THE TWO-WEEK MARK (DAY 14)

This will be a short(ish) blog because I have a cold and it’s making me miserable and tired. THAT SAID, today was MOSTLY bus. We stopped at Blair Castle in the morning, the seat of Clan Murray, the Dukes of Atholl. Long story short the original castle, built in the 1200’s sometime, was actually built by a neighboring rival clan while the original Earl of Atholl (the clan leader) was away. When the earl returned he went to the king for help, and together they ousted his daring neighbor and he took over the castle. Since then the castle was renovated in the 1800’s to be a Georgian mansion; in the Victorian period it regained some of its castle status when turrets and crenelations were added once more (having been torn down to make the fortification look like a mansion). It has hosted such personages as Bonnie Prince Charlie, Queen Victoria, and one of the emperors of Japan before he was emperor. The Duke of Atholl is the only man still allowed his own private army in all of Europe.

Anyway, we toured Blair Castle and then had lunch before setting off again. This time we stopped at St. Andrew’s, leaving some people to wander the golf course while the rest of us went to explore the ruins of St. Andrew’s Cathedral. The cathedral was virtually destroyed during the Reformation, and its stones used as a cut-stone quarry for the houses and buildings around it. Today it hosts a small museum and a graveyard, its ruined walls overlooking the Northern Sea. We had about 20 minutes to wander what remains of the cathedral before being chivied onto the bus once more, this time for Edinburgh.

We got in with about two hours to spare before dinner and just relaxed; then we headed off for a ‘Scottish Dinner’ which looked to be pretty much the same as the Irish cabaret. I’m pleased to say that the Taste of Scotland Scottish Dinner was much nicer than the cabaret; the food was good and the entertainment awesome. Pipers, dancers, singers, and a great host made it an enjoyable evening, with the small drawbacks of being packed in like sardines and Mom being charged £3.90 for less than a centimeter of whisky in the bottom of her glass when they brought the haggis out. Yes, we all tried haggis, and to be honest it really wasn’t bad. A couple of the songs got a little bawdy but we all had fun, and several of the tour members on the bus seemed more than a little tipsy on the drive home.

Sorry it’s a little truncated— I want to get to bed! Later!

DAYS 12 AND 13

Well, as predicted, no internet last night, but that’s okay— two days are easier to catch up on than one. We started out early enough but not terribly so, heading from Glasgow toward the highlands and the Isle of Skye. Our first stop of the day was at Loch Lomond (LOH-mund), where we had an optional boat ride on the lake; those of us not going were to be taken by bus to the landing point further down the loch. Mom, Megan and I all filed onto the Lomond Prince, and shortly thereafter we got underway.

At first Mom and Megan wanted to sit in back for the scenery, but with a cold already restricting my breathing I couldn’t stand the diesel fumes the boat pumped out, so I went to the upper deck which offered commanding views from the windows lining the hull on both sides. Mom and Megan didn’t stay aft long, anyway; the fumes got to them as well and they came up to join me…until the captain mentioned free tea and coffee down on the lowest deck. We promptly found our way down and Mom ordered a hot chocolate with brandy in it, while Megan and I simply got (virgin) hot chocolates. At that point the girl at the small bar offered to open the forward door onto the very front of the boat, so of course Mom and Megan took advantage of that to take copious pictures of scenery which, while beautiful, all starts to look the same on the camera after a few snapshots. Plus, it was cold!

Eventually I sucked it up and headed out there with them, particularly to take pictures of certain landmarks and what have you. I spent the rest of the trip bouncing between the dining cabin and that front little bit of deck, and we spent a pleasant hour or so on the loch sailing north, listening to stories of Rob Roy and the brief history and factoids of the loch. Upon landing we all went in search of bathrooms and, in Megan’s case, candy. Then it was back on the bus for some hairy bits of driving on the windy roads into the highlands; there were places where only one car could pass at a time, and not much warning before those, so suddenly the bus would come screeching to a halt to let some other cars pass, and sometimes trucks passed so close the mirrors nearly touched.

It was…interesting, especially considering Mom and Megan were in the very front row behind the driver and I was just behind them! Nevertheless we got out of it safely, stopping next at Glencoe for pictures. There was a piper at the stop (clogged with other buses and tourists), but the views were incredible. We spent a while looking around and then piled back onto the bus, setting off through Glencoe to Glenshiel, marveling at the landscapes and the sheer scrub-covered mountains all around.

We had lunch at Fort William, which was really pretty unremarkable except for the fact we had lunch there and walked around the gift shop. They had whisky samples out and I tried some; I kid you not, it tasted like what I’d imagine drinking rubbing alcohol would be like. No real flavor, just this nasty tang that lingered in my mouth even after I tried the cream as well, and even through the half a bottle of Sprite I had left from lunch. Long story short, not trying that again for a while…a long while. Once we left Fort William it was off to Skye with a short comfort stop near (but not at) Eilean Donan (a castle) and then over the narrow bridge to the large island. Then it was another hour or so drive along the island to Portree, the town where we were going to stay.

The town itself is tiny, home to about 3000 people, and in fact the hotel was so small that it couldn’t accommodate everyone in the coach…which meant that we three, being the bottom of the alphabetical list, had to stay someplace else entirely. We were the only ones, but we lucked out; we ended up with a harbor-front two-level suite with two bedrooms. It was beautiful and airy, and it was a shame we were only staying the night, although I have to admit the living room was cold.

This morning we woke to pouring rain, so no wandering Portree as we had last night. Thankfully the proprietress of the hotel which couldn’t accommodate us had enlisted a taxi the night before to pick us up, so we only had to run to the taxi rather than walk the admittedly short but steep hill up to the street fronting the other hotel. We went in for breakfast, then went out on a drive of the Isle of Skye, listening to its history and enjoying the scenery. Upon our return the rest of the group climbed onto the bus and we bid farewell to Portree.

The next couple of hours we spent backtracking over Skye to the mainland, with a stop at Eilean Donan for lunch (we didn’t get to go into the castle, there wasn’t time and the museum fee was not prepaid anyway). As we returned through Glenshiel and Glencoe, rain still pattering resiliently on the windows, we marveled at the sheer number of waterfalls all around us. Silver threads descended from the high ridges of the bens and monroes (ie mountains) all around us, and a few major crashing descents of white water showed to either side. We saw a couple of hydro-electric power plants, but for the most part the landscape remained fairly pristine, rugged and sparse and beautiful with clouds topping most of the mountains. Despite being the exact same drive we took getting to Skye, the whole of it looked vastly different in the rain, the waterfalls far more numerous and the effect wholly transformed from bright sunlight to mist and mystery.

The next remarkable stop I can remember (memory being a bit cold-fuzzy) was at Loch Ness. No sightings of the actual monster, but we noted several fiberglass versions of Nessie as we drove around the loch on our way to our next hotel. We stopped at a place where you could go under the road to the shores of the lake and take pictures (which we did), as well as wander the gift shop and pick up Nessie- and general Scotland-themed paraphernalia (which we did as well). Then it was back on the bus and away we went to Culloden.

Now, to be perfectly honest, by the time we got to Culloden Megan and I were a bit fed up with being dragged out into the rain. Yes the stops were cool, but the day was absolutely miserable and I, being the pansy I am when it comes to coughing, did not want to make it worse to look at a field and a wall. Battlefield and site of slaughter Culloden might be, but I just couldn’t share Mom’s enthusiasm while coughing my throat out. We spent most of the half hour at Culloden inside, then were late getting to the bus because Mom was at the cash register and the girl on the other side was taking her sweet time getting the tax form written up.

We finally reached the hotel, only to drop of people not going on the tour to a sheep farm; the rest of us stayed on the bus. Then we were off again, this time to a place where we could watch a shepherd working sheep with nine of his top-form border collies. That was actually pretty cool and we enjoyed it immensely…especially when he brought out the six-week-old puppies and let us feed the orphan lambs! The puppies pretty much made our days and Mom got several pictures of Megan and I grinning like total idiots while we clutched little black-and-white bundles of adorable. When it came time to go we were loath to put them down, but we did just that…and spent several more minutes in the barn playing with the whole litter. I think Mom got as many pictures of me actually smiling today as she’s gotten the entire trip.

Mom playfully checked our hoods when we got on the bus for stowaway puppies and asked if we had any hidden in our sweaters, and then it was away again for dinner and bed. I honestly have no idea where we’re going tomorrow so I don’t really know if I’ll have internet, so whatever the case, love you all!

Day 11

So…our day in Glasgow!

Thankfully nothing happened today like what happened leaving Castlebar, and generally speaking it was a pretty chill day. We even had breakfast at— gasp!— 8:30! With a departure after 9 o’clock! Of course, sleeping in would have been too sweet; I don’t think any of the three of us managed much past 7:30. In any case we were certainly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as we set off for our ‘city tour’, which was more of an orientation for Glasgow. 

We started off heading toward St. Mungo’s Cathedral, the only cathedral in the city having survived the Reformation mostly intact. Though soot blackens most of its stones (a topic of endless debate, apparently) the cathedral remains quite beautiful both inside and out. Unfortunately many of the carvings within were demolished in the Reformation, and the stained glass windows had to be replaced only 100 years or so after their installation according to some of the informational signs in the crypts, but you could never tell, and the whole place is gorgeous.

When we stepped off the bus the nearby strains of bagpipes greeted us. Personally I assumed they were practicing for the Edinburgh Tattoo, not that I’d really know; the pipers wore regular street clothes, but all the same the pipes were wonderful to listen to and all too appropriate for our first full day in Scotland.

After our short visit at the cathedral we set off to see the Burrell collection (or however it’s spelled), set in a park about five miles outside the city center. This distance was requested by the donor in order to preserve the artifacts from pollution, and the park itself provides an ideal setting. The air tasted sweet when we stepped off the bus, and the trees around us provided fresh air where we might have been breathing the all-too-familiar fumes of a bustling Monday morning in a major city.

We wandered around the small museum, containing anything from medieval furniture to cut arches and doorways from medieval French churches to artifacts from Egypt and China. It was all quite interesting, and we managed to walk away with only a few token items from the gift shop, and nothing major. Of course, we can’t be near a gift shop without purchasing something, and I’m as guilty as my mom and sister!

Anyway, once we got back from that we were left on our own for lunch, so Mom, Megan and I went wandering off into a large open-air mall/square. We stopped into a kilt shop (did not buy any kilts) and walked out with cashmere scarves which were at a nice sale price (Mom offered, neither Megan nor I asked!), as well as some gifts. By then Megan was complaining that her hollow leg needed filling, so we set off in search of food and came across a TGI Friday’s. That settled it, and that’s where we had lunch; guess what Megan ordered? If you guessed steak, you’d be right! But really it was a great lunch at a reasonable price, and when we’d finished we rushed off to the nearest camera store to find some way to back up Megan’s pictures, because she’d managed to forget the cord to connect her camera to the computer.

We found a fairly universal memory card reader which, having since tried it out, I can say works perfectly, and it was a much better investment than buying her another memory card (and cheaper, too). Then it was off to get back to the hotel for our optional excursion of the day into the Trossachs area, during which trek we only got a little lost because the street upon which the hotel sits changes names twice as it heads north. We eventually had to dig out a map, but we’d only gone one block too far west and still needed to walk further south, so it was alright. We made it in time to drop off our things and head out again.

The ‘Trossachs tour’ turned into another long bus ride, but the scenery was, as always, beautiful. We passed Stirling Castle and the William Wallace memorial tower but didn’t get to go in, instead stopping for a few photo stops before continuing on. I tell you what, I was glad the bus didn’t decide to break down here as we wound our way through narrow little mountainous roads, discovering several lochs and valleys as we wound our way through the national park. On the way we stopped for a comfort stop at a little cafe, which boasted a highland bull by the name of Hamish and his lady wife and little son or daughter. We flung potatoes into his pasture to get his attention (the whole bus crowded up at the fence, I kid you not), but it was the lady wife and kid who meandered over to sample the potatoes we’d brought. We made sure to get plenty of pictures of it all, including one of Megan feeding the highland cow (or hielan’ coo, if you’re speaking in the dialect).

I can’t adequately describe the scenery as we carefully climbed through it. In some ways it reminded me of home and in some ways of Glacier National Park, but the Trossachs have a beauty and a charm all their own. We passed a hunting lodge and a little stone church on our way, stopped across the loch for incredible pictures (and more highland cows, who are entirely too cute), then proceeded on up to an old slate quarry with more beautiful views. We slowly wound our way out of the park and back to Glasgow, arriving sometime around 6 and left to our own devices for dinner.

At that point we went in search of an internet cafe (Mom needed a fax machine) to no success, we gave up and went after dinner, finally ending up in a little Italian restaurant not too far from the hotel. The waitress was fantastic and friendly; we ended up ordering a 12” pepperoni pizza which she bumped up to 15” for no extra cost. It was quiet and nice, just what we needed to close the day, and then it was back to the hotel to pack, load pictures, and sleep.

On a final note, we’re heading to the Isle of Skye tomorrow, and though we’re not going to the same hotel as everyone else (according to Peter, the regular hotel has no triple rooms so we’re staying at a nearby hotel right on the water) I have no guarantee we’ll have internet. We’ve been instructed to bring a bag packed for a night because the hotel has no lift and our heavy bags won’t be portered, so I doubt it. Therefore, farewell for a couple of days!

Days 8, 9, and 10— oh my!

Yeah…long story short, the Derry hotel had the crappiest internet I’ve seen in a while, so we just unplugged for a couple of days. Therefore, I have three days to cover, and rather eventful ones, too.

So: Friday.

That was interesting.

First off, breakfast was at the early mcfrigginearly hour of 6:45am. Now, you workin’ folk might stare at me strangely for calling that early, but I will remind you all that I’m nothing but a college student who made a point to take no classes earlier than 9am, and still had to drag my sorry butt out of bed for those ;D. Therefore, anything before 8 is ridiculous, before 7 bordering on heresy. 

Not that our early start helped us much. Not only had we lost our (second) driver due to a car bump right before we got to the hotel (evidently he had some sort of disagreement with the Trafalgar transport manager when he reported the incident, I don’t know the details, but afterward he quit) and had therefore gotten a third one, but once we got underway the people in the back noticed a strange shimmy in the back of the bus that hadn’t been there before.

Twenty minutes outside of town, one of the wheels on the left side came off and went careening into the trees. It took the bus driver a few minutes to hear the shouts from the back— or at least a bit to pull over— and when we did, we all watched the suddenly freed tire rolling down the road to topple at the end of the low stone wall on the right side.

After…oh, twenty, thirty minutes of waiting the other bus (there are two, because so many people are on the tour this time) came to take us back to the hotel, where we waited another half hour for a temporary replacement coach (with yet another driver) to show up. When it did, we realized just how lucky we were to have the coach we did because this one was a right crap-shoot, even dripping water onto some of the seats from the lights.

We drove back to our crippled coach— which, by the way, had an axle pointing at a downward angle, and the wheel behind the one that had come off looked to have been working its way off as well— to pick up the luggage, and went off on our way to Derry-Londonderry.

Due to our delays we couldn’t proceed on schedule as planned, so day eight essentially became a travel day with a lot of time on the bus. We passed by the grave of William Butler Yeats but had no time to stop as we had planned to, instead continuing on to the Ulster American Folk Park. The park itself was created to preserve the homestead of Thomas Mellon, whose descendants today are evidently hugely wealthy and wished it to be maintained in perpetuity. However, the Folk Park also contains various other structures of the 19th century, giving some idea of what life would have been like at the time. To be perfectly honest the place kind of creeped me out, notable the wax figures in many of the places, but the history was interesting.

After the folk park we proceeded to our hotel, which was actually about 20 minutes outside of Derry, and settled in for the night. Our real bus joined us around eleven pm, and evidently they’d had to dismantle the back of the bus entirely to get at and replace the axle. Supposedly the trouble stemmed from the bolts on the wheel having been tightened too much, but who knows. Everyone agreed the outcome could have been far more catastrophic than it actually was.

The next day we rearranged our schedule a bit and went out for our city tour of Derry. For those not brushed up on their history, Derry-Londonderry was essentially a warzone up until 1998, when the Troubles came to a close. Our guides for the day summed up the true terror of the times by noting that at the time, Baghdad, Beirut, and Belfast would be mentioned in the same breath on the same level of severity. Only six weeks ago the Peace Bridge opened across the River Foyle which separates the Catholic and Protestant sides of the city, so to speak, and murals in the Bogside depict and commemorate the struggles within the city itself. 

First we walked the walls, listening raptly to the tales given us by Ronan O’Brian, our tour guide— who looked to have stepped out of the Himalayas, as his mother was Chinese. However, his accent was all Derry and his rich voice told us of the history of the city in brief, leading us through the colorful and bloody trials of Ulster. Once back to our meeting-point near the Guild Hall, Ronan handed us off to Caroline, our guide for an optional excursion to Inishowen Peninsula. She took us up into the hills of Ulster to see a beautiful and commanding view of three of the counties of Ireland from the ‘Sun-Palace of the Gods’, the Irish name of which being Greanan Aileach; it is a small ring structure of stone with no roof.

After departing the view we set off for Buncrana through beautiful countryside, listening all the way to Caroline’s stories. She had grown up in and lived her young adult life during the Troubles, the period of violent unrest over civil rights and religious prejudice and discrimination. Such sad stories she had…stories of blood and fear, grief and anger and atrocity and finally…hope. She remembered being held at gunpoint at one stage, remembered the death of three twelve-year-old boys from Buncrana, remembered all her Protestant neighbors leaving for fear of the violence, as her family was Catholic and therefore ‘safe’ in their neighborhood.

Walking the city walls, and listening to Caroline’s stories, it was almost as though you could feel the city grieving up through its stones. Maybe that’s just me taking poetic license or being the overly-sensitive dreamer I’ve been accused of at times, but it’s very true that the people living in Derry, and indeed the city itself, are still scarred and only in the process of healing. However, to accompany the grief, you can sense the faint breath of hope, a little stronger now than it must have been ten years ago.

In any case, as we said our goodbyes to Caroline and to Derry, I know I wasn’t the only one reflecting upon all we’d heard thus far. After lunch we departed for the Giant’s Causeway.

That was an interesting site; the actual center above the Causeway itself was under heavy construction, and the Causeway was either a 20 minute walk or a 5 minute bus ride down the seaside hill. We chose to walk down, stopping to take pictures on the way, and when we got to the Causeway I was struck by how similar the structures look to what you’d find at Sheepeaters’ Cliffs in Yellowstone. Hexagonal pillars of basalt thrust up out of the sea, black where the sea touches them, spotted with lichen where it doesn’t, and all of it making for interesting footing as you make your way down to the water.

Legend holds that the Causeway was created by a giant crossing the sea— and creating the causeway before him— to visit a woman and take her to wife. However, his rival took offense to this and followed him from Scotland after he’d take the girl. Hearing of his approach, the first giant, ostensibly Irish, begged for his mother to hide him. She did— by dressing him in swaddling clothes and putting him in the cradle! When the rival arrived she chatted with him, and eventually left for fear of the Irish giant after having noted the size of the baby.

In reality, the causeway was created when incoming seawater hit hot molten rock and lava, apparently.

In any case, we lingered on the rocks until we realized how long the line for the bus was. Unfortunately, Mom lost her balance and fell twice, the first time toppling sideways but emerging relatively unharmed. The second time she rolled and twisted her ankle. By now she says it’s only stiff, and she’s managed to walk on it, but we made sure to ice it when we got back to the hotel.

Today started a little later, though not by much, and we left Derry for Belfast. You’ll have noted from earlier paragraphs that Belfast was also a center of strife, but that isn’t its only claim to fame. Belfast is also the original home to the Titanic, and boasts a proud maritime history. We got to see the cranes which once constructed ships, now devoted to other projects, and drove around Belfast listening to the facts and figures of the city. This guide did not divulge her stories of the Troubles, being what Peter (our tour director) called a guide in the ‘old style’.

We fairly rushed through Belfast and then left again for a 1 o’clock ferry to Scotland, bidding Ireland goodbye—although for my part, it’s only a short goodbye. The crossing only took about an hour as we sailed over the Irish sea, then listened some brief historical notes on the Scots-Irish and the Scots themselves as we drove in to Glasgow. The terrain looks much the same, green hillsides dotted with sheep, but of course we haven’t gone to the Highlands yet.

Upon arrival in Glasgow we went straight to dinner where they actually served us something other than pork, chicken, or salmon— we were amazed! Nearly everyone at the table ordered the sea bass offered (except Megan, of course, who got pasta instead), and I have to say…it was really delicious. Everything was, really, and we had a good time. Then off to the hotel, where we (Mom, Megan, and I, not anybody else) discovered we’d apparently been left off the list and had no room. Though that was quickly remedied, we had to lug our bags upstairs ourselves, but the trade-off was we get a room right by the elevators rather than a mile away down some twisty hall with three doors you have to go through. Unfortunately we only have two beds, so Mom and Megan are sharing.

Happily we slow down from here on out; we have two nights in Glasgow, then move on to the Isle of Skye where there won’t be room for our suitcases, so we’ve been instructed to pack only our hand luggage for that detour. I’m looking forward to it; the scenery is said to be absolutely fantastic.

Until next time, farewell!

Oh look, pictures :) Although only the ones I’ve taken myself, and a selection from those at that.

Also, there were supposed to be 84 but photobucket crapped out on me, so you only get 33 and I don’t know which 33 those are. So, :c sorry.

OH LOOK, DAY 7

I am on day seven, right?

SO, FIRST OFF, BACK UP A COUPLE OF DAYS, BACK TO KILLARNEY.

I completely neglected to mention that the night we had dinner on the farm, we preceded it with an awesome optional excursion: a boat ride and a ride in a jaunting car. Now, that doesn’t sound too exciting, and to be honest the boat ride really wasn’t, but the jaunting cars…

Well, they call them cars, but they’re really carts or little wagons pulled by horses and ponies. So, if you know my little sister and I at all, you can probably see why this has been our favorite optional excursion thus far. We got to come up close and pet the horses, some of whom looked suspiciously like Gypsy Vanners or cobs— that being draft horses or draft mixes (I think?) that are black paints, generally speaking. Many of them have pretty feathering (long hair) around their hooves, and really I just love them, so I was a happy camper. My back wasn’t pleased by the end of the ride, but Bob and I got to sit up front so I sure wasn’t complaining. It was a cool, brisk, informative, and lovely ride through Killarney National Park right back to Killarney from the lake.

NOW, MOVING FORWARD TO TODAY:

Lots. And lots. And lots of driving. Today we went from Killarney to Castlebar.

Now, if you look on this handy-dandy little map I dug up from all-mighty Google, you can see that Killarney is down in county Kerry. Castlebar, which is not on the map, is way up somewhere close to halfway between Galway (the city) and Easkey. That’s a rough estimate, but you can see how bloody far we went today. Ireland looks small, but we spent most of the day driving, if you’d believe it— along a twisty two-lane road. Not that I was really complaining; the scenery was beautiful and we kept passing things like crumbling abbeys and castles and the like. We stopped a few times, sometimes as comfort stops and sometimes for stuff like, I don’t know, lunch, but the major stop of the day was at the Cliffs of Moher. 

Now, I haven’t gotten those pictures up yet, unfortunately, so you won’t be seeing them quite yet, but here’s a little teaser, also from Google:

Now, this isn’t my picture, so if you want to know who took it go here.

And yes, we took lots and lots and lots of fantastic pictures, if I do say so myself, although there wasn’t a lick of sun to be seen while we were there.

Finally we arrived in Castlebar, which was yet another long drive. The hotel here is…well…SUPER posh, for lack of a better word; it’s by far the best hotel we’ve stayed in so far. Mom’s got a king-size bed to herself, for instance, and it doesn’t smell like feet (like the last one did, although I don’t think it can be blamed, it had a pub downstairs). Unfortunately, today is actually supposed to be the early night, because tomorrow is the real 6:45 breakfast time; Megan read the sign wrong last night, and breakfast this morning was supposed to be at 7:15, the dork. Oh well.

Anyway, once we got here we lounged a little (odd how exhausting a long bus ride can be), then went out to wander the cemetery across the street. Well, I went to wander, anyway; Mom doesn’t like graveyards. She went through to the river, which I have to admit was really beautiful with the sun out.

Yes, sun, we colorado girls seem to have brought it with us. You’ll see those pictures later. Anyway, that’s it for today!

OH LOOK, DAY FIVE ALL BY ITSELF

I ACTUALLY BLOGGED TWO DAYS RUNNING, THIS IS MAGICAL.

…right. SO. Today we started off going to the Muckross House. Mom only set the alarm for 6:15…not bad, right? I felt like a dead thing. Still, I managed to muddle through the gardens and take my typical up-close flower pictures before we entered the mansion itself, where unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures at all.

It was built by the Herbert family in 1843, and in 1863 they hosted Queen Victoria for two days (one night). The visit cost them 90 million pounds and in the end beggared the Herbert family because Queen Victoria forgot about them (Prince Albert took sick and died of typhoid shortly after the visit), leaving them with no way to replenish what they had spent to impress her, and the stock speculation and ventures the family then took to try and stay afloat failed categorically. An extraordinarily wealthy family from California then bought it as a wedding present for their daughter in 1911, who unfortunately died in 1927. The California family then gave the house and the surrounding eleven thousand acres to the Irish government as their first national park. The name, Muckross, stems from the name of the local area— Muckross, stemming from the Gaelic ‘muc’ and ‘ross’ meaning ‘pig of ross’, referring to the wild boars that once roamed the area.

That said, the place looked expensive— Victorian age expensive, like you read about in books. Hand-carved side-tables, crystal chandeliers— even full-length crystal windows, frosted so that the noble family didn’t have to look at the servant side of the house! No expense spared on Queen Victoria’s visit, either; her room was beautiful and extravagantly appointed. The place was enormous, too. I can’t even really describe it.

Once we’d exited out the servant’s quarters, the bus picked us up to take us on a driving tour of the Ring of Kerry, which is basically the coastline of Kerry, on the southwest side of Ireland. It was a foggy, misty sort of day so some of the views were completely obstructed, but it was still beautiful. The terrain looked similar to that found in Braveheart— probably because that movie, oddly enough, was filmed in Ireland, NOT Scotland! Took some great photos and had lunch in a thatched cottage along the way; all told the drive took about four and a half hours, thereabouts. 

Once we got back to Killarney, we hurried out to find a particular piece: I wanted a claddagh ring. If you don’t know what that is, well, here’s a picture:

That isn’t my ring, actually, but close enough; I was going to show you mine but I’ll have to make a separate post for it. Megan has one too, although hers looks different. The basic shape is the same, and the three components together meanfriendship, love, and loyalty. The hands are the traditional sign of friendship, the heart is self-explanatory, and the crown is a symbol of loyalty. The ring is a traditional wedding band, but depending on how you wear it the ring has different meanings.

It’s been a quiet night thus far, and will probably be an early one as well; breakfast tomorrow is at 6:45! Ouch!

Days 3 & 4

Well, on the upside, I have internet that works and is free! On the downside, it’s too slow to upload pictures (or at least, the hundreds I have to upload yet). THEREFORE, no pictures. Sorry. Well…maybe a few, but not the bunches and bunches you were probably expecting. That might have to wait a while. I’ll do what I can. ANYWAY.

Yesterday we left Dublin, heading south and a little west for about an hour and a half until we got to the Irish National Stud (farm). Contrary to what you might believe there are only about 14 horses on property at the moment, or so we saw— maybe more, but not by much. Certainly not the hundreds Mom expected, as she continues to exclaim about. In any case, we still had quite some fun traipsing about the farm looking at some retired race and hunter-jumper horses, Florida Pearl and Vintage Crop.

…I was going to add pictures here, but then I got sidetracked and now it’s late, SO IT’S JUST TEXT AGAIN FOLKS, SORRY THAT I AM LAME.

ANYWAY. After those two we went to see the mares and foals still remaining on the property, as we just missed active breeding/birthing season by a DAY. Yup, a day. LAME.

We ended the tour going to see the actual studs, whose stud prices range from 3500 euros to 60,000 euros. That’s right, 60,000 for a male horse to do his thing with your mare. Invincible Spirit, the top stud at the farm, is himself worth about 60 million euro, and evidently covered over 190 mares this season alone. Evidently all thoroughbred breeding worldwide is done live cover due to the racing industry; nobody wants to flood the market with super fast colts from the best studs and mares because then, of course, it would defeat half the point.

After the stud farm itself Mom and I wandered over to the Japanese gardens while Megan meandered the gift shop, and tell you what, I really enjoyed those gardens even though they weren’t in bloom. The paths were neat and I liked the decorations, but we didn’t get a lot of time to spend in there because I had to go searching for particularly souvenirs for Miss Laura Wingate. Unfortunately, Laura, I didn’t find any hunter/jumper bumper stickers, :(. 

We hurried back to the bus and set off for Waterford and the Waterford Crystal factory, which was actually really interesting because we got a good look at all the intensive work that goes into making crystal. It’s blown like glass, but the lead content separates glass from crystal by adding its weight and clarity. The lead is also why you don’t want to store anything in a crystal decanter or pitcher long-term; the lead will leach into your vintage and then you get lead poisoning.

Evidently the factory in Waterford only caters to custom orders and specialty pieces, such as trophies and whatnot. For example, we got a look at the back-up for the Superbowl trophy. The process is incredibly interesting (I think so, anyway), but it sounds dull explaining it over text so you’ll have to harass me, Mom, or Megan when you see one or more of us. Curtis and Erin will be glad to know that we walked out of that crystal store with nothing more than a square of fudge because Megan was hungry, and that was at the beginning of the tour so we went and got lunch at a local pub after the tour.

Then it was back to Waterford for dinner and bed. We had an early wake-up call and headed off through Cork (no stops) to Blarney Castle, where we climbed the 100+ narrow, winding steps (even Mom!) through one of the towers up to the top so Bob and I could kiss the Blarney Stone. Megan didn’t, she just went through the motions, but I actually did. Let’s see if I got the ‘gift of gab’ or just pressed my lips against a piss-soaked stone that’s probably got kissing diseases stuck to it from all the tourists. Joy. After that, it was a leisurely wander down a much wider (but still winding) staircase through various rooms in the remains of the castle, then down through the grounds and to a shopping center for lunch. We loaded back up on the bus and set off for Killarney, where we’ll be staying tonight and tomorrow night. 

For dinner we headed out to a recreated 1940’s-era farm where we got to look at authentic machinery as well as young Irish Wolfhounds, miniature donkeys, cats, and Clydesdales. Guess which ones Megan and I cared the most about? We also got to see a demonstration of how butter was made in the 1940’s, and then sat down to an absolutely delicious dinner and wonderful music. When we were done that was it for the night; tomorrow morning we set off adventuring once more! Maybe I’ll actually get a blog done for just one day at a time tomorrow…

Days 1 & 2

Sorry for no update yesterday, I forgot. ANYWAY,

Flights were…well, not quite hell, but enough hassle to irritate Mom. What else is new? Traffic was traffic, we had to slightly repack some of our bags because the big one was something like one pound overweight and Mom’s was something like five pounds overweight, United couldn’t check us in at the counter because it was a Continental flight (even though the two are merging) and the kiosk wasn’t working so we had to get help anyway, blah blah blah. Flight was delayed nearly two hours taking off, so we made it into Newark with less than an hour to spare but only six gates to move.

Got into Dublin around…ten am? Not entirely sure, but close enough. Got on the bus to the hotel around 11, got to the hotel around noon, had to wait for our rooms but that was ok. It’s small in here but nice, with three beds and enough room to move, though no AC because apparently nobody in the British Isles has that or something, I don’t know. We just keep the window open, the climate is awesome.

After we got settled we went for lunch and a walk, meaning to catch the bus but we never did. Did some light shopping— I got my Ireland phone, it’s a cheap little thing but serviceable and that’s all I care about— and picked up some souvenirs. Mom took pictures, I didn’t; we got ice cream and walked back, had our welcome drink (I always get red wine, forgetting how dry it is), yadda yadda.

Today, had breakfast at 7:30 and then went on the city tour. Evidently Dublin is a small city, but pretty; it has huge park areas and lots of them, and the Georgian district is fantastic. The street lamps alone are beautiful, ornately designed bits of art with a spiral and a spray of shamrocks at the top. It’s also been recently declared a UNESCO Center of Literature or some such for the number of writers out of its heart, three of whom have won the Nobel Prize for literature, and that fact is something Dubliners are quite proud of. 

After the city tour we went up on an optional excursion to Glendalough, the site of a monastery dating back to St. Kevin’s time in the 6th century. The actual buildings and masonry date back as far as the 10th and 12th centuries, with an informal cemetery meandering throughout. It’s quite pretty, and with the mist pouring in over the hills rather picturesque as well. I took several pictures, only to discover my camera was running out of battery. Go figure. Mom and Megan also got some, both at the site and on the way to and back, so we’ll have lots to show whenever I get my butt around to actually posting pictures.

Upon our return from Glendalough we went to Trinity College to get a look at the Book of Kells, a monastic copy of the scriptures dating back to the 9th century, wonderfully decorated and absolutely beautiful. They have a huge display with different pages blown up and lit from behind so you can get a good look at them, and you can also look at the book— through glass, of course. Afterward you can walk through the ‘Long Hall’ which is the old library, containing well over 2,000 books, all of them old and dusty and awesome. We got to look at the Celtic harp which is the emblem of Ireland (not the shamrock), and Mom loved all the old books except the dust aggravated her asthma a little.

After that it was more shopping, since Mom wanted a messenger bag she likes— which we have yet to find— until the bus came to pick us all up, then hurried preparation for the evening and tomorrow, when the bags have to be outside the door at 6:30. Ouch. Anyway, dinner was at an Irish cabaret— quite the show, and dinner was good. The show itself contained traditional Irish music on the Irish pipes, which differ from Scottish highland pipes in that the player does not have to continuously blow into them because they have bellows; some traditional Irish step dance, which was AMAZING AND AWESOME; a hilarious comedian; and some beautiful songs by wonderful singers. A great night, overall, though I didn’t like my Irish coffee— too bitter, and barely a hint of whiskey! 

Tomorrow we leave Dublin for the tour itself, starting with the Irish National Stud and moving down to Kildare and Waterford. I have yet to try a Guinness, but the Guinness people seem to have had quite the influence around Ireland, never seemingly afraid to put in a pretty penny where needed— including building welfare apartments and restoring St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which is not, in fact, Catholic.

Anyway, pictures tomorrow (if we have internet in Waterford)!