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Monday, September 7, 2009


Tuesday morning and we are ready to hit the road.  After another fine Irish breakfast in our B&B, we called a taxi for a short ride into the car rental office in Galway.  Mike and the rental agent completed all the paper work and we were assigned a Ford Focus, automatic, right hand drive car that was one hubcap short of a full set.  No bother. 

Our goal for the day was to be in Labasheeda by dinner.  This would be no small task as Muhammed Ali was in Ennis.  Yes, that fine son of Ireland and former world champion was being given the keys to the city of his grandmother’s birth.  I’ll bet you didn’t know that Ali’s grandmother was an O’Grady.  The papers had been full of the story for days and huge crowds were expected for the parade and festivities.  This presented a particular problem for us as all roads in County Clare pass through Ennis.  Looking at our map was like a story problem in seventh grade geometry.  If a triangle has three sides and you are trying to pass a camel through the eye of a needle by avoiding one of the sides, what is pi?  The only consolation is that Ireland is roughly the size of West Virginia, so any detour we choose would only add an hour to our travel time.  We traveled southeast for a bit, swung southwest to the Shannon Estuary and then followed the river west to Labasheeda.  Don’t blink. 

Why were we headed to Labasheeda?  That story starts out with an Email.  It went something like this.  “Hi Jody. You might not remember me, but we went to high school together and you gave me a book that I still have with me.”  Um, yes, I did remember her.  So, I wrote her back.  “Hi Mary, how nice to hear from you after only forty years.  I live in Florida.  Where are you?”  She wrote back “Labasheeda, Ireland.  If you’re ever in the neighborhood….”.  So, we corresponded over this past spring and early summer.  Our letters were great fun because we both are very irreverent about life and fancy ourselves as undiscovered comedy writers.  The invitation was firmed up and we were expected for dinner on Tuesday evening.

We were a bit early, so we cruised through town to get the lay of the land.  I am guessing that town consists of about thirty houses, a pub, a school, a church, a post office and a community center.  We explored the road that lead out to a peninsula at one end of town.  Well, the term “road” is a bit of a stretch.  It is the sort of pathway that we all searched for in our teens as the perfect make-out spot.  As we drove along, the road became a single lane with grass growing in the middle.  We passed one car and that was only because we pulled into a hedge to allow the oncoming car past.  We followed the path until it drove straight into the Shannon River.  Thank God there was a little “T” where we were able to get turned around and head back to town.

We parked and walked to the door.  Mary and Bruce greeted us and welcomed us into their home.  It was a leap of faith for all four of us to think that we would simply sit down and be old friends.  And, that is exactly what happened.  Mike and Bruce got our luggage up to the guest room and then we were treated to the tour.  If I were to tell you that Mary and Bruce were doing a bit of remodeling, it would be like saying Joan Rivers had a wee bit of plastic surgery.  Their house had once been a dry goods store and home in a row of buildings that sit along the river.  Over the years, the house had become uninhabited.  It was a very old stone building whose roof leaked causing huge amounts of damage to the interior of the structure.  Some saw a derelict but Mary and Bruce saw their dream house.  The deal was done and they bought it. What sort of crazy folk would take this project on?  Why a dentist, of course.  Bruce showed us photos of the reconstruction process and they are amazing.  They are several years into the project and have completed the second floor bedrooms and baths, allowing them to sleep and bath in comfort, and have guests. 

When you enter the house, you sort of have to side step the new windows that are stacked in the front hall awaiting placement in the as yet to be added addition.  Off to the left is Bruce’s workshop.  This is the section of the house that was the dry goods shop.  Bruce has set up a dream workshop where he can fix or rebuild anything.  And I mean that literally.  He has power tools, table saws, hundreds of bins of nails and screws, workbenches, and things I don’t even know what they are.  He has a section where all the hand tools are hung in perfect order.  Turns out Bruce was an engineer before he became a dentist.  He knows how things work.  He can tear it down and put it back together.  Now that the second floor is finished, he is working at extending the back of the house to include a new kitchen and dining room with a beautiful deck looking out onto the Shannon Estuary.  The room that is now used as a kitchen will become a living room.

And, now to Mary’s temporary kitchen.  This is where we found ourselves seated after our initial welcome.  When I tell you that there is no sink or running water in the kitchen, I know you will be surprised.  There is a drop dead gorgeous dark green professional stove and two refrigerators, a table, chairs and two worktables built to form an “L” along two walls.  The worktables are covered in oilcloth and have a set of shelves underneath to hold bins that contain silverware and other kitchen items.  The end wall has the exposed studs that will some day be dry walled to form the living room wall.  Till then, little shelves sit between the studs for glasses and plates. Food is prepared, meals are eaten and the dishwasher is in the laundry room.  It all works.

Now, you may think this kitchen arrangement sounds rather primitive.  Not so.  This is the true heart of Mary and Bruce Dietz’s home.  What comes from this kitchen is nothing short of miraculous.  The food was gourmet.  The hospitality was world class.  We sat.  We ate.  We drank.  We laughed.  We became the best of old friends.  While Mary sat at the table peeling potatoes for Wednesday’s dinner, I sat and knitted and we talked.  We told each other about our brothers and sisters, our Mothers and Fathers.  We talked about what sort of women our daughters had become. The memory of that late afternoon, of two women sitting in a kitchen, listening to Motown as the day unwound will be something I will carry with me. Mary prepared dinner and I tried to memorize how she was doing it. Bruce puttered in the workshop and Mike read.  Over cocktails and then dinner, we discussed politics, the Irish economy, our cholesterol, travel, our individual roots. 

We didn’t eat and drink the entire time.  Mary took us on a drive about on Wednesday that included a trip along the cliffs that form the southern tip of County Clare, reaching west out into the sea.  I will dare to say that, in my opinion, these cliffs, out beyond Kilkee, are more breathtaking than the Cliffs of Moher.  The road is a single lane that winds along the top of the cliffs.  The sheep are on one side and the sea is on the other.  Magnificent. 

Thursday morning Mike and I packed up the car and said our good byes to Mary and Bruce.  Our time in Labasheeda was nothing short of fabulous.   I’m hoping we get an invitation to revisit and see how the house changes and reshapes itself over time.   And, I’m hoping Mary will cook. 



Friday, September 4, 2009


Is this the bad dream where you are back in high school, sitting in a classroom?  You didn’t do your homework, and you are hoping the teacher doesn’t call on you.  Well, it’s Friday morning and I am a full five days behind in writing about our trip.  But wait, I have some really good excuses.  Umm, I didn’t have an Internet connection some of the time.  Umm, Mike was asleep and I didn’t want to disturb him with my typing.  Well, you see, we were sitting up late with friends and I lost track of, umm, time.  Never mind the excuses and watch carefully.  I have nothing up my sleeve.  Pick a card.



Monday was one of those days that you have on every trip.  The day’s events didn’t fall into place quite as we planned. The racing was not of much interest to Mike as it was to be only seven races, all on the flat.  Translation…no jumps.  He thought he would take a pass on attending, but left a window open in case he changed his mind.  We decided to take a bus tour of the Burren for the day.  That particular tour would take us over a scenic route that I had traveled four years earlier. The tour included the Allwee Caves, the Cliffs of Moher and a lunch stop at a pub in Doolin for a steaming bowl of Irish stew and soda bread.  My previous visit to that pub will live in my memory forever as a five star meal.  The tour would have us back in Galway by 5:00 and the races didn’t begin till 5:30.  Then, IF Mike decided to take in the races, he could hop a taxi and head in that direction and I could either go with him or return to our B&B for a quiet evening.  It was a great plan.


As fate would have it, we had the very same tour driver this day that my friend Judy and I had driven with four years ago.  He is a wee bit of a man named Desmond.  His son, Declan, also drives tours, but he was on holiday, so Desmond was our man.  Isn’t it funny how time softens memories?  It took all of five minutes for me to remember the things I found a bit tiring about Desmond.  He spoke in double speak four years ago and now speaks triple speak.  He now speaks triple.  Now speaks triple speak.  The other difficult thing about him is that, as he has aged, Desmond’s Irish accent has become much heavier.  As he has aged, he triple speaks faster and with a much heavier accent. He speaks faster and has a much thicker accent.  In the interest of time, I am going to assume that you get the picture and I will not write further in triple speak. So, we are on the bus, we are heading out of Galway and the bus is sort of swaying.  Hmmmm?  We drive along like this, the bus swaying, and Desmond saying things most passengers can’t understand.  We pull over and Mike says to me he thinks there is something wrong with the bus.  A few passengers exit the bus for a rest stop and Desmond gets on the phone.  Here is why it is important to speak Gaelic.  No one on the bus knows what is happening and Desmond is making some sort of deal for our travel day with an unknown Gaelic speaker on the other end.  Everyone off the bus.


We milled about on the side of the road for fifteen minutes when an older, much smaller bus pulls up.  Desmond asks if any passengers have to be back to Galway by 5:00.  If so, they should get on the short bus.  I do not know where these people were driven.  I am only praying that they weren’t asked to take a shower at the end of their ride on the short bus.  Off they go.  Soon, a second short bus arrives.  It’s Declan, the son of Desmond.  He loads those of us who are remaining and says he is taking us down the road for a cup of coffee or a pint and we will wait for our new big bus to arrive.  My only prayer at this point is that Declan will drive the new bus because I can understand him.  We all take a seat and Declan leads us in some good Irish song.  He drives really fast.  Really fast.  We are taken to a nice coffee shop, slash souvenir stand to await the new bus.  When it arrives, we are now two hours behind schedule.  And, Desmond is still the driver.


Off we go.  We wiz right past the Allwee caves without stopping.  Because we are so behind schedule, there are many other interesting sites that are pointed out to us as we drive past.  You needed a very fast shutter speed if you wanted to take any photos from the speeding bus.  The other reason we were omitting tour stops was pure economics.  Over the last four years, Desmond and his son had purchased the busses we were riding in.  That meant that the admission fees at various sites had to be paid out of the ticket price we paid for our tour.  Also in the last four years, Ireland had upped the admission fees to many of these stops.  But, as we climbed up in the Burren, we did stop at the ancient dolman where the dead were laid out 5,600 years ago. 


We drove on.  Fast.  By now it was after 2:00 and I held out little hope that we would be stopping in that wonderful tavern in Doolin for any lunch.  We drove right to the Cliffs of Moher.  Again, I was remembering what it was like four years ago.  Well, the Irish government hadn’t changed the cliffs, but they sure as hell redid the visitor center.  The cliffs are still a magnificent site to see.  In fact, I am glad that the path up to the edge of the cliffs had been improved.  When I was last there, there was only a railing that stood twelve inches off the ground to keep tourists back from the edge.  In fact, I remember Japanese tourists stepping over the wee barrier to lie on their stomachs and shoot photos looking straight down the cliff face.  I always thought this was a bonus.  If they fell over, it was an exercise in jungle survival.  Only the smart survive.  Go over the edge and all of mankind is better because there is one less stupid person alive.  The Irish have added a proper wall of stone slabs standing on their sides all the way along the cliff edge.  This wall is about four feet high and protects the stupid.  I just hate that. 


But, that isn’t the worst of it.  We were forced to eat lunch at the tourist center.  Close your eyes and imagine you are in a rest stop somewhere along the highway in West Virginia.  Not the pretty part of West Virginia.  No, the baloney sandwich, pickup truck with no tailgate, Bubba belt of West Virginia.  The Irish government spent over turdy million Euros to build the most incredibly ugly cluster of caves into the side of a hill and called it a tourist center.  The main bunker is two stories and houses a pathetic, vending machine filled lunchroom that also serves frozen pizza and some other cardboard items.  All that is visible are two half moon shaped windows because the rest is in the hill.  They spent all that money to drill out a cavity in which to place the washrooms and a souvenir shop.  From the outside of this you can walk down a bit further and find about eight more caves that house independent tee shirt vendors, some sort of a music shop and another shop that sells punk regalia.  Of course, none of these shops are open.


So, we bid a fond farewell to the cliffs and head back to Galway.  Fast.  By the time we reach the city, it is 7:30 and there is no thought of Mike getting to the races.  We have no recourse but to find a wonderful restaurant and order a really good bottle of wine.  This turned out to be the very best part of the day.  In fact, when we return to Galway to drop off our rental car, we will try to return to this restaurant.  I liked it so much that I asked for their card so I can share it with some friends who will be in Galway next spring.  Cookes is a very small venue in a very old building.  It is intimate and cozy and the perfect end to some sort of bizarre day.

Sunday, August 30, 2009




Saturday was a wonderful day for boys and girls.  Mike made money at the races and I had my knitting admired by many.


One of the perks of staying at a B&B is the breakfast.  You can take a shower, get dressed and then simply walk across the hall to the dining room.  You sit down with wet hair and your breakfast magically appears.  The Periwinkle is located within walking distance of the city center, so following breakfast we packed our rain gear and my knitting and set out for town. We walked a block toward the sea and then followed the promenade along the strand.  OK.  In case you don’t speak Irish, that means we followed the sidewalk along the break wall that runs alongside the shore of Galway Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.  It’s a lovely walk.  What?  Camels?  Four camels lying down in the grass grazing?  Seems the circus is in town and the camel owner had staked out a little pen, using a wee single strand of electric tape to allow his camels to have a bite of grass.  Two humps, if you please.


We continued toward town center, walking through the Claddagh (yes, that Claddagh with the rings).  You cross a beautiful bridge and you have arrived in the city center of Galway.  In my bag of knitting I had packed a few unwound skeins of Koigu yarn and a hand knit sock to share with Ann O’Maille, whom I had met the day before.  She was with customers when we arrived in her shop and I waited, wondering what she would think of the hand painted Canadian yarn and my work.  Glory, Glory.  She was awed by the colors and fineness of the yarn and said my work was extraordinary.  To any non-knitter reading this, let me just tell you that this is akin to Julia Childs asking for your receipe for coq-au-vin.  Of course, Needless to say, I am now very conceited.


And now to the main event for Mike.  The Galway Races.  Racing was to begin at 5:00.  The racecourse is about a fifteen-minute bus ride from Eyre Square in downtown Galway.  By 2:30 we were seated on a wall in the Square watching the busses.  Mike was a bit excited and didn’t want to take a chance on being late to the races.    Yawn.  We sat.  We watched babies in strollers.  Yawn.  We chatted with a young woman who was waiting for her husband to arrive, along with the other 1000 motorcyclists who were on the cross Ireland ride.  Yawn.  We sat.  We remained seated until a girl from Indiana walked right up to us, sat down and said “HI.  How are you guys?”  Well, the American accent and the friendly way made me think we must know her.  She and I chatted for a few minutes about the weather and the lovely day.  Finally I said, “Excuse me.  Do I know you?”   Nope.  She said she was traveling through Europe for eleven months, camping with a group of other Christians who were going to pray for peace everywhere they visited.  We smiled, wished her luck and left the wall before she could ask us for money or worse, to pray with her. 


The bus dropped us off a block from the racecourse and we were only an hour early for the first race.  The bookies weren’t even set up yet.  I staked out a lovely spot inside the grandstand area where I could knit away and Mike wouldn’t have to worry about me.  He was free to handicap the races, watch the horses being led to the track and do the mental exercise of shopping the bookies. 


The real fancy Galway races are held in July, for one week, and they are attended by upwards of 40,000 race fans.  The August races are just four days and might attract only 8,000-10,000 fans.  But, what a sight.  The stands look out over the ruins of a castle tower in the infield and all the way out to the Aran Islands, sitting in Galway Bay.  The track itself is a turf course with several configurations to suit different flat distances as well as steeplechase and hurdle racing over jumps.  The races are run clockwise and the course undulates.  As the field heads for the second turn, the track dips.  The last turn, just before the stretch runs uphill and one lap is roughly a mile and a half with the race distance being 2.5 to 2.75 miles.  The fans are quite well dressed and really know their horses.  I watched boys of around seven years old standing with their dads.  As the horses came up the hill for the final turn, these boys were jumping around, waving their fists, calling their horse’s names and willing them to finish well.  It was lovely to hear the announcer calling out the winner of the race, followed by the horses in second, turd, fort and fit place. Racing is Irish.


Mike was Euros ahead for the day so we took a taxi back to town and celebrated a great day with a wonderful dinner and wine.


Today was to be much of the same.  When we crossed the hall for breakfast, the two smaller tables were already seating other guests.  Two men preparing for a day trip to the Aran Islands were at one table.  A mother and father with two sullen early teen daughters were at a table for four.  This left a table of six for Mike and me.  We sat at one end and had just started sipping our coffee when four men arrived to claim the other four seats.  They were in town for the races.  We enjoyed a very lively breakfast with them.  Of course the talk was mostly about racing but we did spend a bit of time getting to know a little about each other’s lives.  The four men are from the midlands of England and travel to race meets quite regularly.  We all shared little stories of our lives.  I told them about seeing the camels the day before.  This naturally turned to subject to circuses, in general.  The short man at the end of the table then began to tell us about some of the adventures his son had had while he traveled the country as A Human Cannonball.  He had to quit the life though because he became so accomplished that he was in great danger of overshooting the net.  The other three men backed up this story and all said how talented this young man had been as a cannonball.  But, they assured me that the actual shooting was all done with springs and the explosive charge is not real dynamite.  That’s just for show.  I swear I am not making this up.


Mike had another great day of betting and we were forced to find another wonderful restaurant and drink another lovely bottle of wine.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Friday started with another fine breakfast at the Brook’s Hotel.  Again, our dapper gentleman, Conner, dressed in his full morning suit, stopped by our table to discuss that fine Teddy Kennedy and the funeral arrangements.  He reminded us that the Irish ‘luv’ the Kennedys and consider the family a wild bunch of local lads. 


Conner arranged a taxi for our ride to the train station.  Why can’t the US have proper train service?  It is such a handy way to get from point A to point B.  Mike and I had envisioned a lovely, scenic trip across Ireland from Dublin on the east coast to Galway on the west coast.  We boarded the train with about forty-five minutes before departure.  The cars were fairly empty at this point, and we figured that our trip would be quite relaxing.  The seats are configured in groups of four, two facing front and two facing back and a table between.  The cars are nearly new and very clean.  Soon an older gentleman sat across the aisle from us.  He was then chosen as a seatmate by a young man who was traveling alone.  We had nothing to do but eavesdrop on their conversation.  The older man asked the younger how old he was and was he traveling alone.  Yes, he was alone and he was seventeen.  Next he asked if the teen was traveling across Ireland to visit family.  Well, not exactly.  The story, and I am not making this up, is that the youngster claims he just got out of jail.  He had been arrested for public drunkenness and sent to the prison in Dublin.  His time was up and he was given a ticket back to Galway where he had no idea where his family was.  This unlikely pair sat together for about half the journey.  The last we saw of the boy was when he bummed a cigarette from another passenger and headed to some other car to smoke.  I’m not sure if there is an actual smoking car or if he was hanging out between two cars, blowing smoke across the midlands.


Now, you probably think that was the height of any train adventure.  Not so, In the Dublin station about twenty retired ladies on a holiday chose our car to travel in.  My grandmother would have called them cackling hens and that is exactly what our car sounded like.  These women were jumping from seat to seat, hugging, laughing and shouting to friends in the far end of the coach.  I have been to rock concerts where the decibel level was lower than that rail car.  The best news is that they all got off the train in Athloan, about half way to Galway.


Was that all the excitement on our car?  Why, no it wasn’t.  Mike and I had taken a pair of seats, side by side, facing the front of the train.  We had two vacant seats across from us.  A father and son, also on their way to Galway, claimed these seats.  I guess the son was about seventeen, just like the convict lad across the aisle.  This boy wasn’t a convict though.  He was Down syndrome.  Where is Sarah Palin when you need her?  The boy had his DVD player and spent the entire journey watching Mama Mia.  If I hear Dancing Queen again, I promise I shall jump from a moving train.  He knew many of the dance moves and would punctuate the music with the arm waving and wild abandon that make the movie so fun.  And about every five minutes he would kiss his dad gently on the cheek and then pat him on the belly.  The dad got up from his seat at one point to find the bathroom, leaving the boy with us.  The boy gently rearranged his DVD player, used a tissue to wipe to his 7-Up bottle off and lift and replace the foil wrapped sandwiches the dad had brought on board.  The pack of sandwiches was good size and Mike said, “ooh, heavy”.  The boy nodded his head and pointed to the square, foil wrapped package and said “Guinness”.  I am not making this up.  I must say that the father and son were special men and it was a joy to see how much they loved each other.


We arrived in Galway in a torrential rain that lasted all of ten minutes.  Then, the sun came out.  We rolled our luggage into a nearby hotel lobby and enjoyed a late lunch before finding a taxi to take us to our B&B.  After checking in, we took a walk into Galway and I remembered how much I love this city.  We happened into a small shop named O’Maille.  This is the home of the real Aran knit sweater.  I struck up a long conversation with the owner.  She employs two hundred knitters, all in Ireland, who hand knit Aran sweaters for sale in this shop.  About ten years ago the owner was involved in a project called Woman’s Hands for Oprah Winfry.  And this shop provided all of John Wayne’s tweed jackets.  The owner and her daughter have a knitting school.  If you’re interested, the site is  I am returning to the shop later today to share some of my Canadian yarn with her.


We finished our first day in Galway with a wonderful dinner and a walk back along the sea to our B&B.  Saturday will find us at the races.  Horse racing and knitting.  You have to love Galway.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Oh, Ireland!  You bring me to my knees.  You cause my breath to catch in my throat.  You are haunting, but always laughing.  Today was glorious. County Wicklow was misty and the winds were stiff.  It was the perfect day.


Breakfast was typically Irish.  Some beautiful, thick slices of ham, an assortment of soft Irish cheeses and sinful pots of berries and cream.  We sliced off generous servings of dark soda bread and fluffy potato bread.  Of course there were scones. 


Mike had done his homework the night before and had booked a bus tour of County Wicklow, the garden spot of Ireland.  We walked to The Shelbourne Hotel to meet our bus.  The Shelbourne is a beautiful Grande Dame in the Victorian style, facing St. Stephen’s Green.  Our driver, Damian, gave us the full benefit of his knowledge and pride in his city as he called out the points of interest on our way out  of Dublin. He filled us with local facts and trivia.  Dublin is a city of 1.4 million but is larger than Manhattan.  Sixty-two percent of the population of Dublin is under thirty years of age. 


Our route was to take us to Glendelough (pronounced lock).  It translates as Glen for Valley, de meaning two and lough for lakes.  Valley of two lakes.  And, not just any lakes.  They are glacial lakes and they are the site of an ancient monastery.  The Glendelough National Park is over seven hundred square miles in size and is the second most visited site in all of Ireland.  What is the first, you might ask?  Why, the Guinness Brewery, of course  (did I mention that Arthur Guinness had twenty-one children?).  The ancient ruins at Glendelough date back to the eleventh century.  The monastery was burned by the Vikings and rebuilt many times over the course of history.  It consists of the ruins of seven churches and the second tallest Irish Round Tower in Ireland as well as a very large cemetery.  We hiked from the site of the monastery to the point between the two glacial lakes, where we again met our bus.  All this time, the wind was blowing, the rain was a light mist and the light was such that you knew that you would bump into a ghost at any turn.  Damian reported that had the weather been lovely, the site would have been teeming with tourists and our time at Glendelough would have been much less enjoyable and spiritual.


Just a short ride from Glendelough found us at a local pub for lunch.  What is it about Irish potatoes?  They are superior to any potatoes found anywhere else in the world.  Mike and I both had a huge bowl of stew (secret ingredient being Guinness) served over a half dozen small roasted potatoes.  We washed it down with a pint of Carlsberg.  We were warned that drinking too much beer would not make for a pleasant afternoon bus trip as we were about to enter a toiletless/treeless section of County Wicklow.  In fact, you cannot even step off of the paved thread of a road because you would sink and never be found again.  As you climb up into the pass, the ground becomes a solid marsh as far as the eye can see.  We climbed into the mist as the trees disappeared and there was nothing but gorse, heather and sheep in all directions.  The sheep are everywhere.  In fact, the sheep are in the road.  And, the road is a challenge all it’s own.  The Tour de France was held on this road a few years back.  The road is not wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other.  One vehicle must always yield to the side.  This is not an easy feat when there is no shoulder of any sort.  Remember, if you step off the pavement, you will sink.  I found it best to simply look away and trust Damian.  Again, the misty rain simply added to the glory of being in Ireland.  The rain hung over the peaks and slide into the valleys.  When we stopped to take photos of a waterfall, the wind was sharp enough to make you catch your breath.


As we began our descent, Damian flavored the tour with selections of music to suit the vistas.  We enjoyed the overtures to several movie sagas – Christopher Columbus and Braveheart among them.  The music punctuated the drama that spread before us.  As we returned to the roads that would take us back to Dublin, the music changed to the Clancy Brothers and other Irish musicians.  Smokey Robinson too?  Yes, Damian’s taste is rather eclectic.


Back to our hotel for a quick cat-nap and then to a lovely Italian restaurant for pasta and a bottle of wine.  Early to bed and tomorrow we head to the west.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I am happy to report that Ireland is as magical as I remember.  The Guinness is as good, the people are as warm and the weather is still questionable.


We left Toronto on Monday evening and had a rather bumpy flight.  I am convinced that we flew over Bill.  However, while I reclined in my comfy business class seat, covered with a quilt, satisfied by a lovely dinner and a nice wine, the bumps didn’t seem to be too bad.  That was the good news.  Unfortunately, I will never be satisfied with a transatlantic seat in steerage again.  Thank you, Mike Horgan.


We cleared customs with no snags, boarded a bus for the city center and hoofed it a few blocks to the Brooks Hotel.  What a gem.  The Brooks is tucked into a side street and is rather unpretentious looking.  As Mike registered, Connor O’Connell greeted me.  He is the most gracious gentleman one can ever hope to meet.  Tall, dressed in a full morning suit, drop dead handsome, he starts right out by putting you and he on a first name basis.  He invited me to sit with him while Mike finished registering.  He then proceeded to unfold a city map and make all the proper notes for the ‘don’t miss’ stops.  Every time we go through the lobby now he calls out to us “Mike!  Jody!  Did you find your way to the Fish and Chips place we talked about?  How was Riverdance last night?  Brilliant!”  This morning, as we were enjoying our breakfast, Conner rushed over to our table to express his condolences over our loss of Ted Kennedy.  What?  Yes, that’s how we get our news here in Dublin.  It’s hand delivered by our butler.


Following a nap to try to reset our internal clocks, we set out to wander around a bit.  Great luck.  We found a pub!  The Hairy Lemon, My first order of business was to have a pint of Smithwick’s for my nephew, Jared.  Slante, Jared.  We each enjoyed a steaming bowl of seafood chowder and some lovely soda bread.  Just what the doctor ordered.


Mike had purchased tickets for one of the final performances of Riverdance.  It is closing August 29th so what trip to Dublin would be complete without seeing it.   The Gaiety Theater is intimate and it was SRO.  Our seats were perfect, first row in the balcony.  After the performance, we had a late sandwich back at our hotel.


Wednesday has been a day to explore the city.  Yes, you realy can walk to just about everything that might be on your list.  We found the Guinness Brewery and took the tour.  It is wonderful.  We both learned a lot about the process of beer making.  However, the highlight is definitely the final stop on the tour.  You find yourself on the seventh floor in the Gravity Lounge where you are treated to a complimentary pint of Guinness and a 360-degree view of Dublin.  As we sipped our pint, we sat by a window and gazed out to the Dublin Mountains and watched showers roll across the city.


By this time we were ready to use the services of the Hop On-Hop Off bus to see the remaining sights.  As is always the way, when I find myself on the top of an open-air bus, it rained.  But, no bother, it was a soft misty rain and didn’t drive us off the bus till we got to Trinity College.  It was a bit too late in the day to see the Book of Kells, so that will have to wait for another day.


That concludes today’s report.  We are going to walk about a bit more in search of a quiet dinner.  

Friday, July 17, 2009


July 13, Monday


Well, Monday became one very long day.  We set the alarm and I was up by 6:00 AM.  Now, if you do the math, 6:00 AM in London is 1:00 AM in Florida.  At the end of the day, I was in my own bed in Florida just before midnight, making Monday a 23-hour day.


Linda had arranged for a driver to pick us up at 7:00 for our drive to Gatwick.  That meant navigating through rush hour traffic.  We had allowed plenty of time, so we were worry free.  We also allotted extra time for the duty-free area of the airport.  And, I might say that of all the airports I have ever been in, Gatwick security is the most extensive, comprehensive and efficient I have experienced.


It goes without saying that the eight and a half hour flight from Gatwick to Cincinnati is really long.  Linda had taken a last minute upgrade into first class so I took her assigned window seat in coach and slept off and on much of the flight.  This gave me lots of time to mull over some random thoughts and memories.


When in London, ALWAYS look for the zebra stripes before trying to cross the street.  Cars and busses must stop if you are in the zebra stripes.  Since I couldn’t train my brain to first look to the right when crossing, zebra stripes saved my life on many occasions.


Wardrobe management is very simple in London.  Everyone looks so chic.  All you need are a pair of leggings under anything, and you are in style.  Leggings under a sundress.  Leggings under a mini skirt.  Leggings under a tunic top.  Add a big cinch belt and gladiator sandals and you are cutting edge. 


While walking though the city streets, shopping, riding the tube and sight seeing I noticed that, other than English, Italian seemed to be the most widely spoken language, followed by French.  And women in burka’s are not an unusual sight.


I am now much more aware of the epidemic of morbid obesity in the U.S. compared to other countries.  People walk or ride bikes in all of the European cities we visited. Public transportation is the best way to get around in cities with narrow streets.  Parking is impossible.  You don’t see many buildings dedicated to huge multi-story parking garages.  The subway system in London is accessed by flight after flight of stairs.  This forces people to exercise.  To be honest, I think it would be difficult for a handicapped individual.  You don’t see people in scooter chairs zooming around like they do in Wal-Mart, Disney World, Kroger’s, and every shopping mall in the U.S.  People in Europe walk.  Some might be heavy, but few are morbidly obese.


I had a six hour layover in Cincinnati before catching my flight to Orlando.  So, I am home now.  Jet lag is real.  I was fine on the first day home, but the second day it hit me.  Not to worry.  I will be rested up in plenty of time for Mike’s and my excellent Irish adventure at the end of August.


Sunday, July 12


It’s our last day in London.  I had started organizing my suitcases Saturday afternoon but planned to leave the finishing touches till later in the day Sunday.  Over coffee, Linda and I decided that the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace would be our last stop in our twenty-one day, eight-country adventure.  And maybe a stroll down Sloane Street for some window-shopping and brunch.


A short tube ride and we were back at the Queen’s house.  The Royal Mews are around back.  I thought I knew what the word mews meant.  It’s just English for alley, right?  Nope.  It’s where the falcons go to molt.  Falcon molting is called mewing, thus they mew in the mews.  Are you still with me?


The Mews are built as a quadrangle with coach housing along one side, and the other sides containing stalls, harness rooms and parking for limousines.  One section holds the Gold State Coach with four-life size Windsor Grays wearing the Morocco harness and two postillion riders.  It is a breathtaking sight to see this coach in all its brilliance.


We worked our way through the mews, taking lots of photos and listening to the audio tour.  Of course, we found the gift shop at the end of the tour and managed to pick up a few more items to tuck into our suitcases.


Next stop Sloane Street and a very nice café for a late brunch.  My scrambled eggs must have been made with cream and I can safely say were the best I had ever eaten.  And, the belini and fresh waffle that I couldn’t turn down meant we needed a nice walk and a bit of window-shopping.  Then, hop on the tube and back to the flat for serious packing.






Sunday, July 12, 2009


July 11


What to do on a Saturday in London?  Well, when your digs are one block from Portobello Road, you must join the thousands of others strolling through Portobello Road Market.  I had walked for several blocks along this road a few days earlier and it looked rather like an old woman who had seen better days.  The road was lined with antique shops, tee shirt stores and second hand clothing stores, most of which were closed.  The road was narrow and winding and appeared quite sleepy.  On closer look, you could see where the pavement along the curb was painted and numbered with each section being about eight feet wide.  Well, you sure can’t judge this book by its cover.


By early Saturday morning, each week, you cannot drive a car down this road.  It is a solid wall of people.  Most of those little shops opens up to become an alley way from front to back with stalls for eight or ten vendors inside each narrow store front.  The road, where the painted hash marks are, has become an unbroken line of tables and booths selling the most unbelievable mix of used items you can imagine.  Need a camera from the 1935?  There is a vendor that specializes.  Need an alligator hand bag from the 50’s.  It’s there.  Are you searching for a set of antique sterling silver plated fish knives?  I know where they are.  How about brass hotel faucets from the 1800’s?  Yup.  I stopped at one vendor that specialized in vintage ladies fur wraps, caplets, fox tail stoles and such.  He must have had over a hundred and fifty pieces to choose from.  I lifted my camera to take a photo and he jumped in front of me, waving his hands.  “No photos.  No photos.”  Sorry.


The market is more than used items.  There are several blocks of fruit and vegetable stands as well stalls selling new merchandise.  There are crepe vendors.   I stopped and watched as a young French girl prepared a banana and nutella crepe for me.  There were many street musicians along the road as well.  I stood for about twenty minutes listening to the Hightown Crows perform their own raw rock/blues on a suitcase, a bass and a pair of old guitars.  Their flyer says “…we’ll play your wedding…we’ll play your wake…book us now.”  I didn’t.


As I was walking back to our flat, I passed a pair of young men, maybe in their mid twenties.  They had set up a table and were offering free architecture.  What?  How do you offer free architecture?  I must have looked puzzled as one of them volunteered, “we’re not giving out free buildings, just free ideas.”   I laughed and told him I was relieved as I was going to have to pack for my return to the states and wasn’t sure if I had room for a building in my luggage.  They handed me their card and said to call if they could be of service.  Well, have you ever had one of those moments where you are not sure how someone from another country will interpret a phrase or slang expression?  I wanted to say to these young men that I thought their marketing technique was fresh and innovative.  What I said as I walked away from them is, “Wow.  You have a nice tool.”  Was that wrong?


I returned to our flat and took a ten-minute snooze before beginning to think about dinner and the theater.  We walked to a lovely restaurant, The Black & Blue, for an early dinner and a glass of wine.  Then we found a cab for the ride to the theater.  As previously mentioned, traffic in London is indescribable.  The city is currently in the midst of replacing every water line.  This means that sections are blocked off making the flow of traffic through the maze of narrow streets, mews and alleyways even more challenging.  I think I read that a London cabbie must study and memorize 40,000 streets in London to pass his test for a cab drivers license.  Our driver earned a nice tip based on the route he was forced to take to get us to the theater.  It was worthy of James Bond trying to shake a tail. 


We had tickets for a performance of War Horse at the New London Theater.  The theater opened in 1973 and was home to Cats for 21 years.  Our seats were fabulous.  (I highly recommend that anyone traveling to London and wishing to see a play use the ticket service at Harrods).  This play is based on a children’s book about a farm boy who raises a horse and then his father sells the horse to the cavalry as a war horse in the First World War.  But, it is also the story of the one million horses that were taken to France from Britain with only 62,000 returning.  What makes this play so unusual is that the life size horses in the production are puppets, each with three puppeteers inside.  The actors actually are mounted on the puppets at times.  The skill of the puppeteers is so profound that you don’t even see them; you only see a real horse.


Then back to the flat and sweet dreams of packing.  Only one more day to enjoy this wonderful city.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


July 10


What will we explore today?  Linda hadn’t been to Hampton Court before and, of course, I hadn’t been there.  This is the home of Henry VIII and the Hampton Court Flower show.  But first, we put in a call to the box office at Harrods and ordered our tickets for Saturday night’s performance of War Horse.


We again took the tube to Wellington Station and from there caught a train west to Hampton Court.  Because of the flower show it seemed that a train to Hampton was running every five minutes.  We were able to catch an express and we were whisked, and I do mean whisked, to the lovely town of Hampton. 


Upon arrival we decided on a lunch before touring Henry VIII’s love nest.  There was a charming café across the road from the castle and we sat outside and had a nice lunch.  This is where I learned about a new drink.  We had a Pimm’s lemonade.  Very tasty.  I will have to look for Pimm’s when I get home.  From there we simply crossed the road and entered the world of Henry’s royal court.  They have audio devices that talk you through the many rooms and give you a commentary on what you are seeing.  It was very interesting to see the kitchen as it was set up just as it was in Henry’s day with huge fireplaces and rooms for cooking fish, another for meats, a baking area and finally the serving section that looked rather like a cafeteria sort of arrangement where the servers would pick up their trays for serving the guests.  This is where we bumped into Henry himself.  He was on his way to the wine cellar and we followed him in for a bit of theater.  All very jolly.


The castle was originally the home of Cardinal Woolsey, but Henry coveted it and proceeded to ruin Woolsey causing Woolsey to give the castle to Henry.  This is where Henry enjoyed his many wives.  Henry then added a wonderful astronomical clock, the tiltyard for jousting and a tennis court.  This castle was also the home of William and Mary and others, so the periods changed from royal apartment to apartment.  But, many of the furnishings are original.  Outside are beautiful gardens that are being restored to their Elizabethan splendor.  The gardens contain a famous shrub maze and we had to try it.  Yes, it is a maze and you do get completely lost in it.  We finally made it to the middle and then took the gate out.  Had we not exited from the middle, we would still be there.


We took a look at the Garden Show being held on the grounds.  This is a huge event in the summer calendar and entry is pricey.  We decided that it was way too crowded for our taste and we had seen enough.  So, back to the train to London.  From the train we headed back to Harrods to pick up our theater tickets for Saturday night and so Linda could get her gift shopping done.  While she did that I parked myself in a little cappuccino bar and watched an amazing parade of shoppers.  Of course a trip to Harrods isn’t complete without a stop at the shrine to Diana and Dody.  Remember, Dody’s father owns Harrods. 


To finish our day we each made selections from the Harrods Food Court for take-away dinner back at the flat.  Then a tube ride home.  We made a couple of wee errors and found ourselves on the wrong line, but after some backtracking we made it home.  I’m starting to get the hang of this tube.  


Thursday, July 9


Today’s plan is for Linda and me to make our own plan.  She is fighting a bit of a cold and plans a day of laying low and re-energizing herself. 


I had one must do for my time in London.  Marthe (Mike’s Mom) had lived in London as a girl and remembered the number of that house.  In the strangest turn or fate, the flat where Linda and I are staying is a mere five or so blocks from Marthe’s childhood home.  Our landlady had left a great street guide and the pages for this bit of geography were loose from the binding.  I pocketed those pages and set out to find and photograph 5A Elgin Crescent.  It was an easy walk down Portobello Road, which is the flea market capital of London.  I found the house and took a couple of great shots.


Now my question was what else did I want to do on my own.  It’s a sad thing to say but I had been scarred for life by being lost in Toronto a few years back.  There is a bit of the small town girl in me and I get a bit panicky when I am in huge crowds and I don’t know where I am.  So, I decided that I wasn’t quite ready for prime-time subway (tube) hopping.  Instead, I would only go somewhere that I could stay above ground and be on foot.  That meant a trip back to Harrods.  I had to do it.  I recalled that the food court had a sushi bar, so I would go for lunch.


Well, the street guide was small help.  I only reversed my direction seven times.  I am sure that the police were following me because I kept passing the same houses as I retraced my steps, back and forth, looking for Kensington Gardens. A brief side note about the police – there are no trashcans on the streets of London or any other public place such as a tube station.  This is because the danger of a bomb being placed in them is too great.  People seem to carry their trash with them until they get home.  Isn’t that civilized?  And there are police walking beats everywhere.  So, my planned route to Harrods meant crossing through Kensington Gardens and then taking a diagonal route through some mews to emerge at Brompton Road.  There was further zigzagging through Kensington as I tried to spot the Albert Memorial,  It is a wonderful park and there are many commemorative spots to Princess Diana.  The Gardens are also known for their connection to Peter Pan, as this is the neighborhood where the author lived and wrote. 


Finally, I spotted the Albert Memorial and Royal Albert Hall directly across the street.  Now, I had been saved from on-coming traffic on two previous occasions as Linda yelled at me to step back onto the curb.  It is hard to reverse your eye and look for oncoming traffic in a country where they drive on the other side of the road.  But, I safely managed to cross Kensington Road without Linda’s coaching.  I chose an interesting set of side streets to make my diagonal way through to Brompton Rd.  The mews are great fun, but unfortunately one can find oneself at a seeming dead end.  I was in an area that had been the back alleyways and stable gates for former mansions.  It is wonderful to see these charming former stables and cottages with their flower boxes and colorful doors.  But, the alley appeared to end.  I pulled out my street guide and began to study it.  Just my good fortune, a lovely young (40ish) man stopped to ask if he could help.  I gave him my most charming smile and told him I was headed to Harrods but it appeared that I had run into a dead end.  He told me not to worry, there was a small gate in the wall and he was heading that way and we could walk together.  As we exchanged histories, I learned that he is the music director of a local church and spent childhood visits in Ocala, Florida.  BTW, Ocala sounded like O-call-a.  How charming!  By the end of our walk he had invited me to a free choir concert on Saturday night at his church.


Ah.  Harrods.  First order was a yummy sushi lunch served at a marble lunch counter in the Food Court.  Then on to some shopping for gifts for family and friends.  That was all fine and dandy, but I had now been walking for close to two hours and still had to get back home.  I managed to keep putting one foot in front of the other till I returned to our flat.  I needed a nap before dressing for the theater.


Our plan was to have an early pub dinner and then take the tube to the theater and a taxi home.  The first part went well.  There was an ancient pub on our road.  We ordered our dinner, enjoyed a pint and headed to the tube.  We made one small miscalculation on our route and ended up transferring to the wrong line.  No worry.  We just made our way above ground and hailed a taxi to the theater for the evening performance of Billy Elliot.  It was fabulous!  Our seats were great.  We were seated in the stalls, which equates to orchestra seating in the US.  I bought a program and read about the process involved in finding children for the demanding roles in this production.  There are five boys who alternate the role of Billy and more boys who play Michael.  In one scene, Billy is visiting his friend Michael who enjoys dressing in his sister’s clothes.  As the two boys dance, it is performed as a song and dance routine from an old Vaudeville show.  The boys are tap dancing away and the stage fills with dancing dress.  Billy says, “Michael, the dresses are dancing.”  Michael replies, “You should see what my underpants are doing”.  I laughed till tears rolled down my cheeks.  But, my favorite moment was after Billy had performed an amazing solo that was part tap, part ballet and a lot of gymnastics.  The dance ends with Billy running up a wall and doing a black flip.  Billy froze in the final position and the audience went mad.  As the cheering continued, Billy broke character and turned to the audience and looked out over the house with the biggest grin on his face you have ever seen.  He was still in the frozen position but it was a charming moment to see a 12-year-old boy finding such joy in his performance. 


We jumped into a taxi and called it a night.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Wednesday, July 8

Windsor Castle

We took the underground to the train station and a train to Windsor Castle.  Pretty easy?  Think of the Toronto Subway system and multiply it about seven times.  Selecting the proper line, figuring how many zones you wish to travel and operating the vending machine requires a masters degree in city engineering.  You must feed your ticket into the turnstile when entering the system and when exiting.  The want to know where you are at all times.  Then, you climb back above ground to the train station.  Now you must sort out the routes and times for this.  It’s a good thing this is all in English because I’m not sure a non-English speaking person could get around.


We just missed the straight through train and had to ride the train that stops in ten or twelve small stops on the route.  Not a bad ride if the stops were picturesque, but they are not.  However, as you come into the station in Windsor, the castle is right there.  So is Lego Land.  Off the train and across a street and you are almost at the castle gate.  Windsor Castle is HUGE!  We went to the ticket sellers, put our bags through the airport x-ray scanners and were in the castle.  If you look straight up upon entering, you will see the round tower and the flag was flying that announced that the Queen was in.  Strange.  We were at Buckingham Palace yesterday and she was there.  Now we were at Windsor Castle and she is here.  Perhaps she had been on the same train with us?  Is she following us?


The tour of the castle is self-guided and you are provided with a wand like contraption and something that looks like a touch-tone phone.  You punch in the number of the room you are in and hold the wand to your ear for a commentary on the history and contents of the room.  This is fabulous because the tour has access to the State apartments.  You are in the reception rooms and the halls and guards chambers and glorious rooms that are fully used today.  You see the official portraits of former monarchs, huge displays of weapons, Henry VIII’s suit of amour (yes, he was a BIG man), and all sorts of furnishings. 


After leaving the interior, we entered St. George’s chapel.  What a treat.  This is a place anyone who has watched TV coverage of royal events during their life will immediately recognize.  Choir stalls, seating for the knights, side alters with incredible marble figures, towering stained glass.  There was a little desk off to the side where you could write the name of a person you wish to have remembered in prayer the next day.  I wrote Marthe Horgan. 


We left the Castle and walked a bit of the town of Oxford.  We stopped into a tavern and had a very nice meal.  Linda had the shepherd’s pie while I ordered a chicken and mushroom pie.  Of course we both enjoyed a pint with our meal.  All that was left of the day was to backtrack our way home.


Tuesday, July 7


Today is the day to explore the city and get an overview.  What is the best way to do this?  The hop-on, hop-off bus of course.  We put our walking shoes on and headed out to see the sights.  Again, it helps that Linda has a working knowledge of the city and can quickly find them on a city map.  So, we headed out the door with Harrods as our destination.  Our route took us along a private street that borders Kensington Gardens and is home to many embassies now located in fabulous Edwardian mansions.  Security is very high in this neighborhood and you can’t even take photos of the houses.  Both ends of the street have armed guards and these neat retractable stanchions in the road. Police must clear all cars before the stanchions are lowed allowing the car to pass.  We cleared through that road and continued past Kensington Palace, former home of Princess Diana, past The Royal Albert Hall and the spectacular Albert Memorial.  We found Harrods, the mother lode of shopping and stepped into the Summer Sale event.   We cruised the food department, which is indescribable.  Truth be known, the layout is something like Whole Foods back in the US.  Imagine that as way bigger and every sinful specialty you might have read about.  A caviar bar featuring dozens of varieties that you can either purchase for take away or sit down and enjoy at the bar.  A fois gras bar.  A sushi bar that I will be returning to later in the week.  Jams, cakes, cheeses, they have it all.  Then on to the ticket/travel department.  We purchased tickets for the Thursday night performance of Billy Elliot and our Big Bus tour tickets.  We read about another play that looked intriguing and plan to try to see as well, War Horse.


Now that we had our hop-on tickets, we stood in line outside the store and waited for the next bus.  Of course, this being London, the weather was really iffy.  As you board the bus, there is a carton of clear plastic ponchos and earpieces for each passenger.  We grabbed our gear and headed up the steps to the open-air upper deck.  Let me just say that those ponchos proved to be the one thing we couldn’t have done without.  Linda was wearing a full raincoat and hood so she used her poncho as a seat cover.  I had an umbrella, which wouldn’t due for upper deck breezes, so I had to hunker down into my poncho A LOT!  It rained.  The sun came out.  It sprinkled.  The sun came out.  We protected our cameras as best we could and listened to the running commentary over the ear pieces as we passed Westminster Abby, the Houses of Parliament, The London Eye (Ferris wheel that takes one hour to make one circuit), St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, The Tower of London.  We got off the bus at Buckingham Palace and took a few photos outside the gates.  The Queen was having a garden party and we watched as the ladies in hats and men in waistcoats were cleared through security.  There was nothing for us to do but visit the gift shop.


We got back on a bus to continue our route through the city.  Again, we climbed to the upper deck, knowing we were in for wet weather.  Never mind that it was really raining now, we were on top of the bus in London, England.  Now, a few words about driving in London.  It is the scariest thing I have ever witnessed in my life.  The streets are incredibly narrow and are clogged with taxis and busses.  Every sidewalk is completely mobbed with pedestrians.  Add to this scooters and bikes jockeying for a tiny slit to weave through.  Traffic moves only a hundred feet at a time.  So, there we are, almost at the end of the route before we need to change from a red bus to a blue bus so we end up back in Notting hill.  The weather was getting worse.  It began raining so hard that we were forced to leave our seats in the open air and head down the winding steps to the safety of the lower level.  Just as we found two seats, it sounded as if lightening hit inches from the bus.  It couldn’t get worse, right?  It got so dark, the street lights came on and the bus was pelted with huge splats of rain as the temperature suddenly dropped. Wait.   That was hail we were being hit with. I  looked over to see hail bouncing down the bus stairs leading to the upper deck.  Then the stairs turned into a waterfall.  The water ran through the bus, flooding the driver's feet. The temperature drop caused the bus to totally fog up.  So, now the driver couldn’t see a thing.  The driver called the guide to the front of the bus and handed him a Kleenex with which to clear the windows so the driver could try to maneuver the bus to safety.  At a cross street the driver had to open the bus door so he could see if it was clear to proceed across the intersection.  We were now to the bus stop and asked to get off the bus!  By now the weather had started to pass, we found the next bus and rode back to our home neighborhood.  By the time we arrived in Notting Hill, it had stopped raining all together and we walked to a lovely fish and chips restaurant.  There we chatted with a couple at the next table. They advised us to not miss the performance of War Horse.  I think we will try for tickets.