Tour Ireland (2002) Part 6 – Back to Dublin and the end of the trip

Dublin's Grand Canal

Dublin’s Grand Canal

We’ve done the bus tour and we’re  back to Dublin.

Glendalough was our last stop before returning to Dublin. We drove out of the bad weather  and through some pretty valleys on our way to Dublin. The sky was clear and blue by the time we reached our hotel, the Burlington. This is a top class hotel not far from the Grand Canal in the south east of Dublin in the Ballsbridge section, within walking distance of the city center. We have booked an extra night here as we’re not flying out until Sunday.


Bill never mentioned leprechauns all week. This afternoon, one of the group asked him why. He delayed answering so long that I imagined he must be thinking “Damn, and I nearly got through the tour without someone bringing that up!” Bill told us that the word “Leprechaun” means “little people” who were shoe makers or cobblers. The origins are hazy but one theory goes that when the tall, dark, warlike and aggressive Celts invaded, the natives were small, peaceful folk who lived in ring forts which probably became the fairy rings of legend. These people seemed to disappear at will through perhaps they just fled the intimidating invaders. The cute little leprechauns we see were invented for the English tourists and it just got out of hand. Now they are out of fashion and considered tacky, Bill informed us. I agree.  Ireland to me is not the cartoon pot of gold and frisky, naughty little men in green coats. It’s a place of Celtic origins, of shamrocks and a people who are easy going, traditional and open and friendly. And the beer ain’t bad either!

A little more Dublin

Carole wanted a rest since she hadn’t slept well the night before but I had lots of energy and I wanted to go for a walk. I headed out, keeping in mind to look for a drugstore for a couple of things, stopping at the front desk to register our voucher for the Saturday night. The hotel seems full of conventioneers this weekend.

I walked across the Canal and ended up on Bagot Street, which seemed to have a lot of shops so I thought I might find a drugstore there. While walking I spotted a green antique freestanding letterbox, the kind you would have outside your own house for mail delivery, not the kind the post office collects mail in. The post boxes in Ireland are green, by the way, not red as in the UK. Anyway, the letter box was standing outside a small shop absolutely packed with … Stuff! Some of it antique, some of it collectible, some of it memorabilia. I spent 20 minutes in there just looking at the eclectic assortment on shelves, tables and hung on walls.

Dublin Georgian Door

Dublin Georgian Door

I continued walking, soon coming into Fitzwilliam square in the Georgian part of Dublin and gawped at some gorgeous architecture. Dublin is famous for it’s decorated and painted doors with their fan lights above and iron railing decorations on balconies and window dressing. The most elaborate door is black but has windows and a fan light that seems to have iron and wood work that looks like white lace covering it and ivy covering the brick surrounding the doorway.

Further down the road I realized as I looked a few blocks ahead of me, that I was at St. Stephen’s Green. I could see the glass enclosed shopping center on the far corner of the park. I knew there would be a Boots in there so I headed over, purchased what I needed and sought out a camera store on Grafton street to replace the lens cap that seems to have gone walkabout today.

We have signed up for the drive along Dublin Bay to a nice restaurant. We left early but the traffic was really heavy leaving the city.  We did finally get off the main road and followed the one that follows the waterfront through Dun Laoughaire, formerly called “Kingstown”,  where the ferries dock from the UK.

Sandy Cove is our stop, just past DL. There’s a martello tower at the end of that cove where James Joyce lived and wrote Ulysses. It’s a museum now apparently. The restaurant was a modern decor.  There was a woman playing the piano during our meal and she took requests. The food was superb! The sun was starting to go down when we left there, which made the view across the bay glow with the last bright light of the day.

The tour is over and we’re on our own again.  After a week of getting up early, we slept in just because we could!  The Burlington Hotel had a lovely buffet breakfast and we lingered over it, enjoying our pot of tea. It’s another sunny day and we’ve decided to have a walk around Georgian Dublin and then take the DART out to Howth at the north end of the line.


We set out about 11 and walked the two blocks to the little bridge across the Grand Canal. I was planning to find that antique store on Baggot Street again but I guess I got turned around and we ended up missing it and turned into  Fitzwilliam Square. This is the square where the house with the most elaborate door “lives”. I had seen it yesterday on my travels if you will recall. We admired it and walked on, looking for Merrion Square which is only a few streets away. The attraction here is mainly, for me, the Oscar Wilde connection in addition to the lovely architecture. We saw a few lovely old buildings turned into hotels and the American College on the corner. That’s the house where Wilde lived before moving to London.

Greene's, Dublin's oldest bookstore

Greene’s, Dublin’s oldest bookstore

On that intersection, diagonally across and in one building is Greene’s Bookstore, an establishment of some 200 years standing. There are display bins of books and postcards outside to browse through and inside the shop has several floors lined with old wooden shelves and display tables scattered around. The shop had the kind of atmosphere where you could almost imagine men in stovepipe hats and Victorian whiskers and women in shirtwaist dresses with floor length skirts browsing and climbing the staircase, a leather bound book or two under their arms. I’ve since been reliably informed that it is no longer open and that’s a damn shame!

We had a look on the main level where I found a small pocket sized hardcover biography of Oscar Wilde. It wasn’t his story in any great detail but it was a very good overview. We also found more of the bookmarks that were decorated with individual Celtic alphabet letters as inspired by the Book of Kells.   I had bought one at the bookshop in Trinity and Carole wanted a few for souvenirs but she couldn’t find a “W” for her mother’s name. The young clerk said it was because there was no W in the Irish language. But, wasn’t the Book of Kells written in Latin? (it was)  I thought so, and there is no J or K in Latin yet there were J and K bookmarks. Oh well,  I commented wryly, you could get the M and tell her to use it upside down! *snicker* I crack myself up sometimes!  Bookmarks and postcards purchased, we walked across the road to the square.

Just inside the wrought iron fence of Merrion Square is a statue of Oscar Wilde, depicting him somewhat more slender than is usually seen, dressed in bright colours,  languidly lying back on a rock and holding his trademark flower against a face twisted in a sardonic smirk. The bright colours are all different kinds of marble I guess, it’s not painted. The statue was only erected and dedicated about 5 years ago. I won’t go into biographic details of Mr. Wilde but I’ve always found him a very interesting, flawed and tragic man, ruined in part due to his own impulsive and stubborn decision to sue a man for libel which in turn brought out admissions that destroyed his reputation and his life.

We walked a little way into the park and saw an area off one path that seemed to be a little arboretum with different kinds of trees scattered around a greenspace.  The sun kept dipping behind a cloud and we lost patience waiting for it to beam down through the trees. It just seemed like that photo *needed* sunshine and shadows.

Along the outside of the fence on the North side of the square were works displayed by artists, something you are seeing more of lately. It’s a good place to set up on the weekends with lots of pedestrians walking past. We walked along the little gallery, chatting to one artist who was trying very hard to sell us a rather large and ungainly framed painting. A bit too tricky to carry on the flight as nice as the painting was.

Howth Abbey

Howth Abbey

Side trip to Howth

After consulting our little pocket map of Dublin we set off to find the DART station nearest, Pearce station. We joined the queue for a return ticket and made our way to the platform. The trains go fairly frequently so we didn’t have too long to wait. We were, however, disappointed because the train didn’t follow the shoreline of the bay on its’ way north like it does on the southern route.

Howth is at the last stop. You arrive in an old, small train station with a pub called the Bloody Stream underneath! We walked down the block towards the waterfront, consulted a large “you are here” map and walked along the busy road looking for a  suitable place for lunch. The first two places that appealed were either too crowded or too small. We did find a little place that did ice cream takeaway but had a light lunch menu in a little room to one side, filled with families. It was a bit noisy but we found a table and ordered a sandwich.  We did have a little translation problem with the server who was Chinese. The menu said “Pastries… please ask for what is available” so we did. Blank look. Pastries… Pastries…we pointed to the menu item. Ah… “Ham and cheese, tuna…” No, no… Pastries! Point again. Oh right. Got you now. Scones and apple pie. Now we’re cooking… Carole ordered pie and I ordered ice cream. A few minutes later an Irish server came over to ask what it was we had ordered. She must have had a translation problem too!

Howth is a fishing town and there weren’t a lot of touristy type shops at all. A few postcards outside a newsagent was the extent of it that we saw. It’s a working seaside town with a large marina filled with pleasure craft. It’s a good place for hiking around the outskirts and has a nice sea wall where  you can walk out around the harbour.  There’s a rocky little island just off the coast here called Ireland’s Eye.

We walked around the seafront and then headed up into the village further to see if we could find the ruins of Howth Abbey. The street we chose had a couple of nice restaurants including one that advertised Russian food. There was a small sign at the entrance to a narrow alley of stairs that pointed the way to a restaurant with the promise of a craft/gift shop which was across from the abbey so up we ascended. The craft shop wasn’t to our taste but the Abbey was. There was a little cemetery filled with flower covered graves beside the roofless ruins.  There’s a great view over the harbour from here. We poked around the grounds for a little while taking pictures and then descended back through the village to the main road again.

howthcastlepinkThe map seemed to indicate that Howth Castle was a bit out of town on the main road so we started walking. It was about a mile away I guess and still there was no signs to which road we should turn in. There was a sign indicating where the Transport Museum was so we headed up that way, remembering from the central map that they were close to each other. There was a pretty church that we passed and then the road turn and we saw a stone tower. There was the castle! There were quite old parts, that I believe date from Norman times and some newer parts. However when we were walking around one side, I spied a propane barbeque in a courtyard which seemed to indicate perhaps that someone lived there and that it was private property.

There were no signs about entrance fees or hours so I don’t know if any of the interior can be visited. There wasn’t anyone around so we didn’t try to find out. Never did see the Transport museum but I think it was a little further up the road. There’s also quite a breathtaking rhododendron garden a little farther on but we were too early for most of the blooms Carole said.

We were getting tired by now so decided to walk back to the train station and go back into the City to find some place to eat. We got off the train at Tara street station, which is close to the Liffey and walked down to the river. I wanted to have a look at the huge domed Custom House building which is on the North Side.  We went across the wide O’Connell Street bridge where we stopped to look at some jewelry and leather that a vendor had on display. Up O’Connell Street, where there are many statues of Irish Independence leaders, and lots of shops and a large department store, Clery’s  where we stopped in for a look at the jewelry counter inside the main door.

The General Post Office building is just there as well, with its tall pillars, some of which still bear the bullet holes from the 1916 Easter uprising. There’s another pedestrian shopping area that crosses O’Connell Street, Henry Street. We didn’t get there today but Carole was there last week browsing. We also bought some doo-dads in a tourist souvenir shop. This is a good shopping district for tourists but we really didn’t spend a lot of time here. By this time we had been out and walking all day and were footsore and ready for a rest. You lose your enthusiasm for experiencing the ambience of a place when you can hardly put one foot in front of the other!

We found a fish and chip shop that wasn’t filled up after trying a few larger restaurants first. We sat and had our dinner and a restorative cup of tea. Shall we get a taxi from here or walk across to Temple Bar and get one from there? The taxi rank on O’Connell street had a long queue so walk we did. We ended up near Trinity College, thinking we could get the bus as there was a stop right by the hotel but we waited for about 15 minutes and none of the route numbers that we needed passed us by so we walked a little further and realized we were at the other end of Grafton street. We knew there was a taxi rank at St. Stephen’s Green so we went through Grafton street where many of the shops were now closing for the day. We made our way up to St. Stephens, got a taxi and arrived back at the hotel where we arranged with the concierge for a taxi to the airport tomorrow morning. After consulting his expertise, we realized the airport shuttle bus wouldn’t be practical and he’s going to get a taxi to come for us about 5:30 a.m. URGH!

Back to our room for an early night. It’s odd that some of the nicest hotels we’ve been in had no tea and coffee making things in the rooms! We repacked out suitcases to distribute our clothes and souvenirs. I managed to get everything to fit so I didn’t have to use the extra fold up carry on bag I brought.

I knew the time I had in Dublin wasn’t going to be enough. 2 full days and a few hours of 3 others. The first few days in a city I always seem to spend walking around covering a lot of ground and seeing the major sights where possible. But mostly I don’t actually spend extra time at each place. For instance, although we did go into Christchurch, we didn’t try to investigate which parts of Dublin Castle were open to the public nor spend time really browsing in Greene’s bookshop. I wanted to “see” as much as I could which gives me a “lay of the land” feel. Strictly tourist.

If I have more time, then I know I can spend a morning in a gallery or a museum or browse through lots of market stalls instead of just 2 or 3.  I can spend a few hours just poking around alleys and churches in just one small corner of  a city.  I do start off with a list of sites I hope to get to see but along the route to the destination, one always comes across interesting shops or a pretty church or an unexpected market in a courtyard that needs investigating, especially if you end up going the long way around because you took a left instead of a right at that intersection back there.  So the next time I come back to Dublin, I want to browse markets, gape in a gallery, find a small obscure museum, breakfast at Bewleys and prowl around the O’Connell Street area in more detail. And whatever else the wrong turn at the intersection reveals.

We had set the clock for something unGodly and you might know, a few of the conventioneers seemed intent on having a party in the hall outside our room. We had tried to go to bed early, about 9, but they were hollering and laughing. At one point Carole peeked out the door and saw a middle aged man on the floor with another one trying to drag him along! There were a few more as well and they had the doors to their rooms open or were parading back and forth banging on each other’s doors and hollering. Finally Carole called down to the desk and they sent someone up to ask them to at least keep their doors shut. It helped some and eventually they settled down or went out or something.

We managed to get to the airport and away the next morning. Carole was flying home via London and I was stopping over in Manchester for a last visit with some friends, flying to Canada from there, via Toronto.   As always it’s good to sleep in my own bed surrounded by my own things. I hate to come home in a way because I so enjoy seeing new places and spending time with friends that I don’t see very often.

Ireland is another place I want to go back to and a quandary, what about seeing new places? We are thinking it might be a good road trip some day. You never know!

Tour Part 1

Tour Part 2

Tour Part 3

Tour Part 4

Tour Part 5

More Begorrathon.

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

Tour Part 6

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

Tour Part 6

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

Tour Ireland (2002) Part 3 – The Ring of Kerry

Landscape along the Ring of Kerry, Ireland

Landscape along the Ring of Kerry, Ireland

We’re off around the Ring of Kerry on day three of our Irish tour:

Weather looked like it could go either way. It was a bit gloomy this morning and all day it was a hazy day with high cloud cover and the sun breaking through now and then. It was a pity for the views around the Ring of Kerry but it wasn’t too bad. It did clear up from how it started this morning.

We caught the 9 a.m. car ferry across the Shannon river estuary. We drove into North County Kerry where the landscape was flat and boggy and uninspiring. Or perhaps it was the weather.  The western part of the Kerry Mountains is called the McGillicuddy Reeks and we drove up into the beginning of the range on the way to our first stop, Tralee. We will be staying in Tralee tonight. We were due to go to the Kerry County museum complete with a medieval sight, sound and smell effects only the staff are on strike starting… yep.. today!

We were taken to a local windmill instead in Blennerville. Which wasn’t working due to some maintenance problems. They had a video presentation on the restoration and had an emigration exhibition and we were invited to examine the inside of the windmill. The windmill was built in 1780 and fell out of use in 1850. It was restored in the 1980’s as a youth project. It is now the only working windmill in Ireland and still mills flour but just for demonstrations. It’s only used for cattle feed, not pure enough to sell for human consumption.

We were on a time constraint and I wasn’t overly interested so I took a few photos outside before we left. Pressed for time seemed to be the order of the day as it went on, we ended up being rushed every time we got off the bus! Lunch break was only 40 minutes!

Into the mountains and through a little town called Killorglin. This town has a 400+ year old  Puck Festival every summer that celebrates the goats of Kerry. There’s even a statue of a wild horned goat with a crown on his head in the town center that we drove past. They bring a wild billy goat down from the hills and crown him to preside over the weekend’s festivities.

Why? Two theories according to Bill. One was that a herd of goats warned the town of an impending dawn raid by Oliver Cromwell’s men who were camped outside the town and the other has the goat revered as a holy animal by pagans.

Ring of Kerry coastline, Ireland

Ring of Kerry coastline, Ireland

We entered the Ring of Kerry trail that starts at Dingle Bay and weaves its way along the sandstone mountains, sometimes along the bays and sometimes inland a bit around the Iveragh Peninsula. The views reminded me sometimes of the Scottish Highlands. We had a photo stop over Dingle Bay and had lunch at one little bar about half way around at Ballinskellieg Bay. The narrow road was originally built for the military in the mid 17th C. I did notice, looking straight down over the edge of one stop, a lot of litter. Too bad people can’t respect these places.

The sun was out at our lunch stop but was gone again when we continued. We had another break stop near the end of the trail and then started down the mountains and into the Killarney National Park, a large natural area of lakes and forest that was donated to the government by an Irish American. We stopped at a lovely lookoff over the Killarney Lakes called “Ladies’ View” named in honour of Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting.

Jaunting Car, Killarney, Ireland

Jaunting Car, Killarney, Ireland

We were offered the chance to have a Jaunting Car ride in Killarney. This is a buggy that seats 6 in it and is horse drawn. Most people decided it would be fun since it looked as if the sun was emerging and it was a change from the bus. The ride would take us around a part of the National park. Before we loaded in the cart, the group photo was taken and the photographer also took photos of each group in the carts. I didn’t buy the group photo but I did get one of us in the cart!

Killarney National Park, Ireland

Killarney National Park, Ireland

We rode along the street  to get to the park entrance. There was lots of trees, fresh air, birdsong. The driver, I think they’re called “Jarvies”, would point out things of interest and crack jokes and stop so we could take photos. It took over an hour to get to our meeting spot back in the town and we really found it a relaxing hour.

The Brandon Hotel  in Tralee was very, very nice. The rooms are lovely and the bed is soft. Dinner was very good too and we sat at large tables of about 8 which was also nice until the conversation turned to the politics of the Middle East. I didn’t have much to add and Carole was feeling a bit under the weather so we politely excused ourselves.

The Ring of Kerry was very scenic though we had hoped for a bit better weather. I’ve heard the Dingle Peninsula is equally spectacular but I think the road is not suitable for the tour busses. We took a lot of photos out the window and at our stops. We didn’t see much of Killarney which seems to focus mainly on the tourism industry which is so important to the economy of Ireland. We could have done without the windmill visit which would have given us a bit more time at our stops but that’s the nature of tours sometimes.

Tour Part 1

Tour Part 2

Tour Part 4

Tour Part 5

Tour Part 6

More Begorrathon.

WPC: Wall

WordPress weekly challenge – Wall. These are a few photos from my travels. The first one shows bits from various walls through centuries and I love the street sign.  It’s from the city centre of Worcester, England.

Formerly Goose Lane

This photo was taken in Old Glossop, a market cross area with a church and a little brook. The cottages are all 300+ years old.

Old Glossop Market Cross area

These are what’s left of the walls of the Refectory from Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire

Rieveaulx Refectory