Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Day 23

Today is our last full day in Ireland and will mark the end of this blog. It has taken me almost 9 months to finish a blog that only covered 24 days (yes...I lost a day somewhere out there on this version). Thanks for bearing with me as I have dragged my feet finishing the story.

We want to visit by far more places today than we actually have time. We decide to check out the red DublinTours buses that stop right in front of our apartment on St. Stephen's Green.

We ask the first driver to stop what we need to do and he tells us to hop on and which stop to get off at so that we can buy our tickets. We can buy one ticket and can get on and off the bus as many times as we want all day long. This seems perfect for us. There is a tour guide on each bus and they hit all the things that we want to see with the tour guide describing interesting things along the way. They are quite humorous actually.

Our first stop is Dublinea at Christ Church. This is a children's play area/museum which takes you on a "hands-on" tour through Dublin's history.

Eamon has a blast, actually we all do. Eamon and I decide to go down into the crypt below the church to see the treasures and the tombs below. It is a little bit dark and Eamon gets somewhat uncomfortable but it is pretty interesting. When we come back up we can explore the church a little more, now that the morning service is over. There are a mummified cat and rat that were found to have died in the pipes of the gigantic organ of the church. They are now on display in a glass case. We end up spending most of the day here before we get really hungry. We don't find any good spots, so we decide to get on the next bus.
Our next stop is the Guinness brewery at St. James Gate. They have converted the old brewery into a museum which is encased in the world's largest pint glass. At the end of the self guided tour you are served a pint of Guinness in the clear lip of glass above the stout's famous tan, foamy head. We head right to the restaurant for lunch and a pint. The food is fine, but the Guinness is tremendous. It is definitely the best we have had on the trip. The museum is fascinating, with lots of tidbits and facts about the beer and the process. Eamon's favorite section is the advertising section which has posters from every campaign, and some really funny old commercials. Other than the restaurant, we spend most of our time here. After lots of trolling, we finally grab some seats at the top of the pint to sit and have our beers. The 360 degree view is stunning but hard to capture with the camera.

We manage to catch the very last bus of the night and ride the tour to its end. Unfortunately this means it ends at the main tour location, and does not travel past St. Stephen's Green again. This means a VERY long walk or a cab ride. The driver kindly offers to drop us off at a better location on his way back to the garage. He tells a great story about the Jameson's distillery and makes me wish that I could have fit that in on this trip. Ah, well, we will go there next time! We walk back to the apartment, and we are all exhausted. We make sure to spend the evening packing while Eamon (who has stayed on GREEN the whole day, somehow) watches television.
There is no doubt that this trip with the kids has been tough. We know now that future trips with the kids work best with one or very few home bases from which we can launch multiple day trips. The constant motion of our drive from Connemara to Dublin was the hardest part of the trip. All in all, though, it was well worth it, and, taking some of our newly earned wisdom, we will do more trips like this, planning them a little better next time.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Day 22

0700 GMT - Connor sleeps in this morning giving us the perfect opportunity to explain the new system to Eamon. He actually becomes quite enthusiastic about it. We put a green toy on top of the TV and after many questions and suggestions from Eamon he starts the day on GREEN. We turn on the TV and get breakfast going. Amy and I review the list of places/things that we want to do. We decide to visit St. Stephen's Green and the National Museum today. I dress and head out for a run on the Green. I am able to do much better today...the wind was a big impact in wearing me out yesterday. When I return, the apartment manager is there and offers to walk us through the whole hot water experience. It finally makes sense and we realize how to make the system work. It is still not particularly convenient, but at least we know what we are doing.

1100 GMT - We head out to the Green for a walk which we target to take us, eventually, to the playground. Eamon and Connor both have a blast. We chat with some local parents and watch the kids play.

We then head to look for a pub with music to have some lunch. We find a pub that sounds like it has great music, but the menu is limited and it seems to be lacking room for the family. Across the street is another pub, the music is not as good, but the menu looks good and there is lots of room. The musician is just one man, and he plays mostly 60's/70's folk music. The food is actually pretty good. We have a nice chat with a family that sits next to us, and then decide it is off to the museum which should now be open.

1300 GMT - Well, we get in line at the museum only to learn that we are at the wrong branch. This is the natural history one, which does not have the exhibits that we think Eamon will like. We meet an American woman who is looking for the same museum, and is trying to meet someone there, so we walk over together. The museum is quite interesting, and Eamon does rather well...though he gets a little nervous in some of the more dimly lit sections. The last section we visit is a history of the revolutions in Ireland and the final independence. I realize how little I knew of the more recent history of Ireland after spending some time in this exhibit. We stop in the museum shop so that Eamon can have a treat and we can have some tea. We wrap things up and stroll back to the apartment having had a MUCH better day.

1800 GMT - We are once again exhausted. We decide to order in and do so once more. I am not feeling really well, so I decide not to go out tonight. Tomorrow is our last day, and we work out our plan of attack. We still want to visit Dublinea/Christ's Church and St. James' Gate/Guinness. Eamon managed to stay on GREEN the whole day, though he did end up sitting on the bathroom floor a number of times. The new system seems to be working out.

Day 21

0630 GMT - Early day today. I was woken up several times last night by various New Years Eve revelers and Connor crying, wanting to be fed. Now Eamon is up and about so I turn on the TV for him to watch some cartoons. I remain in a rotten mood. I have grown quite frustrated with Eamon's behavior and feel rather at a loss as to how to deal with it. I have decided to not be involved in discipline of Eamon for the rest of the trip. In my wandering fury I try to avoid Amy completely. As soon as she wakes up I put on my running clothes and head out for a run. Fortunately they have opened up St. Stephen's Green just as I arrive and I get to put in some laps. I am feeling quite out of shape, and running against the wind is quite tough. The sun is out but I do get hit by some drizzles. I head back to the apartment only to have to take a cold shower, we have yet to figure out the hot water.

1130 GMT - We are all dressed finally and ready to head outside for the day when a massive storm hits. The winds are VERY fast and it is raining as though this were a hurricane or a monsoon. We take off our coats and decide to do a little more waiting.

1330 GMT - The rain has mostly stopped so we go off in search of lunch. We wander through the shopping district right next to our apartment, but have very little luck. We try a number of places, but none really seem to be what any of us are looking for. Finally we head back to a Chinese restaurant because they have Dim Sum. Once inside, however, we learn that all the food except for a few dishes has MSG. Amy is frustrated by orders some food and overall it is OK. Eamon and I eat the Dim Sum, which really isn't very good, but the other food is not bad. Connor begins to get cranky...it is time for his nap so we head out for a walk so that he can nap in the stroller.

1730 GMT - We are not feeling much like doing anything at the moment, and Amy and I are still talking to each other only as much as is necessary. We order delivery food from a magazine left on the table. It is adequate. We watch some TV and finally get the kids into a warm bath and off to bed.

2030 GMT - Amy wants to get out and hear some music. The real Irish Pub nightlife doesn't begin until after 2100, and we have thus never gotten to experience it. There is a pub listed in her Dublin guide that is very close to our apartment and is supposed have great traditional music. I tell her to go out and she promises to let me go out the next night. I spend my time reading and am still up when she comes back. She has had a FABULOUS time. She got to the pub and was adopted by the locals. The band was a bunch of older traditional musicians. Her new buddy slowly works her closer and closer to the band until she is right up on stage. He has told them that she plays the guitar and one of the players passes her an instrument. She tells them that she plays, but has NO idea how to follow them. They laugh and continue on. One of the younger musicians tells her that he has been trying to learn by playing with them for months and still hasn't got it figured out. She tells me that I have to go out. We use her great mood as a ice breaker to have a VERY long discussion about Eamon and his behavior as well as the way that we are dealing with it. We come up with a new plan similar to what he does in school. He can be on RED or GREEN. When he is on red he loses all privileges. He cannot play with the computer, watch TV or play with a grown up. He will have time outs on the bathroom floor with the door open and the light out. He is very particular about having all the lights on, so this drills the point in. He is not in the dark, he just can't turn on the light in the bathroom itself. We agree to explain the new system to him in the morning. We will use markers on the white board at home, but here we will just place a red or a green object on the television.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Day 20

0700 GMT - Awake again. We shower and dress, bundling up for our walk to breakfast. We stroll to the alley where we ate dinner last night, to find the little breakfast place we had seen on the way. When we locate it, we are surprised to find, despite the sign with their listed hours saying that they open at 0800, the staff are having a meeting and will not be opening until 0830. We start walking looking for another option. We pass a few possibilities, but I am not feeling like just having coffee and pastries and Amy feels a little uncomfortable at the one sit down place we find, so we keep searching. After a while Amy becomes quite aggravated and we begin arguing about which place we should have stopped at. Finally we find somewhere that everyone seems to be happy with. Eamon had been asking for thin pancakes like Maraed had made for him in Bunratty, but when we sit down with the menu he decides on sausage and eggs. I order the French style pancake and a side of bacon, knowing he will probably end up eating what I order again. If he does not, I am sure Connor will. Amy orders oatmeal and toast. My French style pancake turns out to be a monstrosity. It is about 6 inches in diameter, and maybe 1.5 inches thick, and it is somewhat overcooked and black on one side. It is a very good thing that Eamon did not order it. While we eat, I look at our two maps....one of the Ireland roads to plan the route to Dublin, and one the great Dublin street map that Amy bought for me for Christmas. We plot out the drive to Dublin and I even find the little street near St. Stephen's Green where our Apartment is. With this map we won't be driving around aimlessly lost like we did last night. Finally Eamon and I get up and leave Amy and Connor to head back to the hotel and finish packing while we run some errands. We stop in a Pharmacy to pick up a few things and then I FINALLY get into a sporting goods store where I find a 50% off sale and the perfect set of running clothes for cold, misty weather. They are not waterproof, but they are better than layered sweat shirts! We head back to the hotel and I load up the car while Eamon watches a cartoon. Once the car is packed and we are checked out of the hotel, I suddenly realize that I have no idea where the two maps we looked at in the restaurant have gone. I unpack a number of bags, scour my pockets and search the car to no avail. We decide that we must have left them in the restaurant and decide to drive by and check. Unfortunately, we still don't have a map of Cork, and we can't seem to navigate anywhere near the restaurant on the one way streets and suddenly find ourselves trapped in rush hour grid lock. I leave Amy parked illegally, within eyesight of traffic police, and I run (literally) off through the streets to find the restaurant. It takes me a while and I am looping around a bit, but finally I find it. Alas, no maps, the staff didn't find anything. I find my way back to the car, running again, just as the traffic police are telling Amy to move along. She sees I have no maps, but says, "Well, at least you got your run in..." We head out of the city on my memory and following the signs.
1000 GMT - Actually, getting out of the city proves quite easy. We hit the road and make great time. Amy drives and I navigate off the map in the Frommer's Ireland book. It is not as detailed as the rental car map that I lost, but it does the job. I have some rudimentary maps of Dublin in both the Ireland book and the Dublin book that Amy bought for me for Christmas. The towns and scenery flies by, and we avoid stopping to ensure that we can make it to Dublin before dark and meet the apartment manager. Amy had called her from the hotel in Cork and let her know what time we were expecting to make it to Dublin. We stop for lunch in a little town whose name I can't remember and choose the little cafe over the pub inside the hotel. Lunch is quiet and curt, Amy and I are still fuming over yesterday, and I seem to have run out of patience with Eamon. After lunch I take Eamon to a little corner grocery to pick up water, snacks, and he chooses to spend his daily money (this is a new thing we are trying as of today) on a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic book. It is more than the 3 euro he is allowed each day, but I chip in the extra 50 cents. We load everyone up in the car, and I take over driving. One more stop for diesel before we hit the city, and the next thing you know we are in Dublin.
1800 GMT - Well, we promised the apartment manager that we would get there by 1800, and we are still navigating traffic when that time rolls around. Despite the map, we struggle to find the way we want to go due to the preponderance of one way streets, and a lack of clear signage. We finally cross the river, but are looping round and round as Amy struggles to read the map, and I struggle with traffic. Finally I pull over into a garage where we are not supposed to be, and switch places. I look at the map, and quickly see where we went wrong. Amy is a much better driver, and I am a much better navigator. This is something we need to remember in the future. Even though Amy argues with me I tell her where to turn and when and next thing you know we are pulled up to the gate in front of the apartment. Amy has the manager open the gate and we park, pledging not to go near the car again until it is time to go home. Amy checks us in and I start unloading the car. I take everything out for the first time in a week, it will all need to be repacked for the trip home. Amy pledges to do the garbage clean up. The apartment manager is very sweet, and shrugs off our apologies for being late when we know she has New Year's plans. She says she still has another tenant who has yet to check in and is several hours late. She gives us a quick tour of the apartment and shows us how to work the appliances. I get directions from her to the grocery and she loans me a sack. The stores charge extra if you don't bring your own sack. I run out to the grocery store to pick up some dinner, choosing some frozen pizzas and some beer. I get back to the apartment to cook the pizza only to find that there is no stove, only a microwave and some electric burners. We get creative and try to cook the pizza in a frying pan.
2000 GMT - Bath time was a big failure. There did not seem to be any hot water and we can't seem to get the heater working. Amy places a call to maintenance, but we realize with tomorrow being New Year's Day, we are unlikely to have much help before Monday, which is still two days away. I set up Eamon's bed by pulling out the couch, only to find that this was not the plan. We decide to leave it pulled out, at least for tonight. I read Eamon some Lemony Snickett, and we are all off to bed.

Day 19

0700 GMT - We awake and decide to have breakfast. Having better prepared ourselves for both the lack of a high chair, and Eamon's volume, we make it through this morning much more efficiently. We finish packing and load up the car. We once more need to pay with cash, so we decide to hike into town, and stop at the stone circle along the way so that Eamon can have a chance to see it and Amy can take some photographs. We make it to the circle with very little complaint from Eamon, and he asks many questions as we look around. There are a couple of other men there as well, and we allow each other respectful quiet. As we start to leave, however, they ask me if I know what this place is. I explain what little I know, and they thank me. As we reach the road, they approach again and ask some additional questions. We strike up a conversation and learn that they are several friends from Barcelona traveling around Ireland for their holiday, all in one van. They are surprised to learn that we are Americans, assuming that we are Irish. Obviously our accents sound the same to those who speak English as a second language. They are fascinated in the fact that we are traveling with the boys, and one of the men is quite interested in Eamon, commenting on how aware he is of everything. Amy asks them if they are a band, since they seem an eclectic group of friends, but they say no, that they are just friends. Two of the men are Rugby players in Barcelona, and Eamon asks what Rugby is. They run to their van to show him a rugby ball. They talk for a little about how important Rugby is to them, saying that very few Spaniards play the sport. They say that it reminds them of the days when their were knights and men lived lives of honor. With great emotion, one of the man offers his Rugby ball to Eamon. Eamon is a bit overwhelmed and at first says no thank you, but when the man explains how important it is to him, and that he wishes for Eamon to have it, because he feels Eamon would appreciate the importance, Eamon accepts the gift and thanks them. They head on their way once goodbyes are shared all around. We pick up cash from the bank and some snacks for the road from the local bakery. Once we pay our hosts, we head out on the road, with Amy at the wheel.
1100 GMT - We take the scenic route to Cork, with our first stop north of the city at Blarney Castle. We are inundated with the smell sheep manure from the moment we enter the park. We hike round the castle grounds, exploring the Witch's Kitchen, Druid's Cave, stone circle, fairy glen and sacrificial, stone altar

Finally we hike to the castle itself. Amy picks up a promised piece of the Blarney Castle for Bob's mother, and we head inside. It is quite small, and in rather good shape, though the main hall has large wooden stairs built to provide access to the upper levels. Once we enter the small tower stairs which wind to the top of the castle, Eamon has a panic attack. We handle it quite poorly, Amy is responding to her own claustrophobia and to Eamon's panicked crying, but finally we manage to get out of the tower and back down. Amy returns to the top on her own so that she can have the opportunity to kiss the Blarney Stone itself.

I stay with the kids, and my frustration is so high, that I decide not to bother going to the top myself. We return to the car and head into the city.
1630 GMT- We are unable to find the address for the hotel on the map of Cork that we have. We spend quite a bit of time driving around, and finally get some directions from a lady who doesn't quite seem to know how to get there, and then from one who does, but they are too confusing to follow. At one point we are stuck in traffic and I hop out of the car to run ahead through the main shopping district and look at the end of the road. I can't see the hotel in either direction. We take a guess and head left along the river until we finally see an officer directing traffic. Amy asks him directions and he tells her to pull over. He leans in Amy's window, but will only look at me while he gives directions. He then stops traffic and allows us to do a U-Turn...had we gone right earlier, we would have passed the hotel. There is no place to park and we end up driving around quite a bit before we finally are able to pull up the gate of the parking lot. They tell us however that the lot is full and we need to drive around front, check in, and pay for parking across the river. Amy is quite cranky, since she selected this hotel for its free parking, and was not told that there were only 15 spots available. I wait in the car while she checks in, and argues with them until they agree to let her in the lot to unload. We unload the car and while I bring the kids and the luggage up to the room, Amy manages to get a spot in the lot as someone else pulls out.
1730 GMT - We decide to walk into the shopping district and try to find some food. We pass a breakfast spot along the way, and decide to go there tomorrow. Next we find a Thai restaurant and decide that it would make a lovely break from pub food. Eamon decides that he likes nothing on the menu, but we talk him into Phad Thai, and he asks for no vegetables. I order a satay appetizer to share with Connor, but as I figured, Eamon decides that this is very yummy, too. The food is good, though not great, with the exception of Eamon's noodles. They had to improvise, and they made him a delicious dish that he loves. We split a dessert, and decide to head out for a little walk. Finally we head back to the hotel, where we all crash for a good night's sleep.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Day 18

0630 GMT - We are again up too early for breakfast, so I bundle up and decide to take a quick run. I take the long way into town and head right up the road to the Stone Circle. It is actually directly across the little river from our B&B, which I can see from the circle.

The circle is not quite what I expect. Certainly quiet, and demanding of respect, but the stones are less "stunning" than the standing stones at Stonehenge. It is still a remarkable place. I jog back, again the long way, taking a little detour to visit a beautiful old church along the way. It is really drizzling, and getting near time for breakfast, so I head back.

0830 GMT - After a nice shower we all head to the dining room. They apparently do not have a high chair, even though we had requested one. The other guests in the dining room are SO quiet that Amy starts to get annoyed, since I feel obligated to keep reminding Eamon to keep his volume down, despite this being a clearly lost cause. Finally, Eamon finishes, so I take him back to the room for a cartoon and rejoin Amy and Connor. Feeding Connor without a high chair for him to have control over his own food proves to be quite the challenge, and he eats little.

1000 GMT - I decide to drive since we are going to do the Ring of Kerry today and it is Amy's other big thing (besides the Aran Islands visit which never happened). I am determined to make sure that she gets the opportunity to enjoy this drive. We drop off our huge load of dirty laundry at the cleaners we pass on the way out of town. For 14 euro they will wash dry and fold all our laundry by 1700. We decide this is a vacation must! The price of a lunch to get our whole day to have fun is definitely worth it.
I plot a path and give the map to Amy. We reach the Ring of Kerry and have to decide to go left or right...Amy can't decide so I just head left. I then take a sudden right to take a "scenic" route I saw on the map.


This ends up being a VERY steep, VERY narrow set of switch backs, and we end at a fork with no signs. The fork is NOT on the map. I make a guess, and we are driving down a one lane road through farmland, with nothing in sight but rocks, greenery and sheep. We begin to fear that we are hopelessly lost when we notice that the sheep around us are rather startled and nervous by the presence of our car. None of the sheep we have encountered anywhere else have even acknowledged our presence.. We spook a sheep that is on the side of the road, on OUR side of the fence, and the poor thing begins a manic race to get away from us. The dim witted creature can't figure out what to do and just keeps running down the road. It tries to get through the fence in a few places but fails and we have to keep slowing down so as to avoid hitting it. We are sure the sheep is going to give itself heart failure if it keeps this up. I have no idea how to do CPR on a sheep. Finally though, it finds a widened spot on the side of the road and tries to hide behind a small rock as we pass it by. Amy decides that we are on the REAL Road to Nowhere but I refuse to turn around. A farmer in his truck comes barreling up the road at about 90mph, and after we swerve to avoid the head on collision, I roll down my window and ask him how to get back on the main road. He tells me we are headed in the right direction, to just keep going. Amy is satisfied and we head on. Soon we see asphalt road ahead. The question now is which way do we go? We decide to go right and end up in town on our map. I was actually on the road I meant to be on, but had no
idea it would take an hour to drive it! Amy is panicky that she is not going to get to see the ring, but we stop in town for a toilet break and to buy some snacks and head back. Rather than drive back up the gap we decide to take the inviting little "scenic" route that cuts right to where we want to start our Ring trip. We drive back and forth past it arguing until finally we decide that this MUST be the road.


1300 GMT - Ok. The drive was quite lovely, but rather short, winding and narrow. We stop at the top of the Ballaghbeama Gap. It is a stunning view with misty fog rolling below and rain whipping in the wind on our faces.

There is a nice map and we pick our route from it, unfortunately none of the roads on that map are on the map we can actually bring with us. We make a guess at another unexpected fork. After driving MUCH longer than we should have, we realize that we took the wrong turn, and are now halfway down the peninsula, far west of where we wanted to start. Amy is in tears, I have pretty much ruined the day for her, and we have no time in our schedule to do this again. We do, at least, know how to get back on the Ring, now. As we are driving we pass an empty pasture with a single large standing stone in it.

We stop to admire it then head on our way. Finally, we are on the Ring! Unfortunately, for quite some time it is rather disappointing. It is very overcast, and most of our trip is through towns. We take a detour and Amy and Eamon explore a beach.

That little speck in the center is Eamon playing in the sand. He gets SO wet and sandy that we have to undress him and pull clean clothes out of the suitcases to dress him in.

1500 GMT- The views get better and better as the drive continues, but we wish that we had a clear sunny day to see them in. We do not have ANY tour buses to avoid on this trip though, and in the summer we have read that they are a numerous menace. We pass the "only" beach cafe in Ireland (according to its sign) and stop to check out their little sandbox.

Amy is mostly satisfied, but she makes it CLEAR to me that I made her miss the best part of the drive through my driving foolishness. I am thoroughly chagrined. By 4:30 PM, we still aren't back, and Connor starts up his dusk tirade and carries it through for the next twenty minutes until we pull him from the car. Before that can happen, we pick up the laundry from the cleaners and then stop at a restaurant nearby for some dinner.

1830 GMT - Dinner was nice, though Eamon was a wee bit difficult. We head back to the B&B for baths (ok, not really). Since there is only a shower, Connor decides to make the whole bathroom a tub through his wild splashing. It is time to rest up for our trip to Cork in the morning.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Day 17

0630 GMT - Eamon is the first to wake up.  Amy turns on the TV to let him watch some cartoons.  It is MUCH harder to sleep in the same room with Eamon while he watches cartoons.  He tends to have a running dialogue with the television, and usually loses his volume control at some point in the conversation.  I rise and get dressed to take a run before our scheduled 0830 breakfast.  I have finally surrendered to the reality that between holiday closures and our travel schedule, I may not make it to a store to replace the running clothes I left in Scotland.  It has already been more than a week since my last run, and I need to get my legs stretched.  I bundle in layers of already dirty clothes and put on my hat and gloves and head out into the light mist.  This is not too much different than an early morning run in Seattle in the late autumn.  It is quite stunning to have the sun rising of Buratty castle as I run by.  I make a guess as to my halfway point for turning around, based on where I am in my Working Out playlist on my iPod.  I look forward to Apple's upcoming flash model, since I can only get around 20 minutes before my current iPod starts to skip.  At the gym I can clip it to the treadmill and not worry about skipping, but out in nature I have to face that 20 minute limit.

0830 GMT - We head down to breakfast, which is again very nice.  Eamon selects a "special" French style pancake, very thin and more like a crepe, while Amy and I go with the traditional Irish breakfast.   The fruit, bread and cereal selection here is not as broad as Drum Creehy, but it is adequate.  Eamon LOVES his pancake, but suddenly he gets some food caught, gags, and says that he is going to puke.  I grab napkins and a bowl and start moving him upstairs to our room, but he begins vomiting along the way.  I keep it all in the napkins and bowl and get him upstairs successfully.  I give him some water and he feels better, so we return to finish breakfast.  Ah,  the TRUE joys of parenthood.  Eamon and I watch the end of "The Never Ending Story" whille Amy heads to find an ATM machine, since this B&B only accepts cash.

1130 GMT - We hit the road, trying to get to Kenmare before dark, we have been told that it is about two hours away.  We go back to Buratty castle, this time to check out the attached historical park which has replicas of life in 1800's - early 1900's Ireland.  I am very disappointed.  The park is nice, and the animals are out and about, but because of the holidays there are no people present in the shops or the houses to portray the people of the time. 

I wish they had told us when we bought the tickets that it was not a full experience this week.  We check out the empty dwellings, including the house that the makers of HB ice cream lived in, Eamon plays in a little castle playground, and then we hit the pub for lunch. 

We chat with a Californian woman who has been living in Belfast, Northern Ireland (part of the UK) for a year whose husband and son are visiting.  The people who sit at their table after they leave are also Americans, and after a short chat we learn that they are the family who moved into the Connemara Country Cottages house that we were staying in after we left.  We laugh and joke about the absurdity of 200 TV channels and no phone and ask if we left any toys.  They say no. We decide that it is time to hit the road.

1540 GMT - It is still light out, but we have only made it as far as killarny.
We try to pull off the main road to find a phone and call the B&B for tonight once I read the notes and realize that if we won't make it by 1600, we are supposed to call.  We find a phone booth in the middle of a residential neighborhood. While Amy is on the phone, a dog walks up to check us out and he begins to bark visciously, not at us but at a teenager walking by. I usher Eamon back into the car, and suddenly I find a VERY hard chunk in the gum I am chewing.  I take it out to find a small piece of what looks like a tooth.  I feel around with my tongue only to find that the porcelain part of my crown has fractured and exposed the metal beneath.  Amy returns to say that she spoke to the owner of the B&B and he tells us that it will be another two hours, and to avoid the "scenic" route and stick to the main highway or it will take 3-4 hours.  I tell her about my tooth, but because it seems to be causing me no pain, I decide to wait until we get home to deal with it. If it starts to hurt, we can try to deal with it in Dublin.  The drive seems to take forever, and when we finally take the exit to head towards Kenmare, it is already dark and Connor has awakened and begun to scream.  We can tell that the scenery must be stunning, but we cannot see any of it, and Connor is still screaming which would make it impossible to enjoy anyway.  1630 has been his limit, beyond that he cannot bear to be in the car.

1730 GMT - The very curvy roads in the dark have slowed us down, and many people passed us throughout the drive.  Connor screamed the entire way.  We follow the directions Amy got from the B&B owner and arrive at the house. 
It is quite cute, up on a hill above the road and surrounded by Christmas lights. 

It is a little roomier and nicer than last night's B&B, but still not as nice as Drum Creehy.  It will be our last B&B, two nights and then we are off to Cork and Dublin.  We pack up in our rain gear and hike down to town, in the dark over a little bridge shortcut our host told us how to find.  We come out on a street with a sign pointing the way to the Druid Stone Circle that we have read about and take note of that.  We pick a restaurant, after much rigamarole, eat some food and hike back to the B&B for a good nights sleep.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Day 16

NOTE: Please visit the BLOG in story order on https://home.comcast.net/~shoisson

0800 GMT - We wake up with Connor's call to action. Eamon starts of the morning with some early BBC kids shows, while we get our bags packed and ready to go. We don't have a clock in the room, and the only watch I have is my formal watch for work and, frankly, I don't even remember where I last left it, but somewhere at home in Seattle. It is a somewhat overcast day, so that does not help too much, but since it is no longer dark out, we figure that it must be close to 9am. We requested breakfast at 0900, so we decide to head over to the main house. Once inside, though, our host tells us that it is only 0840 and they are not quite ready. We head back to the cottage and I load the car. When I get back to the room, the phone rings and they tell us that they are ready for us. Breakfast is lovely. They have a full buffet of fresh and dried fruits, some breads, butter, jams, preserves, juices, milk, and cereals set out. They then serve us a full traditional Irish breakfast with back bacon, sausages, eggs and black and white puddings. I try the puddings, since they have gone to such efforts to put together this gorgeous breakfast. Neither one is to my liking, but Eamon really likes the white pudding so I give mine to him. Eamon also tries both dried and fresh dates, but decides that the fresh ones are not good, and the dried ones are delicious. Amy has tea with her breakfast, but I stick with my coffee. After breakfast, we settle our bill and hit the road to Buratty.

1130 GMT - We want to visit the Cliffs of Mohr. We head southwest, and arrive at a little seaside town, where we can see the Aran Islands off in the distance. On our way out of the town, we see a very cool ruin.

We get to the cliffs, and do a little shopping beofre braving the walk to the viewing area. The wind is so strong here that it will actually physically move me if I don't resist it. Amy loses her hat and I have to chase after it. The cliffs are quite stunning, but once it starts to rain, we decide to return to the car and hit the road.

1330 GMT - Both kids fall asleep after a few hours on the road, but we realize that it is almost lunch time, and we are entering the last major town on our route. We stop in Ennis and find a parking lot. We wake up the kids, and since St. Stephen's Day fell on a Sunday, today is a bank holiday. The stores are open, but the parking is free. We decide to try a Pub/Restaurant right on the lot, but once inside decide that it is not family friendly and head back out to the street. We end up at the first Pub we saw driving into the town and take a seat in the back all on our own. We find a big newspaper clipping about Ireland's former Prime Minister named Eamon De Valera. Eamon is excited at first to see his name on a newspaper headline, but that quickly passes and the mysterious, empty pint glass perched on top of the stall in the Gents toilet becomes the real interesting object. We have a nice lunch, and I have a chat with the bartender about the change in the smoking policy in Ireland. There is no smoking indoors in public buildings in the whole country. I ask if it has impacted business much, and he says that business is down a little, but not that much. He says that every worker in the bar was sick with bad colds for a month after the ban went into effect, and no one has been sick since. He is very happy about the health benefits the new law has brought for a non-smoker like himself. It is a torrential downpour, and we run back to the car as quickly as we can. We decide to hit the road. We, again, have no idea where our next B&B is actually located, but we do have an address. Once on the road, we get caught in absolutely ridiculous traffic which barely moves for 15 or more minutes. We decide that it must be airport traffic, and the airport is halfway between where we are and where we are going. I analyze the map and pick a "back" way that routes around the airport and takes us through more scenic areas.

1530 GMT - We manage to follow the map and the signs to Bunratty and drive right by the castle where we have our dinner reservations for the evening. When we pass the castle, I see a road sign, but don't pay too much attention to it. After driving a little way past the castle, Amy says we have gone too far, since she was told that the B&B was close to the castle. I check the address, and see that it is on the road that we drove in on, the "back" way. We turn around and drive all the way to the end of that road without seeing the sign for the B&B. Amy calls them from the castle parking lot pay phone, but can only leave a message. The gas station at the other end of the road says that they know where it is, and we must have missed the sign. They say that it is after the Carriage Park (or trailer park to we Americans) but before the winery. We drive back again, and slow down at every B&B sign, much to the chagrin of those people behind us along the way. We finally find it, when we realize that the name we have for it is in small print under the larger print of the owner's name. Silly us. We pull in and Maread is pleased to see us since she was late to the phone, and had no way to call us back with directions. She sets us up in our room upstairs, and I haul up the luggage.

1645 GMT - It is time for the big dinner. Due to the rain we have to drive to the castle. We enter and pick up our tickets and run through the rain...quite a long way to the castle entrance. Amy gets routed off with the stroller at the entrance so she can place it in the room where we will have dinner, and we won't have to carry it. I am carrying Connor, and Eamon has a minor panic on the narrow, spiral, stone staircase. I manage to talk him through it, with the help of some kind folk behind him. We reach the top where they hand him a mug of fruit punch and me a mug of mead, or honey wine. It was the traditional drink for the bride and groom for the first month after the wedding, with reputed powers for fertility and virility. Mead's honey base, and the month length led that period tradition required for its consumption led to this period being titled the "honeymoon." We are in the great hall, and we take the opportunity to look at the castle structure itself, as well as the art throughout the room. We meet a woman from Bellingham who is visiting her daughter who is going to school in Dublin. We also meet an Irishman named Eamonn, and again Eamon is pleased to meet someone with his name, even if it is spelled with the traditional second "n." A Lord and His Lady are selected from the crowd and bestowed with their new titles, and a harpist plays some music. Suddenly, the women who have been serving the mead and punch form a choir right next to us and begin to sing quite nicely. At the first vocal note, Connor, who I am holding, whips his head around to watch them, and he does not move or make a sound until they are done. He really loves music. We are herded back downstairs, and with the kids in tow, we wait until the end of the line to make the journey. Eamon has and even harder time going down, but he makes it.

1730 GMT - We are seated at the end of a long wooden table with long wooden benches. Connor is provided a high chair at the end of the table. We are served soup which must be drunk directly from the bowl, and some bread and butter. It is quite tasty. We meet a couple from Belgium who take our photo, and seem intent on keeping my wine glass full at all times.

They are very sweet and we have nice conversation with them throughout the meal. We have a few more courses, including chicken and spare ribs. All food is eaten with the hands, and you are provided a bib and a bowl of water for your fingers. Connor is snuck some serviettes by the women who are serving dinner, as they have become VERY fond of him. Dinner is great, and after dessert, they start up the music, with the servers as performers. They are quite good, and Connor's favorite also plays the Bodhran. The women fawn over Connor the whole time, and give him a plastic, red, ball ornament from the tree, since he keeps reaching for them while they are holding him.

They try to get Eamon up on the stage for the finale, but he won't budge. He does visit the dungeon after the meal with one of them, and she tells him that he needs to come back to Ireland in a "few" years to have a pint, and they will marry him off to a good Irish girl.

Both Eamon and Connor have had a BLAST, loving every minute of the visit. Kudos to my brilliant mother for the recommendation to bring them. We head back to the B&B, and it is time for us ALL to go to sleep.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Day 15

0800 GMT - We get up and head down to the restaurant for breakfast.
Eamon wants to know all about blood sausage, and we realize we don't know anything about it. It is essentially the same as white pudding, but with pigs blood added for color. It contains pig liver, pigs blood, bread crumbs, unrendered lard, oatmeal and spices. I don't find either of them interesting enough to try. We all avoid them. We have to check out by 11am. We pack and reload the car. This is much easier as we are bringing only one large bag and some smaller backpacks each night as we start on our heavy travel period. Today we head out to the coast and our first Bed & Breakfast.

1100 GMT - We make the trip much faster than Amy had anticipate. We find the Burren which means "great rock." Amy wants to do some hiking here, but we get lost trying to find the visitor's center. We pass some great ruins on the way to Ballyvaughan, and also pass our B&B for the night, the Drum Creehy House. We can't check in yet, since the owners have been away on holiday and won't be ready until 4pm. We head into town and park down on the water in front of Monk's which is a Pub our landlord in Connemara recommended. We decide to take a short hike on a path through the Burren that starts here in town, but are unable to figure out where it is despite a map and signs. Despite being clear and really quite lovely, it is absolutely FRIGID, and I realize that I don't have my hat or gloves, and have no idea where they are. I add a few layers, and we bundle the kids.

Apparently we have chosen a perilous place to park as this sign warns us...

Everything is closed today, which is St. Stephen's Day in Ireland and Boxing Day in the UK.  It is the Feast of St. Stephen, who was the first Christian martyr. He was stoned to death by the Jewish Sanhedrin who he reportedly forgave as they continued to throw stones at his dying body. No one has a definitive answer as to why it is called boxing day...though their are many legends and folk tales regarding the naming of the day.  Most include the reference to the opening of the church's poor boxes for the poor on that day, and the tradition of gift giving among equals on Christmas Day, followed by gift giving to those lower in status on Boxing Day. Whatever the reason,nothing is open other than the pub.

1230 GMT - We have lunch at Monk's and it is not particularly special. We meet a sweet family on holiday from the UK, and they are all goo-goo over Connor and Eamon as well. The kids are both older teenagers. After lunch, we go back out to the map of the trail, and realize we walked the wrong direction for the hike.  We hop in the car and follow the signs for the trail along the road and then up into the hills and finally all the way up a one lane dirt road where we discover the ACTUAL trail into the big rock hills of the Burren. Both kids are asleep, so I stay with the car while Amy hikes up. Eamon wakes up and eventually awakens Connor with his noise, which leads Connor into a screaming fit. I offer Eamon the choice to stay in the car or get out and hike up the steep hill to Amy with me. He whines about not going up the hill and I get out. He has kicked off his shoes, and when he realizes that I am putting Connor in the backpack and serious about leaving him in the car alone, he begins to have a hysterical fit. I come back to him and put his shoes on and get him bundled. He proceeds to whine the WHOLE way up about how he hates hiking and then begins to cry after around ten steps that it is too hard, and he is NOT going to go up the hill. I ignore him and continue to hike up, which starts a chorus of "Wait for me, Dad! You are going too fast, my legs aren't as long as yours." I walk with him until he starts to whine, and then pick up speed and head up hill again, all the while trying to dodge the wet cow manure that is pervasive along the trail which is marked by two stone walls heading up through the middle of cow pasture. Finally, Amy comes back down and meets us 3/4 of the way up so that we walk back together. We hop in the car and head to the B&B.

1630 GMT - We arrive at the house, and the host steps out to meet us. He has us in one half of the cottage adjacent to the main house. It is a lovely room, and we all noticeably relax once we are in it.

We arrange to have afternoon tea. Eamon asks to meet their 2 year old daughter, and they go off with the hosts to see some of the new toys she got for Christmas. After tea, we all head back to the room where I take a long, hot bath to try and ease the horrid pain in my mid back. I start my new Peter Straub book, "lost girl, lost boy," and quickly get lost myself in the story. Eamon watches Shrek on the TV, and Amy picks up a bottle of wine from the main house's wine list. It is a German white, and not too bad. We sit and play cribbage while Eamon watches his movie.  After his bath we all play King's Corners together, and then it is some more Lemony Snicket and off to bed. We are almost done with book two, and will soon be starting on book three which Amy bought us for Christmas.