Archive for the ‘Vacation/Travel’ Category

Ireland Post Mortem – Part II

May 22nd, 2009 by Skyla Grimes

Picking up where I left off, the tour group left Shannon after 2 nights and we traveled southeast through the town of Limerick (not much to see as it’s an industrial city), we visited a working dairy farm in the town of Kifinnane. After that, we headed southwest to Killarney and checked into our accommodations at the Hotel Dunloe Castle. While we did not stay in a castle, there are the remains of a castle on the property as well as the second largest botanical gardens in the country.

After arriving, Mom and I checked out the grounds and the old castle (pretty creepy). You can’t go in, but by peeking through the openings in the boarded up door, you can see where nature has been taking back over and there are trees growing up inside the castle and coming out windows. There is just a feeling around the castle that, if you believe in ghosts, might make you feel as if there are others there with you.

Our room in the hotel overlooked the front lawn area which was filled with horses and cows. The kitchen was nice enough to give me some rolls after dinner one night and we went and fed the horses. At first, I couldn’t beg them to come to the fence, but as soon as they figured out that I had food, they were fighting each other to get it from me. Four of the horses had young foals and it was nice to see moms with their babies.

After a hot night’s sleep in our room (our only complaint in the first two hotels was that the rooms seemed to be quite hot. The heat, however, was not coming from the radiators in the rooms, but from the towel warmers in the bathrooms – can you believe it!), the group headed out for a drive around the Ring of Kerry which is the Iveragh Peninsula. There are three peninsulas (Dingle, Iveragh & Beara) with Iveragh being the largest. The Ring offers some breathtaking sites as well as stone forts from the Iron Age (12th century BC). While driving around the ring, we stopped in Kells for a sheep dog demonstration (one of the highlights of the trip for me). This was fabulous! The sheep herder (called an older Tom Selleck look-a-like), showed us how he trains his sheep dogs to herd and move the sheep up and around the mountains. There must have been 7 different types of sheep that he showed us, all used for different things. Not all sheep fur is created equal and some is more prized and expensive than others. Some sheep and lambs are only used for their meat and/or milk. Through a series of whistles and just his voice (which they can hear from 1/4 mile away), we got to see how the dogs are trained to move the sheep up and down the mountain and from side to side. Just incredible!

After that, we had lunch at The Huntsman, a Thai restaurant. We actually had Thai food which was not bad. Still hadn’t seen any fast food places yet, but a couple of Chinese take-out places. Potatoes are the main staple in just about every meal. When you consider that over 1 million people died in the 1840s potatoe famine and another 1.6 million fled the country for America, France, and Britain to escape the death, you’d think no Irish person would eat another potato. Ireland’s population went from about 8 million to a little over 4 million because of the famine.

Anyway, after our second night in Killarney, we left for Blarney Castle in County Cork. This is where you kiss the famous Blarney Stone of Eloquence which is supposed to mean that you will never be at a loss for words. For anyone who has ever heard the term blarney, as in, you are full of blarney, I grew up thinking it meant that you were full of crap. Well, in Ireland, blarney means that you have a gift for story telling or embellishment (in an entertaining way). It is not meant as a derogatory term, but said with a smile.

In order to reach the blarney stone, you had to climb 127 circular, very tight and tall stairs (the kind that would NEVER pass the building inspector) to the top of the castle, then lay down on a pad (on your back). While someone holds onto you, you shove yourself out over this hole approximately 4’X6′, bend backward with the top part of your body, grab onto two iron poles on the opposite wall, and shimmy downward in order to kiss this piece of stone. It is a very ignoble position which must be done on your back as you cannot reach the stone from your stomach and be able to bend your head down and backward in order to do it. My mother, who is deathly afraid of heights, actually did it and I was so proud of her. Of course, there is a photographer there taking not-so-glamorous photos for us tourists to purchase. He has the best position to get the money shots so we bought them. So worth it because it’s almost impossible to describe the process, you really have to see it to see how it’s done. Great experience, though. Thank goodness it wasn’t raining because this is all out in the open on a slippery surface. The first photo below is hard to tell, but as we walked up to the castle, you can see people at the top as they hang out over this hole in order to kiss the stone. You may be able to just barely make out someone. The second photo is one I took at the top of the castle. There were large holes between the walkway and the wall (built that way) so that the knights could see below. They were used as a defense against enemies trying to get into the castle and hot oil and liquid could be poured down through the holes onto the heads of anyone trying to get in univited. The third photo is of Mom after she had just kissed the stone, desperately trying to get up and away from the hole before she fell through (by the way, this could not happen because there are several iron bars across the hole). People cannot fall through, but loose items and money certainly can.

After Blarney Castle, we jumped on a train (my first ever) for a 2 1/2 hour ride to Dublin. Part III of my post mortem will be about our time in Dublin. Stay tuned….

Ireland Post-Mortem – Part I

May 20th, 2009 by Skyla Grimes

I know I was supposed to blog as I went along on my trip to Ireland, but it was very difficult to get computer access at times. Although we stayed in 5-star accommodations, none offered in-room complimentary wi-fi so I was competing with others to share one or two hotel computers. However, since I was there on vacation, I can’t even complain since the whole point was to try to detach from life back in the States.

Having said that, this was a spectacular trip! We stayed in 3 high quality castles/hotels in 3 cities (Shannon, Kilarney, & Dublin). This was definitely a first-class trip, starting with our airplane flights, and I am so thankful to my mother for including me.

As my first post stated, we stayed in Dromoland Castle in Shannon for the first 2 nights of the trip. The castle and country club sit on 410 acres. One photo is of Mom taking pictures and the second is a small portion of the impressive limestone castle. Ireland doesn’t mine gemstones or gold/silver, but limestone is plentiful throughout the country and many of the castles and homes are still standing or partially standing after hundreds and hundreds of years because of the limestone. In fact, the cows prosper and do very well there because of the amount of limestone they ingest through the grass and water.

As a very small token of my appreciation, I surprised my mom with a gift certificate to the castle’s spa for her to pamper herself with a facial and massage. We arrived in Ireland on Mother’s Day and she received her GC when we checked in at the front desk. Of course, she got me a facial as well, which I enjoyed very much.

By the way, we were with a tour company, Tauck Tours, and there were 34 in the group. Most were couples, but there were a couple of single travelers, some women on girlfriends getaways, a family of four, and a group of 4 friends. I’d estimate the median age of the group to be somewhere in the 60s, so nobody my age, but not an issue anyway.

On our first full day there, the group traveled to the Cliffs of Moher and then we drove through the rugged Burren in County Clare. Very few people live in that area due to the rocky, rocky landscape. In fact, when Oliver Cromwell was going through Ireland taking the land from the indigenous Irish, he declared that the Burren should be left alone because he thought it was uninhabitable. Still, we saw many, many, many cows and some homesteads in the area. The photos below show the Cliffs.

Below is the rugged Burren area. The photo of the stacked rocks is called Poulabrone Dolmen. This structure is (if I recall correctly), 2200 years old (that makes it Neolithic) and it shows the entrance to an underground tomb which held over 20 bodies of adults and children. The opening is facing north, but the dead would not have been placed there all at once, but would have been buried within the cavern over time.

While driving towards the Burren, we passed a small town called Lisdoonvarna which has the disctinction of hosting a Matchmaking Festival every year. It was featured in a small movie about the same thing and starred Jeanine Garofalo. Too bad we couldn’t make a pit-stop and see if the town Matchmaker couldn’t set me up. :-)

After our second night, we left Dromoland Castle and headed toward Killarney, but we made a side trip to the Molanna View Dairy Farm to see a real dairy farm. The owners, Paddy & Margaret, welcomed the group and served us lunch in their home. Before working with the tour company, their home was opened as a bed and breakfast for about 16 years. One of their sons now runs the dairy farm and they are semi-retired, but very sweet people. I was amazed at the number of B&Bs we saw every day. It seemed like every other house had a Bed & Breakfast sign out front. Unfortunately, we did not stay in any B&Bs or get to go inside any on the trip so I was not able to compare Irish B&Bs to American B&Bs. Oh, well.

Part II of the Post Mortem will discuss our time in Killarney and our stay at Hotel Dunloe Castle in County Kerry.

First Day in Shannon, Ireland

May 10th, 2009 by Skyla Grimes

My mother and I arrived in Shannon, Ireland a few hours ago and have checked into the 5-star Dromoland Castle with the rest of our tour group. We have already taken a nap (didn’t get much sleep on the 6-hour flight from JFK Airport to Shannon), but we have started exploring the grounds of the castle and have scheduled spa services for 4:30 tomorrow afternoon.

I have taken some beautiful photos of the castle and will hopefully download those soon. The weather has been sunny, but a little chilly, in the 40s and 50s.

We will be attending a reception at 6 pm to meet all of the other 32 people on the tour, although we have met some already. We also ran into 2 people not associated with our tour from Asheville who are at the end of their trip and they gave us some fun advice. Some of the others on our tour are from SC, NC, OH, and TX. I look forward to seeing where else everyone is from.

Our day tomorrow starts at 7:30 am and we will be going out to the Cliffs of Mohr and then will have the afternoon free for our spa services. I hope to go out for a run around the property since it is large enough and it also has a golf course. I can probably follow the golf course and don’t think I’ll get lost. The terrain seems relatively flat (at least compared to Asheville) with some gently rolling hills. Beautiful nonetheless and I’m looking forward to the run.

Will post more as our trip progresses.

17 Days to Ireland

April 22nd, 2009 by Skyla Grimes

In 17 short days, I will be traveling to Ireland with my mother for a week’s vacation. Since I was a teenager, I have always wanted to visit Ireland and when my mom asked if I’d be interested in going, there was no way I was going to turn her down. I haven’t really thought much about the trip until now. Instead of slowly building up my excitement, I usually don’t think about big stuff until it’s almost upon me.

Well, in this case, there is some advanced planning involved. We are traveling through a tour company, Tauck World Discovery, so much of the trip planning has already been done for us. I did have to get a passport, but that process is surprisingly painless. The last time I had a passport was in 1986 when I was a teenager. The process was definitely more arduous and time consuming than it is now.

While the trip itself is seven days, it takes a day to travel there and a day to travel back so we are gone essentially for 9 days. As such, I was able to find some wonderful innsitters from Michigan, Sue Kalis and her sister Anne, will be taking care of the Inn and my guests in my absence. The two have watched over several Asheville B&Bs as well as B&Bs in other states so I have no concerns about their abilities to handle the Inn. I also picked a week from May 10 – 17, which is before Memorial Day and before we get into the really busy season in Asheville. However, based on advanced reservations, the ladies will be busy for much of their stay.

We will be traveling from Shannon to Killarney and ending up in Dublin. We will get to stay in castles along the way, although no B&Bs. I have been checking the weather in Ireland and it’s comparable to our weather in Asheville. It appears to be about 5 – 10 degrees cooler, but certainly manageable.

I’m bummed that I won’t be taking my laptop on the trip, but I have been downloading games and other free applications on my iPhone so I can stay connected while away. Disconnecting from the Inn will be tough, but I’m sure I can do it. It’s leaving Brian and my baby children (the dogs and cats) that will be agonizing. I am already feeling pangs of separation anxiety from Jennie and it’s still 17 days before we leave!!!

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