10-04-2015 Last day in Ireland

St Buite Monastery (1 of 1)-28 As we fly high over the Atlantic Ocean on our way home, (I wrote this post from the airplane) it is fun to roll around in my thoughts a bit, examining what stands out most for me from the last two weeks.  Surprisingly, the last day we spent in Ireland was also a highlight, and that will be the next story.

Park-Inn-by-RadissonIn Belfast, the night before our day in Northern Ireland, Mo and I skipped going out into the seedy streets of the city and opted instead for dinner in our hotel.  It might have been the very best dinner of all for me, with succulent baby back ribs, corn on the cob, cole slaw, and sweet potato fries, all done up high end chef style.  Wow!

Belfast to Dublin (1 of 1)-2 The next morning, we were on the road at 8:30 as usual, and with Dublin just over 100 miles south, didn’t expect much.  Our route was along A1, the very fast, very smooth, very nice “flyover” between the two cities, but again, within minutes of crossing the border back into the Republic of Ireland, we all cheered.  It was nice to see the Gaelic signs again and the castles dotting the landscape which seem to be missing in Northern Ireland, at least the parts that we saw. St Buite Monastery (1 of 1)-5

Isabella stopped again at one of her little trip extras at an historic site with one of the most magnificent Celtic crosses in Ireland.  The ancient monastery on the edge of the Boyne Valley was founded in A.D. 521.  Although none of the original buildings are still there, there are three high crosses and the round tower that all date from the 10th century. 

St Buite Monastery (1 of 1)-11 St Buite Monastery (1 of 1)-14 The crosses are beautiful, intricately sculpted with biblical scenes.

St Buite Monastery (1 of 1)-26 The cemetery site was wonderful, with graves marked back some hundreds of years. 

St Buite Monastery (1 of 1)-20 The round tower seems to have been the treasury as well as the belfry since the records indicate that it was burned in 1097 along with all the books and treasure of the monastery.

St Buite Monastery (1 of 1)-27 It was a lovely place to visit on a beautiful sunny morning after our somewhat dreary days in Belfast.

We arrived in Dublin around noon, with plenty of time and unbelievable weather once again to explore the city and see one of the most important things that we missed on our first time around.  We walked from the hotel, via O’Connell Street across the Liffey River toward Trinity College, beyond Gaston Street and down Kildare Street to the entrance to the National Museum of Archaeology.

The Last Day in Dulbin (1 of 1)-6 What surprised me most was how different the city felt from our first day when we explored it on foot.  After two weeks in Ireland, we had a much better sense of how things worked, and how Dublin was put together as well.  On this beautiful Sunday afternoon, the city was absolutely teeming with life and people, there was some kind of demonstration across the bridge and people literally thick everywhere.  Walking in Dublin requires concentration, the Irish walk very fast, at least in the city.

The Archaeological Museum (1 of 1)-34To our delight, we arrived at the Museum at 1:59 only to find out that on Sundays it was only open from 2 to 5PM.  How incredibly lucky!

I couldn’t help thinking of Erin as we perused the magnificent displays.  She does such an amazing job of documenting these world class museums.  I can only hope that the photos I took are as good as I think they are and that the camera, set on the “hand held night shot” setting, caught the beautiful detail of the art and archaeology that we experienced.

The Archaeological Museum (1 of 1)-9 The Archaeological Museum (1 of 1)-12 The Archaeological Museum (1 of 1)-19 The gold “hordes” were magnificent, dating from the Bronze Age around 1200 B.C.  I enjoyed the extremely well done interpretive displays, and got a real kick out of image of a person draped in gold.  It must have been incredibly heavy to wear.

The current special exhibition of Brian Boru, Irish King who brought the Celtic tribes together and defeated the Vikings in the late tenth century was impressive.   The name had been bandied about throughout our entire time in Ireland, and it was good to see this famous king with some kind of perspective about when he lived and the great battle for which he became famous.

The Archaeological Museum (1 of 1)-24 Precious religious pieces from the 12th century were beautiful, including this gorgeous silver chalice and the relic cross that allegedly once held a piece of the original wooden cross of Jesus.The Archaeological Museum (1 of 1)-26 However, nothing I have seen can quite compare with the special display Kingship and Sacrifice, the story of the Bog Bodies of Ireland.  Preserved for centuries and in some cases millennia, in the boggy peat lands, are the bodies of people who were killed somewhere around 300 B.C.The Bog Bodies of Ireland (1 of 1) It is incredible to look into the faces of real people who lived thousands of years ago.  It is an unforgettable experience.Hiking to the tower with Melody and Mattie (1 of 1)

The Bog Bodies of Ireland (1 of 1)-11We were impressed with the tasteful and respectful way that the remains were displayed.  The mood is somber, respectful; the lighting subdued. The written material is displayed on the exterior of simple circular enclosures that contain the softly lit preserved bodies in glass cases. The Bog Bodies of Ireland (1 of 1)-9 Mo and I were both enthralled with the kind of painstaking work required by archaeologists to retrieve everything from the peat bogs. We read with fascination how archaeologists have determined what each person ate before they were killed as well as what they ate for several months prior to their death.    Here is a link to more extensive information about the Bog Bodies of Ireland

Ireland is 17 percent peat land, only Finland and Canada have a greater percentage of peat.  I have mapped organic soils, knew of fens, peat bogs on a slope but really had no understanding at all how these thick peat deposits formed over bedrock and on hills.  I loved the detailed animated video of the development of these peat soils on this landscape.

When our own bodies finally wore out and we left the museum, we walked with the huge happy crowds toward Temple Bar to look for a good pub to have one last glass of Guinness and a bite to eat.  The Last Day in Dulbin (1 of 1)-7The Last Day in Dulbin (1 of 1)-11 The Temple Bar area was teeming with tourists.  We found an outside table at Gogarty’s, where the music was loud and lively, but certainly not Irish.  A sign proclaimed music to start at 10:30 PM until 2 AM.  Not for us.  We still enjoyed sitting there for a time where we had one last plate of crispy chips and watched the people walking by.  The Last Day in Dulbin (1 of 1)-8 It was easy to pick out the tourists: they were walking slowly and gawking up at the buildings.  The locals walked fast and never looked up at all, and were outnumbered by the tourists at least 3 to 1.

Back to the hotel, we actually had time for a short nap before our farewell dinner at the hotel with the group.  Once again, it was just OK, but gave Isabella the chance to give us instructions for our morning departures and to say goodbye to everyone.

This morning when we woke it was raining.  Actually dark and drizzly and raining.  Just such amazing timing!  even 12 hours earlier would have seriously messed with our 7 mile walk about the city yesterday.  Breakfast was included, and our group didn’t have to leave until 8:30 am for the airport.

Dublin airport is really quite nice, but the security level is definitely time consuming.  Isabella had warned us that three hours wasn’t too much and that we would need to be ready.  She got us as far as the first check-in kiosk and then we were on our own with a few other travelers to negotiate the security checks, two of them even before you get to Customs, the tax refund kiosks, US Customs, and then two more security checks in the US Pre Screening process.  Shoes and even iPads out four times!  Then more passport checks with some kind of screening machine before we finally made it to our gate.

Before entering the fray, Mo and I stopped in the main part of the airport to fortify ourselves with one last Irish Coffee.  With only 7 Euro left, it wasn’t enough for the coffees, but I did manage to find a trinket at the Duty Free shop just before our last gate.  We left Ireland with no excess pounds or euros.  Meaning money pounds.  I won’t know about personal pounds until I get home, but even with the food we have been eating, I am reasonably certain that all the walking (always much more than 10,000 steps per day according to the FitBit), the pounds added will be minimal.

Once on the plane, it pulled away from the gate right on time.  Perfect.  I was impressed.  Until the pilot informed us that we were overweight and would have to return to the gate to offload cargo and burn up some fuel before we could take off based on the conditions.  Bummer.  We finally pulled away from the gate 2 hours late, so what would have been a 9 hour flight became 11 hours on the plane.  At least they brought us water and let us get up and about to use the bathrooms.

Once again, we are satisfied with the GoAhead experience. Although the focus on education isn’t as strong as some other travel companies, we were lucky to have an excellent tour guide who taught us much about the country. I would love the  luxury of staying in one place long enough to really explore an area, and do hope to do that when I visit Italy with daughter Deanna in the future.  For now, however, I am at a time in life where I have no idea if I will ever get the chance to return to Ireland.  I would rather see as much as possible in the time I am here.  GoAhead kept us moving, with only 2 or 3 nights at the most in one place, and days packed full with activities. I can’t think of any of the sights I would have chosen to miss, but now that I have seen a good portion of the country, I do know which places I would chose to return.

A tour like this is a bit like a cruise, it gives an overview, and a taste, and if you want more there are other ways to do that.  The hotels were OK, and some were quite nice.  The included tours were good, the excursions that we chose were excellent.  Of course, another highlight for us was the Newgrange Tour which I researched and booked myself.  I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that.  I am so glad I took the time to study a bit  and booked that tour a couple of months prior to our trip.

We will be in Portland tonight, and we are both so ready to get back on the road to Eugene to pick up Mattie!  Joanne has sent a few photos and stories of the time they spent, and it is wonderful to know Mattie has been loved and coddled and so well taken care of.  Now we have to hope that she still remembers us!  Tomorrow, after a good night’s sleep at the Radisson Portland Airport we will once again have the little dog safely tucked between us for the long trip home.IMG_5329

September 24 Exploring Dublin

Catch-up posts from our trip to Ireland.  Most of these posts are quite lengthy, with a lot of detail that is important only to us, or close friends and family.  Feel free to cruise through at whatever speed suits your fancy. All the additional photos of the trip will be located on my SmugMug site eventually, but not just yet.

Ireland Day 4 Dublin

Exploring Dublin (35 of 94) I finally finished writing at 5:30 or so this morning, and was especially happy that I didn’t wake up again until almost 7:30.  Felt a bit groggy and was really looking forward to breakfast, Irish or not.  By the time we got downstairs, the restaurant wasn’t too full.  I tried the crepes this time, flavorless flat things heated up in the microwave with some kind of raspberry sauce that was inconsequential.  I managed two bites.  I hate to waste calories on bad food.  Settled once again on a yogurt and some grapefruit to start the day, but the coffee was actually really good.

I had planned this day for weeks, reading Lonely Planet, walking the streets via Google, measuring distance and routes and trying to decide what we could fit into one short day of sight seeing in this amazing city on our free day in Dublin.  Much of what we wanted to see had been covered yesterday by the Go Ahead tour guide, and the only thing we really missed out on were the tour prepaid tickets to get into Christ Church, The Trinity Library and the Book of Kells, and Dublin Castle.  As the day grew to a close, I was so happy that we were on our own time, our own schedule, and not tagging along with a group, but instead seeing what we wanted to see at our own pace.  Entry fees were a small price to pay for that privilege.Dublin Map

I would imagine that this was the longest day of walking that we will manage on this trip, with the rest of the time fairly well scheduled as we continue west and north circling the country along the coastal cities and towns and into Northern Ireland before we return to Dublin. On this day, the trusty Fit Bit logged 8.22 miles and over 17,000 steps.  Kind of nice to have a little pink device thingy to back up a good reason to be tired this evening.  Mo is at the moment napping, and we are both glad that we decided on a late lunch rather than evening dinner.  I supplemented my writing time here with chocolates from an excellent chocolate store we passed on the way home.  Not Belgian chocolate, but good enough to satisfy the craving.

Exploring Dublin (7 of 94) Before we started our wanderings today I had to look up the chronological history of Ireland, specifically the Republic of Ireland, the major part of the island in the south and west which is no longer under the banner of the United Kingdom.  Northern Ireland is not part of The Republic of Ireland, Protestant rather than Catholic, and still considers itself to be British.  I had memories of the IRA and the conflict in Ireland, referred to here as “The Troubles”.  It was all reasonably settled not too long ago, but reading over the centuries of Irish history was a bit sobering.  Not only was there the famous potato famine during the 1840’s, but there have been repeated famines quite often every few hundred years that have decimated the population and contributed to great emigrations from Ireland.  I am a result of those emigrations, with one of my ancestors coming from Ireland to Virginia in the early 1800’s.

Exploring Dublin (86 of 94) I also learned of the Viking invasions of Ireland in 800 or so, and the establishment of the city of Dublin by the Vikings because they wanted to develop shipping routes.  Eventually they were vanquished, and although I read all this just this morning, I have given up on remembering the dates and sequences except for the general knowledge that Ireland has struggled mightily to be an independent proud Irish country.  I guess I still don’t really understand the northern Irish part. It will be interesting to go to Derry and Belfast and see how much different it feels than Dublin and the rest of the Republic of Ireland.

Exploring Dublin (85 of 94) You cannot spend even one day in Dublin without having some sense of this long history.  There are monuments everywhere, statues and sculptures, and yes, the famous or infamous “Spire”.  It replaced a statue that was blown up by the Republican movement during “The Troubles”, and many folks seem to think it is a bit strange and ridiculously expensive.  Mary said yesterday that the street people can’t even get any graffiti to stick to its slick metal surface.

Highest on my list to see was Trinity College and the Old Library.  I wasn’t even that attached to actually seeing the Book of Kells, realizing that it was only visible under dim light, and only open to two pages of the famous manuscript.

Exploring Dublin (5 of 94)Exploring Dublin (6 of 94) As our morning began, we wandered toward the River Liffey via a few side roads from our hotel, finding a Dominican church every bit as ornate and beautiful as many cathedrals.  There are more than 2,000 Catholic Churches in Dublin, so it is fairly easy to get sidetracked by their gorgeous facades and beckoning interiors.  I knew we had St Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church on our list so we managed to ignore the other lovely churches along the way.

Exploring Dublin (8 of 94) Crossing the river via a footbridge into the Temple Bar area, we turned down a side street and there right before me was the red facade of Temple Bar pub.  Before we left home, I found the Earth Cam for Dublin which is trained on this view for live video and was tickled to find it so easily.  At only a little after ten in the morning, the district was fairly quiet, and it was also the middle of the night back home, so not a good time to text Melody and tell her to look for me on the webcam.  We will save that one for later.

Exploring Dublin (12 of 94) Like many great cities, Dublin appears really huge on a map until you actually start walking the streets.  Also, like many European cities there are small side streets that almost look like alleys and large boulevards that have been converted to pedestrian only malls.  It is a great city for walking. It is a great city for people as well, and in spite of English being the common language, I heard a plethora of languages being spoken from all over the world.

Exploring Dublin (18 of 94) Within minutes from Temple Bar we were on Fleet Street leading directly to the famous Trinity College Campus.  I imagined a quiet courtyard, but as we entered the gates, we were surprised to find it filled with canopies, students, noise and signs everywhere.  Seems it was Fresher week, when the nearly 200 extra curricular societies on the campus vie for the students.  Exploring Dublin (25 of 94) A very gracious young man explained all this to us when I finally asked what in the world was going on and was the college courtyard like this every day.  He said being part of the various societies is a huge part of attending Trinity college and sometimes students do forget that they are here to actually get a degree.  The oldest society was the Philosophers Society, established in 1683.

Exploring Dublin (28 of 94) We found out where the Old Library was located and discovered that instead of waiting for a tour, we could simply pay the entry fee to the library and go in without a guide.  I had heard that if you paid this lesser fee of ten Euros, you would see the library but not the Book of Kells.  Not true.  The beautiful, informative, and very crowded display called, “Turning Darkness into Light” is situated at the entrance to the Treasury where the Book of Kells is housed, and once through the Treasury, stairs lead to the main floor of the Old Library.

I wanted to see the library, but was quite happy that our tour also included walking through the Treasury, viewing the two open pages of the “book”.  The Book of Kells is an illustrated manuscript of the Four Gospels, created by Irish monks on the island of Iona around AD 800 before being brought to Kells.  It is one of the oldest books in the world and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful.  Around 850 years after its creation, and protection from the Viking looters, it was finally brought to the Trinity College library. It was once a single book, but has been divided into the four gospels, two of which are on display at any one time, with the other two in safe keeping.

Book-of-Kells3-1920x750px What made the display more haunting were the large illuminated reproductions of the pages on the walls, big enough to see clearly and appreciate the incredible artistic detail painstakingly rendered by lamplight and swan or goose quills of calfskin vellum pages.  Rather incredible.  I am so glad we didn’t miss it.

If you have a desire to see the Book of Kells without going to Ireland, Trinity College has made it available for viewing online at the library’s digital collections website.Exploring Dublin (38 of 94)Exploring Dublin (36 of 94)Exploring Dublin (34 of 94) Exploring Dublin (35 of 94)  Still, it wasn’t even close to the breathtaking moment when we stood at the entrance of the great hall of the Old Library.  Here there are more than 200,000 of the oldest of the more than 3 million books housed by the Trinity College Library.  I was a bit overwhelmed, and overjoyed when I saw that photographs were allowed without flash.  A reminder that culture exists in the world beyond the internet, computers, and instant gratification.  We lingered a long time, just absorbing the history and feeling of the place, remarking over and over to each other how incredible it was to be able to experience it.

Exploring Dublin (55 of 94) Out into the sunlight, through the square, and south toward St Stevens Square was next on our list.  Just a few more blocks, but between Trinity College and the square is Grafton Street. 

Exploring Dublin (49 of 94) Melody, you would have loved it.  Much like the Ringstrauss in Vienna, with all the high end stores and fabulous looking people looking at fabulous stuff.  We ambled along, noticing the few people walking slowly were obviously the tourists, like us, trying to keep from getting overrun by all the locals walking with purpose.Exploring Dublin (59 of 94)

Exploring Dublin (57 of 94) Exploring Dublin (60 of 94) Exploring Dublin (64 of 94) The beautiful St Stevens Square opened up beyond the impressive entry gate to a lovely respite of gardens, shaded pathways, gentle silky pools of water on the pond, and almost quiet.  There were many people lounging on the park benches at the center of the square, enjoying the gorgeous sunshine, and we found a nice little cement bench to sit and rest our bones, which by this time were getting a bit weary.  What a people watching place!  As we left the square, we discovered that the bench where we were sitting was dedicated to a Quaker couple who were pioneers of Irish feminism.  Perfect.

Exploring Dublin (65 of 94) Leaving the park, we once again entered the busy sidewalks, taking an alternate route from Grafton Street west toward the Cathedral district. Our goal was to see both St Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church, the official Cathedral of the Anglican Church of Ireland established in 1050 under British rule.

Exploring Dublin (70 of 94)Exploring Dublin (72 of 94)Exploring Dublin (73 of 94) Ever hear that thing, “Oh, one more cathedral..sigh..” ? I know we won’t get back to Dublin, but the the day was extending, we were tired and hungry and a pub sounded much better than paying more than 10 Euros to enter each church and possibly not be allowed to take photographs anyway.  I peered into the doors, noting that the interiors were not as ornate or fabulous as the ones we saw in Malta and decided that exterior views would suffice.

Exploring Dublin (74 of 94) Exploring Dublin (75 of 94) Exploring Dublin (76 of 94) Hungry and tired as we were, we didn’t want to miss Dublin Castle, another magnificent structure with amazing history and a hefty entrance fee for the required tours.  I know visiting the interiors of any of these historic places would be wonderful, especially so if a visit were longer than a single day.  It would be great to see one or two a day, and spend a couple of weeks just hanging out enjoying the history of this amazing place.  Exploring Dublin (77 of 94)Much like landing in a port for a single day on a cruise, we couldn’t begin to touch the wonders of Dublin in a single day.  Dublin is home to world class incredible museums, including the National Museum, the Archaeology and Ethnography Museum, and the National Museum of Ireland Decorative Arts and History.  Dublinair, near Christ Church is an experiential museum in the Medieval part of the city that celebrates the Viking heritage of Dublin.  Much like visiting the Smithsonian, you need many more days that the one we had to absorb all this art and culture.

This day made me especially appreciate how Mui and Erin are seeing Italy, with two full weeks in Rome to actually see all the sights, and even so they are feeling as though they are missing so much.  A great city deserves great time.  Who knows if I will ever have the chance to see Dublin again with my years getting shorter and so many places yet to see.  Still, if any of you kids get a chance to go to Ireland, maybe you can do it in a way that allows more time. And Melody, when you talk of Paris, make it at least two weeks, staying in some little apartment, with lots of time on your own to really experience the city.

Exploring Dublin (80 of 94) I had hoped to see Mulligan’s Bar, which turned out to be all the way back west of the Trinity College campus, or at least return to the Temple Bar area for a pint and some pub food.  Instead, with a bright idea, I approached one of the policemen in Dublin Castle and asked for his recommendation.  With is kind eyes and sweet voice he suggested the “Marechents” down by the river.

Exploring Dublin (78 of 94) With a bit of wandering, we did finally find O’Sheas Merchant Pub and settled into a cozy table for my first pint of Guinness and Mo had a Smithfield IPA from County Cork that was incredibly tasty.  Our beer accompanied Irish pub food, comfort food for me of roast beef and mashed potatoes over some more amazing squash veggies that were crisp and soft at the same time and truly delicious.  Mo’s sandwich was really good, and the big fat fries, … chips…were to die for, thank you Mo for sharing!

pub food at Osheas mo pub food at Osheas  With free wiFi in the pub, I texted Melody telling her that we would be showing up within view of the Dublin Temple Bar WebCam by 3:30 our time, 7:30 AM pacific time.  She texted back that she had the app already downloaded, installed and ready, and she said, Mom, I can hear people so be sure to call me the way you did when I was a kid.  I could holler “Melll-iiiiii-deeeeee” and could reach her anywhere.

sue and mo at OsheasSure enough, at 3:30 we were once again in view of the Temple Bar pub, walking around the corner, waving at the webcam, and laughing with the ladies waiting on the bench for the same thing.  Everyone seems to get a kick out of this.  Melody said later that she heard me call her name and she even took a video and screen shots of us waving at her.  It was silly fun.

Melody saved the video of us waving but it is a bit grainy, so I didn’t attempt to upload it, but if you want to check out the webcam for fun, the link is here.

IT was all just enough fun to propel me the rest of the miles back to the hotel, although even my tired body couldn’t stop me from stepping into the Butler’s chocolate shop for some treats.  I suppose that little bit of chocolate is why I am able to sit here and write rather than being all conked out and sleeping as Mo is doing at the moment.

Some time tonight we will pack up our suitcases again, set them outside the door by 7:30 AM, have a bit of Irish breakfast…ick….and then the tour bus will leave Dublin precisely at 8:15 heading west toward the Royal Stud, Killarney Castle, and our evening destination will be the coastal town of Waterford.

It feels as though we have been here forever, but we have barely begun.

Here is a link to my SmugMug gallery photos of our day in Dublin

Coming Next: County Killarney, Killarney Castle, the National Irish Stud and on to Waterford.

September 23 Equinox at Newgrange

Catch-up posts from our trip to Ireland.  Most of these posts are quite lengthy, with a lot of detail that is important only to us, or close friends and family.  Feel free to cruise through at whatever speed suits your fancy. All the additional photos of the trip will be located on my SmugMug site eventually, but not just yet.

Day 3 The Hill of Tara and Newgrange

04 Newgrange (1 of 4) Green.  It really is THAT green.  We spent most of this day immersed in green.  The legendary green of Ireland that is especially strong in the rich agricultural land of the Boyne Valley.  We took a private tour from Dublin that traveled to County Meath, probably some of the richest agricultural land in the world, and a place of human habitation for at least 8,000 years. 

Our breakfast, included with the hotel, starts at 7am, so after finally falling asleep at 5:30, I woke up at 6:30, in time to shower and wake Mo.  We wanted to get to breakfast early to try to beat all the tour folks. Sometimes these buffet breakfasts can get really crowded.  full_irish_breakfast

What was promised was a “full Irish breakfast”.  I had a few reservations about this, remembering what a full English breakfast was like when we were in Malta.  Funny how different tastes are in different places.  The sausages “puddings” seem to be the big thing in Ireland.  Something which I have yet to explore.  There is Black Pudding and White Pudding, and Irish bacon. 

Black pudding (a sausage made from blood, meat, fat, oatmeal, and bread or potato fillers), white pudding (the same as black pudding minus the blood), and Irish bacon (taken from the back of the pig instead of the belly) are supposedly a must at any Irish breakfast. I promised myself I would try local stuff, but so far have avoided the puddings.  Can’t quite wrap my head around blood sausage. 

Today I tried brown Irish bread with Irish butter.  Yeah, you knew I would love that!  The scrambled eggs were so soft I almost gagged, possible from some kind of powdered mix, but the croissants with more Irish butter of course, were incredibly light and good.  Hmmm…lots of carbs around here it seems, and I have heard that the hearty breads are a big thing.  Yumm.  But I couldn’t eat a lot, and managed to have my regular morning yogurt, although the lo fat low sugar yogurts just seem really dull to me after eating good rich Greek yogurt.

Coffee comes from a machine, including espresso and cappuccino, not too bad, but trying to get a regular cup of coffee was less successful.  I heard other folks around us grumbling as well.  We did have a chance to visit with a few of our fellow travelers, Kathy and Mary Beth, lifetime friends who leave their husbands behind now and then for girl travel, seemed like they would be fun.  Especially since Kathy is from Vancouver Washington, so close to Portland, and actually knew where Klamath Falls was.

01 walking in Dublin (2 of 2) We left them to their day, off for just a few morning hours scheduled with the group, leaving on the bus at 8 and exploring all the stuff we decided to see on our own on the next day.  We instead, went back to our room, dressed in layers for the cloudy skies, and decided to take the extra time we had before our own tour to explore a bit of the city on foot.

03 Dublin neighborhoods (1 of 3) The hotel is fairly well located, just a five minute walk from O’Connell Street, a major thoroughfare that goes straight through the heart of urban Dublin.  At 9am, the streets were incredibly busy with buses and walkers, with so many people walking on the sidewalks reminding me of traffic jams.  They were all in a rush and not inclined to make room for slow amblers.  We tried to stay out of the way and yet still have a chance to actually see something without tripping over curbs and sidewalks. 

02 Post Office (1 of 7)02 Post Office (4 of 7) Once actually on O’Connell, I had a great feeling of being NOT in a familiar city in the US, but yes, in Ireland.  We found our meeting place at the bank, then wandered south toward the River Liffey, stopping in at the main city Post Office so Mo could pick up some stamps.  The Post Office is more than 200 years old, a gorgeous piece of architecture, both inside and out.  We also ambled into the Carrolls Irish Gift store, a tourist trap full of trinkets, and not so trinkety stuff, including the Aran woolens so famous in Ireland, Irish linen, and of course, refrigerator magnets.  Wandering around the store was fun, both for the Irish music that was a great morning pick me up, and the fact that it got of out of the busy foot traffic on the sidewalks.

03 Dublin neighborhoods (3 of 3) We emerged and walked as far as the river, and decided that the Bachelor’s Way that ran parallel to the river toward the people’s bridge was big on our list of todo’s.  Not this morning, however, as we had a tour to meet. The Mary Gibbons tour bus showed up at the exact minute and we were on our way north and east through Dublin to the County Meath and Newgrange.

Mary Gibbons Newgrange Tours on the Hill of Tara (1 of 1) The tour is written up in the Lonely Planet as one of the best things to do in Dublin, and we weren’t at all disappointed.  They were right.  Mary has the perfect accent, strong but at least Irish and understandable, and is a huge wealth of knowledge about the history and archaeology of Ireland.  We were treated to all sorts of tidbits along with some very complex history, including where the phrase “beyond the pale” came from. 

The Hill of Tara (1 of 1)-3 The phrase dates back to the 14th century, when the part of Ireland that was under English rule was delineated by a boundary made of such stakes or fences, and known as the English Pale. To travel outside of that boundary, beyond the pale, was to leave behind all the rules and institutions of English society, which the English modestly considered synonymous with civilization itself.

The Hill of Tara (1 of 1)-2 As we traveled more deeply into County Meath, the famous green dominated the landscape more and more.  We were going first to the Hill of Tara, a place sacred to the Irish, and home of the High Kings of Ireland, the Celts who dominated the culture before Christianity took over with the coming of St Patrick. 

The Hill of Tara (1 of 1)-4 Standing on the Hill of Tara was something I hadn’t expected to move me so.  Learning about the Bards, the Celts migrating into Ireland from various parts of Europe before C.E., the Druids, and the High Kings of Ireland was surprisingly familiar and yet completely unknown.  I can’t write about all of this in the kind of detail I would like to, so instead here’s the link to read about it. graveyard on the Hill of Tara (1 of 1)

The Hill of Tara (1 of 1)-5 The Hill of Tara (1 of 1)-6The Hill of Tara (1 of 1) http://www.hilloftara.com/history

The complexity of Irish history is incredible, and what I came away with most after Mary’s instruction was the importance of Ireland all over Western Europe throughout the first few hundred years AD.  When Europe was descending into the Dark Ages, Ireland was experiencing what she called the Golden Age of Art and Knowledge, furthered by the many Irish monasteries that proliferated throughout Ireland.  Traveling through the countryside, we saw ruins of many monasteries on the hills, but more important were the listing of famous Irish monasteries that were established in many parts of Europe and that still exist.

05 The River Boyne (1 of 4) Because our tour of Newgrange was set for a specific time, with a very limited number of people allowed in the tomb each day,  there wasn’t nearly enough time to amble around the Hill of Tara and really drink it all in. 

Back on the bus at noon exactly, we had a 1:45 entry time for the great tomb.  Newgrange is part of the Bru na Boinne complex of tombs and neolithic sites, operated from the main visitor center and only accessible via their guides and the shuttle busses.  With our reservation with Mary Gibbons Tours, we passed up the long lines of people waiting, hoping for an entrance, which because of the limited number of people allowed inside at any one time isn’t guaranteed at all.  So glad that I booked this one a couple of months ago.

Newgrange was fascinating.  Mary isn’t allowed in the complex, and pointed us to the doors where we needed to walk to the shuttle busses.  We decided to have a light lunch at the cafeteria, where the food was quite good, with a shared quiche quite strong with goat cheese and vegetables.  Wish I liked goat cheese better.  My distaste for it makes no sense with my love of good food.  Sorry Jeanne.  04 Newgrange (4 of 4)

The rain clouds came and went, flying across the sky threatening us, but holding off until just before we entered the tomb, and by the time we were back outside, most of the storm had passed.  Reminded me a lot of the rains in Hawaii that come and go so quickly. 

04 Newgrange (3 of 4) The entrance stone to the tomb is beautiful, with complex spirals that are repeated throughout the tomb.  Once we walked through the low, narrow passage, we stood in the chamber that had existed exactly that way for more than 5,000 years.  The tomb at Newgrange was built millennia before the pyramids, and the complex artistry and feat of engineering of the interior dome is a marvel.  I have no photos from the interior of the tomb, so internet images will have to suffice.  Photography is not allowed.

winter-solstice The sun only enters the tomb, illuminating the passageway at the winter solstice, with a beam of light that extends to the base stone at the farthest reaches of the tomb.  They turned out the lights and gave us a demonstration of what that looks like with a beam of artificial light.  Reading about this on Trip Advisor, there were folks who called it hokey, but I didn’t feel that way at all.  It was great to get a feeling of what it would be like to stand here during the solstice.

view from Newgrange (1 of 2) There is a lottery drawn for that opportunity, with more than 30,000 people applying for the 60 tickets that win the privilege.  Our guide said that of course, there is no idea in this part of Ireland that the sun will actually shine, and she always feels badly for the people that have traveled from as far away as China and Australia to see the phenomenon.  I was perfectly happy to view the fake light.

The tombs, Newgrange, and the other two large tombs nearly, Dowth and Knowth, are located along the beautiful Boyne River, full of salmon and trout.  I still have to look up the kind of salmon that swim up the Boyne, being completely unaware that there were salmon elsewhere in the world.  The soils were so deep and black and incredibly rich, and the gardens were filled with the kind of plants that thrive in a moist, temperate environment, much like parts of Oregon.  Many people mentioned how much the landscape reminded them of Oregon, but here the summer rains never stop and the green never goes away.

newgrange-interior Unlike Newgrange, which was built to capture the Solstice sun, Dowth and Knowth were built for the spring and fall Equinox. It was a perfect day to celebrate the Equinox in this land that has been held sacred for thousands of years.

When visiting places like this on a tour, it is a challenge to stop mentally and really think about where I am, what I am seeing.  I like to find moments of quiet in the midst of it all, but sometimes that is difficult  to accomplish.  I managed a few moments like this today, but I can see how visiting Ireland with time to fully immerse would be incredible.  Jeanne told me that Alan and his friend Russell rented a car and drove all over Ireland visiting the standing stones.  What a luxury.

in the rain at Newgrange (1 of 1) Once more, I can’t begin to write about the complexity, and we were not allowed to take photos once inside the tomb, so here is another link with an overview of what we saw today.


The original plan, when we started this day, was to return from the tour, rest a bit, and then go walking on O’Connell Street to find a good eatery.  As the day progressed, I found myself thinking that maybe we could just find some fish and chips a bit closer, and then as we got off the bus and walked back to the hotel, we decided that maybe some Thai shrimp downstairs in the hotel restaurant would be good enough.

We were exhausted!  Both of us fell asleep on the bus to the lilting tone of Mary’s voice so I have no idea what kinds of amazing history we missed.  The walk back to the hotel once again entailed fighting the hordes of evening walking commuters, and we were quite happy to get back to our quiet room.

The restaurant idea even faded, and we napped a bit before deciding to pull out the nuts I brought from home and the banana I confiscated from breakfast to suffice for supper.  We managed considerably more than our 10,000 steps today according to the trusty fitbit even with spending much of the day on a bus.  I think the bus thing made us a lot more tired than walking, and maybe lack of sleep from the previous night may have had something to do with it as well.

It is now quarter to 4, and maybe I can go back to sleep again.  At least we can take our time today with plans for breakfast in the hotel before we wander again down O’Connell Street toward the older part of Dublin, crossing the river Liffey into the Temple Bar area and Trinity College.  Who knows what the day will bring, but I do hope it includes dinner this time!

Up Next: A day in Dublin, Trinity College and the Book of Kells, and Temple Bar.

September 21 Day 1 and 2 Off to Dublin

Catch-up posts from our trip to Ireland.  Most of these posts are quite lengthy, with a lot of detail that is important only to us, or close friends and family.  Feel free to cruise through at whatever speed suits your fancy. All the additional photos of the trip will be located on my SmugMug site eventually, but not just yet.

grand tour with goahead toursOur trip to Ireland was with Go Ahead Tours – Grand Tour of Ireland.  We have used Go Ahead in the past, and it is a good value for price and content.  The pace is a bit quick, but since we may not get back to Ireland with so many places in the world to visit, we would rather see a lot, even if it means a lot of moving and traveling.  Much like a cruise, a tour like this is a good way to see a country for the first time, and then if you return later it is much easier to do on your own if you want, and you know where you want to be.

It is 4 in the morning here in Dublin, 8 pm back at home  After an incredibly long and tiring day on airplanes and in airports, we are somehow still awake.  Last night after we arrived, we were addled completely from the lack of sleep.  After our welcome dinner, we fell into bed exhausted, and then woke up at ten pm.  Back to sleep and then awake again at 1am.  or 2 am.  I don’t remember.  But we are still awake.  Talking, laughing, getting quiet, and one or the other of us breaks the silence with a question.  “Which night is the included dinner and where is it”.  Mo gets up to find the itinerary and we figure it out.  Back to darkness and silence. 

OK then…a few more minutes pass and one or the other of us says, “Let’s read.”  “OK.  Maybe I can write”. Without an easy way to blog and no way to process photos, I decided that the best way to track our days was with emails to the daughters and the very short list of friends.Temple Bar (1 of 1)

Dublin at the moment feels a lot like taking a trip to New York.  They didn’t even take our passports at the desk here at the Maldron Parnell Square Hotel.  The wait staff last night at dinner was Thai, with several people from several other places, and the accents were less strong than many we hear at home.

Our tour guide, for this two weeks in Ireland, is Italian, with a very strong accent.  Italian, not Irish.  We will see how that goes, I guess.  We arrived after 6pm, with the welcome dinner at the hotel scheduled earlier, they postponed it for our arrival.  We hit the room, and had 15 minutes to regroup and get back downstairs.P1050331

Couple of things we did learn however.  Folks who showed up at the airport early in the day spent up to two hours waiting for the shuttle.  Not a good thing.  A taxi picked us up and immediately took just the two of us to the hotel.  Nice driver, nice drive through a part of Dublin that I recognized from looking at the Google maps obsessively back at home when I couldn’t sleep.  Other nice thing, the check in process was almost instantaneous.  We met our guide, and received our keys.  Only thing we had to sign was the order for what we wanted for dinner.

When we left Rocky Point yesterday morning, it was gorgeous.  Perfect September weather, with dry, clear air and blue skies.  By the time we got to Eugene, it was cloudy and raining.  go figure.  Both of us were like parents leaving a kid at daycare for the first time.  Our friend, Joanne, was excited about taking care of our dog Mattie, and in true Joanne nature had our list of written instructions all printed out with red lined questions and markings to check with us.  Mattie seemed just fine, pottying in the yard, barking at Joanne as expected, but deciding that with a hot dog in her hand, Joanne was a pretty cool and interesting person. She took her outside to the back yard while Mo and I disappeared out the front door. 

We decided to get gas in Albany…what maybe an hour from Eugene….when I get a frantic text from Joanne, “Mattie won’t let me put her leash on.  What do I do”.  Seems as though Mattie would only bark at Joanne when she tried to get close.  I told Joanne to let her go in her cage and then try to get the leash on her.  Response back was that Mattie went in the cage, but when Joanne approached, she ran out, but still managed to get the hot dog bribe.  Panic.  Then a few minutes later, another text.  “All is well, she let me do it”.  I immediately called and Joanne said, “You guys are going to drive me crazy if you keep calling every few minutes!”  Eventually Mattie just walked up to Joanne, sat down and accepted the leash without a qualm.  Whew.  Texts later throughout the day, and a couple of emails here to Dublin seem to indicate that all is well, Joanne and Mattie are having a great time, and Mattie could care less about he fact that we are nowhere around.  Fine.

Gas was all the way down to $2.13 at the Albany Costco, so getting in and out of that place was still worth it.  We made great time, the rain cleared up by the time we got to Portland, and the skies were once again blue and clear.  Haven’t seen that from the Portland airport very many times.  We checked in without a hitch and found the Beaches restaurant for a snack and a drink.

beaches-restaurant-and I could foresee that being the best food of the trip if last night’s welcome dinner is any indication.  I had some kind of amazing Thai crispy breaded pork and sweet hot chili sauce and Mo had perfect taquitos.  My drink, some kind of orangey marguerita was rather incredible.  We had time to lounge in the bar and decide that by the time we were through our 4 hour layover in Seattle, we could have a light dinner there before boarding the plane. As we were boarding in Portland, waiting in a long line, when the agent saw our pre printed boarding passes, he said, here, go this way and don’t take off your shoes or empty anything out of your bags.  My boots, purchased especially for wet cobblestone streets in rainy Ireland, still rang, however and I had to take them off, but they are easy and I was ready for it. The flight from Portland to Seattle is something like 22 minutes.  Again, perfect clear skies with the volcanoes looming to the east and the Olympics and Puget Sound shining in the west.  Once on the ground, we checked the reader board and..wait…what?….our plane was scheduled to begin boarding in half an hour.  Somehow I had morphed a 90 minute layover into an imaginary 4 hour layover and dinner was not to happen.delta 767 seat map

Our flight is operated by Delta and KLM, and the plane was a Delta 767 with our seats almost in the very back.

We like the 767’s because they have side rows of only 2 seats across, so we can share window and aisle space without dealing with someone else next to us.  Not all that huge, but at least a lot roomier than some of the flights I have been on lately.  We had ten hours to go, and imagine our surprise when the drink cart came along dispensing red and white wine complimentary along with the usual teas and sodas.  Yes.  We even got refills of wine with our supper, which was not nearly as good as the wine.The little boxes of pasta for me and chicken for Mo were in some kind of awful sauce, and Mo’s chicken was served with some mushy overcooked veggies that actually tasted OK.  I ate the veggies, and she ate my pasta, tortellini’s, which are not a favorite.  Dessert was a brownie that was so thick and gummy you could hardly chew it.  I was happy for our fresh baked chocolate chip cookies that I had made the day before to fill in the blanks. Finally around ten or so PST, I snuggled into the neck pillow, put my big scarf over my head, and took a sleeping pill.  I don’t remember sleeping, but neither do I remember being awake that much.  By 3am PST, I had jumpy legs and thought I wasn’t going to make another two hours.IMG_5109

We arrived in Amsterdam at 1 in the afternoon (5am to us) and it was quite gloomy out, but you could see the water and the huge windmills in the ocean to the west of the city.  Amsterdam is just so incredibly clean and manicured.  I commented that I doubted that there was any kind of wild country anywhere in the Netherlands.  All so pristine and cared for.

IMG_5107 The airport is a lovely one, but somehow not quite as enchanting as it was the first time I was there with Melody in 2012.  I kept searching for the comfy sofas with plug-ins.  We walked a lot, and did finally find the chocolate stores and the tulip kiosks, but they looked kind of drab instead of so bright and fresh as I remembered.  Maybe it was because it was raining by then, and there was a lot of construction going on inside the terminals. Still, it was a pleasant wait, and with neither of us hungry after our airplane dinner (and tiny breakfast), we just relaxed after our check in and passport check.  Four hours went by in a flash.

The Air Lingus Irish airline to Dublin was a bit different.  All shiny new airplane, but no amenities at all, no sound plug ins, no in flight entertainment, and even a cup of coffee was available for 3 Euros.  At only an hour and a half, we didn’t really care, but the quarters were tighter than the previous plane as well and we were both so tired that we kept falling asleep.  Mo dropped her book with a crash, and her elbow kept falling off the armrest with a bang while I would suddenly wake choking because I had been breathing through my mouth and probably snoring.

Wasn’t all that much to see anyway.  Blue ocean and lots of clouds between us and the water, with an occasional glimpse of England and the edge of Ireland as we approached the airport.  What surprised both of us the most was how brown some of the landscape looked in Ireland from the air.  Probably fields that were ripe, because other fields that looked like pastures were green enough, but somehow I didn’t expect to see Oregon late summer brown anywhere.

at the Maldron Hotel (4 of 6) On the ground and our baggage appeared very quickly, nothing delayed, nothing lost.  Lovely.  Once we passed through customs, also very quick and easy, where they checked our passports, we were into the main terminal without a hitch where our Go Ahead taxi driver was waiting with a big sign on his IPad screen with our names.  Lots easier than printing something, I would say. Fifteen minutes to the hotel, and as I said before, 15 minutes down to dinner.  At first I was horrified, because it seemed that there were at least 80 people in the main dining room where we were to have dinner.  Turns out that many of those people were with another tour of German travelers who were arriving as well. 

Our group consists of 31 people, but the way that the dining room was set up, and with us arriving a bit late, we were at a table of eight.  The four people who were at the other end of the table were conversing with each other, and even when I asked a question I was ignored.  The young woman next to me was quite conversational however, and seemed to quite the traveler and quite brilliant.  Some kind of contractor for NASA in Houston.  She and the other folks had arrived early today and spent the afternoon touring the Guinness Factory, something that is obligatory when visiting Dublin.  Something we are going to skip actually, in favor of our own tour of the Neolithic world heritage sites in the Boyne Valley.  Ancient history and prehistory, Druids and temples all win out over beer for me!

at the Maldron Hotel (6 of 6) I was a bit disappointed with the way that Go Ahead handles these welcome dinners, and this one was even worse.  Unlike in the past, where there was at least a private banquet room, this was in the main dining room, quite noisy, and not at all conducive to communicating with anyone.  Even though she was near us when speaking, we couldn’t hear much of what Isabella said, and had no interaction with anyone else from the group.  In the past, there has been at least a rudimentary introduction so you have an idea who you are traveling with.  While not especially social, I do like to have an idea and a bit of encouragement to interact in the beginning.

Dinner was just OK.  We made our choices from two options, and both had a vegetable soup that was probably some kind of squash puree, the main entree of Guinness Beef Stew which was rather flat and flavorless.  I make a Guinness stew sometimes for St Patrick’s day and I wish this had been half as good as mine!  Dessert was excellent, however, an apple crumble pastry pie sorta thingy, that was a bit tart and really good.  A couple of glasses of wine were nice along with some excellent coffee with dessert.

at the Maldron Hotel (1 of 6) By the time we got back to our room, we were a bit more ready to tackle the tight quarters and try to figure out where to put stuff.  The room is very nice, but in true European style, very cramped, and there are a couple of chairs, tables, and a desk that makes it impossible for us to pass each other or even get around the suitcases as we tried to unpack.  No place really for the cases, so we struggled a bit with the whole thing.

at the Maldron Hotel (5 of 6) We were very well and tightly packed for the airplane and transfers, but everything changes when we are in a room and getting into things differently than the way we do when flying.  It didn’t help that the nifty little converter I bought to charge USB devices didn’t work on the UK part. I had no problem with the Euro part at the airport, but for some reason it refuses to work here.  Sigh.  Mo, thank goodness, brought her converter as well so we have one plug to charge the iPad, the iPhone, and two Mophie batteries, and oh yes, the curling iron if I want to use it.  Frustrating.
I was so tired I was feeling weepy about losing my Advil baggie, but eventually I found everything, found tight spots for what I needed after realizing that the three tiny drawers are only about  6 inches to the back, and moving the suitcase holder in front of the door.  Till we have to get out of it in the morning, then all will be moved around again.

at the Maldron Hotel (2 of 6) We will be here  at the Maldron Parnell Square – Dublin, for three nights.  The WiFi in the room seems fast and is free so the phone is on airplane mode for the duration, but I can talk to people via facebook chat and email without a worry.  It is now 5:11 AM.  We will go down to breakfast at 7 and then leave for our extra tour of Newgrange and the Boyne Valley with Mary Gibbons Tours around 9:30.  That involves walking a bit toward the famous O’Connell Street to catch the tour bus in front of the bank. Maybe I can sleep for two hours now that I have all this out of my brain on on paper so to speak.

Next: Dublin and Visiting the Boyne Valley, the Hill of Tara, and Newgrange