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.
We 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The cherry on this wonderful trip was that I was a finalist in a big writing contest for unpublished writers and the winners were being announced that same evening in Dallas.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 110 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.
After our full Scottish breakfast at the Old Waverly Hotel, we Ubered to the local car rental agency where I’d reserved a car for us.
We were back in a standard transmission. We found our way out of the city fairly easily. We had no real agenda. We knew we would end up in Fort William. I had seen an article in the AAA magazine a few months before about the Jacobite Steam Train, AKA the Hogwarts Express. It travels a daily round-trip between Fort William and Mallaig. I’d tried to book tickets as soon as I learned about it, but the schedule showed the train wasn’t running the days we’d be able to take it. A month or two later, I checked again, and those days were on the schedule, but already sold out. The fine print said some tickets are available, first come first served, on the day of. So we planned to be at the ticket office first thing in the morning.
We plotted our route to Fort William, planning to stop at a few whiskey distilleries. Stud Muffin likes a smoky scotch and he wanted to learn more about how the whiskey is made, what gives it the smoky and other qualities. We first stopped at Blair Athol distillery near Pitlochry. The name Pitlochry was familiar to me from a book, and I enjoyed seeing the picturesque village. The distillery tours were full, but the front desk gave us the name of a sister distillery about thirty minutes away and
they were able to get us in. We did taste at Blair Athol before we left, and we learned a bit about the Scotch regions. We determined Dave likes the Islay distilleries (very smoky) while I preferred Speyside, a slightly sweeter taste. Although I would never say I’m a scotch drinker or fan, I did learn a bit and was able to pick my “favorite” region.
We grabbed a gas station lunch, and ate in the car in the drizzly rain, then set out for Dalwhinnie.
Our guide, Angela, had a lovely and light Scottish brogue, which was fairly easy for our American ears to understand. She clearly enjoyed her job, and she had lots of interesting factoids and things to share with us. Dalwhinnie once rented storage space to a small, local distillery that went out of business and neglected to pick up all their barrels in storage. So Dalwhinnie has a barrel of I-forget-how-many-years-old (50-60, I think) scotch that most likely belongs to them now, but they haven’t made an effort to claim it legally and so there it sits, aging year by year.
We learned about single malts, grain whiskey, and blends. We learned that scotch is taxed by the government at 75%. Yes. That’s seventy-five percent. Not 7.5. Seventy-five. And scotch begins to be taxed on its third birthday. That’s when it’s officially “Scotch.” As the whiskey is moved from barrel to bottle, a portion is observed on its journey through a clear plexi-glass, or plastic, or glass box, with a padlock. Photos are forbidden. 😦
After our Dalwhinnie tour, we made straight for Fort William. I’d tried to book us a B&B room from home, but couldn’t find any vacancies. I’d tried for a couple of days ahead of time from my phone. Still no luck. At the car rental agency, Dave asked the clerks if there was a festival or something going on, and why couldn’t we find a room. They assured us there were no special events in Fort William, and that there’s a B&B on every corner and we wouldn’t have a problem.
There is indeed a B&B on every corner and every single one of them said “No Vacancy.” We finally found a house that looked vacant and parked in the driveway while we both attacked our phones and searched. I found the house we were parked in front of, and it was an Airbnb, but not available. I finally found a room at a hotel for $300 that night, or a hostel. The hostel was about $80 and had a private bath so we booked it and headed to the address. Good thing I booked it because by the time we arrived to check-in, fifteen minutes later, they were fully booked too. We asked why everything was full and the response was a shrug, and “we’re a tourist destination.” In September. With cloudy, drizzly, gray weather. But we were tourists there in September in cloudy, drizzly, gray weather, so point taken.
The view from my parking spot
The rear entrance with the elevator
The hostel room beat sleeping in the car which was our other option. But not by much. The bed was tiny, lumpy, and slanted to the middle. The place needed serious updating, but was clean and the bathroom was indeed private. Although the college boys in the room next to us apparently felt their room wasn’t large enough and they left their backpacks in the hallway and in front of our door. It was our turn to shrug and grin.
After checking in, I had to find a place to park for the night. Not an easy task. The hostel had a tiny lot in the rear that would hold four cars. There was a spot that looked like it might have held a fifth car, but I didn’t want to attempt it. I found a spot on the street about a quarter mile away, that was labeled with the exact hours you could park for one hour, two hours, or longer. I took a picture of the sign because I was fairly certain I fell in the hours for overnight, but wanted to be able to prove it, in case I got a ticket. As I walked back to the hostel, the father and son who took the last room and checked in next to us, were inching into the one spot I’d skipped in the lot. Dave told me later he’d helped them navigate in.
Dave had been dragging our luggage up three flights of stairs while I parked. I entered the hostel from the rear and found the elevator. Which he hadn’t known existed until I told him.
We headed out for dinner. On our way to the nearest pub, the Grog and Gruel, we passed a bookstore. I had to go in. Believe it or not, this is the only bookstore I visited on the whole trip. I still can’t believe it. We were on the go so much. I had planned to visit a bookstore in Bath that I’d read about, but we ended up bypassing Bath in favor of Hastings, so I’d missed it. This one wasn’t a large store, or particularly impressive, but I’m glad I got to visit it.
At the Grog and Gruel, Stud Muffin ordered the deep fried haggis for an appetizer. We shared fish and chips (yummy) and each had a salad. We then made our way back to the hostel, and the lumpy bed.
Next week: The Jacobite Train, Parking in Oban, and the Famous Grouse.
We woke Monday morning in Royal Tunbridge Wells and it was Stud Muffin’s birthday. Due to the B&B proprietress trying to shake down an additional 16£ from us, we elected to find breakfast on our own. We asked the man of the house and he cheerfully directed us to walk down the hill a hundred yards or so. Sure enough, there was a coffee shop on three of the four corners. We chose Pret-A-Manger, a quick take-away or eat in shop, because we hadn’t visited one yet and they were all over. Starbucks is in England, but Costa Coffee is far more prevalent. I don’t think we managed to visit a Costa Coffee. Breakfast and coffee at Pret-A-Manger ended up costing us just about 16£ but the satisfaction at not feeling taken was worth it.
Back in the car and we headed to Hastings. We’d watched the British television show, Foyle’s War, set in Hastings and wanted to see it for ourselves. Hastings is a coastal town southeast of London, overlooking the English channel. It’s the home of Hastings Castle and is where William the Conqueror landed in England in 1066.
Parking was the usual issue, but we were able to walk on the pier and the beach. I learned a rocky beach is called a shingle. The Hastings beach is very rocky. So is it very shingly? I don’t know. I do know walking was unsteady and hard. The weather wasn’t especially cold but it was windy. We took refuge in another coffee shop on the pier before deciding to visit the castle.
The ruins sit on a bluff overlooking the town. William conquered Hastings in 1066 and the castle’s construction began in 1070. There’s a short and informative movie you can watch. You can wander the ruins, the walls, and some of the underground rooms. It’s amazing to think that almost 1,000 years ago, it was considered new.
The roads in Hastings were narrow and steep. For the castle, we parked at a municipal “lot” of five cars, then hiked up to the castle, through a church yard and narrow bricked walkway. The entry fee was nominal and the ticket booth was managed by a teenager with a video game.
Hastings Castle Ruins
The view from the castle
After a short visit (it doesn’t take long to see the whole place), we headed back to London. I wanted to visit Portobello Road and the Notting Hill Gate neighborhood.
And the adventures began in earnest.
I was still the driver with Dave navigating. As we entered the city, he got turned around and we ended up along the docks and had to take an “alternate” route to our hotel. That route just happened to direct us through Trafalgar Square and past St. James Palace. Just the sort of tourist attractions we’d planned to avoid. I was white-knuckling my way through traffic and only got a couple of glimpses out of my peripheral vision, but I promise, I was suitably impressed.
We returned to the Lancaster Gate where we’d stayed previously. We left our luggage at the desk and drove back to the Marriott to drop off the rental car. The agency was only open until 3 pm on Mondays. We got there about 2:45. Remember, when we picked up the car, one of the employees had fetched it for us, saying, “It’s a bit cramped down there”?
Oh. My Word.
The ramp down to the parking area was a twisting, winding lane with inches to spare on either side. Before we made it all the way to the bottom, Dave had to get out and guide me down. I had to back up a few times to make the curves. And I’m not exaggerating. At all.
Inching into the only spot was nearly impossible. Finally, the employee finished with the other couple he was helping and he rescued me and pulled the car in. I’d left my back pack with our luggage and had only a cross-body purse. Dave had his back pack and he set it down in the garage to take a video of the car, to prove we had returned it without damage, in spite of our precarious arrival.
We completed the check-in process and summoned an Uber to get us back to the Lancaster Gate. As we got out of the Uber, Dave realized–I’m sure you know what–yes, he didn’t have his back pack. Mild panic struck. It had his passport and we were leaving for Scotland the next day, not returning to London except for a layover at Heathrow on our way home. The staff at our hotel helpfully called the Marriott, but no one there had the back pack. Dave talked to a security person and said we were on our way back.
We Uber-ed to the Marriott again, but of course the rental office had closed and everyone was gone. The security officer met us and after pinning down the times we’d been through, he left to look at security footage of the lobby.
While the rental office was closed for business, it wasn’t locked up. I peeked over the counters and under desks, but didn’t open any drawers. No black back pack.
Dave paced, then walked down to the garage to be sure it wasn’t still down there. The security guy came back and showed us the footage he’d found. We saw the employee who’d helped us carrying a black back pack across the lobby. A clue!
We moved back to the office and this time, the security guy did open drawers and there was the back pack! Whew!! Dave had to list the contents, sign a statement, and a copy of his driver’s license was taken.
Friends had told Dave to take some CHP patches, that overseas law enforcement agencies love to see them. Dave had some patches in his back pack so he gifted one to the security officer and left two more for the rental agency guys. The security man was overjoyed! Really, you’d have thought we gave him a 100£ note.
We breathed easier and this time we Uber-ed directly to Portobello Road. I love the Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts movie Notting Hill, and Portobello Road is an important character in the movie. We found a kitschy tourist shop where we bought refrigerator magnets and another shop where I added to my knob collection.
And then we found the shop that’s supposed to be the Travel Book Shoppe in the movie.
It’s now an even kitschier shop than the one we’d stopped at, but I couldn’t resist getting a picture.
We’d had an exhausting day, so when we saw a restaurant, The Distillery, advertising Portobello Road Gin, we gave in and stopped. After a gin & tonic and a snack, we returned to wandering the streets. Because of the whole lost back pack adventure, we didn’t get to the area until 4:00 and many of the shops were closed or closing shortly. We did find a spice shop and Dave purchased some different spices to bring home. A curry, and something else fragrant and exotic. Our luggage smelled yummy the rest of the trip.
We found a pub for dinner, the Duke of Wellington. Dave had the charcuterie board and I had fish and chips. Both were delicious. I found it funny that a pub named after the general who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo had pop art and Beatles decor on the walls.
Beatles decor in The Duke of Wellington
Charcuterie Board & Fish and Chips
We wandered a bit more and found the most amazing gelato at 3BIS. Rich, creamy, artisanal, and completely amazing. We each got one and shared.
Our adventurous day was finally over. We Uber-ed back to the hotel where the staff had kept our luggage safe for us, and fell into bed.
Sunday, September 17, 2017 — I probably should have been dating these posts before this one.
We woke up in Newbury, in the Furze Bush Inn. During our Full English breakfast, the innkeeper, Jules, asked what brought us to the area and what we planned to see. I’m a huge Dick Francis fan and I wanted to see the village of Lambourn and the training grounds that are often featured in his books.
Our full English breakfast. It’ll get you through the day. The beans look like our “pork & beans” but they’re not sweet.
Jules, the Furze Bush Inn innkeeper
The Furze Bush Inn dining room
I’d also wanted to visit Bath and some Jane Austen sites, but Bath was just too far out of the way from the other places we wanted to see. However … the village of Chawton where Jane Austen lived the last few years of her life was in the area and they have a museum in her home.
So I told Jules we were headed to Lambourn, then to Chawton. He asked about Highclere (home of Downton Abbey) since it was very close. I had checked into visiting the castle, but it wasn’t open to guests/tours/tourists while we were there. It’s only open limited times. I told him it was closed, but he said we should go by there anyway, it was worth a look from the gates. He mentioned the popularity of Downton Abbey had been a huge boon to the area with the influx of tourists. Jules also encouraged us to find a Sunday carving for dinner. It’s roast beef and is a Sunday tradition in pubs. We didn’t realize Sunday carving dinner is actually lunch.
So we headed out. Lambourn was our first stop. It was a drizzly day, but not a downpour. We found Lambourn easily and drove through the village and along the training grounds which were empty since we were there late morning. We did see a stable that I know was in many of the Francis books. It could have been transported from Lambourn onto the page. I knew it right away. I had never visited Lambourn before, but I’d been there and I’d been in that stable, thanks to Mr. Francis.
The scenery was lush and green and beautiful. And the roads and lanes were a bit wider than in Ireland, which helped my driving confidence. Having an automatic transmission helped also. I often thanked the kind employees at the Marriott in my mind. One of them told us story about a tourist from another European country (which I won’t name but you may be able to guess). The employee said he was upgrading him to an automatic. The tourist got angry, and said, “You think I’m lazy like an American?!?!” The employee apologized, changed him back to a standard, and then offered a hybrid vehicle, so he’d get better mileage. That also angered him.
From Lambourn we backtracked a bit and pointed the car towards Highclere. We found it easily and sure enough, the gates were closed. Another car had followed us up the drive. We all got out of our vehicles and approached the gates, eager to see the famous castle. Unfortunately, Jules was a bit over optimistic about what was visible. We could see a curving lane and a security car approaching. I knew he was coming to tell us to leave, so I returned to the car. The other car’s occupants lingered and talked to the security guy. As they came back to their vehicle, they said he’d told them that if they drove to nearby Beacon Hill, there was a short hike that had a great view of the castle. We decided to try it since it seemed silly to come all that way and then leave without a glimpse.
We followed the other car, and parked. They were out of their car and disappeared down the trail while we were making sure our bags were covered, the car was locked up, and so on. We started on the trail and immediately met the others returning to the parking lot. “It’s very muddy. You need proper shoes and to be fit,” one of them said. “We’re not fit.”
We decided to proceed. It was very muddy and a stiff incline. After a hundred yards or so, we went through a gate and instead of mud, it was a grassy hillside to hike up. A very steep and slick hillside. We headed up. That was six months and 66 pounds ago. I made it up, but it wasn’t pretty. I told Dave if, when we reached the top, there was another hill to climb, he could do it on his own.
Sure enough, there was. From the top of my hill, I could get a glimpse of the top quarter of the building. Dave went on to the next hill and got a better view and picture before we headed back down.
I think the security guard had a good laugh as we left at his great practical joke. He’d directed those crazy tourists to a strenuous hike with barely a view.
We made it safely back to the car and headed for Chawton. We found the village and the museum pretty easily. Parking was another matter. But there was a pub across the street from the museum and since Stud Muffin isn’t into Jane Austen, we parked in the pub parking lot. He went to the pub, I went to the museum.
Jane Austen lived in Chawton for the final eight years of her life, although her family moved her to Winchester for the last months, hoping her health would improve there. The house in Chawton is now a museum. July 2017 was the 100th anniversary of Austen’s death, and a choir from Winchester had performed at the observance last summer. They happened to be singing again on the day I visited and I was treated to some lovely music in the beautiful gardens. That was a serendipity I was not expecting!
The outside of the house/museum
A choir from Winchester
The desk Jane worked at
News notices of two of her books, published anonymously by her brother
After about an hour wandering the house and grounds, I found Stud Muffin at the pub. Our poor phone’s data plans had taken a beating, so I added more data to his phone then we headed out again.
While in Ireland visiting our niece and her family, we’d learned that County Mayo, where they live, were in the Irish Football championships against Dublin. It’s a long and heated rivalry, with Mayo losing far more often than winning. The game was that day, so we put “Sports pub” into our phones and headed to the closest, The French Horn, in Alton.
We found the pub just fine, but they had no sports on and no way to show the game. They suggested the Wheatsheaf. As we headed out the door, a group of three sitting nearby asked if we were good at crosswords. Stud Muffin offered my services to help them finish. They were lacking two answers. With a sigh of relief, I was able to supply one of the answers: Coda. The clue: Ending the music. The other clue I had no idea. This was a real neighborhood pub that welcomed anyone. Even American tourists looking for the Irish Football game.
The Wheatsheaf had televisions and was able to let us watch the last few minutes of the game. County Mayo was winning when we started watching, but they did indeed manage to lose the game. We arrived at the Wheatsheaf at just after four o’clock and the Sunday carving was over. They were out of food. They recommended we try The George, so we headed out again. In case you’re counting, we’ve now been to four pubs in one day. Not drinking, not eating, just visiting.
It was a short walk to the George, and they were serving food, but no Sunday carving. This was our actual 40th anniversary, so we sat and prepared to celebrate.
Dave had rump steak and I had a burger. The food was excellent and tasty and you could tell they paid attention to it.
One thing we’d learned in pubs is that the wait staff don’t just bring you your tab when you’re done eating. They assume you’re there for the evening and the table is yours. You have to ask for the bill when you’re ready to go. We almost left the George without paying, but we remembered just in time.
We had about a 90 minute drive to our stop for the night in Royal Tunbridge Wells. We wanted to visit Hastings on the coast the next day, so I’d picked a town between Newbury and Hastings, but closer to Hastings. It was after dark when we arrived and it had been a bit stressful driving. But we got there safely. The B&B wasn’t the easiest to find, because the street and houses weren’t clearly marked, but after asking for help from some people leaving the nearby church, we found it. The proprietress asked if we wanted to add breakfast for 8 pounds each. We asked why breakfast wasn’t included. She said AirB&B wouldn’t let her offer breakfast. That still sounds fishy, but we didn’t argue and just declined.
Whew! It was a long day packed full of memories and lovely moments. Thanks for reading this far!
Next week: Hastings, Notting Hill, and Portobello Road. Oh, and checking in the rental car. That may deserve its own post.
Friday in London … well, it really began Thursday night. After we got back to the hotel from seeing Phantom, I opened up Facebook. I knew my agent and her friend/co-worker were in England on a Jane Austen tour and Janet and I knew we’d be overlapping in London by a few days. But it’s a big city and we didn’t compare notes about where we’d be or make any plans to meet up. But every night on her tour, Janet posted a picture of her view out of her room. Thursday night … her view was my view! So I knew she was in our hotel and in a room nearly adjacent to ours.
The view from “our” rooms
My agent (BTW, I never get tired of saying that), and me
But, still, it’s a big hotel with lots of guests leaving and coming at all hours. We would be up early the next morning and off to catch a train from Paddington Station to Oxford.
We went to breakfast Friday morning at seven o’clock, when the buffet opened. We were shown to our seats and I went to fill a plate while Stud Muffin waited at our table. As I made my way back to him, who did I see seated two tables over?
Yes! My wonderful agent and her friend! We exclaimed over the crazy coincidence, hugged, took a picture, and compared notes on what we had seen/hoped to see/planned to see. When Wendy heard we were headed to Oxford, she said to be sure and see the Ashmolean. I filed that tidbit for future reference, but didn’t really know what it was.
After breakfast and saying goodbye, we walked the short distance to Paddington Station. It was through a different neighborhood than we had walked before, and was about half a mile. We found it with no problem, but as we approached the station, we heard sirens in the distance, then law enforcement officers of some sort passed us, walking briskly, all business. We weren’t sure (still aren’t) if they were Tube/Underground security, London policemen, or Brute Squad officers.
We printed our tickets from the kiosk, found our train, and took our seats. We had about an hour ride to Oxford, where we had a bit of time to kill before our Thames River cruise. On the train, I checked email and found a message from the US Consulate in London, advising us that there had been a “security incidence” in London and we should let our family and friends at home know that we were safe. I did that, not knowing what kind of incident had occurred or where.
In Oxford, we wandered the town and found our way to the restaurant where our cruise began. We had some tea and coffee while we waited and I added more data to our embattled cell phone plan.
The day was cloudy and chilly, but the boat had blankets and plastic that could be pulled down to protect us from the wind. It was a lovely time. Our boat had five couples and the captain, Alex, a young local woman. We saw some of the loveliest countryside, I believe, in England. Cows grazed along the river banks. There were community gardens lining the river just outside of town. We knew from watching Escape to the Country that what we call a yard, the British call a garden. We asked Alex if what we were seeing was indeed a community garden, but she replied, “No, they’re just vegetable plots.” It took a bit of back and forth before we remembered the language disconnect about yard/garden.
A pair of swans swam up to the boat, peering intently at us. I’m sure they were looking for a tidbit of something yummy to fly their way, but I swear they looked like they were expecting someone. They’d invited a guest and were quite certain she was arriving on that boat.
We had to pass through a lock, both coming and going. I’d never seen one work from the inside before and it was fascinating how the gate closed, the water gurgled away or whooshed in, the boat lowered in the compartment or was raised, then the opposite gate opened and we chugged along again.
We stopped for a bathroom break at The Perch pub on the riverside. It was delightful, old with low ceilings, but updated inside with a warm fire. We had about half an hour there to thaw out, get something warm to drink and eat, and then we headed back to Oxford.
At The Perch
Inside The Perch in Oxfordshire
My must-see in Oxford was the Eagle and Child Pub where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and their Inklings writer’s group met. It’s old, small, wood-paneled, and we absolutely took a step back in time. The food was fabulous. I had macaroni & cheese, Stud Muffin had a mushroom (beef) pie. Both were incredible. We shared a Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert. We bought some postcards of the pub with drawings of the building and it’s famous patrons.
Sticky Toffee Pudding we shared for dessert for our late lunch
The Eagle and Child inside
We still had a couple of hours before our train back to London and we passed by the Ashmolean, so we went in.
Incredible! It’s free, but we tossed a few pounds in the box and prepared to wander. We separated. Stud Muffin went to the top, I stayed on the bottom and we planned to meet in the middle.
Unfortunately, after just fifteen minutes, a guide came and told me the museum was closing. We hadn’t even looked at the time or the open hours, so sadly we only got a brief taste of all the Ashmolean offers. If I get to return to Oxford, the Ashmolean is top of my do-over list.
There wasn’t much left to see in walking distance, so we headed back to the train station. Tip: when booking a train to London from one of the outlying towns on a Friday evening, be sure and reserve your seats. We had, just by luck or Divine Providence, so we didn’t worry about having a seat, but the station and the train were both very full of people making their way to the city. While waiting on the platform, we chatted with a man and learned the extent of the “security incident” in London that morning. A homemade bomb on the Tube had injured several people, including the would-be bomber. The man didn’t know many more details.
We made our way back to London safely and walked the now familiar path back to the hotel.
Next up: Driving on the left side in England: Different from driving on the left in Ireland.
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.
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 activities, 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 brought 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.
Nephew-in-law and his 2-year-old, overlooking the peat bog
Matt Molloy’s Pub in Westport
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.
Sticky Toffee Pudding to die for
Dave and his mussels 😉
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!
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.
Beethoven: Piano Trio in D major Op.70 No.1 ‘Ghost’
Leon McCawley, Jack Liebeck, Guy Johnston
Penderecki: Cadenza for solo viola
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.
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.
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.
Our amazing niece procured some vouchers for us to use while we were in Ireland. Today we headed to Kylemore Abbey.
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.
The one restored greenhouse behind me.
From one side of the gardens.
What a beautiful place to sit and take in the gardens.
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 saw several “insect hotels” in the garden.
A pile of peat.
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.
We hope 2017 is the year the California drought ends. We’re off to a good start with some storms giving us water and snow.
Stud Muffin dashed up to Yosemite last week to check on conditions and how Wawona was doing with all the water.
He took this at our favorite swimming hole in Wawona. It gets its name, Swinging Bridge, from the … well, from the swinging bridge that spans the river. This is the south fork of the Merced River in Yosemite on January 9, 2017.
The water roiling in the forefront covers the sandy beach where we park our gear. The torrent on the left is where we paddle around and swim and cool off in the summer.