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Saturday, September 15, 2012




It’s all so civilized.  We caught a train out of Bath on Wednesday morning and had a lovely ride across the south of England, arriving in Penzance, Cornwall.  This was the leg of our travel that Leslie was in charge of.  By selecting our B&B she has proved herself to be a woman of fine taste. Our host and hostess at the Camilla House greeted us warmly.  We were invited into the lounge for a cup of tea and Simon drew us a lovely map of all the best restaurants and pubs within walking distance. He made suggestions for day trips, guided tours and general walk-abouts.  Enough said!  Our bags were taken to our room and we set off to have a look at Penzance. 

Our first foray took us through the old churchyard, where we stopped to have a look at the old gravestones.  I love to read the stones. From there, we stopped in The Turk’s head for a pint before moving on to the Admiral Benbow for dinner.  
What an experience!  If anyone has watched the Doc Martin series, you will remember that the imaginary town of Port Wenn is populated with the most unusual characters, quirky and slightly off center.  Perhaps you thought that a writer with a very fertile imagination had invented the Doc Martin cast of zanies?  You would be wrong.  These are real people.  As we sat at our table in the Benbow, we were treated to the most incredible parade of locals.  In walked a fellow wearing nylon jogging shorts, sandals and a t-shirt, all topped by a navy blue sport coat.  The bar maid greeted him by saying “You’re looking particularly dapper this evening, Alan.”  Next was an elderly lady in flowing skirts, scarves, wraps, colored mid calf socks and sandals.  She wore her silver hair in a disheveled chignon, streaked with purple and green, which of course matched her socks. But, a word about the décor.  Please imagine a pirate hoarder.  The proprietor and his wife have traveled the world, attending auctions and swap meets so that they could continually add to their collections of cannon balls, mastheads, lanterns, riggings, steins, harness brass, etc.  All this is displayed in rooms that have been built with restored sections of old schooners and pirate ships.  Between the people and the various collections, our heads were on a constant swivel.

  And, the food?  OMG.  Leslie ordered a root vegetable soup that she swears tasted exactly like Thanksgiving dinner.  I choose the Seafood pasta.  The seafood had been in the sea just hours before it appeared on my plate, combining prawns, squid rings, scallops, mussels and chunks of various fish in a creamy rose sauce.  Magnificent!  

Simon had arranged a tour for us on Thursday morning.  Following breakfast, we were picked up at our door by our guide, Russ.  Russ is a local young man with a couple of degrees in marine biology and botany behind him.  He and his Brazilian wife operate guided walking tours and the van tour we were on.  Because we were the first pair to be picked up, Leslie grabbed the front seat, next to Russ and I staked out the center of the back seat. 

 We drove to St. Ives to pick up another couple, leaving them only the third seat.  We spent four hours with Russ, asking questions and hearing stories of dancing maidens turned to stone, ship wrecks, government schemes involving loose cows mowing the roadsides, and how to enjoy cream tea.

  One of Russ’s stories involved the stone circles we visited.  Russ told us that there were eight known remaining stone circles, but none were in England.  What?  We were standing in one of the stone circles and yet he tells us that there are NO remaining circles?  Leslie piped up “But, Russ, we’re in England”.  “AhHa” Russ answered.  “We are not in England, we are in Cornwall.”  Yes, there is some serious pride in being a Cornishman. It was thirty pounds spent for a hundred pounds of enjoyment.

Friday was a clear and calm weather day.  It was perfect for taking the two and a half boat trip on the Scillionian, out to the Isles if Scilly.
I’ll wager that very few of you have ever heard of the Scillys.Paradise.Positively paradiseIt’s the southernmost point in England and enjoys a very moderate microclimateThe Scillys are a group of five inhabited islands, incredible beaches, acres of daffodil production, artist’s cottages and B&Bs.  There are palm trees everywhere and gardens of succulents. 

  St Mary’s is the largest island, with a castle that has been turned into a hotel above the town of Hugh.It’s a lovely place to walk about and we took a one hour bus tour to give ourselves a proper overview of the island.In all, we enjoyed four hours on St. Mary’s before heading back to the docks to catch the Scillonian for our ride back to Penzance.  We walked about the boat, stopping to chat with wet dogs. Westies, springers, goldens, and jacks, they had all had a lovely day at the beach. Back in Penzance, we stopped off for a pint and reflected on our lovely day. We sat outside, sipping our Guinness and chatting with another fine dog.

In spite of a bit of misty rain Friday morning, we braved a three-mile walk along the promenade from Penzance to Marizion.  Our goal was to walk across the beach to the island of St. Michael’s Mount, crossing at low tide. 

 The castle on St. Michael’s Mount is the home of Lord and Lady St. Aubyn, who still live in an apartment in the former abbey. The castle is perched atop an outcropping of granite that sits just off shore from Marizion.   Wear sensible shoes if you plan to visit this castle!  The only way to the top is a dizzying rock footpath with little twists and turns and lay-bys where you can stop to catch your breath just before your knees lock up.  We managed. The walk was well worth it as the views are stunning.  But, of course, if you have walked up to the castle, you must walk down the same path when you are finished.  It is a bit easier though.  Once we reached ground level we took a walk through the gardens. 
I found that the charm of the gardens was in the way the flowers and succulents all nestled into the rocks.  You don’t feel that there are contrived beds, but rather rock beds and walls with natural plants falling into and out of them.  After the gardens, the tide was in and we had to queue up for a boat to get us off the island. 

The weather had now cleared and we had time to squeeze in another little side trip.  After our three-mile walk to the Mount, we were ready for a bus to get us to our next destination, Mousehole.  

Please, don’t say Mouse Hole.  It’s Mouze-ull.  This is a lovely little village that sits on the coast south of Penzance and Newlyn.  It looks a lot like the fictional Port Wenn from Doc Martin!  We had intended to get to Port Isaac, which is the actual site of the filming of the series, but time was running out.  So, Mousehole it was. 

 We took a little stroll through the streets, admiring the cottages with their pots of flowers at the door, and an occasional working artist.  

 Then, it was time for the bus back to Penzance and our final evening in Cornwall.  Time to pack up and head back to London.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


     After a nice breakfast, we set out to do some more very touristy things.  The first stop was to the Information Center to inquire about a tour out to Stonehenge.  We found a tour bus company that had seats available and signed up for the afternoon trip.  This gave us lots of time to take the two-hour guided walking tour through the city. The tour meets in the plaza beside Bath Abbey and the guides are armed with encyclopedic knowledge of the history and lore that is Bath.  They are able to explain the Georgian architecture, the history, and the daily lives of the long dead residents. Bath has two histories.  There were the Romans, and then there was life in the seventeen and eighteen hundreds when the most fashionable, wealthy and royal people enjoyed the healing waters. However, it was Sunday morning.  The church bells ring for close to an hour, commencing at exactly the same time as the start of the tour.  
But, we stuck with it, straining to hear the guide’s voice above the bells.  And, the city rises up from the river.  We climbed narrow cobbled streets, working our way up to the Royal Crescent. Then, we wound back through the Circus and the Queen’s Square, back to we had begun our morning. 

Lunch was next, stopping at a little café that was tucked into a courtyard, just below street level.  The city of Bath has done a wonderful job of encouraging the businesses and residents to take pride in the flower boxes and planters that are everywhere.  So, each little café, pub, lamppost and park bench is surrounded by riots of color tumbling about.  We caught our breath and went to find the queue for the Stonehenge bus.

Stonehenge is located exactly an hour away, to the east.  There isn’t much to see along the way, allowing the driver full license to drive REALLY fast from the city to the site.  Really fast.  Blink and you are passing through a little village with a thatched roof cottage on one side of the road.  Blink and there is a glimpse of the canal.  Blink and there is a chalk horse carving in the side of a distant hill. Because of the trees and shrubs along the road, you have little opportunity to get a good look.  Nonetheless, we arrive at Stonehenge in one piece and spend the next hour following the path all the way around, punching in the coordinates on our hand held info devices.  Because it was late in the afternoon and the weather was changing, you really felt the mystery and haunting past of this formation.  But then, it was back into the bus and a speedy drive back to Bath.

We took time for a quick change of clothes and then headed to a pub for dinner.  I couldn’t help myself and did order the bangers and mash, enjoying every rich and gravy soaked bite.  Just outside the pub was the spot for the start of the Bizarre Bath Comedy tour.  If you ever go to Bath, or hear of anyone else going, this is a DO NOT MISS happening.  We were greeted by a comedian/magician and treated to an hour and a half of laughs and adventure as we wound our way through the dark streets.  This man involved his audience, remembered your name and had a line for every possible turn of events.  At one point, a couple of young men walked by our group and we were all instructed to start singing The Lord Is My Shepherd until the lads walked away from us.  He took us to a bridge where he performed a magic trick that involved chaining up a stuffed, sixteen inch tall toy rabbit, stuffing him into a weighted mail sack and tossing him down into the river.  Magically, the rabbit escapes and floats to the top, where we leave him floating in the river.  Then, about a half hour later, when we are standing in the plaza outside the Abbey, the rabbit rides around the corner, strapped to a toy remote control car.  The best twelve pounds I ever spent!

Monday has been a day to explore on our own.  We began with a tour of the ancient Roman baths.  This is a self-directed tour, involving those clever audio devices.  You just wander about and key in the number on your keypad that corresponds with the sign that identifies what you are looking at and, voila, a voice explains it all to you.

After a little more of a walk about, window-shopping and retracing our route toward our B&B, we wondered into a little arcade, in search of a cup of tea.  The hostess was a lovely older lady, although perhaps a bit overdressed in her hat.  

And I think it was her grandson acting as host behind the counter.  He was a very jolly chap, but I think he might have had an eye for the ladies.

You can’t go into the actual Roman baths any longer, but the city has built a new facility that includes steam rooms and two pools for actual swimming and soaking in the mineral waters from the same hot spring.  In ancient times, the waters were said to cure leprosy, arthritis, gout and infertility.  I am going to cross my fingers that I don’t get pregnant when I return home.  However, I am fairly certain that my toenail fungus is cured.  We spent a bit of time in the indoor pool before trying out each of the four aromatherapy steam rooms, both agreeing that the eucalyptus mint was the best.  Then, we found the roof top pool!  Imagine a pool four stories up.  You climb the flights of circular stairs until you reach the top and go through a double set of glass doors.  Before you is a steaming horizon pool and the ancient city of bath is laid out before you.   It’s early evening and the sky is partly clear with streaks of steel grey clouds cutting through the sky.  There is an occasional misty rain followed by four minutes of setting sunlight, over and over again. The pool is not hot, but almost hot.  The air is cool, not quite chilly.  Everyone is rather subdued, either lost in the mood of the evening or floating about with his or her partner.  It is relaxing.  It could be romantic.  Everyone is happy to know that some personal ache or worry has disappeared into the healing waters.
We enjoyed one final, glorious dinner at a small gem of a restaurant named Tilly’s, just off a small side street around from the baths.  We were not our normal, glamourous self’s, arriving with damp hair and wrinkled fingers.  But, we shared a bottle of wine, a few tapas and a bowl of risotto, evoking no complaints from other diners.  By the end of the evening, following our bread and butter pudding, we had met a new couple from across the aisle and charmed them into looking for real estate in Florida.  We are such beautiful ambassadors for America. 

Monday, September 10, 2012


Buckle up, Leslie
Jody and Leslie’s excellent adventure began in the wine bar at Dulles Airport. We had a glass of wine to toast the start of our travels before boarding our flight to Heathrow, in London.  The flight was uneventful and we each managed to catch a few minutes of sleep.  After gathering our luggage and clearing customs, we found our transfer van for the ride to our hotel in London.  Apparently London was a bit busy with some event called the Olympics this past summer?  We thought we were being pretty smart by booking our trip for dates after the closing ceremonies and Labor Day, failing to take into account that we would overlap with the final two days of the Paralympics. 

We arrived at our hotel in Kensington and found our room to be slightly bigger than a breadbox, more closely approximating the dimensions of a Sears refrigerator box.  But, the neighborhood suited us and we knew we would be able to navigate the city fairly well. 
Leslie, Diana and Dodi
After a little nap to get our internal clocks reset, we did what any self-respecting American tourist would do on their first night in London.  We went to a pub for a pint and a bite to eat.  Then we headed to Harrods. And, what do you do the minute you get through the doors and past the Harrods security people?  Take the Egyptian escalator to the lower level and introduce Leslie to the Dodi and Diana memorial!  I think the proper English term is to say that Leslie was gob-smacked.

We shopped a bit, and then began our trek back to Kensington.  This was complicated a bit by the fact that for some unknown reason the Knightsbridge tube station was closed, forcing us to start walking toward the next station.  Now, here are some words to strike fear into anybody who travels with me.  If you ever hear me say “Follow me because I know the way”, don’t.  But, thanks to the Olympics and the friendly face that London has put forward, there are these clever tourist ambassadors in little stands all over the city.  Fortunately, I had only led us a few blocks off track and we did manage to adjust our route without too much bother.

Back in Kensington, we decided on a final pint before retiring for the night.  A block off High Street, we walked into the Britannia and parked ourselves on a couple of stools.  In no time at all, we were enjoying a lovely conversation with a couple that had lived across the street from the Britannia for 25 years.  They both  loved the neighborhood and gave us lots of little bits of info.  Allen asked if we liked jazz and would we be interested in a little jazz club he knew of when we returned to London the following week?  Yes, we do and we are hoping to meet Allen and Christine again next week!

Saturday morning we headed to the rail station and caught a train from London to Bath.  And, as I have so often written, rail service in Great Britain is pretty convenient, smooth, easy and dependable.  Our B&B is only a few short blocks from the train station and it is lovely!  Our room is charming and we have a fireplace in the bathroom.   That’s right.  In the bathroom.  After checking in, we headed right out and began to explore the city.  We bought Hop-On Hop-Off bus tickets and went for a ride all through the main parts of Bath.  The taped commentary gave us an overview of the architecture and history of this amazing city.  And, the weather was fabulous.  When we had made one full circle of the city, we wandered over to the Avon River to look for a place for lunch and to enjoy the gardens along the river bank.  

Luck was with us and we found the Riverside Café.  The menu is imaginative and everything seems to be made to order.  Our chicken caesar salads had fresh shaved parmeasian cheese and lovely slices of streaky bacon.  Just outside the café, we could catch glimpses into the sports stadium where the season opening rugby match was being played between Bath and London.  It must have been a very close match because every two minutes the 20,000 spectators were on their feet, roaring.

After lunch, we took a cruise up the river to the little town of Bathhampton, chatting with other passengers.  There wasn’t too much to see, but it was a nice way to relax.  When the cruise ended, we decided to get back on another Hop-On  bus for the second half of that tour, following the skyline drive into the hills around Bath.  

As this tour ended, we were very surprised to find the city positively awash in pedestrians, all wearing black and blue team jerseys.  They were all in a frenzy following the win by Bath over the London Wasps.  Well, what better way to show our enthusiasm for this beautiful city than to join the celebration in a pub.  We stepped into the entrance and were directed down a flight of stairs to the patio bar.  The entire lower level opened into a garden overlooking the river.   We carried our beer and took a look around the garden in search of an empty table where we could sip and watch all the celebrations.  We spotted a picnic table occupied by a young couple and asked if they would mind if we joined them.  Thus began one of the most fun evenings we could have ever hoped for.  Our tablemates had taken a train that morning from their home in Wales, traveling to Bath for a wee day trip.  By the end of the evening, John and his partner Charlie (short for Charlotte) and Leslie and I were all trading email address and promising to stay in touch.  The four of us laughed, mocked each other and ourselves, talked history, compared lives and life styles, swapped vocabulary words and pronunciations.  All this conversation, as wild celebrations were swirling about amongst the other patrons.  There were rabid Rugby fans everywhere and a huge stag party with men in matching shirts and very odd hats.  The place was really rocking.
Charlie, Jody, Leslie and John

John and Charlie left to catch their train home and Leslie and I went in search of a suitable dinner spot.  Two doors down and a half a flight of stairs up was the very same café where we had had such a lovely lunch.  I’m happy to report that dinner was just as wonderful.  We lingered over a glass of wine and chatted with other diners.  We expressed our appreciation to our adorable waiter, Joachin, and he introduced us to the owner.  Now, you probably think that this was the end of our evening, but no.  We left the café and began walking toward our B&B.  But, wait.  What do I spy with my little eye?  A man in a leather kilt?   I think we should check this out.  So, into the bar we go, stepping into what appeared to be another stag party.  And.  It’s true what they say about a man in a kilt not wearing underwear.  The chap in the kilt was standing at the bar and we were about six feet behind him.  One of his mates saw us and reached over, grabbed the bottom of the kilt and lifted it straight up.  Then, he looked at us and said, “So ladies, what do you think of this?”  Behold, a very hairy set of cheeks and no, I did not get a photo. We dissolved into puddles of laughter and had to turn and run for the safety of The Henry House and our beds.  Thus ended our first night in Bath.

Friday, June 1, 2012



Before I can tell the story of Galway, Leo and the Aran Islands, I must back track.  I forgot to tell you about Foynes.  What an interesting place! Thank you Mary for catching me on this omission.  See?  This is why I should not write a blog entry late at night, after Mike and I have shared a lovely bottle of wine.  It’s too easy to forget something really spectacular. 
Chances are pretty good that you have not heard of Foynes, unless you are an aviation buff.  Foynes was a major player in the development of trans Atlantic flying boats and is now home to the flying boat museum.  During WWII it was one of the largest civilian airports.  In 1942, you could fly from Foynes to New York City in a mere twenty-five hours.  The museum holds an exact replica of this plane, a Boeing B314 Yankee Clipper, complete with sleeping berths, a dining room, cabins and an upper level navigation area.  And, yes, these planes were seaplanes and they landed in the Shannon River. As you can imagine, passengers arrived cold and tired, and thus the invention of Irish coffee at the Foynes Airport!  Today the airport is lucky to have a patron who has been very generous.  The actress, Maureen O’Hara, was married to pilot Charlie Blair and she has been very involved in the museum. Blair flew the last flying boat from Foynes to New York.  

OK.  So now that that little bit of housekeeping is complete, you are asked to remember that Mike and I have arrived in Galway.  I will get to the story of Leo soon.  Mike and I spent Wednesday doing a lovely little walk about the City Center and reading the menus posted outside the many restaurants, trying to decide where to have dinner.  We were keeping a close eye on the weather because we wanted to work in a trip to the Aran Islands.

Friday was one of those promising days again – promising rain.  A dash out the back door of our hotel and we were in the new bus terminal and queued up for the bus to the ferry for Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands.  I say we were queued, but in truth, there was only one other passenger who thought a misty, foggy day was a smart way to see the Aran Islands.  And, this is how we met Nina.  She was a college student from Louisiana, via the University of Texas who was “couch surfing” Europe. I had to ask for an explanation of couch surfing.  As Nina explained, it is a web site that matches travelers to hosts with a couch or spare bedroom to offer.  She claims that it is very safe and reliable because everyone posts recommendations and critiques.  Ummmm. ??? 

We did have a lovely tour of Inis Mor, and the misty rain gave the entire island a very mysterious look and feel to it. I’m glad I have seen it, but in truth, there isn’t a lot to see.  There are four ancient forts because it seems that the four ancient tribes liked to spend their days fighting each other.  There is an area called seven churches with only a shell of one remaining and lots of fallen over tombstones and litter.  You can drive to the end of the island and look out toward Boston and maybe catch sight of a few seals.  But, man oh man, can you ever find shops to sell you a sweater!  Now, our driver had warned me to only buy from his cousin, Rose, who really did knit REAL Aran Island sweaters and not those made in China tourist versions at the big mill shops in the harbor.  And, he was right and I did get a few minutes to chat with Rose and admire her inventory.  We even had a few minutes to talk knitting and yarn.  That was the high light of the Islands for me!

We were back in our hotel by 7:00 and enjoyed another lovely dinner in the dining room.  If the Brooks Hotel in Dublin has Conner, The Park in Galway has Kitty.  She hovered over Mike. I am not making this up.  At the end of our first full days stay, Kitty had asked us if we were enjoying a full Irish breakfast. We assured her that we were and then laughed, telling her that we had learned about putting a wee bit of whiskey on porridge during our stay in Dublin.  So, Kitty just winked at Mike and said she would look after it.  During the next days breakfast, here comes Kitty with an entire half a snifter filled with whiskey.  She ever so sweetly leans in to put a hand on Mikes shoulder as she proceeds to lace his oatmeal with enough whiskey to knock down a seasoned sailor.

Today arrived as the most deliciously sunny early summer day imaginable.   We planned a day of walking and generally taking in the city.   When we arrived in the dinning room for breakfast, our waitress seated us at a small table for two and I went to the buffet table for some fruit and juice.  Kitty was there and greeted me as she scanned the room, looking for Mike.  I pointed to the small table where we had been seated and she said she was so sorry we were at a small table and she would move us immediately. I told her there was no need and we were just fine where we were.  I was talking to the empty spot where she had stood four seconds ago.  Kitty had already left to tend to Mike.  By the time I got to the table, Kitty has whisked us to a better table.  Turning to me she said, “I TOLD you he would want to move.  I do know my men.”  Well, all right then Kitty.
   Shortly, we were walking the few blocks into the city center.  It was already filling with tourists and town people going about their business.  Leaning against a shop front was a lovely little man with a Jack Russell Terrier who appeared to be a bit grey around the muzzle.  Of course, we had to go chat with the dog.  Well, the man began to talk and tell us storied about Leo and what a wonderful companion he was.  Leo is ten years old and has one ear that falls over.  He sat patiently while his master told us story after story of his life with Leo, confessing that the dog slept in bed with him.  The man’s wife had left him twenty years ago and now the man did not miss the company of a wife because the dog was much more faithful to him.  After about twenty minutes, we gave Leo one final pat, shook hands with the man and continued our walk.
   We decided to head toward Salt Hill and have a look about.  It’s a bit of a hike, but rather interesting.  We left the city center and passed the Spanish Gate, crossed the river to the Claddagh, where the fishermen used to live.  From there we headed toward the promenade that runs along the seaside.  When we were in Galway a few years ago, this area had held a traveling circus and we had met a few camels, but not today.  We followed the sea wall for about a half a mile until we finally arrived in Salt Hill.  This is where we stumbled upon a wonderful restaurant and enjoyed a great lunch.  It had been a long walk and I’m guessing we had covered several miles.  So, we took our time over lunch because we knew we had to backtrack to our hotel. 
   The weather had become even more splendid and the long expanse was filled with families with strollers and people stretched out on the grass or sand and sitting on the break wall.  Dogs were popping up everywhere, following their masters to the beach for a game of Frisbee or a run into the surf.  After covering a short distance, we sat on a bench to soak up a bit of sun ourselves.  Something caught my eye, heading toward us.  It was a stray dog, trotting along with no human, strictly on his own.  This was the first stray we had seen.  Leo?  One ear flopped over.  “Leo? Is that you, Leo?”  No doubt about it.  He came when we called his name.  “Leo.  What are you doing out here, alone?”  We were AT LEAST two miles from where we had met Leo three hours earlier.  In all of Galway, there is one stray and we find Leo?  I checked his tag and, sure enough, it said Leo on one side and a name and phone number on the other.  Mike took off his belt and slipped it onto Leo’s collar and we started walking.  After a bit, we found man with a cell phone and asked him to please help us by phoning the number on Leo’s tag. This kind man chatted with the person on the other end, explaining that a couple had found his dog and we were standing across from a park entrance.  The owner said he would be there in two minutes.  So, Mike and I are standing, Leo has jumped up onto the sea wall and here comes a man on a bike, peddling for all he’s worth.  There is no way I can describe the look on his face when he sees who has Leo.  How, in this entire city of 70,000 people, plus tourists, did Leo bump into us?  The man was beside himself with relief.  It seems that this is the second time that Leo has gone on a little walk about without permission.  Leo is accustomed to a regular walk along the beach at 2:30 every afternoon.  For the second time in recent history, the owner has lost track of time as he was working in his shed and Leo has become impatient enough to take himself for a walk.  So, all’s well that ends well, and Leo will not be returning to Canada with us.

Time to pack.  Tomorrow we return to Dublin for the night before flying home on Sunday.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Famine tower
Some vacations are all about sightseeing.  Some are about laying about.  This trip has been the best of both.  Following my half day of riding about the countryside, I felt totally betrayed by my thighs.  Yes, I am in pretty good shape for the shape I'm in, but that muscle that runs down the front of your thighs had not been called upon for way too long.  The best I could manage for the next three days was falling into chairs, asking Mike to pull me out of chairs and praying that my right knee would hold.  I now understand what the grab bars are for in bathrooms.

Fortunately, my screaming thighs did not interrupt our cocktail hour or my enjoyment of Mary's creative kitchen skills.  On the nights that we stayed in, our evening would begin with a cocktail and a tray of local cheeses to be tasted. There was Wexford blue, creamy Gorgonzola, and several different varieties of brie.  After our first cocktail, Mary would start effortlessly putting things out on the table and, before you knew it, dinner was ready.  I learned that a bacon sandwich is not fully dressed without a healthy smear of raspberry jam.  but, most nights we went into town for our dinner, making our restaurant choices with the help of Fodor's and Trip Advisor.  And, man oh man, does Dingle have fabulous fish and sea food!  I will need to re-up my Weight Watcher's membership as soon as we get home.

Mike had been reading about the Blasket Islands, following our trip to the Blasket Center a few days earlier, and Friday we decided to take the four hour Eco-Tour to see them up close.   The Grievous Angel is able to take about sixteen passengers out to sea for the four hour tour, leaving each morning from  Dingle Harbour.  The course that we took follows the western coastline past the places we had driven to earlier in the week.  We passed Ventry Bay, Slea Head and the western most landfall of all of Europe as we cut through the waves on a heading to Great Blasket.  We navigated through dozens of small islands made up of nothing put volcanic peaks that rose up out of the ocean.  We saw waves of puffins as they soared up the shear faces of rocks that lifted straight out of the sea.  As we neared Great Blasket, we slowed to a few knots to allow the engines to run quietly.  This allowed us to crawl close to shore and enjoy the grey seals as they sun bathed along the beach and rocks or popped up and down, out of the surf to have a closer look at us.  At first, you are straining your eyes to catch a glimpse of even one seal.  But, once you see their human sized heads pop up in the surf, you become aware of them everywhere you look.  They really do look like a synchronized swimmer in her brunette bathing cap, prepping for the Olympics , popping up and then sliding straight back down into the sea.  And, we saw the paths that the last island residents walked as they left their homes for good in 1953.

Cathedral Rock
As we drew past Great Blasket, we headed to the far side of the island and on to more unnamed rocks that just sit out in the Atlantic Ocean.  There are formations where German U-boats hid during WWII.  But, the most surprising rock was only recently charted and has been named Cathedral Rock.  It is a huge formation that sits off the end of a rock island and is connected to the main rock by two natural bridges, forming perfect cathedral windows.  Breathtaking.  What a wonderful way to spend four hours at sea.

Saturday we packed up and headed to Labasheeda and Mary's house.  But, I am leaving off the missing member of our group.  On our trip to Ireland three years ago, we had met Mary's husband, Bruce.  And, now his absence was really felt in our threesome.  Being a wonderful Father, he had headed off to the new world a few months earlier to help their daughter in a major building project.  As can happen with construction, Bruce had had to stay much longer than originally planned.  So, we had to carry on without him.  This has been a huge disappointment for us (and Mary, for sure) so we will be forced to return.

It was wonderful to see Labasheeda again.  Mary and Bruce have been working
to restore an old building that had been a combination residence and shop before the roof went missing many years ago.  They have taken a huge stone building and have restored, rebuilt, rewired, re floored, re plumbed and added on.  It's still a work in progress, but you can feel the magnificence that it will become.  Since our last visit, Bruce has extended the back of the house, creating what will be a kitchen, dining and sitting area and a wrap around deck.  All this looks out over the Shannon River.  You can now sit inside or out and watch the small freighters and sail boats silently slip past, or the occasional dolphin swim by as the tide constantly changes the shore line.

Yes.  Mary cooked.  One night neighbors dropped in and stayed for an impromptu sandwich dinner party.  The next night she cooked and I tried to memorize what she did.  We had lamb and roast potatoes.  On our last night, Mary made the ultimate Irish boiled dinner.  I learned about putting an apple in the water with the meat.  I learned about mashed veg, colcannan and steamed potatoes.  The girl is a wonder to behold.

Quin Abbey

Bunratty Castle

Monday we took a little side trip to Quin to visit an old Abbey and do a bit of sight seeing.  Then today we packed up and Mary drove us to Galway, via Bunratty Castle.  It was hugs, kisses and promises to plan another holiday when we can be four instead of three.  Bruce is all that was missing from the Dingle and Labasheeda legs of Mike's and my excellent trip.

Monday, May 21, 2012


 Saturday was a low-key day.  A day for walking about, a visit to the grocery store for Mary and me, having learned the previous evening that toilet paper is not an efficient way to start a fire, and Mike’s daily visit to the bookie.  Somehow, we did all find ourselves back in Murphy’s Pub at lunch, but that should be no surprise to anyone. Then, on our way home later in the afternoon, we made a stop at Dingle Riding Stable to enquire about my signing on for a half day of trekking, to include a canter on the beach.

Everyone has his or her bucket list.  Mike had checked off a big item on his list when we attended the Killarney races.  Now it was to be my turn.  A canter in the surf had always been at the top of my bucket list. My dream was never specific as to the actual location for this ride.  It could have been down a beach in Mexico, or along the shore in Greece.  But, Ireland was the time, the place and the opportunity.  Jupiter was aligned with Mars.  They had a spot for me the next morning on a ride that would leave from Ventry Bay, canter the length of the beach and then ride through the hills and valleys, returning to the stable’s location above Dingle. 

Mary (our own version of a soccer Mom) drove me up to the stable early Sunday morning.  There I found a pair of tall riding boots that fit me, allowing me to tuck my jeans in, and a helmet to keep me from scrambling my brains should I become unseated at any time.  The stable yard was where I joined the other riders and it became rather obvious that I was to be the least qualified rider in our party of five.  It’s not that I’m inept, having spent a number of years enjoying lessons and training from some of the Morgan horse world’s most notables.  Rather, it was that I had not been on a horse in six years.  It mattered not that I used to ride up to six hours a day, traveling to show rings from North Hampton, MA to Oklahoma City. Six years and monthly Social Security checks tend to make a granny of thirteen a bit cautious.  But, it was a bucket list thing. 

Our band of riders was driven out to a windswept pasture that sits behind a pub and a Catholic Church on the outskirts of Ventry.  The horses had spent the night there, having been ridden on the reverse ride the previous day, from Dingle to Ventry.  Our mission was to get our posse up, around and over the mountains and back to a cozy stall above Dingle.  So, riders up, stirrups adjusted and girths checked.  I found myself aboard King, a mix of all the dependable and sure footed breeds of Ireland.  The first order of the day was straight to the beach for a walk along the edge of the incoming surf.  Once we were about half way down the long expanse, we cut back up to a path that was behind the hedges but followed the shore.  This is where the first long trot was called for.  Our guide kept looking back to assure herself that we were all still aboard our mounts and were managing to post with our feet still in the stirrups.  Up down, up down, up down.  Yup.  I remember how this works, but yikes it does make a girl’s thighs burn.  Back to a walk and a return to the beach.  Our guide asks if we are all now up for a full-blown gallop down the entire length of the beach.  Ummm.  Now I have a dilemma. I do not want to be the timid one who holds the group back, causing grumbling through the ranks, nor do I want to be carried back to Dingle in a sling.  “A controlled canter, please?”  Thank God I spoke up because one of the other riders asked for the same option.  Alright, here we go. 

CONTROLLED CANTER, MY ASS!  The horses warmed to the feel of the sand, skimming the surf.  The riders were all well tipped forward, signaling the horse to let ‘er rip.  I had contact with my horse’s mouth, resting my knuckles on his withers as I kept repeating to myself “White on rice, white on rice” keeping time with King’s out stretched body as his feet pounded the beach.  Thank you, Sandy Sessink, the woman who taught me to recognize my diagonals, feel the correct lead and to never grip like a clothespin , always relaxing into the horse. And she always told me to ride that horse like “white on rice”.  I didn’t fall off.

Our ride then turned to the hills.  For the next four hours, we worked our way back toward Dingle.  So far, Dingle had not presented her bright, sunshine summer face to us.  We had mostly found the weather to be promising…promising of rain to come.  When you look to the surrounding mountains, it looks as though the upper reaches are smoldering as the mist embraces them.  The clouds are not the gathering thunderheads that we see in North America, they are a blanket with an occasional hole poked through to show just a wee look at the sun. Most vistas are mist softened as they reach toward the horizon.  I had dressed for all weather options, being well protected from anything the day might bring.  I brought my camera, but it was very hard to snap anything because the motion of the horse caused blurred photos.  Rather, I tried to imprint upon my mind the glory that stretched out before me.  Each blink of my eye needed to be the shutter, sending the images to my brain.   And, as if Ireland knew about my bucket list, she managed to blow away much of the clouds on this day.  If I looked to the hills, I saw stone walls breaking the pastures into jigsaw pieces, climbing toward the crest.  Houses with small out buildings perch along the sides of lanes, defying gravity as they grab onto a wee flat spot .  Because this was a mostly sunny day, I would occasionally see the forty-acre wide shadow of a cloud as it blew across the hillside. Looking back down the hills, you see the green mosaic of the pastures as they fall to the sea.  At this time of year, the gorse is in full bloom, shouting with its yellow voice as it clings to every hedgerow. There is more yellow in the lovely shy iris flags that live along the roads.  The hedgerows themselves are punctuated with wild fuchia, belles of Ireland, and buttercups. I felt in danger of a swoon due to the feast that my eyes were drinking in.

We passed the ruins of an ancient castle.  We stopped and dismounted at the Gallarus Oratory, a sixth or seventh century structure that is in near perfect repair today, having been built by dry stacking and without any mortar.  

Sometimes we found ourselves on a paved road, having to tuck in if a car needed to pass our band.  We passed through farmyards, down one-track rock strewn farm lanes, past fields of sheep.  It’s odd that when a person is on foot, sheep and cows totally ignore you or will actually walk away.  When you are on a horse, all other four-legged creatures come to meet you.  They stare at you.  They chat amongst themselves. 

The final leg of our trek brought us to a rapidly running creek bed.  The horses all stopped for a drink before be walked into the creek to follow it’s route uphill for a bit.  By this time, my screaming thighs, my aching arms, tired shoulders and chaffed other parts were scanning the hillside for a glimpse of our destination.  One last turn and I caught sight of Mike in the stable yard, waiting to hear about my day.  Thank God he was there because there was no way I could have found the strength to remove my boots.  He may have thought it was a sense of camaraderie that made me take his arm for the walk to the car, but truthfully I did not really trust my legs to hold me upright until I could fall into the car. 

A shower, a nap and a fine dinner of roasted sausage and salad waited.  Mary asked if I minded if she simply prepared the meal while I tried to move as little as possible.  What a silly girl she is!