Wednesday Wanderings: Coming Home

Saturday, September 23, 2017

We woke early and packed. I had been leaving books and some clothing items behind in our travels and left a few more in our Edinburgh hotel room, to make room for the souvenirs and keepsakes we were bringing home. Nothing was very heavy or bulky, but we’d been close to the limit coming over and knew we’d be over if we didn’t make some adjustments.

2017-09-22_03-15-17_981We bought wool scarves in Edinburgh, a few pieces of jewelry, tea towels, pencils. Nothing extravagant, but still special to us.

Since the lift was still out of order, we included time to call for help with our bags, then waited outside for our driver to take us to the airport.

Sure enough, we had to shift contents from one bag to another, from a checked bag, to a carry on. Although after weighing and pronouncing us in compliance, the ticketing clerk let us put some of the things back in the checked bag.

We still had plenty of time to kill so we got coffee, read, walked the airport. Our flight to London was uneventful. We had a layover in London, which included a bus ride from one part of the airport to another, two more security checks, and a long wait in a sequestered waiting room. If you had to leave the room to get food or find a restroom, you had to surrender your passport as you left. Londoners take security very seriously.

The flight to LAX was long and uneventful, just the way we like it.

The good thing about flying home from Europe is that you get here not much after you left, in spite of the ten hour flight. We landed in LA, went through customs, shuttled back to the hotel where we’d left our car, and were on the road by four o’clock or so.

The cherry on this wonderful trip was that I was a finalist in a big writing contest for unpublished writers and the winners were being announced that same evening in Dallas. I was able to find the live stream of the ceremony, so we were in traffic on the 110IMG_0289 freeway in downtown Los Angeles when I heard my name called in Dallas as the winner of the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Contest, Contemporary Category!

We yelled, laughed, high-fived and continued to Pasadena where we were staying overnight with friends before continuing home the next day. We celebrated appropriately that evening with two couples, returned my borrowed travel purse and backpack, and shared stories, good food, and laughter before collapsing into bed.

We both loved the trip and want to go again. If we’re able to go back, I want to try it in reverse order. Scotland, London, Ireland. We both fell so completely in love with Scotland, that I almost don’t trust it, if that makes sense. As I said last week, we know we’re Anglo-Saxon, and I felt the Highlands speak to the DNA in my bones. We didn’t feel the same about Ireland, and we expected to. So I want to see if I imagined the call from Scotland. Or if it was simply a matter of being a bit stressed (our first time traveling overseas) while learning to drive on the “wrong” side of the road. So if we begin next time in Scotland, hopefully we’ll be more relaxed and adjusted when we get to Ireland, and more able to compare apples to apples. Or Highlands to inis and loughs.

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Wednesday Wanderings: Off to London!

Our flight from Dublin to London was delayed a couple of hours due to high winds. So we missed our arranged ride from Heathrow to our hotel. After a phone call (just what our over-worked AT&T data plan did not need), and a half hour wait, our driver arrived. He was from Moldova and spoke excellent English. He’d obviously had something heavy on garlic for dinner the night before, but after a few minutes my nose adjusted. He muscled our bags into his car and we were off. The drive into London was fascinating, although not unlike heading into the downtown area of any of our urban cities. Dave and I both commented on the large number of car dealers lining the freeway and their dizzying displays of cars. The buildings were tall, full of windows and spiral displays with gleaming cars.

After checking in, we found the nearest fish & chips place on our map and headed on foot to Hobson’s. It wasn’t a long walk and on the way we passed a phone booth, a school getting out for the day, and assorted shops.

On the way back, around the corner from our hotel, was a plaque on a building proclaiming it the site where American writer Bret Harte died.

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I had to take a picture there because I attended seventh grade at Bret Harte Junior High (now Middle) School in Hayward, California. Bret Harte wrote short stories and poetry about the American West.

My current women’s fiction series of novels take place in a small mountain community I’ve named Harts Leap. So it seemed appropriate.

 

After a short rest back at the hotel, we looked at options for the next day. We didn’t have anything booked and Dave left it up to me what to do. I booked us a walking tour with Strawberry Tours of Central London for the next morning.

Then, we decided to brave the tube and find our 2017-09-13_20-47-52_450way to the St. Martin’s Theatre where we had tickets to that night’s performance of The Mousetrap.

The Mousetrap is by Agatha Christie and has been playing for 53 years, since it opened in 1974. It’s the longest running play in history. The show was great, the theatre small and gorgeous, the seats extremely uncomfortable. But the show and the experience were worth the discomfort.

We lucked out on our tube rides and accidentally got on the right trains, both to the theatre and back to the hotel after. It wasn’t until the next day when we got on a “wrong” train, that we learned how to tell the difference. But we’re old hands now. We felt very safe and the tube was quick and efficient. The Lancaster Gate station was a short distance from the hotel and we walked it at all times of the day and night without a problem.

I’d given up on my hair in Ireland. But now that I was in calmer weather and had a blow dryer near by, I upped my hair game after this first day.

Next week, the great Strawberry Tour with the amazing guide, Will.

Wednesday Wanderings: Double OOPS

I blinked and last week was gone! And I missed posting. Then I realized that I said the next post would be about our last full day in Ireland. But we actually had two full days left. They just seemed to be crammed into one day.

We left our niece and her family at about 11:30 on a Monday morning. We headed south. Our destination: the Cliffs of Moher. Also known as … the Cliffs … of InSANity!!!

It was about a two and a half to three hour drive from Liscarney, County Mayo, to the Cliffs. We took a few wrong turns (Google Maps isn’t always 100% reliable, but we did make it.) Although we had a couple of close calls with a curb in a village and a rock wall in the country.

We had a gas station/convenience store lunch at their little counter. Dave had two chicken legs and a snack size can of Pringles. I had a turnover kind of thing with chicken and mushrooms. And some Pringles. The inside of the turnover was like a chicken pot pie. It was quite tasty!

It was soooo windy. The pictures don’t really capture it. The wind beat us back. For every two steps forward, we took one backwards. Our eyes were weeping. We had to hang on to glasses and hats and each other.

But we made it to the upper viewing area called Hag’s Head. The views are amazing. To see those sheer and jagged sawteeth sticking out into the ocean, is to marvel at how God and nature have worked together to create something so incredibly stark yet beautiful.

When we couldn’t stand the wind any longer, we made our way into the gift shop and museum. There was a movie to see, about the birds, fish, and other wildlife that call the cliffs home.

From the Cliffs, we headed back to Dublin, but stopped for the night in a town called Nenagh (Neena) in County Tipperary. It was another hour and a half to Nenagh from the Cliffs. By the time we pulled into our Bed & Breakfast, I was exhausted. The driving caught up with me.

We had reservations in a charming B&B called the Willowbrook. Our hostess, Tricia, showed us to our room and suggested a nearby restaurant for dinner, The Thatched Cottage. We took a few moments to clean up and headed out to eat.

The restaurant was delightful. Homey and warm and welcoming. We took a table by the fire, but quickly moved away since it was putting out more heat than we needed. Dave had roast lamb, mashed potatoes and veggies. I had an open face shrimp sandwich on brown bread and chips (fries). Yummy!

We went back to our room and turned on the news. There had been a bad accident involving two American couples. They were hit by a lorry (truck). The man in one couple and the woman of the other couple were both killed. Given the two close encounters I’d had driving that day, and the stress of navigating those oh-so-narrow roads, that really upset me. I didn’t know them. Never met them. But being in Ireland on vacation ourselves, I knew the excitement and anticipation they must have felt. And to have it end so tragically … It was a hard night.

But we woke up bright and early and I was ready to head into Dublin. At breakfast, we chatted with a couple from Santa Clarita. Tricia served us a wonderful full Irish breakfast.

After loading up the car, we chatted some more with Tricia and her husband Tom. Our plan had been to drive to our hotel, then taxi or bus to the Guinness Storehouse for a tour and tasting. Then we’d return the rental car the next morning before our flight. They soon convinced us that was a very bad plan. They said driving in Dublin is hard. I was already a bit fragile after the news the night before, so we decided to drive directly to the airport and turn in the car that afternoon.

We ended up driving into Dublin, to our hotel, leaving our luggage, then to the airport, then to the gas station, then back to the airport. Turned in the rental car, then we took a MyTaxi (similar to Uber) to Guinness. I was so relieved to be done driving for a few days.

The Guinness Storehouse was a great tour, even for the non-beer drinker. There’s a ton of information and displays and graphics. Mr. Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease with the city of Dublin. That was not a typo. Nine thousand years. He started the brewery in 1759 and it’s still going strong. They say the Dublin water is what makes it special.

We had our free pint at the Gravity Bar at the top of the building. There are 360 degree views of the city. Beautiful. But we were there late in the day and it was very crowded. So we summoned another MyTaxi and headed back to our hotel and dinner.

Our driver was named Mervyn McCracken. He was a retired maths teacher who now drives for MyTaxi and writes screenplays. And directs them. When his first movie comes out, we’ll be in line for tickets. He was quite entertaining and a great driver through Dublin.

We ate dinner in the hotel. Dave had a seafood platter and I had a burger. It was more of a meatloaf concoction on a bun than a true burger. But both were good.

We woke up quite early the next morning and had our continental breakfast, supplied by the hotel at 5:30 AM. We’d chosen what we wanted the night before and they had it ready for us in the lobby. The restaurant wasn’t open yet, but the lobby staff were quite attentive, making sure we had everything we ordered. We’d both ordered just some ham and cheese. One of mentioned, “Oh, we should have gotten some toast,too,” shrugged and ate our ham and cheese. Three minutes later, toast appeared at our table.

Because we had planned to be returning the rental car, we hadn’t booked transportation to the airport with our travel agent. But MyTaxi did the job and delivered us to the airport for our flight to London.

Next week: London, the Mousetrap, and more fish and chips.

 

Wednesday Wanderings: Ireland, Part 4

Saturday, September 9 – Sunday, September 10

We pretty much laid low at our niece’s home for the weekend. The weather was pretty blustery and the grand-nieces had swimming lessons and gymnastics and various 2017-10-06_22-44-17_840activities, so David followed them around while I relaxed, read, and rested at the house.

It was a sweet little respite after a busy few days and still lying awake from 2-4 am every night. David spent some time walking the land and seeing how the family farm has evolved over the last century, and how our nephew is still working the land.

Their home is lovely and I enjoyed the amazing views, as well as the cozy fire, and my book. Of course, I brought2017-09-09_14-15-47_169 my Kindle so I wouldn’t be toting books all over Ireland and the UK. I did bring paperback travel guides, but I left them behind in hotel rooms in each country. I also left two pairs of pants, some toiletries, and whatever else I felt didn’t need to come home with me. I was lightening my suitcases so I could fit in the souvenirs and gifts we would buy. And it worked out. We had no problems with overweight luggage. Mostly. That’s a story for the end.

Our way home from our first outing, to the Museum of Country Life, we crossed paths with Patrick, our nephew-in-law, and followed him to a pharmacy and the grocery store. We got to meet his brother’s fiancee, who works at the pharmacy. As we were chatting another man walked up to Patrick and they greeted each other. Patrick introduced us to Matt Molloy, a flautist with The Chieftains. Mr. Molloy has a local pub in Westport. On one of the outings when I stayed home, David and Patrick stopped at the pub. That’s pictured above.

We finished the weekend with dinner at a Westport hotel, the same place Cory and I went for our after concert drink Friday night. Patrick’s brother and his fiancee joined us. I’m still incredulous that I didn’t get a picture of all of us that night, and I didn’t get a picture of Colin and Tara. They were delightful and we had such a great time that evening getting to know them. We love them and love that they love our Cory. It was a special time.

All in all, we had a wonderful weekend and it was a great way to wind down our time in Ireland.

Next week: Our last full day and the Cliffs of Moher!

Wednesday Wanderings: Westport House

Friday, September 8

After our visit to Kylemore Abbey, we arrived back at our lovely host/niece’s home. I wasn’t quite over the time change so I took a nap. But then it was time to party. My pictures didn’t turn out very good, but I’ll post them here.

Cory, our niece, and I drove to Westport House for a concert. It was the first event of the annual Westport Festival of Chamber Music.

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Taken from the Westport House website. This is a much better picture than mine of the room the concert was in. 

The program:

Beethoven: Piano Trio in D major Op.70 No.1 ‘Ghost’
Leon McCawley, Jack Liebeck, Guy Johnston

Penderecki: Cadenza for solo viola 
Jennifer Stumm

Schubert: String Quintet in C major D. 956
Navarra Quartet, Guy Johnston

The Beethoven and Schubert selections were my favorite. The violist was excellent, but the music was a bit too … strident for my taste. Although I enjoyed the whole evening immensely.

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Before the concert and during the break we were able to walk around Westport House, which is a local historic home and is now an event center with many attractions. The house itself is full of art, sculpture, and memorabilia from the original family and the community.

The house was built on the foundations of one of Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley‘s 16th century castles.

We had a blast dressing up and going out, just us big girls, for a night on the town.

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After the concert, we went to a local hotel’s pub for some more live music and a nightcap. We heard a duo, maybe brothers, who played an eclectic mix of folk, contemporary, and 20th century pop music.

It was a satisfying, if contextually confusing, end to a great day.

Next week: More random pictures and thoughts about Ireland, the sights, the people, and our farewell dinner.

 

Wednesday Wanderings: Ireland, Day 3

Our amazing niece procured some vouchers for us to use while we were in Ireland. Today we headed to Kylemore Abbey.

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Kylemore Abbey is a beautiful castle built by an Irishman, Henry Mitchell, who lived in Manchester, England.  He had inherited a fortune from his cotton merchant father and built the home for his wife and family and it included amazing Victorian gardens.

In World War I, it became the home of a Belgian order of Benedictine nuns. The gardens were neglected and fell into ruin. The nuns ran a boarding school until 2010. We met a woman in England whose sister-in-law had attended the school as a local day student. They had a long and honorable history of educating young students.

In 1995, a restoration project began in the gardens. They aren’t quite to their full Victorian glory, but they are gorgeous and you can certainly get a taste of what they were like.

After buying our tickets with our vouchers, we walked about .75 mile to the gardens. In the garden’s prime, there were 21 glass greenhouses. Only one has been restored, but you can see where the others sat. The gardeners grew bananas and other tropical fruit and flowers for the family.

As we finished our tour of the gardens, the heavens opened and it poured! There was a tea house nearby, so we hurried in, but we weren’t the only ones with that idea. It was too crowded and too loud, so we walked a short distance and caught a shuttle that returned us to the main entrance.

The rain had pretty much stopped by then so we walked on to the Abbey itself. It’s a beautiful castle, with displays about the family who built it, Irish history, and the Benedictine nuns who lived there.

Mrs. Mitchell died unexpectedly from dysentery while on a Christmas trip to Egypt in 1874. She was 45 years old and left behind her husband and nine children. Mr. Mitchell built a neo-Gothic cathedral in her honor and a mausoleum nearby where they are both interred.

We left Kylemore Abbey and headed back to Westport. But we were hungry. We stopped in Leenaun, a village on our way, and had lunch at Hamilton’s Pub. It was a true local pub. An old timer at the bar was drinking coffee. Another couple soon joined him with a dog who settled at their feet. We shared fish and chips which were good. I started to wonder if I really like fish and chips or if I just eat the fish in order to eat the chips. We each had a diet Coke. An 8 oz. can of Diet Coke was 2.75 Euro. That’s about $3.37 at today’s exchange rate. Yes. We paid over $6 for two sodas. Yes, we’re crazy and yes, we were thirsty.

We headed back to our niece’s home where I took a nap and then she and I went out for the evening.

More about that next week!

Wednesday Wanderings: Ireland and the UK

We took a big trip last year. We had big reasons. A niece who lives in Ireland we wanted to visit. A 40th anniversary to celebrate. History to learn about.

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In front of the manor house at the Museum of Country Life in Turlough Village, near Castlebar, Ireland. Sept. 7.

We didn’t go without some serious planning and talking. Stud Muffin, being former law enforcement, was concerned about terrorist activity abroad. I understood, but thought it was a small risk in proportion to the potential payoff.

We checked our budget, contacted the fantastic Cheryl at Hey Wanna Go, and renewed out passports. We left our home September 4, visited family on the way to LA, and flew out September 6. Stud Muffin had traveled overseas before, but this was my first time. I was unsure how I’d handle the long flight, but it wasn’t too bad. It helped that we had a layover in Chicago, so what could be a twelve-hour flight was divided up into a five-hour and an eight-hour. Not bad at all. We won’t mention the layover was supposed to be about 90 minutes but ended up at four hours. So we were tired when we boarded the second flight. And tired when we arrived in Ireland.

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A quote from a display inside the museum.

I’ll be blogging some about the trip, posting pictures, and sharing memories for the next few months. This will help me get my thoughts and memories in order so I can compile our scrapbook.

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A better view of the manor house.