Sunday, October 30, 2011

Georgia - Day 4

Today I woke up early, packed my things and waited for the gentlemen that were driving me back into Savannah to wake up. I had time to eat breakfast and blog a bit and even start my report for work... I figured I should do SOME work this weekend!

The guys finally woke up and we packed up what was left in the house, they divided the booze (not that there was much left) and we hit the road. I really enjoyed my drive with Billy and Jim we talked American politics almost the whole hour drive back... nothing I love more than chatting with Americans about their crazy politics! Once at the factory, I jumped in the car they had for visitors, Jim went to the airport and Billy went back to the hotel as he had meetings at the factory Monday. I was off like a shot in my hybrid Escape and found my way (surprisingly) to Savannah. After a couple turns trying to remember the way we got to down town the other night, I found the same parkade and parked - time to tour down town in 2 hours or less... game on!

The House in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil"
I found a square (not shocking or hard in Savannah as there are 22 main squares in the down town area) but this was the major one and it had a hop on hop off tour. SOLD! I hoped on and learned all about the buildings and the times they were built. I saw the place Forrest Gump sat with his box of Chocolates or where the House in the Movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" stands. I learned that there were ACTUALLY Jones' that people kept up with, and it had to do with wrought iron fences... interesting! I saw a LARGE number of statues to tribute brave soldiers in the Civil war and I learned that houses were different colours so that people who couldn't read (even numbers) could tell which house was which. There is SO much interesting history here and I wish I could just sit under one of the beautiful old Oak trees and absorb the tales that are written in the dirt here. It really did tweak something in my heart this place... and I can't wait to come back and bring my history loving husband!

The Old Cotton Exchange (Brick Bldg)
After the tour (that seemed to go SO quickly because I didn't get off once), I walked down to the water to see the old paddle boats and the Cotton Exchange in the light - it seems less haunting and dominating in the light of day, but maybe just to me... some might say that always looks dominating, but that could be because it was where slaves were bought and sold. It reminds me that I am so very, VERY lucky to be who I am and live where I do...

A quick tour of the water front and I was back in the car and found my way to the hotel where I dropped it off for the people coming in later for meetings Monday. I got the shuttle to the airport and in Southern style, the airport, so quaint and beautiful, made me smile. I really, really loved my time in the South.

As I was going through security, I saw a very large group of people. They had signs and American flags and there were tons of little kids standing in front of maybe, 100 Adults. Then I saw what the commotion was all about - 2 soldiers walked towards the crowd and they went CRAZY, kids ran towards their respective parent and wives burst into tears. It was a very beautiful and emotional moment.... I couldn't help but tear up. I can't help but tear up now! It was a very honest, human moment of love, joy and devotion and we don't see those all too often. It capped the trip off nicely.

Well, I guess the final flag in this great trip was that I got bumped to first class the WHOLE WAY HOME! Whahooo! It was cushy and roomy and just awesome. I really did love this trip that almost wasn't and I am so thankful and lucky that I got to go! I love my job!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tybee Island, Georgia - Day 3

Another early morning, but this time it was for a fun purpose. We have a giant breakfast at one of the houses and everyone goes to their respective activities. There was fishing, boating, and Kayaking as the options, I chose kayaking of course! We go to the marina and our boxed lunches are waiting for us and then find the place where our kayaking tour starts. We got a little lost but found it in short order and got set up for the day.  I only had a T-shirt on as I got locked out of the house because everyone left before I could grab my sweater so I am setting up for a cold day. There was a bit of rain when we left the house this morning so I am thinking I am going to suffer today.

When we get to the kayak location, the guide looked at me and found me a sweater, she said "Just incase" - Thank GOD!!!! So we load up and head out. I am a little worried that we are going to see snakes and gaters, and as our guide tells us where we are going for the day, my worries are not subsided. Oh well, roll with it. So we get the boats in the water, and away we go. We got through these streams that are only available and passable in Spring High tide, which happens to be today, so we kayak through places that few people see. Our guide has a masters in Environmental Studies in Conservation so she was so incredibly knowledgeable. We learned all about the flora and fauna and the animals and sea creatures, it was absolutely incredible.

The guide and I
We stopped for lunch at a sand bar beach and were able to enjoy the birds and sand. Looking out over the many channels of water, we were in awe of the vastness of the Marsh land. The guide told us stories and we all soaked in as much information as we could. We saw other kayak groups learning new tricks and I managed to score some good pointers along the way through eavesdropping. I almost capsized as we pushed off the shore as my paddle got sucked into the sand, had I not let go of it, I would have been in the water! We had to dig out the paddle and after 15 mins of digging finally got it loose - the guide said she had never seen that happen before... typical Heather! We went up streams and strong currents and through small waterways that were going to be gone in 2 hours, absolutely incredible. This place is so beautiful!

After some more paddling, we got to a beach and walked the length of the beach, the sand was white and beautiful and we found crabs and shells and jellyfish and even a sand dollar. We learned all about these creatures and I was just so glad to be out in the sunshine, exploring a new place! We hopped into our boats for one last paddle home and the wind picked up. It was a hard 30 plus minute paddle but along the way, the dolphins were cresting in our path and we got some great views of them, they were just so close... we could almost touch them! Incredible! We finally made it back, loaded up the boats and settled into the van with tired smiles on our faces... a great day!

When we got back and after a shower to wash off the salt from my skin, we met at the big house and munched, visited and drank... We had an oyster bake and steaks and potatoes and corn... we certainly have not starved on this trip! A perfect ending to a perfect day! Everyone was tired from their journeys by I loved hearing the stories about their days... one guy while fishing fell into the ocean, another lady caught a shark that may be a new Georgia record, I think everyone had a wonderful day.

I got to chat with a lot of guys this weekend about what I do and they all seemed to have questions for me about the software and ICE and the different things that they can do with it... It was defiantly worth it for me to come down just so they know who they are talking to when they need help. They were all friendly and fun, and they seemed to want to learn more, so that is great news for me. I hope that next year I can come again - I think it will be in Phoenix next year as it was in Calgary last year and we just opened up a new Phoenix plant this year. Fingers crossed that I will be able to go next year because this has been a blast!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Savannah Georgia - Day 2

An early morning - too early - and I wake up to find that one of my contacts is missing... UGH - so after 20 mins of searching, I concede and wear my glasses... keep this up and it is going to be a LONG weekend!

We head to the factory and have breakfast there, it was delicious, a full fledged breakfast - I could get used to this! After this, we head back to the hotel and settle into the conference room and start a long day of meetings. Nothing too interesting happens in the morning and at about 12 we head to the factory again for lunch. While there, we run into a colleague that was sent here to help us with the ICE training - hummmm... didn't know that we needed more help but ok, I will go with the flow. We work it out and he says that he will talk - hummm... ok, going with the flow here... trying to be ok with this. He is a bit of a different sort of guy, and is giant and looks like Colonel Saunders. Calling him Colonel, NOT a good idea... this could be a rough start to the training.

We get together after lunch and have a factory tour, this stuff amazes me ever time I see it and it did not dissatisfy. I am so lucky to be working for such an interesting company! After the factory, the tech's decided that they wanted to learn how to install a new door closer so they took off one of the doors to the office, and then change the closing mechanism - kind of interesting that they can just do this, but it makes sense as there are all the parts near them! So, this impromptu session messed up the afternoon's schedule entirely, and a couple of us managed to get to the hotel earlier than the majority, so I was able to catch up my mysterious colleague on what the training was going to be for. He seemed ok with it and still seemed willing to talk it through, I'm talking to myself at this point "Roll with it Heather, it will be fine" but my spidey senses are tingling... this dude isn't quite right... So the guys get back from the factory finally and we settle into the afternoon's meetings FINALLY - only to find that they have decided that the training I have prepared will be condensed to 30 mins... WHAT???? From 2 hours to 30 mins... ugh, that sucks!!!

So, we finally get to the training I flew across the continent to deliver and it is going to be around 30 mins... ok, rolling with the punches... so, the Colonel and I and my other helper, the hippie, get up there and the Colonel says, oh, you know I don't do ICE training, only ICEvision... WHAT??? That's what 1/2 the training is... Ok, I will do it... the Hippie takes the reins and intro's us all and tells the tech's the importance of this software and then it is me... I run through the bear minimum and walk them all through the basic gist of what I was planning on doing and before you know it, questions are flying and answers are given and the Hippie is helping with the questions, but the Colonel has gone and sat down in the back. At the end, he then stands up and gives this random couple of comments and then, feeling satisfied with himself I am sure, sat down and smiles. Dick wad! We conclude the days sessions of training and I am at a loss of what happened to the training I worked so long on... I guess that's how she rolls.

My boss calls and leaves a message while this is going on and I dreaded calling him back. After the full report, he seems to be really disappointed that our time got cut short and that the Colonel was sent by someone else and that it wasn't what we had planned. I know that he isn't disappointed in me and its the situation that he isn't happy with, but it sucks to be involved in something your boss isn't happy about. We have a game plan to get these guys the training they missed and we will salvage this somehow! SO, that all being done, we all check out of the hotel and hop in the vehicles and head to Tybee Island, a favorite destination of Georgians across the state. This is only 30 mins out of Savannah proper, so an hours drive from where we are. The drive is interesting and the scenery changes from lush green trees to marsh land. Hummmm, I wonder if there are snakes in these parts...

We get to Tybee Island and find the houses that we are staying in, these are beautiful Georgian homes with screened in porches with rocking chairs and 10' high ceilings, SO beautiful! We get our rooms and settle in and all meet in the biggest house. There are 3 houses rented for the 25 of us and the biggest one sleeps 12... WOW! There is a Fooseball table and Air hockey, 3 TV's and 2 giant tables... this is going to be awesome. A couple of us get pizza ordered and a couple more of us run to the grocery store for snacks and food for tomorrow. The 12 pizzas come and it is delishAmerican's think I have lost it. We head back to the houses for some beverages and relaxing and I head home for a shower.

The night wore on and everyone was pretty tired from the night before so we all retired to our respective houses by 11. One of the gentlemen staying in my house and I sat on the porch chatting and drinking coffee and baileys until 12 - just sitting on the porch in a rocking chair making a new friend... life is great!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Savannah Georgia - Day One

I had to get up at stupid o'clock to catch the flight to Savannah. Good thing too, because it took me over an hour just to clear customs... I have never seen a line like that for Customs and security. So, I had just enough time to scarf down a breakfast sandwich and coffee and board the plane. I honestly slept most of the flight to Chicago, so I woke up in a different city feeling great. I transferred terminals, had some pizza and waited for my flight. I did some work (until my laptop died) and then boarded the plane to Savannah. The flight was good, not very exciting, and before you know it, I was in a different city again and ready to explore!

We landed and I wasn't able to find the person who was to give me a ride to the factory, so after circling each other, I found Audrey my lovely greeter and I was whisked away to the hotel for a quick costume change and then off to meet the guys and to start the Haunted Pub Crawl. We get to the factory and I am greeted by many familiar faces, but many unfamiliar, I am also greeted by getting a new DIRTTbag shirt and a beer - how could this be wrong???

We all pile into the rentals and head to the hotel so people change and get prepped for going into Savannah proper. Getting 25 guys to cooperate and show up at the same time with some organization is like herding cats - this can only get better as the weekend goes on right? We finally get organized and ready for heading into downtown and away we go... 20 mins later, we are there, parked and walking through historic downtown - it is incredibly beautiful!!! I am just bursting with excitement! We find our starting location which is just in front of the Savannah Cotton exchange - this is also where they used to chain slaves to the walls so that they could pick between them - wow! So, we got out tour guide and away we went.

The tour wasn't very scary, we heard many stories about the civil war and the hospital where they amputated limbs and then stored the parts under the floor boards as the winter was cold enough - turns out the summer isn't and that caused a bunch of problems. We also heard stories about ghosts hanging from trees and some people have been said to feel their feet hit their heads or seeing images dangling from trees. It was kind of hokey and although I am normally one for hokey, this was a little too much. BUT, we got to see some amazing buildings (in the dark so I don't have any pictures) and the trees have this moss that grows on them called Spanish Moss or Spanish Beards and it makes these giant 100's of years old Oak trees look so stunning and magical you can't help but get lost in their history and beauty.

As the night wore on, the beer was flowing and we ended up at a bar that served only slush drinks - by this time all of the Canadians of the group were itching for something a little stronger than their beer and also something that would soothe the humidity heat that we were suffering from. This did the trick and once there, it took some wrangling to get these guys to leave. We left and after saying goodbye to the history of Savannah, we loaded into the cars and headed back to the hotel. I am really looking forward to getting to see some of this city in the daylight, I am sure it is just going to be stunning!

Once back at the hotel, we went to the bar and I had something to eat and some more bevies... I got into a great conversation with one of the people that I work with all the time and we managed to find some solutions to problems we are having. I hope that this will be a productive solution! After enough, I headed to bed as we had an early morning.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ten things about Ireland

I did it for Iceland when we were there and I got some great comments about it, so I thought it would be great to do it for Ireland!

Ten Interesting things about Ireland:

1. They love their Tea... every house we have been in, we have been asked if we want a cup of tea and every B&B we have stayed in has a kettle, cups and tea for the evening time. In fact, according the Lonely Planet Ireland drinks more tea per capita than the rest of Europe... that is a LOT of tea!

2. They love their potatoes... It is not uncommon for meals to be served with chips (or fries) and another kind of potato. I actually got a turkey dinner with roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes and then a bowl of fries. They love their potatoes

3. They reuse names... it is actually tradition for the sons and daughters to be named after their fathers or grandmothers... so much so that if you google it, there is a naming convention!

4. They do not use road signs very well... not matter what city, town or village you are in, the road signs are not very prominent, sometimes they are missing, and sometimes they just aren't there.

5. They like their small roads... The roads are often not very big, and if they are they have little or no shoulder - there aren't really sides of the road in the country, they are communal and are meant to be shared.

6. The Irish people love to give directions... whether they know where to go or not, they will try and help you find your way. We have gotten some very great directions, and some very BAD directions, but they were always given with a smile, and always given whether you asked for directions or not! :)

7. They celebrate everything that came out of Ireland... JFK, Guinness, Derek Orr and even the Titanic... it doesn't have to be a success to be celebrated - such is the case with the Titanic. :)

8. They LOVE their graveyards! They even go so far as to wash off the gravestones of their loved ones. They are everywhere, I guess that's what we get for them being sooo old!

9. They love their talk radio. Even tho their radio reception sucks, they love calling into the radio to talk about everything and anything... topics we heard on our travels, International Breastfeeding week, the Rugby world cup, the Presidential election (this is a big topic as one of the front runners was a member of the IRA) and of course, should the church limit the number of relatives allowed at First Holy Communion... oh, the things they talked about!

10. A town isn't considered a town unless it has the following... a castle or manor house, a church or 2 or 3, a graveyard and 5 pubs! All of these are plenty in every town that you go into - makes for interesting pictures.

I hope you have enjoyed our journey to Ireland - I guess as much as you can from the comforts of your home! We loved Ireland and are looking forward to coming back sometime soon... now that we know that Derek has so much family! :)

Until next time - sending you our love,

H&D

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Our last day

Our last day was wonderful. We woke up in our hotel room, and slowly made our way down to breakfast - only to find that the place had been taken over with kids... sigh. We had our last traditional Irish breakfast (I am sure our arteries will thank us) and headed out to see the Dunbroady ship.

We were not disappointed, for as we went on the tour, we heard stories of the harrowing trip that many destitute families must have made so long ago. It is a terrible thought to think that all you have ever known is lost and you have to pick up all you have and travel across an ocean to be able to survive. Some of these families were evicted from their homes and sent across the ocean by their landlords who would have much rather used the land the tenants were on to graze cattle than to help support a family. All in the name of Capitalism I suppose. So, these families often traveled by foot for days to the nearest port and purchased their place on a cargo ship that was posing as a passenger ship for at least one part of the journey. The families were then told they couldn't take their belongings, and were only allowed the bear necessities. Once on board, they were crammed often 5 to 6 per bunk, sometimes more. During the 8 weeks on the sea, they were only allowed meager food provisions, and only bread and flour of a sort, and then only allowed 30 minutes on the top deck to wash up and cook their food, as well as take in all the sunshine they could. If it was raining, then they would not be allowed onto the deck - perhaps for days at a time. All of the sea sickness and human waste stayed down below at this time, so the smell must have been horrid! If the passengers didn't die of cholera, typhoid, TB or something else, and they made it across, they were often alone, without family in America, so they had to start all alone with nothing but the clothes on their back. This story was only, of course, for the poor in steerage, and the first class passengers often had a pleasant journey in that they ate what the captain and crew ate, were able to go up to the top deck as often as they wanted, and they usually ate with the captain and did not see the steerage passengers. Quite the contrast. It was a devastating tour, and I could not imagine being so unfortunate and so alone, so hungry and so poor. It makes me so thankful for all I have.

So, after this gruesome tail, we headed down the highway in search of an adventure. Lonely Planet did not disappoint, as we found this little beautiful beach just off the highway (or Motorway as they say!). We spent some time there, digging our toes in the sand, playing with the tide and soaking in all the sea air that we could. It was magnificent, and it made us not want to leave this magical island even more. It was just a perfect way to spend our last afternoon in Ireland!

After we tore our selves away from the beautiful ocean, we journied back to Dublin and returned the car, which went off without a hitch - we have finally gotten the hang of driving here in time to bring back the rental - go figure! We then hopped on a bus and headed into town, why not see it one last time before we say adieu! We finally find a place to stay after being denied at the place we were hoping to get, but we settled in without too much hassle and went out to  roam around Temple Bar one last time before we got dinner and hit the hay.

Just one piece of advice for all the travelers out there... if you need to get up at 3am for a flight, do NOT stay in Temple Bar - especially if it is a Saturday night! We snuggled into bed and before we know it we are both tossing and turning because there is a raging party going on outside... part of me wanted to join them and the other part of me wanted to throw things at them... so much for getting some sleep! 3am comes awfully slow when you are trying to sleep and hearing a party going on... reminds me of being a kid and being sent to bed while my parents sit up for all hours and visit with friends and family. The alarm went off just as we werethat pub closes around 2:30... sigh... so we begrudgingly get up and pack and head to the airport. Neither of us wanted to leave, this is making it so much better - not! We check in, get some caffinated something and then catch our flight for Amsterdam where we have a 3 hour layover.

That brings us to now... here we are in Amsterdam, fed and watered and waiting for our flight to board... shouldn't be too much longer, at least there are a lot of shops in this airport to keep us entertained. One thing to note, is that Bret the Hitman Heart was on our flight from Dublin to Amsterdam and how I recognized him is he looked me square in the eye and asked if we knew where the lounge was. I am assuming that he is flying to Calgary, but I could be wrong. He isn't as tall as I thought he would be, but he is a burly man. Derek said that I should get a picture with him, but who wants to be bothered at 6am in the morning for a picture... If he was half as grumpy as I was, I would have ended up in a head lock or a figure 4 leg lock! Anyway, it seems our journey has come to an end as we are boarding soon... there are a lot of tired people in this airport... and I am hoping that once we get on the plane I can catch some z's...

Home to our Kiddens now, something to look forward to. Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving to all the Canadians out there! May we all realize how much we have to be thankful for!

Until the next adventure, sending you all our love and best wishes! H & D

Saturday, October 08, 2011

The Rock of Cashel - Day 16

We woke up in the cozy B&B and breakfasted with the little mini poodle Tipsy. We then headed out to explore the town of Cashel. We walked up to ‘the rock’ and thanks to the Heritage cards, went in for free. We roamed the location with our mouths gaping open – this place was so giant and stunning and old. The oldest part of this place was from the 1000’s – O.L.D! We then walked the Path of the Dead to the abbey just down the hill. This path was the road that they brought all the dead people up to be buried at the rock. This little Abbey at the bottom of the hill was amazing as well, and offered stellar views of the Rock of Cashel which is also known as the Rock of Patrick's church. 

After we saw all we wanted at the Rock of Cashel, we then went to Bru Boru which was the museum where they show the history of music in Ireland. We thought this might be interesting so we went in and after we paid our fee, we were escorted down into the dungeon/basement and had a short movie turned on with different people playing different kinds of music. The movie was not very good, but the displays were stunningly done and had short clips of video showing history of the Irish and then a demonstration of different Iron age, Bronze age and Medieval metal horns... the largest collection in Europe. We then left and went to find our car and carry on.

The next stop was where St. Nicholas was buried – yes, as in SANTA!!! Who knew he was in Ireland? So, off we go, winding down some pretty small country roads. Then, just off to the side of the road, we see this estate and drive down the drive way, we are greeted by a large number of geese. So, we continue on and finally get to a house. We get out and are greeted by a friendly puppy and an old man and his grandson. He tells us all about Jerpoint, the lost town. We look over the hill and there stands an old fallen church and grave yard and then some other fallen down houses and towers. He explains to us that there were 28 houses here and at the time, this would have been a highly populated place. Then he tells us there were 14 pubs – so their like of pubs dated back to the 1200’s! I am not sure if he was serious about this, but he continued on showing us where the water wheels were and the abbey and where the roads were. We then got to go and walk where these once stood. Now, they are just a field with pieces of wall standing or piles of rocks, but you could envision what it would look like. We also walked around the church and saw the grave where St. Nick was buried. Legend, and apparently history as well, says that the body was moved from Turkey to Ireland about 300 years after he died... not sure how true that is, but we can say that we saw it if it was true! :)

So, after we said good bye to the old man, the dog and the geese, we move onwards to New Ross. In this town is where the Dunbrody Famine ship is, a replica of what one of the ships would have looked like that took so many immigrants to different new lands in the 1840’s during the potato famines. We arrive in the town 15 minutes after the last tour of the ship started... darn it. Oh well, we will just find a place to sleep for the night and see it in the morning. We try 3 B&B’s and 2 places we thought were hotels and no room. The B&B’s were closed and one hotel was actually just a bar and the other had just had a flood and so room were available. So, we find the next hotel we can and get a room. We paid a little more than we would normally, but since this is close to our last night, and since we couldn’t find any other rooms, we sucked it up and paid it. Now we are sitting in our nice cozy room and settled in for the night... it is nice to have a place to stay and so now, we plan our last day in Ireland... it has come so soon!

Tomorrow, we are going to see the famine ship and then take the coast road back to Dublin. We will most likely stay at a B&B in down town Dublin tomorrow and then head to the airport VERY early in the morning. The trip is coming to a close and all I can think is that I don’t want to leave this wonderful country... but alas, all holidays must end...

Until tomorrow – Love H & D

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Kayaking attempt #2

We got to go kayaking today and it was amazing! We headed to Ross Castle, where we were to meet our guide, Nathan, and as soon as we drove in, he was there! YAHOO, after 3 months of planning this is going to happen! We hopped out of the car, and introduced ourselves.

Before long, we were in our wetsuits, rain jackets and kayak skirts and putting the boats into the water! They were a little wobbly at first, but before long we got used to them... good thing too as the first stop was right across the lake! So, we paddled hard and with the waves splashing our faces and the rain starting to fall a little, we made it... whew, that was hard. Nathan told us a bit about the castle, in that it was a 15th century castle that was the last one taken by the English rule (Cromwell), whihc was in the 1600's. Our next stop was this old monastery that was even further across the lake, and after a couple tips on paddling, we were off trying to stay a float in the choppy water... the rain had stopped, but the wind had picked up. Making it to the small island, we were in awe with the view as we saw about 20 does and a big buck standing, watching our boats dock. As soon as we docked and went to find the cameras, they all disappeared. Nathan said that he has never seen that many before and never a buck... such luck! So, we hopped out of our boats and were treated to a cup of tea and a bit of chocolate as we explored the old monastery. This monetary was from the 1200's and had at one time been a leopard colony. It was also, after this, one of the first universities in Europe and kings from all over came to this site to be educated by the monks. So, after a little stop, we hopped back into our little boats and headed back. The way back was SO much smoother as we were going with the wind instead of into the wind. We paddled all the way back to the castle, and beyond, onto the other side of the lake! We paddled then out to "Swallows Island" where there are caves. We then manipulated our kayaks through these caves.... not for the faint of heart! We did this in 3 or 4 caves and heard a story as we rested about the monks saving their scrolls of writings by taking them to this Island when the English were invading. Once the English were gone, the monks in the monastery would ring the bells and then the monks who took the scrolls would return. We turned our kayak's towards the castle and headed on back. A little tired and wet, but happy with the tour... a great perspective on the Irish beauty!

Once we were back in dry clothes and had said goodbye to Nathan, we plotted out a plan for the day. Goal is to head towards the Rock of Cashel hitting up the Blarney Castle along our way. So, back into the car we go and we plot a course to Blarney on our "Sat Nav" or GPS. We look on the map and there isn't really anything that we wanted to check out on our way, so we drove all the way, stopping only once at a small village for lunch. Once we were at the castle, we pay the steep fee and head on towards the site. Little did we know, the castle is on a beautiful garden. We take our time checking it out but eventually the wind becomes so cold that we head to the castle. We explore the castle, unlike we have been able to in any castle to date. We walk through the rooms freely and explore at our own pace, reading the great descriptions of the rooms on the walls. We make it all the way up to the top of the castle and then almost like cattle, we are pushed through kiss the stone and get our number for the picture they took. Quite anticlimactic actually and if it hadn't been for the beautiful gardens and the awesome castle we got to explore, I would have said that it was a bit of a rip off. We grabbed a hot chocolate and diet coke at the cafe and then we were back on the road.

We head on to Cashel for the night and check into a B&B who's proprietor is a former marine. We were greeted cheerfully by a small, cute Irish man and his tiny poodle Tipsy. We settle into the cozy room and then head out to a small Italian place for supper... it was quite good. After a quick little zip around the town center in the dark, we head back to the B&B for the night. We can tell that autumn is here as the nights are quite cool and our jackets aren't quite sufficient enough to combat the chill of the night.

Tomorrow, we are going to the Rock of Cashel and the Library here in town and then on to Wexford. This trip is winding down, which makes me sad... I do so dislike it when an adventure concludes. But, life must go on... now, we just have to find a way we can move here for a bit so we can see all the things we missed! :)

Until tomorrow, Onwards! Love, H & D

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Day 14 - kayaking attempt #1

We woke up anticipating a great morning on one of the beautiful lakes of the Kilarney national park. We got lost on the way to the meet up spot, of course, and were about 10 minutes late, so we ran around the parking lot for a couple minutes, asking if they were our guide to no avail. I eventually found the number of the company we had reserved with and called, and they notified me that I was a day early and that my booking was for tomorrow! CRAP! Such a Heather move! Oh well... as we say now "Onward"!!

So, we went and had a cuppa and figured out what we would do for the day! We settled on doing some of the ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula - a lot to cover in one day, but we were up for it. So, we hoped into the car and off we were! We drove to Kenmare, a beautiful little village on the ring of Kerry and roamed around a little, only to find the oldest stone circle in Ireland. We walked to check it out only to find it surrounded by a bunch of older ladies chanting and touching the rocks. We took some pictures and went on our merry little way... too hippy for me I am afraid! We then drove back on the same small road to see amazing views on the way back. By this time, the rain had started and the wind picked up considerably so we weren't very sad we weren't kayaking today!

The journey continued along the beautiful coast to the town of Dingle... what a charming little town. We had a late lunch and wandered into some shops along the streets, one in particular called the "Mad Hatter of Dingle" that I fell in love with. It had some of the most exquisite hats, hats in every shape, colour and size... I was in awe! We then wandered to the ice cream shop that I had heard rave reviews about on a television show I had watched, it was called "Murphy's" and all of the cream comes from a dairy down the road so it is certain that all ingredients were fresh! We sampled some of their wears, and they actually put Derek to work sampling 2 different kinds of Vanilla - he made sure to give them ample feedback of which I am sure that they were pleased with! :) We walked along the coast and looked at the fishing boats in the harbour and just let the whole idea of this quaint fishing village wash over us. It was glorious!

We eventually headed back to Kilarney, but stopped on the way to check out the Seal Marina only to find that it was closed... prematurely which means that the staff may have been out to rescue a seal. This marina was a rescue for seals and other wildlife and they rehabilitate the animals and reintroduce them into the wild. I really wanted to see some of these animals, but when duty calls! So, we continued on, driving along the coast again to see the amazing views again. coming over the hill on one of the many hairpin turns, we saw a view of a beach and due to the wind, the waves were crashing into the sea dramatically... it was a surfers paradise out there with big waves and beautiful surf - if only I had brought my surf board! :)

We got back to Kilarney, checked into a cozy B&B and headed out for supper. Finding few places open that weren't extremely costly, we opted for Burger King... the first North American food chain (other than Subway in a mall food court) that we have gone to since being here. We then headed back to the B&B and settled in for the night... I hit the hay early as I was just wiped from all the excitement of the day.

Tomorrow, we will be kayaking and then we have no idea where to next... the adventure continues!

Love, H & D

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Cliffs of Moher

We woke this morning, had a wonderful breakfast at the amazing B&B we stayed in. It had everything that we could want including NOT a fried traditional "Irish" Breakfast, but things like pancakes and french toast... delish!

We hopped into the car and drove about 20 mins to the Cliffs of Moher - it would not have been a correct trip without turning the wrong way, but we sorted out our route soon and made it before most of the buses of old people... there are a LOT of buses with old people here... apparently, Derek and I are taking this trip 20 years too soon! We paid the required amount to park and then walked up to the cliffs and once again, our breath was taken away. They were stunning...
 
Breath taking views at the Cliffs of Moher
Just a day short of the one year anniversary of Derek's Dad's funeral, we stand before the cliffs of which one of his favorite poems was written. A poem I chose to read at his funeral, so it was a bitter sweet day to be able to visit this beauty that the eerie and lovely poem was describing. I stood there in awe trying to soak in the smell and the feel of the air on my face, it was just such an inspiring and brilliant site. We walked all around the cliffs (passing the sign that said "no trespassing" and looking down some pretty steep plunges to the ocean). We took so many pictures and took our time to enjoy this site, which we both did immensely.

Standing close to the edge!
We ate (sort of) at the cliffs, but curry and stew don't suit our pallet so we had a treat of over priced chips and cokes and headed on our way. We drove a long way today, from just south of Galway through Limerick and then on to Killarney as we have a kayaking tour booked on the lakes of Killarney tomorrow morning. The drive was quite uneventful except for a stop at a wool outlet store and we made it to Kilarney by late afternoon. We had enough time to go and got some of our laundry done, did some shopping and had something to eat.

Killarney is a quaint town, with beautiful shop fronts and quaint pubs on every street. It is quite touristy, however and there were a lot of shops that had all the same stuff in them... I didn't buy anything and am waiting until I find a sweater that isn't "grandma-ish" so the quest continues. We settled into our B&B for the night now, and we are catching up with emails and repacking etc. I really think I could travel forever as I am not getting weary at all living out of a suitcase... I just love it.

Tomorrow will be an interesting day as we spend the morning kayaking on the lakes of Killarney. We have planned to go onto Dingle and the Ring of Kerry, but we aren't sure we will get to both on this trip... we got to leave something for next time! Tomorrow also will see us going to the Blarney Castle and around Cork so there are lots of things to do. This country has just so much to see and we just aren't going to be able to see it all... :)

Until tomorrow, we continue on our journey... not many more days to come :( We still have a number of things to see, so they will be action packed! :) Keep tuned!

Love H & D

Monday, October 03, 2011

Day 12 - Ballyvaughn

I think we can honestly say that we like the small quaint towns of Ireland as opposed to the big cities. I guess this is because the cities are very similar to Canadian cities in that they have shops and traffic and lots of people. We are finding that the B&B's and the pubs and places have so much more interest to us... that is why we are in Ballyvaughn tonight and not Galway or Ennis.

We got up early this morning and left our beautiful B&B and headed to the Famine Memorial that was on the way to Kylemore Abbey. It was eerie and beautiful and lonely - a great monument for a tragic circumstance. We continued on our way to Kylemore Abbey, a castle that was built by Mitchell Henry for his wife as a gift... what a gift!!! We took our time viewing the abbey, but they only let us see 5 rooms. With the rain pouring down outside, we thought that watching the AV presentation would be a good idea. It was a good video and during it the rain had subsided so we walked out to the mini cathedral that Mitchell Henry built for his wife's honour when she died. It was beautiful and quaint and peaceful... it was delightful. We then went to the restaurant and ate an over priced lunch and looked around the gift shop. I was hoping to get some Kylemore pottery but I think with this being the end of the season, they don't have much out, so I passed and we continued on.

The drive from Kylemore Abbey was stellar as we wound our way through the mountain ranges and the start of the Burren. The next stop that we did was Galway. It was a bustling city, with some great shops and beautiful buildings, and we were able to see a castle with one of our friends' names on it - Lynch Castle. We spent some time, but not a lot in Galway, as we didn't see anything much in our guide book. So, onward! We wove our way towards the Cliffs of Moher and stopped in this quaint little town of Ballyvaughn where we found this fantastic B&B that is bright yellow and has big rooms, a big bed and a little kitten to protect it all. We ate at a quaint little restaurant and had an actual salad which they don't promote much here.

Now we are snuggled up in our room, updating the blog, downloading the hundreds of pictures we took today and planning our day tomorrow. We think that we will hit the Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty Castle and hopefully make our way down near Tralee. As you can see, we never really know where we will turn up, so stay tuned as we continue on our Journey through Ireland.

Love, H&D

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Day 11 - Westport

This morning we slept in - in our beautiful castle suite and then breakfasted, and roamed around the castle, took a ton of pictures and then headed on our way. Derek wanted to see the award winning Ceide Fields, where stone aged megalithic tombs are. This is a little north of where we were, so we hopped into the car and we were off. We took the coast road and were treated to some incredible scenery! This country never ceases to amaze me - it is just so incredibly beautiful.

We got to the Ceide Fields and walked in free with our Heritage cards - yahoo! We watched the AV presentation on how this site was buried by the peat bog and a guy, a while ago a man was digging for peat and he hit this set of rocks. He then escalated it and it turned out to be a whole village dating back to before the pyramids. We toured the museum, and then the lookout and that was it... we were a little disappointed that it didn't have many places excavated for us to see, but it is understood... so, we moved on... as the motto developed through the day, Onward!

We took the scenic route, taking in some amazing views, and soaking in the lush green landscape that we just can't seem to get enough of. We stopped at a small town for a late bite to eat, trying to see a little bit of the small town, but wanting to continue on our way. We made our way south and didn't get too far until we stopped at Westport. We found a beautiful B&B called St. Anthony's riverside B&B and then after unpacking and unwinding a bit, we headed out to the pubs and found Matt Molloy's a famous pub that often has live music played by a renown band of county Mayo.

We go into this cozy pub, grab a pint and settle in for some entertainment. We sure got it! Beside where we sat down was an older man who was singing an old Irish ballad as we walked in. He was adorable! Once he finished, we applauded and he looked right at us and said, "Hold your applause, just give me money!" to which he smiled a toothy smile and giggled. He then told us that where we sat the band would be sitting and so we moved closer to him. Shortly after we sat down, we started chatting with some other folks at the big table, and they were from Victoria and Seattle. We shared stories of our favorite Irish events and locations and then the band started piling in.

The band played some groovy tunes that had the whole pub tapping their toes in no time. When the band took a break, our old 82 year old singer, started up with some more Irish tunes to the likes of Molly Malone, and County of Mayo, and even one about a beautiful girl named Maryanne that had us in stitches! The singer was too funny as he had tons of these tunes and keep on singing them. Once there was a moment break from his songs, the band would start up again. A great night of music and pints was had. We left after a while in hopes of finding something to eat... this was not to be, so we went back to the B&B and had a snack of cookies that were in our bag and tea (for me at least).

I must admit that I am feeling a bit behind since Derry, but I think it will all work out in the end. We have a couple days still until the reservation we have for the Kayaking morning, so we should make up some time tomorrow. We just didn't want to not take advantage of the castle while we were there, and we wanted to get a patch from the Northern Ireland Police Services. I think we will be able to see everything that we want, and if not, we will just have to come back! Darn it! :)

Tomorrow, we hope to see Kylemore Abbey, Galway, and the Burren so stay tuned and see where our adventures take us.

Love, H&D

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Derry and Castle stay! - Oct 1

Welcome October! We continue our journey as the season changes around us, the air gets a touch cooler and the rainy season revs up... We left you last time in Derry, filled with stories about the Orrs and Garnhams and Dinsmores... what a night that was! Lizzy could have out talked us all and she is 70!

We woke this morning to have breakfast again in our old Victorian B&B - it was nice and quaint with traditional soda bread that was delish! This house also has a mascot, Birdy, who is a beautiful little bulldog. We had breakfast with him as he taunted Derek with his squeaky toy - just enough so that Derek was loured in to a game of tug of war... I think Birdy won! We packed our car and headed off to the wall tour.

This one hour walking tour was wonderful in that it covered the history of Londonderry/Derry... the name of which is still contentious. Most refer to it as Derry and so shall I. There are walls surrounding the original township of Derry, and they stand tall for all to see their historical, political and emotional significance - we also learned the story of the Apprentice Boys and how their slogan became "No Surrender". We walked on top these walls as we heard about the stories of battling between the Protestants and Catholics for hundreds of years, up to the most recent "Troubles" which have until recently been quite troublesome and active. We were directed to where the "Bog side" was and this is where the Catholics were in mere shanties, poor and down trodden, and in numbers that almost doubled the Protestants. Then there was the Protestant side or "Water side" where they lived with better conditions, but surrounded by people who didn't like them... conditions would have been difficult for everyone!

After the tour, we saw that there was a large number of police officers, bringing dogs out to sniff things and an armored car. Derek was intrigued and went up to one of the officers and asked what was going on... A parade of the Apprentice Boys (a Protestant group). Derek then inquired about potentially getting a patch from one of the officers and this one constable gave us his card, told us to meet him at a station in a bit and he would get one for us! We then watched the parade and it was very interesting and quite emotional for me to watch this. The passion on the men's faces as they marched was so intense, and there were even a couple of people who were upset with the parade... one lady passed us saying "Its the Orange men marching, the Orange men are always marching!" and another young man stepped out into the street in front of the marching and held up his middle finger. The policeman asked the man to walk away and thankfully he did. The march lasted just a minute or two as they marched on past but for awhile, we could hear the banging of the drums... it was very interesting.

We then walked down to the bogside to take a look at some of the murals, and it was very interesting. The artwork is stunning, political, pointed and passionate, a real piece of art in my opinion. It was amazing that these murals started, and as the story goes, these started when a group of 3 artists banned together and painted one to commemorate a young girl that was sent out for groceries, got caught between gunfire and died. They took this tragic incident and commemorated it in a way that was non violent, but made a lasting statement. The community loved their work so much that they asked them to do another each year, and so they have. The most recent one is called Peace and it is a number of colours and on top a white dove with an Oak leaf (which is the symbol of the city Derry). It is so beautiful.

We then made our way to the police station, where we were buzzed into a room, asked to wait and then were greeted by the constable. He brought us into another room where he gave us a patch, a hat, a hat patch, pens, pencils, and a number of different gadgets. He was so very kind and Derek chatted with him about his father for a bit and the old "RUC" that his dad was in. The constable didn't have any memorabilia from that age, but suggested that we try a different town. Once we were done collecting our goodies, we headed back to the car and out of town.

We drove right to Enniskillin where Derek's mom is from. It is a beautiful little town that was made so much prettier as we drove through and spotted a store named "Hepburn" - we HAD to go in! The owner of the store loves Audrey Hepburn, like me, and she collects all things Audrey. Her store is one filled with hats and bags and clothes so I had to try on and eventually purchase a couple things... what a great store! We continued on to the Cathedral where we thought that Derek had family burried, but it turns out they were at a different cemetary. We asked a local for directions (the Irish are always so willing to provide directions) and eventually found where Derek's uncle and Aunt were buried. It took some time to find where his Aunt was, and we had all but given up and were on our way out of the cemetery when we found her. Thank goodness otherwise I would have felt back about leaving with out seeing it. We then headed to Macguiresbridge were Derek's mom was born and his grandparents were buried. Once there, we found the Church of Ireland (with a little trouble), but their graves were unmarked and we couldn't find what tree his aunt had said they were under. So, we tootled along on our way to the Castle for our nights stay.

By this time, the sun was setting and on our journey to the castle was quite dark, but we found our way without trouble and drove down the long drive to where it stands. We came around the corner and the castle was standing there, lit up for all to see, beautifully and majestically - it was stunning. We checked in, and our room #3, has a 4 poster bed and floor to ceiling windows facing out to the front view, it is amazing! We headed downstairs down through the giant stairs and into the bar that looks like a Spanish Galleon (ship). The lobby has a giant beautiful fireplace where peat was burning. We headed into the dining room, where we were going to eat and it has beautiful windows, and tables set for two with candles offering most of the light. It was very romantic and wonderful. We dinned on steak, but this wasn't just any steak, it came out with the chef on a sword! He had our meat skewered on a Spanish sword from the Armada and then poured a sauce on it that was flaming, so our steaks were on fire as he held them on the sword! He then placed the steak on our plate, still flaming. It was incredible - and it was delicious!

After our supper, we wandered around a bit and stumbled onto a tour that we in progress. So, we followed the tour - this castle has some great history in it. There is a place just above the dungeons where they hold weddings and parties, it has a giant fireplace and an old spit they still use for roasting suckling pigs... very cool! Down in the dungeons, there are 2 rooms that are filled with artifacts. The first was filled with fossils dating back to the Triassic period. The other room housed an elaborate collection of armour from every end of Europe, dating to the 16oo's - it was incredible.

Once the tour was done, we retired to our room to enjoy the rain falling on the windows and the cool breeze coming in from the gardens. What an incredible place to stay! Thank you Mom and Dad for the gift of being able to stay here for a night! Well worth it!!!! :)

Tomorrow, off to Galway - that is all we have planned, so it will be interesting how the day shapes up! :)

Sending love to all - H & D