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.

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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!

Giant’s Causeway

Today we got a late (really late) start and headed out to the Giant’s Causeway. We took the guided tour and heard about the various legends of the area. The walks in this area are very nice, and the natural rock formations are really cool. There are thousands of rocks, all in hexagonal shapes about 1 square foot in size, that form these awesome walkways or staircases (as they are also all at slightly different heights) along the ocean coast. We spent a lot of time climbing the rocks and getting our pictures taken. The girls all went to “The Wishing Chair” and followed the instructions of the guide, which included precisely how to wiggle your behind while wishing, and made their wishes. We took a walk to ‘The Organ Pipes’, which is a series of columns of these hexagon rocks climbing up the mountainside, and then headed along the path to return. There isn’t a lot to write about today that wouldn’t be better described by photos (see Jenn’s blog once posted – we have no internet at all at the house, so these blogs will be posted at the next place), but the kids (and adults) are having a great time with one another. The kids are running around playing, shouting and screaming and driving us crazy being kids and the adults are staying up way too late catching up and chatting. We have a few items on the agenda for tomorrow, so hopefully we get an earlier start on our day so we can fit it in.

Back to the U.K.

Today we left Dublin and headed to our destination in Northern Ireland. We finally got out of the city, decided to stay off of the main highways, and got to see some of the countryside. It is a little more difficult to sight-see from the car here in Ireland than it is in other countries. A lot of the roadways are either tree lined or they have large hedge rows (presumably to keep cattle in the pastures) which block your view. Every once in a while you can peek through a gate and see what is hiding behind, or if you are lucky enough, you are turning a corner on the top of some high spot and you get a view of the entire landscape. The fields here are not rectangular, and none of them are the same colour. Ireland is not as green as I thought it would be – but to be fair, it isn’t particularly sunny. In just about every place I’ve visited, the locals have expressed the sentiment that ‘If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes and it’ll be different.” Nowhere have I found this to be truer than here in Ireland. We have had sunny and warm weather followed by pouring rain with a mix of light showers all within moments of one another. In fact, at one point it was raining and yet I couldn’t even find a dark cloud 2 minutes later. We even got to see a rainbow – which is not so unique I’ll grant you (unless you have Chiara’s view of it “I’ve only seen about three in  my life, and most people never even get to see one.”), but to see one here in Ireland was a fun treat.

We stopped at a castle in a small town and walked around the grounds. It was a bit of a ruin, and the outer wall was broken down in places so you couldn’t walk the wall, but it was pretty impressive. It turns out they shot some scenes for Braveheart at this castle. We spent a lot longer at the castle than I anticipated we would, but that is only because there was a lot to see and everybody was enjoying the nice weather. The no-climbing signs proved to be a real disappointment for Brandon and Nathan especially. If there is an area that is elevated, even 1 foot, Nate needs to climb it.

From there we headed North after a brief lunch in a park (complete with zip-line). We were running a bit ahead of schedule, even considering the narrow and windy roads, until we had a few minor complications. Shawn’s car tire blew and we had to find a way to get it patched or replaced. Because there are run-flat tires, there was no spare (and even if there was, changing a tire buried under a pile of luggage on a tiny street isn’t something any of us was looking forward to), so we drove on to the nearest town. The GPS had us go on a bit of a wild goose chase at first, but we cornered some guy in a liquor store who just happened to have a business card for a 24 hour tyre service in his car. We called (well, the shop-keeper called actually) and a guy came out and led us back to the garage and set us up. So much for being ahead of schedule. The owner kept calling or texting since we were late, then a kid got car sick, and then another had to use a toilet and then we drove to the wrong location…and then we finally got here after driving through an open gate with a lane behind it and a sign clearly stating that the entrance was not to be breached as it was private property.

The place is HUGE and beautiful, with a river rushing by at the edge of the yard (that I am sure Nate will end up in). We have big plans for tomorrow, looking at some of the Magnificent Seven attractions for the area.

Ireland Begins…

We are already two days into our Ireland trip, and I’m only finding time to write now.  That’s what happens when you add friends to a trip.  Too much fun and excitement to find a quiet time to blog.  We arrived on Saturday and met up with Joe Elliott and his fiancee who just happen to be in Dublin at exactly the same time!  We grabbed a bus to the city centre and had our first dinner with them at Madigan’s Pub.  The bartender was fun, although I didn’t always understand him as he talked so quickly!  Since then I’ve noticed it wasn’t just him, everyone speaks super fast.

Dinner for me was sausage and chips.  I found the sausage better than English sausage, but not as good as home, or Germany.  I decided to go with Cider and wait and share my inaugural Guinness experience with the O’Keefe’s at the brewery.  We waited to leave until after the music had started, so we could here some Irish music.  We stayed for four songs, and I knew three of them (although one was Simon and Garfunkel and not Irish).

Sunday morning we met the O’Keefe’s at the airport, and our Irish adventures began!  First stop was to a park, so the kids could let off steam and enjoy each other.  Amazing how it was immediately like they had never been apart.  This gave the adults time to catch up a little and not surprisingly, it was the same for us- like we’d never been apart.  True friends.

We took the tour bus around town, basically just as a means to get to the Guinness Storehouse tour.  There I sampled my first ever pint of Guinness.  It was creamy and delicious.  While sampling the stout, we listened to some great Irish music, saw a little Irish Dancing and even got up to try it ourselves.  This was the highlight of my day!  Good music, delicious drinks, fun dancing, and great friends- doesn’t get better than that!

Republic of Ireland

For the last two days we have been in Ireland. We arrived on Saturday and breezed through customs. I was shocked at how quickly they let us through – I’m not even sure if the officer looked at us. On the other hand, to board the plane we had to have our tickets checked by 4 separate people at 4 different locations, and our photo taken at two separate sites, so I guess it all balances out.

When we landed, we met up with Joe and Jamie and decided to meet them at their place and go into the city of Dublin for dinner. After the hour long process of getting our car, we headed to our apartment, dropped off our stuff and set out to find them. With bare bones details, and 6 different universities or colleges in the area, it was harder to find them than you might think. We finally bumped into them, and took a bus in to the city.

We stopped at Madigans, had a Guinness and a meal (it was carvery day and the food was delicious) and after a while listened to the live music (a single guitarist) sing some Irish tunes (and the boxer by Simon and Garfunkel) before calling it a night.

In the morning, the guests of honour arrived and we met the O’Keefe clan at the car rental area. It was so good to see them again – there were many hugs and many tears. From there, it was another trip into the city (where a horse show and many other events are going on, so navigating is difficult). It turns out that the road our beautiful hotel is on is shut down because the horse show is right next door. We had to drive around for about 20 minutes on very tight streets with vehicles not exhibiting the courtesy of English or Scottish drivers and yielding to oncoming traffic or pulling into passing spots. The conditions were not great.

Anyhow, we finally sorted all of that out and walked to a park to let the kids run around while we chatted, looked at a map to decide what to do, and just enjoy the weather (sunny but cool) and the company.

We took the hop-on hop-off bus tour around the city (mostly because it is the cheapest way to get to the Guinness tour) and rode on the top of the open air bus. It took us past Trinity college and St. Patrick’s Cathedral (which is gorgeous). The Guinness tour is nothing special (it isn’t at the brewery, it is just the storage facility) but it is a huge building (with a HUGE souvenir shop). The highlight was the open bar area half way up. There was a four piece band (banjo, accordion, fiddle, and acoustic guitar), the kids all sat on the couch listening and drinking their sodas while the adults enjoyed an ice cold pint. The bartender poured the last third through the froth and made the shamrock design in it. After about 3 songs, they brought out some Irish dancers, and put on a show. Then a couple of songs later, the dancers brought up people to participate. Nathan had a ball, and so did Melissa. I had myself a Hop House 13 (brewed by Guinness as well) and then we went up to the top for the 360 view of the city. Shawn had to carry Gemma since she was asleep by this point. I think every O’Keefe may have caught a nap at some point by then.

The top was nice, but crowded. We were there for 10 minutes, then exited the building, caught our tour bus back to the hotel and grabbed a quick dinner (at the Horse Show House). Another new beer, and home to bed. Tomorrow is a late check-out, and we are travelling into Northern Ireland and stopping at a couple of places along the way. Should be fun, and it looks like we will have nice weather for it as well.

Regardless of the itinerary, I’m sure having our friends in town will make every day of this trip great.

One last note – Clara lost her iPod (left it on the plane on the way back from Strasbourg). We have tracked it down and it is being mailed to us, so I unfortunately do not have anything to take pictures with 😦

Strasbourg

And we ended our week where we started- Strasbourg.  It is a French city right on the border with Germany, and in fact was back and forth as German and French land many times through the years.  Therefore it has a uniqueness which is French and German influences throughout.

It is a lovely place, with a gorgeous city centre that we spent pretty much all of our time in.  One of my highlights was the boat tour we took.  As “Centre-Ville” is surrounded by water, it was a perfect way to see the a lot of the sites at once.  It also took us out of city centre to show us the European Parliament Buildings, which were very modern, mostly glass, and very impressive.  My favourite part of the city they call “Petite France” which is full of half timber houses and is extremely timeless and picturesque!

My favourite meal was on our last night.  We found a restaurant fairly close to the cathedral where we ate on the patio.  I had “Aux Petite Croc” a dish named the same as the restaurant.  It was a typical dish to Alsace (the region in France Strasbourg is located) and consisted of lots of meat and choucroute (sauerkraut).  It came with a frankfurter, shoulder joint, smoked ham, peasant bacon (to die for- even better than Canadian bacon possibly), and duck breast.  Way too much food, but when in Alsace…you must try it all!

Strasbourg is a beautiful destination on it’s own.  You can spend hours walking around the cobbled streets looking at the old houses and many bridges (with lots of flowers on both).  We  often came upon musicians playing on a side street, which added so much to the charm of the place.  Like Paris, we found there was not enough park space, no place for the kids to play.

This year is the Cathedral de Notre Dame (yes Strasbourg has one too) is celebrating 1,000 years.  As part of their celebrations they have a nightly light show on the side of the Cathedral.  It was completely amazing, and I’m so glad we waited to see it.  The Cathedral is amazing all on it’s own.  I took pictures, but as it is right in the heart of the city, you can’t get far enough away from it to capture it in one shot.  It very much reminds me of the other Cathedral de Notre Dame in style. The stain glass windows were amazing from the inside, and the size was pretty incredible too!  I’m Glad I could convince Greg to come in with me!

We ended our trip with one last trip to a french bakery and I tried a macaroon for the first time.  I decided on a pistachio one and it was delicious.  A cookie and sweet candy all in one!  And also, since we were indulging, one last croissant!

Batorama

Today I only did two things. I will blog in the order the events happened.

We left the house at around 9am. We walked past the cathedral to a place that gives boat rides/tours. The company that gives the tours are named Batorama. We got on one. It is an open air tour, given through headphones and recordings. I didn’t know where those headphones had been though, so I used me own. I listened to the English version. There is 10 languages, with both an adult version and a child’s version. I listened to the adults version. I did switch to the child’s version for about ten minutes to hear what Nathan and Clara listened to. The only thing that was on that channel that I heard was a jazzy and electric version of the ode to joy. The boat took us all around the city of Strasbourg and under every bridge in the city. The water levels in different parts of the city were different so that meant I got to go in a lock. It was cool. Overall the tour was pretty nice. There was one drawback to the whole ride…..  It was raining. It was raining a little bit had as well, not just spitting. A man came around and handed everyone ponchos. Is he superman or something, because he saved my day! I actually stayed dry!

At the end of the day, we went out to a restaurant. The place was very good. The food was great. I cant say what I got, or remember the name of what I got, but basically it was a potato pancake with melted munster cheese on it and fries on the side. It was sooooooooooooooooooooooooooo good. It filled me right up as well, but of course I still had room for dessert. I got Ice Cream! It was really good. I had two scoops of chocolate, one scoop of vanilla, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, with almond shavings on top. MMMMMMMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm……………. We walked home from here and that ended my day.

Everything in between these two events that I haven’t mentioned was wasted professionally on my bed with some electronics and tired eyes….

PEACE!

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