"" Writer's Wanderings: September 2011

Friday, September 30, 2011

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny was a nice change from Dublin. I prefer smaller towns to large cities. This one fit somewhere in between. It had a large pedestrian area with shops that unfortunately closed pretty early. This was our first opportunity however to see a real Irish castle that wasn't lying in ruins.

The Kilkenny Castle site dates back to a timbered castle orginally built there sometime before William Marshall, 4th Earl of Penbrooke (sounds impressive, doesn't it) built a stone structure in the late 1100s to early 1200s.

James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormond, purchased the castle in 1391. At that time, the castle was said to be situated in the middle of orchards and meadowland. However, it was Thomas, 10th Earl of Ormond, who would transform the castle from a fortress-like structure into a more livable castle with lavish tapestries, silver service, damask draperies, etc. all lending to a more opulent style.

When Thomas died, his only heir was a daughter, Elizabeth, who took over the castle and continued the lavish life-style. She and her husband unfortunately died young and the castle contents were sold off.

Over the years, there were other members of the Butler family (Dukes and Duchesses, Earls) who refurbished the castle, worked on the gardens, etc., to make it a "magnificent palace." The family continued to alternately fix the castle up and let it decay over the centuries until finally in 1935 they moved out and auctioned the furnishings. There followed a period of time where nothing was done in the castle but in 1969, through some generous donations, the state was able to take over the castle and begin restoration.

It was at this time, September of 2011, that the Earls of Buckeye. the Robbins, visited the castle and found it to be delightful. The rooms being furnished with period pieces and the story of the castle being told lent to their enjoyment. Ah, Kilkenny Castle. If only you flew the Buckeye colors of Scarlet and Gray.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ireland - Jerpoint Abbey

Jerpoint Abbey was an if-we-have-time stop. I'm so glad we did. Our guide painted a wonderful picture of what life might have been like with these Cisterian monks. With a half smile, she told of their vows of simplicity and poverty and then went into the colorful stories of how much of that seemed to change when money was needed to keep the abbey going. It seems the powers that controled the monastery were a bit lenient with these monks or just didn't know exactly how wonderfully they had enhanced their monastery.

The abbey dates back to 1180 and the Cistarian monaster ywas active until Henry VIII dissolved all monasteries in the mid-1500s. Of course throughout the centuries other things were added to the abbey and several old tombs are there as well.

Intricate carving can be seen on some of the lintels and around the tops of several columns. There is also evidence that many places in the building were painted with bright colors. Patrons of the church were honored along the square walkway that encloses the central grassy area, the cloister. There is even the wife of one pictured in stone at a time when women were not allowed in the building.

We left before the heavens opened up with another cold drizzly shower and continued on to Kilkenny arriving just in time to see a huge parade containing a variety of race cars in town for the Cannonball race.

The little town was also alive with hurling fans. Apparently there was a great rival game being played that weekend. You might ask, "what is hurling?" We did.

In Ireland, hurling has nothing to do with a sour stomach. It is an ancient Gaelic team game played with sticks called hurleys and a ball called a sliotar. We were told it resembles lacrosse a bit but with different rules and is obviously as popular as some of our major team sports in the US. Checkered flags were flying all over the place. When the colors of the checks changed, we knew we'd crossed into a different team's territory--kind of like a Buckeye crossing into Wolverine territory.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Glendalough, Ireland - The Monastic City

In the Wicklow mountains, we found Glendalough (pronounced glen-da-lock). It is actually a valley carved out during the glacial period and contains two lakes. It also contains one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland. It was founded by St. Kevin in the sixth century.

There are several monastic remains there but the largest is a round tower that is about 90 feet tall. The cathedral is one of the largest known early Christian churches in Ireland. It ceased to be a cathedral in 1210. The earliest stone walls are thought to date back to the 10th century.

As we walked across the bridge over the babbling brook, we noticed that the water had a brown hue. We had noticed that at Powerscourt Waterfall as well. Then it struck us that the water was flowing through peat bogs and that was what was giving the water the strange color.

The Monastic City was an interesting stop and a chance to stretch our legs but as a chill wind made me shiver and a misty haze clouded the valley, it reminded me more of a scene for a good vampire picture or maybe just a Halloween card.

With plenty of time to spare before our scheduled arrival in Kilkenny, we made one more stop. Jerpoint Abbey.

Monday, September 26, 2011

On To Kilkenny, Ireland

Our hopes for taking a walk along the cliffs in Howth were dampened by an early morning fog and light rain so we turned our car in the direction of Kilkenny our next destination. Along the way we stopped at Powerscourt House and Gardens, an estate that dates back to the 1300s. We walked through the three large rooms that were available to see and then strolled through the gardens blooming with dahlias, roses, asters, delphinium, iris, and an assortment of other flowers I couldn't name. They were outstanding in the morning sun that broke through the hazy skies above.

Even though Rick Steves had advised against it, we drove down to the Powerscourt Waterfall and paid the entrance fee. The guard had a bit of fun with Bob who was driving and claiming to be the tour guide and therefore should get in free. The guard said, "Of course!" I'm guessing it added up to all of us getting in for the senior rate.

The waterfall is said to be Ireland's tallest. It is very picturesque and was a nice diversion. On our way out of the park, we stopped to ask the guard what was the best way to Glendalough, our next stop on the road to Kilkenny.

"Do ye want to take the easy road or the road with the best view?" he asked.

"The best view, of course," came the answer from our driver.

The guard told us to take the Military Road that wound through the Wicklow Mountains. The road was actually built back in the early 19th century to help the British troops move through the area to put down the insurgent Irish remnant from the 1798 uprising. While the surface was made of modern material, I don't think they made it any wider. But then we were finding that many of the Irish roads were about wide enough for two small cars to pass with a few inches to spare. At least this road did not have stone walls on both sides of it.

And it was the best view. As the trees vanished and we could look out over the vast area around us, we could see mounds and mounds of lavender colored heather. The road wound back and forth and eventually through a pine forest before we got to Glendalough and the Monastic City.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Worship Thought

It's always difficult on a Sunday when you are on the road traveling and away from your regular worship time in your own church. This morning was no different in our time here in Ireland. We were up and away early to be able to make our next destination. Lord, it's your day. How and where can I worship?

Worship began shortly after breakfast at our B&B which was named Petra House. I wondered, was there any special meaning in that name for our hosts? I asked. The answer was softly spoken.

"Ah, yes. When we built our first house there was a huge rock that had to be moved to secure the foundation. Then, when we built this one, there was another rock. Petra means rock so we named our house Petra. It has been good for us."

On this rock, I will build my house. Build your house on rock not sand. Thank you, Lord.

Our major sightseeing stop this day was Kylemore Abbey in the Connemara area, Galway. It starts with a love story and ends with the castle being turned into an abbey for the Benedictine nuns. (I will post more later on what we saw.) We first walked the path to the small church. It was a quiet morning. Tour buses had not arrived yet and few people were on the path from the main building to the little chapel.

We heard a familiar songbird, a robin, and the sound of the wind stirring the autumn leaves still on the trees. The quiet made me think of the members of the convent walking to prayer--praying along the way. Huge mossy tree trunks were evidence that the forested area had been there a long time. How many prayers, Lord, have these old trees heard over the years?

Finally, inside the chapel was a beautiful stained glass window with five women representing the ideals of charity, faith, hope, chastity, and fortitude. Fortitude had a shield to protect her. Take up the shield of faith. My faith lies in you, Lord. I praise your name.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Dublin - The Book of Kells

Dublin's red Hop on Hop off bus took us round the block where Trinity College is located. The college was chartered back in 1592 and experienced a bit of a rocky start in the 1600s. But the 18th century brought a bit of peace in Ireland and the college's academic roots took hold and flourished. In 1904, the first women students were admitted to the college and not without a little Irish humor and wit to the story.

We toured the campus with a student who pointed out the various historical buildings on site and of course with a crooked Irish grin, explained that the Dean who was in charge when women were struggling to be admitted to the college stated firmly that "women will be admitted to Trinity over my dead body." In 1904, the dean died and a few months later, women were finally admitted. As the story goes, the dean's body was buried where women would enter campus from their dormitory thus stepping over the dean's body, so to speak.

Our guide smiled again and shook his head. "Of course that's not true, he's not buried on campus. But it does make a good story."

At the end of our tour of the main area of campus, our guide pointed out the old library where the Book of Kells is located and we entered to view the ninth century gospel manuscript with its colorful hand drawn illustrations. The manuscript comes from a monastery founded in 561 by St. Colum Cille on Iona which is a small island off the coast of Scotland. When the Vikings invaded in the early 800s, the monks moved to Kells where they finished the manuscript.

I was a bit disappointed in the exhibition. There was mostly just large eight foot high banners showing pictures of the illustrations in the book. Something I could have seen more clearly online. The manuscript itself was open to one page of illustration and one of text (in Latin, of course) and was perhaps 16" X 18". Maybe my long hours of travel and no sleep were getting to me. I felt like a little of our precious time in Dublin was wasted--until we entered the old library.

My heart breaks that I couldn't take a picture of it but I did find one online here. I understand that they are trying to preserve the old volumes there and too many people take pictures using flash. But if you are a fan of the Harry Potter movies and you recall Hermione wandering through an old library for books on spells, that is what this library resembled. Down the center was an exhibition of old books from physicians and teachers of the old school of medicine--always a delight to see how far we have come since then.

With our heads bobbing as we fought to keep our eyes open, we found our way back to the DART station and boarded a train for the 20 minute ride to Howth where our B&B was. Just across from the car park was a restaurant that looked good for dinner and we climbed the stairs to the second floor for a seat overlooking the harbor of Howth filled with fishing boats and seagulls clamoring for the leftovers from the day's catch. After a delicious meal of mussels and fish and chips, we were ready to call it a day.

Sure there was more to Dublin to see--the castle, the pubs. But it would have to wait for another opportunity. Just a reason to have to return.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dublin Town

Since our time in Dublin had been shortened by at least a day and a half, we checked off what things were absolutely must-sees for us. There were really only two and a possible third if we had time: The Book of Kells, the Guinness Storehouse tour, and Dublin Castle.

The red Hop on Hop Off bus would get us a good over all view of the city and drop us off at our points of interest. We were issued ear buds and plugged into the recorded commentary as we made our way around two-thirds of the loop. We exited at Guinness and queued up for the tour.

While the tour of Guinness is not through a working brewery, it is an interesting step through time and the brewing process. Mr. Guinness was an astute business man who managed to sign a 9000 year lease for the building where the Guinness brewery is located. The brewery in Dublin only makes a small portion of the world wide distribution. Their product goes mostly to Ireland and the UK. There is a large brewery in South Africa that distributes to the rest of the world.

The process was interesting to follow as we made our way up a giant circular "glass" building fashioned after the distinctive Guinness glass. The dark color of the Guinness which they say is a deep ruby red (we couldn't see it) comes from the barley that is roasted before going into the mash process. But the most important part of the Guinness is the pouring.

When it first comes out of the tap, the Guinness appears a light chocolatey color and as you let it set, the bottom of the liquid becomes a deep brown (ruby red if you believe Guinness)and to the top rises a creamy froth that is distinctively Guinness. On one of the floors of the tour, you can give up your ticket stub for a free pint and learn to pour the perfect glass of Guinness. It starts by pulling the handle toward you and filling the glass to the Guinness symbol. Then you let it settle for a few moments and top it off by pushing the handle to the back which adds a little more froth. Of course you get to drink your pour as well. Not being beer drinkers, we saw a few eyebrows lift when we left our pours on a table. We did taste it. It is a milder tasting beer than I'd imagined and the creamy froth adds to that taste.

We passed on using our remaining free pint tickets at the bar on the top floor of the building and just opted to take pictures of the view. It was spectacular but we had to gently persuade the drinkers to let us through in a few places to get some pictures. No one complained. They were all imbibing free Guinness. What was there to complain about?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dublin -- At Last!

After two days delay and one very rough night bouncing around Hurricane Katia, we arrived in Dublin. Bleary-eyed and tired, we made our way through immigration and customs. When the immigration officer heard we would be driving through Ireland, he got an Irish twinkle in his eye and said, "Best be drivin' on the left side, ye know."

Dick, Bob's brother, and his wife met us at the airport in the rental car. Dick had hoped to get experience in less crowded conditions than when they had first arrived. Bob, the more experienced with left-sided driving, was originally to get the car first. Dick was immersed quickly and during rush hour traffic when he arrived. The side mirrors were still intact though so he had done well.

We ventured on to our B&B in Howth just outside Dublin--not the one we'd planned on however. When Dick and Polly arrived, the originaly booking told them they had mistakenly overbooked and he sent them to another who could accommodate us. Not our first choice but the compensation was that the hostess was extremely friendly and gave us lots of background on the area and the people.

After a quick refreshing face wash and tooth bruhsing, we took off for the DART, the train into Dublin from Howth. At last we were in Dublin, our first stop on our 28 day--make that 26 day journey through Ireland. How were we going to condense two days worth of sightseeing plans into one?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dublin or Bust!

In all our 25+ years of traveling the world, we have only occasionally experienced delays in getting from one place to another and never more than a few hours or a day at most. After two years of planning and anticipating our trip to Ireland, the last thing on our minds that would keep us from going was a hurricane. Don't those just happen in the Caribbean?

Hurricane Lee wrecked such havoc with our East Coast, that flights were delayed and canceled from the Carolinas to Massachusetts. As the announcements kept making our flight to Philadelphia later and later, we started wondering how fast we could run. Ever the optimists, we figured if flights into Philly were delayed surely flights out would be to thereby giving us enough time to make that flight to Dublin. Wrong.

At the time when we should have been boarding the last scheduled delay, US Airways announced that the flight was canceled. No problem. We would certainly be rebooked for the next day. Wrong again.

While Bob talked with one rebooking agent on the phone, the ticketing agent searched for flights. We could get to the East Coast, but flights from there to Dublin were all booked for two days. How could that be? To add insult to injury, Bob's brother who was flying out of Columbus was rebooked on a flight that got them to Philly albeit late, but they were able to get a flight to Manchester, England, and from there Dublin and arrive only a half day late.

We collected our luggage and the rebooking slip that the ticket agent had given us. She at least was kinder than the agent at the 1-800 number and got us on a flight and in first class! Even though US Airways belongs to the Star Alliance, they were unwilling to book us on one of their partners because it would cost them money and the fine print reads, "Cancellations due to weather. . ." You get the idea.

And so we spent the first two nights of our vacation in quite comfortable surroundings very familiar to us--home. First class seating would have to compensate for our delay. But would the next hurricane, Katia, right on the heels of Lee interfer as well?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Travel Tools - Hairdryer vs. Foreign Outlets

In the battle of hairdryer vs. foreign electrical outlets, I've lost--several times. Once the hairdryer was of no use because even with all the extra adapters and converters it couldn't get up to speed and then there was the oops-plugged-it-into-the-wrong-one incident which ended in sparks, smoke, and a nasty smell in our room for a while.

Almost all hotels and B & Bs supply a hairdryer but I have a hard time blow drying my hair with a dryer and a brush. If you don't, you are set and I applaud you. My styling brush/dryer blows air through a brush on the end of it and I can handle that quite well. I just can't travel with it to foreign places.

Converters and adaptors cost any where from $25-50 depending upon how many you buy if traveling to different countries. There are dual voltage hairdryers (run about $25-35)that are 110/220 but I've read reports that they too do not always work properly.

The best solution I've come up with is to get to a store shortly after you arrive and purchase a cheap hairdryer/styler in that country. In Australia, we found a Target and a Kmart in Sydney by using Google Map and searching store addresses on the web before we left. I paid about $18 for a dryer/styler that was very similar to what I have at home and never had to worry about plugging it in.

This next trip is to Ireland and I plan on doing the same thing. Dublin is our first stop and I found a Dunnes store(Ireland's department store chain)close to where we will be sightseeing on our second day there. I figure I can sell the stylers on E-Bay when I'm done or loan them out to friends who might be traveling to those places.

Rather I sell them or not, I've saved my nerves, salved anxiety, and kept my dryer/styler from dying at the surge of a foreign current.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cleveland's West Side Market

My head hangs in shame as I tell you that I have lived most of my life in the Cleveland area and have never gone to the West Side Market. I've truly missed out on a great historical Cleveland landmark and place to shop. The market has been around since 1840 and the building that now houses it was built in the early 1900s.

We have been to Seattle's market and several markets in various cities throughout the world--some of them much larger and other's much more, shall we say, primitive.

As markets go, I was pretty impressed with our market. We walked through the fresh fruit and vegetable section first. The produce was laid out beautifully and certainly was enough to entice us to want to buy probably more than we could eat.

From the produce section, we wandered over to the main market area that had displays of meats, dairy products, candies, bakery, sweets, nuts, and on and on. Some of the stalls, I believe, have been in the same family for generations. This is truly a place where a bit of the ethnicity of our city shines as well--perogi, kolachky, sausages of all sorts, fresh made pasta. Oooh the mouth waters as I think of it.

If you live in the area, or you're just in Cleveland for a visit, don't miss the opportunity to take a trip through the aisles of the market. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Erin Go Bragh, Leprechauns, and other Irish Tidbits

In anticipation of an upcoming trip to Ireland, I decided to check into some of the Irish sayings, tales, and interesting tidbits of a few things Irish. For example on St. Patrick's Day (which happens to be my birthday) you always see buttons with Erin Go Bragh on them. What does it mean? Ireland Forever. But it has been anglicized from the original Gaelic according to the sources I scanned.

Then there's the fascination with Leprechauns. Are they anything like Santa's elves, I wondered? Seems the tales of leprechauns have their roots in legend that involves shoemakers since that is the derivative of their name. They are portrayed as little aged men who are usually drunk but yet keepers of ancient treasure left by the Danes. If captured, they will promise great wealth to go free. They carry two pouches. One with a silver shilling that magically returns to the pouch and one with a gold piece that turns to leaves or dust when parted with. If you see a leprechaun, you must not take your eyes off him for a moment or he will vanish instantly.

This led me to wonder if the leprechaun's favorite drink was Guinness. Which led me to wonder, just what is Guinness. As far as I can determine, Guinness is a beer made popular by Arthur Guinness back in the late 18th century. It is a dark beer called a stout. Guinness comes with a thick creamy foam head and is said to have less calories and less alcohol content than most other beers. Does that mean the leprechauns drink more or prefer a different brew?

I anticipate quite a few tales, and tall ones at that, at most every turn we take in Ireland. It should be quite an entertaining trip. Do you have an Irish tale to share?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Books For The Road - Hello, Hollywood!

Romance and humor are a winning combination in Janice Thompson's latest novel, Hello Hollywood!, in the Backstage Pass series. This is your ticket to light-hearted reading on your next travel adventure or from your favorite reading spot at home.

The leading line on the back cover says, "When it comes to love, one thing's for sure--it doesn't follow a script!" How true--especially in the lives of Athena and Stephen who are comedy writers for a popular TV show called Stars Collide, which is also the title of the first book of the series.

Stephen comes to the show and upsets the team of writers as he tries to fit in. Athena, who is head writer, wonders if he's out to take her job. Conflict, the number one element in a good story even if it's a comedy script, abounds not only among the writers but among family. Throw in an inherited Greek Breed Dog who is incorrigible and the mix becomes laugh-worthy.

Thompson's sense of humor is prevelant in many of the books she writes. An earlier book, Gone With The Groom, is a favorite of mine. I read it before I started my blog series called Books For The Road. It would be another recommendation to tuck into your suitcase.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Skies Were Silent

We all have our impressions of this day ten years ago--where we were, how we found out, what were we doing when the towers came down. The thing that impressed me most though were the silent skies.

Air traffic was stopped. Controllers did an amazing job of clearing the air space over our country, something that had never been done before. I'm not even sure there was a plan for it then. Within a few hours, the skies became eerily silent. The sounds of air traffic we take for granted and don't even "hear", were suddenly gone.

The sky above us had changed as much as the world it encompassed.


As the reality of what had occurred began to settle in and knowledge struck us that life as we had known it would never be the same, knees began to bow and voices whispered in prayer, "why God?"


It seemed there would be no answer. Even heaven was silent.

But then quietly like the whisper of a gentle breeze, the reply came--

"Fear not."

Friday, September 09, 2011

Casey's Comfort Chicken Casserole

In Murder Among The Orchids, Casey makes a chicken casserole for the family after her boss is found murdered. It's great comfort food. This is the recipe. My deepest gratitude to my friend Judy who made this for us years ago when my mother passed away. She shared the recipe with me and it has become a favorite in our family.

2 1/2 cups uncooked noodles
4-5 cups cooked, deboned chicken
2 cups chicken broth
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/4 cup pimento
1 small onion chopped
1/2 lb. grated sharp cheddar
small can of mushrooms

Mix all ingredients together well saving some cheese back to sprinkle on top later. Bake covered at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour. Remove cover and sprinkle top with croutons or almonds and remaining cheese. Bake uncovered until cheese bubbles.

For more updates on Murder Among the Orchids, "like" my Facebook page.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Travel Tools - Collar Pillow

Undoubtedly you have seen these if you've done any flying lately. The collar pillow, as I call it, is a U-shaped pillow that fits around your neck and supports your head as you sleep sitting up. Now, that's assuming you are in coach and not in business or first class in which case, you can recline or fully recline depending upon the aircraft and the pillow is unnecessary.

Some of these pillows are soft and cuddly and others you inflate manually (or should that read inflate by mouth?) We tried the inflatable ones and Bob still uses his. Mine developed a leak and I had to keep reinflating it. I gave up because, even inflated, it was not the most comfortable thing for me to sleep on. He likes his though but then he can sleep through most anything in any position--even standing up, we learned.

Here are some of the pillows mentioned recently in a travel forum that people seemed to like:

The JetRest (sells for 9.95 pounds which would be around $15 USD)

A Touch of Satin (a little pricey at $45 but the woman swore by it)

Hedbed (This one's inflatable but looks good at $12.99)

TravelRest (This one is inflatible and doesn't look comfortable to me but it's got lots of fans. Also a little pricey, I think, at $26.99 plus $12.99 for a cover.)

One suggested a girlfriend was best but. . .

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Travel Tools - Noise Cancelling Headsets

One of the absolute musts on my husband's travel list when we fly is his noise cancelling headset. He cannot stand the sound of the jet engine. Me, I kind of like to know it's still running. But there are times, especially on longer flights, when I like to tune out or tune in to the movie or other source of video/audio entertainment on board the flight.

We both have headsets. Bob's is a newer model and a little smaller than mine but not by much. They do give you a clear channel to listen to music or the movie or just nothing if you choose. There is still a little sound that gets in but I'm not convinced it's the sound or the knowledge that someone is talking to you. You do have to be careful that you don't miss the steward asking for your beverage choice. (After all, it's the only freebie left on the plane besides the air.)

There are other headsets besides Bose but Bose seems to get the best ratings and that's what we purchased several years ago to start with.

The only complaint I have with the headsets, besides having "headset hair" at the end of the flight, is that they make it more difficult to find a comfortable sleep position even with a collar pillow. And I have to take my earrings off or the posts bore into my head from the pressure of the headset.

If you have trouble coping with the engine noise or even the screaming babies sometimes found on flights, try the headsets. They do work for both.
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