A Travellerspoint blog

Kerry On Travelling

From Portmagee, County Kerry, Ireland

all seasons in one day 15 °C

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Skellig Michael. What's this "skellig?" Read on!

June 17

(Rob)

How remote is Portmagee? Well, if you were to drive to the ends of the earth, you'd then have to ask for directions by saying "how much farther is it to Portmagee?" That's not a complaint, however, because this is an amazing place. To get here we've already driven the north part of the Ring of Kerry. This little one-road town is at the tip of the mainland. We're not even in town, but a kilometre down a single-lane road in a little semi-circle of holiday cottages. The horizon out our back window is the green hill several kilometres away.

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Here's exactly where we were: Jenn, Sherry, Jaclyn, Julia, Anica

Portmagee has a bridge to Valencia Island, which is where the trans-Atlantic signals were first sent to Newfoundland in 1858. In other words, this is about as close to Canada as you can get if you don't want to cross an ocean.

The drive here took about six hours. Sherry followed our silver car the whole way. Or at least a silver car. Somehow we stuck together. We stopped in Adare for lunch and for the girls to run around a park. Adare is a "tidy town", whatever that means.

Tonight, our first night here, we had the turf fire going. There's a huge pile of turf in the backyard, so we've got all the "sods of turf" we'll need for the week. The weather doesn't look good. Boats won't go out to Skellig Rock if the sea's rough, and the rain is coming in. But the fire's going strong tonight.

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Let us reflect upon Portmagee

June 18

(Rob)

Never give up on the weather in County Kerry. Not when there's eighteen hours of daylight. We watched it pour down rain from a unmoving grey sky until mid-afternoon. Finally, we drove over the bridge to Valencia Island and went to the (indoor) exhibition centre called "The Skellig Experience".

After learning about the Skellig Islands (which we hope to visit as soon as weather permits), the rain was easing off enough that we decided to drive the length of Valencia Island and check out what they call the "Tetrapod Trackway." Rocks by the shore bear the footprints of a 365 million year-old creature that was practically our first evolutionary ancestor to come out of the water. Sounds great, but it's not much to look at. It's no more exciting than seeing cat prints in concrete. Maybe less.

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Is a tetrapod, like, three juice boxes?

By the time we drove back to the mainland, the sun was shining. Change of plans! We drove the Skellig Ring, a smaller route very close to Portmagee, with signs that say "No coaches." As in tour buses. We stopped for dinner in Waterville, parking near its inexplicable statue of Charlie Chaplin, before looping our way back to Portmagee to call it a day.

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A,sigh, typical view on the Ring of Kerry or Skellig Ring drive

June 19

(Rob)

We went down to the pier this morning and talked to "Pat Joe," one of the boatmen who will take you to Skellig Michael. "Unless you're only here today," he advised, "you should wait until tomorrow or the next. It'll be pretty choppy and we may need to turn back." What else could we do but trust the captain? Fourteen hundred years have passed since the monastery was built out on Skellig Michael and it's still no easier to land there.

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No, Anica! That's not the kind of ring they mean!

But the weather was good enough to drive the famous "Ring of Kerry." We made a beeline for Waterville, and picked up the road from there. As we made our way around the ring, I started to think that yes, this is indeed the most beautiful road we've followed anywhere in the world. Years ago, Jenn and I drove down Highway 1 in California, and there's some similarity to that, but the Ring of Kerry has more variety. At times you're down at sea-level, other times high above it. The road also cuts inland, and you see green valleys and majestic mountain gaps. The hills seem carpeted in green, all the way up and over the summits. There are all kinds of places to pull over and take in the view.

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pre-Christian, ring-shaped Staigue Fort, seen on the Ring of Kerry drive

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Now, on your left: a mountain gap, inland, the Ring of Kerry

Unfortunately, Anica was getting so overtired that she wasn't able to act reasonably. We said she had to either rest up or start behaving, or she'd miss out on the evening out in Portmagee. She couldn't manage either, so Jenn volunteered to stay at home with her. It was the first time in our whole year of traveling that it's come to that. Anica settled down once the decision was final, and probably had a nice time with her Mum and a good sleep.

Meanwhile, Sherry, Julia, Jaclyn and I went out to the Bridge Bar in Portmagee. It was "The Turas," or "Irish Night" in Portmagee. I didn't get that: isn't every night Irish night here? But it was a special mid-summer celebration in the tiny bar. There was music, dancing, singing, and most of it by local people who were enjoying the open mic. The girls all got invited to learn an Irish dance, but only Sherry was brave enough to accept. She wasn't expecting the dance she'd just been shown to go faster and faster, but she kept up. All the time, I'm urging Jaclyn: " take pictures! Take video!"

We were able to walk home from the bar, and didn't even need the flashlight even though it was after ten o'clock.

June 20

(Rob)

So glad we waited! Today was great weather for a trip to Skellig Michael. The ocean was calm, although still choppy enough that the girls squealed like it was an amusement park ride. At least, until Jenn, Anica and Jaclyn started to feel a little seasick. The island is, after all, eight miles out into the Atlantic.

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The Skellig looms

When we docked at the towering rock, the next challenge was the climb. Six hundred and fifty steps. Jenn and Sherry's fear of heights had not vanished after conquering Diamond Hill last week. At first, we were distracted by the many puffins. They took off, landed and sat comfortably on the mossy-green sides of the island, just inches away from us.

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A lone puffin contemplates its takeoff

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"Don't worry 'bout a thing." Three little Puffin birds on Skellig Michael

Eventually, all six of us made it to the top. We even did it with a fair amount of style, as we saw whole families crawling, rather than walking, up the irregular stone steps, which were laid by monks in the early Christian period of Ireland. Many others were dropped off by boats, and then just looked around the island down by sea-level without climbing a single step.

The purpose of climbing to the top, other than to enjoy the views, is to see a remarkably well-preserved monastery from about the 6th century. How did they built it? How did they not starve? The island is so inhospitable, and so far from the mainland, that it boggles the mind.

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Monk's eye view of Little Skellig

What's left are the "beehive huts," made of stone and so named for their shape. You can step inside, and imagine what it would be like to live or pray or cook inside them. There's also a stone cross (talk about the "old rugged cross"....), cisterns, what looks like a graveyard, and the walls that enclose this sky-terrace. I love the combination of a stunning natural setting and history. Other than Petra, the "Skellig Michael" trip was probably my favourite place in the world that we've visited.

The boat trip on the way back didn't seem as rough, and nobody felt queasy. Just sleepy. We passed close to "Little Skellig," an equally jagged island of rock just covered by birds. It's a massive gannet colony: a black rock covered by white birds and white bird poo. We could smell it from the boat.

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Pop quiz: why are those rocks white?

We once again ate at the Bridges Bar in Portmagee, once again walking there from our cottage, with Sherry and I once again enjoying our Guiness. At 10:30 tonight there was the pinkest sunset I've ever seen. Ireland has definitely been one of my favourite countries in the world to visit. It softens the soul, hardens the arteries, loosens the tongue, and expands the mind. What more could a traveller want?

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Sherry and Rob: two pints of Guinness goodness

June 22

(Rob)

Today we said our goodbyes to Sherry, Julia and Jaclyn. They're driving part of the way back to Dublin tonight, since their flight's in the morning. All of us drove to Tralee, and spent the afternoon there, which put them an hour closer to Dublin and wherever they might stop for the night. One of the very best things about this trip, and something you just can't plan, is how we've made good friends in one part of the world, and then seen them again somewhere else. We've been blessed with that experience both with Fred & Irith's family and with Sherry & her girls. Both families are wonderful, kind people and we've loved our time with them.

Tralee, by the way, does indeed have roses. It's like they took the song lyric literally and decided to live up to it. We walked through the rose gardens, let the girls exhaust themselves in the playground, and spent time in a town square listening to a pipe band competition. You might associate bagpipes and kilts with Scotland, but there's quite a tradition of it in Ireland, apparently.

For dinner, we couldn't resist going to a fancy Mexican restaurant. What is it about Mexican restaurants on this trip? I guess it's usually a change from the local cuisine, like it was in Chengdu, China. This one in Tralee was pretty good, too.

There were hugs goodbye in the parking lot, and we tried to point Sherry in the right direction. In all the excitement and picture-taking, our camera got knocked to the ground and is broken. We'll use Anica's for the last two weeks instead of trying to replace it right away. Just two weeks left! Are we getting careless? I lost my watch last week, so I hope we're not falling apart just before the finish line!

June 18

(Anica)

Today we went to Skellig Experience. It's a exibhition all about Skellig Michael. I liked the movies and dioramas about people building the monastary and the birds. The pictures about the Vikings were cool too. We then went to Tetrapod Trail. The only thing I liked was walking and the sea. We then walked back to our car and drove around the ocean and Skellig. We stopped at a chocolate factory and played girls Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in Waterville before having dinner. Went home, played Nintendo, had my shower, storytime, G.N.

June 19

(Anica)

Today we drove around a lot. We went from viewpoint-viewpoint-fort-lunch-Muckross house-home! The viewpoints were cool but windy, the fort was so cool. At lunch we had 1 cheeseburger for Jaclyn, 1 chickenburger for Julia, and a quarterpounder for me. Muckross House - we only saw the gardens! We then drove all the way back to Cahirceveen from Killarney to get our grocireis at Eurospar. Then we went home. D, J, J, S went to the bar, M, me - soup, Pringles. Found an earwig in my toothbrush container that had gone poop on my toothbrush, G.N.!

June 20

(Anica)

"Puffins!"

Today we went to Skellig Michael. We went by boat and there was lots of waves but even though I was having fun and I had took my gravol pill I was motion sick. I was very happy and so was Jaclyn and Julia because all the way up the 600 stairs we saw puffins. Cute, little puffins. It was very tiring so when we got to the top we didn't look at the monastary much we just sat and talked with a 8 year old girl called Lizzie. We ate snacks and rode to Little Skellig where we stayed on the boat but saw birds. Went back home, played nintendos and drew, had dinner, went home, played barbies, played boggle, played barbies, G.N.!

June 22

(Anica)

"Last Day Together"

Today at home me and Julia and Jaclyn played nintendoes. But something happened and I lost my kittys Abigail, Andrea and Anniya who were my pets on PurrPals :( But we bought the same kind and called Abigail with different markings. We then played barbies, had lunch and went to Tralee. We watched bands, went to a playground. Had dinner, our camera (not mine) dropped, had a very sad goodbye, went home, G.N.!

Posted by jennrob 13:54 Archived in Ireland Comments (2)

Connemara Rendez-vous

With Friends in County Galway

semi-overcast 16 °C

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The gang at the top of Diamond Hill, Connemara National Park

June 10

(Rob)

These next two weeks in Ireland we'll be spending with our friends from the state of Washington whom we met in Vietnam. If that sounds confusing, see our blog entry from Hanoi. Sherry adopted her daughter Julia from China, and her daughter Jaclyn from Vietnam. Julia's now 11, and Jaclyn 10, and since we all got along so well in Vietnam, they decided to join us in Ireland. Like Sherry says, I have to be careful what I write since "that crazy American lady's here now."

The first indication we had that they'd made it was a call from their airline telling us they'd "found their luggage." At that point, we'd arrived at our cottage in Galway and were waiting for them. Before long, Sherry and the girls came to the door, with just the clothes on their backs, and we were able to say "Hi! Welcome! And guess what? Your luggage will arrive by taxi in the morning!"

We were thrilled with the place here. We're in a town called Oughterard in County Galway. The house is beautifully decorated, and brand new (although when it comes to the fireplace, it's fueled by good old-fashioned Irish peat bog "turf"). It looks like this little house from the outside, but inside it's huge. There's three bedrooms, but all three girls have piled into one bedroom's queen-sized bed for that sleepover effect.

June 11

(Rob)

Pouring rain greeted our friends on their first morning in Ireland. We took our time in the morning, and eventually went out anyway in the afternoon to a couple of nearby sites. We saw the Glengowla Mines, closed since 1865, which once mined silver and lead, and got a nice tour there. Most of it took us out of the rain, although we also encountered the "midges" which made us forget all about the mayflies we encountered last week.

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Julia, Jaclyn, Anica don hard hats at Glengowla Mine

We also went to Aughnanure Castle, which is only a couple of kilometres from where we're staying. It's a 16th-century "tower house" of the O'Flaherty family, who apparently were "chieftains" living outside of most recognized laws. The main tower rises six floors, and the higher you go, the more important the people living there would have been. The walls of the tower are whitewashed inside, and liberally dotted now by bat poop. Most buildings of the castle are in ruins; there's an impressive-looking banquet hall but only one wall now stands.

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The 16th century version of a "dee-luxe apartment in the sky"

June 12

(Rob)

With better weather, we decided to make a real day of it and visit the Aran Islands. We drove to the town where you take the ferry. Aran is world-famous for its wool sweaters, but, other than a store that sold them, that didn't figure into our day. When we got to the island, we hired a mini bus tour. That took us all over this wild, rugged island, just two miles wide and eight miles long. I really felt like we were on the wind-swept fringe of civilization. The ground is just littered with stones, to the point that farming is almost impossible. People have piled stones into fences. Every few feet seems completely stone-fenced in. According to our guide, it's not really necessary but it's "something to do with the stones since they're there."

The main attraction on the island is a 3000-year old circular stone "fort" perched on the edge of a cliff. It's called "Dun Aonghasa" (which I think is the Gaelic spelling), and it's really a series of concentric circles of stone walls (about 10 feet high and quite thick). It's from Ireland's "Iron Age" so not much is known about it, although almost certainly there were huts where people lived inside the walls.

I crawled on my belly to peer over the cliff's edge: 250 feet straight down to the waters of Galway Bay. With the wind always blowing, there's no way you could just walk up to the edge and lean over.

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Rob, feeling a little on edge that day

Anica, Julia and Jaclyn got to do lots of running around and screaming in the wide open spaces today (except near the cliff's edge). The mini-bus tour also took us to some other spots around the island, such as "The Seven Churches," where the ruins of three churches are still visible, and a cemetery has tombstones from this century back potentially as far as the 7th century, when Ireland's future saints were spreading Christianity to the Aran Islands.

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On Aran Island: Rob, Sherry, and the girls

Following the return ferry, we ate dinner in a town called Moycullen, after taking a narrow, desolate road from Spiddal. Between those two towns, there was nothing but stones, horses and peat bogs. This is not the archetypal "green" Ireland, but it's undeniably beautiful in its way.

The driving arrangement's interesting. With six, we need two cars, and I'm the lead car driver. We make sure Sherry's following closely. Coming out of Moycullen, we pulled over because she hadn't made the turn. We waited and waited. Finally, we saw her car in the rear-view mirror. It wasn't until we were back at the house that we found out she couldn't get up the hill at that corner. Sherry's rental car is a manual transmission, which she hasn't driven in years, and never with a right-hand drive. She'd got out of the stalling car back in Moycullen and threw up her hands as if to say "what can I do" until another motorist volunteered to drive her car up the hill. "You might want to get in," he'd said to her.

June 13

(Rob)

Perseverance. Courage. Athleticism. None of it mine, of course. What a day! Today we went to the Connemara National Park and climbed a mountain. Technically, we walked up it, but it was still the hardest trail they have. It's 3.7 km long, and the mountain, called Diamond Hill, is 445 metres high (about a thousand feet). Jenn and Sherry are both afraid of heights, so they get the "courage" award. They made it, although Sherry didn't exactly take in the view at the summit. Meanwhile, the girls had been practically running up the hill. Anica soon tired, but then got her second wind. She gets the "perserverance" award. A parks worker was cleaning the trail and as I passed him, he pointed up at the girls, saying "I wish I had their energy." "It's just youth," I replied. "Youth," he said. "Is that it what it is? Well, 't won't come again, then." I caught up to the girls near the top, where it was getting pretty windy. We had to stay low and keep our weight forward. We got to the top, where the little stone pile marks the peak, and waited. Ten or fifteen minutes later, the Moms appeared, to the sound of our applause.

What a view! I'd asked the parks worker, about halfway up: "What's that body of water?" "The sea," he said. I pointed in the opposite direction. "And that water?" "The same," he said. It wasn't until we were at the top that you could see how what looked like a series of lakes were really just inlets and bays of the sea, which filled 180 degrees of our view, several miles in the distance.

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Back, back, back...ok, stop! Stop. Right. There. No...farther.

The drive to and from the Park was amazing. There are no scenic routes in Connemara. This is the wild west of Ireland: they're all scenic. (Literally: every Connemara road in our road atlas is highlited in green as "scenic drive"). We rode alongside lakes, weaved in and out of mountains, rocky farmland and peat bogs.

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Kylemore Abbey, seen on our Connemara drive

At one point, we turned a corner and saw this beautiful beach. We decided to stop. Turquoise water, white sand, crescent-shaped...everything you'd want in a beach, except of course it was too cold to swim! Both the water and the air. It was probably about 19 degrees, but with a chilling wind.

We wound our way around Connemara, stopping in Roundstone where they make the Bodhran drums, before eventually returning to Oughterard for a dinner at an atmospheric pub. It's been one of the best days on the whole trip.

Completely worn out, Anica rebelled against the sleepover arrangement and ended up in our room. In our bed, actually. Then Julia and Jaclyn decided they'd go to their Mom's room, so one of our three bedroom ended up completely empty for the night.

June 14

(Rob)

After our huge, exhausting day yesterday, we took things a little easier today. We did go out to a place called "Brigit's Garden" nearby, which our three girls enjoyed. It's a newly-built Celtic-themed gardens, laid out with imaginative decorations like basket swings, and a grotto you can call into using "whispering tubes." They liked running around in the gardens and nature trail, and we also had our lunch there.

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Photo-op at Brigit's Garden

Then it was back to the cottage, where I laboured to get the peat fire burning ("I'll just throw some more sods of turf on the fire!").

Sherry brought a book of Irish legends and each night so far Anica's been reading a bit of it outloud to Julia and Jaclyn. That's a new twist on our bedtime story routine!

June 15

(Rob)

Here's what you do when you have a "home base" accommodation from which to explore an area: make a day trip by car, cover about 300km in total and take in a selection of natural and historical sites. That's what we've been doing throughout Europe, and today we had a classic day trip.

First it was the "Cliffs of Moher." Anica wanted to know if they were "world-famous." Yes. Not Niagara Falls or Taj Mahal famous, but yes. Famous enough that they now keep the tourists back from the eroding and dangerous cliff edge with a tasteful stone barrier running along a wide, paved walkway. Many ignore huge signs, such as "Extreme Danger," or "Private Property," etc. and get right out to the edge of the 650 foot high cliffs. Jenn and Sherry were happy to obey the signs, and glad that I set a good example for the kids, too.

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High, cliff!

It is a beautiful and dramatic set of cliffs and coastline, with some distinctive features, such as the "Hag's Head" (which I couldn't pick out), or the "The Stack," which looks like it's calved from the mainland. It's not thrilling, though, just pretty.

The girls liked the "Atlantic Experience" in the Visitor's Centre just as much. They have a three-screen video setup called "The Ledge" that makes it seem like you're a seagull flying, or a gannet diving.

After the over-priced cafeteria lunch there, we were back on the road, heading to Bunratty. This town has the "Bunratty Castle and Folk Park." We've been to some castles, and even a "folk park" or two lately, but Sherry, Julia and Jaclyn haven't, and this is one of the best attractions in the west of Ireland. The castle was extensively decorated, with nothing past 1619 shown, and the rest of the grounds are a reconstructed village and collection of farm houses from the 19th century. The funny thing was seeing the same sort of turf-fire equipment that we have in our brand-new cottage back in Oughterard. Times haven't changed that much!

What really transfixed our little girls, however, was watching three costumed women prepare a huge apple pie to be baked. They stood there for the whole process, exclaiming "cool" from time to time. "It's like they've never seen baking before!" moaned the bewildered Mums.

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You shall have no pie! Arrested at the Bunratty Folk Park.

July 16

(Rob)

In the morning, we visited the Galway aquarium (actually in Salthill). The girls liked the manta rays and starfish they got to touch. We also liked how it was focussed on Ireland/The Atlantic, so we could imagine what's under the sea all around us.

Then I had cod for lunch.

After that, we headed into Galway City itself. Mostly we just walked around. There's a vibrant pedestrian-only area, and we had three VERY vibrant pedestrians with us, so we looked at some of the landmarks like Lynch's Castle, St. Nicholas Church, etc.

As we neared the Nora Barnacle House, we made a point of seeing it. Nora was the wife of James Joyce, but really we just wanted to show the girls what her childhood home looked like. It's a preserved example of a "one-up/one-down" 19th century rowhouse. What we weren't expecting to find was a celebration! It was Bloomsday, something I'd read about when we were in Dublin, but I forgot that it's June 16th. Bloomsday celebrates James Joyce because it's the day his epic novel Ulysses (whose main character is named Bloom, of course) takes place. In Dublin, people dress as the characters and follow his fictional path through the day.

The women who work at the Nora Barnacle House had baked up a storm and we were warmly ushered in. Our main hostess must have known that three girls under 12 wouldn't be big Joyce fans, but the three of us adults could at least say we've read a little Joyce back in college. There were a few other people there, and we soon realized that volumes of Joyce's prose and poetry were being passed around, and people were taking turns doing impromptu readings. Sherry was the first of us to take up the invite, then me. (Most of us preferred to perform one of his short poems...) Just as Jenn was about to give it a go, Anica said she'd like a try. She picked out a couple of stanzas, and read it out nicely. So then Jaclyn wanted a turn, then Julia. All three of them gave a public poetry reading. Everyone thought that was great! Right in character, Julia walked up a couple of stairs to make sure everyone in the room could see and hear her. It was priceless.

As we left the house, I was in a daze - how had that just happened? There's only one day in the entire year that we could have had that experience, and we just stumbled onto it by accident. Serendipity.

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Jaclyn, Anica and Julia outside the scene of their first international poetic performance

Eventually (because we were full from all those home-made baked goods), we ate a place called "Couch Potatas" that specializes in, you guessed it, jacket potatoes. Lots and lots of variations on the theme. So Julia and Jaclyn, in particular, liked that.

Home to pack up! We're on to County Kerry tomorrow!

June 11

(Anica)

"Rainy Fun!"

Today me, Julia (!), Jacyln (!), Sherry and M & D stayed in for a bit because it was raining. I can't belive that I'm actually seeing them! It's really fun! We watched T.V., played multiplayer Nintendo and Pictochat.

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Julia, Anica, Jaclyn inside our County Galway cottage

Then we went to the Glengowla mines. We went on a very cool tour but we could only where helmets. And too many flys. We then went to a ruined castle. We went on a nether tour where we went up lots of stairs trying to be inside. We then went back, played, had dinner, went home, G.N.

June 13

(Anica)

Today we went to Connemara National Park. It was a very long drive. When we got there, Julia, Jacyln and I were hungary. So we had our picnic of meat, cheese, chips, and cookies and veggies. We then climbed up a very high mountin and it went like this: kids, Dad, Mums. It was really fun but hard. Going down was even easier and I and the girls zoomed downhill. We then drove around for a bit before coming to Roundstone - Recess - Maam Cross - Oughterard. Had dinner, went home, G.N.

June 14

(Anica)

Today we went to Brigit's garden. We started off with our activity sheet which took us all around the gardens from sundial to swinging chairs. It was everything. We climbed on earth woman, had lunch, swinged on the chairs and lots more. We then went home and played nintendo before we watched tv, then we had dinner, played more nintendo, G.N.

June 15

(Anica)

Today we went to the Cliffs of Moher. It was very fun but we think it was funny because people were passing by the private property and risk of death signs (we diden't)?! We had lunch at there restaurant after there atlantic exibithian. My favrite part was the ledge where you I could watch a movie and pretend you were a seagull or a fish. Then we went to the folk park. It was very fun and funny and cool because they turned the shops into modren day shops! It was very fun. I also like the playground. We then went home, had dinner, went home, G.N.!

And now, let's her from our two young guest authors, Julia and Jacyln, who are here in Ireland with us for this week and next week:

June 10-15

(Julia)

The first time we saw each other we were shocked because we couldn't beleive that we were in Ireland. We spent alot of time until we had to go to bed.

Then we went to this mine place and then we went to a castle and looked around. There were lots of stairs. We came home and played and talked and then to bed.

After that we went to Diamond Hill then a beach. Diamond Hill had lots and lots of steps. They were stone steps. The beach was really clean but then we saw a big pile of junk. It was called Dogs bay. And then went home and went to bed.

Then we went to the Cliffs of Moher and we saw alot of cool awsome exciting things. This trip has been really cool, aswome and exciting!

(Jacylyn)

First we, my sister and mom and me, flew to Ireland to see Anica!

The first day we went to Glengowla mines.

After the mines we went to a castle to look at. When we done looking at the castle we went home.

The next day we went to clime Diamond Hill. Diamon Hill was about 1,000 feet high.

But before Diamond Hill and after the mine & castle we went to Aran Island. Then went to Diamond Hill the next day. We stopped at a beach called Dogs Bay. After we left Dogs bay we went to Roundstone and went to Spiddal. And after all that it just keeps going!

June 16

(Anica)

Today we went to Galway and Salthill. The first thing we did was go to Galway Aquriem. The first thing that was really cool was a tank where it would be really quiet and then all of a sudden a wave would come down on the fish! We saw Manta Rays, Babys, movies and lots more. We also got to pet. We then went to lunch which was called Salt and Pepper. Then we walked all along the pretty streets of Gaway and walked into a museam. Then we dizzied our selfs around on the thing (in the playground) and then we went to Couch Potatoes which I just had garlice bread because I was feeling sick and dizzy. Went home, G.N. :) :) :) :) :) :)

Posted by jennrob 08:28 Archived in Ireland Comments (4)

A Fair City and a Country Fair

Rest & Play in County Westmeath

semi-overcast 18 °C

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It wasn't far to our local in Multyfarnham, County Westmeath

June 3-6

(Rob)

We're going to take it pretty easy here this week. First of all, Jenn needed some time to recover from her head injury. She seems okay, but it definitely was hurting the next day. Secondly, we need to conserve money and energy in order to make it through this final month!

On the way from Northern Ireland, we stopped to stretch our legs at Navan Fort. It's a iron-age Celtic site, but the "fort" itself is long gone. What's left is a circular grassy mound with a grassy trench running around it. Even that's only visible because it's been excavated, and they know shockingly little about it. But it's indisputably a place of Irish kings who people the ancient song cycles.

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Where's the fort? Navan Fort Mound, Ireland

Having headed south from Magherafelt, weaving in and out of the open border (noticeable only because of speed limits changing back and forth between kilometres and miles), we are now in the Republic of Ireland. Where we're staying really puts the PUB in republic. We're in a converted barn in back of a pub in a village called Multyfarnham. Their smokers' patio is right outside our back window. No buffer zone, but luckily it's been quiet. Most people come to the pub for a meal, although last night there was traditional Irish music in the front bar, and I went over to listen and have a pint.

The owners here are really friendly, and - great for Anica - have two daughters aged six and three. Anica's been playing with them every day. The property is several acres, including a big lawn and a wild meadow beyond that.

Multyfarnham has a tiny main street with a general store and one other restaurant/inn, plus a "Victuallers" (took all our etymological skills to guess what that was). It's 10 km from a much bigger town, Mullingar, and less than an hour's drive from Dublin.

We went into Dublin yesterday, although not for a long visit because the rain came. We've been getting the changeable Irish weather we had expected this week. What we did do in Dublin this time was have lunch and visit the Chester Beatty Library. This was my must-see for Dublin, along with the Book of Kells. What a great city for bibliophiles! Beatty amassed perhaps the greatest private collection of books in the world, and left it to the Irish people. It's free to visit this museum, which is good because parking was about three Euros an hour in Dublin's "fair" city.

Beatty preferred illustrated books, such as medieval illuminated manuscripts. Even more so he preferred Eastern texts. We saw amazing centuries-old Japanese and Chinese scrolls, Mughal writing illustrated with miniatures, Korans as old as a thousand years, and the earliest Gospels (fragments from all four, dating to the second/third century). In fact, the second floor is called "Sacred Traditions" and is organized by religion. Anica was enthralled (for a while) and also liked the computer videos on book-making, printing, engraving, etc. By the time we were done, that was pretty much the afternoon gone. We'll be back in Dublin at least once more.

June 7

(Rob)

Today we were indeed back in Dublin, after a rainy day around the house. We went to Dublinia, a perfect cross between tourist trap and museum, where we learned about medieval and Viking-era Dublin. Including even the fun of throwing stuff at a mannequin in the stocks (if you hit him in the nose, he told you why he was there...I don't think the real stocks were as much fun)! A man who looked convincingly Viking-like showed us the making of clasps for clothes and of silver coins.

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Her career as a Welsh miner over, Anica finds work on Dublin's docks

Then it was on to Trinity College and the Book of Kells. There's a good build-up to seeing the actual book, which, for Anica, was inevitably disappointing. Perhaps she thought it would be a giant book.

Since it was Saturday today, the Temple Bar area was in full swing. We had a somewhat lacklustre walk through it, with its street performers and stalls. We also walked past the Molly Malone statue (aka "the dish with the fish," the "tart with the cart") and the "Spire," a 120 metre tall modern landmark on O'Connell Street (aka, and now I'm only guessing here...."the prick in the brick," or...what rhymes with rock?).

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"She wheels her wheelbarrow..."

When we got back "home," Anica started playing with Eleana and Donna again, and got invited for dinner (cooked by the chef and eaten in the pub, mind you) and spend the evening with them. Una said she'll have her back "by eleven" and sure enough, at 11:00 PM Anica came to the door and said "Dad, can I please stay and finish watching High School Musical 2 with them?" I think it was the first time I've waited up for Anica to come home. They'll be lots more of that in the coming years!

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Two elusive tree-dwelling creatures, Anica and Eleana

June 8

(Rob)

We had the Sunday lunch in the pub today. That's their busy day, with a three-course carvery menu. Jenn and I both had the Prime Rib with Yorkshire pudding, etc., and for dessert both picked the Caramel and Toffee Cheesecake. To call it pub food would be misleading, their food borders on gourmet.

Then it was off to a country fair, the "Multyfarnham Field Day." We looked after Eleana, and other friends of the Weirs took care of Donna. We watched them in the bouncy castles, and getting pony ride, and looked at all the other events like the dog show, the baby show, cow-milking race, mouse race, horsehoes, etc.

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Anica and Eleana do some of their own dog-show judging at the Field Day

June 3-6

(Anica)

1) Of all the days so far we've been here I played on stones, swings, gardens, houses, construction sights, and lots more with their girls Eleana and Donna.

2) I think our place is very old-fashined because it has wood toilet seat and walls in the washroom.

3) It's behind a bar called Weir's!

4) One of the days we went to Dublin. It was raining so we only had lunch and saw a library/museum full of lots of religious things!

5) Two of the days so far we rested.

6) We got to Mullingar to get all our groceries at Tesco!

7) Multyfarnham is a small but cute town.

June 7

(Anica)

"Dvblina!"

Today we went to Dublin. When we got there we parked and went to Dvblinia and the Viking world! There you could do stuff like touch and do stuff from the market. Learn how some people got in jail by throwing balls on there nose, learn about the Black Death (a plague caused by rats-fleas, fleas-human, humans-humans), and lots more! I really enjoyed it! I also learned there was no evidence that Vikings wore horn helmets, that they used rings on capes and clothes, that the Vikings were good but bad too. We had sharmaha for lunch and then we walked all over Dublin! From Temple Bar to Dame Street it was everything! We then went back to the car park and drove home. When we got home I played with the kids from 6:30-11:30! 5 hours! We played tunnel tag, dress up, and do a play, and watched High School Musical 2! Yawn, snore, Oh sorry, G.N.! P.S. I also had dinner with them!

June 8

(Anica)

"Field Day!"

Today we went to the field day, when we got there we met Eleana and Donna. We first went on a bouncy castle where a boy younger then me kept on kicking me till I yelled at him so loud and pushed me over (!) that he moved to let me out. We then went to the ponys where we also had ice-cream and a drink. Then we went back to the bouncy castle where nobody kicked me. We then watched the dog show for a bit before going home. Then me, Eleana and Donna played for a bit before saying goodbye and having dinner. Watched some Shoebox Zoo with popcorn, went to bed. G.N! P.S. When I was wearing a tunnel and going on a swing I fell off and hurt my elbow.

Posted by jennrob 04:29 Archived in Ireland Comments (5)

Ulster Fry

Sunburning and Sightseeing in Northern Ireland

sunny 23 °C

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View from the north coast of Northern Ireland

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Northern Ireland in bloom

May 28

(Rob)

Just as we were ready to leave Glenfarg, it started pouring rain. It rained all day, like it was making up for a week of slacking off. We were heading for Glasgow again, to stay a night closer to the ferry in Troon. Tomorrow we take it to Ireland.

Along the way, we stopped at New Lanark. There, they've rebuilt the New Lanark Mills from the early 19th century. It was the brain-child of utopian socialist factory-owner Robert Owen. I use some of his writings in my Grade 12 history class. He had a "millennium" vision that had nothing to do with the end of the world, and everything to do with making life happy for all classes. Ultimately, the town was deserted, but not before Owen helped bring in anti child labour legislation.

It was a good rainy-day activity, but more than that: it's a Unesco World Heritage site, and is now once again a working village. The story is told to visitors from the perspective of a girl called "Harmony," who lives in the 23rd century. We hear her story through projections,models and light-and-sound effects while riding on a cable car. Anica was pretty impressed with that! The cable car doesn't go up or down any mountains, but the "Millennium Ride" was certainly a unique way of moving you through the galleries.

We also saw the school that Owen established, including some of the original 1820s classroom decorations. Many of the buildings, and even some of the textile mill machines, have been restored.

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New Lanark loom humming once again

Then it was one night (could anyone stay longer?) in an Etap hotel. Same layout in all of them, I guess: bunk bed over the double bed, one light, and as little else as possible. Etap will soon be a synonym for spartan.

To brighten up the evening, we walked to the movie theatre next door and saw the new Indiana Jones movie. Due to timing and logistics, we made "dinner" out of the movie snack bar food - not a meal plan we'd want to make a habit!

May 29

(Rob)

To get our car from Scotland to Ireland, we treated it to a boat ride today on the P&O ferry. This was one of the many advance purchases we've made on the internet in the last few weeks. It worked out perfectly, and soon we were driving (still on the left) through green and sunny Northern Ireland. The ferry was unremarkable, except for the "observation deck." The only place you could step outside was a tiny rectangle filled with smokers and a railing so high Anica still couldn't see the water. With the wind blowing, we were getting high-speed secondhand smoke, so we went back inside quickly.

Now we've arrived at a town called Magherafelt, between Belfast and Derry. Magherafelt is a busy but somehow non-descript town. We're staying for five nights at a Guest House called Brooke Lodge. It's not the self-catering option we've been having, but with less than a week, this is still more affordable and more homey than a regular hotel. The "lodge" is has a few rooms, so it's like a small inn (or large b&b). It will be our home base from which to explore Northern Ireland.

May 30

(Rob)

For breakfast, we ordered up the "Ulster Fry." Here's what it is: back bacon, sausage, black pudding (congealed blood of sheep shaped like a urinal cake...but tasty), white pudding (same shape, different colour - made with offal or suet...but tasty), fried soda bread, fried potato bread, fried egg, tomatoes and mushrooms (both fried, of course!), and a rack of toast. This is a traditional Irish breakfast. Well, we didn't find out what a traditional lunch is, because we were too full from breakfast to even eat lunch! That's one way we'll save this week!

One of the most beautiful places we've seen on this world trip so far is the north coast of Ireland, where we were today. It helped that the weather was a rare treat in Northern Ireland: sunny and warm. Hot even, I think we got a little sunburnt. Not a cloud in the sky as we explored the Giant's Causeway coast.

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Cliffs of Northern Ireland coast near Bushmills

We fortified ourselves with a tour of the Bushmill's Distillery. It's been there since 1608, the oldest surviving distillery in the world. At the end of the tour, we each got a free drink. Anica got a Fanta Orange, and Jenn and I got whiskies. After a couple of sips, I was eyeing Anica's Fanta with envy. Whiskey is not my thing. Jenn said it was starting to go down more smoothly by the time she finished mine.

Then we walked the Giant's Causeway. They're the hexagonal columns of rock thrown up volcanic activity in such precision that it doesn't even look natural. It looks like a modern art installation. The fun for Anica is that you can climb on them, and they make great steps. You just have to stay away from the wet ones.

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The alien landscape of the Giant's Causeway

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That's a few giant steps for us

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Formation known as the "organ" (as in pipes)

The Giant's Causeway is merely the most distinctive part of an exceptionally gorgeous coastline. It's cliffs, black rocks, dark blue and turquoise water, and lots of marine life. We did see one seal (or sea lion?), and plenty of what we guess were gannets, swooping down from rocks and diving under water.

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Where seagulls dare: "rocks" near Carrick-a-Rede coastline

Next along the coast came Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Congratulations are in order for Jenn: despite her fear of heights, she walked across (and back) this 25 metre high and 18 metre long swinging rope bridge. Wow! Anica and I did it, too.

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Photographic evidence of Jenn's bravery

The rest of the afternoon was following the coast line, through and past the nine glens of Antrim, and then inland back to our town of Magherafelt. We drove about 200 km today, and walked about 6, so that made for a pretty nice day.

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Anica contemplates the coast

May 31

(Rob)

Blessed by another uncharacteristically warm and sunny day today, we made sure we made the most of it. We headed to Londonderry (or should I say just Derry? Many of the road signs around here have the "London" part spray-painted out. Some signs are knocked over, graffitti-ed over, or just gone. It's made for some interesting bonus laps around the traffic circles...)

The thing about Derry is that its old city walls are perfectly preserved, and make for a great walk. They were under siege in 1699, and there's some evidence and stories about that, especially when we visited the Cathedral. We could also see "Bogside" from the wall, with its Troubles-era political murals. One famously states "You are now entering Free Derry." The Irish flags are flying along those streets. There's also a whole bunch of the British cannons displayed up on the walls. Anica liked climbing on them.

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Derry city walls' most common piece of playground equipment

So, it was a very pleasant stroll. Even the drunk, homeless men were quite friendly. "Hello folks, don't mind us. Summer in the city!" The weird part was they were either half naked or wearing dresses. Can you really blame that on the weather?

But that was it for us in Derry. Off we went, south to near Omagh, to the oddly-named Ulster American Folk Park. Not a very self-explanatory name, is it? It's like a re-created historic village, but with a few twists. First of all, most of the buildings are the original, moved from all over Northern Ireland to their new home in the "Park." Secondly, half the place is "the old world," then there's a brig/ship you climb on and through, then the other half is "the new world." It was great walking from building to building, especially walking down the 19th century Ulster street. The details are very authentic.

They also have actors in costume, and at four o'clock they put on a performance to show us all the customs of a Scots-Irish wedding in backwoods America. We went from building to building with the "pastor" hosting, meeting the family members and so on. They really were having fun with their bad American accents and their improvised lines. We even got to eat the desserts from the wedding table. At the end, there was a barn dance (yes, in a barn) where they demonstrated the "Virginia Reel". Then they asked for volunteers. Here was a chance for me to put my school square-dancing know-how to use! Yes, I got to dosado and bow to my partner, and follow all those other calls I'd learned at "work" as part of the teacher's square-dance "team." One thing I've learned about this trip is that you never know what the day will bring! To finish their reenactment, the "bride" led everybody in singing "Shenandoah."

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Real barn, fake wedding

June 1

(Rob)

It's June! Since it's June, we've now been on this trip for at least one day of every month in the year.

Some days, however, it's like we still don't know what we're doing. At least today it worked out well in the end. We started out with the intention of going on some nature walks. There are marked trails in the Loch Neagh area. We hadn't counted on the mayflies. Wow. After a short walk, and some time for Anica at a playground right by the shore of the lake, we needed a new plan. Jenn suggested going to Belfast and doing the "W5," which is a children's science centre. But Anica thought the new animatronic dinosaur exhibit sounded frightening. Eventually we convinced her that her imagination is too vivid, and that, at eight-and-a-half, she had nothing to worry about. Off we went. We were only about 35 km from Belfast anyway.

W5, luckily, turned out to be a huge hit with Anica. She had a blast! We were there close to five hours, and Jenn and I also did every interactive activity we could (short of depriving a child of his or her chance!). I particularly liked their station where you could make a stop-motion animation. Anica volunteered to be part of a demo/show called "Edward Jenner and the pus-filled boil," which was about the discovery of vaccination.

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Anica rocks out at the W5!

It's nice to come back to Brooke Lodge at the end of the day, because the couple that own it always ask "how was your day today" and seem genuinely interested. We remarked on the continued hot, sunny weather. "Great, isn't it, he said. "Of course, this could be our whole summer!"

June 2

(Rob)

Our last full day in Northern Ireland and...sun! This is the not the country where you'd expect near-perfect weather, but we've had it. I hope our friends aren't in for some bad luck in south Ireland next week.

Back in Belfast, this morning, we paid for a sightseeing bus tour. It's the first time we've done one on this trip, and it sure was the right city for it. With a live, quite funny guide at the mic, we drove through the neighbourhoods where Belfast was once like a war zone. We saw the staunch Protestant and staunch Catholic neighbourhoods, and how close together they were. There's still "peace barriers" in Belfast, huge, ugly fences that keep people safe and separated. There's too much distrust to take them down yet. We saw empty lots where bombs had gone off, the infamous "two up/two down" houses, the FC supporters clubhouses, and, of course, the political murals.

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One of the many political murals

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Mural to hunger striker Bobby Sands

Fortunately, it now belongs to the past. The peace seems to be taken hold. Belfast has huge building projects going on, and while I don't believe in "progress" per se, here it seems a hopeful sign. They've actually imported ice hockey from Canada, to give the fans a non-partisan rooting interest. We noticed the signs outside the arena forbidding any team colours other than the hockey ones. Go Belfast Giants! It's almost like someone said, "Hey, those Canadians are peaceful, but hockey's a good ol' violent game - that's just what the lads need here!"

In North America, the "troubles" have long been out of the news, so today's tour was a reminder about how violent things were. Jenn and I said that if we'd try to take the same world trip right after finishing high school we wouldn't have gone to Belfast...or Cambodia...or East Germany, or the Czech Republic. Oh, and maybe not China or Vietnam, either. And perhaps not Jordan. Maybe the world is safer now.

Belfast is not all political murals and tenements, by the way. We saw the lovely setting for Stormont, the docklands (where they're developing a titanic project in every sense of the word), Queen's university, and a downtown core just teeming with people soaking up today's sun. A brand-new shopping mall is done in an organic outdoor/indoor blend that's really pleasant. The other thing you learn quickly in Belfast is that George Best is a god.

We had an unfortunate end to our day in Belfast. Jenn, despite having consumed no further Bushmills, tripped stepping off a parking garage curb, and fell, hitting her knee, hands, and head. She seems not to have a serious injury, although is sore, and we're watching for signs of concussion after getting some ice on it back at Brooke Lodge. Jenn says we're lucky not to have had more injuries in a year's worth of travel!

May 28

(Anica)

Today the main thing we did was drive to our Etap in Glasgow but we also stopped in Lanark. We had lunch near a grocery store before going to New Lanark Mills. The first thing we did was see a movie before going on millennium ride. It was a cable car/chair lift ride where we went with a girl named Harmony (fake), and I really, really liked it! Then I went on a climb and fall slide with a girl named Rebecca from Hampshire, England. Then we went over to the school. where we saw a show with lights that made it seem like Annie's (the kid) ghost appeared! Then I got dressed up at the school before making friends in the interactive gallery. We then drove to Glasgow where we got confused before (finally) finding our etap, having popcorn for dinner while watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, went a few meters home, G.N.

May 30

(Anica)

Today we went on a drive. We first stopped at Bushmills. Bushmills: ok, no kid likes whiskey but if you want to know what whiskey smells like go to Bushmills. You go on a tour through some smelly factories and that's it! Not! Activities and stuff was ranging from smelling whiskey to drinks to lots more on the tour! We then drove to Giants Causeway where we went down, up, down, up, down. Down: walking don the ramp. Climbing up on the rocks, climbing down the rocks. Walking up the hill, walking down the hill. I really liked climbing on the rocks. Then we went to a ropebridge where we saw a seal, swinged on the rope bridge, listened to the seals and lots more! We then drove to Ballymena. We had bagels. I got a lettuce, cucumber, bacon, sausage and mayo bagel with chips/crisps. Went home, had dinner, G.N.

May 31

(Anica)

Today we went to Londonderry. The first thing we did was park and go to the tourisam office. We then went to St. Columb's cathdrel and then climbed all over the city walls. It was really fun and I liked climbing on the cannons. We diden't do a lot on the walls. We then had a lunch snack at Costa Coffe before going to the Folk Park. We saw diffrent houses, streets, ships and lots more! We also saw a wedding where we got to try food and Daddy went Barn Dancing. Went home, had dinner, G.N!

June 1

(Anica)

"W5 -
Who: Anica
What: Science museum diary
Where: Belfast
When: June 1, 2008
Why: for fun"

Today we went to W5. Before that we went on some walks around Ballyronan. It had a playground too. But to many flies. Then we drove to the outskirts of Belfast and found W5. Now I'm going to tell you what we did and what it was: rock, noise, sound - a mix of fake guitars and music, squares that make noise and instruments that make sound. Tesco kids: a grocery store with baskets and check out stuff and shopping lists. I'm not going to tell you all the rest of them because theres to many! But I will tell you the ones I like. Water thing: ok, here's an example: me getting the balls up and falling into the thing. Mum, pushing them out of the thing and controlling the gates, Dad pushing down the balls and controlling other gates. Block fun: ever heard of blocks that make a story? How about blocks that make a cartoon? So o.k. putting in a block makes a thing happen. News reporter: from wehter to volcanoes to hurricanes in Florida. It just tells you the words and off you go. Dino Jaws: exibit of how dinos eat there prey. Then we had dinner, went home, G.N.

June 2

(Anica)

"Belfast is Industrial!"

Today we went to Belfast. We got there by A6-M22-M2. We decided to park in a shopping mall where we got me candy. We then went to the Barcleys bank before getting on the hop on - hop off bus. This was bassicly the tour: Ok theres industrial stuff, more industrial stuff, murals of bad times, etc! And it was really hot! But it was still fun. Then we went to McDonalds to have a drink and some fries. Then we went shopping. We then looked around Victoria Square mall before deciding to have Nandos for dunch (mix of dinner and lunch). I had kids meal, 3 wings + garlic bread, drink, yoghurt. Mum: 5 wings + coleslaw + drink. Dad: chicken + drink + fries. Then we went back to the car park where Mummy bumped her head, went home, G.N!

Posted by jennrob 14:41 Archived in Northern Ireland Comments (3)

All Things Scottish (And Llamas)

Reports from our home base in Perthshire

sunny 16 °C

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Steps up to our farm cottage, Glen Farg, Scotland

May 21

(Rob)

Another of our classic driving days. After 700 kilometres, we arrived at our next accommodation on the dot of four o'clock. The owner happened to be standing out front, and said, "Wow. Who was navigating?" Jenn! Apparently, some people think this place is hard to find. Maybe we're getting better at this!

Where are we now? Just outside the town of Glenfarg, which is half an hour outside of Edinburgh, in Perthshire, Scotland. Very rural again. We're staying in "The Miller's Cottage" on a farm with sheep and llamas (I joked with our host that I thought they were just tall sheep...I hope he didn't believe me). The farm is nestled into a valley where three hills come together. We look out, then, in three directions to an elevated horizon, and to the driveway that leads down to the farm. There's a subtle beauty to this countryside, and a difference again to the landscapes of rural England and rural Scotland.

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Anica in one of our farm's fields. Not pictured: llamas

May 22

(Rob)

Edinburgh! We had one of the most enjoyable days on our whole trip today. It cost a small fortune, but it seemed worth it. We started with the Edinburgh Castle.

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Just outside the Edinburgh Castle

There's so much to see and do there; great place. We had a guided tour - just follow the kilt-wearing guide, and then explored our own. The castle is perched high above the city centre, on craggy black rock. It was formed by a volcano, and has been inhabited since prehistoric times. We saw the Crown Jewels of Scotland (including the "stone" used in the coronation of every British monarch since the 12th century), St. Margaret's Chapel, royal apartments where Mary Queen of Scots was born, a memorial to the World Wars, and a "prisons of war" display below ground constructed from what remains from the 18th century prison. And we heard the "one o'clock gun" being fired. Nowadays it's done with a modern artillery gun, which, when fired, makes your chest thump and the soles of your feet tingle.

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It's almost one o'clock...fire!

We were thusly energized for our walk down the Royal Mile. This is one of the great pedestrian thoroughfares in all of Europe. Sure, it's full of tourist traps and souvenir shops, but it's still full of atmosphere and history. It runs down from the Castle at one end to Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament closing off the other end. Along the way, you see brass signs for the "closes." A close was a narrow alleyway neighborhood that sloped down from the High Street (Royal Mile) to the water. Each has a name, like "Fleshmarket Close," or (my favourite) "World's End Close."

At the end of the Mile is the stately Holyrood Palace, an ultramodern apartment complex, and the Dynamic Earth centre. Anica is writing about this at length, so I'll let her tell you about it. I will say it's the best science-related attraction we've been to anywhere in the world. Also, just as we were about to buy tickets, some people called to us from behind "Wait! We have free tickets we'll give you," And they did! That saved us about $40! It was a good karmic feeling too, because we've done that for others with unused metro tickets and parking time.

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Exterior of the Our Dynamic Earth Centre

The final attraction of the day was "Mary King's Close." Again, expensive but very unusual and atmospheric. It's a close dating back to the 1600s that survived below the floors of the city council chambers because its lower levels were used as foundations in the 19th century. Since the "close" slopes away from the high street, there's an underground street and underground row-houses that remain. They've been re-opened, and (only just) cleaned up and lit. Great stories are told on a hour-long guided tour.

For dinner, we ate in Edinburgh at an Indian restaurant called "Britannia Spice." I had googled "Best Curry Britain" and found they won the BCA in 2007 (that's the British Curry Awards, there really is such a thing). We drove through what must have been every street in Edinburgh currently under construction to the waterfront district (near where the Royal Britannia is; thus the name) and had a wonderful, but not cheap (this wasn't curry and a pint pub fare) Indian meal. The waiter reminded us of being in India when he insisted on bring Anica a free plate of french fries to add to her meal. That was the kind of doting attention she got all the time in Asia.

Meanwhile Anica made friends (somehow) with a teen aged girl at the table next to us. She was amazed to hear of our travels, saying she lived "just down the street" and spent more time talking to us than she did to her dinner companions. So it was a memorable dinner. Best curry-house in Britain? Who knows! But it capped off a great day.

May 24

(Rob)

After a down-home day on the farm, where we chased sheep and llamas around, and hopped back and forth across the "burn", we headed out by car again today, to Glasgow. It once had a reputation as a rough, depressed city. Well, I don't think it's fully recovered! When we first got there, the place was really dead. Of course, that's because we went to the Necropolis.

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Glasgow Catheral and Necropolis

After a peek inside the cathedral, we visited St. Mungo's Museum of Religious Art and Life. This was like a review for Anica: a museum that puts all the religions and their practices side-by-side. She saw Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim artifacts, and we recalled that we've been inside at least one place of worship for each during this trip. The museum also had someone with "hands-on" artifacts, and we talked with him and Anica handled various objects, such as a Sikh kirpan (dagger!).

We strolled the pedestrian-only downtown streets of Glasgow, and then hopped back in the car to drive back a different way. It took us past Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument, both quite striking perched up on their hills.

For dinner, we stopped in Perth, which is a small city close to where we're staying. Unfortunately, the place was practically shut down. After rejecting the one or two restaurants we found open, we ended up at Pizza Hut, which was packed. A world-wide trend if you use the "go where the locals go" advice. It's the first time we've had to resort to that in the UK.

There's six weeks left in our trip. Jenn said there's three ways you could feel at this point; there's "I can't stand the thought of going home and back to normal," there's "I can't stand another day of travelling and I wish I could go home now," and then there's the way she feels (all three of us do, really): we're looking forward to being home again, but if somebody said you could go home now for free, we'd say "No Way!" We don't want to miss out on any of it.

May 25

(Rob)

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Out from the 1st tee, in to the 18th green - the Old Course

The birthplace of golf! St. Andrew's today! Unfortunately, there was a tournament on, so you couldn't walk all over the course like you normally could on a Sunday. But I got my picture taken in front of the bridge on 18, at least, and we still were able to walk across the 1st/18th fairways, and stand behind the first tee and the 18th green. It looked so familiar from all those hours of watching the British Open on TV!

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On The Road (Hole)

We really got a feeling for how windy is gets. Even on a perfectly sunny day, it was so windy, the seagulls could barely get off the ground.

St. Andrews itself is a unique town. In the space of about half a mile, you've got a university, a high street packed with golf shops, a ruined cathedral (thanks, Henry), and a dramatic coastline of beach, rocky cliffs and black seaweed. We walked out to the point, stopping for lunch at a Thai-Japanese restaurant (sounds so typically Scottish, doesn't it?).

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Part of the shoreline in front of St. Andrews Castle

And, oh yes, we actually had a fire tonight! In a real fireplace - not the push button kind. If this doesn't sound like much of a feat, then you overestimate my handiness around the house (easy to do). The fire, wood and kindling was sitting right there and Jenn was saying "we should have a fire." I replied my usual way: by doing nothing. Jenn took charge her usual way: she googled "how to make fire." If nothing else, we'd be gathering around the glow of the laptop for the evening. But, once it was clear there were no mysteries to the process, I got the fire roaring and tended to it for a few hours. We even roasted marshmellows.

May 26

(Rob)

Today we took a drive through the Scottish Highlands. From our cottage near Perth, we drove up to Inverness, through the Cairngorms National Park, then around and down the coast of Loch Ness. The whole loop was about 450 km, and was one of the best, most scenic drives we've done anywhere in the world. It was a gloriously sunny day (yes, we've done it: a week in Scotland with nae rain, not even a wee drop), and the light just plays off the hills in ever-changing patterns. A single cloud with turn the green to black, changing the look. It's rugged, like tundra, but also with firs and pines, and even snow left high up on the sides of mountains.

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Entering the Highlands

Several people have asked: do you have an affinity or special feeling for Scotland as your "ancestral land?" The answer is no. The connection is too remote: only a few of my great-grandparents or great-great grandparents lived here, no one I've ever met. Scotland is very much a foreign country, with bewildering foreign customs, and what sounds like a foreign language. I get about as many words in a sentence of Scots-spoken English as I do from a sentence of French. The process is the same: what did I hear? What's the context? Oh, I think I know what he said. Now, I'll answer. I'm sure the French understood my struggle, especially when I answered in broken French. The Scottish probably just think I'm slow-witted.

Loch Ness today was a striking blue. We learned it gets as deep as 240 metres, but they weren't still waters - very choppy, which was fun, because every ripple could be mistaken for Nessie's back. We saw a multimedia "Loch Ness Experience" that really did get us thinking. It traced, fairly objectively, what people have reported and how people have searched.

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Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness, monster shown background, left

The drive back hugged the coast of first Loch Ness, and then the imaginatively-named "Loch Lochie." Among the many spots we pulled over to admire the view was a lookout where there's a memorial to the "Commando" forces of World War II. While we there, a couple were scattering the ashes of a loved one. It was touching to see, and a poignant reminder of how special a place that is.

P.S. I had haggis for lunch. It was actually pretty tasty!

May 22

(Anica)

"Past, Future and good old 2008!"

Today, the first thing we did was see Edinburgh Castle. The reason I am not writing about this is because I want to say so much about Our Dynamic Earth and Mary King's Close it might be enough. After lunch we walked down the Royal Mile to the end where Our Dynamic Earth is.

The first was a little exhibithien and then this guy said "now you are going in an elevator back 30 billion years ago, good luck, I mean, have a good trip!" Back past mummies, past cave people, past dinosaurs into the creating of the universe! Then first when we got out was a screen saying "force feild on." I quickly grabbed onto the first railing I saw before we aw the big boom creating the universe. Boy was it loud!

Next room a plaster creation of a volcano and a volcano eruption and then luckily evreybody holding on as a volcano caused earthquake (pretend). Then the lady said this next one is more comfortable! We entered into a recreated artic world (still around 50 million years ago) where we were almost sort of flying! I was rocking back and forth because of the picture moving!

Then the doors opened and we entered into a room labled amibos, dinosaurs and humans. Ok, I said, heres the one I was waiting for, what's it like? Instead of a movie with dinosaurs roaring, a T-rex suddenly in the picture, thee was one display of amibos, one display of dinosaurs, one display of humans, then on to citys and industrial ports. First we had to see the artic. And there was make-believe ice in there (so we thought before Mum touched it and cried, "it's real!" Hmmm I was wondering why it was so cold in there!)

Then the next room was all about tempature. City, dessert, savanh, and rainforest. After a guy said "now this is a rainstorm in a rainforest" then pretended to run away I yelled to the guy (for real) "You come back here your not going anywhere!" Then the next room had chairs, and was about the future! I also bought myself a calm necklace which actually works! Then we played in the play area before going to Mary King's Close.

There we hopped on a tour through dark small rooms with of course: a friendly tour guide. And it was time for a half-movie half-read ghost story where I hide behind Mum and the nice guy turned on the lights. and then it was time for a freindly ghost story. It was about a girl ghost Annie (a kid) who died of greif when her family moved away from her, she ost her freinds and had lost her ony companion, a doll. [Somebody who encountered her ghost] bought a doll and it's on display with many other stuffed animals other people bought. It also was apparently world famous.

Then we had Indian food for dinner and started talking to a thirteen year old girl just when I was in the washroom and said "there's no soap." Then we drove back which was pretty fun. Even though we got back at 10:00. Went home, G.N.! P.S.This title is called Past, future and good old 2008 because: half of Our Dynamic Earth, past, and Mary Kings Close was past. Part of Our Dynamic Earth was future, and good old everyday stuff was 2008 :)

May 24

(Anica)

Today we went to Glasgow. The first thing we did was go to the Nacropolis. The Nacrapolis is a big cemetary with poor (stones), middle (tombstones), rich (statues and stuff), famous (big buildings). The youngest was 9 months, the oldest 102 years and a half. Then we walked to St. Mungos mueseum or religus art and life. This museum was excellent! It had: Hinduism, Islam, Buddhaism, Christan, and Sikh. They had things like statues, Mummys (they also did Eygptatian) masks, knifes, etc! I wrote a comment that I might even try to come again. The mummy wasn't unwrapped, but out of your sarcophagus is good enough for me! Then we did a lot of street window shopping before going to (nearby Glenfarg) Perth to have dinner. Went home, G.N.!

May 25

(Anica)

"Golf, Sea and Wind"

Today we went to St. Andrews. The drive there wasen't to long about half an hour. When we got there we parked and walked to the golf course. There where people playing on it but we could still walk on the paved path. We walked down past the clubhouse by the water and back up to the shop where Dad bought something. Then we had lunch and visited the castle and ocean before going back home. Then me and Daddy played barbies around the world trip before we had steak, potatoes and carrots for dinner. Had dinner, G.N.

May 26

(Anica)

"Loch Ness Day!"

Today the main thing we did was drive along Loch Ness. But first we drove Inverness which was around 200 miles away which ment it took about 1-2 hours. Also because we diden't go on any of the M's (M stands for motorway like M20. We took the As and Bs (the longer ones). When we finally got to Inverness it was past lunch time so we decided to just have lunch before then continue to Loch Ness. We had a yummy lunch of a Burger for me, Haggis for Dad, and Pie for Mum. Then we went to Loch Ness. We didn't see Nessie but almost as weird as seeing Nessie I heard a cry that might of been her. Though I do belive Nessie's real! Then we went to a place where we saw movies all about Nessie, which was probably my favrite sight that day! The movies were about sightings and pictures of Nessie and I even bought a stuffed animal of Nessie and called her Nessie. Head back, had dinner, Went home, G.N.!

Posted by jennrob 08:16 Archived in Scotland Comments (4)

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