Day 8. Going West

May 25, 2015
Travel from Belfast to Westport.

Dublin has two train stations. Dublin Heuston serves the rails that go north and south along the east coast of Ireland. To head west from Dublin you have to go to Connolly Station. So, first we had to go from Belfast to Dublin, then take a light rail tram to Connolly Station, and then take the train to Westport. Irish people are friendly and will gladly make small talk while carefully avoiding any potentially controversial subjects. Several people had inquired about where we were heading next and they all talked about how lovely Westport is. Westport did not disappoint it is a beautiful town. What people had not talked about is how cold and windy it is there. I guess that is why they call the west coast of Ireland The Wild Atlantic Way.
Westport is nicely laid out with a river running through the center of town. It has a thriving business district with lots of hotels, restaurants and pubs. We stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast called Willow Lodge. Our hostess, Angela, couldn’t have been nicer. She gave lots of advice about where to eat, and where to go for music, and she cooked breakfast to order every morning. I will tell you more about breakfast in another post. The town of Westport was built in the 1700’s, so most of the houses are built in the Georgian style: built out of limestone, two to four stories high with a central doorway and large regularly spaced windows on the ground floor, with slightly smaller windows on floor one , and still smaller windows on each floor as you go up.

http://www.insightguides.com/destinations/europe/ireland/cultural-features/irelands-architecture

FYI: In Europe, the ground floor is not the first floor!. The floor above it is referred to as the first floor, so if you are given a room on the third floor, you will have to walk up three flights of stairs to get to it. Historic buildings rarely have elevators or, as they say in the British Isles, lifts.

Day 7. The Ulster Museum

May 24, 2015
Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland, which is a part of the United Kingdom. It has a troubled history, but today it seems a quiet, industrious, and almost genteel town. And our tour guide proclaimed it, “the best big city in the world”. They sure seem to love Queen Victoria. Many institutions are named for her and there are many monuments honoring her. We stayed at a youth hostel that was just down the road a ways from Queen’s University. So, having just one day to explore Belfast, we shied away from the more touristy Titanic Experience, and headed instead to the Botanic Gardens, and The Ulster Museum adjacent to the University.
It was a blustery day, so we only spent a little time in the gardens. We did enjoy seeing a statue of Lord Kelvin. It is great to see a scientist being honored along side royalty and writers, even if it only because he was a chancellor of the university. The museum, like the TARDIS seemed to be bigger on the inside. There was much to see, so we happily whiled away the day looking at artifacts and learning more about Irish and Egyptian history and culture.

Queen's University
Queen’s University

Ulster was the name of an ancient kingdom in the northernmost part of the island of Ireland, roughly equivalent to what is now the country of Northern Ireland. Ethnically the people of Ulster are more closely related to the Scots than to the people of other parts of Ireland. Ancient Ulster was known for the tenacity of its fighting men. The symbol of Ulster is the red hand, a simple drawing of a hand held up so that the palm is facing the viewer, colored red. They say that this stems from a contest between two kingdoms to decide who would win control of a contested island. it was decided that there should be be a race between two teams of rowers, and whichever side was first to lay a hand on the shore of the island would win it. As the boats drew close to the island, one boat pulled into the lead, the other boat teamed by the men of Ulster just could not catch up. So in a stroke of madness or genius, or both; the Ulster King drew out his sword, cut off his hand, and threw it onto the shore, thereby winning the island. They say that this tale illustrates the determination of people of Ulster to get the job done, no matter what.
In the 1700’s there was a mass exodus of folk from Ulster to the American Colonies to escape religious persecution. These people came to be known as the Scots/Irish. Many of these immigrants took an active role in the struggle to win independence from England for America. And, they claim that fourteen American presidents had Ulster/Scots roots.
Ulster thrived during the Industrial Revolution and its capital, Belfast, is known as the birthplace of the ill-fated Titanic.Since then it has had more than its share of troubles.

I'll drink to that!
I’ll drink to that!

Day 6. In the Footsteps of a Giant

Legend says it once went all the way to Scotland. Ireland is probably happy it doesn't anymore...
Legend says it once went all the way to Scotland. Ireland is probably happy it doesn’t anymore…
Pony trying to shove the Giant's Causeway over
Pony trying to shove the Giant’s Causeway over
Pony considers taking some of this home for the garden
Pony considers taking some of this home for the garden

Pony strolling where giants tread. For some reason.
Pony strolling where giants tread. For some reason.
May 23, 2015
Northern Ireland

Finn McCool aka Fionn Mac Cumhaill was one of the great heroes of Irish legend. He was big (size 47 shoes) and strong and a skilled warrior, but not very wise. Lucky for him, he had a very smart wife. When he heard that there was another great giant living across the sea channel, he decided to challenge this other giant. He wanted to secure his reputation as the biggest and baddest of them all. so he broke loose columns of basalt rock and threw them into the sea to form a causeway, allowing him to stroll over to Scotland to find this giant. When he got there he realized that Benendonner, the Scottish giant was much larger and more powerful than himself. So he hightails it back home, with Benendonner in pursuit. His wife comes up with a plan and puts a bonnet on him and tucks him into bed. Benendonner arrives, she tells him her husband is out and invites him in for tea. She tells him they must talk quietly because the “baby” is sleeping. Benendonner sees Fionn lying in bed, and thinks to himself that if the baby is that large, the father must be truly formidable. So he excuses himself and heads back to Scotland, never to be seen or heard from again.
http://giantscausewaytickets.com/finn-mccool

The one thing I knew from the start that I wanted to do/see in Ireland was the Devil’s Causeway.
It is a fascinating and unique geological phenomenon on the northern coast of Ireland. I had seen pictures of it and wanted to see it for myself. What I didn’t realize, until I started planning this trip is that the Causeway is in Northern Ireland, not in the Republic of Ireland. No problem, there are ways to get there. Surprisingly, although it is a popular destination, there is not a lot of tourist accommodations nearby. There are lots of companies that provide day trips from Dublin, but the drive is so long that they need to start early in the day and they can’t spend much time there. So I added Belfast to the itinerary and booked a day trip from there. The Giant’s Causeway did not disappoint, it is a fascinating and beautiful site. Well worth a visit.
The tour company also took us to the Bushmill’s factory where we got to sample some 12 year old whiskey. I have never cared much for the taste of whiskey, but this was a entirely different from anything i had been exposed to, smooth and delicious. The bartender explained that Irish whiskey is the best because it is triple distilled, American whiskey is distilled only once. Unfortunately, you cannot buy the 12 year old Bushmill’s, it is only available for tasting at the distillery!

Entrance to the Bushmills Distillery and Tasting Room where we had a wee dram of the good stuff
Entrance to the Bushmills Distillery and Tasting Room where we had a wee dram of the good stuff

We also stopped to walk across the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. A high, narrow bridge to a small island that was first built centuries ago, by and for the local salmon fishermen. The official story is that they needed passage to the island to tend to their nets, although it has also been suggested that the island was used by smugglers, pirates, and other tax evaders. It has been rebuilt, made stronger and safer, and is now a popular tourist attraction.

The History of Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge


Wish to escape taxation - sometimes you have to do it the HARD way
Wish to escape taxation – sometimes you have to do it the HARD way

Day 5. A Most Unusual Man

Irish rail Dublin to Belfast

We had the pleasure of sharing a cubicle with a nattily dressed older man. His well fitted black suit and narrow tie gave him the look of an old-fashioned train conductor, so I was not surprised to learn that he works for the railroad. What was surprising is that he runs the Irish Railroad! He often rides the rails to observe how things are operating, and actually knows many of the employees by name. And if that was not impressive enough, he is also a lawyer, and runs a few small businesses. All that, at the age of 79. He also has traveled the world as a consultant and has worked for most of the communist governments in the world. He states that he got on well with both Fidel and Raul Castro, and Moammar Gaddafi. He says that their governments, and their railroads are well run and efficient.
What he has not been able to rectify is the relationship between the railroad systems of Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland! Although the run from Dublin to Belfast is jointly run, the two systems give out different information about it with slightly different timetables!
Anyway, our round trip went smoothly, although the train from Dublin was a little late leaving the station. The trains are clean and comfortable and the scenery is fantastic. It is a great way to travel.

Day 4. Two Cathedrals, A Post Office, And A Brewery

Walked down O’Connell Street to find the Hop-on-hop-off bus. There actually are 2 companies offering this service in Dublin. We went with the one with the green buses. Lots of people are confused by the ubiquitous presence of both red and green double decker sight-seeing tour buses. Tourists frequently ask whether they can get on both red and green buses or if they have to stick to one color. Our driver made it clear when he humorously responded, “Green is the color of Ireland and of healthy environments; red stands for danger. Stick to the green buses.”
The bus stop was right by the General Post Office which contains the An Post Museum. So we wandered in to see it. As well as information on how stamps are designed and made and a display of old postage stamps,the museum showcases the role of the post office in history. This particular post office was at the center of the Easter Uprising of April 24, 1916 which eventually led to the founding of The Republic of Ireland.
The bus takes you to too many sites to see in one day, so we chose to see Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, the Christchurch Cathedral, and the Guiness Experience. Firststop was St Patricks Cathedral. St Patrick’s is the largest cathedral in Ireland and was built on the site of a sacred well where St Patrick baptized converts back in 890 AD. The current building was erected in 1220 to 1260 AD. Oliver Swift (author of Gulliver’s Travels) is interred here.

inside St Patrick's Cathedral
inside St Patrick’s Cathedral
one of the stained glass windows at St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin
one of the stained glass windows at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin
Colorful tilework floor in St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin
Colorful tilework floor in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin

The Christchurch Cathedral claims to be Dublin’s oldest building, is in the oldest part of the city, and dates back to when Dublin was a Viking city. The Stone cathedral was built in the 12th and 13th century on the site of an earlier wooden church built in 1038. After taking a look at the Cathedral and it’s grounds, we wandered about the neighborhood. A friendly native recognized us as the disoriented, hungry tourists that we were and recommended a nearby tea shop for lunch. We followed her instructions and found ourselves in the most cozy restaurant that you could ever hope to see. It had 2 stories, but each was barely bigger than the bathroom in my condo. You place your order at the counter downstairs, then traipse upstairs where, if you are lucky, you take a seat at one of four tiny tables (barely big enough to hold two sandwich plates) or one of the four bar stools facing the window. However, the sandwiches were quite good and afterwards we felt sufficiently fortified to continue sightseeing.

side view of Christchurch Cathedral
side view of Christchurch Cathedral

There were some cruise ships in town, and the Guiness Storehouse is immensely popular so it was quite crowded. The self-guided tour teaches about the beer-making process and the history of Guiness distribution and advertising. At the end of the tour you can go to one of the on-site bars for a pint (included in the price of admission).The rooftop Gravity Bar was packed with tourists, but offered a panoramic, birds eye view of the city.
After that, we just had time for a quick look at the National Gallery before closing time.

Clockworks at the Guinness Brewery. Part of the display of items used to advertise Guinness.
Clockworks at the Guinness Brewery. Part of the display of items used to advertise Guinness.

Day 3. Arrival

Wednesday, May 20
Dublin, Ireland

Airports are all different, and services and amenities available at airports are all different. The time that I feel most vulnerable when traveling is when I have just landed at an airport in a foreign country and I need to find my way into town and to my accommodations. I am usually exhausted and sore from long hours in cramped conditions, and weighed down with luggage. First you have to go through passport control, then baggage pick-up, then customs. After that you are on your own. Advance research really helps. The internet is a traveler’s best friend. Google the airport’s website to learn about the layout of the port and to learn about ground transportation options. Make note of the location of the ATM machines. ATM’s are your best source for local currency. (Don’t forget to notify your bank that you will be traveling.) ATM’s give you the best exchange rate, for the lowest fees. Some banks (Charles Schwab) reimburse you for any ATM fees.
First stop, after customs is the bathroom. Airport bathrooms are so much better than airplane bathrooms. Second stop is the ATM. For security reasons, make sure the one you use is associated with a major bank.Third stop is the Tourist Information Desk (if there is one) to get a free map of the city. Then you step outside and find your way to the bus, or train, or taxi.
For our arrival in Dublin, I had pre-purchased an airport transit and 2 day hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus package. So the bus took us to it’s stop on O’Conoll Street. We found a Vodaphone shop, and negotiated a data package and installed an Irish SIM card into Trog’s smartphone. With guidance from Google Maps, it was a fairly pleasant walk to our hostel.

Day 2. Up In The Air

May 19, 2015
Vancouver to Dublin

Air fares seem incredibly random and unfathomable. Two seats, side by side, on the same flight can sell for vastly different prices. If you want to get the best deals you have got to do your research. As a general rule, I plan on buying my tickets about 6 weeks in advance of travel. that seems to be the time when prices drop to a reasonable level. Buy too early or too late, and you may end up paying hundreds of dollars more. I have seen lots of “tips” stating that travel on certain days of the week are less expensive, or buying your tickets at certain times of day on specific days of the week will save money. I have not found these rules to hold true. My favorite research tool is the ITA Matrix by Google. It is available online, and free to use at matrix.itasoftware.com
ITA lets you search flights just from your home airport, or from airports within a specified range of your chosen airport. A drop down menu lets you choose the range. Options are: 25, 50, 75, 100, 200, 300, 500, 1000, or 2000 miles from your base. Or, if your travel dates are flexible, you can request the lowest fare calendar. ITA searches the data bases of all the same airlines that are listed on sites like Expedia or Orbitz. The ITA calendar shows you the lowest available fare for your chosen destination for a whole month, starting on the date that you select. Choose your date and time from their offerings, then go to the airline’s website to book it.

Day 1. Ireland via Vancouver

Day 1
Monday, May 18.
Vancouver, BC, Canada

Step one of planning a trip is deciding when and where to go. Ireland beckoned, largely because of my Irish heritage. I don’t know a lot about my mother’s family background. My mother was a person who zealously guarded her privacy and I learned early on not to ask too many questions for fear of hitting on a sensitive topic. What I do know is that she was very proud of being Irish, and that her beloved Irish grandmother was born somewhere in County Cork. Ireland was the only foreign country that she ever expressed an interest in visiting. I also knew of Ireland’s reputation as a land of whimsy and legend; filled with friendly english-speaking people, open spaces, beautiful green landscapes and dramatic seascapes.So, Ireland was high on my unwritten list of places that I must visit someday. When my darling daughter gave me a copy of Rick Steves’ Ireland guidebook for Christmas, it was decided that Ireland would be this year’s primary destination.
Deciding when to go was a little trickier. There are a number of factors to take into consideration: babysitting commitments, medical appointments, weather considerations, avoiding the crowds and inflated prices of high-season,etc. After weeks of tracking airfares, taking note of the days when prices would be lowest, we decided to go for late May and early June. Late enough in the year to have a possibility of enjoying pleasant weather, but before the traditional European holiday months of July and August.
As we researched airfare, and possible departure and arrival airports, Trog noticed that it is considerably less expensive to fly from Canada than from anywhere on the west coast of USA. So we booked passage to British Columbia on Bolt Bus (a subsidiary of Greyhound) and booked one night lodging for the beginning of our trip and a night for the end of our trip near the Vancouver airport. Bolt got us there in the early afternoon, so we had an afternoon and an evening for sightseeing. Vancouver is a beautiful and charming city with beautiful waterfront vistas, but like any American city, it has problems with homelessness and drug abuse. By all means, if you get the chance go visit it. Enjoy the parks and museums, and the Aquarium, but be aware of which neighborhoods to avoid when the sun goes down.

Back in the US… Back in the US… Back in the…

Oh wait – the original song said “USSR,” didn’t it?

No thanks to Delta Airlines, we MADE it back to the USA. A day later than originally planned and while I had originally said when I discovered Delta had rearranged our return flight FOR us (without asking, I might add) that there were worst places to be stuck for an extra day than Marrakesh, that was BEFORE I contracted “turista” of some vicious stripe. Continue reading “Back in the US… Back in the US… Back in the…”

Moroccan Oil

We visited a women’s cooperative where they make argan oil. The argan is a small nut that grows only in certain parts of Morocco. Moroccan Argan oil is applied to the hair to make it soft and shiny, and applied to the skin to make it soft and supple.

Native craftswomen making argon oil products. Humble team of three apparently can FILL the shop with goods!
Native craftswomen making argon oil products. Humble team of three apparently can FILL the shop with goods!

Continue reading “Moroccan Oil”