All posts by G.Levack

…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.

Advertisements

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.

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!)

Newmarket-on-Fergus

We got a nice early start this morning (10 a.m.) and headed out towards Newmarket-on-Fergus. Once again, we have no house number, but the owner gave us directions (no street names, just landmarks) from the airport, a direction we are not coming from. It turned out to not be a problem and we found the house after a bit of slow driving and turning around. The roads continue to be crazy. At places they are so narrow that you have to pull off to the side to allow oncoming traffic to pass by, but there is no shoulder so you are riding right along the raised earth shoulder. They are twisting and narrow, yet the speed limit is 100 km/h. We barely drive faster than 80 km/h on them since there are so many tight turns and blind corners it just wouldn’t be safe.

The countryside in this part of Ireland is quite different than the previous parts. It is much flatter – at least the North part of the journey was. It has begun to get a bit hilly again, but not like driving through the areas around Dublin. Secondly, all of the pastures and fields are separated by rock walls instead of hedges. The rocks on all of the walls for the last 200 km are all identical looking and surround each parcel of land. Considering that each wall is at least 1 meter tall, there are a lot of rocks!

The house we are at for the next three days is situated across the street from a lake and is on an acre of property. It is a very nice place and the kids are really enjoying playing here. The boys stayed outside for 3 hours running around and playing soccer on the front lawn. I even spent a bit of time kicking the ball around with them before I had to do some other things. I could easily forgo travelling tomorrow to just relax and explore this area. We had a nice meal in last night, with every single person sitting around the table and eating together for the first time this trip. It was really nice and it felt like being back home.

Once again, there is no internet, so it appears as though I will be posting this and all of the previous blogs in a few more days once we finally find internet. Jenn has written down things for us to do, but of course didn’t write down a bunch of details or addresses assuming we would just be able to look things up. Luckily, the O’Keefes purchased a data plan for their phones and we have been able to sparingly look up some things.

We are in a fairly isolated setting, and last night the clouds all cleared and I was amazed at the view of the stars through the rear window. It was difficult to locate the Little Dipper because there were so many other stars between it and the Big Dipper. I should have headed outside and taken a better look at the other stars. I wonder if Scorpio or Sagittarius is visible here at this time of the year. If it is clear tomorrow night, I am going to sneak out and see.

I Scream and Dairy

We headed to the Ice Cream farm in the brochure first thing in the morning on our way out of town. It was no more than a 20 minute drive, and when we arrived, the farmers had no idea what we were talking about – they don’t have a tour facility. They did have an ice cream truck that they were bringing into the town that day, so she fired it up and sold us all a cone. It was a bit of a disappointment for the adults, especially me as the kids have been trying ice cream in every country and it would have been really neat to cap off the year with a tour of an ice creamery, but they didn’t really care too much. As long as they get to eat it, they are as happy as can be.

From there we headed to Derry (or Londonderry – depending on what you read or who you talk to) in order to see where my grandfather was born and where his parents lived. I am a bit unclear on the heritage of this side of the family. For the longest time I grew up thinking Scotch-Irish, but the family speaks with a Scottish accent, and I figured the Irish was pretty distant. Then when I applied for my ancestry visa, I found out that my grandfather was born in Londonderry Ireland. I know they lived in Scotland though, so I wonder if his parents were Irish and moved to Scotland before emigrating to Canada or if any of his brothers or sisters were born in Scotland and moving around the U.K. back then was kind of like being born in different Canadian provinces. I’ll have to do some research when I get back to Canada. Anyway, we found the Church he was baptised in and that his parents were married in (in separate years) and got some family photos taken in front of it. The area was rebuilt (I know the house he was born in was torn down and row houses built there in its place), but it is very much a working town. We went a bit farther into the city to look for a pub they used to own and found a real hidden gem. The city centre is in a walled area and it is really lovely, with a beautiful sandstone coloured church and old towers and buildings. We had lunch at a nice Irish pub (after finding that McGinley’s had been sold, renamed, and then closed down – it looked like a bit of a dump anyway).

Satisfied that we had completed our familial duties, we headed back into the Republic of Ireland and into a small town (Carrick on Shannon I think) for the evening to break up the drive. It took about an hour once we arrived in the town to find the house (they aren’t very keen on house numbers or signs in this part of the world apparently), but once we settled in, we did some exploring. We saw some nice old buildings along the River Shannon and some awesome pubs that we unfortunately didn’t get to visit. We settled on dining in the beer garden of a family friendly pub before heading back to our separate accommodations, repeating our evening rituals, and calling it a night. The time is really flying by and it is hard to believe that one half of the trip is just about over.

Oceans and Rocks

Late start again, but not as bad as yesterday – I guess staying up until 2 and not ever having dinner before 8 will get you late starts every time. Today we went to the coast again and saw some clear blue water that you would expect to see in the Mediterranean.  Along the way, we saw signs for “The Dark Hedges” or something like that which is one of the main attractions in this neck of the country. Since we were headed right by it, we stopped for the photo op. It turns out this is one of the many places used by The Game of Thrones for filming. It was a bunch of really old trees with twisted branches all lining the road and covering it like a canopy. It would look really cool at twilight I bet.

The rock formations and coastal areas here are very nice, with dark rocks and carved out caves and very steep cliffs. We crossed the famous rope bridge today and explored the little island on the other side. It was a bit scary since there is a sheer drop down about 20-30 meters with no barriers – and it isn’t even a rock-lined edge, there is just wet grass right up to the edge and then death by rock below. We had a nice picnic lunch there before heading out to Dunluce Castle.

This Castle was definitely a ruin, but was very expansive. It was built right along a cliff and a bay and so the views were great. We toured this (no climbing) area for a while before heading back to the house. At one point, Nate and I ascended the steps in the NorthWest tower and looked down at the O’Keefes. Melissa saw Nate through one window and thought he climbed the wall to get there and I think she almost had a heart attack. The look on her face was priceless.

I think the late nights and travelling are catching up with everybody, because people were pretty tired. We headed back to the house forgoing our last stop with the intention of hitting it tomorrow on our way up to Londonderry. When we got back, Nate and I played a little Frisbee, and after a bit Shawn joined us. Of course, this worked up a mighty thirst, so Shawn and I headed out to the town and grabbed a few bottles of beer – two of which were new by Smithwicks and were quite good.

While we were inside, the inevitable finally happened, and Nate fell in the shallow river I mentioned a couple of days ago.

Another great dinner, and more late-night chatting followed and we have some tentative plans for the day tomorrow (which are also probably a bit too ambitious). We intend on visiting the town my Grandfather was born in and we have a long drive south and west ahead of us afterwards. Hopefully the next house will have wi-fi so I can post these last few days’ worth of blogs!