May 24 London

London Day 2

I did not want to rush the day, so we took our time getting up and heading for the continental breakfast served at the hotel. When I told mom we would have to go back to Victoria Station to catch the bus tour, I saw her cringe a bit. I think it was mostly because of how busy the station is. However, we headed out – this time with my camera – to see what we could.

Taking the Big Bus tour blue line, we saw more of Hyde Park, Notting Hill, Kensington and Paddington.  I even saw the B&B I stayed at on my last trip to London. It is near Paddington Station. We then drove by more of the other sites of London – Big Ben, Parliament, The London Eye, etc. I also remembered the photo tips from the day before!

 

Horse Guard
Horse Guard
Big Ben
Big Ben
Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge
The Shard
Tower of London
Tower of London
Tower of London & the Shard
Tower of London & the Shard
Tower of London
Tower of London
Boudicca
Boudicca

We got off at the London Tower. There were crowds, but not quite as bad as I thought they would be. We headed to the dock to take a boat ride along the Thames to Westminster. The commentary was very funny and it was nice to get a different perspective of city sights.

When we got off the boat, I decided to try something. I told my mom that I had a surprise to show her and it would not be a long walk. We worked our way through the crowds until we got to Westminster Abbey – and yes, she was surprised and happy! It is just behind the Parliament Buildings, so it is not a far walk, but still unexpected. While we looked at the Abbey, I decided to try something else.

Mom wanted to see Buckingham Palace and I wanted to walk through St. James and Green Parks – my favourite parks in London. So, I convinced her that yes, I knew where I was going (“see, here is a sign with an arrow pointing to it!”) and that it wasn’t a long walk and the bus would not take us there. We walked to St. James Park with no issues – and few people to bump into.

Of course, once we got to the park, there were a couple of issues. One, there was some sort of race going on and it started to rain. We just pulled out our umbrellas and started walking down one of the paths. I was surprised at how many people “took shelter” under the large trees, even though we heard thunder.  Doesn’t anyone know what happens when a tree is struck by lightning?

Along our walk, we saw many birds, including pelicans, swans and many ducks. I talked about walking through this park in twilight with mist rising from the ground and magic filling the air. We crossed a bridge and there we saw one of the best pictures you could get of the palace, perfectly framed between the park’s trees.

Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace
Views from St. James Park
Views from St. James Park
Views from St. James Park
Views from St. James Park

The park also has clean – and free – toilets! This is always a good thing to know.

We continued our walk through the park and found several nests filled with baby ducks. They were so cute and so fluffy!

Baby ducks

Baby ducks!

Upon exiting the park, we saw more of the palace and the Victoria monument, but we could not get close because the circle was blocked. This was the finish to the races. We did see the finish of a wheel-chair race where the first place finisher set a record.

I then convinced mom that it was only a ten-minute walk back to her favourite place in London – Victoria Station – where I needed to get some cash and we needed food. I almost had her convinced when a tour bus stopped next to us – and we opted to take it back to the station where I found a bank machine.

About a block from the station is the St. George’s Tavern where we stopped for an early dinner. I loved this place! When I wasn’t sure which beer to order, the bartender gave me a “flight” of six beers to taste – all from specialized breweries. It was interesting to taste the different ones. I finally settled on the stout – it was creamy and delicious. For dinner, we got an appetizer of brie fondue, which had currents mixed into the cheese. Mom got a traditional cottage pie and I opted for a venison and mushroom pie with sloe gin gravy. It was quite tasty!

That pretty much sums up our whirlwind visit to London. So much I wanted to do – not enough time at all.

I have to say that throughout this trip, my mom was a real trouper! Travelling with anyone can be a challenge and I am so used to “going solo” that I really had to focus on what was best for both of us. My main goal was that I wanted this to be very special for her while still seeing some of the things that would be special for me as well.

It must have been a good trip – we even talked about what we could do next!

My personal highs – and a few lows – will be highlighted in upcoming blogs. Also, pictures — many more pictures!

May 23 London

Whirlwind visit to London

To wrap up our travel to the British Isles, I thought it was important to introduce my mom to London. In theory, this made a lot of sense, but as the time drew near, I became a bit nervous (and as a result did not get any sleep). I mean, I’m ok wandering around big cities, taking the Tube and dealing with crowds. My mother, not so much as it is harder for her to get around and to walk as much as I do. However, the plans were made and so it was up to me to try to make everything work out.

I opted for a transfer from the ship to the Victoria Coach Station in central London and I had arranged for a hotel that was a 10-minute walk from Victoria station. So far, so good, right?

Cruise ships are very good at getting people off the ship in a most methodical way. We were in the appropriate area in plenty of time to get a coffee and soon our group was called to leave the ship. We showed our cruise cards for the last time and went to find out luggage. Hauling my bags was a bit of a challenge for us, but we managed and were directed to go to one of three buses. I thought getting in the shorter line would be best, but of course, this was the last bus to leave for London.  To make it more interesting, we ended up having to wait almost thirty minutes AFTER the other two buses left for three women who were “late” getting off the ship (of course with no apologies or even concern that they had made a “few” people wait for them). Once the late-comers were on the bus, we headed to London.

We got to the Victoria Coach Station around 11:30 AM. The hotel suggested that we take a taxi, just to be on the safe site (I agreed). Getting a taxi was a problem – everyone wanted one and there seemed to be none around. A porter helped us flag one down, by standing in the middle of the street, and we were on our way.

I booked us a room at the Lidos Hotel at 43-45 Belgrave. When we got there, the person at the desk was very helpful.  Our room was not ready yet, but he gave me very good advice concerning the neighbourhood and how to get around London. The #24 bus stops in front of the hotel and goes to many of the “hot spots.” We were only a 10-minute walk to Victoria Station, so that should be easy, too.

We ditched the luggage and head back to Victoria Station, with a stop along the way for some lunch. There were lots of places to eat. I choose a pub and we had a traditional pub lunch. The portions were huge! Then off to see about getting tickets for the Big Bus Tour. I figured that would be the easiest way for me and mom to see all there was to see in our limited time. I had a little problem finding the information booth, due to construction around the station, but we did find the theatre where Wicked was playing.

Once we found the information booth, I was able to get us tickets that would be good for a couple of days travel, including a boat ride on the Thames. To get to the bus stop was another adventure. The crowds around Victoria Station were thick and everyone seemed to know where they were going – everyone but us!

Finally, I found the stop and we waited for the next bus to arrive. Once on, mom did not want to walk up the steps to the top level (understandably – the stairs are tight and narrow), so we sat on the lower level until we got to the Hyde Park – Marble Arch stop. I decided I wanted to go on the Red Line, not the Blue Line, so we got off and waited for the next Red Line bus to show up.  The Red Line bus has a live commentary and goes strictly in the centre portion of London. Once it showed up, I went upstairs while mom sat on the lower level. In addition to the stairs, I had to face the ever-changing elements of London weather. I enjoyed interacting with the person doing the live commentary.

Of course, my camera was with our luggage at the hotel (silly me – lack of sleep was starting to show).

The commentary was great and it gave me a chance to relax a bit and re-acquaint myself with the layout of London. The guide gave great tips and showed us great places to get iconic pictures (something I was able to use the next day!)

London Eye with Big Ben
London Eye with Big Ben — only one place to capture this image!

Once around and we were back to Victoria Station, so I got us off the bus and started to head back to the hotel. Of course, I turned right instead of left. This meant that we walked for about 10 minutes before I realized my mistake. My travelling companion was not impressed. I turned us around and promised her that I knew where we were going – and twenty minutes later we were at our hotel. NOTE: My little detour, which was a problem for additional walking, did help me better understand where we were located. It helped anchor the “map” I had in my head to the actual place, if that makes sense.  It really did help me navigate better!

When we got back to the hotel, our room was ready, so off we went to find it (of course I tried the wrong room first – remember I am now really tired) but we finally found our room. It was a typically small London room – but with a nice bathroom and even a small “deck”. We also had free WI-FI, so I tried to take a nap while mom checked her emails. For me, the bed was extremely comfortable!

We had dinner next door at an Italian restaurant called O Sole Mio. I was able to practice my wee bit of Italian and we had a nice dinner. This is very much a neighbourhood restaurant.  They seemed to know most of the people dining there.  The staff all spoke Italian – some understanding very little English.  The food was very good and plentiful.  HINT: the pizzas are not single serving but they are very good!

Day 1 complete!

May 22: Le Havre, Normandy & Rouen

May 22: Le Havre, Normandy & Rouen

We got of Le Harvre, France at 7 AM and I had arranged a tour for my mom to the various Normandy sites. I thought she would enjoy it because she had mentioned an interest in Normandy many years ago. So, it was an early morning to get her hooked up with the rest of the tour.  There were eight of them in the group, so they were able to go to some sites that larger buses cannot get to, such as the cliffs the servicemen climbed and the little church where the paratroop’s chute got caught on the steeple. She also got to see some of the preparations that are taking place for the 70th anniversary of D Day. The weather varied from sunny and nice to rainy and even some hail!

I got to sleep in – after taking care of things for mom. Then, I started some of my packing before heading to lunch then to a bus that would take me to Rouen. The drive from Le Havre to Rouen was nice. We crossed the Seine a couple of times before finally arriving at Rouen.

Way to Rouen
Way to Rouen
Bridge over the Seine
Bridge over the Seine
Rouen
Rouen

Our tour guide gave us quite a walking tour of Rouen and its various churches, the cathedral and charming streets.

Church in Rouen
Church in Rouen
Streets of Rouen
Streets of Rouen
Streets of Rouen
Streets of Rouen
Streets of Rouen
Streets of Rouen
Cathedral Rouen
Cathedral of Rouen
Streets of Rouen
Streets of Rouen

It was while walking and taking pictures of these charming streets that I had a bit of a run-in with a concrete barrier. I lost and ended up on my bum in the middle of the cobbled street! I’m okay, not even a bruise! I think I may have bounced.

Picture I was taking when I fell in the streets of Rouen
Picture I was taking when I fell in the streets of Rouen

We continued to walk to the site where St. Joan of Arc was burned. There is now a modern church near this that has the most interesting roof and houses 16th century stained glass windows that were installed here because their original churches had been destroyed.

After our tour, we had some time to explore on our own. Of course, this meant finding a nice café for a coffee. The one I choose just happened to be playing hockey updates and had very friendly waiters. I was almost finished when the sky opened up and it started to rain. I pulled up the hood to my jacket and finished my coffee in the rain, then I ducked under the awning to watch more of the hockey scores and talk to other patrons who were keeping out of the rain.

Cafe in Rouen
Cafe in Rouen with hockey game!

Back on the ship, mom was waiting for me so we could go to dinner together. Afterwards, we just spent some time in our stateroom, packing up the last of our things and preparing to end this portion of our journey.

May 20: Edinburgh

May 20, Edinburgh

We sailed into Queensferry and the ship dropped anchor near the railway bridge. It was going to be another fun-filled day with the ship’s tenders. Yeah! My mom wanted to tour the Royal Yacht and I wanted to experience Edinburgh on my own, so we split up for the day.

Her tour of the Royal Yacht was interesting. She got to see the both the working areas of the ship (machine room, bridge, etc.) and the formal rooms.

Royal Yacht
Royal Yacht

She was really impressed with the formal dining room that could seat 54 people for a formal meal. After her tour, she went on a drive around Edinburgh – and said that she saw me walking around the Royal Mile.

After my fun-filled tender ride (why not sit up on the top – it’s just a little breezy and damp today, nothing to worry about!), I got on a bus that took a group of us to the centre of Edinburgh.

Ship's tender
Ship’s tender

After a brief introduction into the old and new towns using one of the Hop On, Hop Off tours, I spent the day wandering around the Edinburgh Castle and then walking down the Royal Mile. The castle is impressive, standing atop a massive rock formation. As you can imagine, there are also great views!

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle
Castle guard
Castle guard
Castle guards
Castle guards
Royal Mile
Royal Mile
St. Giles
St. Giles
View from castle
View from castle

Next to the castle, there is the Whisky Experience where you can even go for a ride in a whisky barrel. Needless to say, there are several whisky shops along the way. I continued my search for Stag’s Breath – and finally I have my prize! The man who sold it to me did not believe how hard it was for me to find it. I told him my sad tale, including someone trying to “fool me” into an inferior product. He laughed and said he was glad my search was over (it fits nicely in my new tea cozy, so it shouldn’t break on the say home).

If you want to get a kilt, this is also the place to go. Every other shop was a kilt maker, including another HR shop. Then, there were all the souvenir shops. That pretty much describes most of the Royal Mile.

There is some interesting architecture, especially with how the buildings have different numbers of floors in the front and back, however after a bit, I got bored with seeing the same shops. And, while Holyrood Castle lies at the opposite end of the Royal Mile, it was closed because Queen Elizabeth’s son Prince Edward was there attending an official meeting of the Church of Scotland. So, there was no real need to walk the entire mile, so I wandered off, thinking I might go to the gardens along Princes Street. By the time I got there, the weather had shifted and it was bloody cold. So, another change of plans brought me to a coffee shop for an espresso and lemon cake.

Eventually, I made it back to the ship in time for our special dinner reservations at the Italian restaurant, Sabittini’s. This restaurant is located on deck 16 at the aft of the ship. Mom and I had a perfect view of the railroad bridge and watched as the ship slowly left Queensferry. Dinner was excellent. The fresh-baked bread served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar; the pasta topped with a mushroom sauce that was amazing. My main dish was a veal chop cooked to perfection; mom choose “lobster three ways” which she really enjoyed. Dessert was a limencello “bomb.” It was a lovely way to end our day in Edinburgh.

Queensferry Bridge
Queensferry Bridge

More than anything, though, I need a sea day!

May 19 Inverness, Scotland

May 19 Inverness, Scotland

I sent mom on a tour of the Scottish highlands and Cawdor Castle. I headed out for a day exploring Inverness. Cawdor Castle is where Duncan dies in MacBeth – except that the castle did not exist at the time! So much for legends. Mom says is is a beautiful castle with lovely gardens.

I went exploring in Inverness. The old city is very compact and easy to walk. There is a lovely walk along both sides of the Ness River that include a cathedral and the Inverness Castle.  Along the way, I watched a couple of men fly fishing in the river and I saw a nice Celtic Cross monument. Someone offered to take my picture, I refused the picture, but we had a lovely chat about what he did wearing a kilt at the CN Tower (hint: it involves the glass floor and he’s “a real Scotsman”).

I got a treat at the castle. It is a beautiful building that dominates the city and is in use as a justice building, but the gardens are somewhat accessible and full of bunnies!

I stopped for lunch as decided I had to try the haggis – it seemed important. They served it with a malt whisky cream sauce. Not sure if it was because of the sauce, but I quite enjoyed it!

I also found the Hector Russell shop in Inverness – and took a picture for Heather. The Whiskey Shop tried to tell me that they honey whisky they had for sale was similar to Stag’s Breath. I told them it was not even in the same league. So, I’m still searching for what I consider the “drink of the Gods” (aka Stag’s Breath honey-whisky liquor).

The Victorian Market is in a very nice old building, but I really did not find much in it. There are a lot of interesting pubs, throughout Inverness.

 

May 18 Orkney

May 18 Kirkwall, Ornkey Islands, Scotland

We headed out today to see some of the Neolithic sites that are part of the Orkney Islands. Our first stop was the Ring of Brodgar. It is thought that this stone henge was built 4,500 to 4,000 years ago. Thirty-six of the original sixty stones are still standing; at least one was toppled by a lightning strike. There is some indication that this is only part of a much larger site and excavations are being done around it.

Standing Stones
Standing Stones
Ring of Brodgar
Ring of Brodgar

Our next stop was the Maeshowe, which is one of the finest examples of a chambered tomb in northwest Europe. It is dated between 5,000 and 4,500 years ago. To get into the chamber, you have to walk down a narrow chamber that is only about three feet high. The walk is worth it! The chamber is amazing. And, it contains interesting Viking grafitti! Like Newgrange in Ireland, the entrance is aligned with the sun on December 21 which will illuminate a stone that is directly across from the entrance. But back to the graffiti. A group of Vikings under the rule of Earl Harald Maddaadarsom took refuge here, naming it Orkahaugr. More stories from the Orkneyinga Saga talk about Earl Rognvald and at least one inscription mentions him.

Maeshowe
Maeshowe

Our last stop took us to the Stones of Stenness. It has been hard to date these stones, but they appear to be the oldest set of stones on the islands, going back to 5,400 to 4,500 years ago.

Stenness Stones
Stenness Stones

This is also where I saw my first seal of the trip – sitting on a rock in the little bay next to these stones.

On returning to the ship, I decided to take a walk around the town of Kirkwall. St. Magnus Cathedral was founded in 1137 Viking Earl Rognvald in honour of his uncle, St. Magnus. Next to the cathedral were the ruins of the Earl’s and Bishop’s palaces. Kirkwall is a small but charming town with a number of craft stores selling local designs.

St. Magnus's Cathedral
St. Magnus’s Cathedral
Celtic Cross
Celtic Cross
Earl's Palace
Earl’s Palace

May 16 Greenock, Castle Culzean and Ayr

May 16

Greenock, Castle Culzean and Ayr

Greenock, Scotland is a seaport and about an hour from Glasgow. At one time, it was a busy ship building community.  Now, it and the surrounding area is more of a resort area, with vacation or summer homes for people who work in Glasgow. It is also filled with “a, b, c’s”: another bloody castle.”

And that was our quest for the day – a trip to the Culzean Castle (pronounced “cul-een – the “z” is silent). The drive to Culzean took us through small towns and villages around the river known as the Firth of Clyde. It was a nice drive and we saw a few castles, both restored and abandoned, and lots of sheep.

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The Culzean Castle is the seat of the Kennedy Clan and is beautifully restored. There are different areas around the castle, including a deer park (complete with deer and pheasant), forest paths, a swan pond, a walled garden and, of course, the castle itself. The castle is beautifully decorated with artwork and period furniture. I loved the kitchen, although it was really more a display than a working kitchen, it was still interesting.

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We had several hours to wander through the house and the grounds. There is also a restaurant that serves fresh, locally sourced food, gift shops (where I *may* have found a Highland Coo and I definitely found a Scottish apron), toy store and a second-hand book store.

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On our way back to the ship, we drove through the town of Ayr, and past the birthplace of Robbie Burns. Our guide regaled us with a portion of Burns’ poem about Tam O’Shanter and we saw the old church and the bridge which were prominent in this story. We had some time to walk around Ayr and see the Tam O’Shanter pub. Since it had been a long day of walking, I found a coffee shop where my mom could sit and we could have something to drink – she had tea and I had coffee. I also looked at some tartans in a woolen shop, but none were right for my clan or anyone that I know.

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We got back in time for dinner – wouldn’t want to miss that! I had a wild mushroom tart, and antipasta plate, prime rib, black forest cake & limoncello. There was a guitarist performing in the Piazza area of the ship, so mom and I sat and listend to him for a bit.  Then, I sent her off to bed while I went in search – again – for a nice bar.  This time, I went to a place called the Explorer’s Lounge and sat at the bar. Caiprihinas were on the menu, so I ordered one and watched a band do 50s and 60s music. I also learned that much of the staff for this ship was new – many starting new contacts at Southampton. The drink was good, and my “new” bartender learned how to make it from the senior bartender on duty.

I wandered to another bar, were there was supposed to be ballroom dancing. They had a duo playing there, but hardly any dancers. I was joined by a gentleman who bought me another drink and we talked a bit. Then, I headed to a third bar – just to see if there was more going on – before heading back to my stateroom.

It was a nice day in port and at sea.

May 15: Dublin

May 15

Dublin and County Meath

We started the morning meeting up with a small group of people. We had booked a private tour that would take us to the Boyne Valley outside of Dublin. The first part of our tour was around Dublin and to the see the Book of Kells at Trinity College. Traffic, however, was not with us! Both our driver, Tony, and our guide, Colum, agreed that this was the worst they had seen in a while. On the way, we drove past a famine ship and a group of statues that commemorate the famine refugees.

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The line at Trinity was long and what we really wanted to do was head to the Boyne Valley. So, we meandered our way through the streets, pass the Irish Parliament where we saw Gerry Adams being interviewed, through the Georgian section and several squares and parks and, of course, the Guinness Factory before finally making our way to the Hill of Tara (and I saw the infamous “Viking Tour”).

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Before embarking on our tour, we had some lunch at the little restaurant that is next to the site. The home-made brown bread was delicious! It was actually warm enough for us to have our lunch outside, where we were serenaded by a murder of crows “getting busy” in the trees around us.

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After lunch, it was time to see the Hill of Tara site. Our guide was very knowledgeable and also directed us to feel the energy of the place to get a sense of what it was really “like.” It was really nice to have someone understand that there can be an energy to a site like Tara. There was even a tree that had many ribbons tied to the branches – magical offerings! I loved the site and the time we took to see the different areas such as the Hill of the Hostages and, of course, the Lia Fail.

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Because it took so long to get out of Dublin, our driver gave us some bad news – we would not be able to get into Newgrange. But he and Colum had a few other places lined up for us. These included an Abbey, Trim Castle and the village of Kells to see some Celtic Crosses.  While on the surface, this does not seem to make up for missing a trip to Newgrange, these sites were really nice – again being able to sense the energy and even look for a ghost or two at Trim Castle. At Trim Castle, we had another guide that took us through the castle. He has spent some time in Toronto, so we had lots to share while walking up the narrow, circular staircases.

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The village of Kells has another monastery and graveyard, which is where there is a collection of Celtic crosses. There were some interesting buildings as well, including a separate spire and a tower. While we were there, a man was out walking his dog through the graveyard. When I first saw the dog, I thought he was a typical black lab – then he stood up. He legs were only about 3 inches long, yet his body was the size of an overweight lab! He was very friendly and didn’t mind me laughing at him, as long as I also starched his ears!

We then headed back to the ship, getting back with thirty minutes to spare. After a quick stop at our room, where I discovered that my room key was de-magnetized again, we went to dinner. We sat at a table with three women from Florida. Dinner included shrimp cocktail, roasted garlic soup, braised short ribs, a frozen chocolate praline torte and an Irish coffee.

This marks the end of a long day with lots of walking!

May 14: Belfast

May 14: Belfast

I decided to take it easy today. Mom stayed on the ship, while I took the free tourist shuttle to the city centre and took a tour around the city. Our first stop was the “Titanic Zone” which includes a museum, and several other attractions. The museum is a beautiful building. At each corner is a section that looks like the prow of the ship and is the same size as the Titanic. There is also an area the shows one of the places where the Titanic was in dry dock. Close to the museum is the Titanic Film Studio.  This is where they film Game of Thrones.

Titanic Museum
Titanic Museum

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The building for the Parliament of Northern Ireland is quite impressive and is surrounded by massive gardens. The roads leading to the building are lined with decorative lanterns that have a gold moose on them to commemorate that these were a gift from Canada.

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Gift from Canada
The lights at the Parliament were a gift from Canada

We also drove through the areas that were the heart of the “Troubles”. The guide pointed out the gates that would be closed at night to separate the areas, as well as the massive barriers – now called “peace walls” that were erected to deflect various types of explosives. We drove past the murals, starting with the ones in the Shankill area (Protestant) and finishing in the Falls Road area (Catholic) with the mural to Bobby Sands. For whatever reason, this are still feels like there is a very uneasy truce and that it would not take much for this to get out of hand very quickly.  Or maybe it is just some of the things I remember from talking to people who lived in these neighborhoods during the height of the Troubles. I would not want to walk alone.

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I spent the rest of my time in Belfast walking around the pedestrian area in the city center and at the Belfast City Hall. This is also quite an impressive building.

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Linen is still an important export of Belfast – and I picked up a couple of pieces that I thought were nice.

Eventually, I made my way back to the ship for some lunch and a massage. Tough day, indeed!

Finally found my mom and shared some of my thoughts of Belfast with her. Then, we headed to dinner. Tonight’s dinner: Crab cake appetizer, spicy corn chowder soup, sirloin steak with onion strings and a warm chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge sauce. (I was told I could not lick the bowl – some people just take away all your fun!) Again, we had some lovely dinner guests – including another librarian!

After dinner (which seems to take a really long time), I wandered a bit looking for a bar that had something going on – again – and gave up the fight. I seem to be just not “in sync” with how this ship works. I guess I miss my Celebrity martini bar and Latin music!

May 13 Cobh, Ireland

May 13: Cobh, Ireland

Why should anyone know anything about the port of Cobh, Ireland? Well, it is one of the largest and deepest natural ports in Europe. Second, two famous ships sailed into infamy from here – the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1915 and the last port of call for the Titanic was Cobh. Then there is also a little thing called the Irish migration. Most of the Irish immigrants left Ireland to places around the world from the port of Cobh. Cobh is also a short train ride to Cork and the gateway to Blarney Castle.

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My mom and I did not visit any of these places. We went, instead, on a tour to Lismore, the Vee and Cashal. Our tour guide was a charming woman named Olivia. As we drove through the countryside, she shared stories and information about the countryside as we drove from Cobh to our first stop.

Lismore is a charming town, the highlight is the Lismore Castle. It is also the winner of the “Tidy Town” award. Yes, it was very “neat.” The castle is stunning (even though you can only see it from the outside) and there is a St. Carthages Cathedral (who also has a sacred well – I have no idea who St. Carthages is…). There were also come public gardens that had interesting decorations, such as a carving of a cauldron with a salmon leaping from if that was at the base of a statue of St. Padraig – he may have thought he chased the snakes out of Ireland by bringing Christianity to the island, however snakes – or the Old Beliefs have a way of burrowing deep within a people’s psyche.

Lismore Castle
Lismore Castle

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After Lismore, we drove through the Irish countryside, and headed though a place known as the Vee. It is named that because, in the distance, the place between the two mountains looks like a vee. We were a little too early to see the ground blanketed with wild rhododendrons, but the buds were on the branches, so I can imagine what it will look like once they all bloom – a “sea” of pink blossoms! We also passed many herds of cattle, horses and sheep (a couple of the sheep even blocked the road a bit, so we experienced an Irish traffic jam).

Our next stop was the town of Cashal which sits at the base of the Rock of Cashal. There is a visitors’ centre and this is where we have a bit of lunch – soup, backed chicken with mashed potatoes and sliced carrots and sherry trifle. Of course, there was Guinness (which tastes completely different from what we get in North America).

Rock of Cashal
Rock of Cashal

The walk to the top of the Rock of Cashal was very steep, so mom decided to hang out at the gift centre while I worked of lunch by walking up the hill.

The Rock of Cashal has a long history. This was the seat of the Kings of Munster, and the place where Brian Boru was crown the King of Munster. It eventually was given to the Catholic Church. Most of the buildings that are part of this legacy: The Cormac Chapel is the oldest and best preserved Romanesque-style building in Ireland and has some interesting touches. I liked the frescos that has a blue colour made from lapis lazuli (the only place they could have gotten this pigment in the 11the century was Afghanistan). There are many heads that decorated several of the arches. Each one is different and included ten that would said to depict enemies of the bishop that built this chapel.

Next there is the St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a Gothic building that was built not only for worship, but for defense with a secret path that could be used to defend the building. Unfortunately, this did not prevent Oliver Cromwell’s followers to massacre the congregation and set fire to the building. (Note: one of the side altars has a carving of St. Catherine).

Next to the cathedral is a square building that was the bishop’s residence. By the time the cathedral was built, the bishops were not only religious leaders but also secular ones. While this residence was strong and could be defended against people, a huge windstorm blew a huge chunk of masonry from the building. No one has seen any need to replace it.

The next building is a round tower. There are several round towers in Ireland.  One of the purposes of these buildings was to house bell that should warn people. With a view that overlooked the surrounding area, it is easy to see how a tower with bells could be a great way to warn people of any type of trouble.

The last building is the only one that has been finished. It was built to house boys who were learning to be members of the choir for the cathedral.

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After visiting the Rock, we headed back to the ship, making it with only ten minutes to spare before we were scheduled to leave.

Once back, mom and I had trouble using our key cards to get back into our stateroom. So, we had to take care of some business – fix the cards, get my internet connection setup, and find a replacement watch for my mom (hers died). We decided to opt out of a long, more formal dining experience and at more sensibly at the buffet (as mom says “she ate too many vegetables!”). We then took in one of the production shows before I sent her to bed and I went I search of the perfect margarita. While I found it, I did not find my perfect bar, bartender, or wait staff. I will have to try again tomorrow.