far down the road when we came to a Lidl grocery store. I’d been wanting to visit one since landing in Dublin. I had seen one on a map near our first hotel, but with all of the chaos of our arrival hadn’t even thought to look for it while we were there.
I managed to convince Tricia to stop here and we wandered through. I frequent Aldi in my hometown so was interested to see how the two stores compared. I have to say, the bakery gives Lidl a bit of a boost. We purchased several baked treats for lunch and set off for the Hill of Tara.
Day of Discovery August 16, 2019
We woke Tuesday morning and found our excellent hostess, Pauline, had left out a bag of clothespins as well as her “clothes horse” drying rack. Tricia had sent Pauline a message during the laundry fiasco to see if it would be okay for us to use the clothesline. Pauline hadn’t received the message until that morning and left us a sweet note. Before we even had breakfast, we transferred all the clothes to either the line or the clothes horse, tried to stoke the fire to get the room warmer in hopes of the clothes drying faster, and went about getting ready for the day’s outing.
The sun was shining and the wind was whipping so I was hopeful the clothes would dry quickly. We pulled out of the driveway and were maybe ten yards from the cottage when it started hailing. Well, hail isn’t as bad as rain, I thought, and it’s not coming down very hard. By the time we reached the end of the street, it had become a downpour, so we turned around and hurried to pull the clothes in off the line.
Back on the road, our first stop was a place we’d discovered the previous day on the way to the Cliffs of Moher. Hazel Mountain Chocolate is a small, family-run operation. You can view their facility and sample the chocolates, visit the gift shop or grab a bite in the cafe. They start with raw beans that they roast and mill themselves. Luke was manning the shop and provided us with an overview of the factory process. The resulting liquid is poured into molds and aged for three weeks before being turned into its final form. What they do is really an art. We bought truffles and chocolate bars to take home and Luke told us about a nearby Abbey he thought we might enjoy visiting.
Next we headed to The Burren Perfumery. I stumbled across this place on Instagram and it sounded so interesting I was glad we were able to fit it into our schedule. The road into it was maybe the smallest we had been on with high grass and bushes pressing in on either side. I was sure we’d made a wrong turn but then, in the middle of nowhere a sign indicated a turn and within a few seconds we were in the parking lot.
What a charming place! I felt like I was walking into something out of a fairy tale. A friendly lady greeted us as soon as we entered and took the time to explain each of the perfumes made on the premises and gave us a quick tour of the other products available. There is also a short film visitors can watch about the Burren. It’s a landscape of strange beauty that is both harsh and home to great beauty. We learned that perfumes change once they have been on your skin for a time and interact with your body chemistry. The associate recommended we try our favorite scent and allow it to transition for several minutes before making a choice. I liked all of the choices, but Winter Woods was unlike any perfume I’ve known before. It’s earthy and evoked within me a picture of a thatched cottage on a crisp night, a crackling fire in the hearth and a good book waiting to be read.
This is also a family-run company and in addition to the perfumes they make balms, soaps, and skin care item. There is an herb garden right behind the tea room that even in the days before spring truly arrived was still a place of rugged beauty. I could have spent a small fortune here, but I only came home with one bottle of Winter Woods perfume. However, they ship for free to anywhere in the world if you spend 60 euros on their website.
Upon leaving the perfumery, we started looking for the abbey Luke had mentioned. We knew it couldn’t be far, he’d said something about it being across from the Chocolate Factory. How we missed the sign for it on the way to the perfumery I don’t know, but we caught it the second time and turned down a gravel road that ended at Corcomore Abbey.
This abbey was found around 1195 by Cistercian monks and holds the tomb of Conor O’Brien, king of the territory once known as Thomond. Aside from the missing roof, the ruins are in remarkable condition. We were the only visitors for close to thirty minutes. We were surprised by the number of graves that had fresh flowers on them and there was even a crypt with a burial from as recent as the early 2000s.
When another family arrived, we decided to move on. This was a slower paced day and we hoped to explore the shops in Galway a bit before meeting another friend of Tricia’s for dinner. Pauline had given us tips on places to shop and we found a parking garage with ease. Parking was another matter. I was sure the top of the car was going to scrape the ceiling of the garage and the spots were tiny. Thank goodness Tricia was driving.
It turned out the garage we had stumbled on was in an ideal location with the Aran Sweater Market steps away. I still hadn’t purchased a sweater yet and time was running out so I went inside while Tricia visited the jewelry shop across the street. I tried on a dozen sweaters, with three or four becoming quick favorites. There was another lady trying a bunch of things on also and we struck up a conversation. She and her husband were from Alaska, so it made sense she was planning on taking at least a couple of sweaters home.
I wasn’t ready to make a commitment by the time Tricia arrived and decided to see if there were any other shops that might have a sweater like the one I’d seen in Bunratty. The street was closed to cars, paved with bricks, and lined with shops, cafes, or restaurants. With street performers and banners stretched across the street there was quite a festive air.
We visited a number of shops, but no other sweaters caught my fancy so we returned to the Aran Market and I chose two to have shipped home. I also found a knit hat for my dad, whose head is always cold in the winter, and a small sheep to always remember our close encounters.
Cliffs and Castles August 9, 2019
The drive from Kylemore to the town of Barna, just outside Galway City, took about an hour and we arrived at Furrymelia Cottage around 6:00 pm. Pauline, the B&B hostess, was waiting to greet us and hurried to put the kettle on. When she heard we hadn’t eaten dinner she even fixed us some sandwiches and pulled out some cookies to go with our tea.
The kitchen had a cozy seating area with a wood-burning stove for heat. We sat in here getting to know Pauline and found out she had been down in Killarney the previous day and had raced home that morning to make sure she was there for our arrival. Her husband had remained in Killarney for a work project so it ended up being just the three of us in the house for the whole stay.
When we decided to retire for the night, Pauline fixed us hot water bottles. What a wonderful touch! I drifted off with the warmth of that bottle easing the tightness in my lower back from so much walking.
Monday morning we arose and found a continental breakfast laid out for us. Pauline gets up early to go swimming before work but made sure we had a nice selection of options to start the day. There was fruit, yogurt, a couple different jams, bread, cereal, and of course a selection of teas. There was also a small plate with what looked like cubes of cheese.
I had started the keto diet a couple of months before leaving on this trip and tried to keep close to it during the travels so I was excited to see the cheese. I put several cubes on my plate. When I ate the first one it didn’t taste like any cheese I’d had before and slowly it dawned on me that it was butter! Knowing we were going to have a long day I shrugged and ate the rest of my cubes thinking about the wonderful fat content they were providing. Plus, it was some of the best butter I’ve ever tasted.
The skies were cloudy again and I kept hoping it would clear up as we were headed to the Cliffs of Moher. We took the more scenic Wild Atlantic Way rather than the motorway. It provided some excellent views but boy was the road rough. I would like to drive the whole Wild Atlantic Way, though. It meanders through small villages and along beautiful coastline that could take an entire month to explore.
We arrived at the Cliffs of Moher and while the sun was shining, there was still a gray haze in the air that made getting good pictures difficult. I’ve seen such vibrant pictures that I felt let down not being able to experience that vibrancy myself. There are pathways along the cliffs outside the official boundaries of the park, but they don’t have any safety features and people get blown off them by the whipping winds every year. We did venture out a few feet and Tricia wanted a picture near the edge, but I wasn’t about to risk going over the side. There was another pair of women out there. I offered to take their picture together but there was one sensible like me who didn’t want to risk it either.
From the Cliffs we headed back south to Bunratty Castle. We arrived in time for lunch and stopped in a pub called the Creamery Bar. This was one of the disappointments for me. The service was terrible and the food was just meh. Later we found out we could have gone across the street to Durty Nelly‘s, one of the oldest pubs in Ireland.
Bunratty has been around since the 15th century and is starkly medieval. I don’t know how mothers navigated the narrow stairways carrying children. They are quite treacherous, especially when going down. It was interesting to see how spartan and rustic some rooms were, but one, the private family dining room was almost elegant.
There is also a “village” set up around the castle, with more than 30 buildings representing village life. We didn’t have enough time to fully explore this area or partake in the medieval banquet that was being served that night, but I would recommend it if you are planning to visit the area.
After exploring Bunratty we visited the shops across the street. I finally found a sweater that I really loved, but this shop wanted me to spend 250 euros to get the free shipping and I couldn’t find enough other stuff to make that work so I put the sweater back and only purchased some linen items.
On the way back to the cottage we stopped at a Revolution Laundry. We’ve been traveling for a week now and were getting low on clothes. Like the stores, laundry mats all seem to close early in Ireland too. Revolution Laundries, though, are located in the parking lots of gas stations and consist of two washers and two dryers.
It was raining once again when we dragged our clothes out of the car and dumped them into the washer. Fortunately there is a small overhang that protects the machines from the weather. It took about 45 minutes for the clothes to wash, but when I went to put them in the dryer I noticed they were really wet, like the washer hadn’t run a spin cycle. My fingers were nearly frozen when I finished getting them all moved.
We waited 30 minutes on the dryer only to find the clothes were still soaking wet, as in we could wring water out of them. Tricia came out of the car to help me wring them out and again fingers were like ice when we started the machine for another 45 minutes.
I should mention we hadn’t eaten since lunch, probably six or seven hours earlier. Well, we had some candy from the convenience store but nerves were raw and this wasn’t the best experience. After that second run through the dryer the clothes were still very wet. They weren’t even warm so I don’t know what that dryer was doing. We were frustrated and tired so I suggested we just put them back in the laundry bag and figure something out at the cottage. I knew there was a clothesline out back so I figured we could just hang them out the next day.
While we were putting them in the bag, they were so heavy with water that the bag started to rip in half! We managed to get them all in and get the bag into the car without it completely tearing. We must have looked like we were moving a body when we returned to the cottage well after dark. Pauline was already in bed so we quietly went about hanging the clothes around the bathroom to air dry as much as possible overnight. The heated towel rack proved an excellent place for socks and underwear to dry. Once we had covered every surface that could possibly allow the clothes to dry we fell into bed cold and exhausted. I really missed the hot water bottle that night.
I don’t know what it is about doing laundry while traveling, but I had a hard time with it years ago when another friend and I were in Paris. We’d been traveling for about a week then, too, and since we were staying at Disneyland Paris we figured that would be a good place to wash clothes. I had no idea a washing machine could be so very different overseas and all the instructions were in French. This was another late night and we were laughing so hard from pure exhaustion and the comedy of how something so simple could become so hard. We worried for a minute that we might disturb anyone who had a room nearby, but since no one came out to complain we just kept laughing. Sometimes that is the only way to deal with difficult situations.
Come back next week to find out if the clothes ever dried out. If you’ve ever had a laundry fiasco while on the road please share it in the comments, otherwise I might have to believe I’m the only one with this challenge.
What’s an Abbey? August 2, 2019
I wish we could have spent more time exploring County Kerry, but we had other adventures planned. We got an early start, making a brief stop in downtown Killarney. The blanket Tricia had purchased the previous night had a pull in it and she wanted to see about exchanging it. The lovely shopkeeper was able to fix the pull in the blink of an eye and we headed north to Connemara.
We passed so many places we wanted to stop but Kylemore Abbey was our planned destination and with last admission at 4pm we had limited time to make it there and do some touring. Not being Catholic, I wasn’t really sure what the difference was between an Abbey and a Monastery. Honestly, I’m still not sure I understand it, but the story of Kylemore is rather interesting. It began as a home for a wealthy businessman in the late 1800s. During World War I, it became the home of Benedictine Nuns fleeing Belgium and is still run by the Benedictines today.
The sun was valiantly trying to shine when we left Killarney, but the clouds continued to build and rain showers intermittently fell followed by a couple of snow flurries. The moment we put the car in park at Kylemore it began to hail quite violently. I was worried about the car being damaged and the rental agency charging me for it.
When the hail let up a bit we made a dash for the visitor’s center. The ground was completely white with hailstones the size of large marbles! We get hail in Florida, but I’ve never seen it come down like this.
At the ticket counter we learned the main house was closed for renovations but we could purchase a discounted ticket to tour the grounds and visit the chapel. Tricia thought I was crazy to want to tour the gardens in this weather, but the sun had come back out and we were already there so we bought the ticket and waited for the tram to the walled garden. (It was a reasonable distance away and I wasn’t completely crazy. There was still a little rain and a lot of cold wind).
Even without much blooming the walled garden was a sight to see. The brick wall helped to cut the wind, the rain had now stopped and the sun was shining brightly. I don’t remember seeing anyone else out here so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We spent around an hour admiring the design of the garden and visiting the head gardner’s house, a rather cozy and well appointed home.
We took the tram back to the visitor center and then walked past the Abbey to the chapel. There was a bit of hail along the way, but it was much smaller and only a brief shower. I’m glad we carried on. The chapel was amazing.
To think this was built for the man’s wife and obviously no expense was spared is mind boggling. I can’t imagine how much it cost to maintain much less build. We studied many of the intricate details, but could have spent hours more marveling at all of the carvings.
I sat in one of the pews to soak in the atmosphere and say a silent prayer. While I sat there, the clouds that had formed during our walk parted and a shaft of sunlight fell through one of the tall windows right onto where I was seated. It was a special moment that gave me goosebumps and I hope I will always remember.
After a peaceful and restorative time in the chapel we ambled back to the welcome center as the sun was starting to dip down to meet the mountains. We had just enough time to pick up a couple of souvenirs. I found these hot pads with the cutest sheep comics on them. My mom used to collect hot pads with photos of waterfalls or other nature scenes from our trips to North Carolina when I was a kid but now they are hard to come by. I struggled to chose just one for her and a smaller one for myself.
Fortunately, our drive from Kylemore wasn’t too far, and we managed to arrive at our new bed and breakfast just before dark. We found this place on AirBnB and weren’t quite sure if we were getting the whole cottage or if the host/hostess would be on site. I am thrilled the hostess was on site because she was an absolute gem and a true highlight of our entire trip. I’ll tell you all about Pauline and Furrymelia Cottage when we meet again next week.
Sheep! July 26, 2019
It was a little before noon when we left Liam and his birds behind, headed for the Ring of Kerry, a scenic drive around the Iveragh Peninsula. Tricia and I had a bit of a debate about whether to drive clockwise or counter-clockwise. Most travel guides and articles about the drive discuss these options, primarily as a means of avoiding the numerous tour buses that make this journey. I felt we were early enough in the year to be ahead of most tours and were unlikely to encounter many buses. Tricia was driving at the moment, and wanted to drive counter-clockwise, so I let her make that choice.
If you’re driving straight through, it’s a loop that probably takes about three hours. Stopping as often as we did, it took closer to six. The western side of the loop, takes in the towns of Killorglin, Glenbeigh, Cahersiveen, and Waterville. From this side you can take detours up to the Gap of Dunloe or to the Skellig Islands. We missed the signs for the Gap of Dunloe and the ferry service to the Skelligs wasn’t running yet. We did turn off the ring onto an even smaller road into Reenard Point, where we could see across to Valentia Island and daydream about getting out to the Skelligs.
The views of the coastline were stunning, even on this overcast and growing grayer by the hour day. We pulled over at probably every third turn off, never tiring of the rugged beauty. We had our first close up sightings of sheep during this drive, which made me nearly giddy and I’m not sure why. The largest pullout actually had a parking lot and is part of a dark sky reserve. I imagine it must be a beautiful place at night. With no cities for miles around, the sky must be filled with stars. There are a number of these reserve areas throughout County Kerry, but our entire trip we never had a night clear enough to see stars.
I think to do the ring properly, one would need to plan to stop for a night at a couple of points along the way, taking time to explore some of the quaint villages. In Cahersiveen, we toured the Old Barracks, built as a police station for the Royal Irish Constabulary in the 1870s to protect the Irish end of the transatlantic telegraph cable. There are exhibits inside on the Great Southern and Western Railway, The Life and Times of Daniel O’Connell, The Fenian Rising of 1867, The 1916 Rising and Monsignor Hugh O’ Flaherty. Also in this town, we could have visited Ballycarberry Castle ruins, the Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church, or taken in two stone forts. Some of the places we passed through didn’t offer such an abundance of sights, but it would have been nice to take a walk along the main street, peek in the shops, and try a bit of local fare.
By the time we reached the southern point of the peninsula, though, we were starting to feel pressured to make it to the end of the ring before the sun set. The eastern side of the peninsula is more forested and had an entirely different feel. I had wanted to shop in Kenmare to visit the lace shops. I was hoping to pick up something locally made as a gift for my mom. Unfortunately, it was close to 4pm by the time we made it to Kenmare and we’d learned most shops close at 5pm.
We did stop at the Avoca Shop and Cafe outside Kenmare. It was getting ready to close so we didn’t spend too much time here, and the prices were well outside our budget anyway. The best part about this stop were the sheep crossing the road, and one was kind enough to pause in front of the shop for me to snap a photo. Avoca sells mostly woolen goods, so this scene made us giggle. Were the sheep checking out the place their coats would one day be sold?
Ross Castle and Muckross Abbey were places I had wanted to visit and why I’d wanted to do the ring clockwise, then they would have been our first stop as opposed to our last. By the time we arrived they were no longer admitting guests. As the rain turned from a sprinkle to a more insistent drizzle, we hurried from the car to take some pictures of Ross Castle’s exterior then set off in search of dinner.
Before we’d left our Hawk Walk experience, we’d chatted with Liam about life in Killarney and asked for recommendations on things to do and places to eat. He told us his favorite for boxty was Bricín Restaurant. Boxty, he explained, is a potato pancake and it can be filled with seafood, venison, corned beef, and vegetables.
Bricín was wonderful! The interior is beautiful, it was warm and cozy against the chill, wet night, and the food was amazing. I had the venison boxty and for the life of me I can’t remember what Tricia had. I was so glad Liam had made this recommendation and told us about boxty, I may never have tried it if he hadn’t already explained to us what it was.
Feeling revived, we wandered down the street. Most non-dining establishments were closed, but a couple of tourist shops were still open. I’ve taken to collecting Christmas ornaments from the places I visit and so far this trip I hadn’t purchased a single one. I found a cute ball ornament and Tricia purchased some more wool goods, a blanket this time. She’s going to have to move to Alaska to use everything she ended up buying!
Coming up, we will hit the road again and experience every variation of wet weather imaginable.