Disaster in Dublin

Those of you who know me know that I am a pretty positive person, so you know when I say Dublin was a disaster, I am not exaggerating, at least, not much.   The best part of the day was the bus ride into the city when I chatted with a very nice young couple with a darling baby girl, whose antics enlivened an otherwise long, boring ride.  The baby’s mum was from Northumberland, my favorite area of Britain.  We had a nice chat, and I gave them my card, so I hope they’ll look in and see how much our visit meant to me.

Things went downhill from there, but let me back up a bit to our arrival in Dublin.  The sun was shining, it was in the 70s, and we were so exhausted from a long drive the day before, a late night repacking, and an early flight to Dublin, we absolutely had to take naps as soon as we got into our room.  The room was very warm, but the window was open, so we didn’t think much about it, just laid down on our beds and dropped off.  When we woke, it was so stifling, we called down to the desk and asked for a fan.  It didn’t help much, and we roasted all night.

This morning, returning to the room after breakfast downstairs (where it was cool and comfortable), we were almost knocked over by the heat.  That’s when it dawned on me that there must be a radiator on in the room somewhere.  Sure enough, it was behind the wheelchair, where we hadn’t noticed it when we came in, and when I turned on the breaker switch to turn on the electrical outlets (more about this in an upcoming post), the rad was also turned on, and the previous occupant had had it up on high, probably trying to dry things out. Apparently the cleaners never turned it off when they did the room, just flipped off the breaker switch.

When we woke up this morning in our stifling room (window open all night), it was pouring.  All the beautiful sunshine of yesterday was somewhere else.  That meant I could not take the wheelchair for our city tour because either I or it or both would have gotten soaked.  Amy already had a sinus headache from the hot room and low pressure system,  but we decided to go anyway into the city.  To get there from our hotel, we had to ride a shuttle bus back to the airport to catch a bus to the city center to catch the hop-on hop-off tour bus.  We got turned around at the airport and walked a mile, at least, before we finally found the right bus and bought day passes and tour bus tickets.  Finally, we were on the right track.

Our first stop on the tour was Trinity College, to see the Book of Kells, but when we got there, the line was at least two hours long, and me with no wheelchair.  So that was out, and we were both terribly disappointed.  The smiles in the picture below at Trinity College are obviously forced, because by then, both of us were struggling with our own pain issues.

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On to the next stop, Grafton St., where we got out and did a little souvenir shopping for folks at home, but not before we walked the wrong way again for several blocks, dodging umbrellas.  There’s an art to managing an umbrella in a crowd,  and we aren’t that good at it but were glad of our rain jackets that we bought in York.  On Grafton St. the buskers were coming out despite the rain, and we had to take pictures of the one below.

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We had lunch in the Grafton St. area, then got back on the bus for the next stop at the National Museum of Archaeology and History.   We both really were looking forward to that, and fortunately,  the museum had one wheelchair not in use.  However, we did not get even halfway around the first exhibit before Amy became so ill that we had to leave.

Then it was about two hours by tour bus, city bus, and another walk around the airport to the hotel shuttle bus before we made it back to the hotel so that she could lie down.

We will go down soon to eat another bad hotel dinner and then try to get a good night’s sleep before our midday flight tomorrow.  I am ready to come home.  Ireland, I hope I get to visit you again someday.

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The Highlands

I wish I could share with you all the scenes and pictures I have in my mind of the trip  from Inverness to Glasgow yesterday.  Photos shot through a car window are such an injustice to that grand land.  Even good photographs don’t convey the grandeur of the Great Glen.  There are waterfalls  everywhere, some so high and far away that they look like trickles; some large, close, and roaring.  The water falls into streams that froth over the rocky bottoms of the glens.

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It is hard to imagine a land so green that it almost hurts your eyes, but so bleak as to conjure a shudder at the thought of people trying to live there.  Little grows but grass, but unlike most of the other places we’ve been in Great Britain,  there were no sheep.  A cold rainy wind blew us down from Inverness, so we weren’t able to stop much, but we both enjoyed our drive along Loch Ness, through the Great Glen, and then past Loch Lomand.  Many times we wanted to stop, but the road was narrow and winding, and traffic got backed up over and over behind caravans and lorries (RVs and trucks).

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Before we headed south, we stopped at the battlefield at Culloden Moor.  I won’t subject you to a history lesson (if you want to know more about the ’45, as it’s often called, info is easy to find) but I will say that Amy and I were both touched by the place.  I think as Americans, we have a tender place in our hearts for the struggle for independence,  and the visual reminder that not all such struggles succeed, as ours did, is saddening.

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After Culloden,  we drove a short way to the Clava Cairns, three ancient passage-graves, ceremonial and burial mounds.  This was a fascinating place where I could have spent hours, if not for  all the other noisy tourists!  When they left, I hated to go, but we had to get moving south.

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There is so much more of Scotland to see.  I hope I can come back some day.

As it was, we got in about 8 o’clock to our hotel near the Glasgow airport, ate a not very good dinner, and drove to the airport to turn in the rental car.  ( We were both so relieved to get rid of that thing–though I have some funny stories about it– and get off the road, we were almost giddy!)  We were up late repacking the suitcases to keep from having to pay overweight bag fees (and didn’t,  I’m happy to report) and up early to get to the airport for our early flight to Dublin.   We were going to rent a car here but decided a while back that we just didn’t have enough time, and that was a wise decision.   By the time we got to  our hotel near the Dublin airport, we needed a meal and a good long nap.

Now, as I write this, Amy is trying to figure out the bus situation for tomorrow.  We will eat dinner here at the hotel tonight because we are both wiped out.  Our last day of sightseeing tomorrow will probably completely exhaust us, but we will finish with style, I hope.

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Netherley to Inverness

From rural Netherley near Stonehaven on the east coast of Scotland, where we stayed at Schonwald B & B with our vivacious hostess, Christine, who makes her own yogurt and granola (truly a woman after my own heart), we drove up to Aberdeen.  (That’s a Pictish name, by the way, but more about Picts later.)

In Aberdeen, we met Bose, Amy’s sister-in-law.  She’d come for her graduation from the University of Aberdeen on Friday.  It was lovely to meet her, and I wish we had been able to spend more time with her.  While we waited for her to arrive, we went to the Cruickshank Botanic Gardens on the university campus in Old Aberdeen.  It was a lovely way to pass the time, and some of Amy’s flower pictures will be over on the other blog at http://www.gardenforestfield.com.  She does such a good job with her phone camera.

We ended up going to Inverness by way of Cairngorms National Park,  and there was still snow on the mountains.  I have given up trying to take pictures from a moving car, and once Amy gets that car moving, she doesn’t like to stop unless something like ice cream is involved.  However, we did make a couple of stops, once so I could take pictures of a river (which one I have yet to work out because we were nowhere near where I thought we were when I took the picures), and once because we saw a sign that said “Pictish Stones.”  Amy whipped that Renault off the highway and on to a lane so fast it’s no wonder my neck is sore.

We both have become fascinated with the Picts and have learned that they didn’t just disappear, as was once thought, but were assimilated by the Gaels.   However, their language survived in place names, most frequently in the prefixes pit- (Pitcairn) which means farm or unit of land, and aber- (Aberdeen) which means the mouth of a river or stream, in this case, the Dee.  We learned this at Pictavia yesterday, where we saw a few old stones behind glass and a bunch of replicas.  But today, at the Old church at Invararon,  we saw four Pictish stones, displayed on the porch of the church, up close and personal, touchable.  It was a thrill for us both.

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We are staying at a guesthouse in Inverness that’s like a small hotel, quite different from the bed and breakfast places we’ve been staying in, but the room is quite comfortable.  We will have to find our own breakfast tomorrow.  Amy thinks she’s found a place that has pancakes which is rightbacross from the Joy of Taste, where we had dinner tonight.  I had Highland venison fillets on onion polenta with beautifully cooked vegetables (a first, really, since we’ve been here), and a scrumptious vanilla cheesecake with fresh raspberries and raspberry gelee.   It was interesting to compare the venison tonight with our venison at home.  Ours tastes wilder, which I suppose isn’t surprising since it is not pasture-raised.  The Highland venison was very good, although I would probably have cooked it a bit less if I’d cooked it myself.  Still, it was tender enough to cut with a butter knife!

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Tomorrow, after we visit Culloden Moor and the Clava Cairns, we turn south for Glasgow, and the next morning we fly to Dublin for a couple of days.  We are both getting a bit homesick and more than a bit road-weary, but we have seen so many interesting things and met so many wonderful people, I know we will be sad to leave Britain behind.

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Moving North

Rain came in today when were eating lunch in the seaside town of Anstruther on Fife Ness.  That changed our plans for a beach day, so we went to Pictavia instead and learned more about the Picts. I took pictures of the stones, but Amy did not, so I can’t show you these beautifully carved stones.  We got to our room early tonight, had an early light supper, and are hoping for a good night’s sleep tonight and fair weather tomorrow.   We are meeting Solomon’s sister, Bose, tomorrow in Aberdeen, then it’s on to Inverness.

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Edinburgh to Kirkcaldy

I will have no pictures of Edinburgh to share with you because we did not stay.  Our room there was not very comfortable,  and neither of us slept well.  Amy woke feeling worse, so bad she didn’t think she had the energy to tour the city.  So we decided to head on north to our next stop, Kirkcaldy.   It is only an hour or so from Edinburgh,  so we arrived a little before noon, hoping to get into our room early so Amy could rest.  Here’s where the story gets interesting,  but it turned out to be one of those happy accidents we’ve been blessed with on this trip.

I had used booking.com for the hotel here in Kircaldy.  I’ve been happy overall with the other rooms.  This one was a big flop.  As soon as we walked in, the smell of the place nearly made Amy vomit.  Sitting right by the font entrance, on a table in font of reception, was a slop bucket full of food scraps.  There was no one at reception, and we were told by cleaning staff that it might be after the 2 p.m. check in time that we would be able to get into a room.  We didn’t want to stay there by that time, so we went looking for another place to stay.

We found the Strathearn Hotel just around the corner, and to our surprise, it was just as affordable as our original hotel, but quite the cut above.  The house was built in 1795 by a mining magnate and became a hotel in the 40s.  It is beautiful, and well – run by Stephen Stewart, his wife, and his staff.  Cassy was our waiter at lunch, and we fell in love with her charm, her sense of humor, and her kindness.  By the end of a delicious lunch, we were old friends.  We also met Diane, the bartender, who this evening poured me my first taste of Scotch whiskey, Glenmorangie, and I hope I’ve spelled that right.  I could get addicted to that stuff if it wasn’t way out of my budget!  Strathearn also has a top notch chef.  Once again, we were so eager to dive in that we didn’t take pictures of our Scottish salmon fillets or our desserts.  I had a trifle with summer berries and cream, and Amy had a lemon posset with berry compote and shortbread cookies.  It was all scrumptious.

Stephen and his staff are all so kind and friendly, finding the Strathearn Hotel was a godsend.  We are hoping that booking.com will get us a refund on the other place, but at any rate, we’re so glad we found the Strathearn.

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Kirkcaldy has a lovely stone built harbor with a ruined church and a ruined castle built by James II nearby.  I hope to have some pictures to add to this post tomorrow before we head north to Stonehaven.  We did get in a little beach time today, and I picked up treasures to share with friends and family.    Hoping this warm weather holds!

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York, Northumberland and the Wall, to Scotland

I am playing catch up again after two days in Northumberland without wi fi. We left York on Thursday morning, headed for Northumberland and Hadrian’s Wall.  Before we left York, the last thing we did was to walk partway around the city on the medieval city walls on what is called the Lord Mayor’s Walk.  Those walls were built partly atop Roman walls, as you’ll see in the last pic below, which shows the remains of a Roman watchtower, I believe.  The first two pics are of Monk’s Bar, one of the gates which still has an intact portcullis raised inside the gate.  On top of the bar are two statues of defenders poised and ready to hurl rocks upon the heads of those who might attempt to break through the gate.

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On our way back to the car park, where, by the way, people with disabled placards park free, we spotted this sign that almost made us drop to our knees with laughter.

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Since neither Amy nor I are feeling particularly healthy (she’s picked up a cold), or bright – eyed (from not enough sleep and too much sun and driving), or slim (blaming the full English breakfasts we’ve been having for that one–my nickname is tattie and hers is piggie, which gives you some idea what we’ve been eating), we are thinking we need to get our hands on some of those bile beans.

From York, we drove up into beautiful Northumberland, where for some reason, despite the lack of trees and mountains, I felt immediately at home.  I can’t explain it, but when I saw all the homes for sale here, I immediately started scheming.  There is a house for sale just behind the Holmhead Guesthouse where we stayed, right on the Wall path.  In fact, some of the stones used to build the farm house turned guesthouse came from the Wall, as did the stones from ruined Thirlwall Castle, just above and across Tipalt Burn.  I can’t wait to share those pictures, but they’re on my camera, so not until we get home.  Here are some Amy took of Thirlwall Castle, c. 13th century.  It is a peaceful ruin, except for the bellowing of cows on the neighboring farm.  You can see how thick the walls were built for protection against wild Scottish rievers from over the border.  It had three floors, and a staircase built inside the wall for added security.  Animals and stores were kept on the ground floor, with two upper floors for living space.  I keep wondering what it would have been like for a young girl to grow up there.

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Our hosts at Holmhead Guesthouse,  Judy and Alan, were so kind and generous and helpful with information, we really hated to leave them.  They also went to great lengths to provide gluten – free breakfast items for me, and the breakfasts were wonderful.  Judy had muffins and fresh milk for tea waiting for us when we arrived that first afternoon, which really went beyond the call of duty for a B & B.  It’s a lovely place, and I am looking forward to posting my pictures of it when we get home.  Thank you, Alan and Judy for a wonderful stay.

For dinners, we walked down to the pub in the Greenhead Hotel, and I’m telling you, the cook there could cook anywhere homemade, home style cooking is appreciated.  The first night, I had a slow – cooked lamb shank, and while I finished all the meat, I had to leave some mash on the plate.  Last night, Amy and I shared a perfectly cooked and seasoned locally sourced ribeye steak so that we could share two desserts: Bailey’s cheesecake and crunchy pecan ice cream made in Northumberland.  The ice cream here is less sweet and creamier than ours–so good.  I’m ashamed to say we ate it all up without even thinking about taking a picture of it!  Below is that delicious lamb shank.

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Yesterday was our Wall day, and we did it up brown.  A funny thing happened on our way to a spot we’d been told about: we missed a turn and found ourselves on a farm track obstructing a sheep drive.  The very kind owner, Jill, helped us get out of the way and chatted with us and gave us directions to the place we wanted to go, and also steered us to Housesteads since it was such a beautiful day.  I got the sheep drive with sheepdogs and four wheeler on video, which I’ll have to share on Facebook when I get home.  Jill had a great sense of humor, and we really enjoyed talking to her.

When we found the right lane, we drove to the parking area at Walltown Crags and walked a short distance up to the Wall and the remains of mile tower 49A, I believe.  The weather was gorgeous,  hot, even.  The Wall is amazing.  To think, as one man we spoke to put it, that not only is so much of it still standing 2000 years after it was built, you can walk right up to and on it.

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We have so many pictures of the Wall and of the beautiful country it runs through, they will fill an album when we get home.  From Walltown Crags, we went to Housesteads, a Roman fort and civilian settlement.  It is immense and must have been incredibly impressive when it was built because even in ruins it is impressive.  My favorite things were the spring – fed or seep filled water trough for the commander’s horses in his stable, the system of raised floors and ducting underneath to heat his house and the hospital, and the latrines with their basins for vinegar and the sponges used for arse wipes, along with large stone cisterns which caught runoff which supplied the fort with all its water.   The water trough in the stable and the latrines are below.  They were flushed with runoff carefully channeled down to the lowest point of  the hill.

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It a was fast and easy drive up to Edinburgh today.  Good thing, since Amy caught a chest cold yesterday and is feeling wretched.  It is raining here, and we are not wanting to go out, but we must get some dinner.  Tomorrow, we plan to see the Castle and the Royal Mile, and then we head north again along the coast for some beach time.  Here’s hoping we have good weather for that. So far, what we have seen of Scotland is as beautiful as the rest of Britain, but I will be happier when we leave the city behind.  That’s me, just a country girl to the bone.

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York

Things often don’t turn out the way you thought they would, especially when traveling.  I thought I was coming to Britain to see the sights I’ve yearned to see; instead, what I think I’ll remember the most are the people we’ve met. I am such a homebody, but I love to meet new folks, tell stories and listen to them, and laugh together.  And like calls to like–we have met some truly nice people here.  From the man who did our laundry today (a first for me) at Haxby Road Launderette, to the street artist who drew our caricature, to our waitress, Ewa, at two different Cafe Rouge restaurants, it’s the people who can make or break your day.  Ewa was our waitress for lunch at one cafe.  We got to chatting and she told us she’d be at the other one on the other side of the Shambles for the dinner shift.  We didn’t expect to see her again, but we got turned around (Amy is not quite as good at directions as she thinks she is, but it’s okay because she does great with the driving), and when we walked into  a Cafe Rouge for dinnrr, there was Ewa.  We laughed and told her she didn’t have to worry that we were stalking her because we are leaving York tomorrow and heading north to Hadrian’s Wall.

Thanks to Elizabeth and Spiros, our hosts at Sycamore Place Guest House for answering innumerable odd questions (like where to buy a rain jacket) and for taking such care of their guests.  I don’t know how they do it all, but they make this place shine.

Here are a few pics of York’s city walls, random flower boxes and beds, the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey, knocked down by Henry VIII,  and the museum gardens.  More to come, later.

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