Homeward Bound

Well, our year’s adventure is now over.  After a long and tiring day of travel, and a short stop-over in Iceland (with not enough time to leave the airport), we are back on Canadian soil.

What an amazing year we’ve had.  I must take this opportunity to thank Greg for all his pushing to get me to leave my beloved Woodslee.  I left kicking and screaming (figuratively of course) and return home so very happy for all the many wonderful sights and experiences we have now in our memories! Thank you Greg for this priceless gift of our year abroad.

I’ve learned how big and beautiful our world is.  The places we were able to see, and hear, and smell were amazing, each spot unique in it’s own beauty.  And I know even with all the travel we’ve done, we’ve seen just a little, and my appetitte for travel has grown, and if this opportunity comes around again, I may not kick or scream next time.

Having said that, I must say we were all very excited to finally be coming home.  And as much as seeing the world was wonderful, and amazing in so many ways, returning home to friends and family is the best feeling.  No matter how beautiful the scenery, or how great the weather, or how yummy the food, nothing can compare to the love and security of a life with friends and family.  This is the biggest lesson learned for me this year.  Learning to appreciate all the people in my life.

To everyone who was so supportive this year, reading our blog and showing your interest in our experiences, thank you so much.  That feeling of connection made by your comments made all the difference in the world. Now that we are home I can’t wait to see you all.  And be prepared, I want to see you soon, and long, and often!

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…It Ends.

We are mostly packed, but stressed a bit about the journey tomorrow, There is much to do in the morning before we leave at 9 a.m. for our 20 hour journey home. Despite the anxiety levels, everybody is in fairly high spirits. We took our final train ride tonight. We went to Rochester one last time  out to the very place we went for our first meal when we moved here. It seemed like a good way to wrap things up and gave us a chance to reflect on the many things we enjoyed during our year abroad. While I am happy to be going home, I am going to miss the spontaneous travel to different countries and the unique lifestyle we have enjoyed this past year.

Thank you to everybody for sharing in our adventure. There are over 750 separate entries collected in this blog, and over 1350 comments, spanning over a time period of one year and one week. We have uploaded about 3 GB of photos to the blog (mostly Jenn), with 20 more GB sitting on the hard drive (also mostly from Jenn). We started this blog as a personal memoir of our times, but it was made so much more special knowing that other people were reading and enjoying it – family, friends and strangers alike.

Republic of Ireland

Wow, I am so far behind! When traveling just us we tend to have the kids in bed by nine or ten, and then a quiet time to blog on our day.  When traveling with others, that “quiet time” is much better spent together (not always quiet), and so blogging goes out the window. My thought was I would catch up once we got home, but with so little time before moving back, and only one computer to share, there hasn’t been the time.  But I do want to share a few pictures and just some random thoughts of this beautiful country…

The main difference between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland for me (talking views from the car window) was that the fences between the many small pastures changed from hedges to dry stacked stone, although the rolling hills and greens remained.  It seemed the more southwest we went, the more dramatic the landscape became. And no matter where we were, whenever we saw a glimpse of the coastline, it was majestic!

I was super excited that we saw a field were they were cutting turf (logs for fires) and stacking them to dry.  And we got to see them (and smell their fire, a very unique smell) in use at the Bunratty Folk Park.

The Cliff’s of Moher were as spectacular as we were told.  I’ll always wonder how different our experience of them were, as we didn’t go to the official visitor centre and viewpoint because they didn’t have a place we could park.  My feeling is I liked where we ended up more as it had not so many people, which I find distracts from my enjoyment of a place.

We saw 2 or 3 beautiful rainbows during our stay, and they were exquisite.

The kids had their Irish ice cream at Murphy’s in Dingle, where everything was made from scratch.  The even had a Sea Salt flavour, and told us they made the salt themselves from the sea! My combination was a scoop of “brown bread” and a scoop of “black current sorbet”.  Which they suggested, and I loved.

There are almost as many abandoned ruins (Castles, towers, small stone cottages, barns, and churches of varying sizes) as there are sheep dotting the landscape.  It made such a romantic picture as we drove along. I wanted to capture the feeling I had when seeing these buildings covered in moss and Ivy, still standing looking both proud and forlorn at the same time, however the pictures were almost always fuzzy.

The hydrangeas were amazing, and everywhere.  Almost every house had a hydrangea bush or 3 and they were massive (often taller than me), with varying colours of white, pink, blue, and purple.   As well as those, there were many orange and yellow wild flowers by the roadside, and what I thought looked like purple and pink heather. So very pretty.

The night we stayed in Portmagee, on the Ring of Kerry, was one of my favourite nights out.  The town was very small and had 2 places to eat. We ate at O’Keeffe’s Restaurant (as you must when you are traveling with your friends the O’Keefes’), which was right on the water.  I had the seafood special which consisted of half a lobster, crab claws, prawns, and mussels.  When we ordered we were told it might be a bit as they may have to wait for it to come out of water.  While we waited I watched out the window, imagining that every boat that came in might have my dinner on it!

After supper, we went to the other bar in town which boasted live entertainment.  Well, everyone went because I was so excited to check out the Irish entertainment. It was everything I was hoping it would be, and I will remember enjoying it for a long time.  It was traditional Irish music, and dance.  But what I loved was it was simple and from the heart.  The dancers were girls about Brandon’s age.  They were dressed in jeans, and had on no make-up or wigs.  A young boy came up and sang a solo. And when the band played on their own, half the bar joined in the singing, and the small dance floor was packed with people of all ages enjoying themselves.  I could have stayed until closing!

We spent time at 2 different beaches, and that was a highlight for many of us (not just the kids).  It was so fun to watch the kids building forts, finding shells and fish and crabs, and skipping stones.  We definitely could have spent a lot more time at the seashore!

I thought a fourteen day trip would seem like forever, and was actually a little worried about how the two families would get on, as we have never spent any extended time together.  It went by in a flash, and we never had one problem with the kids (with the exception of the usual sibling stuff that never goes away). They were as happy together on our last day, as on our first.  And the good-bye’s were made so much easier when it was followed up with “see you in one week!”

Thank you for a wonderful last trip Shawn, Melissa, Sofia, Chiara, and Gemma!  Definitely a great way to end our year abroad.

Odd Endings

Last night I got up in the middle of the night and wasn’t exactly sure where I was. I assume this is a product of being in so many different places over the course of the last month. In our final 5 weeks abroad, we will have been in 8 different countries. What I found to be odd, was that once I realised where I was (after only a few seconds – the disorientation never lasts), it didn’t feel like home any more. This is just another of the places I will be sleeping for the next little while until I am home. I think being with friends from home has once again made England feel like more of a vacation.

Today, most of us went to our final Sunday carvery, this time at the Dog and Bone near us. We have walked by it easily 200 times and have never gone in, even though Jenn has always wanted to go there with the kids and sit in the beer garden. Brandon stayed home as he is in the final recovery stages of some illness. Jenn assumes it is the same bug that got hold of Shawn and Chiara, but who knows. I just hope the rest of us don’t also come down with it over the course of the next few days – that would most certainly make for a difficult 20 hour return trip to Canada. While there, we toasted to our final carvery, and Nate changed the toast to our final Sunday.

There is still quite a bit to do here before we are officially ready to go, though the most of the major items are all done. We are mostly packed (we did this before going to Ireland really), we never did buy anything we will need to get rid of or sell, and since there is no food storage to speak of, we don’t have lots to eat up. One major item has to do with my taxes. I received a letter (waiting for me in the mail slot when we returned form Ireland) asking me to paper file and upon registering online (as per instructions) I was told my required information would come in the mail in about 1 week – at which point I will of course no longer be in the country. Tomorrow I am going to see if there is somebody I can actually speak to in order to sort this whole mess out. I need to file my English taxes from 2013 – 2014 (even though I wasn’t here for any of that tax year), 2014-2015 (which I have already been audited on), and for 2015-2016 (though they didn’t ask for that, but I don’t want to wait a year to clear that up – I hope to get it done and get a return while we are still here). Should be a great day!

The kids have been talking about being sad to go (which is the same thing they did exactly a year ago), though this time their argument about not seeing their friends again is most likely true. At the same time, they are very excited to go back to Canada and reunite with their old friends. I hope that they fit back in to their old life seamlessly, and if our recent vacation with the O’Keefe family has shown us anything, it is that there is a very good possibility of this happening without a hitch.

Northern Ireland

Below is my blog written August 14:

This trip is going by very quickly, and without wifi, it has been difficult to set aside time to blog. I am writing my blog on my iPad and will upload when I get the chance.

The natural beauty of this country (and of the island as a whole) is undeniable. I love the rolling hills of varying greens, dotted with sheep and cows. Pastures are divided by hedge fences, and the countryside reminds me of a patchwork quilt all in shades of greens and golds.

We visited The Giant’s Causeway.  It is Northern Ireland’s only world heritage site, but it is a fantastic one.  We took a guided tour and learned all about the geology of the unique hexagonal stones, and the Irish legends of the site.  The legend’s were so much more appealing, and what I want to remember.  The Giant’s Causeway was home/is home to a Giant named Finn and his wife named Una.  Finn was challenged to a fight with the Scottish Giant Benandonner, who lives by the water in Scotland.  Finn takes up this challenge and builds the causeway to Scotland (as Giant’s cannot swim).  On arrival in Scotland, Finn  sees Benandonner for the first time and runs home as the Scottish Giant is much bigger than he is.  Una dresses Finn up as a baby, and when Benandonner comes looking for Finn she replied that Finn was away and her baby (aka Finn himself) is sleeping.  Benandonner is so surprised by the size of the baby, and fearful of the size of his father, he leaves for Scotland never to return.  Finn destroys the pathway between the countries and the Giant’s Causeway is all that remains of the path in Ireland, although the same hexagonal shaped rocks are also found somewhere on the coast of Scotland.

We spent the whole afternoon climbing the rocks of the Causeway and exploring all it had to offer.

Our next amazing stop was the Carrick-Rope-Bridge.  This is a rope bridge first built by the salmon fishermen over 350 years ago to connect the mainland to the “Rocky Island”.  It is 20 metres long, and sits about 30 metres above the water.  This was a real place of beauty.  The water here was extremely calm and clear, and the coastline is amazing.  (Not sure how the Cliff’s of Moher can compete).  Our views from the small Island of the shoreline were worth the bounce and sway of the bridge under our feet.

Our last site to explore was Dunluce Castle, a medieval castle perched on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic.  It is now in ruins, but I can only imagine what life was like for those who lived inside, high above the waves.

Our time in Northern Ireland has been full of days spent exploring, late dinners, and even later bedtimes!  Add in lots of good times and laughter, a hide-and-seek game that lasted 3 days, an ice-cream farm tour that wasn’t what we expected, and Nathan once again falling into a river.

A Journey’s End

Sorry for not posting for the last couple of days, but it has been pretty busy. We completed our second half of the Ring of Kerry journey two days ago. It was a cloudy day driving through the mountainous region of the ring, and misty in the lower parts, so we didn’t get to see a lot. On top of that, Shawn and Chiara had a touch of food sickness, so they weren’t in the ideal situation for travelling, so we didn’t make a lot of stops. There was some nice scenery and you get to overlook the water at a few really picturesque locations. We arrived at the university apartments and all but the two that were not well went out for dinner and drinks. It was a good time and we all tried some new drinks and some new food. Add three more beers to the ongoing total 🙂 An old stray dog sat down with us outside of the pub and forced us indoors, but the inside was so nice it wasn’t an unwelcome change. Lots of dark wood everywhere.

The following day (yesterday) everybody was feeling better, so we headed to Cashel to see the castle built on the rock of cashel. We took a couple of wrong turns in the town (the roads are all criss-crossing, angled oddly, and narrow, so it is easy to miss a turn), and as luck would have it, we ended up at some abbey just in the shadow of the castle. It was better than the castle. It was a huge old ruin, with a cemetery in it and loads of walls that were half gone. It was raining in the castle (which was half covered in scaffolding) and the kids (my kids, not the O’Keefe children) were acting up, so that might contribute to the negative vibe of that place.

We then headed to our new residence tucked away in the middle of some pine forest on a wonderful shaded roadway and had lunch in the restaurant and drank the afternoon away. The residences were like ski chalets (built in 1999 and still all original by the looks of things) but were situated with amazing views of the nearby mountains and the forest. Shawn and I snuck away and whiled away the few hours between lunch and dinner before bringing some dinner home for our spouses. We sat around for the last time while the women ate and the kids all watched a movie. Before they left for their own cottage for the night, we all said our goodbyes as they were leaving early in the morning to catch an early flight- though the goodbyes weren’t nearly as emotional as the goodbyes with the family on vacations past or as our hellos – we basically said “See you in a week”, which felt really nice to say. It was a great experience touring with friends, and the two weeks we were together flew by. We ended the trip by agreeing to make more of an effort to see each other back in Canada.

Today, we tried to visit Cashel again so Jenn could souvenir shop as it was on the way to Dublin airport. We then headed to a place called Clara, but time slipped away from us and we found ourselves in a mad rush to get to the airport in time (Jenn is still having trouble with the 24 hour clock – 15:00 is most definitely not 5:00 p.m.). We made it no problem and even had to wait about 8 minutes. We made it out of the airport in Dublin without passing through Passport control, which was very unusual. Then, in an even more bizarre twist, we got off of the little tarmac bus that we had to take from the airplane into the airport in London and right onto a train home – again without passing through any sort of customs or anything! We have no record of our re-entry into England or our exit from Ireland (no exit stamp in the passports unfortunately).

All in all, Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have hugely varying landscapes as you travel across the countries, each with their own distinct style and flavour, but all prominently pasture. I would definitely recommend Northern Ireland, the Dingle peninsula and inch beach, Newmarket on Fergus, and the Ring of Kerry to anybody that is planning on travelling to that part of the world.

See you all in a week!

The Ring of Kerry

Today we left Dingle and headed along the “Wild Atlantic Coast” toward the Ring of Kerry. The day started off sunny, and has now cooled down quite a bit, but it is still nice weather. We stopped about half way at a beach and though I typically hate sitting around at beaches, I had a great time with the kids. The water was cold, but the tide was out and there was probably 150 meters of sand out toward the water (hard packed) and the beach was maybe 300 m long. Nathan found a small hermit crab, and upon inspection in the receding waters, we found way more. They were everywhere! Jenn occupied herself with shell hunting and the kids ran around, played in the water, and did whatever they wanted. It was cool out, so I wasn’t boiling, and there was so much going on it was a blast. I pointed out a thing that looked like a crayfish to the kids that may have attacked one of my toes while walking through the surf. There was also a playground at the beach, so the kids had loads to do before and after (and during) lunch.

From there we continued our coastal drive and found the B&B. She was just finishing tidying up, so we walked to a different beach that also has lots going on – including shrimp in the shallow waters, and loads of rocks for building forts. After about half of an hour, where Shawn put on a rock skipping class, we checked in and got some info on the local restaurant scene (there is an O’Keefe’s in town and that is the place that the home owner recommended we go to as well). We are about to take another walk down to the local beach before heading into town for dinner and music.

The view from a window in my room at the B&B
The view from a window in my room at the B&B

Dingle

Ireland has some interesting town names and road names, Dingle being one of them. We have been on or through Killaboy, Killargue, Killcock (lots of kills), Bushtown, and countless others. I haven’t had any berries here yet, but I fully intend to if given the opportunity.

Today we traveled and it took about 3 hours (not counting our stop in Castleisland) to get here. We travelled on some very interesting roads through beautiful countryside. I love our GPS – I think it must be on the ‘Where no tourist has gone before you’ setting as it continues to take us on some very questionable routes. Today we drove along a road that must have been a laneway. It was asphalt, but only where your tires went. The area between was grass and dirt. Our roads were very up and down, with some twisty thrown in to keep it interesting.

The landscape has become mountainous again, and the terrain as you are driving into Dingle is so unbelievable. We stopped at one point at a scenic lookout, and I couldn’t judge the depth of the view I was looking at. I felt like I was in the middle of some panoramic painting.

The town of Dingle is a fishing harbour and is very touristy. We walked down to the docks with the hopes of seeing some off-loading of fish, but the ship that was landing didn’t unload while we were there. There are SO many people here, and there are restaurants, pubs, ice cream parlours, B&B’s and gift shops (so many jewelry shops) to accommodate them all. We ate at a fish restaurant, and Melissa ordered fresh oysters on the half shell. She shared them with whomever would like to try them, and Gemma, Sofia, and Brandon were not fans. Brandon just about tossed his cookies. Of course, after dinner we were off to Murphy’s famous ice cream parlour – most people partaking in the sea salt ice cream and cookie combination – except Jenn – she got red bread or something like that.

The hotel has a bar, and while the kids are occupied watching a movie on the computer, we may just see what they have to offer.

Bunratty

In addition to the awesome name that I can’t get out of my head, Bunratty had plenty to offer. The castle was the highlight, with many stairs leading to many interesting rooms. Unfortunately, most of the rooms were roped off and you could only look at them, but it was fun navigating the castle and going to the tops of the towers. The castle at Bunratty is a cross between the ruins that we love visiting and more modern working palaces that we have been to as well.

The village it is in is a Heritage Village type of place with a real Renaissance Festival feeling. I think it would have been a lot better walking around with a mug of mead! There was a blacksmith, and while he was outside for a photo-op, Brandon and I took turns using the 5 foot bellows that was in the smithy. It was pretty awesome.

We walked around the village, looked at some of the old thatch-roofed houses and got the kids some home-made ice-cream before heading home. Jenn accompanied Shawn and me to the CrabTree pub once again, and we were entertained by the Irish National sport of Hurling being shown on the television. It was a bit of a short day, but everybody enjoyed themselves and we have a road trip ahead of us tomorrow as we head West to Dingle.

Cliffs of Moher, and More

Today might have been the latest start yet, though it doesn’t really matter since we see as much as we can all handle in a day anyway. One funny observation, the kids are always hungry 10 minutes after they eat or 3 seconds before we leave. We might have been on the road an hour earlier today, but the kids needed to have second breakfast before we could leave.

We headed straight to the Cliffs of Moher, and after leaving the visitors center since the parking lot was full, we went to a cattle farm and parked there and experienced the cliffs in a way that only the elite get to (okay, maybe not elite since the farm caters to hundreds of vehicles a day, but still, not the typical look). The Cliffs of Moher are a well-earned tourist attraction. It really was breath-taking, and not just because of the lack of concern for safety. The area where the Atlantic Ocean crashes up against the 100m sheer rock face and causes the white foam and brilliant blue water is worth the price of admission (2 Euro for the lot of us). My one regret is that we neglected to bring our lunch supplies with us for the walk, so we left a bit earlier than we would have otherwise. It would have been great to picnic there.

From there, we headed to an area called the Burren, which sounds a lot like the word barren, which is what you would find there. The landscape is all flat weathered limestone rock (which is a ton of fun to run and hop across), and has some ruined castles, churches and burial sites. I think the thing that I found the most impressive about today, after driving a circle of about 50 km is that the road and properties along it are all separated by the exact same type of rock ( a dull grey) all dry stacked to form a wall, with sections that are like the rooks on a chess board at every driveway entrance.

Shawn and I also visited the local pub tonight when we got back home – just briefly for a pint or two of Murphy’s Irish Stout and some pleasant conversation with the owner/bartender. We have one more day in this area before heading toward the ring of Kerry, which is reputed to be just gorgeous (re-confirmed by the bartender tonight). I think tomorrow will likely be low-key, but who knows what is in store.

Everybody is getting along great and the kids are still excited to hang out. Shawn and I commented tonight that their favourite part of the trip, or their most vivid memories will probably be those of playing together in the yard (which of course they would do in Canada just as readily – and for 1/100th the cost as they are doing here – but I think it is nice that for the rest of their lives, my children will have memories of different parts of the world that are tied to different people from home, and how fitting that their memories of their time here is tied to the O’Keefe’s!)

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