Wednesday, June 01, 2016

May 30

All good things must come to an end. We did have one final adventure before flying out though. After loading the bags in the car to head to the airport, John sat down in the driver's seat, reached for the keys and groaned. "I think I set the keys on top of the suitcase." In the trunk. Which was closed. We scrambled to locate a trunk release button to no avail. Despairing of missing our flight, we had the inspiration: do the back seats fold down? Yes! Boys hopped out, I released the seat backs, reached in and grabbed the keys, which were, as feared, set on top of the suitcase!

And we were off to the airport. This blip only cost us a few minutes, but good thing it wasn't longer. Even with arriving at 7:30 for a 9:50 flight, we had just enough time, maybe 10 min to spare. No dashing through the airport or worry about "final call" but definitely no time for breakfast as we'd planned. I hadn't realized we'd go through US customs in Dublin, so that added about an hour of lines and an additional set of x-Ray & body scan machines. But it made our return in Chicago a breeze!

We left John to catch his flight back to Cedar Rapids (because of the timing of his meetings, he traveled separately, a few days before we did and flew from Iowa rather than driving to Chicago) and headed for baggage claim where my parents were waiting with open arms to welcome us home. 

We spent the day (Memorial Day) lounging (and doing some laundry!) and drove back to Iowa Tuesday morning. 

What an amazing trip! We are so lucky to have had the opportunity to create memories to last a lifetime!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

May 29

This is the view that greeted us this morning. Beauty!

Daniel wanted to be sure to document that there were, in fact, sheep grazing outside our breakfast room. 

After a delicious breakfast, we headed back toward Dublin via a slightly different route than originally mapped, but one that had us mostly on the 4-lane motorway to give John an easier ride. We still had to navigate about 20k of narrow country roads and a stretch where the Google directions were not as specific as they have been, making us wonder if we were on the right track. We were, but we were still happy to merge back on to the well-marked, wide, straight motorway!

Our destination was Powerscourt Waterfall, the tallest in Ireland, just south of Dublin in the Wicklow mountains. Interestingly, this was my original plan, but our B&B hostess was so enthusiastic about nearby Kilkenny that I offered the boys a choice: do you want a "town day" or a "nature day." Without hesitation they both replied, "Nature."

So we ended up here:

A spectacular sight and a simply perfect sunny, 65-degree Sunday afternoon. Lots of Irish agreed with our assessment of the best way to spend this beautiful day. So many people were there, but it never felt crowded or chaotic. 

The boys climbed around for hours. Daniel was the ring-leader for his more-cautious-by-nature older brother, and it was great for him to have the chance to take charge. 

When the Geraghtys traveled to Ireland in 1990, 5-year-old Bridget leaped a little too far and then could not make her way back, leading to me hopping the rocks to pick her up and carry her back under my arm. (I know there is photo evidence in the family archive. Perhaps it will be resurrected and scanned…)

 This "rest" lasted about 22 seconds.

Edward was mad Daniel was encroaching on the "cave" he discovered. This was also toward the end of our day, and at the end of a week of togetherness. They have gotten along very well, but will welcome some separation when we get home. (As will we all!)

One last selfie before we left. (Love those gap teeth!)

Back in Dublin we navigated to our hotel, which had been chosen based on its proximity to the airport and one key amenity: indoor pool. I figured an evening in the pool would be a great capper for our week, and I was right. Even after all afternoon at the waterfall, the boys swam for an hour and a half before we dragged them out for dinner. (It's possible Daniel was naked and demanding his swimsuit before the door had completely shut behind us upon entering the room!)

A few errant steps at the waterfall resulted in some wet shoes. We hung them to dry on the grate outside our open hotel window. 

At dinner we all shared our favorite parts of the trip:
Edward--Bunratty Castle
Daniel--Blarney Castle, waterfall, shopping (he was the king of the gift shop!)
John--Blarney, the day walking around Dublin (before the boys and I got here)
Mary--waterfall, Kilmainaim Gaol tour

And what we're looking forward to at home:
Edward--summer camps (especially Chemistry, the last two weeks of June)
Daniel--being out of school (I don't buy it though; he'll be pining for it in a week or two)
John--caffeine-free Diet Pepsi (an odd craving since he hardly ever drinks it anymore; must just be a yearning for the familiar.)
Mary--cooking/eating our own food

I also suggested John would be looking forward to driving on the right side of the road again, and he whole-heartedly agreed!

Final pack up tonight and out to the airport by 7a.m. tomorrow. 

May 28

Blarney Castle today on another beautiful, dry day!

(Photo by a friendly Wisconsin retired couple who recognized our Midwest accent. We took their photo as well. No selfies!)

View from the top of the castle after emerging from an extremely narrow spiral staircase with stops to explore several side rooms.

John declined to bend over to kiss the stone and designated himself the photographer. So the photos are on his phone and we are lacking wifi this evening to share them to my phone, so will have to wait to share them. 

This huge red cedar was on the castle grounds. This was a very close second to the castle in terms of interest and excitement. We had to drag them away and they only agreed because the next stop was caves. (No photos in the dark cave!)

View from the gardens

From there we headed for Cobh (pronounced Cove). We had a little trouble navigating through Cork because my printed Google directions listed some street names that weren't marked visibly. We turned on our cellular data briefly to confirm we were on the right route--we were. Score one for instinctive navigation!

The road to Cobh was another narrow one and we were relieved to find a sign pointing to free parking behind the Cathedral (whose name I can't recall at the moment and can't look up without Internet.)

We were ravenous so we quickly walked down to the waterfront and sat to eat in the first restaurant we came to. 

Then on to The Titanic Experience, a well-done museum sharing the Cobh perspective as the final point of departure for the doomed ship. 
This pier, viewed from the deck of the original White Star ticket office, is the original from that time. Passengers boarded small tenders out to the big ships, which actually dropped anchor behind the island visible ahead. It was faster this way rather than trying to maneuver the huge ships in the harbor. 

This would also have been the pier and the route my grandparents took to board ships in 1925.

Third-class Titanic passengers. 

Happiest they've ever been to be in church. Edward said, "If this were our church, I'd come every day!"

One casualty of the day--Daniel's blue sweatshirt. He realized he's left it down at the pier after we'd climbed all the way back up to the cathedral. Given that it had been worn by both boys for the last 3-4 years and was a size 6/7 that Daniel simply refused to give up when I told him I thought it was too small this year, we decided it was time to say goodbye to his long-time favorite. Hope a small Cobh child will find and wear it against the sea breeze!

From there we hit the first glitch in my travel plans. A little too much driving for one day. It was a lot to ask of John--1.5 hours Kilarney to Blarney, 45 min to Cobh, and a little over 2 hours to our B&B, which I selected based on its location about halfway back to Dublin, but which turned out to be quite difficult to navigate to. 

John was too exhausted to eat dinner at the town we stopped in just before arriving (Graiguenamanagh.) Kids and I had take-away and John ultimately are part of the pizza that Daniel didn't finish. 

We used more cellular data to navigate the rest of the way to the B&B where we were warmly welcomed by both the proprietor and her three dogs, who the boys romped with to enjoy the stretch after the long ride. 

Gorgeous views to share tomorrow--difficult to capture as we are looking into the setting sun. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

May 27

Today we traveled through the Gap of Dunloe. Neither words nor my iPhone photos can even begin to capture the breathtaking views and the feeling of awe at our diminutive presence amid these majestic mountains. 

We splurged on an inclusive tour so that John could take a break from driving. The road into the park proved this a wise decision--pony carts, cars, bicycles, tour buses on a winding road that in the US would not be wide enough even for a residential cul-de-sac!

The bus brought us up to Kate Kearney's cottage (restaurant, gift shop, staging area for ponies and carts) and from there we connected with our driver, Johnny (age 75+) and pony, Daisy. It was a bit of a tight fit, but we made it work. (Some of the younger drivers walked along side carts with 4 people and/or stood on the rear step. Pretty sure Johnny was matched with us because with the kids' smaller size he could still have a seat.)

In a few places, we were encouraged to get out to walk to enjoy the beauty and to ease the burden on the horse on the uphill climbs. Johnny assumed I'd want to continue riding and kept asking if I was OK as we walked. He may have been scandalized when a "delicate" woman scrambled up the off-road path after the boys, who of course could see no reason to stick to the paved road!

Once again, an absolutely gorgeous day. Edward was keeping his eyes closed before photos due to the bright sun and promising to open them when I counted to three. (Also, Gram, they were wearing hats and sunscreen, but hats block faces in photos!)

At the end of the pony road (which was also used occasionally by cars--Johnny said about 20 families live in the valley below the gap, tending the sheep who were "baa-ing" at us from the mountainsides) there was a small snack shop for a sandwich before boarding an outboard-motor boat for a trip through the Lakes of Kilarney, Kilarney National Park. 

Again, stunning, but the camera doesn't do it justice. 

This part of the tour took longer than we were expecting. The lake was quite low--about 6 feet below where it was even a few days ago, boatman Tim reported--so there was even a short section under a bridge where we had to get out and walk along the shore a bit so that the boat could pass without our weight pulling it too low. Unfortunately this meant very little time to scramble through the ruins of Ross Castle, our ending point. Our castle connoisseurs were placated with memories of the three castles we've already seen and the additional one (Blarney) on tomorrow's itinerary. 

The bus brought us back to town by about 4. John took a nap while the boys and I ran a load of laundry at the shop next to the hotel (too much vacation, not enough underwear!) We used the time to scout restaurants for our dinner. 

I never take food pictures, but delicious Guinness beef stew in Ireland at the end of a day hiking in the mountains seemed worthy. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

May 26

Today was unexpectedly a one-stop day. We had breakfast in one castle, walked around the grounds, and then headed out to another--Bunratty Castle & Folk Park outside Limerick. 

I did not think we'd spend the whole day there, but 3.5 hours and two ecstatic boys later, there we were! It was great--lots of spiral staircases and "secret" castle rooms to explore, plus a reconstructed village to show life outside the castle. 
Small door in the wall door

Daniel on his way to the dungeon
MANY archer holes to pretend shooting arrows
Top of the castle, imagining scanningfor attackers and defending the castle
From ground level
Jumping off the castle walls, because, of course. 

With the blacksmith

The "teacher" said they could pick any house in the village and stay until Christmad because he gets paid per student. He'd even move them to 6th and 4th--they did not bite. 

Ice cream and apple pie persuaded them to stay out after dinner for the music I wanted to hear. We are in Kilarney tonight. Hotel has separate twin beds for be boys--woo hoo!!

A note about the weather--not one drop of rain so far! I shouldn't even say it since we are hoping for outdoor activities tomorrow, but I am truly amazed. It's been a little chilly, but totally manageable. 

John has been doing an amazing job with the driving, which is mentally and physically exhausting. I think I've been an effective navigator. Our "wrong turns" have been minor and immediately correctable with a u-turn. I am working hard to curtail my cringes and seat-clutching as we pass through the narrow roads. 

May 25

It is difficult to travel in a foreign country, even an English-speaking one. It is difficult to travel with children. We had some ups and downs today, but here are some highlights. 

John's Irish colleagues graciously gave us access to the Book of Kells at Trinity College this morning since the boys and I were delayed yesterday and missed his group's tour. We were mightily impressed with his library!

The grown ups and kids each picked one more activity to finish out our time in Dublin: Kilmainaim Gaol and the Irish Wax Museum. (I'll leave it to you to figure out who picked which.) We were not sure we had time for both and decided we wanted to be sure to see the Gaol, so we headed there on the sightseeing bus. When we arrived at about 10:30, we learned that the next available tour was at 1:15 (all others were already sold out.) So we got the tickets and hopped a cab back to the Wax Museum, which was literally across the street and down a narrow lane from where we'd exited Trinity. (But if we had done that first we would have missed the opportunity to see the Gaol, so although it was inefficient, it ended up being the right choice.)

The wax museum ended up being more fun than some of us expected and an interesting way to hear some Irish history, both ancient…

…And modern (Irish pronunciation: mod-ren.)
OK, Harry Potter isn't Irish, but still a hit with some Americans. 

We rushed through a pub lunch, but not so fast that we missed the live music. Daniel had a little chat with the players and charmed them into playing Wild Rover for us. (Charm + €1)

We sped back to the Gaol for our tour and were not disappointed. It is a magnificent piece of history and the tour guide was excellent. 

Later in the day we might have wished the boys had stayed behind in these cells…
But I digress. 

We headed back to the hotel, picked up our stashed luggage and headed back to the airport to pick up our rental car. 

All things considered, it went pretty smoothly following my printed Google directions to Kinnitty Castle. The boys fell asleep for a good chunk of the drive but were wide awake and properly awed as we pulled up to our lodging for the night. (Hope for better pictures in full daylight tomorrow.) 

We had dinner, explored the castle dungeon (now used as a restaurant on weekends) and got in a quick "game" of tennis before calling it a night. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

May 24

Some very tired boys slept until 10:30 this morning! Surprisingly, they were not ravenous when they woke up, so we headed to Dublin Castle before having a meal. There we ate on a terrace "with spaces for shooting arrows," which was lovely until the pigeons started helping themselves to the uncleared remains of other people's meals. Then we had to leave. 

(Dressed alike for my peace of mind being on my own with them all day in a big city. In case we got separated I'd only have to remember one clothing description.)

Look what we found on our way to the next stop!

It was across the street from our destination, Christchurch Cathedral 

and Dublinia, a museum of Viking history. Lots of fun!

(The answer to the question in the photo is No. The "traditional" horned Viking helmets were only ceremonial, but theatrical costume choices have so influenced the culture that they have become the defacto image.)

We perpetuated it by taking the Viking Splashdown tour--similar to the Duck Boats in Wisconsin Dells and elsewhere, but with Viking helmets instead of quacking noisemakers. The noise on his tour comes from the driver/guide encouraging the group to ROAR at groups of pedestrians and other buses. 

The tour ran long, making us late to meet John and his colleagues for a private, after-hours tour of Trinity College & Book of Kells. But our Dublin hosts graciously provided tickets for us to go tomorrow morning. We did get to meet up wth John briefly before he left for his group dinner and Irish cultural show.  

Even though it was close to 6 and we hadn't eaten a meal since the pigeons chased us away from our brunch, the boys said they weren't ready for dinner. We headed for a park we saw from the tour bus and burned off some steam. 

Then we stopped for dinner in a pub whose kids menu caught my eye as we walked by. The boys complied with my request/edict to try something other than chicken tenders and were satisfied with their penne (Daniel) and cocktail sausages & chips (Edward.) I found refreshment in a chicken dish (not deep fried) and nice cold beer. 

Daniel observations about life in a big city: "There are so many people so close to me all the time. I'm uncomfortable."(This was right at 5 pm as we were racing through busy streets to try to meet up with John.)

Time to wind down now to be ready for our final half-day in Dublin before heading to the countryside tomorrow.