The Tree of Life

For Valentine's Day,  I took myself to Joshua Tree National Park.  From where I am, in La Quinta, it took about an hour and a half to drive to the main park entrance just outside Yucca City.  I wanted the whole experience, so I started at the main visitor center.  I knew there was an entrance into the park not for from where I was, but I decided I would drive through the whole thing, if I could.  And do at least one manageable hike.

What I didn't know is that due to President's Day, entry to the park was free.  Bonus!  Immediately the beauty of the rocks pushing up through the ground and the miles of Joshua trees marching on struck me with their otherworldly beauty, and I had to pull over for photos.  I saw faces staring back at me, could feel the oldness of the tumbled rocks, as if some giant had been clearing the land and dumped the rocks where they lay. I could feel the ancient pull of this primal landscape, a complete stark contrast to the lush green of Ireland.  I felt a little like I was on Mars.  Blue sky, orange rocks, baked earth.  Lizards skittering this way and that to get out of my path.

 

The park straddles the Mojave and Colorado deserts, and you can see the difference once you cross that invisible line.  The Joshua trees virtually disappear, and the mountains rise up, little more than jumbled piles of rocks.  The sky was doing incredible things, and it seemed every time I drove around the next bend, it was a new breathtaking view.  No wonder it took me six hours to drive up and around through the park.

 

I did stop and do the mile loop to Barker Dam.  Smartly, I decided not to wear or bring sunscreen.  But, that's okay, because I'll be more tan than anyone in Oregon for the entire rest of the year.  Apparently, they tried cattle ranching in this area at one point.  Though what in God's name would possess anyone to do that, I cannot rightly say.  It was fun scrambling around and through boulders back to the dam.  Even got a chance to view some ancient petroglyphs, though they had unfortunately been outlined in paint.  And, some idiot decided to carve he and his girlfriend's initials on one of the trees skin, scratching the bark away to get at the tender pulp inside.  If there would have been a ranger at the trail head, I would have turned him in.  That's not okay.

 

I enjoyed the spots in the park most where the people were not, obviously.  Every now and then, it would be absolutely still and quiet, with only the hot, desert breeze to keep me company.  I took some time to walk out in the desert, find a sloped, flat rock to sit on and take my shoes and socks off.  I had this great desire to feel the heat of the earth beneath my bare feet, the sand, the rocks and to imagine this place a thousand years ago, and maybe even thousands of thousands before that.  


It was a beautiful day.  I am so grateful to be having all these varied experiences.  I find as I get out in nature more, it feeds me and I crave it.  Nature keeps me grounded, and absorbs the restless energy I feel, helps me create.  Quiets my mind when I get tired of the ceaseless buzz of incessant noise from people and machines.  

I wound my way down through the mountain passes and across the valley towards the I10 and La Quinta.  I cannot imagine having crossed this space of land in a wagon, on horseback, or even on foot.  They say to take a gallon of water per person, and it's true!  You need it! I nearly consumed 2 litres myself mostly just driving around the park.  The desert is a very unforgiving harsh land, but still beautiful for all that.  


I cannot wait to get home and start to do more exploring in my own backyard.  And though I appreciate the desert's beauty and warmth, I miss the trees and the mountains, the ocean, the rivers.  I now turn my attention to the many textures and layers of the landscape at home, and the exploring I can do when I get back.  It seems this is not the end of my adventuring, but barely the beginning.   

The Road to Idyllwild

Yesterday I ventured to Idyllwild.  A small mountain town, elevation over 5000 feet, in the San Bernardino mountains.  State Highway 74 is no joke!  Several miles of hairpin curves and deadly drop-offs had me more than a little nervous.  I don't do the best with heights so I was going extremely slow the way there and back.  

 

I came across Lake Hemet, unexpectedly.  And roused a Great Blue Heron from its' resting place under the trees.  As it took flight, I stood, breathless, simply watching the great beating wings cutting through the air.  It was just me, no one else around.  I love the beauty, the majesty, of everything in nature.

 

And I figured something out.  I love exploring.  I love being outside.  When I don't get to do those things, I burn up inside with a restless energy.  Now that I've opened that door, I can hardly close it.  I'm not about eating out, going shopping or to the next coolest place anymore, though those things are fine and fun at times.  But me, I need to get out and see the world.  On my Twitter bio I stated "wanderlust grips me hard".  And it does.  I can no longer be bound or constricted by my own old way of life.  Ireland completely changed that for me. 


I loved Idyllwild, a quirky little mountain town.  I found the Funky Bizarre, which is run by a character named Peter.  He greeted me at the door, gave me a 45-second show, dressed in tails and a bowler hat.  I ended up with a Doobie Brother's Greatest Hits album for $2, some "Naughty Pussy" soap, and a candle he hand makes as an Idyllwild souvenir.  I don't know if I'll ever make it back to that little town in the mountains, but I'm so glad I went.  I bought fresh black tea and mukluk slipper socks from Merkaba's, met a woman in a tiny shop full of custom clothing and jewelry, and rounded out the day with lunch from Oma's, a European restaurant.  All in all, a beautiful day.


I don't know how much more I'll get out here.  We'll see.  Joshua Tree National Park is so close, I would love to get out there early tomorrow or Sunday and at least drive through part of it, and see what I can see.  The California desert does have a certain beauty, but it's not for me.  I can't imagine I would ever vacation here again, unless I was desperate for some sun.  

Salvation at the Mountain.

I stood at the edge of the Salton Sea yesterday.  Usually, I want to get in the water.  This time, I wanted to get away from it. I had heard the sea was toxic, and the shoreline littered with the bones and skeletons of dead fish.  It's all true.  The setting is still beautiful, but beauty tinged with the pervasive feeling of death and decay.  I felt sad for the birds that lined the shore, pecking at the dead carcasses of the fish.  I walked across the beach made up of millions of fish bones. Crunch, crunch, grinding them back into dust.  

 

Before I stopped off at this Godforsaken place, I went to Salvation Mountain.  It is one of the strangest places I have been on my travels.  In fact, the whole area feels like the apocalypse already happened there, a place where the people have been left behind to scratch and claw some kind of living out of the dusty surroundings.  I felt like I stepped back in time to the 60's or 70's, when Jesus love was rampant and the societal norms cast off in favor of something more personal and mystical.

 

Tents and camper vans lined the plain surrounding the mountain.  How this ended up in the middle of a desert, I'm not sure.  But the work itself is genius.  I could feel the desperate pleas from a man for Jesus to come, and imagine the thousands of hours this must have taken, laboring in the hot sun.  It seemed to me a kind of penance, a life-long labour of love.  

I followed the yellow brick road to the top, to the cross.  Hot, in the desert sun. I had a few moments where I thought I might fall off the mountain.  But, I figured even if I did fall, it wasn't that far.  I'm still thinking about what I felt there and I'm having a hard time putting it into words.  

The site is a photographers dream.  Vibrant with color, nooks and crannies, hidden, secret rooms.  All comprised of adobe clay.  An organic, living, breathing organism that keeps growing.  I noticed the blue angels.  In one of my favorite "rooms", and then again on a glassed in ceiling of the other structure.  These reminded me of my mom.  

 

I am glad I took the time to go.  I don't know if I will ever make it back.  It's not a part of the country I want to see over and over again.  Maybe never again.  I don't know if it hearkens to a past that won't let go, or a future I don't want to think about.  But the sense of decay was palpable.  Abandoned buildings, graffitied and half torn down.  Weary, tired people and no green.  Just desert dust.  I don't even know what you would do out in an area like that.  I was grateful to get back to the mountains and greener spaces of La Quinta.  I stopped in at the Oasis Date Gardens and had a date/cactus shake on the way home.  Sooooo goooood!!!!


Today I'm going to go picking oranges and grapefruits and lemons.  It seems so strange to be able to walk up and pick them ripe off a tree.  Maybe visit the pool, who knows.  Yesterday I did get hit on by an older guy at the pool, asking if I wanted him to bring me a drink because he was refreshing his.  I said thank you, and politely declined. But, hey, I'll take my compliments where I can get them.

Another Unplanned Series of Adventures

Here I sit in SFO, waiting for my flight out to Palm Springs, and it's Friday night.  I'm getting quite familiar with SFO, I think I fly in and out of here as much as I do Portland.  I was supposed to be gone at 5pm...but, the flight is delayed and may be delayed even more.  I may have to rethink coming in and out of here so often.  

I have my computer, so I decided to upload photos and do another blog post.  Why not, as the adventure continues.  Ben and I left San Bruno yesterday and drove out to Monterey.  We spent the afternoon wandering around the bay, taking random photos of seals, sea lions, pelicans and perusing the restaurants on the Pier for lunch.

Every single restaurant will offered us a sample of clam chowder.  Finally we settled on Crab Louie's and had lunch.  After lunch I got cotton candy and salt water taffy.  We walked over to get a closer look at a pile of seals and a few sea lions lounging on a raft near the pier.  

Ben took me on a scenic drive through Pacific Grove, and over to Asilomar State Park.  The sunset was gorgeous!  Of course we took lots of selfies, and lots of shots of the sun setting.  Beautiful afternoon!

 

For dinner we went to Crabby Jim's, back on the Pier.  I had Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Sole, and it was very good.  By that time, all the traveling and jet lag caught up to me.  I was passed out and sound asleep by 9pm.  


This morning we had breakfast at LouLou's Griddle in the Middle, out on the Municipal Wharf.  What did we have?  What else, but a seafood omelette.  An adorable little yellow and red diner.  Food was served lightning fast and very tasty.  I found out my flight was delayed, and kept getting delayed.  We decided to visit the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas.

 

I learned so much about the author, which I had not known before.  Watched a great short film about his biography, and wandered around looking at all the exhibits.  There is a lot to take in!  The docent at the museum recommended we go to John Steinbeck's house for lunch, and so we did.  Completely staffed by volunteers, we had a delicious lunch.  It was cool sitting in the place John Steinbeck had lived. 


We went down to the gift store, and I brought home a few books of Steinbeck's.  The coolest thing is that one of the guys embossed the books we had bought, proving they came from Steinbeck House.  So cool!

The drive back to SF was rainy and grey.  My flight to Palm Springs was now delayed for 3 hours, due to some kind of grounding.  I'm hoping I'll actually get out of here by 8pm.  The good thing is that the flight is only about 90 minutes, once we take off.  I am so ready to be settled in to the last leg of this journey. 

Not Quite Home.

I'm in San Bruno, CA.  Sitting outside of the motel.  It is nice to be outside without several layers of clothing on, and no jacket!  I am relishing the lovely morning.  

Today Ben and I are going to Monterey.  I have one more night until I fly out tomorrow evening for Palm Springs, so of course, more adventuring is in order.  I was very disappointed because I wanted to sleep the day away, but, I was awake at 6am.  So, down I came for some coffee and early morning writing.  

I don't feel sad to be back in the States.  Although, spending the afternoon at the airport in Boston made me kind of sad.  I don't like that airport, it was a long travel day, and I had to see Patriots crap EVERYWHERE! Gross. I was up for about 24 hours yesterday, though I did nap for a few hours on the way from Boston to SFO.  I need to figure out how to shorten the journey to Shannon for the next trip.  Two seven hour flights with an almost four-hour layover in between is not that much fun.  But, it's over, and I did it.

There's so much depth to what I experienced in Ireland, I don't think I even know all of it yet.  But, my soul has found its' home.  That doesn't mean I'm moving there, but it's the place I love.  And so I carry all the experiences deep within the marrow of my very being, and it's changed me.  Only for the better, as travel will, if you let it.  

Tomorrow when I go to Palm Springs I'm going to see what interesting things I can find there.  I can spend 2 1/2 weeks just kicking it at the house, or, I can do more solo adventuring.  Which do you think I'll choose?  I met a life coach on the flight from Shannon to Boston yesterday, and he was very impressed at all the things I was interested in.  He told me I should take a bow, for being so clear about the things I love and also for taking a solo journey for a month.  I guess I don't think of it as brave. I think of it as my soul calling to me and I listened.  My desire to go overcame my fear, and in the end, I was rewarded with a rich repository of experience I will draw on for the rest of my life!  For now, I am thankful to be in warmer weather.

 

 

I Can't Believe It

It's my last blog post from Ireland.  Everything is packed, dishes done, suitcase weighed.  I had to donate a bag of clothes so I would have enough room and weight allowance to bring home two fifths of whiskey.  True story.

Today I went in to Ennis to do some last-day shopping.  I stopped at a thriftstore and got two pairs of used, but in good condition, Converse for 10 Euro!  And then I went to a few other stores to grab some gifts.  

I stopped in at the Clare Museum, and what a cool exhibition, all about the history of the County Clare.  I was talking to one of the staff there and he told me that the guy that created or engineered submarines has a sub in Portland, and we figured out it must be the one at OMSI. So now I'm going to have to go check that out.  

After I finished at the museum, I drove about 45 minutes to have oysters at Moran's Cottage.  And it was worth the drive!  Six wild oysters on the half shell, and the Moran seafood special later, I was pretty full.  I headed out and noticed a swan in the weir, so I parked the car and walked over to take some pictures of it.  Turned back around and there was a little seal looking right at me.  I missed my photo op of the seal thanks to a big truck going by.  

 

I decided to round out the day with an Irish coffee from Jack B. Yeats pub in the Lady Gregory Hotel.  I don't do much drinking when I'm out and about because I'm the only driver.  But this seemed like a good idea.  And it was.  I drove home and had a beautiful sunset.


I can't even say how much I love this place.  The wild beauty, the people, the varying landscapes, the animals.  It's touched me deeply in my soul and I can see myself coming back over and over and over again.  There is so much more I want to see and do.  I've come to love Ireland in a way I did not expect.  It's like I found a missing piece of me.  

I'll be back in the States tomorrow night, stopping off in SF to spend a day and a half there, and then on to La Quinta/Palm Springs area.  Who knows what adventures await! This has been brilliant.  I could not have had a more perfect stay.

I Found Yeats Country!

Yesterday (February 2nd), I had a late start.  And a bit of a hangover from being up so late to watch the Super Bowl via Skype with the family.  I had a cup of tea with Steph and Rob, and we talked about what I was going to do in the afternoon.  They both recommended I go to the Burren, a National Park very close, and so off I went.  

I made a stop at Coole Park, which was the estate of Lady Gregory and her husband.  This little guy jumped up right in my car to get a scrap of food.  

 

Frequent visitors to Coole Park were W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Jack B. Yeats, and the list goes on and on.  There is an autograph tree in the walled gardens, where they all carved their initials.  A beautiful, peaceful park, it is now maintained by the Irish State.  I could feel the inspiration as I walked around the grounds, through the woods and over to the lake.

 

I left Coole Park, went down the road and found Thoor Ballylee, Yeats' castle home.  It is not open for viewing, but, I wandered around and took photos and got a feel for the place.  And I had the place all to myself.  The great thing about this time of year is there is no one anywhere, except for the big sites like the Cliffs of Moher.  The downside is everything is closed, as far as many of the smaller visitor centers and shops.  There is a lot of information online about these places, and I need to do more research (www.ladygregoryyeatstrail.com).  It is so fascinating to trod in the trails the feet of these great authors have walked.  

 

After I left Thor Ballylee, I continued on to the Burren via Kinvarra.  Steph told me to take the road through the heart of the Burren, and so I did.  I found a castle or two, and ended up at the most delightful chocolatier, the Burren Chocolatier (http://www.hazelmountainchocolates.com).  Turns out one of the chocolatiers is from the States, and used to live in Corvallis.  Small world.  I chatted with Dara, he was in making chocolates, and another random lady from Dublin who died over their hot chocolate.  I didn't end up having any hot chocolate, but I did take a slice of strawberry sponge cake home with me for later, and some chocolate bars.

I made for the Burren Perfumery next.  It's another kind of out-of-the-way place.  I got there and they were open, but just for a few more minutes.  I bought a few items and talked with the shopkeeper there, and then headed out again.  I am delighted because I can order items online from them (http://www.burrenperfumery.com). By this time it was getting dark.  I didn't want to be stuck out on some road in the middle of the Burren too long after the sun set.

 

I made my way back home via Ennis.  Lately all roads seem to lead to there or from there.  On my way back, though it was well past sunset, I stopped at the Dysert O'Dea castle.  It's pretty cool and a little scary to be walking through a country lane in the near dark to a deserted castle.  But, walk I did.  Of course I could not get in, but, did manage to get some photos.  Apparently there is an archaeological trail you can walk around this castle and see a bunch of different monuments.  That will have to be another time. Too much to do and see all in one shot.


The Burren is beautiful.  Just when I think I can't see another different kind of landscape, Ireland gives me something new to look at.  Incredible.  I am never disappointed.


Yesterday was another wonderful day here.  And now, I'm on my last day.  I woke up with snow this morning, so decided to wait a few hours to go out anywhere.  I'm going into Ennis to do a last bit of shopping, and then driving up to Moran's Oyster Cottage for lunch.  And then it's time for packing and away I go back to the States tomorrow.  



The Perils of Traveling Alone

It was bound to happen.  I fell today.  But, before we get to that, I had a glorious day all the way around.  The day dawned with the sun shining.  It was frosty, but blue skies.  I decided to hit the road for Loop Head.  I left around 10am, and started in Lahinch, a surfing town about an hour from me.  The day was gorgeous!  No wind, no rain, and blue skies.  

I continued South along the Wild Atlantic Way, final destination to be Loop Head, at the end of the peninsula.  I stopped in Doughmore Bay to take some pics, and ended up finding Trump International Golf Links & Hotel, which was kind of cool.  It's weird to have been driving through snow on Thursday and now I'm picking up seashells on Sunday.  But Ireland is like that!  I found two swans in a tide pool behind the reef, so I clambered over the rocks and through the water to get a better pic.  My Bogs boots are awesome, except for on slippery rocks.

I continued on my journey South, stopping at the Kilkee Cliffs.  If you are in Ireland, and driving to Loop Head, do yourself a favor and take the Wild Atlantic Way to these cliffs.  Not as high as the Cliffs of Moher, but dramatic still.  And hardly anyone was there.  I climbed up to the edge, at one point, laid on my stomach in the grass and took some shots of the water below.  It was pretty damn cool.

And then I decided to take the next detour, to the Bridges of Ross.  Gorgeous little cove, and again, no one there.  Well, at least not anyone that I saw.  I took some shots from above, saw that there was a way to get down, and took it.  I went across the rocks to get some shots of a group of puffins, or at least what I thought were puffins, nestled out on the rocks.  I was hurrying back, not paying attention to my footing, and whoops!  Down I go.  My right side, from my hip down, totally soaked in green slime.  Somehow I did not break my camera, nor did I fall in the ocean.  I had a slight moment of panic when I realized if I tried to get up I would fall down again, but, then I simply rolled back over to where the rocks were dry and got up.  There was a slim chance I could have ended up in the ocean, but I wasn't that close.  Luckily.  I think I slipped on the first wet spot right before the big green slime area in the pic, to the left.  And I was up closer to the cliff line, so not near the surf.  Thank goodness nothing happened, and I had an extra, clean sweater in the car.  Unfortunately I had to suffer in my wet jeans, but I had a base layer on so I was okay.

So for the rest of the day I was fairly careful about where I was going.  I went up to Loop Head, saw the lighthouse, and then walked down to the ocean, but stayed well away from the edge of the cliffs there.  In the distance, across the water you can see the Dingle Peninsula, and part of the Ring of Kerry, I believe.  

On my way back home, I stopped for a cup of tea at the Lighthouse Inn.  It was about 4:30, and a couple of old Irish guys were in the pub with pints of Beamish, drunk as skunks singing ballads with no accompaniment.  Another older gentleman came in and sat at the end of the bar with me and was making comments about how ridiculous they were being.  All I could do to not break out in laughter.  This was in the village of Kilbaha. 

And then I found something really interesting.  I noticed some sort of big anchor memorial just down from the Inn, so I went and checked it out.  It was a tribute to 5 men who died out in the bay, but also, the anchor came from a ship that sailed from Portland, Oregon to Limerick in 1906. The boat wrecked in the bay also, but apparently everyone on the ship made it to shore.  It was called the "Morven Disaster".  Super cool.  I could see myself coming back and spending some time in this tiny village, or really any of the towns I visited today.  

I got back to the cottage with no incident.  Now I've just drank another large mug of tea so I can stay up and Skype with the fam for the SUPERBOWL!!!! GOOOOOOOOO HAWKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I Don't Wanna Go...

I was ready for bed, ready to go to sleep and forget about coming back to the States on Wednesday.  I'm not coming home, because I'm in SF for two nights and then off I go to Palm Springs for dog-sitting.  Yes, I do lead a glamorous life.  But for a moment, or maybe several moments, I have been depressed about leaving.  So, I poured myself a Guinness, warmed up my cottage pie and decided to suck it up and upload photos and blog.

The reality is I still have 3 full days here! So I can get a lot done.  There is a drive I have been wanting to take, down to Loop Head.  So, tomorrow, it's on.  What's another 5-6 hours on the road at this point?  Besides, I like driving.  The beauty of the scenery and what's around the next bend keeps me going.

I spent the morning at home, doing the same stuff I'm doing now.  I decided to go back to Adare, a village I passed through yesterday that I wanted to spend more time in.  I visited an old monastery or friary or something like that.  The point is, I was all by myself in these two churches and took photos.  It was really beautiful, being in the Holy Trinity Abbey in the afternoon sun.  Some of the stained glass windows are incredible works of art.  I think these buildings have been around since the 1200s, but I'm not sure.  I'll have to consult the history book on Adare I bought from the church.

 

I also bought a CD from Holy Trinity Abbey, the second church I went to.  You just put money in a little slot below the visitor's book.  So I signed my name, and said thanks for keeping the place open .  There was a "Dove Cot" back behind the Abbey, where they used to keep pigeons for eating.  Just quite amazing to see all these buildings and historical, monastic sites.  I always love it.  Most of the time I end up in places on accident, and visit the tourist center after I've seen everything they recommend.  A lot of the shops were closed, unfortunately, but that's okay.  

 

I risked life and limb to get some shots of the castle, which is also closed at this time of the year.  I walked on a very narrow shoulder on a bridge, with nothing separating me from the crazy Irish drivers.  I think I now can qualify as a crazy Irish driver too!  I stopped in for a late lunch at the Blue Door Restaurant.  Good, solid food, but nothing exceptional.  And i think that was the problem with today.  It was a decent, good day out.  But I did not feel exhilarated.  Just sad at the prospect of leaving.

 

Ah well.  All good things must come to an end always.  But the ending is another beginning, so everything really is cycle. Nothing ever ends or begins, just transitions into something else.  And I'll be back to Ireland, no doubt about that.  There is a lot of the country I did not see, on account of weather and time.  But, I don't want to discover everything on my first trip.  And I found Adare Manor!  Ben and I used to live in Adare Manor, and they favorited one of my tweets a long time ago.  I asked the security guard if I could go in to the grounds and take a photo, but he said no, because construction was in progress.  I almost backed into the cab behind me but made it safely out.  Sometimes it's hard being me.


Since I finished binge watching all of season 5 of Downton Abbey, I'll have to come up with something else to do tonight after I'm done here.  Maybe Netflix...whatever it is, I decided I'm getting up early and going to Loop Head.  It's official.  I might even set my alarm to make sure.  The sun doesn't rise until about 8:30, but the sky gets light around 7am and I could get on the road.  I guess we'll find out tomorrow what happens.

It Is As Beautiful As They Say It Is.

It's Saturday morning here, 11am.  I'm still at home, on the daybed, uploading photos and blogging, waiting for my camera battery to charge.  Note to self - for the next trip, bring an extra one.  

Yesterday I did make it to Dingle, out on the Dingle Peninsula.  Another place I want to come back to when the weather is better.  I'm pretty sure I would come back in May if I can swing it.  I've been able to see and do a lot of things, but I could see and do more with better weather and more daylight.  

The peninsula is as beautiful as I imagined, maybe even more so.  The road to Dingle cuts through the mountains, gorgeous views around every bend.  I might have stopped every 10 minutes on the way back to take a photo.  The mountains sweep up from the ground, barely dusted with a light frosting of snow.  I stopped to take one photo and looked back as a curtain of rain descended over the mountain.  The mist trailed the cloud like the hem of a garment, moving gently across the valley to the next set of mountains.  It happened in about 2 minutes.  

 

You think the weather in Oregon is crazy, it is mild compared to Ireland.  Right now I'm looking at sunshine.  But we have already had several small snow flurries.  I think today I'm going to go back and explore Adare village, just West of Limerick.  About a 45-minute drive.  I don't think I'm up for traipsing around much further than that.  I was on the road for probably 6-7 hours yesterday, but it was worth it!  I'm so glad I went.   I took a turn to get out to a beach on the way back from Dingle, and ended up finding this little cove instead. And I caught the last of the light.  Just beautiful and serene, nobody out there but me.  I find that happening often, I'll have a lot of places to myself, just poking around and taking pictures.  Following my nose to the next adventure.

 

My trip is winding down, but I'm not thinking about it, because I know I'll be back.  Ireland is that place for me.  The place I'll want to come back to and explore year after year.  If you like golf, come to Ireland.  If you like water, come to Ireland.  If you like beer and whiskey, come to Ireland. If you like music, come to Ireland.  If you like horses, come to Ireland.  If you want to fish, come to Ireland.  If you like history, come to Ireland.  The list goes on and on and on.  The country is magical and beautiful, and now it owns a piece of my heart.  Of all my ancestry, I resonate most with this land, at least of the places I have been.

Oh!  Speaking of horses, on my way to Dingle yesterday I saw two "trotters" and their jockeys practicing in a village not too far from where I am staying, Killkullen, I think.  I wished I could have got my camera out in time, they were beautiful!  Brown and white, like a paint pony.  Manes and tails flowing in the wind as they trotted around the bend and out of sight.  I love seeing unexpected things like that, and all the animals, everywhere.  I suppose that's what I don't like about the Eastern side of Ireland.  You lose the wide open spaces because there are more cities and it's more populated.  

While I was in Dingle, I stopped in for a bowl of seafood chowder and some tea at Murphy's B&B. Delish!  Then, as I was walking through town I saw Murphy's ice cream shop and stopped in.  I had a tiny cup of Sea Salt Ice Cream, made from the salt extracted out of Dingle Bay, and Butterscotch ice cream.  Though it was cold, something seemed so right about eating ice cream at the beach.  I wandered up the hill, looking for the Dingle Bookshop.  I found it, decided to buy a book from a local author, and the shopkeeper found an autographed copy for me.  Another tiny treasure.


I have loved every minute of this adventure, and I still have four full days left, so I'll see what I can make of it.  My host, Steph, has now turned into a friend.  And I would highly recommend anyone coming to stay at this cottage, or with her in the room she rents in her house.  She is simply an amazing human being.  I was on my way out yesterday, and she asked me in for tea and we talked for 45 minutes.  She kept the fire going all day for me so the cottage was warm when I got home. She is just wonderful.  I will miss her too, and the cats.  Everything.  

I know this experience has deepened and broadened my soul in ways I cannot imagine and will not know right away.  Traveling always changes me, expands my view of the world, helps me grow with the challenges it presents.  I have done a lot, and on my own.  And for that, I am quite proud of myself.  Let's see what adventures I can find today.

The Long Road Home

It's about 9:30 am on Friday morning.  After all my traveling yesterday just too tired to do a blog last night. So I drank Guinness and binge-watched Downton Abbey instead.  I was driving through snow all day yesterday.  Either in it, behind it or ahead of it, no matter.  The important thing is when I got home to the cottage, the weather was bright, calm, and not a snowflake in sight.  And I made it before dark.

Yesterday morning, after a full Irish breakfast,  I took off from Slane.  The snow was coming down.  I drove up to Slane Hill, took one pic, and headed back down.  I did not want to get stuck on a hill.  After I got out of Slane, the snow settled down.  I worked my way over the Kells, stopping to take photos of St. Patrick's church somewhere between Kells and Navan.  And I inadvertently stumbled upon the Donaghmore Round Tower, just off the N51, before I ended up at St. Patrick's church. Once I got to Kells, it was beautiful!  Sunshine and blue skies.  From the town center, after I drove past the monastic site, I spied a tower up on a hill I had to get to.  It's called the "Spire of Lloyd".  The snow was pristine, just a few people leaving once I got there.  

 

What I came upon up there also was a "Pauper's Cemetery".  From what I understand, countless poor Irish were buried there en masse as a result of the famine.  It breaks my heart to know that people were simply dying of hunger.  And those that could've helped decided not to because the Irish were getting a lesson from God through the calamity.  How tired I get of hearing that.  It was a beautiful and somber place, to think I stood upon the bones of those who died before, and no names were even known.  I think the famine caused some of my ancestors to leave and come to the Americas, or Canada, if my research is right.  I'll have to study the famine more, but it seems it too could have been avoided if the few would have taken care of the many.  


After leaving Kells, I took myself on a wild goose chase through the Boyne Valley to find the Loughcrew Cairns, a megalithic burial site.  I never did find them.  I took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up by a lake.  It was probably good I didn't find them, because in the snow I may not have made it up.  I eventually saw a sign for them later and was so tempted to go back. But then it was afternoon and I still had go cross-country to get to the West.  

I made it home as the sun was dipping down over the mountains.  I stopped and took a shot of Lough Dergh in the distance, just too beautiful to ignore.  My mini road trip is over, and what a trip it was!  I stood on the edge of the country and felt the ferocious storm off the Northern Coast.  Drove backroads in snow for miles.  Saw a copy of the book of Kells, visited copious historical sites.  I loved County Meath.


But, there is something special about this place in County Clare.  The mountains, the terraced hills, the way the land folds gently into itself.  The lakes, and the people.  I have fallen in love with this place.  It will be hard to leave.  Today, the weather is good.  And so, I'm going off to the Dingle Peninsula.  I will have to save the Ring of Kerry for another trip, when the weather is better.  Off to more adventuring!

The Day That Wasn't.

**This was written last night, the 28th**

I am disappointed to say I never made it to Giant's Causeway, but I did find Dunluce Castle, on my host's recommendation at the guest house last night  I thought I was going to get blown off the cliff! Me and the Micra, over we go.  Didn't happen.  I actually made it all the way to the Visitor Centre, paid the admission fee, and then found out it would be a 25-minute walk to the Causeway.  Not happening in this wind.  I did find out "Dracula Untold" was filmed at the Causeway. I guess I can go online and look at pictures.  

 

Sometimes you just gotta heed the signs, and today was one of those days.  The weather was crazy!  You could see the storm blowing in across the Atlantic.  Snow, wind, rain, sleet, breaks of sun...you name it.  I have never been out in wind like that.  I thought I lost my hat (found it later in my hood), almost lost my phone and I thought I lost my lens cap for my camera, which was somehow in the leg of my pants.  

I don't know what was going on, but I was not about to risk it any further and decided to get the hell out of there.  I stopped in at Bushmills, did not do the tour but did come back with a bottle of reserve whiskey only produced for and sold at the Distillery.  I just wanted to get out of there before I got stuck.  And I did.  I headed South through Antrim, bypassing Belfast.  I had no desire to go to the city whatsoever.  In fact, I don't think I have any desire to go back to Northern Ireland.  I would only maybe want to see the Antrim Coast, but I don't know if it's even worth that.

My destination point today was Slane.  Yesterday on my way through County Meath to Bushmills, I promised myself on the way back I would stay over in Slane.  There are many more historical sights I wanted to see that I missed on my way up in my haste to go North.  And, the weather was looking very sketchy so there was no way I was making it back to the cottage today.  

Before I went to Slane today, I took a slight detour over to Drogheda and ended up on an inlet of the Irish Sea.  I'd been North to the ocean, so why not East to the sea.  I found a rock beach littered with shells!  Whole shells, not all busted like at home.  I picked up a handful to take home while I spent a few minutes walking around in the sunshine near the water.  I needed the break after coming down from Northern Ireland and just wanted to get to the sunshine and the sea.

 

I ended up checking into the Conyngham Arms Hotel, right in the center of Slane Village. I had no reservation but they had rooms.  And what a room!  Gorgeous bed, two in fact!  A Nespresso machine, and even robes.  My room looks out over the main street of the village.  If you ever come to Slane, do yourself a favor and stay here.  Oh, and breakfast is included. 

Before dinner I was out walking around, walked down to the Boyne River, around the gate to Slane Castle, and took more photos of random things.  Snow was falling on and off, and I decided if I got stuck here, I would be totally fine with it.  I'm always experimenting with and learning about taking photos.  So, I always get some weird shots, some especially weird shots of the church bell tower tonight.  I have discovered I really like wandering around taking photos in the dark.  Yup, I'm weird.  As I was taking photos, the church bells rang to let me know it was 6pm. I stopped and paused to listen. It was perfect.


At dinner I had great conversation with one of the servers, Moira.  Dinner was incredible!  Grilled chicken breast with kale and garlic tiny potatoes in a red wine mushroom sauce. Delicious!! So when you travel alone, you are never really alone. Last night and this morning I had tons of conversation with the owners of Fin Mac Cool's guest house.  It's so fun to sit and listen to people.  I think their lives are so interesting and being with them enriches mine.

It's still pretty early, but I think I might turn in.  Lots of driving in the last few days.  And, there are quite a few more things I want to see before I go back to the cottage tomorrow.  Slane Hill, Battle of the Boyne, Kells, the tombs at Loughcrew....lots and lots and lots.  We'll see how far I get.  Luckily, breakfast is at half-seven tomorrow, so I can get an early start on my day.  I'm going to try and see if there's a way I can get in to see the Slane Castle.  Apparently it's become quite the concert venue.  If it's not open, maybe I'll just have to find another way in, through the woods or something.  Where there's a will, there's a way...

Tonight I'm in Newgrange

**This was supposed to post Monday night**

Right now I am safely tucked in to Newgrange Lodge (www.newgrangelodge.com), out in the common area doing my nightly update, in my slipper socks!  I'll be touring Newgrange (www.newgrange.com) in the morning, and then heading North to visit the Giant's Causeway and Bushmills Distillery tomorrow. I picked Newgrange Lodge because it was relatively inexpensive, 35 euros, includes breakfast and is about 200 meters from Newgrange. And it gets me to the Boyne valley, which has a lot of important historical sites. I am hoping to explore some of those tomorrow also, if I can get an early enough start.  

I've been having so much fun!  I'm navigating all on my own with my map, no GPS needed.  Now that I've spend so much time on the road, I can figure out fairly easily where I'm going.  I pick the next point, get there, and then decide what route to take.  Newgrange is not exactly straightforward to find, and I wanted to avoid dealing with Dublin.  And I managed all of that.  

The guy working the reception desk just did the sweetest thing.  He was going through to make himself a cup of tea, and asked if I'd like one.  I said yes, with a little cream and sugar.  Guess who's going to be up all night...but that's okay.  This morning I did get out and tour around Galway in the daylight, and found Charlie Byrne's bookstore (www.charliebyrne.com)  It's interesting how I keep finding these places I want to go without actually making a point to go there. I bought a book about Lady Gregory, and a book written by an Irish author, Edna O'Brien.  I also brought a few other books, so I have plenty of reading material.

 

I think I like Galway better at night.  Some weird guy wanted to take a picture of me with my camera in Eyre Square, and I told him no thanks.  I could just see him running off with it.  We would have had a fight then.  But, then I had a great conversation with the sweetest lady from Donegal.  Twice I had people ask me if I knew where something was, and I'm not even Irish!  My stay in Galway was a lot of fun though.  The hotel was very accommodating, breakfast delicious! I had a full, hot "mini breakfast" with one sausage, one rasher, one egg, small black and white pudding and one tiny tomato.  I stopped in at Goya's and got an Americano while I was out wandering the streets of Galway.  Delicious smelling bakery if ever there was one!


On the way to Newgrange, I decided to stop at Kilbeggan's Distillery (http://www.kilbegganwhiskey.com) and take a self-guided tour. I am definitely on the "Irish Whiskey Trail" now.  It was so cool! I was the only one in the building, and I got to take all the pictures I wanted, which you will see, on my Flickr feed.  I had lunch at their restaurant and the portion was so huge, I have half of it still sitting in the fridge here for dinner.  The coolest thing is that because I was driving, they gave me my complimentary tasting in a traveler, and gave me a keepsake glass.  You can find their whiskey in the States, under the Jim Beam portfolio.  And I just drank it while sitting here writing this post.  



Heading up North

It's 6am and I'm awake, so I might as well do the post now that I was going to do last night before I went to bed. I slept very well the last few nights.  I also had a shot of whiskey and some chocolate before bed the last two nights, so there could be a correlation there.

 I'm sitting up in my room in Bushmills, hoping to see the Giant's Causeway this morning.  A storm is on its' way, so I am going to head back down South sooner than later, after I tour the Bushmills Distillery.  It's only just up the road.  It took me 4 hours to get up here after leaving the Hill of Tara.  I met an old guy in a book shop there and he gave me his route suggestion to get North.  It took me through every small town you could imagine.  And then the police shut down the route, so I had to re-route myself.  The important thing is I made it.  

Yesterday morning I went and toured Newgrange.  We were able to go into the chamber inside.  It was pretty incredible that this tomb that was built over 5,000 years ago is still standing and intact.  Carvings and art adorn some of the rocks and these megaliths can weigh up to 5 tons!  Incredible. I'm glad there were only six of us, it's a pretty small space inside there.  And you could feel the sacredness.  I signed up for a lottery to be there during the Winter Solstice.  Above the entryway is a roof box where the light comes through.  On Winter Solstice, at approximately 2 mins. to 9am, it lights up the chamber with golden light for 17 minutes, and then the light goes away.  It employs a precision of engineering that is a little bit mind-baffling for me, especially since it was built so long ago.  I can't even conceptualize 5,000 years in my brain. The tomb may have been used for ceremonies, and they found ashes and bones, which indicates cremated remains were placed inside.  I was wandering around taking photos so my shuttle and the rest of the group left me.  I had my own private shuttle ride back.  Great experience!!!

 

I decided to go to the Hill of Tara before I headed North.  It was a bit of back-tracking, but I knew if I didn't go, I would regret it.  It was beautiful up there.  I had read about the Hill of Tara, the seat of the High Kings of Ireland.  There is a lot of historical significance, so of course I loved it.  I found the "Old Book Shop" and had a chat with Michael and bought some books.  I think I'm coming home from Ireland with books and whiskey.  Sounds about right.  

The rain is lashing at the windows, so I'm not sure how much visibility I will have for the Causeway, but we'll see.  I'm going to give it a shot.  I also learned a lot of the Game of Thrones was filmed around here, so I might visit a few of those places too.  Who knows!  I'm hoping my drive back down South will take much less time that the drive up did.  I'm going to stick to the main Motorways rather than going up the gut of the North.  

It was interesting transitioning from Ireland to Northern Ireland.  For one thing, the signs in English and Gaelic disappear.  The world goes from technicolor to a little bit of grey, and I could feel the loss of the richness and wildness of Ireland once I crossed the border.  It was the strangest thing.  Up here, the counties are British.  They don't even use the Euro, but use the British Pound.  I'll be glad to see the Causeway, but it feels like the magic was lost.  And it's a lot more congested too.  Driving part of it I felt like I could be home, not in Ireland.  I didn't believe I would feel the change so acutely, but I did.  

We'll see what today holds.  

 

Connemara

Today I headed up to Galway.  I was going to go back to the coast before I went to Galway, but Steph suggested I head to Connemara instead.  I ended up going through some of Yeats country, Joyce country, and found the bridge they used in "The Quiet Man".  All quite by accident.  

Connemara is beautiful!!! I can only imagine what it would be like in the summer and the hills backlit with a blue sky. Sheep dotting the hills more than the natural stones and an unexpected fjord! I ended up at Kylemore Abbey, which looked straight out of a movie.  Steph says Ireland is like a theme park, and she's right.  Everything here seems to be in technicolor and all of a sudden, around the next bend, something comes at you out of the blue.  You don't need to find history, it finds you.

The thing I was most struck with is that the hills in Connemara are criss-crossed with rock walls.  The hills in County Clare are gentle and rolling. These rise seemingly straight up from the ground, in golds and russets.  Incredible stark beauty where one mountain pass leads into another.  I am hopeful for better weather so I can go back.

Eventually the rain got so bad today I gave up and went back into Galway.  I managed to locate my hotel fairly easily, got my room keys and the car parked.  I decided to eat downstairs in the hotel, because I didn't want to walk and have to find somewhere.  It was delicious!  In honor of my journey, I had Connemara lamb shank.  So good!!!

I went out for a walk after dinner, ended up in a pub with a glass of Guinness listening to some trad music.  The city is full of bars and restaurants and cobblestone streets, with a pedestrian-only area.  I'm staying right by Eyre Square, in the center of town.  I desperately wanted some photos at night, so back to the hotel I went and grabbed my camera.

I ended up at a different bar this time, enjoying another glass of Guinness listening to a band cover some old songs (We Are Family) and new songs (Lucky by Daft Punk).  I finished my glass and headed back to the hotel.  I don't usually do too many full pints because those knock me out and I need to have my wits about me in unfamiliar surroundings.  Can't wait to get up in the morning and wander around in the daylight.  Also lots of shopping.  

After I finish up wandering in the morning, I'm headed off to Newgrange to stay and visit the tombs there.  Oh, and I might sneak in a visit to a distillery on the way over.  We'll see what happens!  Onto more adventuring tomorrow.  

Cliffs of Moher

Guys- I gotta tell you, I'm wiped out! I spent the afternoon walking to the southern most point on the cliffs that I could get to.  I didn't intend for it to be that way.  I was going to go up, take a few pictures, and then head down the coast to Loop Head.  But I never made it that far.  You can see in my photos how my journey progresses.  You can see the new photos of the cliffs here:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/128803341@N02/

These photos are unedited, except for what I did with the camera.  I ended up making it out to the watch tower, as I like to call it.  I have no idea how far it is.  And I'm terrible with distances when I try to figure it out anyway.  But it took me a good 3 hours I'd say, roundtrip.  Keep in mind I am not the fastest walker and stopped every few feet for photos. 

And imagine walking on cliff edges hundreds of feet above the Atlantic.  There was a point where I almost turned back, because I do have a little fear of heights.  But I kept going, one step at a time.  And you know what?  I was okay.  On the way back, walking close to the edge was nothing.  Not that I would be foolish, of course, but I was proud of myself.  

I've managed to cook myself dinner and am having my now nightly Guinness.  Tomorrow I'm setting off on a real road trip.  Slightly north to Galway for the night, then over to Newgrange, up to Bushmills, down to Donegal....and then I'm not sure.  I won't be back to the cottage until Thursday or Friday.  I really want to see the Giant's Causeway and visit the tombs at Newgrange, so I have to book some nights somewhere.  I'm looking forward to it, new adventures.  

Today's walk was so good.  So invigorating to be out in the bracing wind and weather.  No rain though, which was awesome!! Plenty of mud and muck, as there is EVERYWHERE in Ireland if you are not on the tarmac (pavement).  I can't believe my trip to Ireland is now past the half-way point.  I'm sad about it and I don't want to think about it, so I'm not going to.  

I might drive out to Loop Head tomorrow morning and then go up to Galway. Who knows.  I've gotten the hang of driving here just fine, though sometimes I still get a little confused with roundabouts.  But they seem more effective than traffic lights.  Who knows!  Happy Saturday my state-side friends!

Tullamore D.E.W.

Today went a little differently than planned.  I still have dishes to do....whatever.  I wanted to go to the Cliffs of Moher, BUT the weather was really rainy and misty and not cooperating.  So, what better indoor activity than doing a whiskey tour and tasting?  

Off I headed to Tullamore, in the middle of Ireland.  It's about 120km from me, so about 2 hours driving.  I packed overnight things just in case I didn't want to come all the way back.  I arrived at the Visitors Centre (http://www.tullamoredew.com/our-birthplace) around 1:00pm.  The next tour would be at 2:30, so I decided to have lunch.  Mussels and fries.  Pretty delicious.  


The tour was pretty fun.  At only 9 Euros, for a one-hour tour and then a tasting of three of their whiskeys at the end, I thought it a pretty good bargain.  The tour ended up being very informative, and I learned a lot.  I also think I may have found my destiny while I was there!!  I found this: www.irelandwhiskeytrail.com .  I don't really know what it entails, but I think I'm going to incorporate at least some of it.  Oh, and I did bring back a bottle of the whiskey that is only produced and available at the Visitor Centre.  For special occasions only, of course.


My drive took me through four counties: Clare, Galway, Tipperary and Offaly.  On my way back tonight, I got a good look at Lough Derg.  I'm going back to Mountshannon to do some exploring of the town, and the lake.  And, the sky is so clear and brilliant right now, I feel like I could reach up and bring Orion right down in the palm of my hand.  A million glittering faces in the velvet night looking down on us.  I know for sure I'm staying in the right place.  I missed the gentle hills and forests of County Clare after being out of it today.  

Tomorrow my plan is to go to the Cliffs of Moher, Loop Head, Doolin...wherever else the road takes me.  I've gotten used to driving on the other side of the car and road.  I'm pretty proud of myself for making it to Tullamore and back with little to no mishaps.  And, even driving part of the way back in the dark.  And believe me, I wish the brights had another level.  It gets that dark here.  Tonight I'm staying in, cooking up some steak and mushrooms, and enjoying a cold, Extra Stout Guinness.  Cheers to the weekend!! 

Celtic crosses and medieval banquets.

Today I had a very busy day.  I spent most of the morning burning things.  You name it, I can burn it in the stove.  Cooked food, paper products, whatever.  And it's reduced to a small pile of ash which I then put in a bucket and Steph dumps somewhere in her yard.  

And then I went in to Tulla.  This afternoon was GORGE0US, as you will see from the photos.  I had been dying to get up to the cemetery to take some photos and boy did I.  I was in awe at the headstones.  I hoped I was not being sacrilegious by traipsing through the cemetery to get better shots. It was hard to miss stepping on graves, they took up a lot of space.  The roofless church and old headstones gave me lots of fodder for pictures.  So beautiful I was dying.


I finished up at the cemetery and took care of some errands in town.  I went in to the Fruit/Veg store and had a long conversation with the guy behind the counter.  Then I went to the butcher, Steph suggested I go get some of his beef, so I came out with a few sirloin steaks.  I got some groceries and stopped by the fuel depot on my way out of town to get some more fuel for the fire.

The medieval banquet was scheduled at 5:30, so Steph suggested I stop in at Quin to see the Abbey on my way.  And so I did that too.  Another roofless stone building with lots of graves.  I love them. I met a lady in the cemetery who told me I should ask someone about seeing the inside.  Someone or other had a key to it, but she wasn't sure who might have it.  The Abbey too was gorgeous, and the drive to Quin also took me by Knappogue Castle, but that is closed for the season.  

I managed to take every road to get to Bunratty except for the actual road I needed to take.  4th time is a charm.  But, I made it, with time to spare.  At the banquet I was greeted by a man and woman in medieval costume, and the whole evening was charming.  We had a reception upstairs in the great hall, where they served us delicious honey mead in small ceramic cups.  Delicious.  A man and a woman were playing a fiddle and a harp in the middle of the hall.  

We were given a brief history of the castle, and then led downstairs to the banquet.  I sat next to a mother/daughter from Seattle and they were great all evening.  We started with a delicious soup, followed by a platter of spareribs, a quarter chicken with roasted vegetables and potatoes and some kind of dessert known as "lovers kisses".  He elected one of the couples the Earl and his Lady for the night, and another poor man got thrown in the dungeon.  


The servers also were brilliant singers, each one of them.  They put on a good half-hour of entertainment after the meal, which was wonderful.  Really beautiful voices.  We ate only with steak knives, no silverware.  It was rather fun, I didn't mind.  It was refreshing to just eat with your hands.  It was a lovely, charming evening, and I would recommend going to the dinner.  

At the end of the night, they sent us downstairs for coffee.  I ended up chatting with the most adorable Irish couple who lived just a few miles from the Castle, and had won tickets to come.  They thought it was quite good as well.  Both the mother/daughter and the older couple recommended visiting Loop Head, in addition to the Cliffs of Moher.  So I think that might be my plan tomorrow.  We'll see.  

Driving on the left

I can proudly say I learned another skill today.  Because today was the day.  I would finally get my car!  I was excited and nervous all at the same time.  Really, picking up the car was no issue, and I adjusted to driving on the other side of the road on the other side of the car pretty well.  Steph took me back to the airport this morning to get the car and away she went and away I went.  She suggested I stop at Bunratty Castle, since I had been there before, to have a bite to eat at Durty Nelly's and let the nerves out before continuing on, and so I did.  

 I managed to get myself from the Shannon Airport to the Castle, only having one mishap where I drove too far and had to get off the motorway about 5km down and come back around.  No harm done.  I decided if I ended up in Limerick, it would be fine.  But I didn't.  I made my way back, got to Durty Nelly's, and had a "glass" of Guinness, or a half-pint, and some beef stew for lunch.  Quite delicious!  Durty Nelly's has been around since 1620, and it's just right across the street from Bunratty Castle.  Tomorrow night I'm going back to Bunratty for the medieval dinner.  

So now, I will have been to Bunratty Castle three times.  I think that's enough.  Before I left home, I purchased a ticket for the Castle & Folk Village, so I decided to go today since it was a nice afternoon.  It was awesome because I had the castle mostly to myself!!  I had seen a little bit of it on Saturday, but wanted to come back and explore and get photos.  

If you want a good work out, try going up and down several sets of steep, stone castle stairs, at almost a straight up vertical angle.  There were a few times where I tripped, or my foot didn't quite catch the whole stair.  Thousands of feet have trod those stone steps.  I had visions of missing a step and ending up with some broken bones so I proceeded very, very carefully. Luckily, no injuries here.

 

I took loads and load and loads of pictures today!  Not just the castle, but all over the village.  There's a small town you can tour around and cottages as well.  Mostly everything in the town was closed, but many of the buildings were open for viewing.  I ended up going all the way to the furthest end and found a church and a paddock near Bunratty House where I came face to face with a stag!  A small one, but he looked at me, and I looked at him, both in equal surprise!  He was gorgeous.  

 

I have learned something about myself.  If there is a place I am not supposed to go but the door is open, I'll go, just to see what I can see.  I went around to the front of Bunratty House, even though the sign was posted and said the house was closed.  In the church, because no one was there, I went beyond the rope and actually stood at the altar and in the preacher's "box", for lack of a better word.  Of course I opened the piano and then saw the note that said, "please don't touch".  I don't generally obey rules very well if there's something I want more.

 

 I toured around for 2-3 hours, just enjoying the sunshine.  High point of my day was when someone asked me if I was with the "students abroad" group.  Ha!  I still look like a college student.  Luckily I wasn't, because as soon as I got done touring the castle 2 busloads showed up!  I was lucky to have the castle mostly to myself, with only a few other people.  Perfect timing.  

I saw so many great rooms at the castle.  The South Solar was my favorite.  Beautiful design on the ceiling, long table facing the afternoon sun.  It felt like a library to me.  There was the North Solar, Captain's Quarters, Castle Basement, the Dungeon, Earl's Pantry, Earl's Private Chapel, the Great Hall...I loved every minute of it and felt so at home!  I've got tons of pictures I'll be posting, so be sure to check them out.  


Yesterday was fairly quiet, except for Steph took me on a walk and showed me a stone circle some of her neighbors erected on their land.  There was something sacred about it.  I guess someone came in and divined ley lines and told them how to lay it out.  I am sure in times past there had been one there as well.  It was cool because they did it the old way, by hand.  They used no machinery to erect the stones.  Only a bunch of guys with ropes.  Incredible!!  


Tomorrow I'm going back over to Feakle and Tulla, the nearest towns to me, in the morning.  And then on my way to dinner, I'm going to stop at Quin, they've got an Abbey there.  Steph is always giving me good recommendations on how to spend my time.  I think on Friday I'm going to take a trip to the Cliffs of Moher and maybe see the Burren.  It depends on how much time I want to spend where.  The days are getting ever so slightly longer, so that's good.

Over the weekend, I may go to Galway for a day, or drive over to Tullamore and take a tour of the whiskey distillery there.  On Monday I think I'm going to head East over to Newgrange in County Meath, and then up to the Giant's Causeway and the Bushmills Distillery on Tuesday.  I'm fairly tempted to spring for it and stay the night here in Bushmills (www.bushmillsinn.com).  The inn is very luxurious.  The other plus is it's only a 10-min walk to the distillery.  I'm doing my best not to do too many overnight trips because I already have such a great place to stay.  But, the trip to Northern Ireland can't be helped, especially on limited daylight.

I wish I could put you all in my pocket and have you here with me.  I love Ireland.  It is magical and mysterious and wild and tame all at the same time.  The people are hearty and vibrant, very kind.  I feel completely safe traveling around on my own, and quite honestly never feel lonely.  It's been such a great trip so far.  Now if I can just figure out how to open the gas tank door on the car....

Sixmilebridge...and the SEAHAWKS!!!

Today is an in day.  And when I say in, I mean cozied up in the daybed next to the fire in.  It's cold outside, and the sky is the kind of white-gray that tells me no sun is getting through.  The only reasons I left the cottage were 1.) to get more fuel for the fire from the shed.  and 2.) to go see Steph's studio, view her work and purchase one of her gorgeous shawls!  She does incredibly delicate work, and you can view it here:  www.saolreirishknit.com

 

Yesterday (Sunday) was a gorgeous day! I decided to go back to Sixmilebridge around 2pm for some more music with Steph and her friends.  The skies were blue, and it was cold and clear.  

Various acts were playing in different pubs around town, so you'd bounce from one to the other to catch different groups.  The first act we caught, The Eskies (www.theeskies.com), were so good!  They were playing at The Olde House in Sixmilebridge.  Seated on small stools against the wall, the pub eventually filled while they were playing, many people standing and sitting on the floor in front of the band.

They were rowdy and bawdy and everything you could hope for from an Irish band.  Interestingly, they played a lot of CCR, some Statler Brothers and the Chris Isaak song, "Wicked Game".  So good!!! I loved their spirit and absolute musicianship.  They interacted a lot with the crowd, yelling and laughing back and forth.  Just good fun.  

We then went on to The Duck Inn to see Steph's friend Rob and the band he's in play again.  Very good as well!  Rob plays "the bones", as well as a washboard he wears over his shoulders and plays with spoons.  So talented!  

After we got home, I cooked some dinner and did some research on what I want to do and where I want to go when I get the car this week.  The Seahawks were playing in the NFC Championship game and I was trying to stream it live with no success; however, I was able to stream the audio live and tuned in to the game. 

Oy!!  Who knew it would go like this.  So, after the fifth and last turnover, I quit the live audio feed.  I couldn't listen anymore. But then NFL Mobile notified me the Seahawks scored a touchdown.  I decided then and there I would listen, however bad it was, and finish out the game.  And I am so glad I did!  All I can say is, wow, what a finish!  Crazy.  

Tomorrow I'm not sure what I'll be up to.  Probably will be itching for a walk as I did not get out today.  There is one more loop I want to do around here before I start roaming the greater Irish countryside with the car on Wednesday.  This has been such a perfect experience, I could not be happier. Steph is a marvelous host and this part of the country is beautiful.  

This country is seeping into the marrow of my soul.  The music and the people. I welcome the sounds of the cattle lowing, the smell of the farm animals as I'm taking my walks.  The simple pleasure of climbing down from the loft every morning and building a fire, or cooking up a simple but hearty meal for myself.  I am unearthing new pieces of me.  I've learned that all I need to succeed is in me.  Not just me, but all of us!  And if you have a dream, go for it.  You won't regret it, I promise you.