One of my last Navy trips was to Sicily and Spain for an aircraft carrier maintenance inspection. I departed 24 Jun for Catania, Italy on the island of Sicily via Dulles, a 5-hour layover, Frankfurt, and another 5-hour layover. I spent all day Sunday 26 Jun walking around the city (not too much walking, it was really hot). Monday, 27 Jun, I took a cab from the hotel in Catania to the Navy air station in Sigonella and caught a C-2A Greyhound flight to the ship. The inspection was already in progress when I arrived. We suspended it 28 Jun when the ship pulled into Palma de Mallorca for four days of liberty. The inspection team and I moved off the ship and into a Marriott Resort hotel about 10 miles east of the city where we were joined by the remaining two members of the team (they had really bad travel delays). On the island, we made use of the recreational activities at the hotel, toured the Gothic Cathedral, Bellver Castle, Soller (in the mountains NW of Palma), watched intoxicated Brits burn their skin to a crisp from lying on the beach, watched different intoxicated Brits stagger between bars and discos in Magaluf, and raced the fastest go karts I have ever driven. Some members of the team went to the beaches all day, but I did not since I burn too easily. If you have not been to Palma de Mallorca, you need to get that on your "list." The ship got underway again 2 Jul, we completed the inspection 3 July (the ship passed, but it was a near thing), and flew off the ship 4 July to Rota, Spain (SW coast of Spain, on the Atlantic side). We took cabs to Jerez de la Frontera, the nearest major airport, and flew to Madrid. We stayed at the airport Hilton for one night. That evening, most of us walked to the nearest subway stop and took the metro to the vicinity of La Plaza del Sol for dinner. We few from Madrid to Hampton roads (via Atlanta) the next day, 5 July. One thing I really enjoyed about the trip was the opportunity to use some of my high school spanish. It seemed very odd to get started in an inspection, suspend it for four days in a liberty port, then pick the inspection back up again. That's just what the ship's leadership wanted.
These are notes from our sixth trip to the Emerald Isle. This time we showed family members some of our facorite paces in counties Kerry, Limerick, Clare, and Galway. We departed Albuquerque 10 March and joined our companions at Boston's Logan airport in the afternoon of the next day. [I will publish updates here as we go.]
These are the top twenty things we saw and did in Europe that we consider the highlights of the trip:
- Tapas in Spain
- Spanish Hot Chocolate
- El Prado museum in Madrid
- La Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona
- Montserrat monastery near Barcelona
- Urbany Hostel in Barcelona
- Fresh crepes in Paris
- Eiffel Tower n Paris
- Mona Lisa at the Louvre
- Saint Eve's dessert in France
- Mont Saint Michel in France
- Night city tour in Paris
- Hot water bathing/spa in Bath
- Eirianfa B&B in Wales
- Rosetta Stone (British Museum) in London
- London Eye view
- Patisserie Valerie in England
- Weinachtmarkts food in Berlin
- View from Berliner Dom in Berlin
- Nefertiti Statue (Altes Museum) in Berlin
This is a summary of our trip to Iceland, England, and Ireland. The primary purpose of this trip was to attend an academic conference in Manchester, England, the University Forum for Human Resources Development (UFHRD). I decided to put a stopover in Iceland on the front end since Icelandair has such liberal layover policies and Ireland (Achill Island) on the back end to make it easier for Pamela to say "yes" to accompanying me on the trip. There are pictures in the photos area of the website. Look for the link at the top of the page.
These notes are rather long and may not be interesting to all, so here is a short summary of what I consider the best parts.
The daylight is truly amazing. It never really gets dark in June even though the sun “sets” at 11:44 pm and sunrise is at just after 3 am. This is because the sun never goes very far below the horizon.
Driving in Iceland is straightforward, but has its challenges. The maximum speed limit on the highways is 90km/hr (only 80km/hr on dirt roads!). Driving in the afternoon without a caffeinated soda after lunch is a problem for me on any long distance drive. The jet lag even with a good night's sleep just makes it more interesting. A driver in Iceland does have to pay extra close attention and just quickly glance at the amazing scenery because of the narrow roads with steep drop offs, no shoulders that result in stopped vehicles in the lane people *in the middle of the road* (that is hard to get used to), and sheep hanging out by the side of the road waiting until your car gets close to screw up their courage to jump into the road. I’m not kidding about the sheep. On the plus side, in the summer you have plenty of light so it doesn’t matter that there are not lights on the road outside of cities. Another plus is the ability to stop in the middle of the road just about anywhere outside of Reykjavik for a picture as long as you are watching for cars.
Despite its small size, Iceland has greater population density than Montana and 2 other U.S. states. This means there are not many cars on the road.
Icelanders are really big on sagas. They are deeply embedded in their national culture, which you can tell from the live action "tweets" from the Reykjavík Grapevine, an Icelandic magazine, during their Euro 2016 game against Portugal. Talk about a David and Goliath match! This is Iceland's first ever European Championship and it is clearly a big deal to them. 8% of their entire population has traveled to the games in France. Here are some of the tweets:
• And now the unfortunate Portuguese will feel the mighty thunder of Þór's Icelandic warriors. [Þ has the "th" sound]
• You can see the fear on our puny opposition's faces. They know the Norse hellfire that awaits them.
• Even the breath of one mighty viking is enough to fell that Portuguese attacker, who fell without being touched.
• Óðinn's breath propelled our heroic goalie to swat away that weak-ass header.
• When will our secret bench weapon be unleashed? No, not the power of the god Týr—the volcanic force of Eiður Guðjohnsen.
• A weak shot from one of the wilting manboys of Portugal stopped with a flick of one mighty Icelandic hand.
• STONEWALL PENALTY SEND HIM OFF BEFORE HE IS SMITED BY LIGHTNING, it's for HIS OWN SAFETY.
• Now that defending was made of solid Icelandic… birch saplings. We don't have any oak.
• Lol. Ronaldo. Lol. The nerves are showing. He is scared of the mighty thrashing that is to come.
From Time magazine: Although the scoreline was a far cry from the 19-0 Icelandic victory the Grapevine had predicted in “ICELAND’S PATH TO CERTAIN VICTORY AT EURO 2016,” there’s still a “historic trouncing of the terrified Hungarians” to look forward to in the team’s next matchup on Saturday.
The seats at the gates in Keflavik airport are terrible. First, there are not enough of them so people have to sit in the flour or in windowsills waiting for planes. Second, the few seats that are available are metal. Sports stadium seats are more comfortable. It may be that the seating is so bad because they want you to spend all your time in the duty free shops.
Clearing passport control after the 4km (it always seems that long to me!) walk from the plane arrival gate was extra challenging because the UK wants an arrival card for *each* passenger. The agent was very polite about sending me back to get another form. Pamela got to sit at the head of the line while I trooped back with my luggage to the desk to fill out another card. I am always amused by the conversations I have with the passport control agent upon entry and exit. “What is your reason for travel? How many days are you staying? Are you employed? What do you do? Where do you work? What kind of research (for me) do you do? What is the weather like in Albuquerque? … What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?” and then I get tossed off the bridge of eternal peril!
Pamela and I embarked on an epic journey to find Chinatown, but because of some map reading errors (no finger pointing, we both have culpability), we walked for an hour in the wrong direction and had to settle for fish and chips because the journey went horribly wrong. At least we are still speaking to each other.
The demonym for Manchester is “Mancunian.” I never would have guessed.
At conference lunches or formal dinners, there exists the social challenge of deciding where to sit when you know very few people at the conference. One strategy that I have used in the past is to pick an empty table and hope or wait for someone to sit next to me. This reduces the initial social pressure of interaction when I approach the table, but increases anxiety briefly while I wait for others to join me. The approach I used on this trip was to choose a table with an open seat and introduce myself immediately. This kind of social interaction is a bit awkward at first, but probably equally so for the other people already at the table. The challenge is to find something to talk about briefly as you search for common ground of interests and experiences.
We walked a meandering, 1 km path with all our luggage to the Manchester Piccadilly station to catch our express train to Birmingham. I had asked Pamela to take a walk there while I was at the conference, which she did, but that seemed to have little influence on the number of times she had us crossing back and forth across the streets of busy traffic.
The highlight of the train trip to Birmingham was the recorded announcement in the toilet “do not flush nappies (diapers), [female sanitary products], paper towels, your extra sweater, gold fish, or your hopes and dreams down the toilet.”
Pamela almost fell over in the Debbingham’s department store from the perfumes in the air. She tried to position herself upwind of the fumes while I browsed. She was lucky because she put herself far from the person that was spraying sent and wafting it around it with small white cards! Evacuating the scented area, we came out of the store and into the Bull Ring shopping center proper, an enormous mall. This caused Pamela to immediately go into retail overload (“I can’t breathe!”) so I was directed to proceed directly to the nearest exit at top speed. Pamela is largely a “one and done” kind of shopper so the idea of browsing around malls is an anathema to her.
The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has a collection of medieval jewelry and gold work referred to as the “Staffordshire Hoard.” It is a collection of gold and precious metals and gem adornments from things like sword hilts and jewelry that was thought to have been buried in farmland in the 650s and possibly forgotten. It was located by one of those madmen that spends lots of time wandering around the countryside with a metal detector. No-one knows who buried the collection or why, but archeologists can certainly come up with guesses. Nearly all the hoard was found 2-3 inches below the surface of the topsoil. We don’t discover such things in America because we would have put a strip mall and parking lot over it long ago.
The security screening process exiting the UK was a nightmare, but we only have ourselves to blame. I noted on my departure from Scotland in April that the private company screeners employed in the UK are much more thorough about spotting liquids, creams, and gels (LCGs) than in the US. Normally I don't take them out of my bag or place them in a 1 qt container. Big mistake, especially when you have to get through security quickly. We spent 30 minutes between the long entry line and getting our bags searched and re-X-rayed multiple times 3 times for Pamela's wheeled bag. To speed up our exit once we got through with the endless series of X-rays, I repacked the exploded constants of Pamela's backpack while she was watching the screener find LCGs in her wheeled bag that she hadn't seen in days. This was a double edged sword because Pamela did not see me do this and kept asking if I packed such and such an item after we cleared security.
After clearing security, we had to navigate the twists and turns of the longest duty free obstacle course we have ever seen. The walkways are so narrow it was nearly impossible to walk past the people meandering through ahead of you without cutting through the perfume displays that make Pamela gag. I had to look behind me every few steps to make sure she hadn't passed out! After we got through the duty free area, then we had to pass through an airport mall with stores and eating places before we could even see a sign for the gates. It was like getting to the gates by traversing a shopping mall!
I realized that the bus tickets I bought in advance from Cork to Limerick would not get us to the airport, where we really needed to go to get our rental car. When I asked the bus driver about buying extra tickets, his reply was “We’ll look after ya.” I realized later that meant “Don’t worry about it” because I did not have pay to get additional tickets. That was our first real indication we were in Ireland. The second was during the trip to Limerick. An older woman came up to the driver as he was driving through one of the towns and said, “Now where did I want to get off?” as if she expected he would remember better than she would.
Our B&B hostess in Keel told us “in Ireland, Tuesday isn’t Tuesday.” That means the repairman might come on Tuesday like he said, or he might not.
Breakfast was the same wonderful meal we remembered from 2011: a huge pot of tea and another pot of hot water, brown bread, toast, juice, assorted cereal, fruit, and yogurt. All this is available before the cooked breakfast! Pamela had poached eggs and smoked salmon while I had the Irish breakfast (egg, tomato, lamb sausage, bacon, and black pudding). I have been looking forward to the bacon for months because it is cured almost like American bacon, but isn’t made from the pork belly so the fat is a tiny fraction of each piece and the pieces are thin slices about the size of the ham you can get for breakfast in some restaurants. I was also offered “red” or brown sauce by the young man serving. I know that brown sauce is also called HP and tastes just like our Heinz 57 sauce, but I had never heard of red sauce outside of Mexican restaurants so I asked for some. It turned out to be a form of ketchup.
I had time to watch Gaelic Rules Football and some Hurling on TV. The first seems like a cross between rugby, soccer, and mob riots. This would make it similar to Aussie rules football. There are no pads that I can see in either version of football, which may make it safer for the players. Safety equipment has the paradoxical effect of encouraging players to take greater risks with their bodies and use things like helmets like weapons the way Vikings did. The second sport, Hurling, is a mixture of hockey, soccer, rugby, and kickboxing. The object of both sports seems to be to slap some kind of ball or the opposing team’s players across or through a multi-level goal post. I probably could become a fan if I spent enough time watching these games, but they seem largely an excuse for going to the pub or public stadium to drink with friends and yell until you are hoarse. Who can argue with that (as long as you don't drive afterward)?
The Irish Times is a pleasure to read because they cover stories so differently than the U.S. press. For example, the coverage of the Irish national football (soccer) team supporters focuses on a) their drinking without getting hurt or hurting others and b) how they were treated to a better performance by their team than “they had any right to expect.” What a great way to express the fact that their team is solidly average. A second article noted that the only fan casualty among the Irish and Swedish fans drinking together was the Swedish fan, who had no visible injuries and was helped to the ambulance by the Irish supporters. The article writer surmised that the reason for the ambulance call was that the Swedish supporter had made the mistake of trying to keep drinking pace with the Irish (bad idea). Another article about all the things on an airplane that can make you sick made me want to avoid air travel for the rest of my life. The author made a colorful reference to the “‘thunderous volcanic’ flushing action of the toilet exacerbates the health risk by launching germs from the toilet.” What mental picture that conjures up! I personally find it hard to look away from the toilet flushing on airplanes because it is such an interesting process.
The lighthouse keeper at Blacksod, Ireland, played an important role in the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944 because of the weather reports called in from there. If bad weather is going to hit the English Channel, it will smack the northwestern coast of Ireland first. We noticed this during our stay in Keel.
We had several thrilling experiences while driving. In one memorable instance, we were driving south from Bangor toward Mulranny on the narrow, two-lane road behind some kind of large vehicle that was the size of the Death Star and took up 105% of the lane ahead of me. It was driving at about 6 mph (10 kph) so I was keen to pass, but I had two challenges. First, the driver was about 40% across the middle of the road, taking up space I needed for passing without a one-way trip into the ditch (no shoulder). Second, I was concerned that if I got right behind the Death Star to indicate more clearly my intention to pass, it would blot out the sun, I wouldn’t be able to see oncoming traffic, and the driver would lose sight of me and assume I had driven underneath the vehicle. Yikes! It all worked out because the force was with me. I got into the right lane far enough behind the Death Star that the the driver figured things out and got back over on his side so I could pass. I did not try closing my eyes during this maneuver or Pamela would have permanently injured me. Even so, I felt like Luke Skywalker in the trench on his way to the thermal exhaust port: not much room to maneuver.
There special pleasures of driving with Pamela and two stood out on the trip. First, she can only look at a map in a moving vehicle for a minute or so or the risk of projective hurling increases exponentially. This can make it a challenge to get navigational assistance without stopping. My adjustment to this feature of driving with Pamela is to memorize the way as much as possible before setting out. Second, Pamela assumes that because she often has no idea where we are or where I am going that I don’t either so I often get suggestions like, “If it were me driving, I would just turn around and go back the way we came.” When she says things like this, I want to say, “If it were you driving, we would be in Alaska right now,” but we were too close to our wedding anniversary to make that a smart comment.
You can get porridge (what we call oatmeal) with whiskey or Bailey’s Irish Cream. Now that is a civilized way to eat, but probably only in Ireland.
Driving in Ireland is an opportunity to take note of the different approach to signage used there. Roundabouts on major roads (like the N4 and N5) now have large signs in English and German directing drivers to stay on the left (“Links Fahren”). This is a puzzling approach because it would be very difficult to emerge from a roundabout driving on the right side of the road because of the way the roads and curbs are positioned. There are many signs that tell you to use “dipped headlights,” which only I figured out after coming back to the States are low beam headlights. Instead of “Reduced Speed Zone Ahead” signs, the Irish use “Traffic Calming Ahead” with a picture that shows lane narrowing.
I missed a turn to remain on the main road driving to Limerick. My excuse is that I was distracted by seeing a traffic signal, a rare sight in villages in Ireland. After driving through town, we noticed the road getting narrower and narrower until it was only 1.5 cars wide and all signage disappeared. Pamela, the spinning compass woman, desperately wanted to turn back, but I knew we were traveling in the general direction of Galway and just turned east at the first opportunity in the belief we would intersect N84, which we did soon enough. Pam's sense of direction is like the ship's wheel in the Gilligan's Island introduction, spinning endlessly.
While walking back from a pub in Limerick at 11pm, we just happened to follow an extremely intoxicated young man wearing an Irish national team jersey wobbling back and forth on the sidewalk outside Arthur's Quay shopping center. I tried not to look as he was having great difficulty keeping his pants up, which eventually dropped around his ankles. I noticed this because I had to look to keep from falling off the sidewalk!
For those that like details, they follow:
1 Jun (Wednesday)
We left my father’s apartment at 0520 to park at the airport for our 0700 flight to Boston via Baltimore. Unlike Chicago and Newark airports, there were no significant security lines at Albuquerque’s Sunport and our flight left on time. We both slept most of the way to Baltimore because we had to get up so early (5 hours of sleep for me). I also slept during most of the 62 minute flight to Boston.
In Boston, we learned that Lyft cannot pickup passengers at the airport, which necessitated a change in my plan for getting to the hotel. We took the shuttle to the Blue Line station, Blue Line to Orient Heights ($2.65) and then bus 713 ($1.60 each) that dropped us off right in front of the Inn at Crystal Cove. This was almost as easy as Lyft and certainly less expensive. Based on the recommendation of the man working the front desk/reception, we ate dinner at D’Parma, which was only a five minute walk from the hotel. We had a Cajun stuffed mushroom appetizer and risotto artichoke chicken (the special for June). The food, including the tea Pamela ordered, was amazingly hot, which is one of my more important attributes for restaurant food. Pamela surmised that even the teacups get heated, which was unexpected but certainly helps.
We left the hotel at 0715 for breakfast at a coffee shop down the street. As we came in, I noted an Aerosmith song playing on the radio, quite apropos for Boston. We were the only customers so we sat at the counter, my favorite location in restaurants. We took the 0838 bus from the front of the hotel back to the Orient Heights Blue Line station and then two stops to the Airport. After we arrived at terminal E, I realized our flight was actually scheduled to depart 1435, not 1235 (that was the Mountain Time departure). Not only did Pamela refrain from killing me for getting her up so early for no reason, she helpfully suggested we migrate to the USO lounge in terminal C to wait. The directions on signage in terminal E were no help (suggesting we take the elevator to level 3, but you cannot get from terminal E to C on foot at that level). The USO was very nicely appointed and had almost no occupants. After a very nice tour (including the “eggnog” flavored coffee) from a veteran volunteer, we stayed from 10-12. Because we had economy comfort tickets, we were granted access to the Air France Lounge. We walked back and forth between opposite ends of the terminal to find it (hidden across from gates 3A and 3B). The first two rows of Economy Comfort seats on Icelandair use the exact same seat design as Saga (Business) class seats so that is where I booked our seats. On the plane, we had two very nice meals because I got carried away and confused, a double, about ordering food in advance of the flight, which allows you to get a better meal (or at least more options). We arrived at Keflavik at 2350 (still light), but had to circle for about 15 minutes because fog had caused a backup. We deplaned the old fashioned way: stairs and bus to the terminal. This also happens in Dublin, Catania (Sicily), and probably many small airports in Europe as well.
After asking at one of the rental counters, we located the Enterprise Rental Car shuttle driver from the sign he was holding up in the arrivals hall. The car was a white Nissan Pulsar, six-speed manual transmission with GPS that we hardly used. There are not *that* many options for where to drive in Iceland. The car had a keyless starter (just press the button with the clutch and brake pedals engaged) and separate temperature controls for passenger and driver. The separate temperature controls were the source of some amusement. Pamela was not used to these kinds of controls so I noticed her frantically trying to raise the driver temperature while she was going through one of her frequent internal temperature swings. I had to ask her repeatedly not to overheat me as she was desperately trying to find a temperature comfortable for her.
I used directions I had created based on iPhone map study before departing the USA and found the hotel without a problem in the very thick fog. We were in bed by 0147. The hotel from the first night was about 5km from the international airport in Keflavik (KEF), roughly 40 min from Reykjavik. I chose it strictly so we could get to bed faster after the flight. There is not much to see in KEF. Last October, we spent a little time in Reykjavik and the Golden Circle (Gullfoss, Geysir, and Þingvellir [pronounced "Thingvellir"]) so we wanted to see West Iceland and it is too far away to do as a day trip from KEF. Sleeping after 0300 was challenging for me because it was so light outside.
3 Jun Friday
I was out the door at 0900 to run for 28 minutes. Pamela got up as well. After eating the continental breakfast upstairs, I tried to use the hotel wifi to browse places to stay and things to do based on the videos we saw on Iceland Air, but it proved too slow. We drove back to the airport so I could look for the Vodafone shop in the arrivals hall, but could find no trace of it so we drove to Reykjavik to use one in the Kringlan mall (easier parking). By coincidence, I parked right by the store on the second level, but the sales rep told me a) it was easier to just using roaming for $10/day on my Verizon plan for the 3 days we plan to be in Iceland and b) how to dial a number in Iceland (00-354-number). I used the latter information to call Ensku Húsin (www.enskuhusin.is/en/), a farmhouse inn northwest of Borgarnes, to reserve their last room for the next two days. The room was upstairs in the original section of the farm house with a shared bathroom. I found out later the BR is shared with 3 rooms! We like to reserve accommodations in one place and do day trips from there to minimize packing and unpacking during the trip. This works particularly well for Bed and Breakfast locations because we get to know the hosts better and can benefit from their knowledge of the area, which reduces the time it takes for pre-trip planning.
Pam snoozed for most of the drive to Borgarnes except for the 6km tunnel we passed through ($1000 IK toll, good thing I had cash). We stopped in Borgarnes to tour the Settlement and Saga museum (two separate tours with audio via iPod mini) as well as have a light lunch (two main course soups, carrot and leek for me and lamb stew for Pamela, nearly half a loaf of bread with whipped butter and “volcanic salt,” ice cream from the Erpsstadir West Iceland diary farm).
We stopped at the farmhouse after departing the museum. I was a little worried I might not find it, but the directions from one of the museum staff seemed clear and simple. I did miss the left turn to the house, but I recognized it as I passed it. They serve a three course dinner 19-2030 and breakfast 08-10. Pamela and I had salmon. We ate dinner with a retired couple from Sweden on their first trip to Iceland. They were school teachers and their English was very good. After dinner, Pamela and I walked around the property and to the nearby river and mini-rapids. We had tea in the sitting room downstairs after we returned. While the farmhouse was once someone's residence, the current owners don't live there and additional buildings have been brought on site to accommodate more guests. The people that work at the house serving meals and cleaning (a cook and at three other staff) don't actually live there, but come in from town to work during the day.
We went to bed at 2200 and it was still quite light out. I needed my sunglasses during the walk at 2100, which is amazing. I finished signing our Altezza High Desert lease applications before turning in, which was surprisingly easier to do after most of the guests had gone to bed. I had to do a lot more work with the paperwork for the apartment lease that I will leave out of these notes. At least it was all electronic so we did not have to be in Albuquerque to get everything done.
After breakfast of fresh bread, cereal, cold cuts, cheese, tomato and cucumber slices, juice and coffee/tea, we drove west on highway 54 for the edge of western Iceland, Hellissandur and Rif. When we crossed to the north side of the peninsula, it became very foggy so we couldn’t see much. Hellissandur and Rif are very small fishing villages. We drove back east to Stykkisholmur and ate a small lunch of pastry, soup, and bread at the Bakery there. Before and afterward, we looked for the historic houses, which are a bit challenging to find. You can only tour one, the Norwegian house, which was the two-story first wood framed building in Iceland when it was built in 1832 from wood imported from Norway.
We headed back to Ensku Húsin after the Norwegian House (self-guided) tour. I got a bit sleepy on the way, which alarmed Pamela far more than it did me. I napped from 1600-1730. Pamela drove to Reykholt to see the historic center devoted to The Prose Edda, the bible of Norse mythology. Prose Edda was written by Snorri Sturluson, a 13th-century author and politician who lived on a farm in Reykholt. The Prose Edda was among the most influential of all collections myths and legends, inspiring modern works such as Wagner's Ring Cycle and Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Alas, it was closed when we got there so we drove back to Borgarnes after getting gas. Since the farmhouse serves the same meal every night, we elected to eat tonight at the Settlement Center in Borgarnes where we had lunch the day before. This time we had Langoustine (Lobster tail, what Bryan used to call "lobsker") on pasta and apple cake with caramel for dessert. We wanted to share a single meal, but that must have been lost in translation. When eating lobster tail, it is hard to get grumpy about that.
5 Jun Sunday
I paid for the two-day stay at the guesthouse shortly after we ate breakfast, but at 0830 it was too soon to depart so we stayed in our room until 1000. We drove first to Reykholt, the site of Snorrastofa (www.snorrastofa.is, the “english” button is at the bottom of the web page), a cultural and medieval centre founded in memory of the twelfth-century Icelandic chieftain and scholar Snorri Sturluson. He lived 1179–1241, traveled extensively in Norway, was a poet, scholar, “lawspeaker,” and wrote many Icelandic sagas. Icelanders are big on sagas. We arrived at 1030 and departed at 1200. The sagas were hand printed on vellum (sheep’s skin). One of the beautiful pages on display had a bunch of holes in it because it had been used as a flour sieve. Good grief!
Since there was no cafe, we departed Snorrastofa for Akranes to see the lighthouse and folk-sport museum (no English translations of the sport displays). The folk museum has exhibits on farming, housekeeping, and Icelandic life. It also has a small cafe with no hot food, but very tasty (and hideously expensive, common in Iceland) snacks. We departed at 1445 and *thought* we were a short drive from Reykjavik, but that was before we learned that the tunnel across the bay was closed and we had to drive 50 km further to go around it. It was a nice day, we had time to spare,the scenery was marvelous, and the sheep were few so it was not a big impact for us. It was hard for me to say awake on the windy roads and there were absolutely no services on the entire detour. There may have been signs warning about this in Icelandic, but they would have escaped my notice. Pamela frequently offered to drive, but there were very few places to pull over (shoulders, passing lanes, and slow vehicle turnouts are practically nonexistent in Iceland) so I was reduced to munching continuously on wasabi crunch mix to stay awake.
We arrived in Reykjavik at about 1600. Pamela was comforted because we were in sight of the lamb dog shack she remembered and used as a landmark during our October trip. On this trip, we were early enough that all the stores were still open. We had a snack at the Uno restaurant, walked around the downtown area, observed skateboarders jumping off of stairs and crashing repeatedly, and had dessert and coffee at Cafe Stofan, where we stopped the last time we were in Iceland. As we walked around the downtown shopping area, I took the opportunity to replace my Spanish, Chinese, Korean roadmap of Iceland with an English one. It was supposed to be associated with an app for the iPhone, but it appeared later that the app had been discontinued.
We drove back to the Icelandic Health Hotel at 1900, the same place we stayed on our first night. The hotel reminded me of a BOQ and it certainly could have been the BOQ from the former base. This room had two double beds and curtains for the windows in addition to the blinds, which made it much easier to sleep. We watched North by Northwest on Pamela’s iPad Mini until I realized that it was 2230 and I would be getting up at 0400 the next morning. I was having trouble keeping my eyes open anyway.
Some General Observations about Iceland
Driving in Iceland is not so bad. The maximum speed limit on the highways is 90km/hr (only 80km/hr on dirt road!). Driving in the afternoon without a caffeinated soda after lunch is a problem for me on any long distance drive. The jet lag even with a good night's sleep just makes it more interesting. The driver does have to pay extra close attention and just quickly glance at the amazing scenery because of the narrow roads with steep drop offs, no shoulders leading to stopped vehicles and people *in the middle of the road* (that is hard to get used to), and sheep hanging out by the side of the road waiting until your car gets close to screw up their courage to jump into the road. I’m not kidding about the sheep. On the plus side, in the summer you have plenty of light so it doesn’t matter that there are not lights on the road outside of cities. Another plus is the ability to stop in the middle of the road just about anywhere outside of Reykjavik for a picture as long as you are watching for cars.
Despite its small size, Iceland has greater population density than Montana and 2 other U.S. states. This means there are not many cars on the road.
As I noted earlier, Icelanders are really big on sagas. They are deeply embedded in their national culture, which you can tell from the live action "tweets" from the Reykjavík Grapevine, an Icelandic magazine, during their Euro 2016 game against Portugal. Talk about a David and Goliath match! This is Iceland's first ever European Championship and it is clearly a big deal to them. 8% of their entire population has traveled to the games in France. Here are some of the tweets:
And now the unfortunate Portuguese will feel the mighty thunder of Þór's Icelandic warriors. [Þ has the th sound]
You can see the fear on our puny opposition's faces. They know the Norse hellfire that awaits them.
Even the breath of one mighty viking is enough to fell that Portuguese attacker, who fell without being touched.
Óðinn's breath propelled our heroic goalie to swat away that weak-ass header.
When will our secret bench weapon be unleashed? No, not the power of the god Týr—the volcanic force of Eiður Guðjohnsen.
A weak shot from one of the wilting manboys of Portugal stopped with a flick of one mighty Icelandic hand.
STONEWALL PENALTY SEND HIM OFF BEFORE HE IS SMITED BY LIGHTNING, it's for HIS OWN SAFETY.
Now that defending was made of solid Icelandic… birch saplings. We don't have any oak.
Lol. Ronaldo. Lol. The nerves are showing. He is scared of the mighty thrashing that is to come.
From Time magazine: Although the scoreline was a far cry from the 19-0 Icelandic victory the Grapevine had predicted in “ICELAND’S PATH TO CERTAIN VICTORY AT EURO 2016,” there’s still a “historic trouncing of the terrified Hungarians” to look forward to in the team’s next matchup on Saturday.
6 Jun (Monday)
I was up at 0400 and we were out of the hotel by 0530. We dropped off the Enterprise rental car (no sheep wool in the grill noted) and joined the confusing throng in the departure terminal. There was a big, rapidly moving line for baggage drop off, but it was not clear to me how to obtain boarding passes from which kiosks. We asked two Icelandair employees, but their guidance conflicted. In the midst of the mayhem, we heard a women yell at her husband “this is craziness!” Fortunately, I noted where Saga and Economy Comfort passengers could check in, which was a much shorter line. When we checked in, we were informed that our 0800 flight to Manchester had been delayed to 0830 (estimated).
After obtaining our boarding passes, we passed through security and the duty free shop. My larger carry on and jacket were flagged for a second check. I was allowed to note the location of the camping spoon tool I carry on trips as a possible source of interest, which helped me avoid having my bag completely unpacked, a practice that sets my teeth on edge every time since I take such care to pack things carefully in advance. Pamela was able to get her backpack through security with a small bottle of water, an unintentional act that certainly shows her ability to follow directions is suspect. I think it is her awesome attractiveness that distracts the guards. I, on the other hand, travel with such an array of interesting gadgets and tools that I regularly get selected for extra scrutiny. European and Australian air terminals make it mandatory for passengers to pass through the duty free store after passing through security, which I find tedious even though it probably improves sales.
Icelandair allows Economy Comfort passengers to use their Saga lounge, which is located before passport control. One of the things I consider unsuitable about the Keflavik terminal is the poor design of seating by the gates, at least in the A terminal. There are about 10 seats at gates that have seats, which means you frequently see large numbers of people sitting on the floor or laying on the backs in circular window frames waiting for their flights to depart. The seats they do have are all metal and incredibly uncomfortable for sitting after ten minutes. The seat comfort and scarcity are common deficiencies in smaller European airports and something we noticed in the Cairns, Australia departure terminal as well. The food in the Saga Lounge was plentiful and quite good. I positioned us near the coffee machine, Pamela’s favorite appliance. The machine also dispensed lukewarm hot chocolate. As we sat and I caught up on these notes, I could feel the creeping fatigue that meant I would be sleeping for most of the 2h10m flight to Manchester, England.
We left the Saga Lounge at 0720 so we could deal with any unexpected delays or problems without impacting our ability to board the flight. After clearing Icelandic border control (they stamp your passport on exit, right next to the entry stamp), we had to pass through *another duty free shop* before we could get to the gate. The flight to Manchester was delayed more 30 minutes. The only problem for me was having to sit longer on metal seats without a cushion. The flight was uneventful except that I ordered two meals for each of us when I made the reservations so we had some extra to take with us when we deplaned. I slept most of the flight while Pamela did not (movie watching).
Clearing passport control after the 4km (it always seems that long to me!) walk from the plane arrival gate was extra challenging because the UK wants an arrival card for *each* passenger. Pamela got to sit at the head of the line while I trooped back with my luggage to the desk to fill out another card. I am always amused by the conversations I have with the passport control agent upon entry and exit. “What is your reason for travel? How many days are you staying? Are you employed? What do you do? Where do you work? What kind of research (for me) do you do? What is the weather like in Albuquerque? … What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?” and then I get tossed off the bridge of eternal peril!
When we arrive in an airport, we alway have to go through the “where do I want to go and how does that relate to where I am now?” orientation. We have been to Manchester before in the summer of 2014, but then we rented a car and drove to Wales. Trip Advisor reviews for hotels have a handy “Questions” area where people frequently ask how to get to the hotel from the airport that I find very helpful. We had to take the Sky Bridge across the traffic to get to the airport bus/rail terminal. I had my coat on so I would not have to carry it and my luggage so I was not prepared for the temperature jump to 1000 degrees in the glass enclosed bridge walkway. I nearly expired before I got to the bus terminal! Trip Advisor directed us to take bus 43 that goes straight from the airport right past the hotel in about an hour for 6.40 total (they make change right on the bus). I told the driver where we wanted to go. He told me that I would need to tell the second driver after they changed during the trip. I thought the driver change process was interesting. We stopped at a bus stand where the new driver was wearing a vest with orange stripes. He came on the bus, exchanged the vest with the new driver, and entered the plexiglass enclosed driver station (spooky thought that they actually need such protection for the driver). The former driver walked in front of the bus and across two lanes of busy traffic. Clearly the orange vest is either designed to improve the odds of success for such risky activity or it emboldens the drivers to do such risky things. I am not sure which.
Right after we got to the room at 1400, Pamela promptly did her impression of an astronaut in suspended animation to recover the sleep she missed on the plane from getting up so early. We went out around 2030 for ice cream (gelato) at a gelato version of Cold Stone Creamery ("Cold Stone Gelato"). Pamela is thrilled to be in a place where it actually gets dark at night. While she reported no trouble sleeping in Iceland, she now feels that she can appreciate the value of actual darkness more.
I spent most of the day in the hotel room planning my attendance at the conference (which sessions to attend when) and preparing for the Talking About Organizations episode we are recording today. I walked to the Manchester Metro University Business School building and checked in for the conference, which starts 8 Jun at 1200. There was no line so the person manning the registration booth showed me where all the rooms are.
Later in the afternoon, Pamela and I embarked on an epic journey to find Chinatown, but because of some map reading errors (no finger pointing, we both have culpability), we walked for an hour and had to settle for not very good fish and chips because the journey went horribly wrong. At least we are still speaking to each other at this point. Another plus is that we consulted the map before we walked all the way back to the airport!
I went running today before breakfast, which was quite the challenge because of the need to dodge people and traffic in the city center of Manchester. BTW, the demonym for Manchester is “Mancunian.” I never would have guessed.
Even though I did not have a paper to present at the conference, I attended because I wanted to learn more about the kinds of research being done in Human Resources Development (HRD) and see if it is compatible with my research interests. Dr. Ann Huff refers to this as “joining conversations,” the conversations in this case being research streams and the techniques used to conduct the research. I attended this conference for the first time in Edinburgh in 2014 and thought the research was quite interesting.
The University Forum for Human Resources Development (UFHRD) conferences start with lunch at 1200 on the first day. I attended a pre-conference “meet the editors” session for Human Resources Development Quarterly. It was also a workshop on the peer review process, which I found enhanced and enriched what I already understood from my GW studies. The key points for me were: it is a community responsibility of scholars to review academic papers (I already knew this), peer review generally makes papers better (and reviews should take this approach), and doing reviews will improve your writing and understanding of the latest research being done (I had a general feeling for this, but the workshop solidified it).
At conference lunches or formal dinners, there exists the social challenge of deciding where to sit when you know very few people at the conference. One strategy that I have used in the past is to pick and empty table and hope or wait for someone to sit next to me. This reduces the initial social pressure of interaction right when I approach the table, but increases anxiety briefly while you wait for others to join you. The approach I tend to use now is to choose a table with an open seat and introduce myself immediately. This kind of social interaction is a bit awkward at first, but probably equally so for the other person. The challenge is to find something to talk about briefly as you search for common ground of interests and experiences.
After lunch, I attended sessions in the Scholarly Practitioner Research, Learning and Teaching in HRD, and Workplace Learning and Training Development. It was hard to choose which sessions to attend so I tried to find good break points for when to move from room to room. The big challenge at the presentations is staying on time (for the presenters) and asking interesting questions (attendees) to show that you were focusing on what was presented.
I decided to ignore the welcome reception typical for the first day of the conference. My primary rationale was that the food did not look very plentiful or varied. I went back to the hotel to take Pamela to dinner. We chose a local Italian restaurant that had very few scary reviews on Yelp. We had lobster ravioli and antipasto. The food was good but the ravioli was not very hot when it came to our table.
Pamela and I ate breakfast together and then I walked to the conference shortly after 0910. The keynote this morning was a summary of the author’s book, “The Five Steps to a Winning Mindset.” It was a simplified version of the “Made to Stick” principles for making messages “sticky” and thus memorable so I did not learn anything new. I note “simplified” because “Made to Stick” had 6 steps instead of 5. It was an engaging presentation nonetheless. The speaker probably sells a lot of books. There were several interesting presentations from the morning sessions and I found that I was able to comment on or provide suggestions for a few. I did find the keynote after lunch very interesting. It was focused on the relevance of HRD for the business world and used a creative approach to identify some interesting problems between what researchers are doing and what practitioners need. Lunch was another HUGE meal, which made staying awake in the afternoon sessions like climbing Mt Everest without oxygen (likely to pass out). We finished for the day at 1730, which gave us plenty of time to change (if desired) and walk to Manchester City Hall for the conference reception and dinner. Prior to dinner, I had a chance to talk with Professor Bob Hamlin, who gave me some mentoring at the last UFHRD conference Pam, Beau and I attended in Edinburgh in 2014. He gave me some guidance about research paradigms and epistemology and noted that my doctoral degree just gives me a license to learn how to do research so my next task is to get several papers published based on my dissertation. He suggested that a good number is three papers, which I have heard from others so I need to get cracking on the paper my Dissertation Chair told me to work on-right after this trip is over. The dinner (leak and potato soup with a fried egg, chicken, chocolate mousse) was very good. I was practicing my best “Ralph as been abducted by space aliens and replaced with a near copy” impersonation by drinking some red wine before dinner and coffee, not tea, after. Pamela was agog, but managed to keep her mouth from hanging open. There was chamber music provided by four musicians and a magician that wandered around the tables doing magic tricks, mostly slight of hand, still amazing and fun to watch. Tomorrow we travel to Birmingham to meet two of the other three members of the Talking About Organizations podcast team (www.talkingaboutorganizations.com). We will return to Manchester on Saturday evening before our flight to Cork Sunday morning.
This was the final day of the conference. I could not run before the conference because it was raining and I really don’t like running in the rain. I attended the presentations on Workplace Learning research in the morning. One of the presenters was not “present” so we finished early. Today was another very big lunch. The ladies at the cafeteria had spoons the size of shovels for putting food on your plate. The final keynote was by a very well respected researcher in the field of Human Resources who presented her latest research on incivility in the workplace. About half the people attending the keynote dispersed immediately after her talk so the conference organizers decided to cancel the plenary session they had planned afterward. The final event for the conference was an eclectic, rambling overview of Lisbon, the site of UFHRD 2017 (www.ufhrd2017.com). It was provided by a university professor in broken English with lots of slides of Lisbon including areal shots of the football (soccer) stadiums. Football is very big in Portugal. On a final conference note, there seems to be some existential angst about whether the expression Human Resources Development, popular among the academic community and some practitioners, should even be used. The guest speaker we had from McDonald’s corporation refers to himself as the “Chief People Officer.” Businesses never use it in their annual reports. Even a person that Pamela met at a coffee shop near the hotel thought it sounded too impersonal. This could be a big problem for the community of scholars that write and study it because all their journals have Human Resources Development in the title.
I arrived back to the hotel room around 1400, which was 3.5 hours before we needed to depart for the train station. I was going to run, but it began to rain hard right after I got back to the hotel. Physical fitness hopes dashed again. Instead, Pamela and I went to one of our favorite business establishments in the UK, Patisserie Valerie, a cake and dessert shop www.patisserie-valerie.co.uk. We shared a double chocolate gateau and a pot of tea, which came to ￡6.40 (about $9.60). Not only was this a tasty, completely non-fitness related activity, it gave us an opportunity to use a large fraction of our remaining English coinage, which cannot be changed at the end of a trip.
We returned to the hotel to check out and then walked a meandering, 1 km path with all our luggage to the Manchester Piccadilly station to catch our express train to Birmingham departing at 1827. I had asked Pamela to take a walk there while I was at the conference, which she did, but that seemed to have little influence on the number of times she had us crossing back and forth across the streets of busy traffic.
I had some trepidation about the train trip because the Virgin trains only allow you to obtain your tickets from machines in the station (no humans involved). You have to use the credit card you used to purchase the tickets as a form of identification. This has not worked out well for me in the past in Europe because the PIN is not enabled on American credit cards that have a chip. Indeed, the first machine I used at the entry to the station did not recognize my credit card as I repeatedly swiped it rapidly in and out of the reader. We moved to another set of ticket stations with a queue for using them, which gave me an opportunity to observe what other people do. I noticed they were not swiping their cards frantically back and forth like I was, but inserting them and leaving them in the machine. This made perfect sense because machines are designed to read credit card chips and don’t work properly if you swipe the card rapidly in the reader. With my new understanding of the technique, I had no trouble obtaining our tickets. Not having a PIN was irrelevant to this process. We found the track for our train by looking at the LED information boards that list train departures by time and final destination. Knowing the final destination is usually not helpful to me because you often debark at your desired station or transfer station before the train reaches its final destination. In England, trains are not identified by numbered route (unlike buses in Ireland). Beneath the departure time, the display shows all the stops so you can be sure it is the correct train. In bigger stations like Manchester Piccadilly, there are often more than one train departing at the same time from different tracks. This means of identifying trains and tracks works fine unless they change the track at the last minute, which happened to use in Rotterdam in the Netherlands in 2011 and can be a very messy process. I always get a bit concerned that I am going to read the route and track display wrong and wait at the wrong track because the trains come and go so rapidly. The margin for doofus American error is very small. I have read departure information displays incorrectly in airports before that resulted in Pamela having to run through the terminal with her bag, something she hates with a purple passion. The train was only a few minutes late and finding our reserved seats in the first-class “coach” was easy enough. My bag fit in the rack above the seats with a lot of shoving, but Pamela’s did not. There was no obvious place to put it at the end of the car where we boarded so we ended up putting it in the area where people in wheelchairs go because it was vacant. This was made more challenging because there was a person sitting on his baggage in this area. Later in the trip, I learned from the train manager explaining to a person in the first-class car that you can be in the first-class car without paying for first-class as long as you don’t sit down in a seat. This is a very curious practice, but I am sure it is the case because the train manager explained about six times to the person for whom English was clearly not his native tongue.The trip only took 90 minutes.
My friend and fellow podcaster (www.talkingaboutorganizations.com) Dmitrijs met us at the station on the ground floor outside the ticket gates. He led us to our hotel, The Premier Inn, and gave us recommendations for seeing the city while providing a running commentary on Grand Central station and its contents. We ate dinner at a Bill’s in the Bull Ring. The beef stew was marvelous. The shopping area near High Street station is named the Bull Ring because it is where farmers used to tie up their bulls before selling them in the market that was located there.
I ran in the morning before breakfast. On the way, I noticed a tent on the pedestrian shopping street that a homeless person was using for shelter at night. The tent was disassembled by the time I returned. Afterward, Pamela and I went to breakfast at Cafe Rouge near the Bull Ring. The food was good, but the service was slow.
We checked out of the hotel, storing out luggage for later retrieval, and walked to the Debbingham’s department store via Grand Central. Pamela almost fell over from the perfumes in the air so she tried to position herself upwind of the fumes while I browsed a bit. She was lucky because she positioned herself far from the person that was spraying sent and wafting it around it with small white cards! Evacuating the scented area, we came out of the store and into the Bull Ring shopping center proper, an enormous mall. This caused Pamela to immediately go into retail overload (“I can’t breathe!”) so I was directed to proceed directly to the nearest exit at top speed. Pamela is largely a “one and done” kind of shopper so the idea of browsing around malls is an anathema to her.
Following our encounter with retail nirvana (or hell, depending on your perspective), Pamela decided she wanted to visit the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in Victoria Square. They had a nice collection of paintings and sculptures and an Egyptology section. My favorite area was the Sheffield Hoard. Just the name is entertaining, a collection of medieval jewelry and gold work referred to as a “hoard.” It is a collection of gold and precious metals and gem adornments from things like sword hilts and jewelry that was thought to have been buried in farmland in the 650s and possibly forgotten. It was located by one of those madmen that spends lots of time wandering around the countryside with a metal detector. No-one knows who buried the collection or why, but archeologists presume it was done to keep the valuables from falling into enemy hands. Nearly all of it was found 2-3 inches below the surface of the topsoil. We don’t discover such things in America because we would have put a strip mall and parking lot over it long ago.
My fellow http://www.talkingaboutorganizations.com podcasters in the UK, Dmitrijs and Miranda, met us just after 1400. We walked over to The Mailbox (former Royal Mail sorting center, now, you guessed it, a shopping center and office spaces, and The Cube. On the top floor is a restaurant and bar that has great views of the city. Dmitrijs gave us a detailed tour of the more significant sites. Afterward, we ate a quick Italian dinner at Zizzi’s (King Prawns Linguini slightly spiced with chili). We moved expeditiously to retrieve our luggage and bid farewell to Dmitrijs and Miranda before boarding our train to the Manchester Airport via a train change in Crewe.
The train journey was uneventful except for finding people sitting in the first class car seats that were supposed to be reserved for us according to the tickets we purchased. When I looked quizzically at the people occupying them, one of them said, “the seat indicators aren’t working.” I had to ask him to repeat it and even after that I had to ask, “but what does that mean.” According to him, it meant “sit anywhere you want” so we located two unoccupied seats together. The highlight of the trip as the recorded announcement in the toilet “do not flush nappies (diapers), [female sanitary products], paper towels, your extra sweater, gold fish, or your hopes and dreams down the toilet.” That was funny and depressing at the same time.
After taking the shuttle bus to the Holiday Inn Express, I watched the second half of the England vs. Russia Euro 2016 game in the lobby with English fans staying at the hotel, which was certainly more energizing than sitting in the room to watch it.
12 June Sunday
We were up by 0545. We did not sleep very well. Because the room was hot, we kept the window open and that exposed us to traffic noises all night. Before going down to breakfast, I realized that I misunderstood the departure time of our flight. It departed at 0905, not 1005 so our 0740 shuttle to the airport was going to cut it close. The complimentary breakfast was good although the hot beverage machines didn't dispense hot chocolate like the Holiday Inn Express in the city center. Too bad.
The security screening process was a nightmare, but we only have ourselves to blame. It was really mostly my fault, but fortunately Pamela did not see it that way. I noted on my departure from Scotland in April that the private company screeners employed in the UK are much more thorough about spotting liquids, creams, and gels (LCGs) than in the US. Normally I don't take them out of my bag and place them in a 1 qt container. Big mistake, especially when you have to get through security quickly. I e spent 30 minutes between the long entry line and getting our bags searched and re-X-rayed multiple times 3 times for Pamela's wheeled bag. I have resisted segregating my LCG in the past because it is not the most efficient way to pack and use them. No more of that nonsense. To speed up our exit if we ever got through with the endless series of X-rays, I repacked the exploded constants of Pamela's backpack while she was watching the screener find LCGs in her wheeled bag that she hadn't seen in days. This was a double edged sword because Pamela did not see me do this and kept asking if I packed such and such an item after we cleared security.
As we departed the security area, I took Pamela’s bulging 1 quart bag after her luggage was finally cleared. My reasoning was two-fold. One, I did not want her to lose any time trying to decide where it might fit in her luggage. Second, it was quite heavy. It reminded me of lead (she has some really dense creams). The consequence was that her carry on bag was really light now so it would be easy to pass any weight test if there were carryon bag police at the gate. There weren’t, but I didn’t know that at the time and it helps to be prepared for such things. I walked to the gate briskly with the bag under my arm inside my jacket so it would not be obvious that we had an . There were none and no one challenged the weight of our bags, which would have been easy for Pamela to pass since all the heavy stuff was either under my arm or in her backpack and backpacks don't get weighed.
As if the security gauntlet were not a sufficient preflight challenge, we had to navigate the twists and turns of the longest duty free obstacle course we have ever seen. The walkways are so narrow it was nearly impossible to walk past the people meandering through ahead of you without cutting through the perfume displays that make Pamela gag. I had to look behind me every few steps to make sure she hadn't passed out! After we got through the duty free area, then we had to pass through an airport mall with stores and eating places before we could even see a sign for the gates. It was like getting to the gates by traversing a shopping mall!
After a brief wait at the gate, we went down stairs and walked directly to the plane. All our carry on bags fit in the overhead lockers without trouble. I did have an "ick" moment when reading the Aer Lingus in flight magazine because someone had disposed of their gum by sticking it between the pages. I ripped the pages out and pulled them partially out of the magazine as a sign someone servicing the aircraft might take to replace it. After discoveries like that, I can find myself wondering briefly, before I convince myself it is a waste of time, what kind of person does that kind of thing and what thinking process do they use?
Upon arrival about 1045, we waited around outside the terminal for the bus until Pamela went inside to find nourishment and I started to collect visual data on where and when we might meet the bus. I did eventually ask when the bus would arrive (half past 11) because the LED sign at the curb made no sense to me. Before the bus arrived, I spotted a ticket kiosk at the curb and bought tickets to the Cork City Center station. We had a 40 minute wait at the station for Bus 51 to depart. By reading the printed bus timetable while we waited, I realized that the bus would continue on to Shannon Airport, our final bus destination for the day to pick up the rental car, but we only had tickets to Limerick. When we boarded the bus, I asked the driver if we would have to exit at Limerick to get additional tickets to Shannon. His reply was “We’ll look after ya.” I realized later that meant “Don’t worry about it” because I did not have pay to get additional tickets. That was our first real indication we were in Ireland. The second was during the trip to Limerick. An older woman came up to the driver as he was driving through one of the towns and said, “Now where did I want to get off?” as if she expected he would remember better than she would. They did eventually figure it out where she could get off, but you just don’t see that kind of exchange between bus driver and passenger in other parts of the world.
We rented the car at the airport with no problem and were on our way to Achill Island at 1500. I have been trapped in this parking lot before so I knew how to find the exit. Other than the very brief stretch of “motorway” (we call these “freeways”) between Shannon and Gort, we drove on two lane roads, one lane in each direction, the entire way. These are the “N” roads, such as N17. These are the closest Ireland comes to major roads. R roads, like the R319 from Newport to Achill Island, Keel, are even narrower and often have one lane bridges. Like Iceland, Ireland road builders appear not to believe in, or have the money for, passing lanes or slow vehicle turnouts, which can get frustrating if you get stuck behind a furniture delivery van on a small road, which has happened to us before. We stopped in Westport for dinner at 1800 since we had stayed here before in 2011 and liked the resort-like nature of the city. It is crammed with shops and restaurants. We struggled to find a restaurant without a two hour wait to be seated because there was some kind of festival in progress. The final restaurant we chose before leaving for the next town was Il Vulcano, an Italian restaurant where we had pork medallions, pears, and “mash.”
It took an hour to drive from Westport to Keel on Achill Island. The roads became progressively narrower the closer we got to the Achill Sound causeway. I am glad it was still light because they don’t have street lights on rural Irish roads. As we pulled up to Joyce’s Guesthouse, the proprietress Ann Joyce came out to meet us. This was a very nice gesture, but typical for her approach to hospitality, which she used to teach in Dublin years ago before taking over the establishment from her mother some hears ago. Her mother still lives in the home next door. She is 97 and, according to her grandchildren, there is nothing wrong with “Grannie’s SIM card.” We had tea, a tour of the house, and some conversation before taking our bags up to the room and crashing. Our room has a view of the road outside the B&B as well as the beach, Minaun Hill, and Clare island (visible only on clear days) on the opposite side of the bay.
We noted that the B&B has the standard proviso that we’ve seen in Ireland against doing laundry in the room, but I don’t have any other option so I washed my things and put them in the car to dry. That works out fine when it is sunny outside, but I may have less good fortune on rainy days. The clothing I washed before going to bed was still damp when I put it on, but it dried quickly from body heat. There was a problem with one of the outlets in the room so Ann gave me a power strip. She said an electrician was schedule to repair it Tuesday, but “in Ireland, Tuesday isn’t Tuesday.”
Breakfast was the same wonderful meal we remembered from 2011, huge pot of tea and another pot of hot water, brown bread, toast, juice, assorted cereal, fruit, and yogurt. Pamela had poached eggs and smoked salmon while I had the Irish breakfast (egg, tomato, lamb sausage, bacon, and black pudding). I have been looking forward to the bacon for months because it is cured almost like American bacon, but isn’t made from the pork belly so the fat is a tiny fraction of each piece and the pieces are thin slices about the size of the ham you can get for breakfast in some restaurants.
We skipped lunch and drove to Dooagh (“doo-wah”) for a two hour walk along the beach and sheep. After the walk, we drove to the end of the road in Keem. I could see waves breaking over some rocks or shoals out in the bay. I later learned these are called “Bill’s Rocks,” which probably means it was not a good day for Bill when he discovered them. That’s usually how shallow rocky formations in bays get named. We drove to a reservoir and dam that are far above Keem and Dooagh before returning to the B&B.
We went to the Achill Cliff House for dinner like we did in 2011. It was a similarly pleasurable experience. The fish and chips we shared were excellent and so were the apple pie and sticky toffee pudding desserts. We could not find the restaurant reviewed on TripAdvisor when we searched for restaurants in Keel because it is listed as a hotel, not a restaurant. One thing I have noted about Yelp and TripAdvisor restaurant reviews, but particularly Yelp is that they are tediously prolix and not mobile friendly. It is like they are telling a friend over the phone all about their experience. Reviewers seem to think it matters to readers when they went to the restaurant and who they were with before getting to the meet of their review. Not so for me (surprise). As a reaction to this and because I think it is a better approach, I get to the point in the first two sentences of my reviews: was the food good and would I return because of the service. The other thing I have noticed about online reviews of restaurants and hotels is that many reviewers are a lot more discerning and hard to please than Pamela and I are so I have to do a lot of mental “filtering” of the reviews as I scan them. My general practice only refer to problems if I have given the hotel staff a chance to correct the problem. Any other approach strikes me as terribly unfair and, as a reader of the review, I am more interested in whether the hotel staff were able to correct the problem once they learned about it. Interestingly for me, this is opposite of the way I feel about other social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. (Rant warning) People posting on those sites seem incredibly narcissistic to me. I don’t post often because I only include things I think more than one person would find interesting. I don’t spend much time on Facebook and wish most of the friends I have would post less of their political insight, tributes to family members I have not met, or current events.
It rained most of the day (that’s what it does on Achill Island so we came prepared for it) and Pamela had a sore throat that she was hoping was only due to allergies and not a cold. We stayed in all day except for walking across the street to The Bee Hive Cafe for vegetable soup and scones and later walking just down the main road to the Chalet Seafood Restaurant where we had seafood chowder, chocolate mousse, and lemon posset. The mousse was like eating a chocolate cloud.
One of the benefits of the relaxed pace we are on is I have had time to watch Gaelic Rules Football and some Hurling. The first seems like a cross between rugby, soccer, and mob riots. This would make it similar to Aussie rules football. There are no pads that I can see in either version of football, which may make it safer for the players. Safety equipment has the paradoxical effect of encouraging players to take greater risks with their bodies and use things like helmets like weapons the way Vikings did. The second is a mixture of hockey, soccer, rugby, and kickboxing. The object of both seem to be to slap some kind of ball or the opposing team’s players across or through a multi-level goal post. I probably could become a fan if I spent enough time watching these games, but they seem largely an excuse for going to the pub or public stadium to drink with friends and hell until you are hoarse. Who can argue with that (as long as you don't drive afterward)?
The food at the Chalet was really wonderful, but the single review I saw on Yelp after we ate there was just terrible. When I see reviews like this, I am tempted to attempt to rebut the prior reviewer, but then how could I know what their dining experience was? In any event, only the business owners are allowed to do that.
After Pamela had gone to bed, I stayed up rather late trying to get pictures downloaded from our phones and uploaded to this website. It took me a long time and I must be doing something wrong because the entire process seems too cumbersome. I found out through some later experimentation that I can upload pictures directly to the website from my phone so that should make things easier.
Ann gave me a copy of the Irish Times to read, which she has delivered daily. I always find this paper a pleasure to read because they cover stories so differently than the U.S. press. For example, the coverage of the Irish national football (soccer) team supporters focuses on a) their drinking without getting hurt or hurting others and b) how they were treated to a better performance by their team than “they had any right to expect.” What a great way to express the fact that their team is solidly average. A second article noted that the only fan casualty among the Irish and Swedish fans drinking together was the Swedish fan, who had no visible injuries and was helped to the ambulance by the Irish supporters. The article writer surmised that the reason for the ambulance call was that the Swedish supporter had made the mistake of trying to keep drinking pace with the Irish (bad idea). Another article about all the things on an airplane that can make you sick made me want to avoid air travel for the rest of my life. The author made a colorful reference to the “‘thunderous volcanic’ flushing action of the toilet exacerbates the health risk by launching germs from the toilet.” What mental picture that conjures up! See for yourself at http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/what-happens-your-body-when-you-fly-1.2677082.
The weather was nice enough to run this morning, but it was very windy so I had to hold my ball cap to keep it from flying off my head much of the time. We drove to Belmullet and Blacksod (southeastern end of the Mullet Peninsula) today via Bangor, then bak to Mulranny and the backroads from there to Achill Island. This area of west Mayo is Gaelic-speaking, which means almost none of the road signs are in English. This is fine for Yield signs, but much more challenging for town names and general information.
During our brief stop at the end of the road, we learned two interesting things about Blacksod. First, the lighthouse keeper at Blacksod played an important role in the D-Day landings in Normandy in 1944 because of the weather reports called in from there. If bad weather is going to hit the English Channel, it will smack the northwestern coast of Ireland first. Second, between 1883 and 1884, 3,300 people emigrated to America (Boston) and Canada (Quebec) in 15 steam ships because of a famine in Ireland.
We had a thrilling experience during the drive. Actually, there were several, but I can’t get the others past the censor (Pamela). In this particular instance during the return trip to Achill, we were driving south from Bangor toward Mulranny on the narrow, two-lane road behind some kind of large vehicle that was the size of the Death Star that took up 105% of the lane ahead of me. It was driving at about 6 mph (10 kph) so I was keen to pass, but I had two challenges. First, the driver was about 40% across the middle of the road, taking up space I needed for passing without a one-way trip into the ditch (no shoulder). Second, I was concerned that if I got right behind the Death Star to indicate more clearly my intention to pass, it would blot out the sun, I wouldn’t be able to see oncoming traffic, and the driver would lose sight of me and assume I had driven underneath the vehicle. Yikes! It all worked out because the force was with me. I got into the right lane far enough behind the Death Star that the the driver figured things out and got back over on his side so I could pass. I did not try closing my eyes during this maneuver or Pamela would have permanently injured me. Even so, I felt like Luke Skywalker in the trench on his way to the thermal exhaust port: not much room to maneuver.
Slightly less thrilling, but much messier in a safer way was the experience I had getting soft serve ice cream (a “99-cone”) at a gas station. Soft serve ice ice cream machines are everywhere in Ireland. Nearly every town in Ireland features at least one 1.5 meter tall, plastic replica of a soft serve ice cream cone outside many convenience and grocery stores as well as gas stations. Soft serve ice cream is ridiculously inexpensive in Ireland. A small cone is about $1.50. The two flavors/colors I have noticed are white and brown. We stopped at a gas station and convenience store for a comfort break returning from Belmullet so I decided to get a cone. My first challenge was that I could only make sense of a couple of the posted options, “plain cone” and “sundae” so I needed an education about what selection was “appropriate for adults” as the clerk put it. I ordered something like a vanilla “99-cone,” a cone with a chocolate wafer and green streaks of some kind of bottled liquid. After the clerk handed me the cone, I had about 2 seconds to admire the color and shape before it started to drip all over my hand. It was at this point that Pamela came up to me and observed, “Your cone is dripping.” What would I do without that woman? I was too occupied with putting the change in my pocket and deciding where to focus on the ice cream that was turning to liquid to thank her for her insight
Among the special pleasures of driving with Pamela, two made themselves evident today. First, she can only look at a map in a moving vehicle for a minute or so or the risk of projective hurling increases exponentially. This can make it a challenge to get navigational assistance without stopping. My adjustment to this feature of driving with Pamela is to memorize the way as much as possible before setting out. Second, Pamela assumes that because she often has no idea where we are or where I am going that I don’t either so I often get suggestions like, “If it were me driving, I would just turn around and go back the way we came.” When she says things like this, I want to say, “If it were you driving, we would be in Alaska right now,” but we are too close to our wedding anniversary to make that a smart comment.
After breakfast, we stayed at the B&B all day so Pamela could rest. The cold she caught took a lot out of her and she certainly did not feel well. I spent hours in the sitting room downstairs where the wifi is available trying to download pictures and videos. I wanted to combine them into a movie using iMovie on my phone. I would have done this from the room, but the wifi is not accessible in the rooms. I also watched Euro 2016 games and worked on academic and consulting projects. Pamela was feeling peckish at 1630 so we made a beeline to the Bee Hive for some soup and fresh cakes (they bake their own daily). We went to the health and beauty closet next door. It is one of the tiniest free standing stores I have ever seen, just one room that is smaller than a one-car garage. It was windy all day (this is called “fresh” in Ireland). Near sunset, the clouds to the east were broken enough that the cliffs south of Keel were bathed in sunlight. This does not happen very often.
I noticed that white pudding is not served at breakfast as often as it seemed to be on our last visit to Ireland in 2011 so I asked our hostess about it. White pudding is pork meat and fat, suet, bread and oatmeal formed into a large sausage. She said that the demand has decreased lately. I had the full Irish plus porridge (oatmeal) with Bailey’s Irish Cream. My other option was whiskey. After Pamela rested for the morning, we went across the street to the Bee Hive Cafe at lunch for vegetable soup and a roll. I chose the more idulgent route and just had two desserts: lemon drizzle and banoffee. All the cakes at the Bee Hive are made on the premises. After lunch, we drove around the island and to the top of Minaun Hill. The view of Achill Bay and Keel were wonderful even though we arrived just as a cloud was passing over us.
Today was our 34th wedding anniversary. We left the B&B at 11 for Sligo, about 2.5 hours east of Achill Island. We wanted to attend the Sligo Food Festival, which turned out to be a very low key affair. I suspected this would be the case when I could not determine from the website where the Irish Stew competition was going to be held. When we started walking around, we noticed the streets were nearly deserted because everyone was on pubs watching Ireland vs. Belgium in Euro 2016. Every store we walked into had the game playing on the radio. Unfortunately, Ireland lost 0-3.
We walked into the Italian neighborhood and had pastry and coffee/hot chocolate at Le Fournil Bakery in Tobergal Lane, a French bakery nestled among the Italian restaurants. We stood outside the shop afterward and listened to the first two acts in the busking (street performer) competition until Pamela called it quits from the rain and lack of a raincoat. We never did find out who won the E250 Irish stew cookoff.
Driving in Ireland is an opportunity to take note of the different approach to signage used there. Roundabouts on major roads (like the N4 and N5) now have large signs in English and German directing drivers to stay on the left (“Links Fahren”). This is a puzzling approach because it would be very difficult to emerge from a roundabout driving on the right side of the road because of the way the roads and curbs are positioned. There are many signs that tell you to use “dipped headlights,” which only I figured out after coming back to the States are low beam headlights. Instead of “Reduced Speed Zone Ahead” signs, the Irish use “Traffic Calming Ahead” with a picture that shows lane narrowing.
On the way back to Westport, Pamela called John J. O’Malley’s and made dinner reservations for 1800. We had tried to eat there on our way to Achill on the 12th, but lacked reservations and did not want to wait an hour and half. Pamela had fish chowder (good, but not as good as the Chalet Seafood Restaurant in Keel) and we shared a T-bone Steak (plus mash, peppercorn sauce, salad) with orange cheesecake for dessert. The cheesecake was much lighter than in American with hint of Bailey’s.
We came up to our room at Joyce’s B&B at 2020 and found a card, chocolates, and rose from Ann for our wedding anniversary. The rose was from her garden and very fragrant. We talked with other guests in the sitting room until 2300.
19 June (Father's Day)
It was raining too much to run this morning so instead I focused on packing for departure while Pamela slept. I woke up with a sore throat, a clear indication of a cold. Ugh. Our hostess Ann served white pudding this morning because I had asked about it on Friday. It was a little blander than black pudding, but still tasty. We left Joyce's B&B for Limerick at 1100 in very strong rain. After Westport, I sought adventure by taking the R330 road from Westport to Ballinrobe. "R" roads are much narrower than N or M roads. The real adventure began, at least for Pamela, when I missed a turn to remain on N84 in Headford. I was distracted by the traffic signal, which is a rare sight in villages in Ireland. After driving through town, we noticed the road getting narrower and narrower until it was only 1.5 cars wide and all signage disappeared. Pamela, the spinning compass woman, desperately wanted to turn back, but I knew we were traveling in the general direction of Galway and just turned east at the first opportunity in the belief we would intersect N84, which we did soon enough. Pam's sense of direction is like the ship's wheel in the Gilligan's Island introduction, spinning endlessly.
We stopped in Galway for lunch at 1330. The rain was heavy as we walked downtown from our parking place. We ate a light lunch at GBC (Galway Baking Company) then walked around the pedestrian mall and shopping area by the Spanish Gate in the city center because the rain had subsided. Pam, ever the bad influence, encouraged me to get a chocolate croissant at a bakery on the way back to the car. After arriving in Limerick, we stopped by Glen Eagles, the B&B where we like to stay in Limerick, and Helen had a vacancy for us. We last stayed at Glen Eagles with the Willbees in 2010. We caught up on news about her niece and her husband (lawyers living in Perth), both children living in Ireland: son works for one of two large aircraft leasing companies. Helen told us she would make breakfast a little early for us because we had to go to the airport the next morning. We walked to The Locke Bar for dinner. There was a sign outside the pub advertising music 7 days. We sat at a table on high bar chairs right by the door. We shared a salmon fillet (E15.95) that was laid on mashed potatoes and came with salad and a chocolate brownie with chocolate ice cream for dessert. We watched France v Switzerland football (0-0 draw) until two musicians came at 2100 to play traditional Irish music on an accordion and harp. One of the waitresses danced during a few of the songs, both upstairs and down. On the way back, we just happened to follow an extremely intoxicated young man wearing an Irish national team jersey wobbling back and forth on the sidewalk outside Arthur's Quay shopping center. I tried not to look as he was having great difficulty keeping his pants up, which eventually dropped around his ankles (I couldn't help looking, I had to keep from falling off the sidewalk!).
After a splendid breakfast, we were on the road by 0837, arriving at the airport to turn in the rental car just after 0900. We just walked to the terminal from the Hertz lot (even though we had a Thrifty car). Shannon is not a very big airport.
We won the lottery for a Business class upgrade again, which was still less expensive than buying them outright. Aer Lingus holds an auction for open business class seats just like Qantas Airlines does.
Flight EI 135 was operated by Omni Air International for Aer Lingus. I knew something was up with the flight when I saw an aircraft with OAI markings at the gate and not Aer Lingus. The service was fine except the portable video players were very big and bulky. For our boarding libation, Pamela had orange juice and I had champagne (Pam finished it for me). I initially sat in the wrong seat when we boarded (K not F). The plane as a 767-200 with business class composed of two rows of two seats separated by two center aisle seats
There was lots of turbulence during the flight so the seatbelt sign was on most of the time. The pillows at each seat were almost three times larger than you typically felt on transoceanic flights, which made them hard to use. The appetizer was prawn cocktail (me) or cheese plate (Pam). The main course was fish, chicken, beef (we both had it, not very good because it was pot roast and thus too well done for my liking). The dessert was more cheese (Pam) or raspberry cheese cake (me). For drinks, Pam had wine and I had a Bailey's. I watched the movie Dad's Army then napped. About 99 min from Boston, they served salad and fresh scones. You could tell they were fresh because they were not wrapped in plastic and were served with tongs from a tray. There were hit towels before the meal and scones. During the flight, I tried out my Katmandu slippers and polar tech socks. This was a very comfortable combination.
We arrived at Boston Terminal C at 1330 and stayed in the USO lounge near baggage claim until 1450 when we caught the bus to the blue line station, the train to Orient Heights, and bus 412/413 to the Inn at Crystal Cove. This bus did not go all the way to the inn like our last stay so we walked about 3 blocks. Pamela slept for about 3 hours while I watched the England-Slovakia Euro 2016 game (0-0 draw), caught up on email, and worked on the Swiss nuclear training outline I needed to submit. We went to dinner at D’Parma again, sharing just chicken parmesan because we had so much food on the plane.
We ate breakfast at 0740 at the High Tide coffee shop down the street from Crystal Cove. We caught the bus back to Orient Heights Blue Line station at 0830. We experienced some confusion about where the stop was. It looked like the pole delineating the stop we used on the outbound leg of the trip had been removed so after waiting for a few minutes, we walked to where we got off the day before. The bus arrived just as we got there.
At Logan Airport, we went to terminal A for our SWA flight. I checked us in late the day before so our boarding numbers were B57 and 56, then C6 and 7 in Baltimore, like our trip to Iceland Oct 2015, there was a storm in Baltimore just as we were about to depart. We taxied toward the runway, had to wait about an hour for the storm, our flight crew ran out of duty hours so we had to taxi back to the gate, wait again for severe rain to pass, get m ore fuel and a new flight crew (luckily there were already onboard), get a new air traffic control slot, and finally departed at 1500. A late departure still beat having to stay over an other day. We on arrived ABQ at 1800 local (2000 Baltimore time). It was about 100F when we arrived, but the heat felt good after the cool, rainy weather in Ireland. After getting the car we drove straight to taco cabana for a green chili fix. We picked up the Toyota at dad’s and drove to the hotel (Extended Stay America). This was the end of the trip.
These are my notes from our trip to Scotland with a couple we have known since high school.
We left Norfolk at 7am to fly to Boston where we met our friends (they flew in the day before). Our flight to Dublin left at 6:15pm, delayed only slightly by thundeshowers. The flight to Dublin was only 5hrs and 5min long. We waited in long, slow-moving lines to have our passports checked, walked five miles (or so it seemed) to the gate (or so I thought) for our connecting flight to Edinburgh, and relized with only ten minutes to spare that we had to backtrack four football fields of distance to get to the correct gate because I had misread the monitors and directed us all the the right gate. Fortunately for Pamela (and her short legs), she flagged down one of those motorized cart drivers and we hitched a ride for about 100 yards. We made it to the gate with just minutes to spare. The flight to Edinburgh was just an hour.
We took the express bus into Edinburgh (30 minutes) and started walking to the guest house when I realized I had left my large bag on the bus (running through airports trying to catch flights can disorient you, I guess, but what a dumb mistake). Fortuntely, I found the same driver and same bus at the same stop about an hour later and retrieved my bag. What a stroke of luck.
We toured the castle and museums, walked the Royal Mile, ate lunch, walked more Royal Mile, ate pastries and drank tea, then took a double decker bus tour before walking back to the hotel and crashing. I was able to stay up until 10pm by going for a walk after the others had turned in. I did, however, almost lose consciousness waiting for lunch and at the pastry shop (Patisserie Valerie) in the afternoon.
I got up at 0450 (already light), ran at 0630. We ate nice continental breakfast (juice, tea/coffee/hot choc, cheese, ham, olives, egg salad/hard boiled eggs, cereal, fruit, pastry,croissants, scones). The two males walked to train station to pick up the rental car at 0910, back guest house to pick up the ladies by 1000 to depart the city.
We drove to Inverness via Pitlochery (lunch at golf course, learning about Oyster Catcher birds, a true menace) and Culloden battlefield (1545-1650), battlefield tour as well as museum, stuck in traffic twice trying to get to downtown Inverness, needed Google map of B&B to find an alternate route (arrived 1830), dinner at 1900 at La Tortilla Asessina, tapas and Spanish bread pudding, walked back to room at 2100 and still very light.
After a huge Scottish breakfast (see the photostream) for Mike and I (our wives ate much more sensibly), we set off in search of Loch Ness and the monster. We drove completely around the lake, stopping to hike to the Falls of Foyers (site of first Aluminum refining and hydroelectrica power in Great Britain), visit Urquart castle, and take in the Loch Ness Experience. We came back to Inverness for a late lunch (also huge, but Pamela and I split an entree). We came back to the B&B to nap at 1730 before going back out at 2030 to Hootananny's bar, where they have live music every night. We came back to the B&B (Kinloch Lodge) at 2330. The music was very good.
I was a bit tired last night after staying up late (2330) at Hootananny's listening to music and then getting up early for breakfast and running. I mistakenly called it an "Irish breakfast" (slip of the tongue), but the Scotswoman who runs the B&B took it in stride. After another big breakfast (just a bit early so our host can catch a bus to Edinburgh for a lawn bowls competition today), we drove to Clava cairne, a Bronze Age circular chamber tomb cairn in the country (this means you have to drive on really narrow roads) east of Inverness. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clava_cairn My friend Mike is interested in Neolithic burial sites so I look for opportunities to visit old dead people rock formations whenever possible. Clava cairne is a very well preserved group of prehistoric burial cairns that were built about 4,000 years ago. There were informative markers that explained many aspects of the site, but it was weird touring the site and hearing an enormous racket next door from cows. It sounded like they were having a debate.
Our next stop, further east from Inverness on the same road, was Castle Cawdor (like in the MacBeth play), which has wonderful gardens and a nicely furnished interior. Most of the rooms have placards that explain all the paintings and furnishings in the room. The explanations are quite playful. The one I remember describes a tapstestry that depicts Noah and Ham from the Old Testament and refers to Noah's curse of Ham (Ham was not very well-behaved) as a "typical instance of Old Testament peevishness." The gardens were just fabulous and we took many pictures. After touring the castle interior, we stopped in the adjacent cafe (pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable, as in "cat," followed by "fay") for a light nosh, which turned out to be much more than I expected. Pamela and I have been splitting meals, but after she ordered some ham and cheese on grilled panini, she accidentally dropped two large pieces of freshly baked bread on her tray and was too mortified to put one back so I had to eat the bread *and* the scone I was determined to eat.
We drove back to the west, but still east of Inverness, to tour Fort George, a still in service British fort constructed in the late 1700s after the last Jacobite uprising (the Jacobites had a lot of support in Scotland from the clansmen). Mike also got the audio tour devices so everyone but me had to walk around for a few hours with a digital audio player mashed to these side of their head. I just plugged in my iPod headphones. I nearly lost consciousness several times watching some of the movies because I did not get enough sleep last night (something I intend to rectify tonight).
We drove back to Inverness, parked the car at the B&B, and walked back to the shopping area to browse some of the stores. We went to dinner at La Bella Italia just a stone's throw from the Ness River vehicular bridge. The food was excellent and our waiter Carlo treated us very well.
We drove (mostly in the rain) to Stirling Castle, arriving by late morning and staying until about 4pm (pricey at 14 pounds each for admission). We had a small lunch at the cafe in the castle. We figured out that is a good way to save time-have a quick bite after the huge Scottish breakfast wears off. We drove around neighborhoods to find a B&B with room for two couples because the tourist information center outside the castle had closed by the time we finished our late lunch. Pam spotted one on hill down the street from the castle and I was very challenged to negotiate and up and back trip on the steep, one lane road up to the steps of the B&B. I had to execute a complex backing maneuver with some assistance. We walked to dinner at a Chinese restaurant (mixed sweet and sour, orange chicken, large shrimp with onions and ginger), passing on the option for chips with our meal instead of steamed rice. I worked on my GWU paper from 2100 to 0030. I could not access the B&B's wi-fi (I think it was their problem not mine since I had not had any trouble anyplace else) so I had to pay for 24 hrs BT access. I finally went to bed at 0100.
I got up early to plan the day and get directions to the sites we planned to visit: the William Wallace memorial, a whisky distillery, and Cairnpapple Hill. Breakfast (full Scottish) at 0800 included baked beans for the first time. After leisurely eating, we went to the William Wallace memorial. It is high on a hill and has a nearly endless circular stairway to the top of tower (246 steps). A person could get very dizzy (as well as tired), but there were three intermediate levels where you could stop and pause.
After the Deanston distillery tour, we stopped in the cafe. I had my first taste of Haggis in a dish they Scots call "Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties." Neeps are rutabegas. They and the potatoes are served in separate mashes. The haggis was a bit like hash, but dry so it was good I got a little pitcher of gravy.
Cairnpapple Hill is a neolithic burial site out in the country west of Edinburgh on the summit of Cairnpapple Hill with stunning views of the area. We were a little confused by signage so we had to backtrack once. The henge monument is a good example of a rare class of neolithic ceremonial monument that originally had wooden posts ("uprights" per the guide) surrounded by a trench and a high mound of earth. The presumption is that the person or persons buried at the site were very important, otherwise why go to all the trouble to dig into the intensely rocky soil to create the graves and cover them with rocks?
We drove back to Edinburgh to drop the ladies off at the B&B and return the rental car. Afterward, we walked to the closest restaurant recommended by the host, Salisbury's. It started raining just before we left so it was the first time Pamela had to pull out her umbrella during the trip. Pamela and I split a vegetarian tart with goat cheese. I ordered a hot choc before dinner that was not hot at all. Our friends ordered a sampler appetizer that had deep fried brie that was amazingly tasty. The rain had stopped by the time we finished dinner and walked back to the B&B.
We spent a good part of the day with a friend Pamela had made at a Massage Therapy Research conference in Boston in April. All four of us fit snugly in the car and we drove out to an outdoor sculpture park. As we were driving inside the gate to the car park, we learned from a staff member that the park was closed (no marking on the gate to indicate this). We drove to The Bridge Inn pub in Newbridge near the bridge over the river Forth and had tea/coffee and scones at Mary's treat. Mary took us to the Royal Botanical Garden, Edinburgh. One of its big attractions are the 700 varieties of rhododendrons (there are over a 1000). Mary dropped us off at the Scottish National Museum, which we toured until 1700 closing. We walked to La Bella Italia on High Street (Royal Mile) and then took the Ghosts and Ghouls tour, which finished too late to have any pastry afteward (darn it!).
After breakfast, we climbed Arthur's Seat (at least I did, not everyone wanted to go to the top). Following that, we walked to the Royal Mile for some shopping. We went to Patisserie Valerie for cakes and tea that we had missed last night. We walked to the National Gallery to view the paintings there. Afterward, I had an artist do a pencil sketch of me from pictures he took with his tablet. We had dinner at "The Advocate Restaurant." They had an amazing deal: two meals for 9.99.
We took a cab at 0500 to the bus stop (too far to walk from the B&B with luggage) and then took the bus back to the airport. I managed to take my bag off the bus this time in contrast to our first day. We were very early for our 0820 flight, so we had our last Scottish breakfast in the restaurant past security. It was good, but you have to lower your expectations a bit for airport food, naturally. I forgot to take my iPhone out of my pocket when I walked through the metal detector so I was rewarded with a full body frisk *and* a metail detector wanding (served me right). The flight back to Boston from Dublin was uneventful and I was able to sleep for a few hours despite the turbulence. We had lunch at Logan airport with our friends before go our separate ways (theirs to Sacramento and ours back to Norfolk). Our flight from Regan National was cancelled so we rented a car and drove home from Washington, D.C., sharing the car (but not the driving, that was my priviledge, good thing I napped a bit on the flight) with a teacher from Memphis named Merideth who was meeting friends in Virginia Beach. We got to bed at 0100.
Pam and I attended the Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Groton, CT change of command 15 July. Darlene Grasdock relieved Les Elkin.
Pam and I flew to Providence Thursday morning and toured Newport, Rhode Island all afternoon. The only time Pam had ever been to Newport was for my Prospective Commanding Officer School in February 2008. For those of you familiar with Newport, you know that winter is not the best time to appreciate what it has to offer. Pam figured that out very quickly from the snow blowing sideways onto her face. This time, the weather was much better (low 90s, very sunny). We stayed later than I had originally planned so we could eat at Perro Salado ("salty dog" for those that do not speak Spanish), a trendy, upscale Mexican restaurant where we dined on Valentine's Day 2008. We drove to Groton, CT after dinner, arriving about 2000.
Friday, we attended the change of command at the Submarine Museum in Groton (right outside the New London submarine base, don't ask me why it is called that when it is actually located in Groton). After quickly paying our respects to CDR Grasdock after the ceremony (Pam was aghast that I cut to the front of the line to do so, but we had other plans for later), I took Pam to Mystic, CT for lunch at Zhang's and ice cream at the Mystic Draw-Bridge ice cream parlor. For dinner, I took Pam to Captain Scott's Lobster Dock on the waterfront in New London (very popular place, we had to wait in line for nearly an hour to order from the window). Of course, I had a lobster roll.
Saturday, we drove to Providence, drove around town (surprisingly not crowded, unlike Newport), visited the Roger Williams National Memorial, and took a guided tour of the John Brown (not the civil war abolitionist) house before going to the airport to fly back home.
My wife Pam and I toured NW and Northern Ireland 24 Apr - 12 May. This was our fourth trip to Ireland, but the first time Pam and I want by ourselves (trips 1 and 2 were with our son Bryan and Pam's father and trip 3, last year, was with another couple that have been friends of ours since high school). We decided to go as a pre-retirement adventure while my parents watched our son Beau. We flew to Shannon airport from JFK, arriving just before 0600 on 25 April, a bank holiday (the Irish term for the Monday of a 3 day weekend) since it was Easter weekend. We struggled to find a place to eat breakfast because all the restaurants we passed on the way to Westport were closed, even those in downtown Galway. We toured Westport and its environs, went to Achill (sounds like "hackle") Island (connected to Ireland via a short causeway), and then came back to Westport. We drove to Silgo via Ballycroy National Park, toured the Ceide (sounds like "cay-juh") Fields, a buried neolithic archeology site on the coast SW of Donegal Town. We pressed on to Donegal Town the next day and spent several days there touring local sights. We went to the Slieve League Cliffs and Glenveagh National Park and were lucky enough to stumble upon a traditional Irish music festival in Adara (sounds like "ard-ruh"). We went to Northern Ireland to tour the Giants Causeway, the Bushmills Whiskey distillery, and the Ulster American Folk Museum in Armargh. We went back to Adara to stay in a very quaint B&B, The Green Gate (operated by a Frenchman no less). As we headed back to the airport, we stayed in Castlebar the day before touring the Museum of Country Life just outside of town. We spent our last night in Limerick, which also coincided with the first real rain of our entire trip (not like Ireland at all the locals pointed out frequently). We are often asked "why Ireland?" The short answer is that the people are really friendly, the language barrier is minimal (entertaining and often amusing in fact), and the people are so friendly. The full Irish breakfasts at the Bed and Breakfasts, where we typically stay, are another good reason.
I recently had the opportunity to fly to Bahrain and back to do an inspection on a CVN in the Arabian Gulf. Here are some brief notes from the trip.
22 January (Sat)
I flew with the inspection team from Norfolk airport to Dulles (IAD) at 1500. The flight from Dulles was non-stop flight to Kuwait (just 45 min more to Manama, Bahrain). As luck would have it (and for the first time in my life), I had enough frequent flier miles to upgrade from coach/steerage to Business Class without having to pay an additional fee.
The flight to Kuwait City from Dulles was a little over 12 hours, but it was most bearable since I was able to upgrade to Business Class. As my father has said in the past, one could easily get used to flying that way (recliner seat with foot rest, toiletries bag with toothbrush, toothpaste, lotion, little socks/slippers, and eye mask). Not so impressive: in flight entertainment was not so hot (Aer Lingus for my trip to Ireland last summer was better), food was okay (free wine was lost of me), and the headphone jack was non-standard so I could not use my noise canceling ear phones.
I did not use my iPad once because I had a book (I only brought one hard copy book) and I did not stay awake long after dinner because I was using my “how to sleep well on a plane” process (see separate blog post). I started watching "The Expendables," but stopped because it was BAD. I switched over to "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," which was a lot better than any of the descriptIons I have read about it (based on a graphic novel, strange/amusing/clipped dialog that is hard to understand the first time you hear it, and lots of special effects and graphics (like a comic book)). I slept quite well for the 4-5 hours that I did sleep (the guy next to me clearly did not follow the Ralph Soule "How to get good sleep on overnight airplane flights" protocol since he hardly seemed to doze at all and never fully reclined his seat (can you say "hello to feeling like a zombie on arrival"?). From the phone conversation he was having before takeoff from Dulles, he sounded a bit tightly wound so it may not have mattered anyway.
23 Jan (Sun)
Other than needing to take a shower upon arrival in Bahrain, I felt very good.
We got a ride from the ship’s beach detachment and checked into the hotel (Gulf Hotel Bahrain, http://www.gulfhotelbahrain.com/). The apartment into which they placed me had a dining room table, full kitchen, and lounge area. The biggest challenge at this hotel is deciding where to eat among the Japanese, Thai, Mexican, Lebanese, Chinese, Iranian, Italian, and "other" restaurants (see the web link). I have taken some pictures around the hotel that I will post to soon.
There was no Wi-Fi in the room (wired only), so I had to rent access to the service in the lobby. While sitting near the registration desk, I saw MM1 Dougherty (now Ensign Dogherty), with whom I worked in Pearl Harbor and recommended for a commissioning program. He actually saw me sitting on the comfy couch and let me know that he was accepted for the information Warfare Professional (IP for short) program, went to school at University of Idaho (Moscow) for two years, and is now back in the "fleet" as an IP. He thanked me for the recommendation letter I wrote for him in Pearl Harbor and told me that one of the officers that reviewed his application said that it was very distinctive and made him stand out among the other candidates. This is one of the most satisfying things about being a senior officer and getting to make these recommendations: meeting the people years later and learning how they took advantage of the opportunity.
We had to wait until Tuesday to fly to the ship because the airport is closed on Monday. To improve my speed of acclimation to the 8 hour time zone difference, I stayed awake until about 2300.
24 Jan (Mon)
I slept until about 0800 and then used the gym to run and lift weights (very good after so many hours sitting on the plane). I can run a lot faster on the treadmill than when I am running at my natural pace, but sometimes I get flashbacks of the Jetsons thinking what might happen if I fall off the back of the treadmill (has not happened yet).
I got to the restaurant that serves a breakfast buffet just before the buffet closed. Goodness, but what a well-stocked buffet! Eggs to order, pancakes, fried tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, sausage (pork and lamb), bacon (beef and pork), varieties of olives, breads, and cheese, Middle Eastern food I did not recognize, orange and carrot juice, fruit (canned pears, peaches, lychees as well as fresh berries, melon, grapefruit), a whole table of fresh pastries, yogurt, salmon, and many other foods I did not recognize. Since I got to the restaurant 10 minutes before the buffet closed, I just filled up two plates of stuff and wolfed.
After breakfast, I wandered around a bit and took some pictures, then spent much of the day in the lounge with a piano (in addition to the main lobby where you check in, they have two other lounges) using the wi-fi access card I purchased. Even though internet was available in my room, it was not wi-fi and my MacBook air does not have a connection for hard-wired LAN access.
I took my wife's advice and went to the Japanese restaurant (Sato) and ordered Teppanyaki (gas-fired iron griddle to cook the food like at the Japanese restaurant around the corner from our house). I told the cook I liked the food spicy so he did a great job of adding dry, Japanese hot powder of some sort. Of course, the meal also included miso soup.
Before dinner, I learned that we would not have to depart the hotel until Tuesday 0600 since the estimate for the flight was 0715 (never try to set your clock by military flight arrival and departure times). This meant I was able to go to bed a little later (after watching the last 30 minutes of so of "Enemy of the State") so I would be more likely to sleep longer despite the time zone change. I slept from 2200 until nearly 0400 (I had planned to get up at 0430 anyway to depart my room at 0530). This gave me some extra time to arrange clothes inside my rolling suitcase so I could change to boots from running shoes and my more soil/hydraulic fluid resistant pants for the flight to the carrier.
25 Jan (Tues)
We checked out of the hotel at 0530 (some of our team of 17 came down a bit later) and were able to go right to the restaurant at 0600 when it opened. The food was still excellent, but this morning I was able to order an omelet (yesterday I just had scrambled eggs from the big pan available). We took the van operated by the ship’s beach detachment ("beach det" for short) at 0635 and drove to the "base," actually just a few buildings and trailers. While we were cooling our heels in the lounge waiting for our flight, I was able to use one of the three computers on the back wall of the lounge to send some email updates to my family.
We took a bus out to a remote corner of the airport to the NavyC-2A Greyhound (for more info on these planes, see the link below) that was to take us to the ship. We received life vests (unlike commercial airliner practice, you have to wear the vests in flight going to a Navy ship) and "cranials" (see below link for picture) that include hearing protection because the engines of the C-2A are *loud*. The flight itself was uneventful. I read on my iPad and was chilly at first then toasty as they cranked up the heater.
We made it to the ship after a 2.5 hour flight. I hardly noticed because I was reading on my iPad (handy due to poor light in side the C-2A). I took off my cranial (like having a vice on your head after about 30 minutes) after we reached altitude and replaced it with my noise canceling headphones. It was a very smooth flight, except for the part where we landed on the ship, were caught by the arresting wire (I am glad that happened like it was supposed to), and all my internal organs slammed up against my spine (a very strange feeling indeed). I think many people would pay for that opportunity and to think they Navy *pays me* to do it. Wow!
As we walked from the plane inside the ship, they shepherded us to the Commanding Officer's in port cabin for refreshments (watermelon, pineapple, sandwiches (no crust), and little drumsticks. The CO (who I have served with before) let me stay in his in port cabin (Serta mattress and all), which was totally unexpected. Another first in my career. I also got to use the CO's office that has a monitor on the wall showing planes as they take off and land so I can hear the engines roaring (their engines are at full thrust for takeoff) above me as the planes are about to launch and then see them take off on the monitor. Amazing.
Well, we did the inspection "in brief" (what everyone else might call an introduction) for the ship's leadership (I was late because I forgot to advance my watch one hour on arrival, the ship was slightly east of Bahrain).
I decided to walk the propulsion plants because the maintenance inspection is just getting started and there is not much for me to do the first day. I stopped by the Reactor office prior to going to the plants to let the Reactor Officer (RO) know I was going to walk around (otherwise he would have received frantic calls from watch standers about "a strange Captain wandering the propulsion plant" - I know how these things go) and he decided to walk with me and we talked about how his assignment is going.
Navy C-2A Greyhound info:
Navy flight deck cranial picture
26 Jan (Wed) to 28 Jan (Fri)
There was not much time to spare during the inspection. The inspectors and I were at it at 0700 through 2200 and sometimes much later. The team worked out of the Learning Resource Center (01-84-4-L) and got great support from the crew. I went on several spot checks to learn how the inspectors operate and how the checks were going.
I spent some time mentoring the Reactor Training Assistant about how to make the training program more interesting and improve engagement. I brought a CD of files and sent him many (after we talked about them). The RO wanted me to do a presentation on the ED community for junior officers (which I did on Thursday) and I volunteered to do Challenger training on Friday, 28 Jan, which just happened to be the 25th anniversary of the disaster. I have the file available for anyone who wants to view it (lots of notes).
Late Friday night,we concluded that the ship had passed the inspection (yay!).
29 Jan (Sat) (Pam's Bday, thank goodness for flowers.com)
The team and I departed the CVN at 1430 (1130 bags dropped off, 1230 safety video covering equipment to wear and how to wear/use it ["cranial" and life preserver], emergency egress [before/after takeoff]. life rafts, use of four point safety harnesses [not seat belts], and catapult procedures), 1400 departure. 2.5 hour flight to Manama airport in Bahrain, van ride to Gulf Hotel Bahrain. I made sure to get Wi-Fi in the room this time. I stayed up until 2230 (after eating a huge meal at the Lebanese restaurant in the hotel). I also used the treadmill in the gym (very nicely equipped) for about 30 minutes.
30 Jan (Sun)
I got up at 0330 (part of the Ralph Soule preflight sleep deprivation plan) and then worked on the computer/iPad until 0900 when I went to work out again. After working out, I went to the breakfast buffet and then back to my room. Because i had gotten up so early, I had trouble staying awake so I made myself a few cups of team in the room and that seemed to help. Late check out was 1600 so I finished repacking my clothes and met the other members of the team (just two of them) that were flying back to the US with me in the lobby (the others were staying for a training opportunity on another carrier). I was just going to wait in the lobby and use the computer and read until the van was schedule to take us to the airport at 1900 for our 2155 flight, but several of the inspectors were taking the hotel shuttle to Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain and asked if I wanted to go along. I did.
NSA Bahrain is larger than I thought it would be. We walked from the gate to the NEX complex, which is quite large. It is not as big as in Pearl Harbor or Norfolk, but bigger than I expected. The reason the CPOs like to go there for dinner is that there is a Food Court at the NEX and the food there is *much* less expensive than at the hotel (my dinner was $4.50 vs about $30 at the hotel). I bought a scarf for you, Pam, but I had to pick it out at the vendor's kiosk, pay for it at the NEX, then go back to the vendor to pick it up and I forget the last step as I made a quick break after paying to look at the computers at the NEX (only 40 feet away). Drat! I caught the 1720 shuttle back to the hotel and was working so intently on my MacBook that I hardly noticed that the time of 1900 had arrived and it was time to go to the airport.
The Bahraini airport security was an interesting experience. I had to take a quiz (verbal) before I could check in. It was very similar to the "did you pack your own bags, have they been under your control, did you accept anything from strangers" bit you get when you check bags (which I have not done in so long I had forgotten these are the standard questions-they don't ask you when you only have carry on bags and do self-check in), but much more challenging hearing the questions from someone for whom English is a second language so I had to have a few of the questions repeated.
Next we went to the baggage X-ray machines. After my bags were scanned, at security official made me open my carry on bag and she proceeded to unpack nearly everything (not quite, but it felt like it and it was close to torture watching her unzip all my bags (okay, I have a lot) and rearrange all the stuff in my bag that I had packed so carefully) - most bothersome, but I got over it. We next proceeded near the gate (they wouldn't let us sit at the gate for reasons that became clear about an hour before departure. In the middle of the hallway, they set up *another* screening area, just without the X-ray machine, but it did include two personnel at podiums (like the TSA here) and tables behind them where someone had to go through your baggage a *second* time, exactly the same way they did after going through the X-ray. Argh!
We boarded the 777 and took off right on time (it happens so infrequently it is worth remarking when it does happen). The flight from Manama to Kuwait (pronounced "cue-wait" by the British) was nearly empty and only took 45 minutes with some really bad turbulence in route. We had to disembark while they "serviced" the plane (putting on lots of food and the blankets and pillows). I chose not to upgrade to Business class as it would have cost me $395 (an in-flight Barcalounger is nice, but not *that* nice), but I did get "Economy Plus" seating that had about 5 inches of extra leg room and that was nice. We re-boarded the plan at 0000 and departed shortly thereafter for the 13h 23m flight to Dulles. I sat next to an Army National Guardsman/Reservist (he says the Army cannot seem to make up its mind what to call his unit) that does security for senior officers (not their main mission, but one they do all the time) from Las Vegas that has been in Iraq for 6 months and was coming back on leave for two weeks before doing his next 6 months. 60 - 90 minutes after take off, they served us a big meal (a very odd practice for helping you sleep on a long flight, but the alternative would be to let people get to sleep and wake them up later for the big meal so I guess they have no choice). I watched the movie "Aladdin" since it has been a long time since I've seen it and it was the best movie available (yuk) and then dropped into unconsciousness sometime between 02 and 0300 and slept for nearly six hours so the flight passed quickly enough. The only point of discomfort was my feet. Your feet tend to swell in the air and my high arches tried to poke through my running shoes (laced pretty snug most of the time for running, but I thought I loosened them enough - WRONG). Next overnight flight, which should be Ireland in April, I am going to get some more comfy slippers that fold up really small (wearing running shoes was a bad plan). I did some browsing tonight on the web and have a few models in mind.
31 Jan (Mon)
The flight arrived in Dulles at about 0630. I passed through US Customs in Dulles without incident and then waited about an hour for my flight to San Diego (non-stop). I slept a bit, but only about half of the flight time. We arrived a little early and I met a friend Nate for lunch (Casa Guadalajara in Old Town) and we talked for over two hours. I came to Coronado to check into the hotel (it took me some time to find the registration facility, but that was my own fault for not reading the help info someone sent me). I was just about to get into the shower to clean up when I realized that it was late enough after lunch that I should go for a run first. I ran for 36 min and it felt sooo good after sitting all that time. After cleaning up, I talked to one of my mentors on the phone and then went to Rubios at the NEX food court (my son Beau and I used to go there often). I briefly considered going to the movies, but I was not interested in either of the shows playing so I have been composing this email since I got back to the room (the Enterprise suite at the North Island BOQ).
1 Feb (Tues)
I worked all day at the CNAP N43 offices. They put me in a small office they have for guests and I attended briefings and participated in phone calls all day. From 1700- 2000, I sorted through my outstanding email (I could not access in during the trip overseas). I stayed up a little late to do laundry at the BOQ because I had used up nearly all my clean clothes.
2 Feb (Wed)
I woke up early to go to the gym (right across the street from CNAP buildings), an important thing to do before sitting all day. I got there just before 0600, but it opens at 0400 like most military gyms. I used the treadmill for 30 min. While I did not get thrown off the back, my iPod touch did because I dropped it trying to hook up my headphones while running (probably not the best strategy). Fortunately, no one was injured as it rocketed off the back of the treadmill.
My return flight was through Atlanta so I was not impacted by the midwestern snow storm. Pam picked me up from Newport News airport at 2100.
The trip included four adults (my wife and I and another couple). The entire trip was twelve days: three days in Dublin, train to Killarney, bus tour of Ring of Kerry, bus to and late afternoon walking tour Limerick, rented car, spending the day at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park and staying in Ennis, drove to Galway via Cliffs of Moher and The Burren, three days in Galway/Connemara, dropped off car in Limerick and took train to Dublin, one last night in Dublin. My wife and I had been to Ireland twice before (the last time was eighteen years ago). This was their first time for our friends. I plan on adding more posts in the future about the post trip hot wash and the lessons learned we had in case anyone reading this wants to benefit from our experience.
To prepare for the trip, I used “Rick Steve's Snapshot Dublin,” (a very good resource), “Time Out Dublin,” “The Unofficial Guide to Ireland,” and Pauline Frommer's “Ireland (Spend Less, See More)” as well as virtual tourist.com and tripadvisor.co.uk. Other Dublin web sites that were particularly useful:
The sun rose around 0600 and set at 2200 each day, giving us plenty of daylight for sightseeing. Nearly all the attractions in Ireland close at 1700 so factor that into your sightseeing plans. Our hostess at Chelmsford House B&B in Killarney told us that the mistake most Americans make when they come to Ireland is over scheduling themselves: trying to do too many things in their short visits (even our twelve days seemed short) such that they spend most of their time rushing/traveling between attractions/cities, not enough time getting to know the locals, and without enough flexibility to accommodate recommendations from locals or investigating things that look interesting. My wife and I learned this lesson on our first trip to Ireland in 1991 (6 days, clockwise around island), but corrected it on our second in 1993 (12 days, just a few cities the west/Connemara). This trip was very loosely scheduled with lots of options, despite the way the account below reads.
I have provided some links below to a brief summary of the trip and pictures.
- Dublin 22-25 Jun
- Trip to Killarney
- Ring of Kerry
- Limerick City
- Bunratty Castle
- Cliffs of Moher
- Galway and Connemara
- Travel to Dublin, last night in Dublin
- Last Day in Ireland
- Doors (the Irish love to have very colorful doors)
- Cottages (some typical Irish cottages, thatched roves and all)
- Flowers (either I take pictures of some or my wife will keep taking the camera from me so she can do so)
What follow below is a day by day account of the trip.
21 June USA
My dad took us to the Newport News/Williamsburg airport in Toyota and I got extra cash at NFCU on the way. Air Tran flight left at 0750 and arrived at LaGuardia about 0845. Airport seemed a little old and small to me. It was very easy to take a shuttle bus from the airport to JFK. The van trip (with lots of other passengers) lasted only about 20 minutes. We spent almost as much time driving between terminals at JFK as we did driving there from LaGuardia. Terminal 4 was about two football fields wide and had the usual assortment of clothes, sundries, magazines, book stores and bars and fast food restaurants. Pam and I parked ourselves by one of the eating areas to watch the World Cup (Chile versus Switzerland) on a big screen television. We were joined by the Willbees around 1145 after they arrived from the hotel where they stayed the night before (having taken a red-eye flight from Sacramento on Jet Blue airways). We proceeded to hang out in the general terminal area until 1900, spending most of the time at the Palm restaurant, going there right after they opened at 1200 and not leaving until 1630. At 1900, we ran the security screening gauntlet for the second time that day. I had a problem because I had forgotten to take my iPod touch out of my pocket so I set off the alarm a few times until I figured that out. I learned that once the TSA personnel ask you to remove a certain article of clothing to pass through the scanners, you are expected to comply, no questions asked.
We left a little earlier than the advertised 2150 departure on the Aer Lingus A330. It had very comfortable seats and lots of movie and music choices on the in seat entertainment system. We had some real drama shortly after the Captain turned off the fasten seat belt signs as Pam fainted on her way to the bathroom. I was not very helpful to the cabin crew when they woke me up and pressed me for details about her medical condition and personal well being (a bit groggy at first). It was hard to answer their detailed questions clearly and lucidly. Pam quickly recovered (a bottle of O2 helped) and the rest of the flight was uneventful. They fed us a huge meal about an hour after take off (not my preference, I would have preferred something light and a bigger breakfast before arrival in Dublin), but I had no problem falling asleep even before the food tray was collected and did not stir again until the descent to Dublin airport began about four hours later (getting only two hours of sleep the night before per the “Soule plan” was a big contributor – I did not feel tired at all in the nearly twelve hours we waited at JFK before the flight).
22 June Dublin
We arrived in Dublin a little early, around 0900 local time and proceeded swiftly through immigration control (asking the standard questions, such as, “What is the purpose of your visit?” and “How long to you intend to stay?”). The baggage collection did not take very long for the Willbees (Pam and I had only carry on). We bought bus tickets at the tourist information office in the airport terminal for the express bus, 747, to Dublin, O'Connell Street, for €20 for two (normally €13 each). The bus ride featured the 4.5 km Dublin Port Tunnel, completed in 2006. Going through this tunnel was a new experience for Pam and I, but then I had never been to Dublin airport before, having arrived my only time in Dublin in 1990 via ferry from England. The twin tunnels connect Dublin Port, which lies to the east of central Dublin, and the M1 motorway close to Dublin Airport and relieve surface road congestion in Dublin city centre by diverting big trucks from Dublin Port directly onto the highway. At the completion of the 20-30 minute ride, we were deposited on O'Connell Street almost right across the street from Lynham’s Hotel, which became clear after just a few minutes of reconnoitering.
We dropped our bags in the one room that was ready. Pam stayed to rest, while Jeannelle, Mike, and I walked to Trinity College and back. We returned, collected Pam and stopped at Flannagan's (just a few doors down from the hotel) for lunch. I had Irish stew, Mike had “Joint of the Day”, and Pam/Jeannelle had beef in wine/mushroom sauce pie (it really was just had a biscuit on top).
I could not connect to the Wi-Fi at Lynham's Hotel that my devices said was available, but the Dublin City public library on the second floor of the ILac shopping center (off Henry Street between Dunnes and Debenhams Department stores, across from Arnotts department store) worked fine. The library’s hours are Monday-Thursday1000-2000, Friday-Saturday 1000-1700. The hotel had a computer connected to a box you could put coins into, but the Internet Cafés were a better deal.
We talked across the Liffey to Trinity College and got the combination student tour and Book of Kells Tour. The 30 minute tour of the campus, led by a young, female, history student in her third year, was informative (covering history of the buildings and many people and events) and only lasted about 20 minutes before completing in front of the old Library. After a lengthy stay at the Book of Kells exhibit, we walked to Saint Stephens Green via the Grafton outdoor shopping district. On the way back to the rooms, we stopped at the Dublin Starbucks in the Grafton Street shopping area (it was on the second floor in a narrow department store) so Jeannelle could get a caffeine fix. We got back to our rooms at about 1730 and rested there until about 1900 when we went out walking for dinner. After a good walk around the Temple Bar and Grafton areas, we ate at the Acapulco restaurant to sample the Irish version of Mexican food and it was quite good (spicier than I would have expected). Pam and I had tostadas (hers vegetarian and mine chile beef, not flat tortillas but two palm size cup like shells), Mike had a chimichanga and Jeannelle had a fajita (beef) salad. The waitress appeared in absolutely no hurry to bring the check after clearing our plates (this is a difference from the USA that we noted more than once).
23 June Wednesday
Breakfast 0910, full Irish breakfast (toast, one egg, tomato, black/white pudding, lamb sausage, and bacon) for all four of us at the hotel restaurant. We walked first to Christchurch Cathedral, taking the self-guided audio tour of the church and crypt. Pam and I attended the noon prayer for peace in the main church before descending to the crypt (desiccated cat and rat, history of the castle with many displays, video of church history). Mike and I bought cold drinks on the way to Dublin Castle. We booked the 1410 tour, but had time to visit the chapel and briefly wonder at the courtyard and Bedford Tower, with its flanking figures representing Justice and Strength/Fortitude before the tour started. The tour was informative, but I wished I had made an audio recording of it since a lot of information went by really fast. We stopped by the Dubh Linn (the original name of the town, meaning “dark pool” in Gaelic, corrupted by the Vikings into Dublin) garden and Charles Beatty library behind the Castle after the tour.
We stopped by a grocery store and bought sandwiches, salad for lunch, which we ate outside on a bench in front of the Powerscourt shopping center a few blocks away. We finished at about 1645 and walked to Saint Patrick's Cathedral in the mistaken belief that it would be open until 1800, but it actually closed just as we got there. In retrospect, had we realized the cathedral closed for visiting at 1700, we might have been able to take a cab there or finish eating earlier. We spent some time in the park next to the church taking pictures, and then headed back to the hotel. We took a different route back to the hotel, crossing the River Liffey via the Ha' Penny pedestrian bridge. We promised ourselves earlier that we would stop by two stores on either side of the bridge, “Forbidden Planet” (manga, anime, and action figure store) and a wool store (Jeannelle and Pam). While Mike went in Forbidden Planet, I popped into an internet café to print a copy of the trip itinerary, which I had forgotten to do before departure. We spent a short time back at the hotel before heading to Grafton/Duke Streets south of Trinity College at The Duke for the Literary Pub Crawl. We bought tickets (€12 each) at 1900 and the tour was from 1930 – 2200.
The pub crawl included four pubs (one was The Duke). Our guides were professional actors Frank and Sarah. Most of the tour members were Americans with a few other countries (England, Australia) represented. Our friend Mike won the t-shirt contest announced at the beginning of the “crawl” by answering two questions (of six) correctly and then the “shoot out” with a young man from Australia (“Which Irish playwright won both a Nobel Prize for literature and an Oscar?” – (Oscar Wilde) via multiple choice.
We walked back to the hotel hoping to get what the Irish call “bar food” since it was obvious that most of the conventional restaurants were closed, but the kitchens of the two establishments we tried were closed so we went to a Malaysian restaurant, Pulau Pinang, on O'Connell street, across the street from the hotel. The food was quite good, but the best feature was that the restaurant was open when most of the others were not. Good food and service were a bonus. We returned to our rooms at 2320.
24 June Thursday
I ran for about 30 minutes, starting at 0733 and ran west to the Museum of Irish History at Collins Barracks along the route of the LUAS trolley. I chose this route because I would probably have less traffic to negotiate this way and it turned out to be a good choice. It started off a bit cool since I was wearing a short sleeve shirt, but I never needed my windbreaker as I warmed up just fine.
After the full Irish breakfast at the hotel restaurant, Café Carlo, we went north on O'Connell street to the Ireland Writers Museum. We spent nearly two hours there (two rooms of exhibits and plaques about authors as well as a gift shop and café) and it provided great detail on Irish writers and their works. This was a highlight of the trip.
We next went south, pausing at Remembrance Garden (civil war memorial) and Trinity College (to find out who is in the sarcophagus in the exam room, but the students giving the tours did not know), via Nassau Street to Kildare Street, passing the National Library and stopping at the National Museum of Archeology. We stayed there until nearly 1500. The exhibits I remember were: Roman/Estruscan life, Egypt, prehistoric Ireland, Medieval Ireland, gold metal work, people found in bogs, and the excavation of Tara. At the end of the day, we walked to St Patrick's Cathedral (arriving after it closed, we should have taken a cab there).
After hearing about it during the tour of Trinity College, I was motivated to do some research on the Sarcophagus in the Trinity College Exam Hall.
From the site: http://www.chaptersofdublin.com/books/ossory/ossory4.htm
The long tenure of the provostship of Richard Baldwin (1717-58) did much to [improve the discipline of the College, which had become very lax during the early years of the 18th century]. He was tyrannical, overbearing, and unjust, and did little for the intellectual development of the University; but he enforced some degree of order, and proved his affection for his College by bequeathing to it not only his savings of £24,000, but in addition real estate to the value of over £50,000.
His monument in the Theatre [which doubles as the exam hall] represents the dying Provost, on a sarcophagus of porphyry [a type of red colored granite], turning affectionately to the University who weeps over him, while an angel points to a crown of immortality which she holds before his closing eyes. The monument was the work of Hewetson, a Dublin artist, who executed the work in his studio in Rome at a cost, including carriage, of £1,500.
We stopped for a big meal at Captain America's restaurant in Grafton Street at 1515 and then did some shopping before returning to the hotel room by 1830. I went out again to look for sunglasses (mine had broken) and moleskin (this time wearing my running shoes). The Gore-tex hiking boots I brought for the Connemara part of the trip were rubbing too much on my left heel. I stumbled upon a shopping mall between department stores and thence upon a library where I could get a Wi Fi connection for both my iPod (no email though) and my iPad (did get email and updated applications from the iTunes Store, downloaded WSJ updates, and did some web browsing). Everyone else just rested in the hotel.
We considered going to The Celt pub on Talbot Street for traditional Irish music, but it was not going to start until 2200 and we did not want to stay out that late. We left the hotel at 2000 for Temple Bar and the Oliver St John Gogarty’s pub because we expected to catch some earlier music. We were not disappointed after we got upstairs. We were early enough to get good seats, but we realized later that if someone possibly could put a chair in front of where you were sitting, they would. Mike bought two CDs of the band's music and gave one to us. We left at 2200. Before going up to our rooms, I made reservations to stay at Lynham’s Hotel for the last night of our trip, 2 July.
25 June Friday
Pam and I got up at 0600. There were two fire alarms (or something that sounded like a fire alarm) at 0300, but we ignored them and fortunately did not have to evacuate the hotel. We departed Lynham’s Hotel at 0740, wheeling our bags to the Abby Theater LUAS trolley stop. We paid €1.90 per ticket to Heuston Station (across the street from the LUAS stop of the same name). At Heuston Station, we bought round trip (sort of) Irish Rail tickets to Limerick/Killarney (Dublin to Killarney, Killarney to Limerick, Limerick back to Dublin). We bought pastries/drinks in the station for breakfast since we were concerned about not being able to catch the 0900 train if we had a sit down breakfast in a restaurant, most of which don’t start serving until 0730.
The train to Cork departed from track 6 at 0900, but we had to struggle with luggage when we figured out that the seats were reserved (LED sign above each seat) in all but the last two cars. The agent who took our tickets told us something like this (“enter at the middle since the other seats are reserved”), but none of us had any idea what he meant (other than enter at the middle of the train). Mike had to take his bag off the train and head toward the front of the train with it on the platform since it was too big to move down the aisle. We changed trains in Mallow for the train to Tralee and arrived in Killarney around 1230.
Mike and I left Jeannelle and Pam guarding the bags at the train station while we found a place to eat (McSweeny's Pub) that was not too far away, but we took a cab there to make things easier. We ate a nice meal there and then took another cab to Chelmsford House where we met Pat (Louise's husband) who gave us our room keys and said he thought we were not coming since we arrived later than what I had suggested in a prior email.
After we dropped our bags in our rooms, Pat gave us some tips on walking to Ross Castle in Killarney National Park, a typical example of the stronghold of an Irish Chieftain during the Middle Ages. It was about 2 km to the castle (actually a Tower House). We arrived around 1630 and Mike bought tickets (€6 each) for the last tour of the day, which took about 40 minutes. On the tour with us was a young couple that we were to see several other times during our trip. On our return, we exited Killarney National Park near St Mary's Cathedral and entered Killarney via New Road, going into the Danny Mann tavern (Pam and her dad had gone there while I stayed with Bryan on our last trip to Ireland) for dinner (Irish Stew, Shank of Lamb, Shepherd’s pie, profiteroles, and Bailey's cheesecake with caramel topping, an awesome dessert). We stayed until 2030, but the music was not due to start until 2200 so we called it a day and walked back to Chelmsford House.
The Wi-Fi at Chelmsford House was very handy. My iPad could not connect, however.
26 June Saturday
Bus Tour of the Ring of Kerry
Breakfast at 0830. We met Louise, the proprietress of Chelmsford B&B, at breakfast. She was very friendly and provided lots of recommendations about things to do and tours to take from Killarney. We had plenty of time to finish breakfast and waited only a few minutes for the bus to arrive for the Ring of Kerry tour. Louise had arranged it with O'Connell bus tours when I made our B&B reservation with her before leaving the states. Louise is the kind of person to whom you should tell all your plans because she has lots of suggestions to make your trip better.
The small bus arrived at 0945. It also went to other B&Bs and hotels to pick up others. We were the first stop and thus the first ones on the bus. The driver, Dennis, strongly suggested we get on the main bus first to get the best seats, which Mike, Jeannelle and Pam did while I paid for the tour (€20 each). The bus made plenty of stops along the way to take photos.
The “ring” is a road encircling the Iveragh (I-veer-a) Peninsula. After a few minutes on a bus tour travelling the ring (at a cost of about 30 euro) in a counterclockwise direction, the first sight comes into view. The Macgillycuddy Reeks, with its folds and rugged terrain, is a mountain region that forms the backbone of the Ring of Kerry, and includes Ireland’s highest peak, Carrantuohill, at 1,050 meters high, and the Gap of Dunloe, a glaciated valley.
The Landscape of the Ring of Kerry
We stopped at the Red Fox Inn (half way between Killorglin and Glenbeigh on the main Ring of Kerry route) an old traditional road house situated adjacent to Kerry Bog Village museum, home of the Kerry bog pony. The Bog Village is a “step back in time to the early 18th century to recapture the way life would have been at that time.” The village preserves the real Kerry life as it was, in the heart of Kerry's bog land. I passed on this tour and waited for the others to finish. The land surrounding the mountains, particularly closer to the town of Killorglin, is comprised of peat bogs. Peat (the result of water-rotted vegetation), or turf as it is usually called in Ireland, is harvested from bogs and is still used as domestic fuel in the winter. Evidence of its gathering lies across the bogs as stacked peat “bricks,” filled plastic bags, and cut-out sections of land.
The Carragh River, which flows into nearby Dingle Bay, is past the bogs. The next stop on the tour was the sheep-dog demonstration put on by local farmer Brendan Ferris. Once you pay your €5 fee and walk up the hill, you can see a flock of sheep widely dispersed on the side of the mountain. Brendan gives a fascinating demonstration of how he uses his sheep dogs, border collies Max and Bess, to bring in the sheep on his farm. Responding to Brendan's whistled commands, the dogs guide the sheep downwards. Miraculously, by the end of the demonstration all the sheep are calmly gathered in a pen beside you. The dogs are the real stars of the show.
Moving onward, the driver Dennis told us about the Ireland TidyTowns competition, which was started in 1958 and is Ireland's most well known and popular local environmental initiative. The primary focus of TidyTowns was to encourage communities to improve their local environment and make their area a better place to live, work and visit. The competition aspect was an important element in developing friendly rivalry that would help boost standards across the board. The emphasis was always on participating rather than winning as the very act of taking part brought benefits to the community. And with a focus on long-term results rather than quick returns, TidyTowns was soon seen as a unique and far-sighted initiative. Just 52 towns entered in its first year, but TidyTowns rapidly increased in popularity with an average of 700 entrants per year.
The road hugged the coastline and revealed the glimmering sheet that is Dingle Bay. It covers the expanse between the Iveragh Peninsula and the Dingle Peninsula on the other side, with dips and rises in its own landscape wooing explorers. The Blasket Islands, at the end of Dingle Peninsula, are visible on a clear day but shrouded in mist look like part of the mainland.
The Birthplace of Daniel O’Connell
The next main town is Cahersiveen. On its outskirts are partial stone walls, the remains of the house in which Daniel O’Connell, champion for Catholics’ rights, was born in 1775. In town, buildings bear O’Connell’s name, as well as a church, reputedly the only church in Ireland not to be named after a saint.
Back on the bus, the road curves toward the Atlantic Ocean and along the seaside town of Waterville, where we stopped at a pub for lunch. After Waterville, the road climbs up into the mountains and past Silent Valley, so called because of the effect the Great Famine of 1845-1849 had on the area. The ground here, covered in lush shades of green divided by stone walls and punctuated with houses, tumbles down toward the sea, and an ancient, round stone fort still exists in the valley, as well.
Dolmen on the road toward Sneem are reminders of ancient Ireland, but Sneem itself is a small town that boasts brightly painted houses, perfect for a modern-day postcard. The bus stopped for thirty minutes right next to a Quills Woollen store (we almost lost Jeannelle).
Valleys and Views Surround Killarney National Park
The last stop on the bus tour is the area around Killarney National Park. We rode past Black Valley, huddled within dramatic mountains (reportedly the last place in Ireland to receive electricity). A pass over Moll’s Gap takes travelers to Ladies’ View (so named because of the Queen Victoria's ladies in waiting who express their enjoyment of the location during a visit some one hundred years ago), a lookout point over lakes and islets.
The benefit of a day trip of the Ring of Kerry on a bus tour is that you can focus on landscape of the Iveragh Peninsula, from bogs and valleys, to mountains and seascapes without taking your life in your hands on the narrow roads.
We arrived back in Killarney at about 1630. We walked from Chelmsford House to the shopping/restaurant area (New Street/High Street). While Jeannelle and Pam looked at linens, Mike and I walked through the very light rain checking out restaurants. We settled on Bricin (“brick-in,” gaelic for “a small trout”) restaurant (upstairs) and craft store (downstairs), primarily because their desserts looked interesting. We had to wait a bit for a table since they are very busy and many of the seats were taken up by what looked like a pre-wedding bridesmaids party.
27 June Sunday
Louise helped us make reservations at the Glen Eagles B&B in Limerick, very close to the city center (owned by Helen). Louise also helped us make reservations for Clochard B&B on 29, 30 Jun and 1 Jul in Galway, run by a friend of hers (a different Helen). She gave us packages to take to both (business cards for the first one). Louise suggested that we could have picked up the rental car in Killarney on Sunday if only we had arranged to do so at the Kerry airport (not clear to me when I was making the reservation). She also suggested that we take the bus to Limerick instead of the train (two hours instead of three and a half), but we could not easily tell online if the first bus to leave Killarney was at 1400 or 1200 (it turned out to be the latter). Louise suggested that we would have had time to take a bus tour of the gap of Dunloe if we had picked up the rental car at the Kerry airport because we could easily have driven to Limerick afterward with the rental car. This was a good idea, but I had already paid for the rental car so we could not change plans. This is another reason why you should not over plan and seek help from the locals, if possible, when making plans.
We took a cab from Chelmsford House to the bus station (right next to the train station) and got tickets for the bus from Killarney to Limerick City (€18 each, obtained from a vending machine because the ticket office did not open until 1200) instead of the train to save Mike and Jeannelle having to manhandle their luggage over two train transfers (one in Mallow and the other in Limerick Junction).
The bus route included: Kerry airport, Rathkeale, and Adare via the N21 highway (what the Irish would call a “motorway”). We arrived in Limerick City at 1410. We took a cab from the combination bus/train station to Glen Eagles B&B (well marked, good directions from the proprietress) and met Helen's sister, who let us in and gave us some advice on things to see. We walked from Glen Eagles at1518 to King John’s Castle, passing the Treaty Stone on the way, and paid for admission (€9 ea). We walked from King's Island to O'Connell Street, but struggled to find an open restaurant on a Sunday evening. Even most of the pubs were not serving food.
We stopped at the Texas Steakout restaurant for dinner.
After returning to Glen Eagles, we met Helen, the proprietress. She will make breakfast to suit your time. She also did laundry for us (no establishments are open on Sundays), for which we paid her €10 Monday morning.
28 June Monday
Helen was a great hostess and made all the breakfasts herself (several of the B&Bs had hired help). She told us about the upcoming Las Vegas wedding of her niece (Apr 2011) and how everyone's children have been struggling since the collapse of the “Celtic Tiger.” She made a comment about how someone once told her that she was raising children for “export” because the economy in Ireland was so poor twenty years ago.
After our 0800 breakfast, Mike and I took a cab to the car rental agency and picked up the Opel Insignia. It needed to be large enough to accommodate our luggage. There was some confusion about whether the car required unleaded versus diesel that we got cleared up before we left. We had to take a “test” before renting the car (list questions). We waited a bit after returning to Glen Eagles for our laundry to dry and then decided to depart for Bunratty Castle no matter what its condition was. Helen was very helpful with recommendations of things to do and places to go.
Bunratty Castle and Folk Park are on the N18 road from Limerick City to Ennis. We got there at 1043 without much difficulty since the road signs were so good. The name Bunratty, Bun Raite (or possibly, Bun na Raite) in Irish, means the 'bottom' or end of the 'Ratty' river. This river, alongside the castle, flows into the nearby Shannon estuary. The Castle is the most complete and authentic medieval fortress in Ireland. Built in 1425 it was restored in 1954 and now contains mainly 15th and 16th century furnishings, tapestries, and works of art that capture the mood of those times. Alongside the castle is the extensive Bunratty Folk Park that features reconstructions of historical cottages and buildings, recreating the general feel of the 19th century with a period style village main street. Old tools, furniture and artifacts are displayed, with the village kept alive by some inhabited shops, an old home bakery and peat fires in cottages. At the far end of the 26 acre site is the formal Bunratty Walled Garden, modeled on the original Regency period garden which supplied fruit, vegetables, and flowers to Bunratty House built in 1804 and now refurbished in typical Victorian style.
While at the park, we made reservations for Knappogue Castle Banquet (there are two others, BunrattyDunguaire, but they were full), check in time 1815. Reservations cost €50 each, payable in advance, non-refundable. You can also book these online, but I thought it best to wait until we were actually in Ireland and see if that is what our group wanted to do. and
After touring extensively, we stopped at Dirty Nelly’s, next door to the castle/folk park, for a late lunch: Pam had grilled ham and cheese, I had a burger (so did Jeannelle), and Mike had roast beef. I could not get my burger done medium rare because there is an EU rule against it (sigh).
We stopped in Ennis at Glenorma B&B after driving through the city center (pretty spooky for me seeing how close Mike was coming to cars parked in the street on the left hand side of the car) to try to find a tourist information office. We did not see one.
The drive from the B&B to Knappogue Castle Banquet (1815 – 2130 or so) was a death defying race across narrow backcountry roads with few signs to get there. We thought we had plenty of time to get there, but that evaporated rapidly as we drove on the narrow roads. We had more trouble than we expected finding both Quinn and the Castle, arriving just in the nick of time. Of the three long tables, we had the best seats since we sat between the only two windows in the banquet hall.
Knappogue Castle was built in 1467 by Sean MacNamara, son of Sioda (who built Bunratty Castle) and it has a long and varied history. In 1571 the castle became the seat of the MacNamara Clan, Earls of West Clancullen. In 1641 it was occupied by Oliver Cromwell's troops, but later returned to the MacNamara Clan who sold it to the Scots in 1800. The Castle has been host to two Irish presidents, as well as other heads of state, including General de Gaulle. A wonderful feature of the castle and its grounds is the beautiful walled garden, dating from 1817 now restored to its former splendor.
The Knappogue Castle & Walled Garden, built in 1467, is located in County Clare, Ireland. It was built by Sean MacNamara, and is a good example of a medieval tower house. It was one of forty-two castles owned by the MacNamara clan. It has a long and varied history, from a battlefield to a dwelling place. In 1571 the castle became the seat of the MacNamara Clan ~ Earls of West Clancullen. Donagh MacNamaraIrish Rebellion of 1641 and Knappogue remained in MacNamara hands throughout the Irish Confederate Wars of the 1640s. However, after the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649-53) it was confiscated by Oliver Cromwell's parliament and granted to a ‘Roundhead’, Arthur Smith. was a leader of the
After the monarchy was restored in 1660, Knappogue was returned to its MacNamara owners. The MacNamara Clan sold the castle to the Scotts in 1800; the latter carried out major restoration and extension work. In 1855, the castle was acquired by Lord Dunboyne, who continued the restoration work. The castle’s history is imaginatively related on colourful panels throughout its rooms. During the War of Independence, Clare County Council held their meetings at Knappogue Castle where they were guarded by the East Clare Flying Column. Michael Brennan, Commander of the East Clare Brigade also used the castle as his headquarters during that time.
In the 1920s, a local farmer leased the Knappogue castlelands as grazing land for his cattle. One of the cows wandered into the castle, which by this time had fallen into disrepair. The cow wandered up the stone stairs, stepped out onto the crumbling wood floor, and fell to its death on the stones below. As compensation for the lost cow, ownership of the castle and its surrounding lands were granted to the farmer, who continued to graze cattle there. In 1966, the castle and lands were purchased in 1966 by the Hon. Mark Edwin Andrews of Houston Texas. He and his wife (a prominent American architect), in collaboration with Shannon Development, carried out an extensive and sensitive restoration. Their work returned the castle to its former 15th century glory while encompassing and retaining later additions that chronicle the continuous occupation of the Castle.
The Andrews were the last occupants of the Castle. Shannon Development purchased the castle in 1996 with the intention of preserving the building for future generations. Dating from 1817, the beautiful 1.248 acre (5,000 m²) garden is now restored to its former splendour. The tall and imposing walls of the garden have now been refurnished with climbing roses, grapevines and many varieties of clematis.
arugula [uh-REW-guh-la] = arrugola = (in Britain ) rocket (salad) = tira = Italian cress = Mediterranean rocket = rugola = rugula = roquette = rucola With its peppery and slightly bitter flavor, arugula is a terrific green to throw into an otherwise boring salad. It can be gently braised, too. Some supermarkets sell it in small bunches, but you're more likely to find it combined with other greens in a spring salad mix.
The show was really well done and featured music and entertainment (singing, dancing, harp/violin). They anointed several guests from the bus tours that came as “kings” of Ireland's four kingdoms. I took lots of video. The menu was smoked salmon, bread with butter, tomato soup (with special ingredient “lovin”), chicken, potatoes, and veggies, with dessert, mead, red/white wines, and dessert. We sat next to two families from Pittsburg (we saw them again at the cliffs of Moher and in Galway).
29 June Tuesday
We ate breakfast at 0830 and met Mary, the proprietress of Glenomra. We were off by 0945 for the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, Doolin, and Galway.
We drove straight from Ennis to the Cliffs of Moher, drinking in the gorgeous sites. We parked across the street from the new eco-friendly visitor center (€8 fee). The cliffs were still impressive and we also saw (heard the tremendous roar first) a rock slide from the cliffs into the ocean. This is just another reason to stay far from the edge as all the signs warned. The visitor’s center includes a gift shop (of course) and the Atlantic Edge interpretive center.
We stopped for lunch in O'Connor's pub in Doolin, then drove through the Burren (a rock strewn landscape in northwest County Clare, one of the largest karst landscapes in Europe) on our way to our home base for the next three days and two nights: Clochard B&B (€35 per person per night) in Galway. We had some considerable challenges (driving into the city center from the east (B&B was on the west) of town) finding the B&B we had reserved. The B&B business card we got from Louise had a small map on the back, but it did not give any guidance for how to get to the intersection near the B&B (we should have checked a Galway map on line in advance to figure this out or asked for directions over the phone when I made the reservation). We found signs for University Hospital, a major landmark mentioned on the business card, and that helped us get to the intersection noted on the back of the card, but we passed the street on which the B&B was located multiple times since it was enclosed on three sides by a stone wall and the street “sign” was a small rock with the street name carved into it and the lower line of text was obscured by flowers. We met the owners, Helen and Pat Hanlon.
We walked into Galway around 1930 and had dinner on Quay Street, near the Spanish Arch, at "La Trattoria," an Italian restaurant.
30 June Wednesday
We drove in Connemara, one of the most scenic areas in Ireland, via N59 and then R344. We stopped to tour Kylemore Abbey. This was a new sight for us since our last trip 18 years ago and has been extensively modernized for tours, including the Abbey, chapel, gift shop/café, and Victorian Walled Gardens. The first and only sustained rain of the trip began just before we went to the café for lunch so we took the tram to the gardens and had to break out our rain gear for a soggy tour of the gardens. Next, we drove as far west as Tully to take some pictures of thatched cottages. On the return to Galway, we stopped in Cong, where John Ford filmed the 1952 movie, "The Quiet Man." The city of Cong has been really "fixed up" from what we remembered from eighteen years ago to appeal to fans (Cohan’s Pub, gift shops, Quiet Man cottage/museum, and more). We toured the ruins of Cong Abbey. We could not do much more since it was after 1700 and most of the other sights were closed. We had some libations in the replica of Pat Cohan's bar (figures prominently in the movie and has the movie running continuously on a large screen television mounted on the wall) then drove back to Galway for dinner at McSwiggans (a very nice restaurant despite the name). Mike and I got lost after going to the men’s room and had to wander around a bit to find Jeannelle and Pam again.
Mike and I started the morning by dropping our laundry off at the Laundromat a few blocks from the B&B (Louise had driven me there the day before). Louise’s husband Pat picked it up for us. Following that, we walked into Galway, touring shops and meandering about the city center (Spanish Arch area) looking at antiques and other shops (I took more pictures of colorful doors). We got cash so we could pay for our stay at the B&B because Helen was leaving for Cork later in the day. We were able to stay the night and not have to move to another B&B because she arranged for her hired assistant to cook breakfast (her first time on her own) the next day for us. About 1200 we headed up the coast road through Salt Hill and Costelloe, then north through Connemara again, stopping for lunch in Cong. We at lunch at the Fennel Seed pub in Cong. We stumbled upon Ashford Castle (which we did not notice the day before) and got great pictures of the grounds while we walked about them (you have to pay to walk across the bridge to tour the grounds near the castle, but we got a group discount). We drove back to the B&B and got directions to the An Pucan pub in Galway where we ate dinner and listened to live Irish music. The Pucan takes its name from a class of Galway Hooker boat one of which has been beautifully restored and integrated into the pub as both a seating area and a stage for live music. Inside it is one of the most intricately decorated pubs in Galway with all kinds of photos, musical instruments and memorabilia lining the walls.
After our Irish breakfast at Clochard, we departed Galway at 0940 and drove the rental car to Limerick to drop it off (I dropped Pam, Jeannelle and Pam at the train station first). We had a little trouble finding the train station (this happens when you don't consult the map), but I dropped Mike, Jeannelle, and Pam off and then returned the rental car after gassing it up. I took a cab back to the train station. The train departed at 1255 and we arrived at Heuston Station in Dublin at 1510. We took the LUAS back to the Abbey Street station and checked back into Lynham’s Hotel. We rested for a few hours in our rooms and spent most of the evening at Oliver St John Gogarty's pub listening to live Irish music (we arrived early enough to get great seats, right in front of the band so no one could sit in front of us).
We met in the lobby of Lynham's Hotel at 0715, checked out, then stood outside on the sidewalk enjoying the cool breeze until the restaurant opened at 0730. Mike and I ordered the full Irish breakfast while Pam and Jeannelle had something a little smaller. At 0730, even though we could sit down, the wait staff was nowhere to be seen so I walked back into the kitchen to make sure they knew we were ready to order.
We were out at the bus 748 (express bus to Dublin airport) stop next to the hotel at 0825 and the bus picked us up at 0838 (bus leaves every ten minutes after 0815). Mike paid the €12 for our tickets. We got to the Dublin airport by 0858.
Pam and I had to check our carry on bags because they exceeded the Aer Lingus limit of 10 kg, even though they were not too large.
Because we had to pass through three screening checkpoints (one for airline security and two for US Customs and Border Control), this turned out to be only just enough time to pass through the checkpoints and get to the gate by 1000 for our 1030 flight, which started boarding about five minutes after we got there. The gate waiting area was not nearly large enough for all the people waiting