Saturday, December 17, 2022


🎄?=🙅‍♀️✈️ ðŸš—

I don't travel for major holidays including, but not limited to: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day, and Halloween. I don't travel for major holidays for a variety of reasons. The roads are more busy, and thus more dangerous, and thus more time-consuming for long distance travel. Air travel is more expensive, more crowded, and more likely to have a chain reaction of delays and cancellations during major holidays. It is more difficult and expensive to book a pet-sitter during major holidays. The most important reason I don't travel for major holidays is that people build too much expectation of what that holiday should be. There is such a slim chance that your dream holiday will be exactly fulfilled on the prescribed timeline. It's a recipe for disappointment. It's pre-ruined. 

Your idea of the perfect Thanksgiving will likely be ruined by my chosen dietary restrictions (vegetarian) and food allergies (peanuts and pecans, with a side of soy sensitivity). You will not enjoy my opinions of how Christmas is simultaneously too commercial and too sanctimoniously divisive even within the same church denominations. I will very likely cry because someone there says something hurtful to my tender feelings. I will very likely anger someone without meaning to; not realizing I've stepped on a culture war landmine. Maybe I'll anger someone on purpose, because we disagree, and I'm done staying silent. I don't want my holiday ruined because some family dynamic was tested by an ultimatum that backfired. An example of this was the year my husband and I traveled halfway across the country for Thanksgiving. What should have been a festive dinner of eight people at the fancy dining table was instead an angrily silent Thanksgiving dinner for only four people at the informal kitchen table with way too much food for four people walking on eggshells. 

When I stay home for major holidays, I enjoy the company of my little chosen family of my husband and my pets, sometimes a few friends. If someone in this small group ruins the meal by repeatedly opening the oven so that nothing gets cooked properly, or by forgetting to serve the desserts, or by leaning into an argument, or by maligning a certain breed of dog that happens to be my sweet shelter dog's breed, or by flipping over a board game gone too competitive, or by slicing their thumb during meal prep and spending the evening in the emergency room, (these have all happened to me, or near me, at major holidays,) then at least I'm close to home. I can easily make a hasty retreat to feed myself, relax with my sweet dog and cats, soothe my nerves, cocoon with a good book, or zone out to a movie that I like. I'm not stuck far away from the comforts of home for a few more days of tension, anxiety, and unmet expectations. I don't have to deal with hectic travel on top of the emotionally draining and fraught holiday interactions. 

I will travel to see you any other time of year. If some aspect of that series of interactions is imperfect, then at least the stakes weren't as high. We can more easily and immediately forgive each other; rather than stewing in resentment that the imaginary script wasn't followed to the letter. 

But during major holidays, I will send you glad tidings from over here.

To those who celebrate, merry Christmas! 

To those who get offended by acknowledging any other kind of holiday or celebration outside of Christmas, you can go now. Your portion of this blog post is over. 
Stop reading. 
Move on with your day. 
No one will notice if you bow out quietly. 

Are they gone? 

To those who celebrate, happy Hanukkah! 

To those who observe the celestial changing of seasons, I wish you a comforting and relaxing winter solstice. 

To those who generally celebrate the festive feeling of this time of year, happy holidays! 

To those who observe Kwanzaa, enjoy! 

To those following the Gregorian calendar, I'd like to pre-wish you a happy new year! 

To those who partake in the airing of grievances for Festivus, um, I'm so unclear on this holiday. I hope it's what you expect it to be. I won't be there. 

If I have failed to acknowledge your holiday of choice in the appropriate manner according to your exacting standards, then file it under "pre-ruined." I didn't do it on purpose, but here we are.

Thursday, October 06, 2022

I'm Not Scared of Ghosts

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

Last Full Day Dublin

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

My favorite experience room was the library with glowing books!

After leaving this museum, we hopped back on the tour bus. A local Dublin tour guide joined us, and narrated history while pointing out significant structures as our bus wound its way through Dublin. Stops included St. Stephen's Green, Trinity College Library, and that quintessential Dublin tourist trap: Temple Bar

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

Dublin has some beautiful areas, and it is a city packed with history. It is also a big city with international influence. There are dirty parts, smelly parts, traffic, clueless tourists stumbling about (myself included), so I think just two or three days in Dublin is perfect. The Irish countryside is where the real beauty lies.

One place we did not get to experience while in Dublin was the Kilmainham Gaol, a foreboding former prison that is now a museum of Irish nationalism history. This museum was fully booked to capacity for group tours on that day, but came highly recommended for insight into Irish political history.

After our guided tour of Dublin, it was back to the hotel for a quick wash up and brush up before the evening dinner and entertainment. Our tour group posed for a picture outside the hotel before boarding the bus. 

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?

After the dinner show, our tour group members said our goodbyes to each other in the hotel lobby. I hugged a select group of my favorite tour companions, and ducked out before my not-favorite tour companions could make their way across the crowded lobby. Most tour group members still keep in touch on WhatsApp.

The following morning, the British tour group members had to be in the hotel lobby by 5:45 to catch a ferry at 6:15. The nine Americans from our group, Chad and I included, got to sleep in a bit, and have a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. Our cab showed up right on time to take us to the Dublin airport. The Irish airport staff were all so friendly, even at customs! Everything went smoothly for our flight from Dublin to Boston. We very much enjoyed the Delta Comfort Plus seats on that flight. We looked forward to the Delta Comfort Plus seats on our next flight from Boston direct to Austin. Hahahahahahahahahaha! 

We had a four hour layover in Boston. Our flight did not board on time. I started feeling antsy. The Delta gates at the Boston airport got more and more crowded. Chad started to feel bad, and bundled himself in a travel blanket, like a six foot tall, gangly, swaddled baby. I figured he was just exhausted from so many days of travel. Chad perked up momentarily when we saw Conan O'Brien walk by in all of his unmistakable lankiness. 

I started hearing announcements that some flights had their gates moved.  I thought maybe our flight would be delayed a bit. No big deal. Hahahahahahaha! At the time we should have been taxiing the runway for takeoff, the announcement came that our flight from Boston to Austin got canceled!  The Federal Aviation Administration ordered a full ground stop at Boston airport that night, because flight routes were jammed up with inclement weather, and many of the short-staffed flight crews were about to go over their safety mandated work hours limits. The line to get to the Delta service desk was hundreds of stranded travelers deep. Even if we stood in that long line, the best Delta could offer was a cot on the floor at Boston airport for the night, and maybe a flight to Austin with a connection through some other city in about two days. 

There was not a spare hotel room to be found near the airport. That day in Boston was popping with events: Boston Red Sox MLB game, Boston Celtics NBA Finals game, and a PGA golf event in town.  Despite feeling bad, Chad got on his phone and found a hotel for the night in a suburb thirty minutes ride outside of Boston. He also booked an American Airlines direct flight to Austin the next day. Guess where our seats were on that flight? Chad had the middle seat of the back row next to the bathroom. I had the middle seat in the next to the last row! Hahahahahahahahahaha! 

I was just so happy to be going home finally, albeit a a day later than planned. Big thanks to our cat-sitter from Loving Pet Care for showing up an extra day on short notice!

A not so fun souvenir of our trip came in the form of positive COVID-19 tests the morning after we got home. Yes, Chad and I were both vaccinated, and both had a booster. Thanks to those shots, our illnesses weren't too bad. Honestly I couldn't untangle the jet lag, from travel exhaustion, from COVID-19. We both stayed home for ten days, and produced negative COVID-19 tests before rejoining polite society. We saw on the WhatsApp trip member group chat, that lots of other group members also caught the dreaded COVID-19. Thankfully, all recovered. (You may be wondering: each tour group member had to show proof of vaccination to be allowed on the tour.) 

I'm so glad that Chad and I got to finally take this trip to Ireland! Republic of Ireland is a beautiful place with welcoming people. That said, I would not book through the same company again. I thought there would be more train travel. Apparently this is a common complaint for this particular Irish tour package. Our tour bus carried our luggage from place to place, making the train travel completely unnecessary. I'm not sure that we saw much from the train that couldn't be seen from the bus. Also, Chad and I felt very out of place for the age demographics. Some of our tour elders were so welcoming and lovely, but others went out of their way to make us feel like sore thumbs sticking out. I get it. We were unwitting interlopers with our (relatively) good knees and our young at heart, middle-aged joie de vivre. I didn't love all of those monotonous hotel dinners. I would have liked getting out to local restaurants more. For a first trip to Republic of Ireland, wow, we saw all of the things! I'm glad that we had a company planning and booking everything for us. I also wish we had been able to skip some things we weren't interested in to allow for more time at other attractions we liked better. 

Thanks for joining for the Irish trip travelogue! I hope you've been able to get outside of your pandemic bubble safely, or that you've happily embraced your inner homebody.

I never shared our trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico from October 2021. Maybe look forward to that soon on this blog? Or maybe I'll write a ghost story over here? 

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Ninety Minutes in Galway & Strangers on a Train to Dublin

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

Walking ahead of me is Chris, an Englishman with lots of photos of his grandkids.

Chad and I made it to the train station on time. We took the modern, bland, commuter train to Dublin. We had to chat with some American tourist randos who sat with us on the train. I should really get better about putting in earphones and staring moodily out the window. Chad and I are both cursed with the people-pleaser, try-hard genes, and are usually too polite for our own good. At this point in our trip, I was happy to chat with most of the members of our own tour group, but I really didn't want to expend the emotional energy to feign interest for other American tourist strangers. On the train near us, there was also a group of young women in their best and brightest going out clothes, hairdos, and extensive makeup. They were headed to a concert in Dublin by Irish rock band The Script. They were giddy with excitement, and so cute with anticipation of their first pandemic era concert. 

In Dublin, our group tried to check in at our next hotel, but none of our rooms were ready. Our tour leader, Richard, sat in the hotel lobby guarding luggage for several hours while the rest of us ventured out for some free time in Dublin. Chad and I walked with Trish and Reg (two of our favorite tour elders) to Guinness Storehouse for respective pre-booked self-guided tours. The route covered 2.9 km/1.8 miles. Trish kept a brisk pace with me. Reg started to lag near the end, and Chad hung back with him. 

Trish told me that she caught some man checking me out. I laughed and explained that I'm happily married, way too old for that young man, and that he probably wasn't even looking at me. Then Trish asked, "So is Chad older than you?" 
I replied, "No. I'm actually older. I robbed the cradle by two years." 
Trish looked impressed and proclaimed, "He's your toy-boy! Well done!" Trish told me that her daughter is a a few years older than I am, and said conspiratorially, "So I could be your mum." I think of Trish more like my fun, cheeky, British aunt who can walk really fast.

Guinness Storehouse is like Disneyland for all things beer production and distribution. It gets crowded in some sections, especially in the 360 degree panoramic bar on the top floor. I don't like the taste of Guinness beer. Blech. But I enjoyed the whole Guinness Storehouse experience. If you're a tourist in Dublin, go to Guinness Storehouse. Book a timed entry online beforehand to avoid long lines. 

Our hotel in Dublin was the Belvedere Hotel. This hotel looks deceptively posh in the lobby with crystal bedazzled light fixtures and a sparkly bar just off the lobby. However, the hotel seems like two old buildings were joined into one bigger building with split-levels, meandering hallways, a labyrinthine system of short staircases, and two elevators for two separate wings of the hotel. We got lost a few times. There was no central air-conditioning in the hotel. Chad and I borrowed a fan from the front desk, opened the windows a smidge at night, and slept well. The bathroom was very modern with a walk in shower partitioned off by a clear glass wall. Unfortunately, the shower drain couldn't keep up with the healthy water pressure. Each time Chad or I showered a mini flood formed all over the bathroom floor. On the bright side, the view from of our hotel room windows was charmingly Irish with row houses featuring colorful entry doors.

The vegetarian option for dinner at Belvedere Hotel was a delicious and light pasta dish. Finally, something other than veg curry! After dinner, many of our tour elders headed out to Dublin pubs for carousing and singalongs. Chad and I chose sleep, because we had a full day of Dublin sightseeing ahead of us. 

If you're not entirely sick of my Irish travelogue yet, come back next week for a final full day in Dublin. There's a lot of ground to cover still! 

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Running Late to Connemara Sheep Dogs & Kylemore Abbey

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

The lunch at Glen Keen Farm was the best meal I had during my nine days in the Republic of Ireland. We were treated to veggie quiche, a small green salad, a carrot with swede salad, strong Irish tea, and fresh baked scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. The entertainment during lunch consisted of Irish songs and singalong, Irish musical instruments with explanation and demonstration, and old-style Irish dance. For the singalongs, it seemed that everyone in our group except Chad and me knew all the words and notes. Did Chad and I miss a tutorial on popular Irish songs? Was it a generational thing? Are we buzzkills who don't spend enough time in pubs? Probably all of the aforementioned. And I'm honestly fine with that.

Paul from our group on drum, actual Irish guy on Irish flute

Our group ran behind schedule nearly from the start on this day, so we jumped back on the bus very shortly after lunch. Our bus wound its way back through the rolling hills, meandering sheep, occasional scenic lakes (or loughs as they are called locally), and out to a bigger road. Soon enough, an imposing mansion appeared on the horizon with a dramatic backdrop of green hills and a lake in the foreground to provide an admirable reflection. Kylemore Abbey looks like a Victorian take on a royal castle. The mansion was built from 1863 to 1868 by Mitchell Henry, a wealthy politician and former doctor from Manchester England. Henry and his family lived there until 1903, when it was bought by the Duke and Duchess of Manchester. Since 1920, the former private estate has been owned and run by the Benedictine community. The grounds, gardens and exterior view of the mansion are breathtaking with so much to explore! Only a portion of the mansion interior is staged with period furniture and historic informational displays. I was slightly disappointed that more of the mansion was not open for guests, but there are still nuns living and working at Kylemore Abbey. I guess it can't all be open for gawping at? Like Sister Mary Annette needs for her humble quarters to be closed to tourists? 

Chad and I walked as fast as we could to see the two massive gardens, the lake path, the Neo-Gothic church, and the partial interior of the house. Despite our speedy efforts, we didn't have time for a visit to the gift shop with award winning chocolate made by the nuns. We didn't have time for the Tea House or the Kylemore Kitchen. I wish our group had another hour at Kylemore Abbey. Back on the bus, I heard some of our tour elders saying that they only made it to the gardens, or only made it through the house exhibit area. 

Kylemore Abbey exterior

Kylemore Abbey imposing wall

Kylemore Abbey bookshelf, complete with fancy tophat

On the way back to the hotel, our bus got caught behind a tourist in a rental car driving well below the speed limit, refusing to let our bus pass. Since our group ran behind schedule all day, this made us late for dinner. Our tour manager, Richard, called ahead to the hotel restaurant to let them know of our tardy arrival.

Cute view from a quick stop in Cong

At dinner Chad and I sat with our bus driver, Conor. We all bonded over Irish authors we like and our respective pets adopted from pet rescues. Conor's wife works with a local pet rescue group in their hometown of Donegal. Near the end of dinner, Conor asked, "Why'd you come with this group? There's tour groups from America." I explained that I booked the tour through an American company, not realizing that our group would be a majority of British (mostly English, a few Welsh) people. I also explained that I had no clues and no hints about the tours being so heavily favored by retired people, but that we were having fun with our group, and at times struggling to match their fast pace. I also confided to him in a hushed voice, "The other people in our tour group can outdrink us, outsing us, and don't need nearly as much sleep as we do. They are in it to win it!"

Technically our tour manager for this trip was Richard from Great Rail Journeys, but this was also Richard's first trip to Ireland. Richard did a good job of ensuring we mostly stuck to our schedule, and that logistics ran smoothly. Richard had prepared notes that he read about different landscapes and historical facts for locations, but it was bus driver Conor who told Richard how to pronounce Irish words and names. It was Conor who told Richard about the best local places to stop for lunch, restroom breaks, and scenic photo opportunities. It was Conor who told us all the local lore and local points of interest. So hail to the bus driver, an unsung hero, who not only delivered us safely to each location, but who also guided our tour to a large extent. 

Hail to the bus driver, Conor! Photo by Valerie from our group.

There's even more Ireland trip to recount. Drop by next week for more Irish sightseeing!

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Shannon Ferry to Cliffs of Moher

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?

Upon landing on the other side of the estuary, our tour bus drove through County Clare to the Cliffs of Moher on the southwestern edge. These dramatic and sheer cliffs tower 510 feet/155 meters above the churning Atlantic Ocean. The Cliffs of Moher Experience safeguards visitors from the cliffs with fencing and wide walkways positioned safely back from the dangerous edge of land. The whipping wind is beyond blustery, like seriously tie down your hat and anything you don't want to lose. The pathway around the small castle-like building, O'Brien's Tower was very crowded. If you choose to walk beyond O'Brien's Tower caution signs soon appear that you are leaving the Cliffs of Moher Experience, that rock slides do occur, and that your safety is not ensured. The wire fencing on either side of the narrow dirt path past that point barely gives two people room to get by each other. Just don't. Instead, turn around and head back in the other direction for more breathtaking views along the other side of the official, and much safer, Cliffs of Moher Experience. The farther you go in the direction opposite O'Brien's Tower, the less crowded the walkways become. 

At a certain point, Chad and I decided we had soaked our eyeballs in enough of the dramatic cliff scenery, and that we had enough punishment from the sheer winds. The Visitor Center provided much-needed shelter from the elements. We had lunch at the little cafeteria. The food there was surprisingly good, especially after eating so many monotonous hotel dinners. The little cafeteria even had a small green salad! Fed and recovered somewhat from all the buffeting winds, Chad and I perused some interesting interactive displays about the geological formation of the burren and cliffs, the animals (including puffins), and the plants of the area. Upstairs from the main displays, we found a touch screen program with historical details of Irish family names. Sure enough, I found my family name there! My only regret about the Cliffs of Moher Experience is that we did not see any puffins in real life. 

Looking towards O'Brien's Tower at Cliffs of Moher

Puffins that we did not get to see at Cliffs of Moher

The Regan family crest via touch screen at Cliffs of Moher Visitor Center

Our tour bus made its way to the next destination, driving through new-to-me terrain of the  Burren National Park. Loosely translated from old Irish, the word burren means "rocky place." Think of huge shelves of rock hills. The burren landscape contained a kind of desolate beauty with swirling swaths of greenery daring to pop up every once in a while. 

Our group stopped at the Burren Centre in Kilfenora which is tucked into a cute little village. At the Burren Centre we watched a short film montage of some of the different types of Irish burren landscapes. Then we walked through the exhibition space with charming life-size dioramas of different animals and plant life of the burren. In addition to lots of historical information about the region, the Burren Centre also houses a whole room meant to look like a pub with information about the local music scene.

As afternoon turned into evening, we arrived at our group's hotel for the next two nights, the Lough Rea Hotel and Spa. The guest rooms here were clean, modern perfection. I slept so well here, even if on our first night at Lough Rea Hotel and Spa, there was a pack of semi-feral children, escaped from some event at the hotel, littering the stairs with candy wrappers and crushed candy bits, taking joy rides in the elevators, unaccompanied by any adult presence. Luckily the stomp-running up and down the hallways ended at a reasonable hour, as did the yelling and squeals of youthful joy. We'll have none of that past 8:00 PM!

Speaking of the perceived wasting of youth on the young, one of the elderly men on our tour cornered me in the dining room before dinner that night. He said that he overheard me saying how long my husband and I had been together. He said, "So you've known your husband over twenty years? I thought you were only in your twenties. I wondered what a couple of twenty-somethings were doing on OUR trip!" Feeling a bit peeved at this statement, I did a defiantly brave thing. I said my actual age aloud to this man and his wife. They said that they still have me, "beat by about thirty years." But they did seem a bit less hostile to me after that. So, yay! I think? Ageism is real, and goes in all sorts of directions.

I found out that some of the members of our tour group went to local pubs each night after dinner. I was so tired after eleven hours of sightseeing each day and our hour-long 8:00 PM dinners each night, that I could barely get myself showered and under the covers before I began snoring loudly and having the twitchy eyelids of dreamland. I can't fathom how my elders on this tour had the energy for each day's busy itinerary and late nights at the local pubs!

Tune in next week for more Irish travelogue. Thanks for following along.

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

The Ring of Kerry, Plus Horse Farts in Killarney

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

Most every Irish person we encountered in Ireland was friendly. Many would say, "you're most welcome," when we entered their shops, restaurants, hotels, museums, etc. Many would chat with us in a relaxed and friendly fashion, without pretense or posturing. I really loved the vibe in most of the Irish places we experienced on our trip, and especially in the smaller towns and villages. 

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

Cobh and Blarney

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.

Blarney Castle

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.