Gaelic Getaway

In September 2010 Cyd kept me company while I sang with the Vocal Art Ensemble of Davis on their Irish Melody Tour. Cyd & I covered almost the entire Emerald Isle before hopping over to Doncaster, Yorkshire, to visit Janet & Chris. Keep reading for the full story as it unfolded day by day…


Gaelic Getaway

31 August 2010

My friend Tracia & I met on our first choir tour, which was of Estonia, Helsinki and the USSR twenty years ago! I’ve been on several choir tours since then, but not her. Now she has started her own choir in Davis called the Vocal Art Ensemble and is taking them on a short tour in Ireland, so I’m tagging along as another singer. I joined 2 rehearsals each month all summer to blend with them, memorized my music as requested, and we had our bon voyage concert last weekend that went really well, so I’m looking forward to touring with another group of singers.

But that’s not all! My friend Cyd & I have been wanting to travel together for awhile since we have similar high energy levels, leaving other travel partners behind, so this is the perfect trip for the Guinness Girl to come with me! Cyd & I are going 2 days early, joining the tour, staying in Ireland 4 more days, then over to Doncaster in Yorkshire to stay with Cyd’s longtime friend Janet for the rest of that week. Almost 3 weeks of traveling, and since my last visit to Ireland was only 3 days, I really want some hiking this time!

Below is our itinerary, and since at least for the first half of the trip we have wifi or broadband every night, I intend to blog as is now tradition for my global explorations. I’m also helping out with the VAE blog, so I’ll note that here too.

Next update most likely from Dingle! :)

Tuesday, Aug 31st
United Airlines depart San Francisco International (SFO) 12:59

Wednesday Sep 1st
United Airlines arrive United Heathrow (LHR) 07:30
Aer Lingus London to Cork 14:00 – 15:20
pick up rental car in Cork & drive to Dingle
Dingle Benners Hotel in time for a pint & good rest

Thursday Sep 2nd
in Dingle for gorgeous Irish western coast, then Glin overnight on the River Shannon
O’Driscoll’s Bed & Breakfast

Friday Sep 3rd
11:30am arrival at Shannon Airport to meet the rest of the Vocal Art Ensemble
Let the Irish Melody tour begin!
Visit Cliffs of Moher & the Burren
Menlo Park Hotel Galway

Saturday Sep 4th
Tour of Connemara, some of the most rugged scenery in Ireland
11:30 visit Kylemore Abbey
12:00 lunchtime concert at Kylemore Abbey
3:15 Irish High Tea at Ashford Castle
5pm Cruise on Lough Corrib. This lake is one of the cleanest, most unspoilt and most scenic in all of Europe.
overnight Menlo Park Hotel Galway again

Sunday Sep 5th
12:00 sing at Mass in Charleville, Killarney for Sunday morning service
4:00 visit Muckross House & Gardens or hike Killarney National Park
Killarney Towers Hotel

Monday Sep 6th
Ring of Kerry
8:00 evening concert at St Mary’s Killarney
dinner on our own
overnight Killarney Towers Hotel again

Tuesday Sep 7th
10:30am Blarney Castle
Tour Old Middleston Distillery home of Jameson Whiskey
8:00 joint evening concert in St Peter’s Church in Bandon with local choir
Gresham Metropole Hotel

Wednesday Sep 8th
Rock of Cashel
Kilkenny Castle
evening concert in St Canic’s Cathedral
New Park Hotel Kilkenny

Thursday Sep 9th
Wicklow Mountains and St Kevin’s Monastery at Glendalough
afternoon arrive in Dublin, evening & dinner on our own
Gresham Hotel Dublin

Friday Sep 10th
9am Dublin city tour, Trinity College, Book of Kells
12:45 lunchtime concert in St Patrick’s Cathedral
optional Guinness Brewery tour
overnight Gresham Hotel Dublin again

Saturday Sep 11th
catch ride to airport with VAE after breakfast
pick up rental car at the airport and drive! πŸ˜€

Sep 11th – Sep 14th
driving around Ireland – an adventure!
Where exactly is still a mystery, but a required stop at Brittas Bay south of Dublin on the eastern coast. :)

Tuesday Sep 14th
Dublin afternoon & overnight

Wednesday Sep 15th
RyanAir Dublin to Leeds 07:40 – 08:40

Sep 15th – Sep 21st
Janet’s hospitality in Leeds, Whitby (location of Dracula novel!) & environs
Yorkshire & eastern coast of northern England

Tuesday Sep 21st
train from Doncaster to Kings Cross – tube to Paddington Station – Heathrow Express to airport
home in time to stay awake for the Glee premiere! LOL…

2 Days to Dingle

1 September 2010

After one of the longest travel days ever, we made it to Dingle in daylight, enjoyed an excellent pub dinner, a stroll & some live music, and I gave Cyd the first turn on my laptop, so I’m struggling to stay awake to post my own update! :)

We made it from SFO to Heathrow perfectly on time and sailed through customs & immigration, meaning we had 6 hours to wait until our flight to Cork…so early they wouldn’t let us check our bags yet! Cyd wanted a Guinness, saying since it wasn’t even midnight back home, it was fine to have one at 7:45am…I joined her with a cider to pass the time. We got our backs checked, then found my Archers peach schnapps at duty free so I know where to find it on my way home, but there is only so long you can kill time at expensive duty free shops, so we both found some bench space and crashed for some rest. Thankfully the flight to Cork was short & uneventful, no line for the rental car, but it took us 3 tries to get out of Cork environs in the correct direction to Dingle. I think Google maps wasn’t as clear as it could have been! I drove all the way to Dingle, thankful for Cyd’s company and music on my iPhone on the stereo, but by the time we made it, I was fading & hungry!

We checked in to our room at the Dingle Benners Hotel, then went straight to find dinner since it was already past 7pm and we’d only had travel snacks I’d brought. I had locally caught crab & smoked salmon pasta dish that was delicious! I think my dad will be jealous again…haha! Several of the pubs along the water were having local music, so we strolled along the water in the fading light, then chose one for some music for a little bit with another pint each, then back to the hotel for wifi & a much-needed hot shower!

We’re hoping for a nice hike around Dingle tomorrow, but we have another hour drive to get to Glin for tomorrow night so we have a short drive to Shannon to meet the tour at the airport.

Doing Dingle & Getting to Glin

2 September 2010

Oh, it was sooo nice to sleep in this morning! I woke up 8am, rolled over, woke up again 9:30am & started moving around so Cyd would get up since breakfast ended at 10am. We went downstairs for a delicious hot full Irish breakfast with tea and even black pudding – yum! All set with plenty of protein for any hiking we found!

We checked out with everything packed in the car, strolled around town & looked in shops & the church for a bit, then went to the tourist information office for hiking suggestions. The best suggestion for the short hours we had was the Slea Head Drive around the Dingle peninsula and hike the most westerly path in Europe at Dun Chaoin. Cyd’s first other-side driving was extra challenging because of the single lane roads with high hedges encroaching on both sides, so the rental car got even more scratched than it was when we got it! The weather started out overcast while we saw the prehistoric Dunbeg Fort and monastic beehive huts from the early Christian period, then we found the path at Dun Chaoin and started walking. Gorgeous cliffs, vivid green grass, cute pink heather & other flora, even with gray skies…

…but after we got to the dramatic Faill Malaisc gorge, blue skies started peeking through the high clouds, making the gray Atlantic Ocean a much prettier blue and the grass even greener! Since the rest of the path went up the hill inland we decided to take the same way back, now with better weather & better photo opportunities. I finally got good patchwork hills photos and coastline with the ruined house near the cliff. We even stopped at the cove near Ventry for the stunning blue waves, but it was so windy, Cyd was flying standing still! :) Since there wasn’t a road to cut north east of DIngle, we drove back the way we came, back into town, then out on the highway through Tralee to Glin. I tried my best to take photos out the car, but those are always horrible odds what will actually come out okay, and this car is proving worse because it has fine defroster lines in the front windshield…ah well!

We made it to Glin by 7:30pm, not too much later than Cyd had registered, and Estelle of O’Driscoll’s B&B told us the only local place still open for dinner was Kirby’s Lantern Hotel back up the road. We went there immediately, not even unloading our luggage, had a nice well-earned dinner even including dessert, since we hadn’t eaten anything but tiny snacks since our Irish breakfasts. Back at the B&B we unloaded, then went next door to Conway’s Pub. Tonight I had Archer’s & lemon, a British standard obviously unheard of in Glin even though I saw the Archers behind the bar. Cyd stuck with Guinness, and let’s say it was an interesting evening. It started off fine with chatting with the local older guys, including the parish priest. But then another group came over & I was randomly asked to sing, odd since I hadn’t said anything about the choir tour. When they found out I really could sing & was joining the choir tour tomorrow, local older man John taught me the words to Danny Boy, me typing them into my iPhone to remember so I could sing it properly. After that impressed them, they kept asking me to sing more but I sadly don’t remember words to anything pub-worthy so that didn’t go very far past Amazing Grace & snippets of others they started for me like America the Beautiful. Then as those guys got drunker over the course of the evening, I would have rather been in Cyd’s conversations with the teenagers from Southampton than courteously nodding & laughing at the guys hovering around me ogling my chest & telling me how “gorgeous” I was. Flattering once or twice, but slurred Irish accented English mixed with Gaelic is even harder to understand in a pub, and hours later it was just old. One can only hear “nice boobs” so many times from the same people in one evening, and that’s definitely not the way to impress me. I’m sure they’re nice enough guys when they’re sober, and I’ve never gotten that treatment in any other pubs in England or Ireland before. Overall a fun evening at least, and finally towards the end I quietly sang the Star-Spangled Banner since even though they were drunk enough I was answering the same questions over & over, they still wouldn’t stop asking me to sing…heh!

It’ll be an earlier morning for our breakfast at 8am so we can get on the road to Shannon to meet Vocal Art Ensemble at the airport…then it’s the bus instead of driving ourselves until the 11th comes around after the tour!

Cliffs of Moher, the Burren & Galway

3 September 2010

Cyd & I got up in time for a full Irish breakfast cooked to order by Estelle, and were on the road to Shannon Airport on time just after 10am. We had smooth sailing on better roads all the way, found gas near enough to the airport, and still met the tour managers before the choir was off the plane so all was good. No one had claimed the back row on the bus, so Cyd & I camped out there, me trying to snap some photos out the windows when I could. We arrived at the Cliffs of Moher to nice weather with even some blue sky peeking through the clouds. These cliffs are in the running for the New Seven Wonders of the World, and they are quite impressive!

Cyd & I hightailed it up the hill to climb the tower first since we only had an hour to get back to the bus. When we got to the top, we saw some guys standing on the very top of the roof, so we got up there too. Tracia stayed at the bottom to get photos of us peeking over the tower crenellations, which I don’t have yet, then she came up when we were still up there. Tracia’s legs were too short to boost herself to the top, so I helped, then took photos of her “flying” in the strong winds…heehee! Cyd & I got back up & pretended to be falling, lovely acting skills. Only when we finally went back down did we see the sign on the door…oops!

Back in the bus, more pretty scenery out the windows but driving too fast for any photos to succeed, then we made a short stop at the Burren, a barren wasteland of all rocks where nothing much grows. The pounding surf on the cliffs was a force to be reckoned with, and Cyd laughed at being so fascinated by west coast surf when she lives so close to similar at home. πŸ˜‰

After a long but pretty coastal curvy drive, with several slow bus squeezes between cars down one lane roads, we arrived at Galway at the Menlo Park Hotel. From our placemats at dinner, we learned they named the hotel for the CA Bay Area town, which was originally named after the founders’ hometown of Menlo in Galway. Funny circuitous naming but it sure made us laugh that we came all this way to stay at Menlo Park! πŸ˜‰ After dinner several of us wanted to find some pubs and hopefully some traditional Irish music, so we got directions for the 15 minute walk downtown, stopped in a couple pubs, and found some nice music for a bit.

Unfortunately after dinner my throat started getting raw, suspected cigarette smoke reaction by the symptoms, sipping whiskey on the rocks at both pubs in hopes of killing germs didn’t help, and now my nose is running too. The Australia trip this spring was my first international vacation where I did NOT get sick like this, so I was hoping that curse was finally broken, but alas no, so I’m trying to go to bed early. We have to be on the bus to Kylemore Abbey by 8:30am to sing at noon!

Around Galway, Connemara & Lough Corrib

4 September 2010

I hate being sick on international trips, but at least a beautiful day singing at Kylemore Abbey, high tea at Ashford Castle, and a nice lake cruise with singalong Irish music helped offset the pain! My painful raw throat has now migrated to a killer sinus headache, so I’ve stayed at the hotel after dinner this evening instead of going out downtown tonight. Hopefully I’ll feel better soon, since I hate this cramping my style!

We had to get up bright & early to drive through Connemara to get to Kylemore Abbey. I was feeling worse than the night before, so I attempted to nap while the bus was bouncing along the rural roads, but I did get up to try to photograph the rainbow in the mist. It was raining when we left the hotel, still gray & misty while we toured the gardens at the abbey, but by the time our concert started, it was warm & sunny. The concert went well, sure glad I can still sing fine when my throat is painfully raw on fire, and we had a decent size crowd for both sets who seemed to enjoy the music. :)

We left Kylemore Abbey for another long drive to Ashford Castle for our high tea, driving through more winding, bumpy roads at top bus speed.Others were on the edge of nausea from the drive, but maybe my killer headache staved off the motion sickness for me since I was fine. I was able to catch some of the rugged Connemara scenery out the bus window, then we made it to Ashford Castle still in beautiful sunny weather for a delicious high tea. Glad I was still hungry and my throat wasn’t as sore by then.

Ashford Castle is on Lough Corrib, one of the cleanest, most unspoilt and most scenic lakes in all of Europe. They haven’t allowed any new housing or development around the lake since the 1960s to preserve its state. We took a lake cruise, breezy but still in sunshine, and we got lucky that the accordion player decided to stay on for our cruise even though he wasn’t booked for us in advance. He sang & played, and we hummed harmonies on choruses or anything we knew, then we sang Dulaman for him, using a plastic bucket as the bodrhan drum. πŸ˜‰

After another long drive back to Galway, we had a late dinner where I sipped Jameson on the rocks instead of cider in hopes of the whisky clearing my sinuses, then a bunch including Cyd, Tracia & Doug went out on the town in search of more traditional Irish music, but I’m still feeling awful enough I think it’s best I stay in & try to get some good rest. ARGH! Hope I can get to sleep with this headache still going, since we have to leave bright and early again, but this time with luggage packed, to make it to perform at the noon mass in Charleville!

Charleville & Killarney

5 September 2010

I got a good 6 hours of sleep even though Cyd didn’t come in from pub partying until 4am, so my cold today had moved to all nose congestion, still okay to sing thank goodness. We were up bright & early & on the bus all packed in concert clothes by 8:30am and on our way to Charleville, with gloomy gray skies, but we found out we were in the local paper. Since I still wasn’t feeling great, I let myself doze on the drive. We stopped at Bunratty Castle for a potty stop & some tea, then back on the long gray road to Charleville in plenty of time before the noon mass. Good thing since it took about that whole time for most of the choir to use the single toilet as the altar boys & girls came past us to get their robes on!

We sang the prelude, offertory, communion music, then a 15 minute concert after the mass, and it was all fantastic. I’ve personally sung in larger churches & cathedrals many times & many cities with the Choral Project, but this is the best & prettiest space where VAE has ever performed yet, so they were all very excited. The acoustics were fabulous, and most everyone stayed for the concert after mass & really seemed to enjoy the variety of the music. The priest thanked us effusively and presented Tracia with a framed thank you plaque. Several people stayed to chat with us, Tracia got interviewed for a local radio show, and after chatting with me, a teenage girl potential music major might find Eric Whitacre on Facebook after hearing Lux Aeterna. :)

Thankfully the rain held off until after we were out of our concert clothes, changing in the bus and grabbing fast food to eat on the bus (we just had to try the curry cheese fries!), but the whole bus drive to Killarney we had blustery rain all the way to Muckross House at Killarney National Park. We had been given the option of touring Muckross House or hiking in the park, but honestly hiking in sideways rain is different than just vertical showers, so I opted for the house. Very interesting, since this house was owned by the same family who owned Filoli house over in the CA Bay Area! Cyd recognized the story so asked our tour guide and he confirmed it!

At dinner I was feeling better, hoping my congestion might be gone by morning, but since dinner wasn’t over until after 10pm anyway, we just stayed in the hotel bar with Doug, Jeff & Cyd enjoying arguing while Tracia & I tried to ignore them, concentrating on photo & blogging stuff. I’ve been emailing her a few photos each day, so she saves them to her iPod Touch, then on wifi she can use the WordPress app to post to the VAE blog.

Here’s hoping it clears up a bit for our bus tour of the Ring of Kerry tomorrow, since I’ve seen some before and it’s truly gorgeous as long as you can see the far hills through the mist!

The Ring of Kerry & a Concert

7 September 2010

Thankfully it cleared up to blue skies & fluffy clouds for our bus ride along the Ring of Kerry! We even had a surprise stop on the way for a sheepdog demonstration, which was impressive. Those border collies are trained so well & still adorable & friendly. Absolutely gorgeous views all morning, especially of the vivid rainbow over Dingle Bay, where everyone on the bus took about 100 photos each as it kept getting brighter & brighter! I even used some of my expensive iPhone airtime to live post a rainbow photo to Facebook…haha! No double rainbow but still OMG… πŸ˜‰

We stopped for lunch at a pub on the water with tasty food a fun gift shop, with great photo opportunities. Back on the road for more lovely scenery, then we stopped at the cute little town of Sneem with its waterfall, where I found Cyd a purple Irish wool hat. Moll’s Gap and Ladies’ View I had seen before, but this time they were much moodier with the rain clouds blowing in. The Black Valley was definitely black today! We just finished taking photos at Ladies’ View when the rain started pouring down again. All through Killarney National Park around the lake it was almost as hazy & rainy as the day before, but at least we could see a few more mountains than the previous day.

We got back to our hotel around 3pm, so Cyd & I rested in our room for a bit, then after the weather cleared up again, we went strolling around downtown Killarney, where I bought a Donegal wool aqua & black flatcap and an embroidered Killarney t-shirt. I had rehearsal at 7pm & had to be in concert dress for rehearsal at 7pm, so I left Cyd to her stroll and got ready at the hotel, taking some photos of the concert signs at the church along the way. St Mary’s Church was directly across from our hotel, with a lot of foot traffic to downtown, so our tour manager was able to lure a lot of people in for the concert. It was a small church but quite full, with more people coming in after we started who stayed standing in the back. A couple location-related intonation issues aside, the concert went very well, a nice acoustic but not so wet we had to take any of the fast pieces slower. We even had people standing with their applause!

After the concert we changed into comfier clothes then headed to the pub next door for traditional Irish music until 11pm, then a good 90s cover band, and they even had a techno dance club in the back. Tracia put her Irish dancing classes to use teaching others to dance at the pub! I even witnessed an authentic Irish pub brawl at the door, 5 wasted young guys vs. 4 bouncers and a bartender. Since Bulmers is the only cider anyone has, I had Jameson whiskey with 7UP again for a few drinks, agreed to a tequila shot with some Dublin guys over here for work (tequila shots with salt packets & lemon?!?) and was told by the other bartender that I needed to try Jameson’s big brother, Crested Ten, only available in Ireland. It was tasty & smooth, but I would have rather had it on the rocks than just in a snifter. I gave almost everyone in our group tastes so they could try the special Irish whiskey. Cyd went off by herself, dancing until the wee hours in the club, and I hung out with Doug, Chris & Jeff for awhile listening to the cover band until about 1am.

Sorry I wasn’t able to post this until we arrived in Cork, since I needed the sleep! I still have a little lingering congestion, but mostly over my cold, thank goodness. I’m being extra careful about breathing any smoke so I don’t relapse, which is challenging when we have to wait outside for bus loading & unloading.

Next update will be the road to Cork & the joint concert!

Blarney Castle, Whiskey & 3 Choirs in Bandon

7 September 2010

Bright & early again on the bus all packed for Blarney Castle! It was a gray day so I didn’t worry about too many castle photos, since I’d seen Blarney Castle & kissed the stone in sunshine 4 years ago. However they did have a new Poison Garden, so I took a lot of photos for Halloween potions inspiration. We got there after a cruise group, so there was already a 45-minute line even to get up the staircase, let alone kiss the Blarney Stone, so most people gave up on that idea and toured the gardens & outside the castle. Only an hour later we were back on the bus, driving to the Old Middleton Distillery.

Old Middleton Distillery is the production location for Jameson whiskey before sending to Dublin for bottling, where it was made until 1975, but now they have a modern distillery next door. Very cool to see the old equipment they used to produce the whiskey, and hear the differences between Irish whiskey & Scotch whisky. Since I’ve been drinking Jameson the past few nights, I volunteered to be one of the whiskey tasters at the end of the tour. They gave us Johnny Walker Black as the twice-distilled scotch, Jack Daniels as the single-distilled American whiskey, and of course Jameson as the triple-distilled. The scotch was definitely smoky but much harsher on my throat than the Jameson. I didn’t really mind the JD but I still liked the Jameson better. On the tour we had found out they age Jameson in used barrels, like from port, rum, sherry & bourbon…so of course Cyd & I were trying to find out which whiskeys were aged in port casks! In the gift shop we found the 12-year special reserve aged in sherry casks, so we bought a mini-set that included that plus the Crested Ten I had at the bar the night before…can’t wait to taste that!

We only had a little time to drop off our luggage at our hotel in Cork before an attempt at 4:30pm dinner before getting back on the bus to Bandon through traffic for the joint concert. There were two choirs also performing first, The Carrigaline Singers and the Cork Garda Male Voice Choir of active & retired policemen. They were both good & fun to watch, and it was a pretty full house with donations going to support pipe organ repairs for the church. The Carrigaline Singers joined us at the end of the concert for Dulaman & the Irish Blessing song, definitely a highlight of this trip!

We chatted with the other singers & the audience for quite awhile afterwards, so long that the main road was closed for construction, so we had to take the long way back to the hotel, arriving about 11:30. Cyd had found Guinness, Murphy’s and Beamish, 3 Irish stouts, all on tap at the hotel bar, so she had a taste test, still liking Guinness the best. The convenience store across the street was still open, so pre-made sandwiches were the late dinner for those who stayed up, but the bar closed at 12:30 and kicked us out into the lobby. Cyd & I were the last to go upstairs around 1am, so a relatively early night this time. We leave Cork in the morning already for the Rock of Cashel, then Kilkenny Castle, then another concert at St Canic’s Cathedral in Kilkenny!

The Rock of Cashel & Concert in Kilkenny

8 September 2010

Thankfully it wasn’t quite as early a morning, and Cyd & I were in bed by 2:15am, early for us lately! We were still on the bus by 9am though, on the road to the Rock of Cashel, an ancient stronghold up on a high hill that became a center of worship before it was finally abandoned for the impracticality of getting a congregation to hike up to attend church services on such a steep hill. Luckily again, the weather was clear & even sunny as we took our guided tour. The cathedral is only ruins now, along with most of the castle, but it is quite impressive.

However, the Cormac Chapel is still intact, all limestone so susceptible to the damp Irish climate, but with intricate carvings inside, and it has the first fresco paintings known in Ireland, with even lapis lazuli as the vivid blue. Definitely a national treasure, and we had the chance to sing 3 songs inside! Thanks to Cyd being so kind to record video with my camera, here’s the last one, after we had collected an audience of tourists who nicely applauded for us.

Back on the road for Kilkenny, checking in early at our hotel, grabbing a quick lunch (we blew it & didn’t take a photo of Cyd’s Guinness & my cider – darn!), then over to Kilkenny Castle. The foundations are from 1192, perhaps Strongbow’s original stronghold, but the rest of the building was built later as a residence instead of built for defense. No photos allowed inside, and no postcards for sale, which is sad since I really wanted a photo of the stunning painted & carved wood beam ceiling in the giant portrait gallery! I did sneak a photo looking out one of the upstairs windows however…shh, don’t tell!

Cyd & I strolled around Kilkenny town, finding St Mary’s Cathedral, the Black Abbey, and St Canice’s Cathedral where the concert would be later in the evening. I’m glad I got nice Halloween research photos of the graveyard in daylight, since when we got back for the concert, the sky was a gorgeous pink sunset, making for stunningly artistic photos! The concert went very well, unsurprisingly not as large an audience as last night but very appreciative of our performance, and I was not the only one who could not resist taking night photos of the graveyard since the church grounds were so nicely lighted! Definitely Halloween decoration inspiration for me!

Gotta have at least one bus photo each choir tour, right? :) I stopped in at the hotel bar when we got back, but it was so hot & stuffy in there, plus some absolutely hideous live music, that I camped out in the lobby on my laptop while Tracia, Melissa, Christina & I typed in the written impressions we had collected from the other singers so Tracia could post them on the VAE blog. I think I am official tech support for this tour, since my laptop is the vehicle to copy other people’s photos to Tracia’s external drive, plus the waystation sending photos to others so they can post to various Internet destinations from their phones via wifi. No surprise from the Silicon Valley Girl, eh? πŸ˜‰

No scheduled concerts tomorrow, just St Kevin’s Monastery at Glendalough on the way to Dublin for a free afternoon & evening…so we don’t have to be on the bus until 10:30am…ahhh…sleeping in sounds so nice, especially since I’m typing this at 1:30am while others are just coming back from the hotel bar!

Glendalough & Dublin

10 September 2010

Goodbye to Kilkenny, we hardly knew ye! Very nice to not have to be up so early, but at 10:30am we were on the road for Dublin via the monastery ruins at Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains. Since it was such a long haul, we stopped in Baltinglass for lunch, where Cyd & I split a shepherds pie and didn’t forget to take our drinks photo this time. On my recommendation Tracia discovered bottled Bulmers berry cider which she thinks might be dangerous. πŸ˜‰

After an even longer stretch of curvy roads, we stopped at a very nice view of Glendalough coming down from the mountains, and everyone took lots of photos. The heather on the hill was so pretty with the little yellow flowers mixed in. They have filmed several movies there including Braveheart, and there are stone walls leftover from those where tiny ferns are growing in the cracks and a window made for a nice photo opportunity.

We arrived at the monastery about 2:30 for our guided tour at 3pm, so we had a little time to tour the visitor center first. I don’t remember seeing the visitor center or hotel 4 years ago, but they have been there for years, so maybe Andy & I just didn’t bother with those. I definitely remember the ruins, and the weather was very similar gray skies both trips so I didn’t take too many photos.

Last time I was disappointed that St Kevin’s Church was locked so we couldn’t go in…but since we had a guided tour, our guide had the key, and we sang Missa Brevis inside!

After we sang, Doug presented Tracia with the group gift from the tour, a trinity knot necklace she had been looking for, then our guided tour was over and we had almost 2 more hours to spend. Cyd & I wandered the graveyard a little more, then we headed for the path to Upper Lake and found some others from our group. We made it all the way out to a nice waterfall along the path before we turned back to enough time to get back to the bus by 6pm.

We finally arrived in Dublin about 7pm, got settled in our room, then when we came downstairs we could only find Katie from our group. Cyd wants to go to Foley’s Restaurant she found last time, but when we mapped it, we weren’t sure if we should walk back that far through the city by ourselves. We walked across the River Liffey to the Temple Bar area, peeked into a few bars but still not finding anyone from our group, then when it started raining, we chose Gogarty’s, which ended up a lot of fun. Great music, Dutch people next to us singing along, and decent food with a couple pints each. Cyd had another Kilkenny Ale before her Guinness, and Katie & I had Cashels, the cider on tap. We walked back to our hotel in the rain, and hung out in the hotel lobby for a bit with a couple people. Dennis our bus driver stopped by and gave us all sorts of recommendations for the rest of our time in Ireland, so we’ll hopefully settle some of those plans today when he can show us exactly which routes to take on our maps.

Last concert today, this time midday at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin!

Irish Melody Tour is over…on with the rest of the adventure!

11 September 2010

Our full day in Dublin began with a bus tour around the city in our concert clothes, ending up at Trinity College. Cyd & I had both already seen the amazing Book of Kells on our previous trips, so we went to the National Art Museum down the street instead. They are quite proud of having a large Caravaggio in their collection, in a room of other artists fond of the same chiarascuro style, plus a Vermeer, Monet, Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco, Picasso, and of course Irish art of the 18th-19th centuries. We saw quite a lot in our time, then met them back at the bus to head for St Patrick’s Cathedral for our last concert.

We performed the entire concert, slowing a couple down because of the resounding acoustic, and as we we were packing up to leave, a man from the audience approached Tracia and introduced himself as David Mooney, the arranger of Dulaman! He had found out we were singing & saw on the VAE website we were singing his music, so he came to hear us and was very impressed. Needless to say we didn’t leave for awhile. The choir chatted with him, then they had sung another of his pieces at Christmas so they sang that for him, then we took group photos with him too. How lucky is that?

We finally got back to the hotel about 3pm, with free time until our final dinner at 7pm. Cyd went with the guys to the Guinness brewery tour, and since I had seen that before, I went with a few girls to find the Natural History museum, stopping along the way at Molly Malone and a couple shops. We found the Natural History Museum 15 minutes before it closed, but Melissa really wanted to see the Archeology museum around the block, so we agreed to try for that instead. Unfortunately we got there right as they were shooing everyone out the door to close, so no museums for us. We walked back to the hotel via Temple Bar area since none of them had seen it and I’d never seen it in daylight, finding some fun street musicians. We were glad to rest our feet a little while before dinner!

Thankfully the dinner restaurant cleared out of non-tour people by the time dessert was being served, since Ray played on his guitar while others sang some of their own compositions. Gifts & thanks were presented to Mattie & Dennis (Danielle the other tour manager had to leave Thursday for another tour), including enough glowing comments about Dennis he was turning very red…quite a picture with his white hair & trim white beard! Then we surprised Tracia by singing replacement lyrics to several of our songs, Sleep became Sheep with references to events all along the tour, “He Can Drive the Bus, He’s Dennis” for I Can Tell the World, and Jericho became “Tracia drank a bottle of Cherry Coke, but she wanted a a Pepsi One” which fit really well! Laura, Jeri, Liese & Katie are quite clever! Most of the group headed to a singing club which was packed, no drinks served, and the audience was required to stay quiet while others sang, so Jeff, Dave, Cyd & I went roaming for another pub. It took us awhile to find O’Shea’s, then we stayed for a couple drinks before heading back to the hotel around midnight, finding others in the lobby who had just gotten back too.

We’re catching a ride with the tour to the airport to pick up our rental car so we’ll be able to say proper goodbyes. Now begins our true adventure, since all we have set in stone is our rental car…we’re hoping to head north to tour the prehistoric site of Newgrange today and perhaps Carlingford by tonight, since it’s been recommended as a pretty place to hike. We’ll see what happens!

The Irish Adventure Continues…

11 September 2010

Since Cyd & I had decided to head north, we saved ourselves a 30 euro cab ride by riding with the group on the bus to the airport with a lovely rainbow over Dublin, said goodbye to everyone & wished them safe travels, then got in our rental car on the M1 north. We made good time in beautiful weather to Bru na Boinne vistor center about noon, but the next tours available to see the Knowth and Newgrange sites weren’t until 2:15. We had plenty of time to see the exhibits and share a lunch at the cafe before heading across the River Boyne to the bus to take us to Knowth.

Of course the gorgeous sunshine & fluffy clouds had turned to drizzle by the time we got off the bus, but it wasn’t too bad while we listened to our witty tour guide, and by the time the tour was ending for free photo time, the sun had come back. Lucky! Knowth was only recently excavated in the past 10 years or so, so the carvings on the rocks that had been buried so long were still distinct. Very interesting pattens, especially knowing they were made with such rudimentary tools. The stones are from 40-60km away with no wheel technology to transport them, which is amazing in itself, so the reason must have been very important to the builders. We weren’t allowed inside any of the actual passages at Knowth, just a display room with a peek into the passage, but we could go to the top and see the stunning view around the countryside.

The bus coming to pick us up was late, so our guide showed us more carved stones even more distinct because their location is more protected from the elements. When the bus finally came, it started raining. Lucky again! Since so many people had bought both tours back to back, they held the other busses to go to Newgrange for us. Newgrange was discovered back in the late 1600s and left open, so there is historical graffiti carved into the stones unfortunately, but the original elaborate carvings are still intact inside the tomb, including the triple spiral. Our tour guide demonstrated with her flashlight how the winter solstice sunrise would illuminate deep inside the mound where we were standing. Very cool, even if no photos allowed inside. We were lucky again when it started raining, our group was spit in half to fit inside the tomb and we were the ones inside protected from the rain by the 5000+ year old stacked corbeled roof, then when we came out the sun was gorgeous again, just in time for great outside photos!

We left Newgrange about 6pm and made it to Carlingford by 7pm, missing our turnoff but for a really good reason…more rainbows along our road!

Missing the turn was a blessing in disguise, since we went around the bend & into the cute medieval town on the water with a castle, so we knew we wanted to go back into town for sure. Lucky again! Must be all the rainbows today! :) We checked in at the Mourneview B&B we had only reserved online the same morning before leaving Dublin, drove back into town, found the Carlingford Friary ruins with beautiful golden fluffy clouds and blue skies as a backdrop, then the menu looked best at the Carlingford Arms. It rained while we were inside the pub, but not when we were out walking to & from. When we walked back to our car, I took more photos since both the castle & the friary were nicely lit, plus the sky was so clear that this was the first time I remember seeing so many stars in Ireland!

The Mountains of Mourne we can see to the north are supposed to be some of the best scenery in Ireland, so our plan for tomorrow is seeing how long we can hike around Silent Valley and Ben Crom before arriving in Belfast for overnight. Hopefully we’ll see more rainbows to keep up the weather luck!

the Irish Sea, the Mountains of Mourne and the rise & fall of Belfast

13 September 2010

We had a wonderfully leisurely morning at Mourneview…aah! We woke up to the smell of bacon, had our full Irish breakfast with a beautiful sunny view, said hi to Whiskey the dog and watched several kittens frolic in the backyard. About 11am we got on the road for the Mountains of Mourne, since in our quick walking research that sounded like a good plan smack in the middle of the mountains but not taking an all-day hike’s worth of time out of our schedule. Before we left town, we stopped at St John’s Castle ruins from at least 1210, and got some lovely views of the town harbor and Carlingford Lough.

By the time we got to Newry, we were just over the border into Northern Ireland, technically the UK, but surprised that we had seen no border sign or anything. I did notice the street signs were no longer in Gaelic, just English. We stopped at a mall in town for an ATM since now we needed pounds sterling, not Euros. At least we know we’ll be spending the pounds when we get to Janet’s, so took plenty out for the rest of the trip. I still have lots of Euros left so I’ll need to spend cash back in Dublin before we leave on Wednesday morning. It was an easy & pleasant drive along the north side of Carlingford Lough to Kilkeel, but the one sign was confusing to Silent Valley, so we ended up driving along the Irish Sea longer than we should have. I turned on my data roaming for some GPS help and found Mountain Rd poorly signed back in Kilkeel, then we found Silent Valley easily. It is a big reservoir that has picnic areas & walking paths with a little cafe. I was confused by the description calling Ben Crom as just the other reservoir instead of the mountain above it, so I thought the shuttle bus would get us to the top of the mountain, but it was only the reservoir, so I gave up on walking the boring paved road all the way there. I wanted to get some height to see the Irish Sea from the Mourne Mountains, so we found a footpath on the far side of the Silent Valley reservoir, and went up past an old quarry pond until we could see the sea. Yay! :)

We made it to Belfast by 5:30pm, noticing the different UK-style road markings and license plates along the way, and with the help of some GPS again found the Somerton Guest House in the north suburbs of Belfast. We drove downtown with a glowing recommendation for the Cloth’s Ear at the Merchant hotel, but at 6:45 they had already run out of food from such a busy day! Then we tried the other recommendation for John Hewitt but they were closed until 8pm for a special event, so we ended up at a hotel restaurant on the corner…where we didn’t get menus, weren’t told about the specials that we probably would have ordered, then what I did order was out! Our food that we did get was fine, then we thought we’d try for dessert at a wine bar around the corner with wifi…but they just stopped serving and wouldn’t even serve us a port! We both thought that Belfast had better shape up soon to make a better impression on us!

At least it had stopped raining by then, and we had parked near Belfast Cathedral, so we strolled around by the clock tower and some nicer old buildings down to Victoria Square shopping center where even Starbucks was already closed at 8:30pm, but the Kitchen Bar was still open. Cyd tasted a Belfast Black dry stout and I had a Magners cider, what Bulmers is called anywhere outside of the Republic of Ireland, and the bartenders there were nice & chatty, even giving us free tastes of Piranha apple schnapps and premium Midleton whiskey. Such began the redemption of Belfast in our eyes! They were closing up at 9pm already, but they told us the Garrick was open late down the street, and Johnny the bartender said he’d walk us down there himself. We walked through the fancy new shopping center, which included the first Apple store I’ve seen in Ireland. I stopped to take a photo and the guy on his phone on the upper floor saw me & gave me a thumbs up. Haha! I joked I should have been taking the photo with my iPhone to really impress him. πŸ˜‰ Johnny bought a round for us at Garricks, stayed for awhile to chat, but then had to head home, but the bartenders there were also fun to chat with. I found bottled Swedish cider I recognized from my 2007 trip, and the elderflower/lime flavor was quite nice. Cyd tried a Guinness black lager, only being test marketed in Ireland and Malaysia, but it was so horrible she didn’t finish it…so you are warned if you ever see it for sale! A bunch of drunker young people came in, and I had my second session of concentration on my chestal area, this time was “nice tits” from a guy who had practically fallen in the doorway who claimed to be a hired escort and fantastic in bed but he fancied me so much he wouldn’t even charge me. Lovely! πŸ˜› After that was long past tiring telling him no he could not have a feel, two other blokes came up to chat with Cyd, so I was finally able to escape the other guy & chat with them until they left, a much more interesting conversation thankfully! We were still finishing up after the bar was officially closed, then found our way back to the car & back to the B&B by about 12:30, not bad for a slow Sunday evening in Belfast.

We’ve had another leisurely breakfast, longer than expected because of a nice chat with an older British couple, with many recommendations what else we could do both here & in Yorkshire. This has been two days now of complete strangers telling us to drive to Derry along the northern coast road, so that is the plan for today, including Giant’s Causeway, after a tour of the Titanic Centre in Belfast…but first we still have to get ready since we had breakfast before getting ready for the day!

a truly BIG day – Titanic’s Dock, Giant’s Causeway, Scottish Coast and Derry

14 September 2010

We finally were packed & on the road just before 11am, and made excellent time on the M2 & M3 over to the Titanic’s Dock center. The brick pump-house is still there next to the giant drydock where they assembled the Titanic…what a giant hole! It was almost like looking into Hoover Dam! There were guided tours of the pump-house, but after the tiny visitor center displays & video we felt we’d seen enough. We bought snacks & tea to get to 5 GBP to validate our parking since we didn’t pay for a tour. Then we were on our way out of town farther north along the Causeway Coast Road.

Two different sets of strangers over the past two days had recommended we take the scenic coast road to Derry and that it wouldn’t take more than a few hours, so we decided to try. It was still a gray morning, raining off & on, but we still had some nice views of the Irish Sea along the coast, and Cyd had a lot of fun driving on the windy roads. We took the cars-only road out to Cushendun, a cute little town actually protected by the National Trust, stopped to take photos, and even enjoyed a spot of tea. We could actually see the smudge of the Scotland coast through the hazy clouds over the sea!

More rural coastal driving, including stuck behind a tractor, and even a herd of sheep crossing the road! Too bad the sheepdog was behind them so you can’t see him in my photo. We stopped several times for photos, but the best view of Scotland was at Tor Corr, nicely signed for us across the road.

We kept going along the Torr Head road, finally seeing Torr Head in the distance but the sky had become mistier so not much Scotland to be seen when we found a signpost telling us what we could see. We stopped at a church right on the coast with a graveyard, but it was locked so only photos from outside the walls.

The weather kept getting worse, blustery with sideways rain, as we kept along the road to Giant’s Causeway, finally arriving about 4:15pm. Cheap fun since it was only 6 GBP to park, then since we walked down & up instead of paying for the shuttle bus, the rest was free! Boy was it windy! On the walk down I couldn’t get a photo without drops on my camera lens, and it was difficult to walk in the wind. With our hoods tied tightly around our faces, we looked like Kenny from South Park!

After a busload of people left, the rain stopped a bit, which made climbing and photos a little easier. Taking self-portraits is hard when the wind is trying to blow the camera out of your hands! We stayed around for awhile, seeing everything we could from all angles, and I traded cameras with a guy to get each other in the view. The wind was so strong getting back up the hill we had to really lean into it…talk about a workout! We even saw some “dulaman” seaweed…haha!

Since it had started raining again by the time we got back to the car, we took the faster inland roads to Derry, arriving by 7ish, resting for a bit, then heading down the hill past St Eugene’s Cathedral into the city centre to find food. I spotted another Halloween Shop but it was closed as were all the shops. O’Brien’s American Steakhouse looked hilarious with so many flags inside, and the hotel menus looked expensive or uninspiring, so we ended up at Flaming Jacks for standard international fare instead of traditional Irish, but plenty tasty. No cider on tap so I had another bottled Swedish cider while Cyd had her Guinness.

We were too full for dessert let alone another pint, so we strolled on top of the old city walls of Derry in the drizzle for awhile all the way around to St Columb’s Cathedral, draining my 2nd camera battery of the day with all my night shot shutter stabilization timer use, then headed back up the steep hill to Serendipity House…where thankfully the whole house wifi actually works in our room this time! We haven’t been having much luck with that, so we’ve been sitting in common areas a lot with the laptop.

I let Cyd use the laptop first since she hadn’t uploaded photos in so many days, but she kept falling asleep at the computer, and I was too tired myself, so we both got a good night’s sleep & were awake before the big bells sounded at 8am. Now for breakfast, old town Derry in the daylight, then the long drive back to Dublin to use up our Euros before heading to Leeds Wednesday morning!

Derry in daylight & drizzle…and Name Day!

14 September 2010

Ireland is so small that we can drive the length of the country in a day, so getting across half was verified by many to only take 4 hours. Using that estimate we figured we had time to see more of Derry in daylight & drizzle before heading on the road south again. We caught some blue skies between showers, and towards the end we got soaked so my jeans were wet most of the long drive, but we enjoyed the views from the walls, and could get all around including over Bishop’s Gate since none of the wall gates were locked.

Since the night before the area inside the walls looked dodgy with many rowdy drunk guys and borderline barfights, in daylight we finally strolled through the center by the war memorial and shops. We got back up on the wall on the bog side, then walked the stairs down the large grassy hillside and back up the other hill to our car.

We left Derry about noon, made really good time until a roadworks diversion, then caught up again so we were on the Dublin ring road about 2:30-3pm. Cyd was enjoying driving again so I didn’t argue. :) Since we had such good time plus some blue skies to the south, we headed for Brittas Bay south of Wicklow, through more tiny, curvy, single-lane country roads. The sunshine only stayed a little while, but I was glad for new photos at “my” bay since my 2006 visit. :)

Heading back up north again all around the Dublin M50 ring road, we finally found the Bewley’s Airport Hotel not quite as near the airport as described, dropped off all our luggage, paid for overnight parking with our room in advance, then headed back out to the Dublin city center, since we were on a mission to eat dinner at Foley’s Bar! With me driving this time, we found parking (8 Euro hotel parking + 10 Euro city parking = still less than 30 Euro cab ride EACH WAY since we already had the extra day charge for the car), we made it about 8pm in the door, with them still serving food…hooray! Cyd was very happy to not only have her Guinness but also her favorite ribeye sirloin! We were sitting in front of the old hand-pump taps that didn’t work anymore, but Cyd unsurprisingly kept playing with them. πŸ˜‰

After were nicely full of dinner, drinks & fun live music, we made our way back to the car by way of the Trinity College front statues, carved by J H Foley of London…nicely topping off our Foley evening after our Brittas Bay afternoon! :)

Sure hope we can get up early enough for our morning flight! Since we’ve already gone over into an extra day of rental car, we’re not returning it until the morning, and we’re staying about a 10 minute drive to the airport. Only an hour flight’s worth of nap for catch up before we spend the day in Leeds!

Lunch in Leeds, the Royal Armories & Dinner in Doncaster

15 September 2010

First to finish out Ireland, I have some fun statistics! We drove 457 km from Cork to Dingle to Shannon, rode on the bus for 1318 km on tour, then another 965 km around Northern Ireland…so that makes a grand total of 2740 km around Ireland in two weeks! Not too shabby!

We checked out of the hotel, got the rental car returned & in the shuttle to the airport all before 6am, but let’s just say I will never fly RyanAir again if an international trip’s worth of luggage is involved. First since we couldn’t print out our boarding passes ourselves they charged us more than the original airfare just to print those, then they forced us to check our carryons at the gate, to the tune of even more money since we had only prepaid one bag each. On top of that, we sat on the runway over an hour before finally taking off. Let that be a lesson to anyone else ever planning to fly to Ireland. Aer Lingus from Heathrow to Cork was much better, but they didn’t fly Dublin to Leeds unfortunately.

Leeds greeted us with solid gray skies and constant drizzle as we disembarked down the steps onto the tarmac, but at least our luggage was just coming out when we arrived at the carousel, and Janet was already waiting for us, so that was easy. She gave us a hand-drawn map of the area around her office, so we strolled around the shopping areas, including the Victorian enclosed arcades, City Market and the Corn Exchange, until meeting her & a co-worker for lunch.

I had a Strongbow cider (missing Bulmer’s already!) but unfortunately their Guinness tap was broken, so Cyd had to choose something else to drink! We had the pizza special, but even though we had never had any breakfast, we were both overly full by eating it all. After lunch, Janet went back to work while we walked along the canal over to the Royal Armories free museum.

The Royal Armories has several floors of exhibits which were all interesting, including Henry VIII’s armor masterpiece that was never used even for show, but I was most impressed by the complete set of elephant battle armor, the only one known, especially since before the museum it was housed at Powis Castle in Wales, one of the places we sang on the 2004 choir tour. :)

We spent the whole afternoon at the armories, and Cyd loved Henry’s Horned Helmet, Henry VIII’s helmet for jousting that was used at the musem logo, but she was disappointed by the lack of the logo in the gift shop, so she pouted with the sign out front. We walked back the other side of the canal, where I saw my first water lilies actually blooming, making it back on time to meet Janet for drinks with some of her co-workers for a couple rounds before her husband was off work & drove the half an hour to their house in Doncaster. Cyd was 0 for 2 since this bar didn’t ever serve Guinness at all! She was glad she had her daily Guinness after midnight at the hotel bar before we left Ireland. πŸ˜‰

At their house in Doncaster, Janet & Chris made a delicious Chicken Kiev dinner with carrots and roasted potatoes with sausage, and even chocolate cake for dinner. I am so stuffed! They have wifi but have no idea what the password is, so I have to wait until Cyd is done with their computer so I can unplug it to use the connection. Good thing there aren’t many photos to upload today! I’m hoping to catch some photos of their kitties eventually, since Elsie is a cute shorthair black cutie, and Walden is a hefty guy, black as well. Gwen is black & white, shyer so far so I’ve only had a glimpse of her peeking at us from up the stairs.

The two hours sleep has caught up to me, so a shower and bed is in order soon…tomorrow’s forecast is more rain, so we’re planning on a castle & a manor house since they’re mostly inside sightseeing. Janet & Chris are fun company, and they are very generous letting us stay with them, but I think Cyd & I are already missing Ireland…her especially because of the unexpected lack of Guinness today! πŸ˜‰

Day Out in Derbyshire

16 September 2010

We headed to Derbyshire today for two stately homes, Bolsover Castle an Hardwick Hall. We got lucky with only a few showers off & on with some blue skies & sunshine peeking out sometimes. Bolsover Castle (pronounced “Bowser” for some unknown reason) has ruins as well as the well-preserved Little Castle, built as an idealized miniature version representing chivalry & castles of old.

The Little Castle is very well-preserved, especially all the wall & ceiling paintings, which are amazingly detailed with vivid colors. Much of the gilded paneling is still bright, and no surprise that I liked the aqua ceiling in the Star Room. πŸ˜‰

We had an audio tour so I was surprised when inside one “closet” off the Star Room there was recorded music playing…an instrumental version of the Round of Three Country Dances sung on the bus on tour that I learned 20 years ago! I recorded some video to hear the music with the paintings that featured a musical theme.

We enjoyed seeing everything, then of course we had to visit the gift shop. They had tastings of mead & elderflower wine, the first white wine Cyd has enjoyed, and they had Henry’s Horned Helmet as a keychain! We also found out that Bank of Ireland pounds aren’t accepted, and neither of us had realized that the same ATM in Newry had given me all Bank of England notes but all Bank of Ireland to Cyd. Before she changed them at a local bank in town, I took a photo, since the designs were much more elaborate. We also stopped at the antique store right by the parking lot, where I found a small apothecary bottle for my Halloween laboratory collection, and a tiny hardback 1888 edition of Shakespeare’s Henry IV.

It was already past 1:30pm with only toast for breakfast, so we were definitely hungry. We went to the Hardwick Inn next to Hardwick Hall, and to my wonderful surprise they had Addlestones cider on tap – my inspiration to start homebrewing! Addlestones is the cider I first tasted in 2004 that I’ve only been able to find at the Windsor Castle Pub in Notting Hill, London, until today! Since I knew there was no way we can get to that pub before we fly home, I’m very glad I had the chance for an Addlestones this trip! I enjoyed a full pint with my steak & stilton pie. Cyd decided to taste a local bitter beer instead of having Guinness, but when given the choice of chips, potatoes or rice with her cottage pie and she chose rice, the waitress and Chris both were horrified & asked 3 times if she was sure! Cottage pie already has mashed potatoes, so she didn’t want more of the same, but I guess gravy with rice is a huge shock. I see no problem with gravy on rice either. She enjoyed her lunch regardless of the reaction. πŸ˜‰

After lunch we toured Hardwick Hall, built by Bess of Hardwick, childhood & lifelong friend of Queen Elizabeth and 2nd most powerful woman of the Elizabethan Age. We even saw the “keys to the castle” at the gatehouse when we paid our entrance fee. :) Very impressive house, reminiscent in style to Chatsworth House, which was owned by the same family. This house has the largest collection of textiles & tapestries in England and in the best condition, so those were beautiful to see.

The wood table in the great hall was a masterpiece of inlay work, showing various amusements, including playable game boards, musical instruments and even sheet music. I took lots of interior photos, especially of the tapestries, since one day I want to either paint or make my own tapestry, but I just haven’t figured out what design yet. :)

The Long Gallery was quite impressive, and there were several “please touch” children’s exhibits along the way, so Chris & Cyd had to assemble the portrait puzzles, and Janet & Cyd dressed up in frilled collars and jewels, posing with their best portrait faces. πŸ˜‰ The painted hangings were stunning, and a lady next to me commented in awe “you rarely see painted hangings since most of them have deteriorated” so nice to be able to see those, even if only a quick photo to appreciate later. We were already warned that the house was closing in 15 minutes with the tea shop closing soon afterwards, and all the senior citizens on a bus tour moved faster than ever to make it to tea in time. Pretty funny! We did have tea ourselves with scones & clotted cream…yum!

We left the house in drizzle to see the gardens, then it cleared up a bit for a last few photos before we got in the car to head back to Janet & Chris’ brick house in the Doncaster suburbs for spaghetti dinner. Just yesterday I was commenting about how many rainbows we saw in Ireland, but that all my time spent in the UK since my first visit in 1996 I had only seen a rainbow in Scotland, never England…then today from the car we saw a rainbow! Maybe that will mean good weather luck for Whitby tomorrow? πŸ˜‰

Windy Whitby

17 September 2010

Since it’s a 2 hour drive from Doncaster, we left for Whitby just after 9am, driving through the North York Moors covered in blooming heather & gorse. The bright blue skies of Doncaster were high gray clouds by Whitby, but the winds were blowing enough that we got some blue skies before we left. We headed for the abbey at the top of the hill first, up the 199 steps to St Mary’s Church and graveyard, then further up the hill pathway, with lovely views of the crashing waves at the coast.

The Whitby Abbey ruins are stunning, especially the carvings and the checkerboard colors of stone in the columns. It must have been glorious in its heyday, but the monastery was closed by Henry VIII of course, like all the rest. We strolled the grounds, barely hearing the audio tour for the blustery winds, but it wasn’t nearly as windy as Giant’s Causeway! Working around the groundskeeping crew was a bit difficult for good photos. πŸ˜‰

After we’d seen enough of the abbey ruins, we went back to the church, which is where Count Dracula attacked Mina Harker while she was sitting on a bench in the graveyard overlooking the sea in the original novel Dracula. The gravestones are very weathered from the constant wind, but quite a nice view. Funnily enough inside the church they have a sign posted, since they’re obviously tired of questions over the years. πŸ˜‰

After walking down all 199 steps again, we ate a light lunch at the Duke of York pub, fresh Whitby crab sandwich for me – yum! Cyd was back to Guinness, but I only have a half pint in the photo since they didn’t have good cider on tap, so I didn’t want to waste my calories on Woodpecker. πŸ˜‰ This was a new style of Guinness glass, with an embossed harp design, so I tried to take photos showing it.

We had about an hour left on the parking limit, so we strolled around the shops a bit, where I couldn’t resist trying some Dracula’s Dream Fudge with “bloody” strawberry with dark chocolate, and found an official Dracula sequel on sale for 2 GBP so figured it was worth a read as a souvenir even if the story was crap. πŸ˜‰ We looked at a lot of nice Whitby jet jewelry, all too expensive for me, but I found gorgeous costume jewelry rhinestone spiders! The large ones were too big and 46 GBP, and there was no black in the medium size that would have been perfect, so I just got a small one instead for 22 GBP, still steep for costume jewelry, but I took photos of the others. At the end of the street, I saw a poster for “Bram(ble) Stoker” ice cream, so I had to try. Very tasty blueberry & blackberry combination with white chocolate fangs…haha! They created the flavor for the big annual Halloween Goth festival last year, but when they took it off the menu, people begged for it, so now it’s a staple. :)

We got back to Doncaster by around 5pm, I started reading the sequel “Dracula: The Un-Dead” while Cyd kept reading the original she bought in Whitby 4 years ago on her first trip, then after a pizza dinner I finally saw the Ricky Gervais Extras Christmas special from several years ago since Janet & Chris have it on DVD. More poignant & serious moments than I expected from Extras (well I shouldn’t have been that surprised seeing how the 2nd series ended), but plenty of gut-busting laughs from me! Glad I was able to see it!

Except for a church luncheon for the harvest festival, we don’t have much scheduled tomorrow, so perhaps it’ll be a relaxing day? We’ll see!

A Relaxing Saturday

18 September 2010

It was nice to not have to rush in the morning, so even after sleeping in, I was ready for the day well before 11am, knowing we were going to the church luncheon. Chris’ mother drove over to walk with us to the lunch, but also to collaborate on the weekly crossword, since her cousins call her to gloat on Sunday evenings. Janet, Chris & Cyd had been working all morning with various resources and had already gotten much farther than his mother, then we all tried some more before strolling through the neighborhood to the lunch at the Methodist church. I think it’s the tiniest church I’ve ever been in, and the parish hall for the lunch was also tiny, the size of one Sunday school room or nursery in other churches back home. The lunch was tasty, quiche, baked potato with grated cheese, baked beans, and green salad with no dressing, then a choice of chocolate or strawberry cake for dessert. Before it was served we had several quizzes, like pub quizzes, one for church etiquette that was more just funny, one about agriculture we did horribly on, but Chris’ mother knows a lot of flower common names, so between all 5 of us contributing at least one answer that stumped the others, we got 31 of 33 on the flower quiz! No prize except knowing we’re the best! haha…After we walked back there was some more crossword collaboration, then we said our goodbyes to Chris’ mother as she went home.

Elsie the black kitty has now let me pet her a few times, but Gwen is still running past as quickly as she can. However, Walden is Mr Friendly, with a purr you can hear across the room. He attacks the two shy girls though, so it’s a matter of shutting off certain doors to let Walden run around rooms Elsie & Gwen aren’t in, or putting Walden back in the furnished garage in his own “suite.” Walden is such a big heavy boy! He’s at least twice the weight of Onyx. He was a neighborhood cat for several years, but was hit by a car, then when the whole neighborhood kept trying to catch him for several days to take him to a vet since they could tell he was hurt badly, he chose Janet & Chris by strolling into their house for help, lame paw hanging from the wrist and one eye stuck open and blind, and has stayed with them ever since. He does quite well now limping along, since the vet tested that he can’t feel the paw and the tendons don’t work at all, but he can put a bit of weight on it and uses it to wash himself just fine. Not sure you can really tell how large he is but here are some photos.

We lounged the afternoon away playing with Walden and watching an Eddie Izzard standup video even Cyd hadn’t seen, which was pretty funny, then we changed into better clothes for our dinner out at the art deco Earl of Doncaster, a favorite of Janet & Chris. We drove past the church I performed at in 2004 on the Choral Project tour, and the restaurant was very cool. Nicely done decor, and even though it goes with the theme, I’m not quite sure about the GOLD-painted Steinway piano! No one was playing tonight, but they have TV screens that play classic movies in the background. Tonight was the original Sunset Boulevard, which is still on my list to see. Cyd had Guinness again, but since they had a classic cocktail menu, I had a champagne cocktail and a Kir Royale, while Janet had a Cosmo and some white wine. Our dinner was excellent! Cyd & I enjoyed the black pudding salad starter, with poached duck egg on top, and I was the only one not full to bursting since I had a risotto starter as my entree instead of a full main dish. I had room for sticky toffee pudding so Cyd finally was able to taste some. We still haven’t seen spotted dick on menus anywhere for her to try though!

Our hosts have already pooped out & gone to bed at 9:30pm, so Cyd & I are on separate computers, which means I’m waiting my turn to get access to the single ethernet port on the router. Tomorrow sounds like it’ll be a couple more National Trust or English Heritage sites in the rain, especially because we’ve borrowed Chris’ mother’s lifetime membership cards, so that we’ll only have to pay one ticket anywhere we go. :)

A Byronic Journey

19 September 2010

We had a delicious cooked breakfast this morning even with black pudding, then headed in the car for Newstead Abbey, the ancestral home of the poet Lord Byron. He only lived there a few years, and the previous lord had close to bankrupt the estate, so he couldn’t improve it, so it was his bachelor pad for “wild parties,” with practice shooting in the great hall, and using the dining room as a gym. He finally had to sell to his friend who was able to improve it, then it was taken care of through different families since then, now as a tourist center, so most rooms are more recent than the poet’s time, but they have a few rooms furnished as he did, including the pistol at his bedside.

Byron loved animals, dogs especially, and there is a large monument in the gardens for his Newfoundland called Boatswain (“bosun”). Quite the inscription, and the poor dog only lived 5 years. I had never seen these fairytale mushrooms in real life before, so both Chris & I got artsy in the wet grass trying to get this photo. πŸ˜‰ Speaking of Chris, he found a goose wing feather & did his best brooding Byron pose on a garden bench…haha! We strolled around the entire large gardens, finding this waterfall in the Japanese section, then started the tour inside the house.

Having heard so much about Byron’s many sordid love affairs with both persuasions, it was funny to see this sign! Also this gilded bed was his bed at school in Cambridge…did your college dorm beds ever look like this? haha…I took a billion photos of the books in the library for Halloween research, and the cases were very interesting telling about his life and showing original copies of his works. There was even an interactive area to dress up! Hilarious since on the drive Janet had been asking why didn’t we bring our puffy poet shirts to wear today. Here I am doing my best brooding Byron pose in a puffy shirt & hooded cloak! πŸ˜‰

We left the abbey and drove a little ways to Southwell, where Byron grew up before living at Newstead Abbey. We had tea & snacks at a little deli, went to Southwell Minster where we could hear the organ & choir since evening services were going on, but I didn’t pay the permit fee for inside photos, so I took some video with my camera in my bag just for the sound. πŸ˜‰ We stopped in the one shop still open on a Sunday afternoon, quite a challenge in these smaller towns, and I splurged on honeycomb and toffee ice cream at the sweet shop. Very tasty!

We drove back to Janet & Chris’ house, turned on the oven, then strolled down to their local pub for a pint. By the time we finished & walked back, the oven timer was just going off, and dinner was delicious stuffed pork loins with roasted potatoes. We watched The School of Rock since not even Cyd had seen that before, and it was more entertaining than I expected, quite cute really, reminding me a bit like Sister Act. Worth a rental but not full theatre price. :)

Tomorrow is our last day before going home, and we’re still deciding where to go…either a local brewery tour (no they don’t make ciders) or a medieval park & funky pub. Then it’s repacking since we have to leave 7am to catch our train to London to get to Heathrow for our afternoon flight home. Sure glad I have a whole day to recuperate before going back to work!

Lincolnshire for our Last Day

20 September 2010

Our last day in England started out gloomy again, but by the time we toured Gainsborough Hall, blue skies had appeared! Gainsborough Hall is an old Tudor manor house, complete with the wonkiest sagging timbers I’ve ever seen Can you see how it tilts inward? I’m surprised some of the upper floors didn’t have things rolling around the floors were so angled! There were two groups of young kids there, all dressed up with costumed docents, so that was fun. I was sad none of the clothes were grown-up sized, but Chris did stick a jester hat on my head while I was listening to the audio tour, then a complete stranger walking by separately said “It suits you” just after Chris had said the same…haha…Janet found another jester hat & attempted to juggle, then she insisted Cyd & I pose with the papier-mache Henry VIII.

We went all the way up the tower steps for a nice view of the town. Even though none of the furniture is original to the hall, they have it all set up with props & fake food, which was fun, especially the huge kitchen, one of the best preserved Tudor kitchens.

From Gainsborough we drove to a pub along the river called the Jenny Wren, another favorite of Janet & Chris when taking visitors around. I enjoyed a fish pie, with smoked haddock, salmon & shrimp with mashed potatoes on top. Delicious! We all had bread & butter pudding with proper custard for dessert too, since we knew this was our main meal of the day. Cute pub with all sorts of fun things hanging from the beams, and Country Life magazines to browse, seeing which manor houses or country homes were our favorites. Cyd liked the ones in France or Italy, but my favorite was a 14th century Oxfordshire ivy-covered stone gatehouse with a spiral stone staircase “in need of refurbishment” on 26.5 acres…but I’d still rather build my own small castle in the Bay Area hills instead! πŸ˜‰

From the pub we drove to Epworth, to the rectory where John Wesley grew up, the founder of the Methodist church. We had a personal guided tour from a very knowledgeable older gentleman, and since I didn’t know much about the origins of the Methodist church, I learned a lot. We also browsed the gardens a bit, still thankful for the sunshine!

Since we were still full from our pub lunch, we strolled around Epworth, up to St Andrew’s Church with its large graveyard (yes, lots of Halloween research), and Samuel Wesley’s tomb, where John Wesley preached when they wouldn’t let him preach inside the church. Then we strolled through the rest of town, past a cute brick house with fabulous flowers, down to the Wesley Memorial Methodist Church from the late 1800s.

Tonight was a light dinner of soup, with a large variety of cheeses, apples & salami while watching Monday night quiz shows on BBC, then Cyd went to the computer while the rest of us watched Chuck…heehee! Not the season premiere, since as I’m writing this that still hasn’t aired yet, but they’re not too far behind, only a few episodes from the season 3 finale. We have to leave the house before 7:30am to get to the train station on time, then it’ll be a long travel day all the way to London by train, from Kings Cross to Paddington, then to Heathrow before we get on the long plane ride home!

home again!

22 September 2010

I didn’t expect so much to post about today, but I had my first tea on a train from a tea trolley, found my favorite peach schnapps never available in the USA at Heathrow duty-free, and for our last “pub” drink picture of our trip, I even found a new cider Old Rosie’s cloudy scrumpy that tastes suspiciously like my homebrew, perhaps the same strain of British ale yeast! Well it tasted like my homebrew about a week extra fermenting than the flavor I prefer, but definitely better than Strongbow or Blackthorn. :)

Our flight was delayed a whole hour because the plane didn’t arrive on time, but after they tried to sell us an upgrade to Economy Plus for more leg room, I’m glad we didn’t bother, since we had one of the upgraded 777s on the way home today, with the enhanced on-demand entertainment AND enough leg room my knees did not touch the seat in front of me…amazing! When walking past it didn’t look like any more leg room than the Economy Plus seats.

I watched 3 movies & slept a bit since I could lean on the wall at the window seat, then since they were trying to make up time, they had enough re-routes that we were coming in directly south into San Francisco, on a clear day so it was a gorgeous view of the Golden Gate and the whole bay! I’d never flown in that direction, at least not in daylight or without fog, and it was a very nice welcome home!