A Little Urban Adventure

Lately sunny days have been rare at home.  So, when you get them, you have to take advantage.  This afternoon I took myself up to Mt. Scott Creek Trail and made some interesting discoveries.  

The trail itself loops 1.1 miles around a gully with a stream running through it.  It is strange to be surrounded by million dollar homes and yet somehow be in the middle of nature.  One of the things I love best about Portland is all the little green spaces and wildlife habitat preserved in the middle of the city.  

I discovered two old vehicles, a car and a truck, down by the stream, so of course I had to go investigate and take photos.  Along the way I saw some fresh deer droppings and some hoof marks.  Apparently the deer like to come down and drink from the creek also.  Civilization never can totally move nature out, she always finds a way.  

As I was finishing the loop, a hummingbird and a bluebird greeted me.  It took me about an hour to meander around the loop and a worthwhile adventure it was.  It was a fun place to spend part of an afternoon.  I included a gallery of my photos, so be sure to click through and see them all.  

Shotgun

My last post - July.  Pathetic.  Every month this summer I took a road trip.  In July I went to Idaho and ended up in Montana for the first time in almost a decade to visit my dad.  In August, I drove down to Oakland, CA from Portland, OR and back in the span of 36 hours.  This was very unexpected.  Talk about brutal.  I left Thursday afternoon and drove to Medford, then on to Oakland Friday morning.  We loaded up the car, had lunch, and then left for home Friday afternoon.  We got into Portland at about 3:30 am Saturday morning.  

In September my brother and I took another road trip, this time my brother was on his way to Missoula to live with our Dad for awhile.  The plan was we would rendezvous with Dad at our aunt and uncle's house in Spokane.  We left Saturday morning, arrived in Spokane late afternoon.  Dad was supposed to arrive Sunday afternoon.  Well, turns out, Dad could not make it.  Ben and I soldiered on to Missoula.  In one evening, we drove from Spokane to Missoula, I dropped my brother off, then turned around and went back to Spokane that same night.  In the morning, I headed back home.  That trip lasted from Sat-Mon.  

I'm not sure what it is about driving 1200 miles in the span of 2-3 days.  Kind of exhilarating, kind of brutal.  And so we termed them "shotgun" trips.  You load up in the car and make it happen. You stop at gas stations, eat terrible foods, consume copious amounts of energy drinks, coffee and soda. I don't think I ever want to drive I5 from here to California again.  I've had enough.  

So, in the span of one month, I drove roughly 2500 miles, through California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.  It makes me tired even thinking about it!  I have no plans for a road trip in October, but then again, I didn't plan on those road trips in August and September either.  With the Freelance Adventurer, you never know what could be around the next bend.  I am hopeful there will be no more "shotgun" road trips.  I would like to take some time and enjoy the journey.  

The problem is I get itchy feet when I don't have a trip planned.  My heart pines for traveling, longs to explore the world and see new places.  Perhaps I'll plan something a little closer to home, maybe a beach trip.  Who knows.  But that's the thing...you never know where I might be at any given time.  So we'll see how long it takes me to get back on the road.  


Missoula Or Bust.

On the 4th I headed out from Portland to Boise to spend the day with my best friend and her family.  Today I sit at a hotel in Missoula, on the final leg of my journey, visiting with my Dad.  In the course of that time, I took a mini road-trip with my best friend Chris up to the Old Sawmill Station campsite, near Clayton, ID, to spend a few nights camping on my way to Missoula.

The drive from Boise to Old Sawmill Station was gorgeous.  We stopped a lot along the way so I could get pictures.  And, if you know me, you know I did.  We had one episode where we had pulled over off the highway so I could snap some pics.  Chris was backing up and all of a sudden I felt the right back tire of the car floating on air.  Luckily, we did not end up in the ditch.  We stopped in at Stanley Lake, Redfish Lake, and made our way to the camp site Wednesday night.  I loved being outside.  Chris cooked us kebobs for dinner and we sat outside enjoying some adult beverages and waited for the sun to set.  And then we saw the deer! It was magical.  The mama and babies were playing out in the field behind the trailer.  There is something so right about sitting on a fence drinking a beer with no place to be.  

Old Sawmill Station Road Trip

On Thursday we spent the morning at the trailer and then decided to go out and see some ghost towns in the area.  We hit Bonanza and Custer, and then went down to the river across from Sunbeam.  The land and scenery is gorgeous!  We drove along the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River (I think that's right) and saw the old gold dredger which turned over tons and tons of rock looking for gold and silver.  And for whatever reason, I collected rocks from every site we went to.  Now I have a pretty good little collection rolling around in the car.  When did I become such a nerd? 

Bonanza Ghost Town

Custer Ghost Town

Yankee Fork Dredge and Sunbeam

We had so much fun kicking around exploring.  The one ghost town we didn't make it to was Bayhorse.  We spent my last night at the camp site hanging out.  We thought we might go eat in one of the towns but Chris ended up cooking up some brats and we sat around and shot the shit.  When I say we, I mean Chris, her boyfriend Brian, and I.  A few of the guys from Brian's job came over and said hi.  They're doing road work at milepost....205 or something like that, so they've been up there for the whole year working during the week.  Then we decided to watch "Hot Tub Time Machine".  Can't say I missed much not seeing it up until now, but after the movie was over, I did get to see the baby deer eating outside the camper.  It was pretty cool.

On Friday I left for Missoula.  I drove the Salmon River Scenic Byway and came into the Southern end of the Bitterroot Valley.  I did stop in to Bayhorse on my way through.  It was awesome!  I love history, so learning about all these old mining towns was very interesting to me.  Fires destroyed most of them, and so people moved on elsewhere.  Custer has a pretty cool museum and they make their own old-fashioned soda, so when we were there on Thursday I got a Black Cherry old-fashioned soda.  The drive went pretty well.  There were a few instances when a deer was out on the road, but luckily no mishaps.  At one point there was a semi truck bearing down on me and I wasn't sure if he was gonna hit me or I was gonna hit the deer, but everyone was safe.  I didn't take a lot of photos of the Bitterroot Valley because I was anxious to get to Missoula and had already wasted a bunch of time.

Bayhorse Ghost Town

It's been raining in Missoula since I got here Friday.  A little unusual for this time of year.  So, I've been hanging out with my Dad and doing mainly inside stuff.  But, today we might get out to a baseball game or do some exploring since it has stopped raining.  We'll see what happens.  I'm heading back to Portland on Tuesday.  I'll be glad to get home but will most likely start planning another adventure.  I've got some ideas in mind already about where I might go.  I'm never happier than when I'm on a trip, or planning one.  

Where is Elk Rock?

Last Thursday, the 18th of June, I decided to go on a little local adventure.  I knew about Elk Rock Island, and knew it was in the river South of Milwaukie but had no idea how to get there.  I looked it up, figured out how to access it and then called to see if my 12-year old nephew wanted to go with me, so he agreed and I went and picked him up.  The island is accessed via a short trail at 19th & Sparrow, just off River Road in Milwaukie.

In the winter, when the water is higher, it is only accessible via the river because a slough fills in the land bridge.  But now, because the water level is so low, it was easy access.  Apparently, based on the parks & rec site, the island "represents part of an ancient volcano that erupted about 40 million years ago. The large, jagged rocks (Waverly Heights basalt) found throughout the island were formed by lava flows, and may be the oldest exposed rock in the Portland area. The island contains seven distinct habitats, including wetlands, forests, and grasslands. Across the river, there are high cliffs which are Elk Rock proper. A Native American legend holds that this was a good spot to stampede a herd of elk over the cliff. The island gets its name from being near Elk Rock." Also I apparently said "basalt" wrong because my nephew corrected me and then proceeded to launch into a monologue about the different kinds of rocks there are.  

The trail from Elk Rock.

The trail from Elk Rock.

Elk Rock from the trail.

Elk Rock from the trail.

It was a pretty cool place to visit.  There are so many places around the Portland area I have never even been to.  The island is criss-crossed with little trails, and takes maybe an hour or so to walk around.  There are beachy spots you can spend the afternoon if you so like, and there were a few people out doing that.  We decided to call it a day and go do some more urban exploring in Milwaukie.  I made a deal with my nephew I would take him to a game store to trade in some games. That was his reward for agreeing to go with me to the island. We also decided to go visit the chocolatier in downtown Milwaukie, Enchante.  And, if you have not been, go!  The store is gorgeous.  Not only do they have chocolate, but old-fashioned candy and Paris inspired decor and vintage treasures.  

Store interior (not my photo, credit to www.gallivant.com)

Store interior (not my photo, credit to www.gallivant.com)

After that we visited the old soda fountain/antique store in Milwaukie, Main Street Collectors Mall.  It is rumored JFK (I think) visited and sat right at the counter.  Connor loves going in there to check out the knives and cool stuff they have.  And we made it to the game store and then rounded out our day at Cha Cha Cha, eating chips and salsa and quesadillas and tacos out in the sun.  For some reason, I love Mexican food on a hot, summer day.  And this was definitely that!  Mission accomplished for the day.  Where am I off to next?  Boise, Idaho for the 4th and maybe just maybe sneaking off to Montana to see my Dad.  We'll see where my travels take me.  

 

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.  

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 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.

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!! 

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.  

Shannonside Winter Music Day

This afternoon Steph took me over to Shannonside Winter Music Day.  From noon- 5pm, they had several groups playing in several different venues around Bunratty Castle (http://www.shannonheritage.com/BunrattyCastleAndFolkPark/).  My first trip to a real castle.  I got only a very few photos, and those with my phone.  I will be going back on Thursday night for the medieval dinner, and then the next morning to the Folk Park.  

Steph's friend Rob played in The Boat Band (UK) first, so we went and listened in on them.  They played in the castle basement.  We wandered up and through the great hall, and then up and up and up these tight, tiny circular stone staircases and came out on one of the turrets.  After a few photos, we headed back down to hear some progressive trad music from Cross Harbour UK. They were very good too!

We caught a little bit of the Flamenco duo, Cintron Bros Flamenco USA.  There were musicians from Ireland, the UK and the US.  I took a few shots of The Golden Star Morris Dancers UK, dancing outside the main entrance of the castle.  The last band we listened to, JigJam, is a Celtrgrass band.  Yes, Celtic bluegrass.  Playing guitars, banjos, fiddles (large and small) they were my fave of the day!  I wanted to get their CD, but Steph wanted to beat the traffic so we headed out.  Good news - I can get them online (https://www.facebook.com/jigjamlive) and get their album via iTunes.

Steph and I talked about heading back into Sixmilebridge tonight to catch some more music, but, it is a fair drive, so we decided to wait and go back to listen tomorrow.  So, here I am eating pork chops, potatoes and having a pint of Guinness by the fire.  

After talking to some locals today, and Steph, about weather and plans with the car, I decided to cancel any and all reservations I had, and take the pressure off myself.  I want to get to Norther Ireland, but, weather could be a factor.  And there is so much to do here, in and around County Clare.  I cannot wait to get back to the castle an take more photos, when it's maybe a little quieter.  I want to explore the village of Sixmilebridge.  Get to the Cliffs of Moher, and the Burren.  Maybe spend a night in Galway.  I've got two full weeks with the car, so I am excited about that.  More adventures await!

Mass Rock

Yesterday was rather uneventful, for the most part.  I did go out for a walk and got soaked.  Raining solid all afternoon.  And Steph took me into Tulla for some groceries and more fuel for the fire.  I missed the best part of the day, late morning.  On thing in Ireland, you gotta get out when it's good or you'll miss it.  And regret it!

Today I decided to go on a long ramble.  The morning dawned bright and fair, the glen scrubbed clean by last night's rain.  I decided to head towards Feakle and see if I could at least find the way to the trailhead to Mass Rock.  Fascinated since Steph told me what it was, I wanted to get out there as soon as I got my car.  

I packed up my backpack and bundled up.  I happened to see Steph on my way out and she offered to drive me up somewhere and then I could walk back.  I said "what about Feakle?" and she said "I'll take you up to Mass Rock".  So, she drove me up and dropped me off at the trailhead and left me on my own.

You will see from the pictures I started out on a forestry road.  I went for probably a kilometer or two through the forest.  It was just me, and the birds.  No people in sight.  But, who knows, I'm terrible with distances!  And then I saw the sign for Mass Rock, heading to the left and down through the forest.  Mass Rock is on the Ballycroum Loop, which is part of the East Clare Way.  

This is when I discovered the landscape can be very deceiving.  I walked down a very wet, mucky path, and tried to avoid getting sucked in by going around on the sides.  No such luck. I stepped down and whoosh!  In went my whole foot, sucked down up to my ankle.  At least I got that out of the way.  I did get to climb over what's called a "stile", and that was fun.  You'll see a picture of it in the photos.  

I though that the rest of the trail would be better.  Wrong again.  Some parts of it were fine.  But with the recent rain and snow, some parts were deep thick mud.  No choice but to go on, so I hiked up a little into the heather and saw grass and would parallel the trail in the bad parts.  Let me just say I got my feet wet several more times.  You would think you were stepping down on grass, and then nope, whoosh and in went the whole foot.  My shoes are still drying by the fire now.  

I would have liked to go further on the trail.  In fact,  there is a good chance I didn't even make it to the actual rock.  But, knowing I didn't have a whole lot of daylight left, and had a lot of road to walk to get home, once I took some pics from the top of what I thought was the rock I headed back.  More foot-mucking, as I'll call it.  I am proud to report I only slipped once, and no bad came of it.  I kept my camera and myself pretty safe.  There was not a soul around, and I really didn't want to end up stuck in quick sand or something.  

I headed back down the forestry trail to connect up with the road and the long walk home.  And it was long.  But I got the best part of the day!!  I even had to, well, mark my territory on the forestry road.  Yes, peeing in the Irish forest.  I figured I'd better do it then because I had no chance once I got on the main roads.  

And so I walked and walked and walked and took photos and walked some more.  I may have been out walking for a solid 3 1/2 hours or so.  You can see from the photo stream how my journey progressed.  I made it back to the road leading to Feakle, headed left.  Now onto the junction, now onto the lane and down the hill where Druid Cottage lies.  

I have been trying, without success, to figure out exactly how far I walked.  The whole of Ballycroum Loop is 9km, obviously I didn't do all of it.  But I did do a portion of it and the forestry road.  I give myself 3-4 km for the out and in on that one.  I came all the way from the trail head down the road, so that would be about 2-3 km.  And home would be probably another 2-3.  So, I figure around 9-10 km.  

I may need to revisit this place once I can drive to the trailhead and I will be sure to wear my Bogs boots.  The trail would have been no issue with those on.  I'm beginning to figure out why everyone wears Wellies.  It's not just a cute fashion statement, you need them!!!  You could go ankle deep into mud at any given time unless you are on a paved road.  

And then the coolest thing happened. I lost my sunglasses within the last few days and I was kinda bummed because they would have been handy today.   Pretty close to home, I stopped to take a photo, looked down, and there were my sunglasses.  A little muddy, yes.  But not broken.  Not one scratch, nothing.  And they were right outside a farm gate and the tractor is in and out of that area all the time!  I could not believe they were intact.  I took them home and washed them up, good as new.  

Tomorrow I'm going to the "Shannonside Winter Music Festival" (http://www.wmw.ie) with Steph.  Looks like it will be a lot of fun!  She's got a friend in town who plays in one of the bands.  I'm fairly certain it will be early to bed for me tonight.  I am wiped out after my journey!

I've got lots of new photos up from my excursion today, see them here:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/128803341@N02/

One Week.

It's been exactly a week now.  Hard to believe.  I'm sitting up in bed in the loft, ready to conclude another day.  I spent a lot of today in, between the snow and the wind.  But, I did get out late morning for a 2 hour walk.  

I swear this country is in technicolor.  I'm not sure if it was due to the snow on the ground, and the greens and russets reflected back in the white, but you'll see what I mean if you look at the photos.  

This morning was gorgeous!  It doesn't really fully get light here until around 8:30 or 9:00, and I knew wind was coming in later today, so I left a little earlier than usual.  Even now it's rolling around the cottage and the glen.  Not as bad as the other day, but loud enough that it sounds like thunder rolling through.

I went on my favorite walk, up the hill.  There's a certain point where the road levels out and you can see across the valley and I knew it would make for some good pics.  And it was cold.  I bundled up from head to toe.  

When I got back in from my walk, Steph messaged me if I had seen a ram on my walk.  I hadn't, but I did see some hoof marks in the snow I didn't recognize and let Steph know he headed up the hill.  He escaped to go further down the road to see his love interest, a neighboring horse just past the junction.  I guess he also got out yesterday as well to see his lady love.  But, everyone is back home safe and sound.

I met a farmer walking his horse and two dogs, gorgeous, all of the animals.  Dogs are never on a leash out here, at least that I have seen.  And I usually see more dogs than people.  After I got home and banked the fire, I decided to make a soup.  I had some beets and kale that needed eating, as well as some sausages.  

I did something for the soup I've never done at home, boiled rice in a bag.  I also added potatoes. So, yea, pretty random.  All in all, it ended up pretty well.  I boiled the sausages and used their broth as the base for the soup.  A hearty, simple meal.  

It's interesting how quickly I've adjusted to life here in the cottage.  I love my 2+ hour rambles, most days.  I have barely had coffee, only tea for me.  I can start the fire and keep it going, I'm doing a lot of cooking and being at the cottage.  Steph's cats are my usual companions in the evening. They're down sleeping right now in the living room.  

Next week I'll have a car, so then I'll be getting out and about more.  But I wanted to take the first few weeks to really soak up the countryside and get used to things.  There is something about this place that is special and magical for me.    


Ennis

Finally I've got my photos from my day trip to Ennis uploaded.  I'll have to go in tomorrow and tag them more specifically, but they are a visual feast for the eyes.  I am so glad I decided to invest in a worthwhile camera for this trip.  

Outside is blanketed with snow, and it is most peaceful and beautiful tonight.  I hope tomorrow I can get out before the snow goes away and get some pictures of the countryside layered in white.

Today has been fairly low-key for me.  I tromped around Ennis from 10am to 5pm yesterday, and only stopped to sit down for lunch at the Poets Corner in the Old Ground Hotel.  I wandered around the cobblestone streets visiting churches and stopping in to shops, so I think I was a little tired from all that walking.  Amazingly enough, it only rained for about 5 minutes the entire day.  It was bright and cold and I managed to get around to all the places I had on my list to see.

Ennis is laid out like a medieval town.  At the center is O'Connell square, and streets go out in all directions, like so many spokes on a wheel.  The river Fegus runs lazily through the center of town.  As I meandered down the streets, drawn to music, I turned into a short alleyway and found "Custy's Traditional Music" shop.  I purchased what else but a book of "130 Great Irish Ballads".  Complete with CD, sheet music and guitar chords, I can learn them when I get home.

I had a conversation with the shopkeeper, asking me why I was in Ireland.  The first question is always something like "do you have roots here?" I told him I did, and told him I ended up booking a cottage near Feakle and he asked, "how did you end up in Feakle?"  To that I replied, "I have no idea!"  Turns out his brother was one of the fiddle players at Peppers Bar the night before.  Small world.  

I didn't visit the inside of too many shops, just could not be bothered.  More intent on exploring and getting photos, shopping held no lure for me.  Around 2:30 I decided to go to the Poets Corner to eat, ravenous by that time.  The bar is located within the Old Ground Hotel.  And I had my first Guinness.  The bar is beautiful, but that you can see from the photos.  All morning I took photos of the Franciscan Friary, Franciscan Abbey, St. Colombo's church, the Clare library and a bunch of other street and landscape pics.!  Unfortunately I did not get to go into any of the church buildings, though I did try. 

Yes, I had camera in hand and backpack on.  Looking like and owning the tourist I am, I had to consult my map to make sure I oriented myself in the right direction.  After finishing lunch and exiting the Old Ground Hotel, I found Saints Peter and Paul's cathedral.  This church I did go into to.  I felt in awe the minute I walked in the door, struck by the beauty of the cathedral.  I lit votive candles and said a silent prayer of thanks and gratitude for the many blessings in my life, including this trip.  

The last few places I went were the Ennis bookshop, where I purchased a book filled with short histories of the most famous Irish writers.  And a new book by Nora Roberts, set in Ireland.  I could not resist.  Across the way is Honan Antiques, and the store, packed floor to ceiling with gilded objects was gorgeous.  I left my backpack at the front counter so I would not inadvertently break anything.  At the back I found a 20 Euro table.  Finally something I might be able to afford!

I left empty-handed and headed back out.  Steph had dropped me off at a small shopping center outside of town and so I needed to get back and meet her at five.  I picked up some slipper socks and a few knit hats. I neglected to pack mine and so I picked them up for cheap at a store called Penneys, as well as a few grocery items at Tesco, including gluten-free bread.  I was even early to meet Steph.   

Tomorrow we are supposed to get wind again, so who knows what that will be like.  The weather forecasters have been pretty accurate, I've been checking daily and they've been right.  After Thursday, I don't see anymore crazy wind or snow predicted, but that could change.  I think Ireland might be the only place where the weather changes more often and with more dramatics than Oregon.  And strangely, I feel quite at home.  

My pics are now uploaded here, more than 400 of them! I've only been in Ireland a week, good God!  https://www.flickr.com/photos/128803341@N02/