Ireland - Last Day

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I'm sitting in Dublin airport waiting to get on the plane to Newark. The week flew by and I am so looking forward to getting home and giving the kids and Greg a big hug.

Older than the Pyramids
Mom and I left Kilkenny early yesterday morning and drove up to Brú na Bóinne (about 25 miles North of Dublin). Brú na Bóinne is stone age archaeological site which includes 3 large burial mounds and many smaller ones. The most famous mound is Newgrange, and it is older than the pyramids. It was amazing!! It's a large, grass roofed mound with a stone foundation. Apparently, each of the many enormous stones was carried from the Wicklow mountains (about 75 km away). And this was at a time before the invention of the wheel! There are many theories, but no one knows for sure why these mounds were built. Newgrange has one narrow passage into the center, where on the Winter Solstice the rising sun lines up with a window above the tunnel and illuminates the inner chamber (real Indiana Jones stuff!). The people who built this monument must have been very technologically advanced to have done all the calculations and engineering necessary to achieve this. Newgrange is built from loose stone (no mortar) piled in a circle. Inside, the stones are placed closer and closer to the middle as you move up the wall, until they come together overhead and form the ceiling. As our guide said while we were squeezed into the tiny chamber, there was over 500,000 pounds of loose stone over our head. He then turned out the lights, throwing the chamber into complete darkness. The rising sun was simulated by turning on two light bulbs in the passage - a poor imitation of the real thing but it was still awe-inspiring. Before leaving, Mom and I both entered the Newgrange lottery. They pick 100 people to visit the site over 5 days on and surrounding the Winter Solstice. You are brought into the chamber at the correct time (about 9 AM) and able to witness the real thing. That is, if it isn't foggy out which, according to our guide, is a 50/50 chance. There were 34,000+ entries at the time we submitted ours so our chances are slim to none but you never know!

Malahide Harbor and the Irish Sea
We left Newgrange and drove to Malahide, a seaside town right above Dublin with a very pretty castle (from the outside - we were kind of castled out so we didn't do the tour). I read there were some nice restaurants there, but I don't think the town has really opened for the season yet. We had trouble finding someplace and ended up having a so-so meal at the Grand Hotel (we did have a nice view of Malahide harbor opening to the Irish Sea while we ate).

After dinner we left Malahide. The Dublin traffic (even on the outskirts) was pretty hair-raising so after a few wrong turns, and a few panic attacks on Mom's side, we were able to fill the car with gas and return it. There's been a lot of recent road construction around Dublin Airport making it especially interesting to try to get into 'car hire' by GPS. Anyway, our mission was successful and we caught a shuttle back to our hotel - The Days Hotel Dublin Airport. Nothing special there, I picked it because it has a free shuttle back and forth to Dublin Airport. It was comfortable, but every time one of us turned on the bathroom light, the bathroom fan also turned on, and our room filled with cigarette smoke - yuck!

Bookmark and Share

Powerscourt, Umm Never mind

Monday, April 27, 2009

Well, we started out for Powerscourt House and Gardens this morning at 9 AM, but when we plugged it into the GPS, it came up as a 2+ hour ride (each way!). We started in that direction, but decided en route that it didn't really make sense to drive 5 hours round trip for a 1 - 2 hour tour, especially since we haven't seen much of Kilkenny. So after turning around, getting stuck behind a herd of cattle (on the highway!), and experimenting with the GPS, we changed course and headed for Jerpoint Abbey.

Jerpoint Abbey
Jerpoint Abbey is just outside of Thomastown, 11 miles south east of Kilkenny. It was built for Franciscan monks in the 12th century. After touring the Abbey, and hearing about their lives, I learned one major thing, and that is I am very glad I'm not a Franciscan monk in the 11th century. It involved vows of silence, able to warm hands for less than 1 hour a day, and a ration of 2 slices of bread and a bowl of vegetable soup a day. Then again, I think life in general was much more uncomfortable in the 11th century.

Kilkenny Castle
On the way back to Kilkenny, we stopped at "Moth to a Flame" candle workshop where we bought some really nice candles. We parked the car at the hotel and went across the street to Victor's Bar, which looks a bit shady from the outside, but is great on the inside. It was packed, which I guess is the norm, and I also think is a good sign the food is good - in this case it was. After lunch we walked up to the Black Abbey on the other side of town. We also had a pleasant tour of Kilkenny Castle before going for appetizer's and more tiramisu at our Italian restaurant. Unfortunately, they said we had to order a meal, which we really didn't feel like, so we reluctantly opted for the Marble City Bar and Grill instead. It was a great second choice - I had some delicious seafood chowder, and honey orange cheesecake for dessert. Yum!

Bookmark and Share

Ireland Day 5 - Rock of Cashel and Kilkenny

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Rock of Cashel

Well, here we are in Kilkenny. We're staying at the Pembroke and from our room we can see about the top 1/3 of Kilkenny Castle. We're feeling rather castled out at the moment, so we haven't done the tour yet - maybe if we have time tomorrow. We left Limerick around 9 AM without eating the hotel breakfast, figuring we could find a little coffee shop on route to the Rock of Cashel. Not quite as easy as we figured, we passed a few pubs offering a "full Irish breakfast", but felt that wasn't really what we were looking for. We rolled into Cashel around 10:30 AM, after a precarious ride. Driving on the left side of the road is hard enough with caffeine, I don't recommend it without! We parked in Cashel and were drawn to a coffee shop like moths to a light. After our coffee fix, we were able to recognize that we had to actually drive a little further to get to the Rock of Cashel, which we proceeded to do.

St. Patrick's Cross
The Rock of Cashel is a huge mound of limestone, with a town built on the side and some magnificent ruins on top. The largest structure is a ruined cathedral from the 10th century. James, a musician daylighting as tour guide, brought us on a lovely tour of the ruins and told us some intriguing local legends. My favorite was about St. Patrick's Cross (a non-traditional stone celtic cross symbolizing the spot where St. Patrick baptized the 1st christian king of Ireland). According to James, St. Patrick always carried a staff, which he stuck into the ground during the baptism. Unfortunately, his aim was off and he actually stuck the staff through the foot of the king, who thought this was a part of the baptism ceremony. James credits this as the reason why Christianity was so slow to spread through the region. He also told us that if you can fit your arms all the way around the stone base of the cross, you will never get another toothache, and if you can make 9 consecutive counter-clockwise circles around the cross while hopping on one foot, you will get married within a year.

A momma sheep with 2 babies on
a back road from Cashel to Kilkenny
We left Cashel around 12:30 PM, and took some lovely back roads to Kilkenny. Upon arriving, we grabbed a snack at Mocha, a chocolate and coffee shop (how can you go wrong with that combination?). We checked into The Pembroke hotel, where the girl at reception, who was from Spain, recommended an Italian restaurant across from the castle. We walked around and did some window shopping before ending the night at the recommended Rinuccini, where a lovely young man from Bulgaria served us a yummy dinner and tiramasu that was out of this world.

Getting ready for bed now and watching a hilarious episode of "Britain's Got Talent". We're not sure what's on for tomorrow - possibly Powerscourt Garden/Mansion, although it's supposed to be a pretty long drive.

Bookmark and Share

Ireland Day 4 - Cliffs and Castles

Saturday, April 25, 2009

We had a busy day today. Not too much from yesterday so I didn't post but here's a brief summary. Picked up the rental car late morning and got some experience driving on the other side of the road! We drove from Dublin Airport to Limerick, stopping for some really good soup and bread at Josie Maloney's which makes the bold claim "the best food in Ireland". I'm not sure about that but the soup was really good. By the time we arrived in Limerick and checked into our hotel, it was almost 3 PM. We hustled over to the Hunt Museum where we viewed John Hunt's magnificent collection of antiquities, including a silver coin which could possibly have been one of the 30 paid to Judas for the betrayal. We ended the night at Dolan's Pub with some good food, but I was too tired to stay for music so I came home early and went to bed (lame!).

This morning we were up early and on our way to Bunratty Castle by 8:30 AM. The castle and folk park, which is about 15 minutes from Limerick, dates from the 12th century. It has been restored to its 16th century state. The folk park includes a 16th century village complete with people in costumes, sort of like an Irish Sturbridge Village. You get to explore the castle and grounds on your own, although we stuck to the castle only since it was rainy and cold. There are multiple steep winding staircases making it feel like a maze with all kinds of restorations tucked here and there - very cool. Before leaving we bought tickets to the medieval banquet later that night.

We continued on to the spectacular Cliffs of Moher (because where else would you go on a cold, windy, rainy day but visit 214m high cliffs over the North Atlantic). Apparently there's now a rock wall at the edge because several visitors have actually been blown off. We were amused by some of the very descriptive signs along the rock wall. See if you can guess what they mean.

Not really rocket science when the other side of the wall looks like this:

On the way back we stopped briefly at Ennis village before returning to Bunratty Castle for our banquet. It was fun, however I'm not sure it was quite worth the 57 euros each (and that's with a 10% discount). I was driving so Mom drank my share of the wine and - tomorrow night I better limit her to 3 glasses! (Just kidding Mom!)

Back at the hotel now. Tomorrow it's off to the Rock of Cashel, and then Kilkenny.

Bookmark and Share

Ireland Day 2 - Dublin: Beer, Jail, Tarts, Luggage, Music, In That Order

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mom in front of St. Jame's Gate at the Guinness Store House.

Cold and rainy in Dublin today. This morning we headed out huddled under Mom's umbrella, which she was smart enough to pack in her carry-on. Our warm clothes and raincoats were still in limbo somewhere between Newark and Dublin. After some debate, we set off for the Guinness Brewery. Neither of us are big beer fans, but the tour was actually very interesting and well designed. The center of the visitor center is shaped like a 7 story pint glass with the gravity bar, a 360 degree view of Dublin, at the top.

From there we took the hop on/hop off bus to Kilmainham Gaol where we took a somber yet fascinating tour through the 200+ year old prison, and through Ireland's turbulent history. Over 200,000 people passed through Kilmainham since it was built, including about 20,000 children. Political prisoners were held and executed there during the 19th and early 20th century including 14 leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916.

Next we hopped back on the bus and rode through Northern Dublin to the Liffey River where we walked over the Ha'penny Bridge to Temple Bar. Lunch and dessert was at the delicious Queen of Tarts. Mom got a mammoth lemon meringue tart for dessert (see picture) while I opted for the baked raspberry cheesecake, both baked by the "Queen herself" (according to the menu).
Lemon Meringue Tart

After lunch we headed back to the hotel where we were elated to find our luggage had been delivered while we out. I was sooo relieved to finally be able to change my shirt! We took a short rest and headed back to Temple Bar for the traditional Irish music pub crawl. This consisted of 2 talented and highly entertaining Irish musicians leading a group of about 20 tourists through 3 pubs. During the 2.5 hour crawl we learned much about the history of Irish music, traditional Irish instruments, and the history of Ireland in general, and listened to some unusual Irish music. Although disappointed to learn they don't serve wine in a traditional Irish pub, the tour was very fun and lively, and I highly recommend it.
Our luggage has finally joined us!

I'm getting ready to turn in. We pick up our rental car and head for Limerick in the morning!

Bookmark and Share

Ireland Day 1 - Better to be in the same underwear than the same city.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Well, it's been an eventful 36 hours! Mom and I made it to Dublin despite multiple obstacles from Continental and Newark/NYC air control. Our connecting flight from Boston to Newark was delayed 2 hours 45 minutes due to weather/air control issues at Newark airport. Coincidentally, our layover was 2 hours 30 minutes, meaning we pulled up to the gate 15 minutes after our flight to Dublin was supposed to leave. Having been informed at Logan that this flight was the last flight to Dublin on Tuesday, that both direct flights the Wednesday were full, and if we were to miss our flight, the earliest they could get us to Dublin was 10 AM Thursday morning, we grabbed our carry-ons and ran for it anyway.

Thankfully, our plane to Dublin was having mechanical problems (did I really just say that??) and had been delayed until 10:15 PM. We arrived at the departure gate at 10:10 PM, with four other passengers in the same boat, to be told the plane was still there but the ramp had already been removed and the engines started, plus our seats had been given away. Apparently once the engines are started it's a big deal to let additional passengers on. After several minutes of frantically trying to contact various people, sending us back and forth on the boarding ramp, and watching five more people show up who wanted to board the plane, we were frantically waved to the plane door, which was open, and told to take the 1st seat we could find. Mom and I were the 3rd and 4th late passengers to board, and were able to find seats (of course, not close to each other) to a chorus of applause from the passengers already sitting on the plane.

We were able to grab a few hours of sleep before landing in Dublin at 9 AM GMT. Our elation at arriving at our destination on the right day was dulled as we watched everyone else pick up their luggage with no sign of ours. Well, almost everyone else. The other 4 people who had been on our flight from Boston had no bags either. I guess it was naive of me to believe that while I was running through terminal C of Newark Airport trying to catch the next plane, the baggage handlers were doing the same out on the runway with our bags.
Mom in front of some part of Dublin Castle (we think).

We decided to make the best of it. After all, I would rather be in Dublin with no luggage than in Newark with luggage. We were able to check into our room at the hotel without any major issues. In an effort to get adjusted to the time difference as quickly as possible, we skipped napping and walked to Saint Stephen's Green, Trinity College (where we saw the Book of Kells), Dublin Castle, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and Christchurch Cathedral. After a very nice afternoon, we had a delicious dinner at Dobbin's Wine Bistro, and trudged back to the hotel to pass out. A quick check online told us the current location and arrival time of our luggage is officially "unknown". After 3 hours sleep over the past 36 stressful hours, I don't really care at this point and will deal with it tomorrow!
Christchurch Cathedral

Bookmark and Share

Ireland - Day 0

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mom and I leave for Ireland tomorrow night. As usual, I've prepared a trip spreadsheet with a general plan for the week. And as usual, I don't plan to follow much of it (other than the reservations). But it's often entertaining to create a schedule ahead of time, keep track of what we actually do, and compare the two after. I'll try to post every night with pictures from the day. On that note, here's our Ireland plan. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know!

Bookmark and Share

Easter 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It took me almost a week to get the Easter post up, but here it is. I took the kids to Hebert's Candy Mansion in Shrewsbury on Saturday to see the Easter Bunny. I'll pay the $20 at the mall for the picture with Santa, but the Easter Bunny? Come on. You could take your own picture at Hebert's for free so we went with that.

I have to admit, I find the Easter Bunny pretty creepy. All I can think of when I see it is Donnie Darko. Rebecca hasn't been scared by the Easter Bunny for years, but I was surprised to find out that Gregory was quite taken with it this year. He hesitated for about 10 seconds, but as soon as Rebecca sat on it's lap, Gregory ran up and joined her. I snapped 2 quick pictures and we were out of there. On the way out Gregory kept calling "see you later, Easter Bunny".

Later, we had more Easter fun dying Easter eggs, getting out the baskets, leaving out some carrots. They climbed into Rebecca's bed and I read them "The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes", which is one of my favorite books from when I was a kid. Then Rebecca asked if Gregory could sleep in her bed. Gregory seconded it with a "yeah, sleep in Bebba's bed". They reminded me so much of my sister, brother and myself when we were kids that I relented, against my better judgement. After stern warnings that they had to go right to sleep or Gregory would promptly be removed to his bed, I turned out the light and went downstairs. I logged into the computer, and my work was occasionally interrupted by "Gregory, stop hitting me" and "Gregory, no biting". That last one actually got me upstairs again. Before I could say a word, Rebecca piped up "Mom, Gregory's bothering me, but I don't care. Can he stay?". I gave Gregory his last warning - go to sleep, or else, and didn't hear another peep from them until 6:30 AM.

After a non-restful 1/2 hour of trying to get everyone to go back to sleep, Greg and I got up, let them find their baskets, put on cartoons, and tried once more to go back to sleep. I could hear strange noises coming from the living room, and when I got up to check, I found Gregory eating eggs for breakfast. More specifically, he was half way through his Cadbury Creme Egg. Not the best food for 7:30 AM, but what can you do? The sugar highs and lows continued throughout dinner at Grandma and Granpa's, and an Easter egg hunt. Oh well, happy belated Easter!

Bookmark and Share

Leah's Birthday Party

Monday, April 6, 2009

I took the kids up to Maine on Saturday for Leah's 5th birthday party which was at a Gymnastics club in Topsham. Gregory the Kamikaze did some interesting moves on the slide of the bouncy train (see video). We stayed at Jiffy's new place and he and Evan greeted her new neighbors with some friendly yelling early Sunday morning. Rebecca slept over Beth and Leah's house by herself (her first time alone!). It was much harder for Mom - I was trying to sit her down in the gym to tell her she could call me anytime of the night and I would come get her, and she gave me the stiff arm (can I go play now?). We also got to check out Uncle Kenny's new pad, and play with Moose. Happy Birthday Leah!

Bookmark and Share

Gregory Jumps in the Pit

Friday, April 3, 2009

As many of you know, one of Gregory's favorite activities is to 'jump in the pit' at his Friday morning gymnastics class. For those of you with images of baby mosh pits in your heads (Jake!), here's a video of what really happens when Gregory jumps in the pit.

Bookmark and Share