Travels with MaryE

Most things I love best are about good light and good timing. That's where the adventures start. Don't be in no hurry here. Here you'll find a little bit about bluegrass music, fox hunting, life on the road, time on the mountain, and a whole lot about other things, too.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Colours (Ireland, Part 2)

Maybe it's because they have so much "soft" weather in Ireland (some folks call it rain) but one thing you'll notice almost anywhere you travel in Ireland is the colourful (or colorful for you Americans!) look of most storefronts and even many doors and windows on houses. While the favourite colour for the exterior walls of bungalows seems to be white (which may be said in America, too) travelling through Ireland put me in mind of an earlier time in my life....the colourful Bahamas. Well, the climate wasn't a match, but the colours were. Now did the Bahamians get the colour scheme from the Empire? Or did the Empire nick it from the Bahamians? I'll probably never know.

So, long story short, when in Ireland you'll be dazzled by the brilliant colours (set off by the often dreary weather). My sister and I were pretty fortunate during our seven days in the west and northwest of Ireland -- we had fairly good weather. Cool, windy, yes -- but not much wet weather, and a couple of days the sun was so warm that the cattle and sheep were lazing around with their legs thrown out as far as they could. They were plumb thrilled to be working on their tans. There's simply nothing like a happy cow.

'Course just like here in Wales there were lambs a-plenty (not as many as in Radnorshire, and though I never thought I'd be saying this -- our ground is a lot better than most of what I saw in Ireland, though admittedly I wasn't in the areas known for farming) and they were enjoying their youth (ignorance is bliss, most of them won't be around all that long) and it was nice to see some other breeds of sheep over in Ireland. They'd have to be pretty hardy and water-resistant! Most lambing in the areas we visited is done out in the wild, not in the relative comfort of a farm building, and those ewes have to be hardy! Lambs seem to have play cycles, and sis and I enjoyed the merriment of watching them spring straight up in the air and start spinning around and then running to play King of the Mountain on some little tump.

Oh yeah this was supposed to be about Ireland and colour, not lambs in springtime. Okay. While sis and I tried our darnedest to stay out of towns and cities we did spend about an hour in Galway (getting Euros and buying some food) which seemed like a nice city. We didn't stay. The other two towns we spent time in were Ennis (the last night) and Westport. Sadly we just didn't stay long enough in Westport, but it gets my vote as the nicest largish town I visited during the week -- plenty of good music at Matt Malloy's pub there on one of the main streets. Plenty of colour on all the storefronts, and a lot of people out enjoying themselves. We had a wonderful Italian meal at a little bistro just a few steps away from Matt Malloy's and the waiter did a wonderful job of chatting us up for a big tip!

While the brochures and tourist offices advertise "live traditional Irish music every night" what you'll find is that they probably mean during high tourist season (June through August); we did find a couple of small sessions, but nothing really astonishing (seems like every town we got to we heard, "you should have been here last night - we had a great session at the pub"). Our first night we spent in Doolin, County Clare, after passing a lovely sunny afternoon walking the streets of Ennistymon then visiting the Cliffs of Moher. Yep, it's a tourist trap (it costs 8 Euros to park your car!) but it's well worth it __on a nice day__ and the cliffs are spectacular. If I had it to do again I'd go there in the late afternoon when the sun is nicest...we arrived at high noon and made the best of it. Plenty of walking and beautiful seascapes to see and photograph.

One thing I've noticed in looking at my photos is how few people are in them. Usually I travel alone and tend to chat with a lot more people. In the company of my sister we tended to visit rather with each other!

Many folks warned me that it takes forever to travel in Ireland because the roads are so bad, but that really wasn't true. Apparently the EU has pumped a lot of money into Ireland's roads, at least that's what I'm told. At any rate, I found the roads better in most cases than those I travel in America (though there are a fair few maniacal drivers in Ireland, a little frightening coming around those blind bends on MY side of the road). Sis and I chose to take the back, back roads in many cases, or at least to avoid the "N" roads as much as possible (the biggest roads, at least one full lane each side plus even a shoulder sometimes). And it's true that I felt extra-safe because I was driving a brand new Toyota Rav4 (and I can't rave enough about how great a vehicle that is!)

And in case you're wondering this last photo is peat cut out and drying in the sun. I'm told it takes a couple of weeks of good weather (that may be a couple of years!!) to dry and then it is burned like wood or coal for heat. What were you thinking this was?????
Stay tuned for another epidsode...

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Life Is NOT A Bed of Roses (An Irish Journey)

While I need to be doing other things (earning some money) my many fans (of which there were exactly two at last count) urge me to write about my recent trip to Ireland. Here goes.

I won't bore you with all the details about the train to Birmingham (really nice, fast and clean) or my inability to figure out how to get from the train station to the Birmingham Airport, which I could see (the English can be sorely lacking in the area of signage) but couldn't seem to escape to. Finally, though, I boarded what looked like a brand new RyanAir Boeing 737 Series 800 (for you plane afficionados) and just a short hour later we touched down at Shannon Airport (near Limerick in the west of Ireland).

Now there's not a lot to do around Shannon at 11 pm on a Tuesday night and I'd wisely booked a hotel room right there at the Park Inn. Or so I thought. I mean the term "wisely" came into question a few moments after checking in. The first room I was given a key to had twin beds. Back to the desk, explaining I'd reserved a double bed. Next room was about a mile down the hallway (I am NOT exaggerating) and in trying to keep my luggage light (RyanAir only allows 15kg checked baggage and 10 kg carryon) I didn't have any wheels on now, arriving at the 2nd room of the night I was getting pretty red-faced and wheezy. I opened the door and a blast of heat slapped me right across the face...thinking I was imagining things, I walked into the room and set my bags down on the double bed. I'd been wrong. It was hotter than HELL in there, hotter than a sauna!!! Walked back down to the front desk and explained to this man from some other country where mongooses are prevalent that it must be 130 degrees in my room, no exaggeration and he tells ME to stick my hand into some dark place on the underside of the radiator and turn the knob. Well, being a cooperative sort (at least at this point) I attempted to do just that, but nothing changed. He'd told me to wait 15 minutes and then if it still wasn't cool enough in there he'd come down and adjust the heat (these were OLD radiators).

I guess it might have been five minutes and I was drenched in sweat and wanting a cold shower when I walked to the desk again and told the man that the room simply was not acceptable, did he have another that was cooler than 100 degrees since I needed a good nights' sleep.

He graciously told me that since I'd had so much trouble he'd give me a "deluxe" room at no extra charge. There was a hitch, was on the next floor, but no lift went to that room so we trudged up and down several hallways to get to it. By now I was fit to be tied and wondering why the *&@! I'd chosen Ireland as a holiday destination. But the room turned out to be (well, deluxe wouldn't be what I'd call it) a lot cooler and roomier and finally I was free to actually get some sleep in a decent environment.

After all that up and down, running around do you know I spent the night TRYING to sleep but not succeeding. But never mind. The next seven nights in Ireland turned out easy by comparison!

This is going to be a long story so I'd better break it up. Suffice it to say that my eight nights in Ireland, with the exception of the first, were quite enjoyable, the air travel was superb (there are no frills at all on RyanAir, but the staff are pleasant and helpful and hey, we arrived safely!) and the price was very right. RyanAir is kind of like going back to the old days of air actually walk out onto the tarmac, sometimes for long distances, and actually climb the steps into the plane! Something nostalgic about that. Reminds me of 1960s photos of famous people stepping off planes with big grins and a wave for the crowd gathered below.

Coming back from Ireland (yes, I'll tell you about some of the things I saw in Ireland, but this post is centered around travel it seems) there was an Irish man who had definitely been in his pints for a good while. I had the distinct impression he hadn't done a lot of flying (neither have I) and every step of the way through security the man threw a fit! Why he wasn't detained or arrested I'm not sure (maybe they could tell he was pissed). I thought he was going to hit someone when they made him take off his coat, his belt and his shoes. The man took some serious offense ("do I look like a bloody criminal??") ("this is like the Gestapo") and said he wasn't some terrorist. Never mind that every person before and after him had to take off their shoes and coats, remove cell phones and laptops and the like. No, they were picking on him! Coming into Birmingham, I ended up again (gee, aren't I lucky) walking out near this same man -- a redhead, LOL, throwing a fit and saying they'd better not mess with him again on the way out. Silly me. I tried to reason with the guy (he nearly knocked me over with his alcohol breath); just be quiet, only speak when spoken to (hah! I should follow my own advice more often) and go along with them. They are not singling him out; it is for his own safety, blah, blah, and he finally quieted down a bit.

Anyway, I titled this "Life is NOT a Bed of Roses" because of something I saw at the Famine Museum on Doagh Isle, away on up on the Inishowen Peninsula in Co Donegal, the northernmost part of Ireland. I was asking around for places to go and see some of the wee thatched cottages that, in my mind, represent the "real" Ireland (and those cottages are few and far between these days!) and I was sent to this museum. My sister and I spent a great couple of hours touring through the cottages and the quite amazing folk arty collection of this and that owner Pat O'(something) has amassed and created. Pat hisownself led the tour of the museum and was chock full of some of the most incredible trivia and facts I've ever been subjected to (in a good way). I learned more about Irish Wakes than I could ever have hoped to know, and that is just one of the topics covered. I think Pat is a man who never sits idle, and his fine museum shows it. While you'll learn about the terrible famine there, it is so much more than a bunch of facts about a terrible time in Irish history. Go there; you'll be glad you spent the 7 euros to do so (initially I was thinking what could they possibly show me that was worth 7 euros, but it really is!) So here's to the Bed of Roses.....thanks, Pat!