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The sky is crying

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Karlsruhe

Karlsruhe Botanical Gardens when the sky isn’t crying

At least that is what my friend Ursula says when it rains here in Germany. It is Friday the 17th and we have been back in Karlsruhe since last Sunday night. Tomorrow morning we will catch an ICE train to Frankfort Airport and fly home. I know we are tired of hotel rooms, eating out, and missing the 4-legged’s that give us so much joy.

It has also turned cold again with the rain which has put a slight damper on my knockin’ about Karlsruhe the last few days. Regardless of getting drenched every day because I don’t have enough sense to carry an umbrella and yes, I have one (they are a pain to carry around when it is not raining) I managed to visit my favorite little brew house three times this week. I discovered white asparagus, love it, and found out Der Vogelbrau serves some mighty fine soups- one of them being asparagus and the other a leek and I can’t decide which I like better. Doesn’t really matter when it is chilly enough to wear a wool sweater and scarf as either of them will do.

I know some of you would like to see more pictures and I am aware that I haven’t finished Ireland yet but I promise to do so next week when I am home comfortably in my computer chair at my desk with a dog or two at my feet.

It has been a fantastic adventure this trip. I made two new friends, one here in Germany and the other from Houston here with her daughter. Kris and I spent time with our favorite Dutchman. We met his lovely family, had a nice walk on the beach, and enjoyed a delicious home cooked meal.

So until next time- love and hugs,

Karen

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Ireland- Mysteries with History

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There are some places you read about that encourage your imagination to reach beyond its borders of imagery. Brú na Bóinne located outside the village of Dunore by the River Boyne did this to mine. To be completely honest, I didn’t really have much thought about where our travels in Ireland might take us until I started reading “Ireland” by Frank Delaney. Kris had found it in her search for more Irish history and loved it. The book is written in the oral tradition of passing down history merging myth with fact by an itinerant storyteller. One of the first chapters tells of “The Architect” of Newgrange and it completely captured my imagination. Though we may never know the absolute truth of one of the oldest constructions in history, the story about the architect caught me up completely so I was delighted to visit Brú na Bóinne with Kris. Here is a link to read more about the author Frank Delaney and his writings on Ireland- http://frankdelaney.com/index.php

From everything we had heard and read about the ancient site we knew there was a possibility that we may not be able to get tickets due to the specific count of tourists allowed on each appointment. That and the chance of rain could hamper our chances to see this monumental piece of history but once again we were blessed by arriving around 2:00 on Friday the 3rd of May just in time to buy tickets for the next to last tour of the day for Knowth and Newgrange.  The weather looked manageable but there is always the chance of rain in Ireland but this was of no concern to us. The only way to visit the prehistoric monuments is to take the shuttle bus assigned to your ticket from the visitor center (which is quite nice with its presentation of history and archaeological facts). This means even if the weather threatens and trust me it will, you have a safe haven once you are back inside the shuttle bus.

Kris and I choose to visit both Knowth and Newgrange which entail about a 45 minute to hour tour of each. Visitors are allowed into a small passage open on Knowth but that is all due to damage and instabilities inside the great passage tomb. On the other hand, you are allowed to walk on top of Knowth which is an incredibly windy but stunning view. There are a few of the smaller grassy mounds surrounding Knowth available to view and the River Boyne is in the background of all this magnificence. Small groups of visitors are allowed to enter into the small passage and chamber in Newgrange with the tour guide. If you are claustrophobic I’d suggest you don’t do this.  Newgrange is most notable for the small opening or ‘roof box’ right above the passage entrance. “At dawn on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year (December 21st) and for a number of days before and after, a shaft of sunlight enters the chamber through an opening in the roof box.” – (excerpt from http://www.worldheritageireland.ie/bru-na-boinne/built-heritage/newgrange/). Each guide reenacts this spiritual event for the group of visitors by turning off all light for a few moments. It is incredible. For more info click on the previous link to read more. No pictures allowed inside the passage and chamber but I am sure you understand why.

I will admit that once again I was thankful for my wool hat and that my dear Kris was wearing her Aran Islands sweater as the wind has a chill like no other I am aware of in Ireland. Regardless of the wind and a few drops of rain we returned to the shuttle center and hopped on our next bus to Newgrange. The center is not very far from the passage tomb sites but the area is populated with local homes and farms.The organized tours help to keep the tourist off the narrow lanes and protect the integrity of the area. I am sure the locals appreciate the fact that tourists aren’t traipsing through their fields and meadows too.

Making sure the inconsistencies of my account of the history about  Brú na Bóinne don’t leave you lacking for information, here is an official UNESCO site link to read more http://www.worldheritageireland.ie/bru-na-boinne/

Images of Brú na Bóinne:

The Knowth site and the smaller passage tombs surrounding it.

The Knowth site and some of the smaller passage tombs surrounding it.

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Walking on top of Knowth

Walking on top of Knowth

Once I access the pics Kris took of Knowth, I will post them. Knowth is the largest chamber and covers almost an acre.

Once I access the pics Kris took of Knowth, I will post them. Knowth is the largest chamber and covers almost an acre.

Newgrange. More popular because one is able to enter into the passageway and chamber.

Newgrange. More popular because one is able to enter into the passageway and chamber.

The entrance to the chamber. See the light box above door?

The entrance to the chamber. See the roof box above door? This is where the light enters on the Winter Solstice.

The view looking away from Newgrange. The little specks in the distance are sheep.

The view looking away from Newgrange. The little specks in the distance are sheep.

Another view from the passage tomb of Newgrange.

Another view from the passage tomb of Newgrange.

Thatched roof house around the bend when we left the Boyne Valley that afternoon heading towards Dublin.

Thatched roof house around the bend when we left the Boyne Valley that afternoon heading towards Dublin.

So, ladies and gentlemen- have you had enough of Ireland yet? If so, skip the next post because it will be the last leg of our Irish tour where we ended in Dublin. As soon as possible when Kris and I return home we plan on downloading all of the pictures from all of the devices and posting a visual salad of pictures not previously posted yet but that will be a couple of weeks.

So until the Dublin post, have a great day!

Karen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman

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Oops- wrong giant. This post is about another giant, the breathtaking Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland which is about a stones throw from the town of Bushmill. There is a legend of how the hexagonal columns came about concerning not one but two giants but scientists tell us that the basaltic columns we see today were created by intense volcanic activity some 50 to 60 million years ago. The legend though is a lot more fun than the science in my opinion.

There are a couple of versions regarding the giants legend but this is the gist of it. The Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill aka Finn MacCool was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Fionn took the challenge building the causeway across the North Channel to Scotland so they could meet for the fight. When Fionn sees how much larger Benandonner is than he, Fionn has his wife, Úna, disguise him as a baby and tuck him into a cradle. Apparently, when the giant Benandonner saw the size of the ‘baby’, he decides that its father, Fionn, must be a giant among giants. He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Fionn could not follow. Across on the other side where Benandonner lived are more of the basalt columns. So…..you figure it out.

Lodging in the town of Bushmill popular with the backpacking youth.

Lodging in the town of Bushmill popular with the backpacking youth.

Looking out the window of our room at the Causeway Inn.

Looking out the window of our room at the Causeway Inn.

Still part of our view from hotel but what you see when you walked to the edge.

Still part of our view from hotel but what you see when you walked to the edge.

And this is what you see when you put your camera over the edge.

And this is what you see when you put your camera over the edge.

The walk down to the Giant's Causeway.

The walk down to the Giant’s Causeway.

Some say this looks like the giants foot. Can you see his toes?

Some say this looks like the giants foot. Can you see his toes?

So I sat down for a break and looked at my feet...

So I sat down for a break and looked at my feet…

Kris is like a kid in a candy store with all the rocks.

Kris is like a kid in a candy store with all the rocks.

Pretty girl on the pretty rocks!

Pretty girl on the rocks

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Climb at your own risk. No signs telling you to be careful. They expect you to have common sense.

Climb at your own risk. No signs telling you to be careful. They expect you to have common sense.

The Atlantic is fierce here.

The Atlantic is fierce here.

The other side where not too many go due to severe chilly wind.

The other side where not too many go due to severe chilly wind.

View of Giant's Causeway from our hotel.

View of Giant’s Causeway from our hotel.

We drove around a bit and explored the countryside. The roads are narrow and the drop-offs are steep.

We drove around a bit and explored the countryside. The roads are narrow and the drop-offs are steep.

Great tour but no pictures allowed inside.Gotta protect the recipes.

Great tour but no pictures allowed inside.Gotta protect the recipes.

 

Toured the Old Bushmills Distillery. The young lady was our guide and the young man tended the bar at the end of the tour. We sampled a wee bit of whiskey sold only in Ireland from the distillery. A little goes a long way...

Toured the Old Bushmills Distillery. The young lady was our guide and the young man tended the bar at the end of the tour. We sampled a wee bit of whiskey sold only in Ireland from the distillery. A little goes a long way…

We checked out a few beaches along the coast but it was too cold for a dip in the ocean.

We checked out a few beaches along the coast but it was too cold for a dip in the ocean.

The beaches are quite nice. More basalt and lots of chalk rock too!

The beaches are quite nice. More basalt and lots of chalk rock too.

Explored the ruins of Dunlace Castle.

Explored the ruins of Dunlace Castle.

The castle had an excellent defensive position. Three sides sea and one really hard way in from land.

The castle had an excellent defensive position. Three sides sea and one really hard way in from land.

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Definitely a spectacular view if you lived there.

Definitely a spectacular view if you lived there.

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And then it was time to go south.

And then it was time to go south.

Back on the road knockin' about Ireland...

Back on the road knockin’ about Ireland…

We drove through Belfast but didn’t stop to tour because our goal was to get to the Boyne Valley and visit Newgrange before we ended our tour of Ireland in Dublin.

In the next post I’ll share the pictures of the passage tombs or more fittingly, the ancient temples that are older than Stonehenge in England and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. Constructed about 3,200 B.C. the mounds are only by guided tour from the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre on the south side of the river Boyne. We were blessed and made one of the last tours of the day.

So till then,

Karen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kissing the Blarney Stone

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This is a wee bit long but what can I say – You can’t visit Ireland without kissing the Blarney Stone.

Visiting Ireland has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember; mostly a result of my Grandfather McGarvey’s love for our Irish heritage. My knowledge of Ireland was very limited and most came from books, movies and television so a little research was required.

One of the first things I realized was that to see all we wanted to see in a short time we would need to have a car. That meant driving on the opposite side of the road from what we are accustomed to and the idea was a wee bit scary. In our research we took some very good advice from Rick Steves and flew into Shannon rather than Dublin. Shannon is a much smaller city in County Clare and that allowed us to practice driving on the “wrong” side of the road without too much traffic. Those who know us well know that Karen always drives and I happily spend my time playing with the navigator or taking short naps. This trip proved a little different though and I was more comfortable with the concept so I became the official driver for the week. I think I did well for the most part with the main exceptions being late in the day when we came to a situation with traffic or a round-about and then it got a little stressful. But we survived and there was no damage to the car or any other living creatures so I have determined that it was a success.

After we got the whole business of driving out of the way we pointed the GPS in the direction of the Cliffs of Moher and began our great adventure on the Emerald Isle. I know Karen has already covered that in a previous post so I will skip to the second day when we went to the Aran Islands, specifically the largest of the three, Inish Mor.

I had found a blog about the Islands http://www.aranisland.info/wordpress/#.UYx6ykpYWSo  that offered package deals on Flight, B&B, and Dinner for only 89eu per person which seemed quite reasonable and allowed us to fly to the island in only 8 minutes. Having never flown in a small plane I’d have paid that simply for the ride and will say it was worth every euro.

Imagine a huge hunk of limestone sticking out of the cold water in the North Atlantic and you have the Island of Inish Mor as it was in the beginning of time. When you see the photo’s or visit today it is hard to imagine that this is a solid rock because it is covered in beauty; plants of all types, cattle and sheep grazing on the hillsides. For me this proves only what I have always known – The Irish are nothing if not determined. Who else but the Irish would be Stubborn enough to haul in turf and seaweed and make a beautiful place on a Rock in the middle of the ocean?

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The Aran Islands are one of the few remaining parts of Ireland that are purely Irish. Time seems to have passed over the islands in many ways and if you can ignore the other tourists you could easily imagine life in the past. This was fairly easy for us as we visited on a Monday and it wasn’t quite high season yet but our driver and tour guide John Flaherty told us that in the summer there will often be 1000 tourists a day.  There are about 700 residents on the island and all speak both English and Gaelic with the primary language being the Irish. All of the signs are in Irish and unless talking to tourists the spoken language is as well. For many years modern culture passed over this small group of islands and even today they have yet to be ruined by modernization. The homes today do have electricity and gas heat but those are fairly new developments and not so long ago the only source of heat was burning turf that had been brought in from the mainland.

The primary industry for many years was fishing but as with the rest of the world big business has taken over. Now the commercial ships come and take most of the catch for shipping to other parts of the world so today almost all of the residents make a living from the tourist industry. I could easily imagine that being a native here would lead to resentment toward outsiders who are slowly chipping away at what was once a very private way of life but I didn’t feel that in any of the folks we met. Instead the people are friendly and more than willing to share a bit of history and have a great appreciation for the many tourists who like us come to spend a night and experience the peaceful beauty of the islands.

Simply being a place to absorb the true Irish culture would not be enough to bring in the number of tourists needed to support the economy though and there the islanders are quite fortunate to have many historical monuments.

The largest and most popular is Dún Aonghasa or in English, Dun Aengus. Dún Aonghasa is often referred to as an Iron Age Fort but the earliest building actually occurred as early as 1100 BC. and the name refers to a God of Irish Mythology. The location provides for an excellent military defense but also could be perfect for ancient religious ceremonies. Legend has it that many a Druid gathered here performing ancient rites. It is also said that from the edge of the cliff many have traveled to the nevermore. Lying on my belly for a quick peek over the side, this was easy to imagine.

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Of Course, I was scared but don't tell Karen!

Of Course, I was scared but don’t tell Karen!

Other historical monuments include the smallest church in Europe, The Black Fort, and the Seven Churches. All of great interest and many with sad stories of the damage done to Ireland when Cromwell invaded and in his attempt to banish Catholicism merely succeeded in making the Irish stronger in their faith while destroying great and beautiful places.

Unfortunately, we only had a short time to visit so we did not get to explore everything as much as we would have liked but we did get to see a bit with excellent guides along the way. Karen has already posted some great pictures from here.

If we had more time I could easily imagine spending 3 or 4 days just riding a bicycle exploring the islands  soaking in the beauty and the culture. Instead though, we were off to the north with a long days drive through County Donegal and then across the border into Northern Ireland to see the Giant’s Causeway.

We will post more about those on another day but for now we are back in the Netherlands. Since it is a rare day off for me we will soon drive to Brugges to see the swans and take a boat trip on the lovely canals.

Ciao,

Kris

Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and fat. ~ Alex Levine

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The west is rocky.

West side of Ireland is rocky on the Atlantic side.

The pictures have been retrieved from the Android and safely stored on a memory stick. You see, what happened the first day in Ireland was my camera battery went dead when we were leaving the Cliff’s of Moher. The battery charger was stowed away in a suitcase back in Terneuzen. Uh oh. Fortunately I had the Android gadget that takes decent pictures (not the best, Uncle John, but it will have to do) and saved the day- actually the whole week.

I am not going to do much commentary this post because I believe Kris on her days off this week will be writing a post concerning Ireland. Finally though, a few pictures to share!

Our transportation to and from Inishmore (Irish: Árainn Mhór or Inis Mór) is the largest of the Aran Islands in Galway Bay in Ireland and has an area of 31 square kilometres (12 sq mi).

Our transportation to and from Inishmore (Irish: Árainn Mhór or Inis Mór) is the largest of the Aran Islands in Galway Bay in Ireland and has an area of 31 square kilometres (12 sq mi).

Skilled pilot.

Skilled pilot.

Lots of old church ruins and cemeteries.

Lots of old church ruins and cemeteries.

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Ferocious winds.

Ferocious winds and rock fences built to withstand it.

The path up to Dun Aengus- a prehistoric fort dating back to 1000 BC, perched on the edge of a 100m cliff plunging straight into the Atlantic Ocean.

The path up to Dun Aengus- a prehistoric fort dating back to 1000 BC, perched on the edge of a 100m cliff plunging straight into the Atlantic Ocean.

Yes we did it. Actually had to strip off sweaters, gloves and hats by the time we made it to the fort.

Yes we did it. Actually had to strip off sweaters, gloves and hats by the time we made it to the fort.

A little bit further...

A little bit further to go…

More rocks.

More rocks.

Inside and turned around to see the entrance area.

Inside and turned around to see the entrance area.

Looks like the edge of the world.

Looks like the edge of the world.

The visitors center has this sign:  there is no guard rail at the cliff edge, so this may not be the best place to bring small children.

The visitors center has this sign: There is no guard rail at the cliff edge, so this may not be the best place to bring small children.

As close as I would get to the cliff. Vertigo, you know...

As close as I would get to the cliff. Vertigo, you know…

And the view down from edge of cliff thanks to Kris!

The view is breathtaking.

The view is breathtaking.

But what goes up must come down and it was time to walk back down to meet our ride.

But what goes up must come down and it was time to walk back down to meet our ride.

Oh, why not. One more pic of crazeeey on the edge of the cliff. Evil laugh!

Oh, why not. One more pic of crazy on the edge of the cliff. Hence the reason for the Irish coffee quote in the title.

There is more but need to take a break from slouching over this machine and go ride a bike. Be back soon!

Till next time,

Karen

A wee behind

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No- I am not talking about that kind of behind. Technical difficulties with camera and WiFi being spotty have delayed commentary and posts of pictures from our week in Ireland. I will begin catching up today but need another day to become less technologically disadvantaged so bear with me, please. I believe the last proper posting I wrote was from Karlsruhe and the wacky but always fun Kubler Hotel so now we play catch up.

Kris and I took a cab to Baden-Baden Airport early Saturday morning to fly on the oh-so-dependable discount airline Ryan Air which is an Irish company. We flew Ryan last year for the first time when we went down to Italy from Germany for our holiday. Ryan Air has remarkable prices for flights to places I’ve never heard of, but, and there is a but, the cheap flight can add up to big euros if you don’t pay attention to the rules. Bag size, bag weight, one carry on; and ladies, that does not mean your purse plus a carry on that meets a different minimum size than we Americans are used to; be on time which means be early or you just screwed up, etc., etc., etc. We tend to be slightly OCD when about airports so no problems yet.

Enough about Ryan Air. We flew into London about 9:30am, grabbed a fast train into the city so we could take a Hop On/ Hop Off tour bus to see a few sites. Grubbed 0n some nice fish and chips at a pub around the corner from the Windsor Palace, began walking towards the train station but it started to rain so we hailed down on of those cute taxi’s reminiscent of the old Checker Cabs back in the day, and arrived dry at the train station. Don’t really care for the big cities much anymore but it was good for about six hours worth. Next time would prefer to go to the less crowded spots in the U.K. Scotland would be nice too…

Bundle up and sit up top a double decker tour bus!

Bundle up and sit up top a double-decker tour bus!

Kris had planned it where we stayed at an airport hotel so it would be a no brainer the next morning when we had to be at the airport for our flight to Shannon, Ireland. It is a good idea when your flight is in a foreign country and you have no idea whether the security is going to stare at your passport for 30 minutes or not. This happens a lot to us for some reason. Well, at least it does to me. It is also too early for the coffee to have begun waking up the ole brain cells and I as I get older the feet don’t move as quickly as they used to.

And then, we were in Ireland. The lady at the Irish customs informed us that it usually rained 6 days out of 7 in the spring so don’t count on much sun. The first drizzly shower we experienced on Sunday afternoon left us with a double rainbow so I suppose it must have given us luck because the weather was mostly gorgeous though a wee bit windy. I love that word. Wee. Every time I turned around in Ireland one of the locals was using it in their conversation. It sounds fantastic in an Irish accent.

Back to the wind. Windy like in West Texas or New Mexico. Big gusty cold wind that got into your bones causing you to look for the closest shop that sold wool caps and sweaters. Yes we did. Both of us now own lovely handmade Aran Island wool sweaters and head-gear. Sadly, it never gets that cold down in the land of south coastal plains Texas.

After Kris figured out the working of driving on the wrong side of the road (and she is good- being lefthanded helps), we headed for the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare on the western side of the island. Just so you know when you see the pictures a few facts about the Cliffs of Moher. The Cliffs rise up to 700 feet and range on for about 5 miles on the Atlantic side.  You can almost see the Carolina’s- not really but the views are fantastic though the winds could blow you out to sea.

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

Hags Head View is a gift of God to us mere mortals.

Hags Head View is a gift of God to us mere mortals.

 

O'Briens Tower os over to the right but somehow I missed getting it in my picture. Must have been the wind.

O’Brien’s Tower is over to the right but somehow I missed getting it in my picture. Must have been the wind.

After we made sure we took in as many views of the Cliff’s as we could handle wrapped in our wooly hats, Kris and I got back into the car to make our way through the Burren towards Galway. We stayed in a small inn above a restaurant/ pub a few miles north of Galway on the bay.

View from the side of our inn on Sunday night. See the remnants of the rainbow?

View from the side of our inn on Sunday night. See the remnants of the rainbow?

Another view from our room above the pub. We also listened to some lovely Irish music that evening and enjoyed a local favorite- Guinness and Irish coffee!

Another view from our room above the pub. We also listened to some lovely Irish music that evening and enjoyed a local favorite Guinness and Irish coffee!

 

If you looked closely through the mist you could see the Aran Islands which is where we were heading out for the next morning on a Cessna from the  Connemara Airport. To be more exact the island we visited is Inis Mor- one of three islands that make up the Aran Islands but more about that part of the trip tomorrow.

Tiny speck in the sky is one of the Cessna's flown back and forth to Inis Mor by Aer Arann

Tiny speck in the sky is one of the Cessna’s flown back and forth to Inis Mor by Aer Arann.

 

Till next time,

Karen

 

Wrong side of the road…

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Kris succeeded in safely getting us around Ireland this week. Whew. I’ll catch up posts early next week. Till next time- hugs!

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