Category Archives: Architecture

Touring Tórshavn

September 5, 2017:

After a fairly rough day at sea yesterday, we have landed in the Faroe Islands. Upon our departure from Iceland, we again crossed the Arctic Circle after we left Akureyri (for which we have received duly signed certificates), and sailed further eastward. Jim and I tried again to see the Northern Lights, but bad weather again prevented us. Current Score: Lights-2; Jim and Stacy-0.

This morning we have docked in glorious sunshine, albeit with a wind blowing about 35 knots.

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Fort and lighthouse erected to protect shipping fleet

I have managed to come down with a cold, so I missed this morning’s sightseeing tour. Therefore, most of these pictures are Jim’s. He took a scenic drive which gave him some amazing panoramic views of the harbor, and countryside of Tórshavn.

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Jim came back for lunch aboard, and then we took the shuttle into town to walk around.  From everything we can see, this is an incredibly prosperous island, one of 14 islands in the Faroe archipelago, which are a dependency of Denmark.  The main industry here is said to be fishing, but the town looks too rich for that.

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The early history of the Faroe Islands is somewhat unclear. According to Wikipedia, “It is possible that Brendan, an Irish monk, sailed past the islands during his North Atlantic voyage in the 6th century. He saw an ‘Island of Sheep’ and a ‘Paradise of Birds,’ which some say could be the Faroes with its dense bird population and sheep. This does suggest however that other sailors had got there before him, to bring the sheep. Norsemen settled the Faroe Islands in the 9th century or 10th century. The islands were officially converted to Christianity around the year 1000, and became a part of the Kingdom of Norway in 1035. Norwegian rule on the islands continued until 1380, when the islands became part of the dual Denmark–Norway kingdom, under king Olaf II of Denmark.”

Following the 1814 Treaty of Kiel that ended the dual Denmark–Norway kingdom, the Faroe Islands remained under the administration of Denmark as a county. During World War II, after Denmark was occupied by Nazi Germany, the British invaded and occupied the Faroe Islands until shortly after the end of the war. Following an independence referendum in 1946 (which was unrecognized by Denmark), the Faroe Islands were given extended self-governance with the Danish Realm in 1948 with the signing of the Home Rule Act of the Faroe Islands.” Today, they seem to function as a Danish depency with some limited self governance. Speaking of that, this is another place which developed early traditions of democratic governance.

Like Iceland, The Faroe Islands established a parliament called the Tinganes in Tórshavn between 800-900 AD, and like the Althing in Iceland, was open to all men and was a place where laws were made and disputes settled. Although it was disbanded during norse and Danish rule, the important representative Faroese ministers still work in the Tiganes buildings dating back to at least the 1600s.

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The Tinganes buildings

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Backside of the Tinganes

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Once of the most charming features of Iceland is the use of sod-covered homes. Instead of mowing the roof, if the grass gets too long, every once and a while, the Faroese just put a goat on the roof. Jim and I wandered around the harbor and into the old town area for a bit, but then returned to the ship. Regrettably, as this is still a country which hunts whales, and mindful of my friend, Chris’, admonitions; I wasn’t inclined to support the local economy by shopping.

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Sod-roofed home

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Traditional Faroese Dress

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The Wild Westfjords of Iceland

September 2, 2017:

Overnight we sailed from Reykjavik up to the northwest of Iceland to an area known as the Westfjordlands. We are docked this morning in the town of Isafjordur, which is the administrative capital of this area. Towering mountains ring the glacial bay, and it is just a beautiful vista in all directions!

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In Isafjordur harbor

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Map of the west fjord lands area of Iceland

Jim and I started the day off with a short walk into town, and were immediately charmed by all the old houses immaculately restored in the town center. This is a very sparsely populated areaof Iceland, but its beauty draws visitors from all over Iceland and further afield. Many families still maintain “summer houses” on the grounds of their old family farms, and return annually to visit in the (relatively) warmer months of summer. However, by this time of year, most people have locked up for the winter and returned to the cities.

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Old town Isafjordjur

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To get to our first stop, Skrúdar, we must first drive through a long (5km.) tunnel bored right through the middle of a mountain separating this fjord valley from the next. The tunnel, Vestfjarôagöng, was completed in 1996, and is a crazy feat of engineering. For one thing, there is an intersection midway through the tunnel to access yet another fjord going off at about a 90 degree angle to our direction of travel. Further, the tunnel decreases to a single lane after the intersection, with multiple pull outs along the side. Apparently, the engineers figured that with such sparse traffic, they could save money by only building one lane. However, because the pull outs could not be excavated by the boring machine, they had to be manually excavated by miners, which caused the total cost of that section of the tunnel to exceed the cost of building two lanes. Ruh roh!  This may have been the most exciting experience of the day!

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Entrance to the crazy tunnel

Next we came upon Skrúdar, which was built in 1909 by a local pastor, Reverend Sigtryggur Guölaugsson, as a means of teaching local residents about healthful plants and fruits they could add to their diets.  It must have worked because he lived to the ripe old age of 97! Truthfully, this is a rather unremarkable botanic garden, even if it is the oldest one in Iceland.  Its location at the head of another glacial bay was a beautiful stop, though.

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Countryside around the botanical garden
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The botanical garden at Skrúdar
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Gateway made of the jawbones of a blue whale

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Our next and final stop was in the town of Flateyri. This tiny town lies at the tip of another fjord, and was once the shark fishing center of Iceland. Why, you might ask, fish for shark when there are so many other plentiful and popular fisheries in Iceland?! The answer is that one of the most iconic (and disgusting) national foods is a marinated (read: “rotten”) shark snack called Kæstur hákarl. Jim and I managed to avoid this “delicacy”, but some of the other members of our cruise were not so fortunate.

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Main street, Flateyri

Therefore, it was with some trepidation that we learned that we were to enjoy a coffee and snack at a tiny cafe in Flateyri. Fortunately, the most challenging menu item was some cold-smoked salmon, which I was able to avoid, but Jim said was quite good.  When faced with the cuisine of Iceland, which features other disgusting national traditions such as eating whale, I am grateful to be on a cruise ship where I can easily avoid such “temptations”!

The town of Flateyri has only about 210 people living there today. As we drove into town, which lies on a peninsula, you could see a huge V-shaped berm on the hillside above the town. The reason for this berm is that avalanches are a frequent fact of life everywhere in Iceland where steep volcanic slopes tower above the cities. Sadly, the town of Flayer was devastated as an avalanche in 1996 killed 20 (about 10% of the population) and destroyed most of the homes in the downtown area.

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Flateyri harbor
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Notice the green V-shaped berm up the hillside behind the church. All the homes in town behind the church down to the church were destroyed by the avalanche. This avalanche barrier has prevented two separate avalanches from wreaking the same devastation.

After we ate our snack, we visited the local church, where one of the youngsters in town sang us some traditional Icelandic songs. The group favorite was a lullaby about a mother who throws her baby into a waterfall, and is still sung to Icelandic babies today.  On that cheerful note, we boarded the bus and drove back to Isafjordur.

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Tonight, we will cross the Arctic Circle on our cruise to our next stop in the northeast of Iceland in another fjord called Akureyri. Our onboard naturalist defines the Arctic Circle as “The southern limit of the area where for one day or more each summer, the sun does not set or rise”, i.e., all land within the Arctic Circle experiences at least one day of midnight sun each year.” Jim and I are very excited as there is a chance we will be able to see the Northern Lights from this vantage point. Stay tuned!

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Sailing out of Isafjordur harbor

A Quest to Québec

August 19, 2017:

 

This morning we awoke on the St. Lawrence seaway, sailing into the port of Québec. The area now known as Québec was discovered by French explorer Samuel du Champlain in 1608, and takes its name from an old Algonquin word “Kebec”, meaning “where the river narrows”. Champlain was the first to coin the phrase “le  Canada” to describe the newly “discovered” lands, and Jacques Cartier was the first to claim the area for France. Champlain built a fortification on the cliffs overlooking the river settlement, and started the fortifications (called Fort St. Louis) in 1620.IMG_0032

The approach from the water is striking in that old Québec sits upon a fortified hillside complete with encircling stone ramparts up to 35 feet thick. In fact, the walls date back to the 17th Century, and make them the oldest fortified ramparts still standing in North America. That fact earned Québec UNESCO World Heritage status, and guarantees a steady stream of tourists daily to the city. In fact, Jim and I thought we could have been back in Assisi for the volume of tourists we saw wandering around in the old town.

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The suburb of Levís across the St. Lawrence from Québec

Atop the old town is the towering Chateau Frontenac, a lovely grand old hotel which dominates the Québec skyline. The hotel has been added onto several times, but retains its old world charm. During World War II, President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met there twice in secret to plan both the European and Pacific war theatre offensives.

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The dock side area complete with amphitheater

Our activity for the day consists of a walking tour through the old city (complete with funicular ride up to the old city) and a horse-drawn carriage ride through the newer and old parts of the city.

The port area in Québec has been nicely upgraded and includes a waterfront park through which we walked to get to the funicular. The lower city built around the outside of the ramparts is called Basseterre. From the vantage point there, you can even see a giant slide area wrapping around the outer rampart, which children use to sled down in the wintertime. Québec hosts a Summer Festival and Winter Carnival in the old town and there are activities going on all the time. In fact, there is even a huge amphitheater on top of the ramparts which can accommodate up to 120,000 festival goers.

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Waterfront park looking up at the fortifications and Chateau Frontenac
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The entrance to Basseterre

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We rode up the funicular and walked out onto a beautiful esplanade area with great views overlooking the cruise port, Basseterre and the St. Lawrence River. From this standpoint, the Chateau Frontenac basically dwarfs everything in the old town. Then it was time for our carriage ride. Sadly, it was raining a bit, so we had to have the tops up on our carriages, and that impaired the photography opportunities somewhat. However, wherever we went, beautiful flowers were in bloom and the old architecture of the homes and shops was charming.

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From the esplanade looking at Chateau Frontenac with statue of Samuel de Champlain
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Salvatore Dali sculpture on display outside the Chateau Frontenac

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Map of the ramparts around the old city

We met our guide back beside the Chateau, and then wandered through the old town, stopping briefly at the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Anglican Church. There is a nice artisans market right next to the latter.

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Anglican Church

 

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Craft market to the left on the church grounds
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Notre Dame Cathedral

Following our tour, Jim and I chose to have lunch at one of the many open air cafés scattered through the old town, and then wove our way down through Basseterre and back to the ship.

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Basseterre

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Our sail away was really spectacular this evening, as the clouds had largely lifted, and the sun was striking on the old town. We look forward to sailing down the St. Lawrence and into the Fjord of Sagenay on our way to visit Sagenay tomorrow.

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Mooning Over Montreal

August 17-18, 2017:

I LOVE Montreal! It has all of the charm of Paris (and the excellent restaurants), with none of the attitude.

 

Jim and I arrived yesterday afternoon, and as soon as we dropped off our stuff at our hotel (and I changed into my Trump apology T-shirt), we set off to explore. We are staying at the Marriott Springfield Suites in the old quarter, right off one of the main streets, Rue Saint-Paul.

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We headed down to the waterfront (to the area called the quays—Pronounced “keys”) to see if we could find out where the cruise ship terminal is located. Mission accomplished, we gazed across the harbor at the site of an early futuristic public housing project, which is still very architecturally striking decades later.

As we walk along the waterfront, I am reminded what a livable city this is (at least in the summer). There is a public bike rental program, and there were numerous cyclists along with the walkers. We also walked over to locate the site of our restaurant for tonight.

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Walk along the waterfront
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View from the harbour

Chores accomplished, we headed back up into the heart of the old quarter to one of our favorite streets here; Rue Jacques Cartier. This is a wide pedestrian street/plaza lined with open air cafes and street vendors, which runs from the stately Court of Appeal all the way down to the harbor.

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Streetscene
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Rue St. Paul
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Rue Jacques Cartier

We were fortunate to stumble into a great rooftop bar called la Perché (accessed off an alley behind the restaurant Maggie Oakes). The views were fabulous, and the breeze was heavenly!

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After our aperitif, we headed back to the hotel to change for dinner. Our reservations this evening are at Gibby’s, a local white-tablecloth gem of a place specializing in steak and fresh seafood. When Jim and I were here before, we celebrated my birthday with Beautiful Nova Scotia lobsters, and we were eager to repeat the experience. Our memories did not disappoint, and the ambience of this place is really great since it is located in an ancient stone building, which was originally part of the harbor fortifications.

Replete and happy, we headed back to the room. Along the way we stumbled on a huge public light and music show down by the harbor and we detoured to see it. Wow!

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This morning, we awoke to rainy skies, about 6 hours ahead of time. No matter, we waterproofed ourselves and headed out. Even though our hotel includes breakfast, I was craving a decent latte, and we found another great restaurant called Great Eggspectations. We also walked about some more and detoured by the Place de Arms to look on the stately Notre Dame Cathedral.

Then it was time to head to the ship, the Regent Navigator. As I write this, I am sitting here with a glass of champange looking city-ward from the ship. Sail with us as the Gringos make port tomorrow in old Quebec!

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From Belfast to the Boyne Valley

June 8, 2017:

This morning we beat feet to the south, with an ultimate destination of the K Club in Kildare, just south of Dublin.  However, our first stop for the day in just outside of Drogheda, to see the Unesco World Heritage Site of Newgrange–the location of a trio of immense Neolithic passage tombs. This historical site is known as Brú na Bóinne in the local Gaelic, and is located back in the Irish Republic along the Boyne River in County Meath. It is comprised of three different historical ruins, which are called Knowth, Dowth, and Newgrange.

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Newgrange is the oldest site and was constructed about in about 3200 B.C. (5200 years ago). The Knowth and Dowth sites are a little newer, but all of them were constructed before the Great Pyramid in Egypt, and before Stonehenge in England.  The passage tombs are large domed circular structures with an earthen roof built over internal stones lined up to create a passage to an internal chamber in which the cremated remains of ancestors could be laid until sunlight from the winter solstice crept down the 21 yard passage and lighted stone bowls in which the cremated remains were kept. In this way, the Neolithic people believed the souls of the dead were transported to the afterlife. Around the outside of each tomb is a collar of “kerb stones”, which are decorated with patterned carvings. Even now, over 5,000 years later, the sun still reaches the inner chamber at dawn on the winter solstice, and over 30,000 people sign up for a lottery each year which determines the lucky few able to witness this phenomenon in person. It being Ireland, though, and her highly fickle weather; even if you win the lottery, you might not see the sun that day!

All of the sites are accessed from the Visitors’ Center via small busses, but you have to buy a ticket to each site. Since access is controlled, you are given a timed ticket to access each site. Sadly, the tickets for Newgrange were sold out until 1:00 this afternoon (it was only about 10:00 when we arrived), so we elected to go to the Knowth site instead. But first, we learned more about these Neolithic people in the Visitors’ Center, which has exhibits based on their food, dress, and village structures, as well as two replica inner chambers: the one at Newgrange, and the entrance to Knowth.

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Relief map of the Newgrange site
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Re-creation of Neolithic villagers’ lives

As we went out to the Knowth site, we were fortunate to meet up with a docent who was just beginning a lecture about the Knowth site. As I mentioned earlier, it was built later than Newgrange, having been constructed between about 2500-2000 B.C., so it is still older than The Great Pyramid at Giza.  However, unlike the Newgrange site, this passage tomb was constructed with an east and west entrance which allowed the sun to enter on the equinoxes in spring and summer. Sadly, because the Knowth site was later used for settlement through the Middle Ages, and the later inhabitants constructed a hill fort and subterranean structures which may have been used as passages or for storage, the two passages no longer align for sunlight to enter on the equinoxes.

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The topography of the Boyne River Valley
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The Boyne River as it flows by the Visitors’ Center
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The Knowth Passage Tomb and smaller surrounding tombs

The Knowth passage tomb site is the largest of the three tombs, and is surrounded by 17 satellite tombs.  It also has the largest collection of kerb stones encircling it, although some are missing and others damaged.  However, outside the eastern entrance is a timber circle (think Stonehenge in wood), which is believed to have been constructed in the late Neolithic or early Iron Age (starting bout 2200-2000 B.C.), and the central tomb was believed to have already been in disuse by that time.  As mentioned above, the site was abandoned and repurposed for human habitation beginning in the late Iron Age/early Christian period.

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The timber circle
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Smaller satellite tomb, probably repurposed as a dwelling

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Excavated smaller tomb

The kerb stones have really simple, but pretty carvings on them, and are more varied than those at Newgrange. Interestingly, one of the most common patterns is that of a spiral, which we have seen in other cultures (notably the Incan and Mayan), as well as some other cultures where it depicts the Earth Mother, and fertility or the circle of Life. One other interesting fact about these stones is that they were originally installed with the carving facing inward, in a style known as “hidden art”. Upon closer inspection, we could also see numerous “sand martins” (we call them bank sparrows in America), who had built nests in the grass edge right above the kerb stones.

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Sand martins built nests all along the domed top of the tomb knoll which was given a concrete lintel to stabilize it after excavation and reconstruction starting in the 1960s

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We also climbed to the top of the tomb, from which you could see all over the Boyne Valley. You could also see the Newgrange site in the distance, as well as the ruins of Mellifont Abbey, which was established by the Cistercians. Weren’t they just the busy little religious order?!!!!

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The top of the Knowth tomb

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View out over the Boyne Valley toward the Newgrange site
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Long distance view of Newgrange 

We then decided to beat feet directly to the K Club in Kildare, as our lodgings have been upgraded, so we will be staying in the mansion known as Straffan House, located on the property.  Sadly, we will also be bidding farewell to Dermott, but after nearly two weeks with all of us, I imagine he’ll be glad to sleep in his own bed and reacquaint himself with his wife!

We were treated like royalty upon arrival and driven to the remote property where Straffan House is located. The house is the private resident of Sir Smurfit, and was designed to look like the original Straffan House, which became the Kildare Hotel, now known as the K Club. The Smurfits were among the original founders of the K Club, and now own it outright. The new Straffan House is now available for lease to large groups at an astronomical cost, but I guess when it wasn’t rented (or being used by the Smurfit family), it serves as a kind of overflow accommodations.This is what greeted us as we arrived.

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I had stayed at the K Club about 10 years ago on a business trip to meet with my company’s London and Irish insurance brokers, and I had treasured my memories of this grand old place.  As you can see, Straffan House is a complete luxury showcase, complete with its own butler (named Patrick), movie theatre, gym, spa and pool, and golf carts provided for getting around the property.  However, this is when reality set in.

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Views over the 10th hole of the Smurfit course at the K Club

I will preface these comments by saying that I am about to whine about what are clearly “FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS”, and I recognize that (and gave some thought to not mentioning any of this, but decided to leave you readers with an accurate account of our good stroke of fortune turned bad).   After Patrick showed us to our rooms,  we noticed that the rooms themselves, although nice, were certainly nothing to write home about, and ours was about as modest as my nephew’s room back home. More importantly, some of the rooms had no ensuite bathroom, and none of the bedrooms had air-conditioning. The whole house was about as hot as a sauna when we arrived, and although the pool room and gym downstairs apparently had air conditioning;  since it was not working, those amenities were unusable. We had been told that whatever we wished in terms of food or drink could be provided at the house by merely letting Patrick know. The problem was that management had not authorized Patrick to do this and had not provisioned the house. Since the main hotel property is about 7-9 minutes away by car (and about 10 minutes directly across one of the golf courses by golf cart), that left us having to drive the carts to get anything we wanted or waiting forever for someone to come from the main hotel to drive us.

Since Jim and I wanted a cocktail after we settled in to celebrate the last night of the trip, we took 1 of the carts over to the main hotel. While that we cool (and we even saw a bunny playing on the greens), when we were ready to back to house to join our group for dinner, we got trapped at the main hotel by a huge thunderstorm deluge, and then had to wait some time to get back to Straffan House, and the vans had to make two trips to ferry us all to dinner.

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The Clubhouse at the K Club (we ate dinner here)
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The grounds of the main hotel
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The main hotel

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The crowning blow came the next morning, though. After arising early (after having sweated my way through the night because of no air conditioning and humidity outside) so we could eat breakfast  and then leave for the airport, the chef who was supposed to show up and bring provisions and cook breakfast never arrived. Calls by Patrick to the main hotel didn’t produce any results, so Patrick found us a couple of tubs of yogurt and some fruit (probably his), and we had to leave. The conclusion was inescapable: we would have been better off staying in the main hotel.

While this was a less than stellar end to a great trip, Jim and I will still look back on our trip to Ireland as a wonderful exposure to a great company, and especially, its warm and welcoming people.  Stay tuned, as our next adventure (starting in August) all take us through the Canadian Maritime provinces and on to, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Thanks for reading along!

 

Walking in the Giants’ Steps

June 7, 2017:

Another big day in our itinerary is finally here: we are bound for the Giant’s Causeway to see this incredible geological formation that left giant hexagonal basalt columns sticking up like broken teeth or stepping stones on the edge of the ocean! It’s also time for us to get our geek on; specifically, geeking out about Game of Thrones. All along our drive today, we’ll be seeing several of the sites featured in the series, which Jim and I really enjoy. It turns out Steve is a big fan, too.

We drove out of Belfast this morning to the east to drive along the coast, for another very picturesque drive called the Nine Glens of Antrim drive.  We will spend the whole day in County Antrim, but you are very clearly still in Northern Ireland, as it seems that each successive town takes turns proclaiming their allegiance to either the Republican or Loyalist forces. You can easily tell this by the prominent use of either Irish national flags or the British tricolor. So much for getting out of the corrosive partisan atmosphere of Belfast!

Nonetheless, the drive was as lovely as advertised! Our first stop was in the town of Carrickfergus, with a fort dedicated to the English invasion of William III of Orange. Plainly, this is a Loyalist town, complete with a mock redcoat statue on the ramparts of the fort.

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Carrickfergus Harbour
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The fort
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Statue of William III

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The Redcoat on the Ramparts
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Hi, Lauretta!
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Clearly, a Loyalist town

Next, we stopped in the quaint seaside town of Glencloy, which has been used to film scenes in Game of Thrones, both as the seaside port in Braavos where Arya Stark goes to learn from the Faceless Man, and the cliffside behind the town, which was featured when the Whitewalkers attack the Wilding encampment, a  If all of that means nothing to you, just know that Glencloy is the prototypical Irish seaside town and enjoy it for that!

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Coming in to Glencloy; the wall the Whitewalkers overran above the Wildings village
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Entrance to Glencloy Harbour

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Where Arya comes ashore

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Beyond that, we drove through village after quaint village, with sheep and lambs grazing happily in the fields. One town in particular, Ballycastle, looked like it might be a pleasant place to stay at the seashore, but we would probably pick the westside of the Irish Republic before we would come back here.

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Shortly thereafter, we pulled into a carpark on the coast on the cliffs high above the sea. From here, you can see the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which connects the mainland to a tiny island that lies just feet off the coast. From here, you can also see the much larger Raflin island, and just 11 miles away, the outline of the coast of Scotland.  While I would have liked to climb across the bridge, several in our group don’t deal well with heights, and we still needed to get to the Giant’s Causeway.

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The only house served by the rope bridge?

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The island of Raflin and the coast of Scotland behind it

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Finally, we came into the town nearest the Causeway and had lunch at a very cozy pub, called, appropriately, The Nook.  Somewhat uncharacteristically for Northern Ireland, all of the young women working in the pub were very friendly.

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Following lunch, we hopped on the shuttle bus which takes you into the Giant’s Causeway area, and at last, we were free to explore!  First I hiked out along the seashore just past the main tourist part of the sight, which was TEEMING with visitors.  Then I walked up the trail behind the site to see the organ pipe-shaped rock formations, and then up to the top of the cliffs overlooking the site so I could get some perspective shots. Finally, I scampered down to the main site to see all I could before we left.  Sadly, I felt like I did not get nearly enough time here, and I would like to return someday, perhaps when there are fewer tourists.

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Then it was back in the bus to continue our tour of Game of Thrones sites.  As we drove south from the north coast of Northern Ireland, we headed for the location of the  “Dark Hedges”; more properly known as Kingsroad in the series. This location is a country road lined with twisted, gnarly beech trees, and was used a few times, including in the scene where Arya Stark dresses up like a boy to escape from King’s Landing, but is captured instead, and dragged off to the Brothers without Banners hideout (which was filmed in another part of Northern Ireland — Pollnagollum Cave, in County Fermanagh).  The actual road is Bregagh Road, outside of Stranocum, in the Ballymoney district in County Antrim.  Obviously, this is not a well-kept secret, as tour busses jockeyed for position, and it was a challenge to get a photo without other tourists in it. Some people went to elaborate lengths to strike poses from the GOT scenes.

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Finally, it was back to Belfast.  We enjoyed a super good meal at the restaurant James  Street South. Tomorrow dawns with the last day of our tour, so we all hurried back to pack and go to bed.

 

 

Slipping off to Sligo

June 5, 2017:

Sadly, we packed up this morning and left our lush accommodations at Ashford Castle to head even further to the northwest (after eating another epic Ashford breakfast).  Once again, rain greeted our departure, but as we have learned, the weather in Ireland is “mixed”, meaning it can be just about anything at just about anytime, so we are content to let things play out.

This is a momentous day, as it is Dermott’s birthday, and Shellie has drawn him a beautiful card from all of us!

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We had planned to go to the Museum of Folk Life as our first stop, but we had failed to take into account that today is a “Bank Holiday” in Ireland, meaning mostly all museums are closed. Oh, well, it was off to Sligo Town in County Sligo. On the way, we passed the tomb of Maeve (Medbh), the warrior Queen of the Connaught, at Knocknarea. She was an Iron Age queen, who was supposed buried standing up in her full battle regalia. The tomb is an immense stone cairn (or dolmen) situated on top of a hill where it dominates the surrounding country side.

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Queen Maeve’s Tomb

Sligo is best known (outside of Ireland, at least) as the birthplace of the poet W. B. Yeats. Several of his poems recall life in Sligo, and he penned several odes to the surrounding lakes and hills.  We stopped for a coffee, and were relieved to find that even if the museums were closed this bank holiday, the liquor stores were not, so we were able to slip off and buy Dermott a bottle of his favorite tipple, Jameson’s Green Spot whiskey. Jim and I walked around the town a bit, and managed not to find to find the Sligo Abbey which dates back to the 13th Century.  But we did gaze on the River Garavogue, which divides the town and is quite scenic. There is also a whimsical bronze statue of Yeats in the town center.

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Sligo, on the river Garavogue

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W. B. Yeats
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Another notable poet, Chuck Cascio, poses with Yeats

We drove on a short way to the town of Drumcliffe, which was once the site of a monastery established by St. Colmcille, dating back to about 500 A.D. The only parts remaining of it are a really well-preserved stone High Cross (probably erected about the 11th Century) and a round tower house built between 900 and 1200 A.D.). But the real purpose for our visit was to see the tomb of W.B. Yeats, which is inscribed with part of an epitaph he wrote for himself. Dermott demonstrated his oratory skills by reciting the whole poem, and we figured this was a fitting time to deliver his birthday present.  Yeats’ final resting place is very scenic, and has a direct view to the rocky outcrop known as Ben Bulben, which was a frequent topic of Yeats’ poems. His grave lies in the graveyard of St. Columba’s Catholic church, and we took the opportunity to take a peek inside to see what an Irish country church looks like.

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Walking towards St. Columba
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Ben Bulben
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Dermott’s oratory

Dermott's birthday gift

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Entrance to St. Columba

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Then we had to beat feet to get further to the northwest, to Donegal, where Chuck, Mark & Jeff had another date with the gods of golf.  When we arrived, it was POURING down rain at the Donegal Golf Club (hence no pictures).  I think all of us who weren’t playing golf secretly blessed our good fortune in not having to venture out in the muck. On the way out of the club, I spied this quaint road sign (one of many in Ireland), and wondered why anyone would want to save squirrels??!

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Dermott drove us on to Donegal Town for some sightseeing.  The rest of us viewed the town, with its quaint parish church, and Donegal Castle, the ancestral home of the O’Donnell family, dating back to the time when the O’Donnells were the royal family who ruled one of Ireland’s kingdoms; in this case, the Kingdom of Tyrconnellp (Tir Chonaill) from about 1200 until 1601.  The O’Donnells took their name from Dómhniall, who was  descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages (d. 901), one of the High Kings of Ireland. Notably, the Castle was last home to the legendary Red Hugh O’Donnell, who led the rebellion against the English starting in 1595. Although O’Donnell and the rest of the earls of Ireland were initially successful in their battles against the British (the Nine Years’ War), they finally lost the war, and fled Ireland in 1602 (the so-called Flight of the Earls). After that, ownership of Donegal Castle was granted to an Englishman, Captain Basil Brooke.  He and his family were responsible for adding onto the Castle, building first Barbican turrets, and then a Manor House starting in 1623.  The Castle also features an underground storeroom with barreled ceilings dating back to the 9th Century.

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Entering Donegal on the River Eske
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parish church
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Outside Donegal Castle
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Donegal Castle

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The Garderobe; a “modern” convenience
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The Banquet Hall
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Model of Donegal Castle from the 1600s
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Underground storeroom
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View of the Castle from the River Eske

After walking about the Castle, we indulged ourselves with a little shopping in the town’s main downtown area, known as the Diamond. Jim lasted about 10 minutes, and then went off to find a typical Irish pub, where he was kindly schooled in the intricacies of Irish football by the regulars there. I checked out the the woven offerings, since this is the home of the famous Harris tweed.

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The Diamond in central Donegal
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Loom set up to weave Harris Tweed
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Wall hanging made out of patches of Harris Tweed
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Fun tweeds for sale

Then we drove a short distance to tonight’s hotel, the Solis Lough Eske, about 10 miles out in the Donegal countryside.  It was still a chilly day, so we were grateful for all the fires blazing in the hotel’s common areas.  After we settled in, Jim and I, Shellie & Paula retired to the lounge to try a few more Irish whiskies (and to blog).  Dinner in the hotel tonight, and then tomorrow, on to Northern Ireland.