My Life as a Traveler

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Bed, Bath, and Beyond

The Royal Crescent in Bath

The Royal Crescent in Bath

The British Library readers

The British Library readers

Since our train isn’t until noon today, I give the kids the option of sleeping in and leaving at 11am or getting up early and visiting the British Library. The British Library has never been on my list of top ten things to do in London, but hey, it’s just down the street. We can there when it opens and spend about an hour there checking things out before going back to the Mansions, collecting our luggage, and walking the 15 minutes it takes to get to Paddington Station. I’m more than a little surprised when they take me up on the Library excursion and so all bags are packed and ready to go when we leave at 8am.

Paddington Station

Paddington Station

Who knew a bunch of books and papers could be so exciting? In one room you can find the original Magna Carta and a Gutenberg Bible, sheet music inked by Handel and the lyrics to “Strawberry Fields” handwritten by John Lennon, the wrong words crossed out to make room for the right words. There’s Leonardo DaVinci’s notebooks in his backward mirror writing and the earliest versions of some of the greatest works of English literature, including Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, Persuasion by Jane Austen, and Shakespeare’s First Folio. I can feel the presence of every person who created these works here and it’s magical. Wow. Upstairs there is a glass room housing many more valuable books. I love the juxtaposition of the “readers” sitting in front of it studying their laptops.

On the train

On the train

A quick taxi back to the apartment, and we grab our bags and roll on down to Paddington Station. A couple of months ago, I bought tickets for this train online –  now I just have to transform my booking number into actual tickets. We each get two tickets for the one way journey. One to get from the station to the platform through the turnstile, and the other to show onboard. It takes us a bit to figure out which one is which, but we do, and we’re on the train. At the station, I suggest everyone get a bite to eat and a drink for the ride.

I would love to say I enjoyed the English countryside, but I can’t. Instead, I was using my iPhone (glad to have that data) to figure out what to do in Bath in about an hour. I knew there was a free tour, but when? iPhone says 2pm. How far is it from the car rental and when to they close? Gotta take a taxi. Where do we stow our bags? Youth hostel 3 blocks from train station for 3euros/bag. How long to drive to Axbridge where we are staying? About 1 hour. If we have time to eat, where can we eat gluten-free? Jamie Oliver has a restaurant there!

Bath Abbey and Entrance to the Roman Baths

Bath Abbey and Entrance to the Roman Baths

The Pump House - a very nice restaurant adjacent to the baths

The Pump House – a very nice restaurant adjacent to the baths

So when we got to Bath, I was set to go. We had about half an hour to drop our bags, find the tour beginning, and grab Anna a gluten-free snack before enjoying a marvelous walking tour through Bath given by the Mayor of Bath Honorary Guides. Here’s a little bit about what we learned: the Romans were here and took advantage of the thermal waters and microclimate in this valley to create a prosperous town. Fast forward to the 900’s and the area is Anglo-Saxon. Kings are crowned in the Abbey and a wall is built. Fast forward to the 1700’s, a queen gets pregnant here, and Bath is rejuvenated by Georgian architects John Wood Sr. and Jr. Now it is the place to be for London society. The architecture reflects the times – the front of the buildings are lined with Bath Stone – a unique limestone found only in this area, but the rear of the buildings are made with the cheapest materials. Only the facades are important. We see the Bath Crescent homes and walk down the garden path from Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Architecturally, at least, very little in this city has changed since Jane was here.

The front of the buildings

The front of the buildings

The backs of the buildings

The backs of the buildings

The Roman Hot Springs

The Roman Hot Springs

However, Bath is expensive, so we head back to the hostel, grab our bags and taxi out to the National Car Rental (city center – right!) location on the edge of town. This time, we get a small station wagon with a little bit more room. Morgan Navigator fires up the GPS and we’re on our way to Axbridge.

Bridge over the River Avon - reminiscent of Ponte Vecchio in Florence

Bridge over the River Avon – reminiscent of Ponte Vecchio in Florence

Yes, we are loud

Yes, we are loud

The tiny town of Axbridge is meant to be a respite after busy London and Bath. It has one square, one pub that serves food, one restaurant in a small inn, one grocery store, one pharmacy, one post office, one butcher, one church, and one graveyard. We meet Boss and Janet, the owners of the 18th century 3 bedroom cottage named Chedway (no number, or street address, just Chedway), and they give us instructions, tell us some stories, and leave the key.

Heading home from school

Heading home from school

The Gravel Walk of where Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot were reunited in Persuasion

The Gravel Walk of where Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot were reunited in Persuasion

We’re starving, so we head over to The Lamb and have a really nice dinner before stopping at the grocery (open til 10pm!) to get some breakfast supplies. Tomorrow we head out to Dartmoor in search of Childe’s Tomb.

Chedway

Chedway

Boss and Janet

Boss and Janet

Kings, Jewels, and Shakespeare

The Tower Bridge (not the London Bridge)

The Tower Bridge (not the London Bridge)

Waiting at the bus stop for missing bus #15

Waiting at the bus stop for missing bus #15

Today we have a date with Will. Shakespeare, that is. In his theater, the Globe. The Tempest. At 2pm. And we are no groundlings, nay, we sit in the balcony. For that is the nature of the day.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London

But first, a little history. One of the best ways to get a feel for London is through it’s past, and there’s no greater concentration of British history than in the Tower of London. A palace, a prison, a repository for jewels and armor, a church and burial ground, so much has happened here in the past thousand years. Much of this is brought to life by the Yeoman Warders, the “Beefeaters”, the kings bodyguard. Only those with 22 unblemished years of British armed forces experience need apply. They tell the stories and lead you through the center of the Tower complex with grisly tales of beheadings and intrigue. But first, a visit to the crown jewels before the line gets too long. Yes, the jewels are impressive – the largest flawless cut diamond in the world is here – The Star of Africa – but it’s not just the big rocks. It’s imagining the rooms, the events, the ceremonies that these objects have participated in. Oh, if only they could talk!

Yeoman Warder guide

Yeoman Warder guide

We can’t stay long at the Tower, though. Shakespeare calls and we need to get some sustainment before the play. We reunite with Morgan (what did we do before cell phones?) who has been exploring on his own, cross the Tower Bridge and walk along the Embankment toward the theater. We stop for a nice lunch and now we’re ready for the play. I was lucky to find four seats – but not together – two and two, but that’s ok. The boys sit on one side and we girls on the other. Before we enter the theater, we go across the street to Starbucks (!) to get some water and a gluten free brownie to enjoy during the show.

The Queen's apartments (before beheading)

The Queen’s apartments (before beheading)

And what a show it is! OK, I confess that this would not be my first choice of theater in London. And I really knew nothing about the play and was a little afraid I’d get lost in the Shakespearian dialect. But boy, was I pleasantly surprised! There are no mics in the open air theater, but we could hear the actors just fine. The story was clear – a humorous tale of magic and forgiveness. It was fun to see the actors mess with the people standing near the stage and how they incorporated the roar of a jet overhead or the two pigeons mating on the roof into the show. These are not second-rate actors, either. Anna recognized an actor from the BBC show Merlin and the male lead played Illirio in season 1 of Game of Thrones. What an amazing experience!

Afterward, in the glow of an excellent show, we walked next door to see some art at the Tate Modern. I leave the kids for a bit to find a room full of my favorite modern, Mark Rothko. Something about his blocks of color really move me. After 15 minutes here, all is right with the world. Hungry, we walk across the pedestrian bridge (the one the death eaters destroyed in the last Harry Potter), past St. Paul’s Cathedral (very expensive to get in) to Covent Garden. Here they have many food stalls and stores and I let the kids free for a bit to find their own dinner and do some last minute London shopping. Morgan wants to walk back to the Mansions, but Anna, Jon, and I hail a taxi and get to the apartment in time to relax a bit and pack for our departure tomorrow.

Tower Chapel, resting place of the dearly beheaded Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, and others

Tower Chapel, resting place of the dearly beheaded Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, and others

Tower across the Thames

Tower across the Thames

Outside the Globe

Outside the Globe

The play's the thing

The play’s the thing

What kind of art do you see in there?

What kind of art do you see in there?

The Millenium Bridge across the Thames to St. Paul's Cathedral

The Millenium Bridge across the Thames to St. Paul’s Cathedral

Heading back to the Mansions in a London cab

Heading back to the Mansions in a London cab

What a great day! As my friend Will would say, “All’s Well that Ends Well.

The Car, the Plane, the Mansions, the Eye, and the Lord

Quintessential London

Quintessential London

Our Mansion - our room is in the basement

Our Mansion – our room is in the basement

Because our flight from Kerry airport, about an hour and a half drive away, is at 930am, we need to leave at 6:15am at the latest. The gas tank is 3/4 full, but I figure I’ll just get gas by the airport. We’re a little late with no time to stop for coffee, and I fly over the roads, still cringing a little bit every time a huge truck comes screaming toward me on the right (because it’s so wrong!)

Abbey Road Studios

Abbey Road Studios

We pass a gas station about half way there, but I want the tank to be full, so we carry on. When we reach Kerry, however, there is one gas station in town and it doesn’t open until 9am. Gah! I return the car, gas tank still 3/4 full, scrapes on the passenger side of the tires and hubcaps and down the side of the car that I hope aren’t all from me (there were some there when I picked up the car), and minus the luggage cover, which I seemed to have left in the parking spot where I picked up the car in Dublin. But they said don’t worry and took the car back. To this day I have not received any extra billings regarding that rental. Thank you, Hertz!

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

At the airport, the Ryanair flight is the only thing operating at this time. Ryanair is one of the budget airlines that have sprouted all over Europe in the last 10 years or so. The fare for the one way, 2 hour flight to London is cheap, about $50, plus about $7 for the privilege of booking online (as opposed to $20 if you call). If you have just a small carry on (what US airlines call a “personal item”), don’t need assigned seats ($20), and can print your boarding passes out in advance ($30 per person to print them at check-in), you’re good to go. We choose to pay around $35 for our bags up to 20kg (cheaper for lighter bags), print the boarding passes out in advance, and forego advanced seat assignments. All told, it’s an $87 flight. The other hidden cost is the transportation into the city, as Ryanair flights generally fly into the least convenient airport possible, so we add another $22 to get into town. Still, it beats an 11 hour driving/ferry/driving excursion.

The Eye on the Thames

The Eye on the Thames

We arrive at Baker Street station and I drop the kids at a cafe while I go fetch the key to the apartment. Once I get it, I grab the kids and we go to our room at The Mansions, which, believe me, sounds fancier than it really is. I am dismayed that my Telestial SIM card (with a British number!), which worked just fine in Germany last December, is not working at all in London. I know this because I am trying to book some standing places at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and can’t get through. So, first order of business, go to Vodaphone and proper SIM cards and a phone for Anna. It’s only about $30 each and includes data for me and Morgan. When that is finished, I collect the kids from our Mansions room in the basement (one small table, a set of double bunk beds, bathroom and kitchen down the hall, but great wi-fi, $120/night – can’t beat the price!) and off we go to Abbey Road.

View of the city

View of the city

It takes us about 45 minutes to walk to the site of the Beatles’ recording studio and the famous crosswalk on the Abbey Road album cover. We rename ourselves Paul (Jon), John (Morgan), George (Anna), and Ringo (me), and I try to get them in order so we four can all walk across together, like on the album. They will not be photographed doing this, however, and will not take their shoes off. It’s still cool, though.

Birthday Girl!

Birthday Girl!

It’s Anna’s birthday and we’re riding the London Eye in celebration. We want to do it in the evening to see the lights, but it’s too early in the season for late hours. We get a great sunset, though, and try to pick out landmarks. We’re done and it’s still early, 9pm.

Big Ben and Parliament

Big Ben and Parliament

The Book of Rick tells us that we can visit the House of Lords or the House of Commons in the houses of Parliament and watch the goings on until 10pm, so we cross the bridge and check it out. Sure enough, we breeze right in. The House of Commons has quit for the night, but the House of Lords is going strong. We get badges at security and follow the signs through the main hall of what used to be the king’s residence and get to the House of Lords foyer. We sign a paper promising to behave and be quiet, and are escorted to the top gallery to see the proceedings.There are only about eight Lords present, debating a law regarding what to do with prisoners. It’s fascinating – there’s a butler (think Downton Abbey) in tails who brings them glasses of water and guards the doors. They finish at 10pm and file out in a line with a flourish, the guy in front leading with a huge mace. We drop back into the foyer, grab our coats and try to peek into the room at ground level. We’re caught by the head Lord, Lord Tommy McAvoy from Scotland, who asks us if we enjoyed the proceedings. Very much, we said. Well, he said, would you like to walk inside to see where the queen sits at the beginning of every Parliamentary year? YES! How about a visit to the House of Commons, the private dining room, the private terrace on the Thames and the best view of Big Ben ever? Yes, Yes, Yes! We get a private tour of Parliament by the Head Lord complete with stories and photo taking. We can’t believe our luck.

Sometimes the days that don’t start so good end up pretty fine! More London tomorrow.

Lord Tommy McAvoy, our Parliament friend

Lord Tommy McAvoy, our Parliament friend

Delightful Dingle

No better place for a picnic with Blasket Islands in the background

No better place for a picnic with Blasket Islands in the background

The Dingle Peninsula

The Dingle Peninsula

Today we are at one of the bottom tips of Ireland, the Dingle Peninsula. If you’ve never heard of it, perhaps you’ve heard of it’s more popular neighbor, the Ring of Kerry. We’re at the Dingle Peninsula because it’s just as scenic, a bit shorter drive (only 47km around) and has a nifty little town (Dingle) with good music and a pretty harbor. After being on the road all day yesterday, I am looking forward to a shorter and easier driving day today. We make a plan to take the drive at 11am. In the meantime, I’m visiting the store and printing the Ryanair boarding passes for tomorrow. I charge the kids with buying stuff for lunch.

Celtic crosses by the bay

Celtic crosses by the bay

We’re staying at the Dingle Marina Lodge and I meet Dawn, the owner (again, found through Airbnb) who gives me some ideas of where to get good music and where to eat tonight. Oh, and by the way, she’s going sea kayaking tonight – I should think about joining her and her visiting guests on this excursion. Well, that’s a thought.

And a good climbing rock below

And a good climbing rock below

Around 11am, we packed the car with provisions for lunch and started around the peninsula. This should be easier driving. Although it’s a two lane road, (albeit wide enough in some places for 1 1/2 cars) most people tour clockwise (the way we’re going). It’s a beautiful drive along the coast, reminiscent of Maui’s Hana Highway with great views around every corner. We drive by and sometimes stop to look at beaches and cemeteries, ancient ring forts, abandoned houses, and the remnants of the strange stone igloos that are found only here. This was where the film Ryan’s Daughter (the first R-rated film I ever saw!) was filmed, as well as Far and Away.

We stop at a few roadside pullovers looking for the perfect picnic spot and Morgan finally finds one – 200 feet below the road. We grab our goodies and scramble down to a small, flat, grassy spot and lay out our picnic. Seagulls fly by to check us out and we can’t hear the cars going by above us. We can see the Blasket Islands on the right and the Ring of Kerry on the left. It’s sunny and warm. There’s a hunk of rock below that’s just calling out to be climbed. What more do you need?

How am I ever going to make it through here?

How am I ever going to make it through here?

Back on the road, we find a wee traffic jam. Cars are stopped in front of us where the road is cut out of a rocky part of the hill. There’s a motorhome going toward us (the wrong way!!!) and there are just millimeters between the side of that thing and the cliff on one side and the cars on the other. People are getting out of their cars to provide direction. And I have to get through there. Millimeters, and I’m scared. I inch toward the behemoth in the road, terrified that I’m going to scratch this car and really regretting not buying the insurance. Morgan is telling me that I’m almost too close to the rocks on the left, where I can’t really see. I pull in the side view mirror, but I just can’t see this happening. Suddenly, an Irish knight in shining armor appears (actually, it’s a taxi-tour driver) and offers to drive the Micra through this impossible space. I hop out, hoping for the best, and let him do it. I walk behind the car as it inches past and then makes it through. I thank my knight profusely (he said that I could have done it) and continue down the road. There must be a caravan of French motorhomes doing this tour, because there are more behind the stuck one. The road is wider here, so it’s not a problem, but I pity everyone else in that narrow spot I just left.

Abandoned potato fields toward the top

Abandoned potato fields toward the top

We continue to the Gallarus Oratory, one of Ireland’s best preserved early Christian churches, built about 1300 years ago. There’s no mortar between the stones, yet it stays dry inside. We chat with the guy who mans the gate and he shares with us the history of the place and how, if you spoke Gaelic, you could really understand the origin of many of the places in the area.

Gallarus Oratory

Gallarus Oratory

We’re tired, though, and drive back to the apartment. I bought pasta sauce, chicken breasts, and pasta (some gluten free) for dinner, but as I’m walking into town, I think more and more about that sea kayaking. I stop at the sports center and book myself a ticket. On the way back, I see Anna and Morgan and tell them that they are on their own for dinner and I’ll catch up with them around 930pm and we’ll go out to find some music. Morgan wants to go sea kayaking too, but it turns out I took the last spot.

I grab a quick bite of something and cross the street to the marina and meet the gang. Dawn, the lodge owner, has friends in from Dublin and there are some other folks from that area as well. We suit up, unload the kayaks, and after a quick lesson (refresher for me – I’ve kayaked with my friend Michelle on the Poquoson River) we are off. This is the perfect antidote for the crazy, terrifying driving and the extra alertness required when traveling with others. First we find Fungie, Dingle’s bottlenose dolphin who has been living in Dingle Harbor since 1983. He’s quite well known nationally and likes to play with the boats in the harbor. We see Fungie’s Folly, raft manned by a couple who come out every evening to play with the dolphin. Nobody feeds him yet he still sticks around, enjoying the company of anyone who ventures out on the water.

Dingle Harbor

Dingle Harbor

Let's go!

Let’s go!

Fungie the dolphin

Fungie the dolphin

On the water

On the water

Refreshed after the kayak tour, I cross the street back to the apartment, cook the last chicken breast and have a bit of leftover pasta, then go out with Anna and Morgan in search of some music. The first place is crowded and there’s no music yet, so we venture on. The second place has a guitar player singing American pop tunes, and we move on. The third place has traditional Irish music, but it’s a woman singing a sad, slow song, so we continue. Finally we find the Courthouse Bar and hit the jackpot. It’s packed, has great beer, and the music is fabulous. We stay til midnight when the place closes.

Tomorrow we say goodbye to Ireland and fly to England.

Scenic Ireland

Cliffs of Moher looking south

Cliffs of Moher looking south

Oranmore Castle

Oranmore Castle

We start the day with a hearty breakfast at Kathryn’s kitchen table. Her freshly homemade scones and jam served with eggs and freshly brewed coffee hit the spot. As we finish packing, Jon takes a few minutes to interview Kathryn for his documentary and then we’re off.

Dunguaire Castle

Dunguaire Castle

One thing we wanted to see in Ireland were castles, and today’s the day. Kathryn knows Leonie, the owner of Oranmore Castle, and suggests we stop there first. There are a line of 15th century castles up and down the coast, but Leonie’s castle is the only one that’s lived in. Her parents bought the castle in the 1947 and Leonie was raised there. Now she lives with her musician husband and rents the castle out for events and photo shoots in the summer. We know this because when we pulled up (on this holiday Monday) she was putting her sign out saying the castle was closed. However, when she found out we were friends of Kathryn, she welcomed us in for a short look. It’s not every day you meet someone who lives in a castle!

Making copper jewelry in Dunguaire Castle

Making copper jewelry in Dunguaire Castle

Moving on, we make a quick stop at Dunguaire Castle in Kinvara. It looks like the sister castle to Oranmore, but more commercial. A redeeming factor is the guy upstairs making jewelry from bits of copper and glass crystals. He started making jewelry there in the 1970’s outside on the castle roof. He’s met all kinds of people and his designs are really nice. He showed me how to create some pieces with his blowtorch. I don’t know exactly what the kids did, but I had a great time chatting with this guy!

Back in the Micra, we head south to the Burren. I’m a bit more relaxed about the driving today and only make one mistake pulling into the right lane when it should have been the left. Thank goodness for my navigator! The good news about driving today is that since it’s a holiday, there’s not a lot of traffic. The bad news is that the country roads all seem to have curbs and/or 4 foot high shale walls, often covered with plants. Very nice, but it becomes a problem because in many spots the roads are really only 1 1/2 cars wide, so when another car comes barrelling toward me, I tend to drift left, sometimes scraping the plants and the curb against the side of the car. Morgan says he is terrified (well, I had to provide some thrills since the skydiving was out!) and I tell him not to stick his hands out of the window. And then there are the moving cow road blockages. Yes, it’s fun to drive, I keep telling myself.

Cows in the road!

Cows in the road!

The Burren Landscape

The Burren Landscape

The Burren is the largest limestone field eroded by glaciers in Europe. This stark area is extraordinary because nestled in between the limestone rocks, you can find sea fossils, Arctic, Mediterranean, and Alpine plants together in this singular place. Add to that some megalithic tombs and ancient ring forts and it is a fascinating place to spend some time.

Plants in the crevices

Plants in the crevices

After lunch, we continue on to the famed Cliffs of Moher. Standing 702 feet above the sea and stretching for 5 miles, they are dramatic and awe-inspiring. You might have recognized them as the Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride or the cave of the horcrux in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. It’s a shame we only have a couple of hours here – we want to walk all the way from one end to the other.

But we want to get to Dingle before dark, so we pack it back in and head south, arriving just in time for a quick bite at the gyro place for dinner. Beautiful!

Cliffs of Moher looking south

Cliffs of Moher looking north

Ancient tomb

Ancient tomb

Flowers in the crevices

Flowers in the crevices

In the ring fort
In the ring fort

On the Left to Galway

Sunset o'er Galway Bay

Sunset o’er Galway Bay

Poor little Micra

Poor little Micra

We are up and at’em early – we have to take the bus to the airport, grab a rental car, and head out to Galway and a skydiving adventure for Morgan and me. It was a rough night. Even though we were on the third floor, some really happy Saturday night partiers were celebrating life extremely loudly outside our window for what seemed like all night. My earplugs helped a bit, but they don’t block out everything. I should have seen this as a warning for the day ahead.

First, at the bus stop (once we found it) we were accosted by a young Irish drunkard who thought it was funny to take Jon’s hat. I asked him nicely to give it back and move along, which he did not like, but he complied.

Kathryn's house

Kathryn’s house

Upon arrival at the airport, I get the car rental paperwork out of the way and go to the car, where there is no key. Back to the counter I go. We are driving the smallest 4-door car on the planet, appropriately called the Micra. I have to remove the cargo cover to fit all of the bags in. Jon and Anna are wedged in the back, Morgan is my navigator, but he’s sitting in the driver’s seat! Without the wheel? No, in Ireland and England they drive on the opposite side of the road, therefore everything is opposite.

Kathryn is a distant relative of VA governor Bob McDonnell - small world!

Kathryn is a distant relative of VA governor Bob McDonnell – small world!

Normally I would consider myself a good driver. I was a little nervous to drive on the other side of the road, but not a lot. I’ve driven all over the place, including Spain, France, and downtown Washington DC. How hard can it be to drive the bucolic country roads in Ireland? Plenty hard, it seems. First, the car is a stick shift. Yes, I drive stick, but I shift with my right hand, not my left. My left hand does not have the sensitivity to find every gear, so that’s a challenge. I’m used to looking up to the right for the rearview mirror, but now it’s up and on the left. I’m used to looking over my right shoulder when backing up, now it’s on my left as well. I drive slowly and whisper to myself to stay left at every junction. Even the roundabouts (of which there are many) go left instead of right. Stress level is high. Thank goodness it’s Sunday morning and the traffic is light.

Happy travelers

Happy travelers

I don’t have a great map, so we fire up the GPS, which has served me well in every other country in Europe. However, it is taking us off the freeway that we’re supposed to be on. This is a steep learning curve for my inexperienced navigator and left-hand-side driver. Finally, we end up in the middle of nowhere. The GPS wants us to turn into an empty field. I scrape the sidewalls of the passenger side tires on the curb. This makes an ugly sound, but after a cursory look, nothing seems busted. We get back on the wrong freeway and continue until we find a toll booth. Thankfully, the toll-taker has family in Galway and gives us some good directions. We are on the right way in no time. I later found out that the freeway was newer than my GPS’s card. That’s why it couldn’t find it.

Dessert

Dessert

However, we are running about an hour late. In this hour, I was going to drop Jon and Anna at our host’s home just outside of Galway and then zip out to the airport for our skydive. I have Morgan text Kathryn, our host, but get no reply. I have Morgan call the skydive people and can’t get through. Well, fortunately the airport is right off the freeway and we cruise in about half an hour before our skydive appointment. However, no one is there. No Skydive Ireland, no sign, heck, the airport isn’t even open. Skydive Ireland is not answering my call. Maybe it’s my British SIM card from home. I find a guy coming out of the flying club and ask to use his phone. Same story. No answer. Must be too cloudy to skydive. After the stress of driving here, I am equally disappointed and relieved. Guess it’s just not meant to be.

Which is good, because now we can go into Galway. I reach Kathryn and she’s ready for us. NOW the GPS is working and we find her house with no trouble.

Friendly pub

Friendly pub

Kathryn is another great example of an Airbnb.com win. Her house is located in a neighborhood about 10 minutes drive from Galway town along the beach. If we had the time, we could walk along the promenade. We took all three of her upstairs bedrooms (the boys got to have a separate room each) and after introductions and instructions, along with a cup of tea, we were heading into town. Today is Sunday, the middle of a three-day holiday weekend, and the town is bustling. Kathryn recommended a fabulous restaurant for lunch and it did not disappoint. They even had yummy homemade gluten-free desserts.

The Dread Pirates

The Dread Pirates

"Wonderwall"

“Wonderwall”

We walked up the main street toward the market behind the church. On the way, a very tall man with a very fake beard came up to us and asked, “Have you seen the whale?” We said no. He asked from where we be. We be from America, we say. The Americays! Oh, it’s too long a journey for an old man who’s looking for a whale. We wished each other good luck and carried on. I wish I had taken his picture. We did meet some Dread Pirates closer to the market, though, who were happy to pose. Morgan went into the pub just to use the bathroom and chatted with a fellow at the urinal, garnering an invitation to share a pint. In the street, a guy is playing “Wonderwall” on his guitar, an Irish band of kids age 6-11 serenade the crowd with traditional fiddle and drum, a guy in a box with a stuffed dog on top barks at people who leave him some coins, scary fun for the children. So many families, so few tourists, it’s perfect. We walk through the town, down the hill to another church, then back around to our car.

Only in Ireland

Only in Ireland

Inside Galway Cathedral

Inside Galway Cathedral

Jon’s ready to go back and do some editing, so we drop him off at the room. Morgan, Anna, and I drive back into town for some music and dinner. As we head to the pub, we notice they’re closing off the street for a block. It’s the silent disco! After dinner, we poke our nose in a pub looking for some non-silent music, but found nothing but strange looks. It’s past 9pm, and the silent disco is just getting going. There are two DJ’s, strobe lights and smoke, and everybody has headphones on and are groovin to the tunes. The headphones cost 10euros and there’s a line down the street to buy them. Last year, 2000 headphones were sold and the street was packed. Too bad we can’t stay.

The River Corrib

The River Corrib

Silent Disco on Dominick Street

Silent Disco on Dominick Street

One more thing before we end the day. Anna wants to “see the sun go down on Galway Bay,” (apparently, it’s a song) and so we drive down the waterfront to find the perfect place. Unfortunately, it is cloudy and we can only imagine the sun going down on Galway Bay, but that seems to be enough.

Tomorrow is a long drive to Dingle through the Burren with a stop at the Cliffs of Moher.

The moon over Galway Bay

The moon over Galway Bay

All Around Dublin Town, Part 2

The Long Hall or the Jedi Library?

The Long Hall or the Jedi Library?

Anna at Trinity

Anna at Trinity

 

Pictorially, for me, Dublin is just not that interesting. Perhaps it’s because I have spent the last two weeks in colorful Italy, but at least today – an overcast day with gray buildings with green parks and some red doors sprinkled in, it’s not the most gorgeous city I’ve ever been in.

However, it is a place rich with stories. The city has an amazing history told in it’s museums, parks, and most of all, it’s music. And that’s the Dublin that I’m falling in love with.

Filmmaker at Trinity College

Filmmaker at Trinity College

Today we start at Trinity College. After a good night’s sleep and a continental breakfast at the hostel, we are ready for the 10am student-led tour of Trinity College, chartered in 1592 with a Protestant mandate. In 1793 they allowed Catholics and dissenters to enter (all professors and faculty had to be Protestant until 1893) but they did not have many, because the Catholic Church in Ireland forbade it’s members to attend – and this was only relatively recently reversed in 1970. Heck, women were allowed in 1901. The campus is not ancient, but stately, and most of the 16,000 registered students live off campus.

There are many different types of dust and most come from visitors

There are many different types of dust and most come from visitors

Trinity College Library

Trinity College Library

But the highlight of the College is the library. The largest library in Ireland, it’s a copyright library, which means that there is a copy of every book published in the country here. That’s saying something, considering the plethora of Irish writers: Joyce, Yeats, Beckett, Wilde, Swift, Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, all Irish. They’re all here, along with the Book of Kells, one of the oldest and certainly the most beautifully extravagantly illustrated Gospels. Hand drawn circa 800AD on calf vellum, it’s named for the Abbey of Kells, where it had been carefully kept before it came to Trinity Library. Today you can only see two of the four volumes, each open to only one page (every day they turn the page, so if you came every day for months at 10euros per visit you can read the entire thing) and it is gorgeous. There’s a nice museum with descriptions of how they made the vellum, how they bound the books, how they did the illustrations (no wite-out back then) and it’s fascinating. After viewing the Book, we ascend the stairs to the Long Hall, which supposedly inspired George Lucas to create the Jedi Library in Star Wars Episode II. A lawsuit was filed, then dropped. You decide. I’m fascinated by the study of dust outlined in one of the displays.

Morgan's burger for lunch

Morgan’s burger for lunch

Morgan’s taking it all in, Anna’s found a nice ring, and Jon is filming. He will be making a documentary of the trip and has a fantastic new camera which makes his subjects look almost better than real life (at least I hope that’s how it works with me!) After the tour and while waiting for the restaurant to open, we stop at a local art gallery. I fall in love with Jimmy Lawlor from Wexford and want to buy Sea Horse, but alas, I do not have the 3300 euros in my wallet today. Guess I’ll just have to enjoy the photo.

Jimmy Lawlor Sea Horse

Jimmy Lawlor
Sea Horse

A few doors down from the gallery is The Farm, which understands gluten-free, a requirement for Anna’s diet. Jon can’t stay because he’s going to catch the free walking tour again and do some more filming, so Morgan, Anna, and I enjoy a nice lunch. Afterwards, Morgan wants to go on his own and Anna joins me to check out some museums and parks in the city. We meet Morgan again by Oscar Wilde in the park and continue to the history museum, where we see Viking gold and hairy mummies preserved in the peat. More parks, more museums, and we meet Jon and wind our way to Temple Bar and the Porterhouse Pub.

A splash of red in a city of gray and green

A splash of red in a city of gray and green

Oscar Wilde just hanging out

Oscar Wilde just hanging out

The Porterhouse is a place recommended to me by Dara, and it does not disappoint. We finally find a seat on the third floor and have some dinner (beer tasting for Morgan and I) and enjoy the Irish rock band playing under the balcony one floor below. Earlier today I made reservations for a Traditional Irish Musical Pub Crawl for the group, but Jon is wiped, so we send him on back to the hostel and Morgan, Anna, and I proceed to Gogarty’s Pub.

 

OK, this is one of the best tours I have ever taken. Two musicians, one playing the fiddle and the other a drum, then a guitar, proceed to teach us about traditional Irish music through stories, songs, and audience participation. They take us to two different pubs (our group of about 50 get an upper room all to ourselves) and we

Fun quotes next to Oscar in the park

Fun quotes next to Oscar in the park

learn when to clap (only at the end, never with the song – how will you hold your beer then?), to stomp (always), and to whoop (whenever the spirit moves you). We listen, sing along, and toward the end (after much Guinness), individual audience members are invited to sing (loved the version of the son “Cups” from the movie Pitch Perfect by one girl!). It was fabulously fun and was a great introduction to the music we were going to hear for the next few days.

Viking clasps - looks Elvish to me

Viking clasps – looks Elvish to me

Can’t stay up too late, though. Tomorrow is Driving Day and Skydiving Day. (Yikes!)

At the Porterhouse

At the Porterhouse

The Traditional Irish Musical Pub Crawl
The Traditional Irish Musical Pub Crawl