Saturday, December 17, 2022
Thursday, October 06, 2022
Many years ago my extended family took a road trip to Disney World when I was a kid. My immediate family (Dad, Mom, myself, and my sister who is seven years younger than I am) lived in Birmingham, Alabama at the time. We met up with my Uncle Maury, Aunt Vickie, and cousin Marissa in Orlando, Florida. My Aunt Vickie commented with some degree of wonder that neither my little sister or I seemed scared in the Haunted Mansion. We just stared and gave a few giggles of delight at the grim grinning ghoul animatronics and projections. Aunt Vickie also noted that I was oddly quiet on the infamously daunting roller coaster in the dark, Space Mountain. My sister and I weren't scared by manufactured chills or thrills, but we were afraid of real world threats to our safety.
|Hitchhiking ghosts from Disney's Haunted Mansion|
I currently live in a seventy year old house in central Austin. When Chad and I first moved into our home sixteen years ago, Dr. Blackstock, an older man from across the street (now deceased) would chat with me whenever he saw me out front working in the yard. He spun yarns of how our house was once hit by a car during a police chase with suspected bank robbers. He said that's why some previous homeowners built the limestone facade planters on the front of our house. If another car hits the house, then the car will be damaged worse than the house. Dr. Blackstock also pointed out a few of the BB gun pellet holes in the original windows on our house, reminiscing about how his children (now grown, middle-aged adults) staged grand battles with the children who lived here back in the day. (Those original windows now replaced by fancier energy efficient, double pane windows.) When botanical surprises would spring from the ground, Dr. Blackstock told me that at one point in the 1990s our home was occupied by owners of the local plant nursery, and how amazing it looked when everything was in bloom.
Also when we first bought our home, an older lady would sometimes loiter in a car out on the curb. We guessed that the person driving her was her daughter or some younger relative. The older lady would lean out the passenger window, and tell us how her husband poured the concrete path, and poured the concrete for the posts of the laundry lines in the backyard. She asked wistfully if they were still there. The laundry lines are long gone, but (much to our unspoken chagrin) yes, that concrete is still back there, even today. We invited the lady in a few times, but she always declined. I think she just wanted to see the old place still standing and have her memories. We haven't seen her or her younger driver in about twelve years.
Time and progress march on. Chad and I have witnessed cozy old homes around us demolished to make way for five bedroom, five bathroom, McMansions. We have suffered through years of construction dust and noise as the old state property across the four lane street from our corner lot is developed into urban infill, mixed use property. I admit that the paved walking trail and manicured landscaping around the large retention pond is beautiful with multi-acred rolling hills of lawn and grand old Oak trees undisturbed. The giant homes, multi-story apartments, and multi-story parking garages for the tall office buildings are less so beautiful, but very modern and shiny-new.
A pedestrian crosswalk with traffic signal now occupies the sidewalk right outside our windows. Most pedestrians stick to the sidewalk, but the occasional person cuts through our front yard. I don't mind the people who walk on the grass, but I do sigh with frustration at the careless oafs who step on our planter bed flowering plants and kick the river rocks from our planter beds into the street. These defiantly destructive people broadcast a sense of bowed-up, come-at-me, looking-for-a-fight, danger. And they're literally in our front yard.
Late each night between 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM I take out the trash, and visit with our outdoor cat, Sabrina. I bring Sabrina more food and sit on the front steps to brush her soft shiny ebony fur. Sabrina and I look at the sky, and listen to other critters (bats, owls, opossum, raccoons, and the occasional coyote) going about their nocturnal business. Usually the human pedestrian and automobile traffic is less present by this time of night. But a few nights ago, around midnight, Sabrina and I heard a masculine human voice. The utterances sounded far away, and were undecipherable, except for the word "hey." Sabrina seemed unbothered by the voice, so I stayed with her outside. Every few minutes, the voice sounded as if it was moving closer to our house. Still the only word I could pick out was "hey" among the other vocalizations. I reached a point where the voice sounded too close, and kind of eerily insistent, but I didn't see any person. Sabrina purred at my feet and leaned on my legs, desiring more brushing. I whispered to her, "Sorry, babe, but I'm scared. I'm going inside. You stay safe."
If I could be sure that this disembodied voice belonged to a ghost, I would have stayed put with Sabrina. I was honestly more afraid and more certain that the voice belonged to a living person. Maybe someone inebriated, or desperate, or confused, or maybe someone with bad intentions. Living in this sweet little old house, in the center of a rapidly growing city, I'm not scared of the ghosts of what was. I'm much more afraid of the physical realities of what is, and what is to come.
Saturday, September 03, 2022
Our last full day of Irish adventures began with a pre-opening hours exploration of Dublin's EPIC Irish Emigration Museum. This museum captured my interest immediately with modern, interactive, immersive experiences covering everything from the reasons people left Ireland through the contemporary worldwide impact of the Irish diaspora in music, arts, entertainment, literature, science, engineering, politics, and labor. Each section of the museum presented a new invitation to explore. I highly recommend Dublin's EPIC Irish Emigration Museum. Our entire tour group enjoyed this experience.
|Entering the EPIC Irish Emigration Museum|
|Epic sculpture depicting the many waves of emigration from Ireland|
|Look at this very refined tree at St. Stephen's Green.|
|gorgeous gardens at St.Stephen's Green|
|more gorgeous gardens at St. Stephen's Green|
|idyllic little corner of Trinity College Library|
|Trinity College Library: ultimate old book smell|
|clueless tourists loitering at Temple Bar|
|Just a half pint for me, please.|
|Author James Joyce sitting at Temple Bar.|
|Chad reading some plaque at Temple Bar.|
|supercute Dublin pub|
|Our (mostly) jolly holiday tour group. I seriously love nine of these people.|
Most of our group loved the traditional Irish song and dance night at the Merry Ploughboy. Chad and I fell more in the camp of politely smile and bear the evening's show. Remember in an earlier post when I told you to go ahead and enjoy what you enjoy? It's acceptable for different people to like different things. I appreciate the cultural heritage of dance and song, but that doesn't mean I need two hours of it at ear-splitting volume. Guess what the vegetarian option was for dinner at Merry Ploughboy? Yes! It was veggie curry! Are you psychic? Quick, what are the numbers for the lottery?
Saturday, August 27, 2022
When I tell friends about my trip to Ireland, many ask, "Did you go to Galway? Didn't you love Galway? I loved it!" Not wanting to disappoint my enthusiastic friends, I smile and nod, and let them gush over their time in Galway. Truthfully, our tour group spent a little less than ninety minutes in Galway before we had to hop on a train to Dublin. We were set loose with the only direction to meet our tour leader outside of the train station at an appointed time. Left to our own devices, Chad and I walked very quickly a few blocks radius around the train station, snapping photos of anything that looked important or charming. We didn't spend any time in the local pubs. We didn't soak in the ambiance. We didn't chat up any locals. We just hurried through the city center.
|A cute pub that we didn't enter|
|I don't know, some church or maybe a prison?|
|Oscar Wilde statue|
|Galway Hooker Monument (I looked it up later.)|
|Some other cute bar that we also didn't enter|
Sunday, August 21, 2022
Ready for another jam-packed itinerary touring the Republic of Ireland? Get some Irish breakfast tea down your neck, because we are on a tight schedule. First stop is the Connemara Celtic Crystal Factory in Moycullen where we learned about the detail-heavy work of glass cutting, and the Celtic and Gaelic influences in the designs of fine crystal products made here. We watched a demonstration of the glass cutting by an actual Irish artisan. He had impressive skills and steady hands after many years of study and practice. Our tour group elders bought a lot of crystal vases, bowls and whiskey glasses at Connemara Celtic Crystal Factory. Chad and I met the shop cat. She was cute, but only wanted to be pet for about thirty seconds, thanks, and bye now.
|Irish shop cat about to say, "that's enough now."|
Hurry, hurry, back on the bus. We're behind schedule, and the day has only just started. Our bus carried us through the verdant, rolling hills of Connemara, dodging many sheep and a few lazy cows to Glen Keen Farm. The main building of Glen Keen Farm is a cute lilac-pink color, and houses the restaurant and gift shop. Before heading inside, we met Jan, a sweet young sheep dog. Jan let me scratch her back while her caretaker teased me that she would probably hop on the bus with me after a good back scratching. Once our group all assembled, we watched Jan demonstrate her excellent sheep herding skills. It's quite impressive to witness.
|Jan, the goodest dog in Ireland|
|Paul from our group on drum, actual Irish guy on Irish flute|
|Kylemore Abbey exterior|
|Kylemore Abbey imposing wall|
|Kylemore Abbey bookshelf, complete with fancy tophat|
|Cute view from a quick stop in Cong|
|Hail to the bus driver, Conor! Photo by Valerie from our group.|
Saturday, August 13, 2022
I slept so well at the very comfortable and clean Rose Hotel Tralee. I was sad to have to leave that hotel after only two nights, but our tour group had to make tracks to the next series of destinations. Our group traveled north to Tarbet. There we, tour bus and all, boarded the Shannon Ferry across the Shannon Estuary. The temperatures topped out at only 57 degrees Fahrenheit/14 degrees Celsius that day, and the wind whipped across the water. I planned ahead with layers of warm clothing and a raincoat topper. I sometimes experience motion sickness on boats, even big ferries. I exited the bus and stood topside on the deck of the ferry for a few minutes. The cold, fresh air calmed my sensory system. Yay! None of the usual motion sickness!
|How many buses fit on a ferry? Um, 6?|
|Looking towards O'Brien's Tower at Cliffs of Moher|
|Puffins that we did not get to see at Cliffs of Moher|
Friday, August 05, 2022
Some of you are new here, and maybe not following the Irish travelogue in chronological order. Here are the links to each blog post:
Wednesday, August 03, 2022
The Ring of Kerry is to Ireland as the Road to Hana is to Maui. Both are major tourist attractions with breathtaking scenery and narrow roads featuring hairpin turns. Both are traveled by tourists in rented cars unfamiliar with the local landscape and road rules. Both are also populated with tour buses. Chad and I have traveled both the Ring of Kerry and the Road to Hana, because we're fancy. Okay, we're not terribly fancy, but we value shared experiences such as travel above material goods such as new luxury vehicles, an unnecessarily large house, jewelry, or a yacht. (Yes, we accepted an invitation to watch fireworks from a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom luxury yacht last year. We expressed gratitude to our lovely hosts, but that baller lifestyle is not for us. Also, the fancy yacht owners struggled to find a boat slip after being unceremoniously booted from their original dock by a new property owner. Thus proving the old adage: big yacht, big problems.)
Our tour group departed from Tralee early in the morning to set out for the Ring of Kerry. Our first stop, the Kerry Bog Village, modeled dwellings and daily life of eighteenth and nineteenth century rural Ireland. The quaint thatch roof homes and workshops were interesting to see and explore. Some of the structures house life size mannequins depicting the days of yore. The mannequins look a bit uncanny, one might even say creepy, so be forewarned. Chad and I got to meet some ginormous Irish Wolfhounds. Their ancestors hunted wolves, elk, and wild boar. Upon exiting the Kerry Bog Village, we funneled into the adjacent Red Fox Inn for a warming Irish coffee. Irish coffee consists of Irish whiskey, hot coffee, brown sugar, and a whipped cream topper. I enjoyed a few sips, but more than that seems like courting an instant and aggressive hangover, in my opinion. (Disclaimer: I find coffee too bitter for my tastebuds and too stimulating for my anxiety. Naturally Irish coffee would hold the same very limited appeal for me as any other kind of coffee.)
|This guy had too much Irish coffee.|
|voted cutest couple Kerry Bog Village|
|Our group got to meet Irish Wolfhounds.|
After being chatted up by a friendly local who advised us of other pubs and bars along the road, Chad and I hopped back on the tour coach at the appointed time. Our tour group had a tight schedule to keep! After our stop at the Kerry Bog Village, the scenery got progressively more alluring. The peat bogs and scrub land gave way to rolling verdant hills, moody beaches, and charming towns. The Ring of Kerry is 111 miles/179 kilometers long winding road on the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry. Our coach driver, Conor, knew all the best places to stop for panoramic vistas and photo opportunities, miles and miles of Instagram content!
|magical vista with ocean, sky, and green hills|
|hills and sky, sky and hills|
|charming oceanside towns with row houses|
|one of many beautiful beaches on the Ring of Kerry|
Our coach stopped in the sweet town of Sneem for lunch and general leg stretching. Chad and I had lunch at a little café. We walked, and gawped at the cuteness of the place. We found a little food truck called Wholly Dough Doughnuts selling doughnuts and coffee. The truck parks on Church Street, just a few steps from the eponymous big church in town. The very friendly person working the doughnut truck talked with us about how the local church hosts a wedding every Saturday lately, due to all the weddings being postponed during the pandemic. We were there on a Saturday, and can confirm, a wedding was happening.
|Sneem's cute river|
|Sneem being so cute and colorful|
Our tour group traveled through the rest of the Ring of Kerry and back to Killarney. Once there, our group split up to board three different jaunting cars for horse drawn wagon rides through a short section of Killarney National Park passing briefly by Ross Castle from some distance. Our fifteen year old jaunting car driver described local flora and fauna, told a few corny jokes, and safely delivered us to a hotel in Killarney for our group dinner. The horse pulling our jaunting car was quite flatulent, farting in perfect rhythm with her strides. Honestly it was both impressive and amusing. However, I was grateful to be at the end of the jaunting car farthest from the horse's hind end. I wish we could have walked ourselves through some of Killarney National Park. I wish we could have actually explored Ross Castle. But as aforementioned, our tour group kept a tight schedule!
At this point in our trip, I caught up on sleep pretty well and operated on local time pretty well. When we were in Republic of Ireland from June 8 through June 16 of 2022, sunset happened around 10:00 PM on average, and sunrise happened around 5:15 AM on average. That's way too much daylight time! I've never been so very thankful for blackout curtains!
You're most welcome back to this blog in less than ten days (hopefully?) for more Irish travelogue stuff.
Thursday, July 28, 2022
I fell asleep quickly at Midleton Park Hotel, exhausted by travel and jet lag. I slept soundly until about 6:00 AM local time. I tried to go back to sleep when I saw that I had another hour before my alarm, but couldn't. I peeked out the window of our hotel room, where I spied a cute chubby calico cat perched on the doorstep of a charming row house across the street. With my extra time that morning, I decided to take a leisurely approach to doing hair and makeup, and getting my suitcase packed up for the next destination.
Our tour group kept a brisk pace with a loaded itinerary. Our second full day with the group started with a drive to Cobh (pronounced "cove" according to our coach driver, Conor from Donegal.) I loved Cobh with its colorful buildings, charming main street, idyllic seaside views, and impressive giant church atop a hill. The harbor town currently known as Cobh, was originally called Cove. In 1849 Queen Victoria set foot on Irish soil for the first time at Cove. To honor the event, the name was changed from Cove to Queenstown. After the formation of the Irish Free State, the town again returned to the name Cove, but in Irish language form: Cobh.
|statue of Holy Mary at Cobh|
|cute pub near harbor|
|hilltop view toward Cobh harbor|
|St. Colman's Cathedral dominating the hilltop|
|cute colors in Cobh|
|Scots Church in Cobh|
Chad and I chose to visit the Cobh Heritage Centre, rather than Titanic Experience Cobh, because our coach was parked right next to CBC. (Location, location, location!) I'm happy we experienced Cobh Heritage Centre, because it featured lots of good exhibits and information about many waves of Irish emigration, rather than just the Titanic ship story. I found the far-flung places of the Irish diaspora fascinating: Australia, Jamaica, Bermuda, Barbados, Argentina, Brazil, and many more places you might not expect!
After not quite enough time in Cobh, we hit the road to Blarney Castle and Gardens. Chad and I chose to forgo the ninety minute line to kiss the Blarney Stone, especially during these germy times. Instead we explored the gorgeous gardens and grounds surrounding the Blarney estate. The Blarney grounds are huge with over 60 acres! I loved the beautifully bewitching Poison Garden growing Wolfsbane, Mandrake, and Cat Mint. I also loved the Fern Garden complete with a waterfall and ferns cultivated to look tall like palm trees. I wish we had a little more time at Blarney. Chad and I definitely rushed through the lake walk trail to meet our tour coach on time.
After Blarney, our group checked in to the next hotel on our itinerary, the Rose Hotel in Tralee. We had about an hour to freshen up (or for a "wash up and brush up," as tour leader Richard says) before loading into the coach to go to dinner at a different hotel in Killarney. At dinner, we sat at a big table with a new group of people from our tour: three retired British teachers who were friends for many years plus one of their husbands, and two sweet elderly British widowed men who travel together each summer. Collectively this bunch of fellow tour group members were delightful dinner company with thoughtful and kind conversation about different social media platforms, movies, television shows, modern phone etiquette, and education.
After dinner our group went to a Celtic Steps Show. I acknowledge the heritage of Irish dance, as well as the skill and discipline involved. True confession time though, I do not enjoy watching traditional Irish dance or Irish step shows. To my very untrained eye, it's repetitive and stiff and monotonous. The ladies' dance outfits especially look scratchy and constrictive. If you love traditional Irish dance and traditional Irish music, please continue to enjoy it.
By the way, I turned off comments on this blog a few years ago. Just whisper your comments down your kitchen sink drain if you need to get any strong opinions out of your system. If you have any scammy business links you wanted to post in the comments, take those over to Instagram. Thanks!
I slept beautifully at the very comfortable Rose Hotel in Tralee. Would recommend. We stayed two nights there. I admittedly didn't love packing up and moving hotels so often on this trip, but I acknowledge the need to be in close proximity to each day's attractions versus spending hours in the coach each day.
Come back to this blog in about a week for more Irish travelogue adventures. Nobody is paying me for these posts, so I'm not committing to a schedule. I have dishes to wash, laundry to handle, walls to paint, and cats who need about an hour of brushing and playing each day. Responsibilities! Plus my (totally imaginary) housekeeper went missing during the worst of pandemic stay at home times.