"O Scotia! my dear, my native soil!
For whom my warmest wish to heaven is sent;
Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content"
Robbie Burns

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Irish Weekend

Typical Irish Cottage/New Furry Friends

Opps! Sorry I'm late in posting this but the holidays and all it entails got the better of me this week.  
One of the really enjoyable pluses of a trip such as this is that one gets to meet people they would might never have encountered. Staying in Bed/Breakfasts allows this to happen in a friendly non-threatening way. At breakfast Saturday morning we had the pleasure of sharing our meal with a woman who was in from London who had come over to Ireland house hunting. Seems she was selling her business and getting ready to retire. Quickly it became apparent she and my husband, a former USCG Coastie, had much in common: she was a sailor. But not just any sailor, her business was running barges on the Thames River. Not only did she own the business but she skippered some of them herself. We had a  very interesting morning meal to say the least. At the end of the meal we wished her well in her house hunting trip, envious we weren't here to do the same. But we had plans to meet our daughter's friend Cathy and her family in Bray, which is down the coast in County Wicklow.

Our daughter,while attending graduate school at Gallaudet University in Washington DC, became friends with Cathy, an Irish grad student who was there on a Fulbright Scholarship. You may not know it but Gallaudet is our national school for the Deaf (our daughter is not deaf).  Cathy, an occupational therapist in Ireland, was taking a year off of work to obtain her graduate degree. For Cathy's this was a wonderful experience to be finally in a school whose whole purpose was to accommodate the unique educational needs of the deaf. In Ireland, Cathy didn't have a sign language interpreter in elementary and secondary school and wasn't  until she fought the Irish gov't.  all the way up to the European Union did she finally get one in college.  Not only has  she been successful as an Occupational Therapist, but Cathy was able to complete her graduate degree in one year, remarkable even for a hearing student.  Cathy is q  now a lecturer in OT at Trinity College in Dublin.  We were eager to meet her and her family  after hearing about them after our daughter's trip here last Christmas. Of course  I couldn't wait also to meet her wonderful dogs (above).  Aren't they cuties, a better behaved than most children at leas the ones at our B/B.

We met Cathy and her mum Mary in their sunny Irish kitchen for tea and scones and had a good chat about our kids, our trip over  and  they helped us a plan a trip (later in the month) to the village of Avoca where the TV series BALLYKISSANGEL was filmed. Then Cathy took us down to Wicklow to see her new cottage which sets on a wildlife reserve right on the water; her views of Wicklow Bay and the Wicklow Mts are incredible.  After that I headed back to my B/B to read and do some prep work for my family history archival work while in Scotland while  Mark and Cathy were off for the afternoon of golf and dinner with her dad and brother at her course up in the Wicklow Hills. My husband enjoyed the fact someone else was driving as most roads thru the hills are extremely narrow. He did have to chuckle more than once because even if it was a track for one car they painted a white line down the middle of the road. Irish hope is eternal.  He returned late that evening tired but charged up with experience of playing golf in Ireland. I had a PBJ sandwich and some crisps while watching Irish tv, though I didn't have a clue what was going on because of the language. 

The next day we were up bright and early and leaned that our B/B wouldn't take our EURO travelers checks ( dumb idea, won't do that again) so off to the only place that had a money exchange open on a Sunday, the airport.  The drive was pleasant until we reached the outskirts of Dublin and the traffic became horrendous. Add to this is was raining, not the gentle mist that makes those famous fifty shakes of green in Ireland, but a downpour that our windshield wipers could barely keep up with. After an hour at the airport, we decided to take a Greyline tour of Dublin and just chill out the rest of the day as we were to leave for Scotland on the morning tide and it would be a long day of driving through  four countries until we settled in for the night somewhere near Durham, England.

Entering the Temple Bar area we were surprised to see so many people on the street, many of whom were in green and gold. Well it was a Sunday in Sept, and back home wearing  green and gold was the rule rather than the exception: Packer fans !!! But what really surprised me was people were standing on the sidewalk three and four deep as if waiting for a parade, but these people also were drinking, and not from brown paper bags. We couldn't find a place to park as the crowds along the street seemed to grow and finally we pulled off and asked a local Garda (police) what was going on. He just grinned when he heard our accents and told us it was the Gaelic Football Championship,  think Super Bowl here in the US and you have an idea of the craziness that was going on. Apparently Kerry ( green/gold) was playing Cork for the title.  We scrapped our plan to stay in Dublin and headed back to Dun Laoghaire for dinner at wonderful local pub, one Cathy told us about as she frequented it in her youthful party days. The food was wonderful, I had the most incredible fish, the best of our entire trip. As this was a bit of family pub too they had a big screen tv on with Rugby on and a few of the locals at the next table were kind enough to help  us understand the rules. I have to say, the whole trip when ever I could, I tried to catch a game on tv.  I could easily become a Rugby fan: think soccer meets American football and deliciously buff men in tight shorts who aren't afraid of a little piling on .  After this great meal we headed back to our B/B to have a quiet evening but apparently our hosts teenage son and daughter had other ideas. For two solid hours they had screaming fits with their parents and each other. I was shocked at the behavior of the hosts who were equally yelling right back at their kids, it was embarrassing as all the guests hid in their rooms. We wouldn't be returning to this place at the end of our trip when we returned to Ireland before heading home.

We started this trip for new experiences but our experience in this B/B could have put us off Ireland, thankfully we had days at the end of the trip to redeem the Irish portion of the trip. In my next post its Wales, and England with Scotland around the corner, hope you can come back. Anyone want to share  a horror  story they have had in a B/B or hotel while on holiday?

Monday, December 10, 2007

A cyber tour of Ireland

Photo Album of Dublin/Dun Laoghaire: 

Dublin Post Office 



                 Dun Laoghaire 

If you can't visit Ireland anytime soon, one fun way to visit is through the marvels of cybernetworks-- webcams. I created a list of ones that I enjoy, but remember we are 6 hours behind them (5 for East Coast and 8 for the West Coast) so you want to catch them early in the day our time.    

Web Cams


University of Dublin/Trinity College



Sunday, December 9, 2007

IRELAND: First leg of our Journey

When I began to plan this trip, which was last year's Christmas present from my husband Mark, I think he thought a couple of weeks in Scotland would pacify me. Yet, when we started to compare airfare we found  flying to Scotland via Glasgow airport was kind of pricey compared to past trips (and don't get me started on the exchange rate). Our daughter, who traveled last Christmas to Dublin, thought we should check with Aer Lingus and sure enough they were not only the cheapest, but had a direct flight from Chicago to Dublin. Of course that posed the problem, how would we get over to Scotland? No Ryan Air, or ValueJet for us as my husband was taking his golf clubs along. 

During my last trip to the UK, we traveled from London to Edinburgh to Dublin and back to London, via the train and to be honest, I missed the freedom to strike out on our own and not worry about schedules and connections. So after much discussion, alright to be honest I told him my suggestions while he was watching the Golf Channel, as I knew he would agree to it all if I would just leave him alone. And what started out as a two week holiday of family research and golf, turned into a 32 day vacation to Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, all to be seen from the luxury of our own car. 

The car posed the first problem, one can't rent a car in the Republic of Ireland and take it over to the UK or visa versa. We had planned to take the "fast" Stena Car Ferry from Dun Loaghaire to Holyhead, Wales and then drive across northern Wales, then up through England to Durham before we headed to Scotland. We had two options:1) go to Belfast to rent a car (Northern Ireland being part of the UK) and then taking the ferry to Scotland or 2) rent a car at Holyhead, through Hertz (our only choice). We initially took the 2nd choice until a good friend and romance author, Kimberlee, an American ex-pat who lives in Cork, arranged for us to rent a car we could take into the UK, but we had to pay for breakdown service which would be refunded when we returned the car. We jumped at the chance, which in hindsight we should have thought more about, but more on this in later posts. 

In mid September my brother drove us from Wisconsin to Chicago's Ohare airport. As seasoned travelers, (snicker) we know taking an early evening flight will get one into the UK/Ireland early the next day and by jumping right into activities it helps one to stem the tide of jet lag. The thought of being trapped on a plane in seats only comfortable for people under 5'3" was daunting, (and a real test for closeness on our 34 years of marriage) but I brought along the Historic Scotland tour guide to read and my Ipod full of Scottish and Irish songs and podcasts to listen to. Oddly enough I was actually able to sleep a bit and we arrived in Dublin at 5:30 am, almost 45 minutes early. 

The airport is very small by American standards but at least the Customs Agent was friendly and joked about our harried condition. We slagged our luggage on two carts, darn golf clubs and headed to the car rental desk. All I thought of was finding a place where I could lay down flat and get the kinks out, even the floor in the terminal which hadn't been washed in weeks had a certain appeal. Two and half hours later we were on way to the bus stop to catch the van to the car rental yard. The sky which was completely dark when we landed was now a steel gray with slivers of pale pink light peeking through the clouds and the streets were awash with rain. The air smelled sweet and fresh, but at that moment in the morning we would have traded  our first born grandchild (if we had one) for some Starbucks coffee. 

Having driven in Ireland before on my own,  I watched Mark cringe at the way some of the locals were driving including our van driver. Mark hadn't driven on the "wrong" side of the road since our trip to Scotland in 1994, but the Irish are not the well mannered drivers  one finds in Scotland and the UK. I often wonder if they use driving as a form of birth control, speed limits are suggestions rather than the rule.  We pulled into the drive and saw our car waiting for us, Now, I'm used to driving small cars but after a long flight in a seat left over from the Spanish Inquisition, the thought of getting in that car made me want to cry.  After a walk around and assurances that we knew how to drive on the "wrong" side of the road, we were off heading away from Dublin toward Dun Laoghaire to the south an our B/B. Of course, we quickly learned that the concept of "street" signs is foreign to the Irish (are they naming the street or the building? who knew?) and we couldn't find the B/B. We called for directions but the number I had was for the booking agent, not the B/B. So we drove around town, as my husband got madder and madder at me because it was the one accommodation I didn't Google directions for before leaving home. Being trapped in the plane together for 8 hours and then in the car was too much for him, so he went in search of a phonebook, totally nonexistent thanks to cellphones and I found a bookstore, ah!!!
Finally Mark returned, though I'm sure he had second thoughts about leaving me there and finding a golf course. He had gotten directions and we found the B/B about 20 minutes later. Unfortunately, they didn't have the room ready as they had promised and with much whining on my part to anyone who would listen (which was nobody) they promised it would be ready in an hour, so we headed off to lunch at a local pub. I don't remember much of that meal, I think it was fish but I do know there were no peas, the dreaded vegetable from the last trip to Ireland.  Finally at 2' o'clock they let us in our room. I crashed on the bed, clothes, shoes and all and didn't wake up until the next day, the hell with jet lag.  My husband went out and got the lay of the land, called my daughter's friend and family to let them know we made it across the pond and set plans for golf the next day.   More on the Irish saga in the next post. 

Does this travel experience touch a cord with anyone? Please  share your flight experiences.