Travel Theme: Outdoors

This week’s travel theme at Where’s My Backpack is Outdoors.

While we aren’t one for outdoor sports or things like hiking, we do spend time outside walking city and town streets and driving in the great outdoors enjoying the scenery. Here’s a few outdoor shots from our travels:

At the Arnhem Open Air museum in The Netherlands

On Panmuir Island, PEI

Driving through the mountains in the Lake District, England

Memorial to the Boer War, Halifax Public Gardens

York Redoubt, at the mouth of Halifax Harbour


Travel Theme: Spring

I do the majority of my traveling in the spring and in the fall, when the flights are cheaper and weather isn’t too hot or too cold. Aside from Easter, there aren’t huge crowds of tourists either but I have faced the throngs of Easter tourism in the past. Booking holidays over Easter means you use two less vacation days! Advantages and disadvantages. Note to self, if away over Easter, avoid the tourist sites (i.e. last year’s visit to the Tower of London on Easter Sunday in the rain was ridiculously crowded in spite of the weather)

Here are some photos from my spring travels. While most of them are from the U.K., I have visited a few other places in the spring. The photos, however, tend to be of buildings or if there are trees in the photos, there aren’t many leaves on them. They all get a bit same-y looking after awhile.

At the Castlerigg Stone Circle, near Keswick in the English Lake District.

More lambs, in Castleton, in England’s Peak District National Park

Springtime in Grasmere, also in the Lake District

War memorial in Cardiff, Wales

Spring in Amsterdam

More Spring photos at Where’s My Backpack

Tour Ireland (2002) Part 5 – Avoca and Glendalough

Our last day on the bus. The rain avoided us yesterday, but it’s still clear and sunny out this morning. Breakfast wasn’t great. No choice. They slapped down a plate of egg, bacon, etc., were late with the toast and it felt very like a conveyer belt to us. No matter. Let’s get going.

We drove through the old part of Waterford past Reginald’s Tower, which was built originally by the Vikings. The city center of Waterford looks very much like most Irish cities architecturally. We had our tour assessments to fill out while we drove and luckily the roads were fairly good for writing.

We headed out into the country county roads of County Wexford, past lots of yellow gorse brush streaking the green hills. We heard about rebellion in 1798 led by Father Murphy, an insurrection by the Catholics trying to gain rights inspired by the French Revolution 20 years before that. Didn’t work. The rebellion was brutally put down by the British.

Coloured houses in Avoca, Ireland

Coloured houses in Avoca, Ireland

Our first stop today is Avoca, in the Avoca Vale, a pretty valley about 2 hours drive from Waterford. The reason for the stop is a demonstration at one of the oldest hand weaving mills still functioning in Ireland. Avoca is also famed as the location of exterior filming for the tv series Ballykissangel and when Carole heard that her eyes lit up! She loves that show! I think I’ve only seen it once but as weaving didn’t particularly interest me either, we decided to spend our time in the village.

We ascertained our departure time then trotted up and over the dip in the road into the town. First the church. The actual name of it is Saints Patrick and Mary. It’s a very pretty stone church and chapter house with a little yard, stone wall and wrought iron fence. There’s a lovely gothic peaked door as well.

Down the road a little further there are a few small shops along  side a row of two storey houses painted yellows and oranges and pinks. I still haven’t been able to take a photo of the single storey cottage rows that we’ve seen in a lot of villages and towns. The bus drives by too quickly and too close to the side of the street to take a photo from the bus and nowhere we’ve stopped has had them. This will have to do.

Fitzgerald's pub, from Ballykissangel. Avoca, Ireland

Fitzgerald’s pub, from Ballykissangel. Avoca, Ireland

And there’s the pub! Fitzgerald’s is where a lot of the action in the show takes place. There were very few people around since most of our group stayed at the mill and it was earlyish. We each posed for a photo on the benches in front of the bright yellow and blue pub since it wasn’t yet open, and walked down by the river to see the stone bridge. We looked in a  couple of souvenir shops as well.

On the way back we passed one building that had a sign on it that proclaimed, in spite of it’s relatively small size, that it was not only the law courts, but also the computer learning center, library, AND the tourist information center! Necessity etc. A final photo of the church from the village point of view, and back to the mill complex of low white and red buildings on the river.

The clouds began to gather and we drove under darkening skies through the north part of County Wicklow where the mossy-trunked trees were tall and close to the road, their overhanging branches forming a canopy over the road. Or it would have if the leaves had been in full bloom. Probably looks really pretty in summer with the sun streaming through but the skies were darkening.

We drove through a town called Rathdrum where a man called Charles Stuart Parnell was born. He was a Protestant MP who campaigned for Ireland to become independent from Britain and he pushed for rights for Catholics.  It’s said that he probably would have succeeded and Ireland would have gained its independence as a complete and undivided country, avoiding all the violence of the 20th C. except for one thing. He fell in love with the wife of another MP, one Mrs. Kitty O’Shea. The scandal ruined him and he had to resign in disgrace. He’s still honoured in Ireland with squares, parks and streets named for him. The only man with more accolades seems to be Daniel O’Connell one of the leaders of the 1916-1920 rebellion that did lead to an independent Ireland, albeit without the northernmost 7 counties.

Glendalough, Ireland

Glendalough, Ireland

Rain spit on the bus windows as we arrived at the Glendalough visitor center. Glendalough, which means the  Valley of the lakes, was the site of a monastery founded by St. Kevin nearly 1400 years ago. It was used for quite a few centuries before it fell into disuse and ruin. There are roofless buildings and a round tower and the remains of a kitchen building along side the monks’ cemetery.

We saw a short video in a room that I found very cold and drafty and by the time our walking tour was to start, the rain was coming down lightly but steadily. I had neither hood nor umbrella so I decided to skip it. I was chilly already and getting wet wouldn’t help. I looked around the visitor center and made my way across the car park to the hotel in the village where we were going to have our lunch break A few people from the tour had already gone straight there. Had I known I would have joined them earlier. There was a gas fire burning and, luckily, an empty table right beside it. Bliss!

Lunch, hot tea and a hot apple crumble with custard for desert which I was just getting ready to eat when the rest of the group returned. Carole joined me and ordered her lunch while I toasted myself on the fire and my tongue on the hot custard and heard about the walking tour which did sound quite interesting. She found a beautiful Celtic cross in the cemetery that she got a good photo of too!

We’ll soon be back to Dublin and a day or two on our own to explore further.

Tour Part 1

Tour Part 2

Tour Part 3

Tour Part 4

More Begorrathon.

Begorrathon Movie Review: The Grand Seduction

GSposterHere’s another Brendan Gleeson movie review, posted for Begorrathon, a month celebrating all things Irish. It also gives you a great view of the rural coastal area of Newfoundland, should you want to travel to this gem of a Canadian province.

The island province of Newfoundland, in Canada, is still dotted with small fishing villages around the coast, many of which are still only accessible by boat. These fishing villages are dying out due to the collapse of the fishing stocks on the Grand Banks and the population is either abandoning the villages for work in the cities, or trying to attract new businesses if they can. The movie is about the fate of Tickle Head, a village that has suffered. Most of the residents are collecting welfare aside from the few that own or work in local businesses such as the small bank or the post office or local pub. But there’s a chance that they can attract a petrochemical factory, with jobs and a new lease on life for the village and it’s residents. They only thing they need to have in order to put in a bid for the factory is a resident doctor and therein lies the problem. They haven’t had one of those in 8 years.

Gleeson’s character, Murray, is the driving force behind the search for and persuading of a new doctor. Meanwhile, Murray’s wife has left him for a job in St. John’s, the capital city of the province and we also notice that the Mayor and his family do a midnight flit to the city as well. How to find a doctor? Well, coincidentally, a young and arrogant city doctor is changing flights in St. John’s and is caught with cocaine. The security guard just happens to be that former mayor and he sentences the doctor to spend a month in Tickle Head, working for free and he charges Murray and the rest of the residents to do their best to make Tickle Head seem like a really great place to work, hoping that the doctor won’t want to leave but without telling him the real reason why they need him.

To get out of the drug charge, Dr. Paul Lewis agrees. Now, Paul is a cricket player and fan and one of the funniest scenes in the movie has the residents trying to figure out how to play cricket and cobbling together white uniforms. As the new doctor is being ferried into the harbour by boat, he sees a cricket match being played on the rocky hillside and is astonished and he insists on joining them. Oh no! Seeing as they really have no idea what they’re doing, will they be caught out? I won’t spoil it!

GSCricket GSCricket2

Other shenanigans include having the telephone operator spy on Paul’s phone calls, gleaning more likes and dislikes so that they can fine tune their Grand Seduction. Murray makes friends with Paul and most of the rest of the villagers stumble through their deception.  The factory company throws a bit hitch in the plans and that adds to the overall difficulty. It’s a rocky road as the village struggles to survive while their brighter future is tantalizingly close yet just out of reach.

Watching Cricket when they'd rather be watching the hockey game!

Listening in

This movie is actually an English remake of a 2003 movie made in Quebec. It stars the venerable Canadian actor, Gordon Pinsent, and the Irish Brendan Gleeson. The humour is wry and dry and so typical of the wonderful down to earth natives of Newfoundland, one of Canada’s beautiful provinces. The movie was shot in Trinity Bay which you can visit by road, rather than boat. I thought it was a lovely little film, not really an unusual plot by any means but the characters are wonderful, the humour is a treat and the ending is, of course, happy. It’s available on DVD and BluRay.


Newfoundland is a grand province to visit. If you are into outdoor activities, the fishing and hiking are amazing. There’s a lot of history in this province, reportedly one of the earliest North American places founded by John Cabot over 500 years ago. The Vikings had a settlement here as well, even further back and you can visit the site a L’Anse Aux Meadows. Wildlife and bird watching enthusiasts will enjoy it here and the city, St. John’s, is a wonderful place to visit as well. (but mind the steep hills!) Outside of the city, you’ll probably need a vehicle as there isn’t a lot by way of public transportation.

The Grand Seduction on IMDB
More Begorrathon.

WordPress Challenge – Fresh

WordPress this week. Something Fresh.

Seaport Market, Halifax

Gelato in Rome

Fortnum and Mason’s food hall, London

Freshly Baked. Spitalfields Market, London

Norreport Stn. Market, Copenhagen

Chinatown. Toronto

Tour Ireland (2002) Part 4 – Shopping and Bling

Blarney Castle, Ireland

Blarney Castle, Ireland

Day four of our tour was focussed on shopping and “bling”:

Weather not too bad today. The day was hazy bright most of the time. This is our shopping day, or morning, that Bill has been banging on about all week, reminding us that the huge woolen mill shop will have the best prices for things we’d want to get. Considering that the guide gets a percentage of purchases when we stop at most places like factories and visitor centers, the cut he gets from Blarney must be better than most. My friend Rose (she lives in nearby Cobh) told me that even she, as a taxi driver, will get a percentage or discount if she takes a customer there.

We drove across the south interior of Ireland in about 2 and a half hours through the Kerry Mountains, farmlands and the rolling patch-worked hills. They grow a lot of sugar beet here and there’s also a sugar refinery.  We arrived in Blarney at 10:00 as expected.

This was the longest stop of the tour, at 2 and a half hours during which we were expected to get lunch as well.  Our time was our own. If anyone wanted to visit Blarney Castle and kiss the stone of eloquence, they should allow about 3/4 hour at least to walk through the park, climb the staircase and wait in the queue. All I had thought was to take a photo of the castle but you have to pay 5.50 euro just to get into the grounds along with the castle visit. We didn’t bother. I had no interest in kissing a piece of rock that millions of tourists had also laid their lips on. I never had a problem finding words  to say what I wanted to convey. And more besides! (as you can tell!)

Carole wanted to shop so she walked back to the Blarney Woolen Mill. I decided to see if I could get a photo of the castle in the distance from some vantage point. I crossed a small river or brook and walked along a brick wall. Over top of the wall, at one break in the vegetation behind it, I could stretch up and see the castle in the distance and with the tree branches framing it, it actually turned into a lovely photo.

I walked back towards the town, stopped in a supermarket to get some batteries, and  spotted a little cemetery so I had a look in there at the stones. There are a lot of Celtic crosses in cemeteries in Ireland. We’ve driven by some that seemed to contain nothing but!

Over to the woolen mill. I hadn’t really planned to buy too much other than maybe some more linen.  The shop really is large, on two floors and has everything organized in sections.  I ran into Carole who had already bought, paid for and arranged for shipping for her purchases. Now she was in search of smaller, general items.

The prices did seem to be reasonable, certainly no more expensive than some of the shops we’d been in outside of Dublin. I haven’t been in any of the shops that sell similar items in the city so I can’t really compare but it stands to reason it would be cheaper than in Dublin.

In the end, I bought a few things, linen and souvenirs, some china and a thick red and black plaid scarf that I still wear today on really cold days. I spent far more than I expected even with the 14% you get reduced for the tax and I have no idea where it’s all going to fit in my cases! I didn’t get it shipped because I do have that spare fold up carrier bag I can use if need be.

Carole and I met for lunch at 11:30 in front of the complex which also houses a hotel, bar and restaurant which is cafeteria style where we went to save time over searching for somewhere in the village. The complex was in fact a mill at one time and there are artifacts around the grounds and in the stone buildings.

You should have seen the number of shopping bags that were carried back on board the bus! That didn’t count the stuff quite a few people had shipped! Everyone chattered amongst themselves, showing and telling about their treasures and bargains while we made our way over to the east and then north through Cork City and the county country side heading north along the coast through some pretty towns along the route to Waterford.

Creating crystal in Waterford, Ireland

Creating crystal in Waterford, Ireland

Our included visit this afternoon was to the Waterford Crystal factory where we will get a tour. As usual, off the bus, into the loo. We were shown a short video that showcased the various millenium celebrations around the world and ending with the one in New York City where the traditional Times Square Ball was that year made of Waterford Crystal and wired for a light show. The presentation ended with a replica descending in front of a black screen with a city skyline behind it. Impressive with the lights flashing in patterns and colours and ending in full brilliance.

We then split into two groups and headed into the factory proper. Here then is a condensed version of  Waterford Crystal: It was founded in 1783 by brothers George and William Penrose. The factory has been at the present location, on the edge of town near a community college since 1971 and employs 1600. The craftsmen have a minimum 5 years apprenticeship and normally 3 more for the masters in the various fields of glass blowing or cutting  and engravers do 3 years at a local cottage before training for 10 more.

Crystal is made from silica sand, potash and litharge and is heated to a molten state in gas ovens to 1400 degrees.  The first room was where the ovens are. Most of the blowers and cutters seem to be men, and the guide said it wasn’t a reflection on women, it’s just that women rarely seem to choose this field. There are women that work in other support roles in the factory, quality control etc. The molten crystal is pulled out of the oven in a blob, the size depending on what will be the end result. The blowers all know exactly how much to pull out of the fire for what they are making. It’s on the end of a 5 foot long or so metal rod.

The item is shaped using wooden tools soaked in cold water to gently give it a starting point. It is then lowered into a wooden mold below the feet of the men and they blow through the long tube and the molten crystal expands to the shape of the mold. When it comes out of the mold it now looks like glass and it’s smoothed and sanded lightly. It’s broken off the tube and laid on a  conveyer belt. The crystal is cooled for up to two days and then checked for flaws. If there is the slightest mark, it’s smashed and melted down again.

A Waterford Crystal master craftsman

A Waterford Crystal master craftsman

We saw the crystal shells marked with a grid pattern and then watched some of the cutters grind the classic Waterford patterns into bowls and glasses on a diamond tipped wheel using the grids as a guideline. The actual patterns are not marked on the glass unless it’s a special  one of a kind or limited edition design. These are all master craftsmen that have had to memorize all the 60 or 70 standard patterns during their training. We saw another room where the carvers work on solid pieces like figurines (and cottages!). They create a clay model for these as a guideline. The wheels used to carve the solid pieces are stone with small diamond tipped ones for the finer detail work.

We saw the engraving room. This kind of engraving comes out looking like frosted inset sections etched into the crystal. Engraving is the most time consuming and difficult of all the jobs.  The artisans make their own copper tipped tools, softer than diamond tipped. One tool we saw was made from a copper coin! The room wasn’t brightly lit overhead though each work station had good spot lights. We then had a more personal demonstration from a veteran cutter who talked to us and answered questions about his career and the working conditions and shifts.

We had a half hour or so in the showroom and gallery which was interesting. They had replicas of some of the most spectacular pieces like a lot of the trophies for world famous tournaments such as the World Cup, the Super bowl and the PGA golf. We saw a large chess piece that stood about 4 foot high and outside the gallery was a full size crystal mailbox and a full size crystal grandfather clock! Wow! It was quite a fascinating visit.

While we were in there, Alec and Bill took the luggage to the hotel in Waterford. It looked like a city with some interesting spots to explore, just judging from the drive through. We had a nice view from our hotel room over an inlet on the city side of the hotel. We had signed up for a visit to an old country pub before dinner tonight so there was only time to change and freshen up with a cup of tea before we left.

We drove to Kilmeaden where the Cozy Thatch pub was. It has been voted tops in an annual Irish Heritage Pub of the Year contest several times going by the plaques displayed This is a low white thatched roof building, some of which dates to 1475. It was purchased by a family called Horton in 1780  and turned into a public house and it’s never been sold since, having passed down through the generations. It has two fireplaces burning peat, and is in an L shape.

The pub also doubled as the local funeral parlour for the village soon after it was established until 1969 when the government passed a law forbidding wakes in pubs.  In the room at the back where the deceased would be laid out is a large bed that dates before the Horton family bought the building (because it was built inside the room and  too big to get out of the house) and family and friends would gather here to wake the dead. Having the wake in a pub just solved both of the pressing needs. The Irish have always celebrated the life of the deceased with memories, music and drink. Only seems convenient to have the two under one roof!

The family that owns the pub (the publican’s mother was  a Horton) also brews their own lager on the premises and lives there as well. We sat down in groups and ordered the first of our two drinks that came along with the price of this excursion. I opted for the local lager and it was very nice! We were then entertained by a singer called Tommy Commerford who does this for all the tours I believe.  We enjoyed the music, the atmosphere and the drinks. I really like the smell of the peat fire though I’m not sure I could describe it. It’s a pungent aroma but not quite like a fragrant hard wood or pipe tobacco. It burns hot and for a long time too apparently.

We arrived back at the hotel for about 8 for dinner. There was another tour group from Trafalgar there just on the beginning of their tour. Dinner was fine, we were seated at long tables which to me makes it feel more like a convention or something. I prefer the smaller tables of 4 or 6 or even 8 where it feels a bit more private.

Stay tuned for our last tour day on the bus.

Tour Part 1

Tour Part 2

Tour Part 3

Tour Part 5

More Begorrathon.

Traveling through the movies (Paris) – My Old Lady

MOLPosterKevin Kline is one of my favourite actors. You can always be sure you will enjoy any film he’s in. Given the added bonus of Maggie Smith and you’ve got a winner. I discovered My Old Lady and the story sounded interesting. A middle aged man inherits a Paris apartment from his father, a man that he didn’t get on with and had been estranged from for some time before his death. He is divorced and spends his last penny on a flight to Paris, intending on selling the apartment for a small fortune. But he discovers that the method of the original purchase of the flat is a “viager”. The law in these types of real estate transactions is very old and it dictates that he must pay the sitting tenant (former owner) until she passes away before he can sell the apartment.

The sitting tenant is, of course, Maggie Smith and her daughter, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, lives with her. Kline’s character, Mathias, falls for Kristin’s character, Chloe while he wheels and deals trying to raise the money he must pay the old lady, Mathilde. He then discovers a secret. Will he manage to sell the house? Will the secret affect his new relationship?

MOLParis1This movie takes place in Paris. The apartment is in the neighbourhood near the Place des Vosges in the Marais district. There are wonderful shots of the streets of Paris in addition to some of the more well known sites including the riverbanks of the Seine.  It’s particularly poignant as we were planning to stay in the Marais when we had planned to visit Paris last year. Our holiday had to be cancelled but if we manage to get there again, this movie is definitely inspiration!


Kevin Kline (Matthias) on the banks of the Seine


Another view of the Seine


Notre Dame at night


The Streets of the Marais


My Old Lady on IMDB