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.

IMG_7653

IMG_7664

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”).

IMG_7686

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.

IMG_7711

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.

IMG_7725

IMG_7758

IMG_7760

IMG_7751

IMG_7752

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.

IMG_7769

IMG_7800

IMG_7798

IMG_7817

 

IMG_7866

IMG_7887

 

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

IMG_7479

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.

IMG_7481

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.

IMG_7516

IMG_7520

IMG_7523

IMG_7524

IMG_7531

IMG_7532

IMG_7537

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.

IMG_7550

IMG_7551

IMG_7558

 

IMG_7566

IMG_7567

 

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.

IMG_7131

IMG_7152

IMG_7168

IMG_7180

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

IMG_7240

IMG_7245

IMG_7273

IMG_7276

IMG_7278

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.

IMG_7377

IMG_7334

IMG_7339IMG_7376

IMG_7358

IMG_7362

 

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.

May 12 Guernsey

May 12

St. Peter’s Port, Guernsey.

This is a quaint port and easy to get around. We used ship tenders to go from the ship to shore (one of them actual “died” – I was not on it when it “died”, but I did get a sense that something was wrong with this tender)!

I had arranged for my mom to take a taxi around the island with another couple from New Mexico, Barb and Rich. We met at the Vines bar in the Piazza and headed to the tenders. Once onshore, they were picked up by their driver and I headed for a walk along the main Esplanade heading to Castle Coronet.

Tenders
Tenders
Chapel on Guernsey
Chapel on Guernsey

IMG_6984

IMG_6980

IMG_6981

IMG_6991

IMG_6997

IMG_7016

IMG_7032

IMG_7060

IMG_7061

IMG_7072

IMG_7073

IMG_7081

IMG_7070

IMG_7096

The castle has a long history – from the 1300s to German Occupation in World War II and the liberation. There is a canon that is fired every day at noon. The fort itself is quite interesting – with surprises around each corner. The best part, at least in my opinion, were the little gardens. Each one sectioned off and neatly planted with vegetables or herbs. One garden even had little cannons – this had been an active fort.

The weather was mostly sunny – but there some rain, mostly in the form of a few sprinkles and at least one heavy downfall. I was able to duck into a tea room until it passed.

Of course, I picked at a Guernsey apron to add to my collection. I have a feeling that my friend Mary is going to try to “borrow” it. It has a Guernsey cow on it. I also got some quick WI-FI at the Information Centre to send a message that “all was well.” I hope to get my internet running on the ship shortly – just so much to do this time.

Getting back to the ship was fun. The tender I was on had an engine failure in one of the engines, which made it difficult to maneuver. While I did leap from the tender to the ship, it was considered unstable and was then taken out of the rotation for ferrying people across from the ship to the port and back again.  I also heard that there was at least one couple that were late getting back to the ship, so we were late leaving. I really did not know what was going on, I was taking a meditative rest in the thermal spa!

At 3, there was an event for all the members of our cruise critic roll call. It was nice to meet in person the people I’ve been following online since I booked this trip.  This is how I met Barb and Rich, the people who included my mom on the tour of Guernsey.  I also met several people from Canada – Whitby, Colberg, Ottawa, and Timmins, just to name a few.

Dinner was a formal night. Waiting in line, we met a man from Vancouver Island who was a former manager at CIBC. Our dinner companions were from Pennsylvania and Australia. I had duck comfit, French onion soup, grilled lamb and a peanut butter & chocolate cheesecake with an Oreo crust.

By the time we finished dinner, it was after 10 PM and we thought it would be good to call it a night.  Tomorrow would be another early day.

May 11 2014

May 11

The flight was a bit bumpy and cramped. Someday, I want to have one the first-class pods.  For now, I hug myself for most of the flight to not have to fight over an armrest. I couldn’t even stretch my legs out because there was a storage compartment for a life jacket where my foot would be.

But, I made it to Heathrow, collected my bags, went through customs, shared a laugh with the Sikh customs agent, and headed out to wait for my mom’s arrival.

Princess’ representatives were there waiting for me – and then helped me gather my mom and got us on the bus to Southampton. Once at the terminal, we were able to quickly check-in, but had to wait about an hour before we could board the ship.

Once on board, our cabin was already ready for us. We took a look around and then headed for some lunch. I took a brief walk-around the ship to try to find things.  Of course, this meant finding the spa, but I also found 4 pools (all of which will be too cold to really enjoy on this trip) and I got lost trying to find one of the two dining rooms set aside for “anytime dining.”

Back at the room, mom and I got a quick nap before heading to dinner. We sat at a table with two other couples – one from California and one from Georgia. It was a nice dinner with great conversation. I had a “Mojito” sea bass appetizer, porcine cream of mushroom soup, roast pork and crème brulee.

We decided to call it a night – lack of sleep was catching up with me and the rocky waves indicated I would sleep very well.

May 10 2014

May 10

Toronto to London

A new adventure begins! I’m sitting in the departure area for British Airways in Toronto Pearson Airport and what a change! There are tables and chairs – each table has 4 plugs for electronics and some come with iPads for free use. How cool is that! Now, I can comfortable sit, drink my last Timmies (my first ice cap of the “season” to celebrate this wonderful weather) before heading off to London. If all goes well, I should meet my mother at the luggage pick-up in Heathrow. She checked in and was on her way to the airport in Houston a few hours ago, so it looks like my plans are coming together (I REALLY hope I remembered everything!).

From Heathrow, we will head to Southampton to board the Ruby Princess for a cruise around the British Isles. I did consider picking up some wine at the duty-free to have on board, we are allowed to bring 1 bottle each with us, but my carry-on is a little more cumbersome than usual. I may still change my mind.

Our pilot just sat down next to me – guess it’s a good sign that he is here early and they won’t have to find someone to fly the plane!

So, here’s to another adventure!

A to Z Challenge: X, Y, Z

A to Z Challenge: X, Y, Z

XX = ?

I tried to come up with an appropriate X word, and nothing seemed right. I feel I failed, even though I made it this far in my challenge. The only idea that really got my attention was more along the lines of “X marks the spot” and “Xrossing the sea” – but I already did a post on crossing the Atlantic and the Equator in a ship.

So much for X.

YY = “Your own”, as in travelling on your own or “solo traveler”

While I usually say I started as a solo travel in 2009 with my first solo cruise, I really started out as a solo traveler in my early teens when my parents would put me on a train in Galveston and I would be met by my grandparents in Keokuk, Iowa. Not sure why we did not worry about me travelling like this for so long, but I did and I had some wonderful adventures on the train – usually with the conductors showing me around the train. I also did a few business trips and usually added a few days before or after to explore – on my own.  This got me to Paris, London and Munich.

While I do not think cruise ship lines should charge extra for solo travelers, if the list of ports is interesting, I will find a way. Cruising allows me to “test the waters” of different places and I learn which ones make me feel comfortable and which ones I’d like to see again. Since my first cruise, I’ve made other trips based on places I want to experience in more detail – Barcelona, Madrid, Buenos Aires, and Amsterdam to name a few.

Now, I have trouble even considering travelling with a companion. Doing it “on my own” gives me the flexibility I like. I can get up early and go to museums before they get busy – then take a nap in the afternoon before heading out to a local venue for a nice evening. I have taken one trip with a friend – and this year I have a plan to take 2 trips that are not solo (one with my mom and one with another friend).

We shall see how I do going it NOT on my own, but with someone else. I am, starting to plan for adventures in 2015 – and yes, these will be on your own!

ZZ = Zed, aka the end of the line

At least for this challenge, this is the end of the line for these posts. My next set of day-by-day travel blogs starts in less than 10 days!!!!! And yes, I am very excited to share this adventure with my mom, who has never traveled outside of North America.

T
he plan is we will meet at Heathrow Airport as long as our flights on pretty much on time. From the airport, we head to Southampton to board the Ruby Princess. The rest of the itinerary looks like this:

  • St. Peters Port, Guernsey
  • Cork, Ireland
  • Belfast, Northern Ireland
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Glasgow, Scotland
  • Inverness, Scotland,
  • Orkney Islands
  • Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Le Harve, France
  • Southampton to London

So, don’t just dream it, travel!

Me with an espresso
Me with an espresso

A to Z Challenge: W = Weddings

W = Weddings, or more appropriately the weddings I’ve “crashed” while travelling

Wsince I usually find myself visiting churches and other picturesque places, t would make sense that I might encounter a wedding … or two. Here are some of the weddings I’ve seen in my travels.

Probably the most unique was when I went to the Montserrat Basilica, which is outside of Barcelona. I got there a little before it opened and noticed that, among the tourists, there was a group of people who were very well dressed for a Saturday morning. Imagine my surprise when they opened the doors and the tourists lines up on the right-side aisle to see the Black Madonna and the rest went to sit in the church proper top attend a wedding!

Montserrat, Catalonia
Montserrat, Catalonia: A beautiful spot for a wedding
Montserrat, Catalonia
Montserrat, Catalonia: Breathtaking views!
Basilica of Montserrat, Catalonia
Basilica of Montserrat, Catalonia
The wedding at Montserrat
The wedding at Montserrat
The wedding at Montserrat
The wedding at Montserrat
The line to see the Black Madonna at Montserrat
The line to see the Black Madonna at Montserrat
The Black Madonna at Montserrat
The Black Madonna at Montserrat

My other wedding pictures are from walking around a city and finding myself in the middle of the celebration.

Wedding in Amsterdam
Wedding in Amsterdam
Wedding in Amsterdam
Wedding in Amsterdam
Wedding in Amsterdam: The man in the blue sweater is in every photo!
Wedding in Amsterdam: The man in the blue sweater is in every photo!
Wedding in Amsterdam: The man in the blue sweater is in every photo!
Wedding in Amsterdam: The man in the blue sweater is in every photo!
Wedding in Amsterdam: The man in the blue sweater is in every photo!
Wedding in Amsterdam: The man in the blue sweater is in every photo!
And the party continues
And the party continues
Another beautiful church for a wedding in Helsinki
Another beautiful church for a wedding in Helsinki
Another beautiful church for a wedding in Helsinki
Wedding in Helsinki

One thing they all had in common, the bride wore white.

A to Z Challenge: V = Venice & cruising along the Grand Canal

V = Venice & cruising along the Grand Canal

VOf course V had to be for Venice and taking a cruise along the Grand Canal in one of the vaporettos. These are like buses, but they run along the canals. There are even regular bus stops with covered docks. And, like other city transit systems, they can get packed. But, if you can, try to sit in the front for a chance at getting interesting pictures as you sail along the canal.  Here are a few of my favs.

Venice

Venice

Venice

Venice

Venice

Venice

Venice

Venice

Venice

Venice

Venice

Venice

Venice

Venice

Venice

Venice

Venice

Venice

Here is is a post about Sailing into Venice

A to Z Challenge: U = Ushuaia

U = Ushuaia, Argentina

UI could write about how beautiful Ushuaia, Argentina is. Or, I could write about the wildlife or the beauty of Tierra del Fuego. But I already wrote about my experiences here.  So I am going to just share the pictures again and remember the time I was at the end of the world. I hope you enjoy my memories of Ushuaia as much as I enjoyed making them.

Ushuaia sign

Ushuaia
Final destination: downtown Ushuaia!
Islands of Birds
Islands of Birds
Sea Lions
Sea Lions
Sea Elephant
Sea Elephant
Sea Wolf Island
Sea Wolf Island
Sea birds taking off
Sea birds taking off
Lighthouse at the end of the world
Lighthouse at the end of the world
Tierra del Fuego
Coastline of Tierra del Fuego National Park
Tierra del Fuego National Park
I call this one Freedom — the clouds reminded me of a woman flying and made me feel very free!
Tierra del Fuego National Park
The shoreline of the Tierra del Fuego Park
Tierra del Fuego National Park
Lake in Tierra del Fuego National Park
Fin del Mondo
The post office at the end of the world where you can get a postmark from “Fin del Mundo”

 

Just cruisin' around the world

%d bloggers like this: