Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Last Day is the Longest

Well, the sun set at 10:07 tonight and the daylight has finally faded. My bag is packed and Peter and I are killing the bottle of wine we've been carrying. Today was not quite as long as yesterday, but we filled it full. 

It was raining when we first woke up, so we turned over and got some more sleep. We got on the road heading south to the Cliffs of Moher shortly after 10. The rain had stopped, but the clouds were low as we drove around Galway Bay. We followed the Wild Atlantic Way out to the coast. Stone walls snaked across the fields reminding us of New England. There are even more rocks here than in our own back yard. We made our first acquaintance with The Burren.
This area of Ireland is geologically complex. The explanations make me want to sign up for a geology course. The land is covered by limestone rock, denuded of all soil and vegetation. Fields and hills are bare rock with cracks and fissures where moss and tiny flowers cling to life. Underground the water wears caves within the rock. We didn't have time to really explore this fascinating geology, but the evidence was everywhere.

We stopped for tea in the small town of Doolin. The owner was warm and welcoming, and the cream tea was the best I've had the whole trip. 

And then we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher. Although it was Wednesday and the fog had rolled in, there were over twenty tour busses and hundreds of cars in the parking lot. Had the sun been shining it would have been spectacular. In the fog it was spooky and atmospheric. There was a small group holding a destination wedding accompanied by an Irish harp. 

 But the most amazing and fascinating element was the thousands of birds swooping and roosting in the cliff face. It was frustrating because my binoculars were good enough to see the birds, they were not powerful enough for good identification.  I know we saw guillemots and black backed gulls, but I couldna't be sure of seeing the puffins, of which there are over 1000 in residence. The sheer number of birds was amazing

Finally we headed back to Galway.  As we drove away from the coast the sky cleared, as often happens in Maine.

We drove through great mountains of the Burren as we came back to the coast of Galway Bay.
The sun came out as we came toward the town of Kinvara.
We took that as an omen and decided to stop for dinner. We found an elegant hotel and bar where we had our final Guinness and cider. The bar was full of families and cute Irish kids. 

We headed into the city of Galway just to see it because our hotel is on the outskirts. We found parking next to the cathedral which is closed. As we started to walk to the town center we spotted some salmon fisherman wading in the River Corrib. We stopped to watch as several serious anglers fished in the swift currents below a small dam. A couple of them came back with fresh Atlantic Salmon for dinner. 

We are ready to head home tomorrow. It's been a great trip, but it's good to be going home. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Circling Connemara

After a substantial breakfast buffet at our hotel, we packed our bags and hit the road to follow a loop drive of the Connemara Peninsula.  We planned to follow Rick Steves' route suggestions, and it was a good way to start. As the day went on we got creative made different choices. This was Peter's first day driving the Irish countryside and he was brilliant.

Our first stop was the medieval abbey at Cong. The original community began in the 7th century, but most of the buildings were from the 13th. They are in ruins,but that makes them much more evocative. The remnants of the cloister fed my imagination.
We walked into the verdant forest where a cool stream flowed. In the center of the stream stood a monastic fishing hut.
The story is that the monks let down a net attached to a bell which would ring when a fish swam in.  From the bridge we actually saw a large salmon, tucked beside a rock in the stream. 

We drove north to Westport, a picturesque village to the north where we stopped for lunch.

Then we turned west and hugged the coast looking out to the Clew Bay to our right and Croagh St. Patrick to our left. 
We did not climb the mount where St Patrick fasted and prayed for Ireland for 40 days and nights. He must have had a great view. The influence of the Christians who followed in his footsteps would have astonished him.

We turned south at Louisburgh and passed through the barren Doo Lough Valley which eventually led to the Doo Lough ( Black Lake). This was the site of an Irish version of a Trail of Tears. About 600 starving tenants walked this road to ask for help from the council meeting in Delphi. Their pleas were ignored and at least 200 died on the way back to Louisburgh.  The simple memorial cross is a powerful witness. 

Along the road sheep grazed on the hills. But many of them came down and munched along the road. They seemed unconcerned by the cars whizzing by, and posed calmly for photos. 

We passed a waterfall at Aasleagh where fishermen angled for salmon. This is one of the streams salmon travel en route to their spawning grounds. We watched from the bridge as the water swirled and fell around rocks. 

As we continued we left the path Steves had laid out and followed a couple detours suggested by the Wild Atlantic Way. The signs have a wavy line and they direct you to gorgeous coastal scenery. We drove along a lake and down to a wonderful beach this way.

We drove up to the entrance of the Connemara National Forest, but it was so late that we didn't start a hike. Instead we headed for Galway.

Peter was getting tired of driving so we decided to stop at a little town across the lake from Cong where we had started the day. It had the unpronounceable name of Oughterard.   But there were several restaurants and we picked the fourth one.  I had grilled salmon and Peter had salmon and shrimp with pasta.
It was an excellent choice and we were greatly refreshed. It was beginning to sprinkle as we left the restaurant, but we easily made it back to the hotel in Galway and found a parking spot in the crowded lot. It was a good day.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Transition to Galway

Transitions are stressful and often difficult.  Today was a transition day, and although it went very smoothly, we are sitting in our Galway hotel room with very little energy for anything. 

This morning we woke up early enough to leave the house by 9. We had an appointment at 9:30 to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College. It was the major destination when we planned our visit to Dublin, but I'm glad we didn't do it on Sunday. The crowds were large today, but everyone was out yesterday. 

The Book of Kells is an amazing treasure and many people come to see it every day. The exhibit is well done and informative. Having recently visited the Morgan Library in NYC some of the information was review. At the Morgan we had seen vellum and discussed the elements used to color the inks. All of this was explained clearly in display posters. I was struck by the amazing change that these simple monks effected by copying the four Gospels, carrying those small books in their leather pouches, walking around Ireland, spreading the Christian Gospel to a culture not long removed from  the human sacrifices of the bog bodies I saw yesterday. The small Gospel books they carried were the size of paperbacks. The Book of Kells is a larger version of the Gospels, and the larger size allowed for amazing artwork. This artwork is the treasure of these books, and we were privileged to stand over the intricate, colored vellum pages in amazement. 

We also went upstairs to see the ancient library. Last year we had seen the Strahov Library in Prague. This library in Dublin didn't have the magnificent frescos on the ceiling. But the line of marble busts was equally amazing. There were many early editions of Jonathan Swift and the oldest Irish Harp known to exist.  

But we couldn't linger. We were checking out of our apartment at 12:30, and we wanted some lunch first. We took the 40 bus back to our apartment. We've been very successful with our bus transport. We had planned to walk to Heuston Station where we could catch a bus to the airport. But our host's father who stopped by for the key, offered to take us in his car.  

We arrived at the airport at 2, and by 3 we were on the road with a bright red VW Polo. This was Peter's first chance to drive on the left. He did a fabulous job, and we found our hotel just after 5:40. We are not in the city, but we have free parking, and our room is comfy. We ate a good dinner at the hotel and will probably turn in early. Tomorrow we intend to do a day drive on the Connemara Peninsula. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Doing Time in Dublin

Today was a full day in Dublin. We did sleep late, but once we got started it was full speed ahead. We planned to go to a church service at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and since we would spend the day walking in town, we decided that taking a bus into the city was smart.  We found the closest stop, thanks to a nifty app called Journey Plan that maps out Dublin's transportation system and arrived at the cathedral during a long peal on the bells. Peter stood and recorded the bells for several minutes before 11 o'clock tolled.  

The church is beautiful, and though parts of it are ancient, and it stands on the site of St Patrick's community in the fifth century, it has been extensively restored.
The service was beautiful, and featured the cathedral men and boys choir. After the service we walked around and particularly enjoyed the plaque and information around Jonathan Swift's grave.  

The next destination was the Chester Beatty Library. It was noon, and there were no obvious places to eat, but we walked ahead hoping for food. When we found the library we entered a bright atrium with a spacious cafe. It was just what we wanted, so we ordered a plate of spinach phyllo and salad, and fortified ourselves for the museum.  The museum collection was amazing. We knew we didn't have time for everything so we concentrated on the most ancient western manuscripts. There were Egyptian papyri over 3000 years old. But we were most interested in the ancient Biblical texts. Both our fathers studied these ancient texts, so seeing manuscripts from St. Paul and the Gospels from 150-200 AD would have thrilled them. We raised our glasses to them on this Fathers' Day. 

We continued on to the National Museum of Archaeology. We had little more than an hour before the museum closed at 5. This collection was also very rich. There was a large collection of objects from the Bronze and Iron Ages in Ireland. Many objects had been preserved in the peat bogs which abound here.  Many ancient objects were of rich gold.

An especially strange section of the museum was devoted to bog bodies. These are human remains preserved in the bogs.  Ireland is only one location for such remains. Some have been dated to the early Bronze Age, around 4000 years ago. The museum archaeologists theorize that these remains were from ritual human sacrificed practiced in these early cultures. I found it profoundly disturbing to view these ancient bodies, with signs of mutilation and death preserved for so long. 
There was also the beautiful Ardagh Chalice from 800 AD. Which calmed me after the bodies.

After the museum closed we went looking for tea. Two museums in one afternoon is a heavy lift, and we needed to sit down to think ahead. We found a pub on Trip Advisor and headed down a busy pedestrian street to find it. On the way we stopped to hear a wonderful three man music group. They delighted the crowd with their spirited music.

The pub was cheerful, the beer was good and the stew was hot and delicious. We enjoyed eating and watching the regulars at the bar.
 As we strolled back down the pedestrian street, the band was still going strong. We stood and listened with an enthusiastic audience. The stopped, and we walked away, but we heard them start up again for another round. The streets are full of musicians, but most are not as good as this group.

We walked down to the river, and then turned back to find our bus stop. We made it home shortly after 8. The pub outside is full of lively chatter, but I think we will be able to shut it out and sleep well tonight. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Across to Dublin

Said goodbye to our lovely Welsh cottage this morning shortly after 8. We drove to Holyhead where Bill and Lillian dropped us off before heading to visit relatives in England.

A smooth crossing on the Irish Sea on the Ulysses, the Irish Ferries line.   The crossing was smooth, easy, comfortable and uneventful. We arrived in Dublin at 5:35 and took a taxi to our apartment. 

Dinner at La Dolce Vita, just a short walk from our apartment  we tasted our first Guinness in Ireland  

Friday, June 16, 2017

One beach/ two beach

Our last day started slowly. We ran two loads of wash and had our last hot breakfast, but since it was raining, the urgency of departure was lessened. We drove out out shortly after 10. Our first stop was to the Melin Tregwynt Mill where we picked up some remnants of locally woven wool. The scraps were sold by weight and we had thought of some ideas for using them.   

Lillian had the idea of seeing the Abermawr shingle beach. It was very close and we found it easily. As we walked down to the beach Bill consulted his book and found a short walk that circled through the woods near the beach. We set off through a cow pasture with about 25 black and white cows and one large bull.

The cows didn't seem to mind us and we skirted the bull carefully to reach the wooden gate that would separate us from the field. The bull took no notice of our maneuvers, and we reached the woodland path safely. But when we came to the next gate Bill thought we had made a wrong turn. However, after checking the map, the signposts and the compass we discovered that we were again pointed in the right direction. The cow pasture we crossed next had no bull, just contented cows, chewing their cud. 

Finally we came out on the shingle beach where we had started.  The tide had just turned and we listened to the rattle of the rocks as the waves receded.

It was time for tea so we found a new spot in Mathry where we had eaten the first night. Not only was the tea good, but there was a small shop with good giftware. 
Next we made our way to St Davids. We had three goals there. We wanted to visit two galeries and St Non's Chapel and Well. The first was Goat Street Gallery because Bill and Lillian wanted a print by Chris Neale, a local painter whom they love. We got in conversation with the gallery owners because the wife, Amanda Wright, creates elaborate embroidered images, and I was admiring her work.  They invited us into their back yard to see the stunning view of St. David's Cathedral. 
Bill and Lillian did find a Chris Neale to take home and we promised to pick it up on our way back from the chapel. From the gallery we walked about a half mile to the coast to visit St Non's chapel. She was St David's mother who reputedly came to Wales from Brittany in about 500 to give birth to St David during a thunderstorm. There is a well which is said to have healing powers and ruins of an ancient chapel near the beach. The site was popular with pilgrims who came from all over to visit the holy well.

The current chapel was built in the 30s but used stones from ancient houses in the area, so the building feels ancient. The walk back to town was pleasant.  We picked up the print at the gallery and made our way back to the car.
Lillian suggested a final beach before we headed to the cottage. Whitesands Beach
 is supposed to be one of the prettiest, and it is also where medieval pilgrims visiting St Non's Shrine would disembark. It was well populated in the late afternoon, and it is truly a spectacular sand beach. 

We returned to The Sloop Inn in Porthgain for another wonderful meal.
And then it was home to pack. Tomorrow we hope to leave here at 8:30 to reach Holyhead where we will go our separate ways. Bill and Lillian will continue on visiting relatives and friends. We take the ferry to Dublin where we will stay a couple days before driving to Galway to finish our trip.

It has been a wonderful two and 1/2 weeks and it is amazing how quickly it has sped by. But as with all trips, as the end approaches, the longing for home surges.  Ireland beckons for now, and the journey is not yet complete

Penultimate passage

Thursday was another beautiful day, but we didn't go for a hike. Instead we drove south east through Haverfordwest toward the tiny village of Amroth to visit the Colby Woodland Garden. This garden is another National Trust site which we enjoyed as much or more than any other garden. There was a contrast between the enclosed wall garden

and the open meadow surrounded by stately trees.
  Trompe l'œil décor graced the walls of the summer garden house. 

Lillian made friends with other gardeners as we wandered among the beautiful flowers. 

 We took cream tea on the patio and shopped a bit in the artists gallery. 

The next destination was Pembroke Castle. This was the birthplace of the first Tudor king, Henry VII, and had been a defensive location even in the Iron Age. The prehistoric site was in a large underground cavern with access to the river. An early wooden structure had been built upon this at the time of the Norman conquest in 1066. It was replaced by a stone  building in the 12th century, and a five story tower in the 13th. 

Gradually the walls and towers multiplied so that by the time Henry VII was born in 1457, it was a very impressive complex indeed.
The advent of cannons rendered its defenses obsolete, and it fell to Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century. We had a wonderful time climbing up and down, and the many other visitors seemed equally amused. In the central courtyard there is an enormous map of Wales made out of a rubbery playground material which showed the many castles, churches and monasteries in the region.  It would make a great teaching tool for a history class.

We stopped for groceries because we were cooking our own dinner. After dinner, the sun was still high in the sky. Peter was tired but Bill agreed to drive me and Lillian to see the prehistoric site we had missed on our Monday walk. It is called Carred Samson, and we found it in a farmer's field just a short way from the coast. From a distance it looked like a stone mushroom sculpture, but up close it was composed of enormous rocks supporting a table like rock.  The sun was sinking rapidly as we watched and the colors faded to a smoky blue as fog rolled in off the water nearby. 

Tomorrow is our last day together. Saturday we set sail for Ireland.