TRAVEL with pat and lew

* Ireland with the kids – July 2007

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 2, 2007

 

There is surely something magical about Ireland, a feeling I had even before marrying my wife of Irish descent. There is such a connection between the Irish and the U.S., and Ireland has had such a long history of mostly futile revolt against the oppression of the British – the history alone is a powerful draw.  

The glorious beauty of the country, all those shades of green (44), are enchanting. Or at least so I’m told, since my partial color-blindness may be limiting what I actually see.  

The Irish people are friendly, charming, and always helpful, although I’ve learned never to take the always vague travel directions offered by an Irish person. And now, prosperity has arrived for the first time in Ireland’s long history. Young people actually come to Ireland instead of leaving.

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 A major attraction of Ireland for us is “the cousins,” Pat’s relatives in Westport, and we’re looking forward to that visit at the end of the trip.

The only drawback is the weather. All that green comes from all that rain. It rains every day, usually a gentle rain that doesn’t last too long, but rain all the same. Never go to Ireland without a rain jacket and an umbrella.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Driven by Ryanair’s ever declining luggage allowance, we’re getting better at taking less on our travels. This time we each pack one of our new Delsey four-wheel spinner suitcases, not nearly full, and each weighing slightly under the 15 kilo (33 pound) limit. I have my camera bag, Pat her handbag, and no carryons. 

Karen and Joe come up for some lessons regarding our apartment. We give them my “home exchange thesis” and everyone laughs. Then we spend a careful half hour explaining how to use the computer we are leaving for them. They know the basics but have never used Skype, and never heard of Slingbox. We instruct them and wish them well.

Lunch and a long walk in town, then up to our apartment for final preparations. I try to call my daughter Missy, who has just delivered her second child (my 4th grandson) two months early, but all I can do is leave messages. I talk to my son Jon, however, and learn that all seems to be going quite well, with less complications than her first son, also born two months early. 

We train to Port Bou, expecting an hour’s wait for the connecting train to Girona. But a woman runs out and tells us there is a train about to depart, and we rush across to the other platform and board.

In Girona, we take the bus from the gare to the airport. The Novotel shuttle has stopped for the night, but we take a taxi which Novotel pays for. A very comfortable room, a glass of red wine, and we are asleep. 

Friday, July 6, 2007

We breakfast at Novotel, shuttle to the airport, check in at Ryanair. We are expecting to pay 12 euros for each of our checked bags, but are not charged anything, unless it’s being added to our credit card. Something to check when we return to Collioure. (There was no separate charge on flight day, and I think the luggage charge was included when we bought the tickets on line) 

I’m reading Leon Uris’ mighty novel, Trinity, both to establish the mood for our stay in Ireland and as part of my study of novels, especially historical novels. There is much to learn from Mr. Uris, and I’ve decided to apply my method of listing scenes (on a spreadsheet) to Trinity. So after I read each section, first for the pure enjoyment, I am numbering each scene, identifying the characters and major topics, and entering all of this into my spreadsheet.  

Uris has done something very interesting with “point of view” in this book, alternating between Conor Larkin’s best friend Seamus O’Neill and an omniscient narrator for all of the scenes where Seamus is not present. This enables him to present all of the background history, and the inner thoughts of the other (mostly Protestant) characters, while still retaining the immediacy of Seamus’ first person point of view. 

The flight is properly uneventful, but the car rental from Hertz is not.

Again the problem is the Collision Damage Waiver insurance. I am informed when we pick up the car that Hertz is charging me an additional 25 euros, above the fixed price which I pre-paid and thought included everything but local taxes, for not taking their insurance. This is absurd, and I’m afraid that I lost my temper and made a scene, for which I was properly reprimanded later in the day.

I’ll call Hertz when we get back to Collioure, but for now I am thinking this is a royal rip-off. I think the car rental companies make a lot of money by grossly overcharging for collision insurance, and they don’t like it that Citibank and others provide the coverage at no cost to their cardholders. 

NOTE: Hertz is not much interested in my complaint and see nothing wrong with not telling me in advance that they will be charging me for something I didn’t get. Ridiculous!

Driving from Shannon to Adare has the expected confusions induced by the ridiculous Michelin directions, but we are better now at extracting the truth from the nonsense and we get there without major incident. 

Our B&B in Adare, the Berkeley Lodge, is lovely, and so is the town. We enjoy the church, where a wedding is taking place, and the shops, where Pat finds running pants and we buy a fly-swatter at the local hardware store. When you live in a village of no real stores, you buy what you can wherever you may be. We also find Listerine, not sold anywhere in France, and are delighted.  

Then we check out Lena’s corner pub, where we find the entire wedding party (minus bride and groom) occupying the time between ceremony and reception in the company of Mr. Guinness and his companions. There’s also a group from a local company doing a team-building project by figuring out the riddles of The DaVinci Code. It is incomprehensible, and probably a surprise even to Dan Brown, how much that book has invaded our society. In Paris, there are DaVinci Code tours, including at the Louvre. 

We dine at another local pub, enjoying the interaction between the proprietor and his guests, many of whom he seems to know quite well. The food is … well the food is Irish pub food. Enough said. Nobody goes to Ireland for the culinary experience. The potato salad is of course excellent, as is the beer.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Pat finds a marvelous place to run, on the grounds of Adare Manor, which hosts a marvelous golf course, the home this year of the recently completed Irish Open. Gorgeous scenery and long flat roads. She returns exhilarated by her best run in months.

Meanwhile, I took a walk, photos of the church, and a brief conversation with the gentleman who was removing the very few pieces of trash from the main streets and sidewalks. 

Breakfast is wonderful. We’re given a choice of a variety of eggs, sides, and other dishes, and I believe we could have had them all if we had asked. Our waitress, who both cooks and serves us, thought my poached eggs on toast looked a little “small,” and convinced me to add a rasher of sausage.  

We’re the only ones dining at 8:00 am, although the B&B is full, so we have time to have a delightful chat. Ireland is changing, especially in the fact that immigrants are now coming to Ireland for the first time in its history, if we don’t count the invasions. Most are Polish, and they seem to be hardworking and well-liked. But still the mix of languages and cultures present new problems. 

Before we leave Adare, we drive through the Adare Manor grounds, so I can see the ruined castle and abbey. Then south for about an hour to Killarney. No problem until we actually enter Killarney, where the right turn we have to make to get to our rented home was eliminated last Christmas.

I take this personally, since I pride myself on being able to interpret the directions and maps and get us where we need to get. Pat points out that I have established an impossible standard, and that we need to just accept the fact that entering cities, any city, is going to be a mess.  

We find the Tourist Office, get a more complete map and better directions, and find the Texaco station where we are supposed to meet John King and Pat’s children at 3:00 pm. Now, however, Pat is worried that her kids will have the same, or worse, difficulties than we had, and that we will not get together as planned, an eventuality made more tense by the fact that none of us has a cell phone. 

However, that problem is for 3:00 pm, and it’s now just 12:30, so we drive back to the Tourist Office, find a parking space, and begin to explore the wonderful town of Killarney. Even though it’s not raining, we buy two small umbrellas.

At 2:45 we return to the Texaco station to begin worrying.  At 2:58, we spot Kerry waving from the passenger window, right where they are supposed to be at precisely the proper time. They had some difficulties, but Kerry apparently was a better navigator following the directions I had sent her than I was. John King shows up a few minutes later, and we’re soon in our home for the week on Ross Road. 

The house is part of a group of perhaps 20 homes, built as duplexes for “letting.” But now they are mostly owner occupied, just our two unit duplex still rented. We meet our neighbors. Kevin begins by kicking a soccer ball with a curly-haired girl of maybe 4 years old. Her parents arrive and introductions follow. They are from Glasgow, Scotland, having ferried and driven all the way. We expect to see them during our stay, but it turns out we don’t, except to give them our leftover (unopened) food when we leave. 

Kerry unloads all of the goodies she is bringing for us … outdoor food covers which Pat ordered from Lillian Vernon, the Sony laptop on which I am now typing this journal, and a digital voice recorder I want to use in Florence in October (a technique highly recommended by Elizabeth George for capturing the nuances of settings).

The four “kids” — Kevin and Dawn, Kerry and Susan — who have flown all night and then driven all day, sack out for a couple of hours. 

When they awaken, we all walk into town – it is, as advertised, about a 10 minute walk – and search for a restaurant. Our choice is Danny Mann, which promises live music. The food was ok, and the music was lively.

We’re joined at our table by a lady from Melbourne, Australia, visiting friends in Ireland. One of the great joys of traveling is meeting people from places all over the world and sharing experiences.  More and more, we see women traveling alone, like the lady. Her friend from Australia came to Ireland, met a guy and married. They started an internet company of some sort, and have made a ton of money. Now she’s off to Nice, to the home of a guy she met at a party. At least that was her story. 

Sunday, July 8, 2007

No trips today, just hanging out in Killarney. First thing, Pat and I drive to the supermarket and load up on basics for the week – paper goods, cereal, milk, coffee. There are two coffee machines. One is an American style drip machine, which takes forever to make two cups of coffee. There’s also a coffee press, but the filter is missing.

The next day, Pat finds the filter, I re-assemble the press, and we forget about Mr. Coffee. Much better. Now that I’ve learned to use a coffee press, I feel so European. 

Well, we don’t exactly hang out. We walk into town, rent 6 bikes at 12.50 euros each for half a day. As soon as we get the bikes, it begins to pour, and we pour into an alley for protection. The rain abates in a few minutes, and we head out into the national forest, the entrance being just 3 blocks from the middle of town. It drizzles, but it never really pours again, so we just continue.

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There’s one large hill. Kerry, who rides 150 miles on a weekend, goes right up. The rest of us struggle. Dawn and I walk the last 100 yards.  From the top of the hill, the broad vista across the countryside is well worth it.

Next we ride to Ross Castle. When we see it, Pat and I realize we’ve been there before, by boat across the lake. Outside the castle, we meet a group of junior high school students from Maryland and Pennsylvania, on a “People to People” trip. We talk to one of the teachers. It sounds like a fantastic program, exposing young people to other places and cultures and what is described as a life-changing experience.  

I’m thinking how much better off the world would be if our President had been exposed to other countries before he invaded them. 

Now it’s raining a little harder, but we have no choice. We take the wrong road and repeat a loop, but then get oriented and find the back exit to the park which is on the road back to our rental house. We’ll return the bikes tomorrow morning. 

We decide to cook in, so Pat and I return to the supermarket and buy pasta, sauce, hamburger, garlic bread and wine. I cook my pasta with meat sauce, at triple the usual quantity, and everyone eats and eats and we still have too much left over. 

Monday, July 9, 2007

The kids drive the Ring of Kerry, which they’ve all done before, except Kevin. But this trip is his graduation present, so off they go. Pat’s daughter Kerry is, of course, named after County Kerry, and her name is all over everything.

Pat and I head south to the third peninsula, the Ring of Beara. We take the wrong way out of Killarney and go the long way to Kenmare, then head around the northern edge of the peninsular. For the first several miles, we don’t see more than an occasional glimpse of the bay, our view more often blocked by trees. 

At our first stop, there’s a group of very young and very small children, about to head out onto the choppy water, in a stiff wind, in tiny sail boats. We ask their instructor if he expects them to capsize, and he says, “They’ll all be in the water in 15 minutes. It’s the best way to learn.”

The kids are wearing wet suits, but the water looks cold. They all get wet pushing the boats into the water, but we watch for several minutes and nobody capsizes. The two boats “manned” by girls do great, and the two boys (one very small and one very large) in the other boat have a hard time, but they get it going.

We follow the narrow road and the driving is difficult when cars come the other way. It’s even more frightening when trucks and buses come the other way. We reach a cove of surpassing beauty, alternating sun and clouds, and pause to enjoy, reflect, take photos.

At our lunch stop in Castletownbere, there’s a group of kids from Belgium, wearing Santa hats. They serenade us with “we wish you a merry Christmas,” and are excited to pose for pictures.

We work our way around the Beara loop. The hills, sometimes green and filled with sheep, other times a barren landscape of huge rocks, are spectacular. 

The “big” town on this loop is Glengarriff, and we stop to shop. I get a sweater and a Guinness coffee cup with a lid, just what I had been looking for. 

We complete the loop on the road we should have taken to get to Kenmare, and find that the route we did take, although longer in kilometers, was much easier driving and no longer in time. 

Pat and I are first back to the house, and wait for the kids to return from the Ring of Kerry. They arrive, excited by their trip, and we head into town for dinner. Another restaurant, not terrific, but the Guinness is fine.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Dingle peninsula has perhaps the most spectacular scenery in all of Ireland. We drive in caravan, pass through Castlemaine, and stop at the overlook of the a spectacular beach, a long wide expanse of sand, with blue water and crashing waves, and the mountains of the Ring of Kerry across the other side. Other views include hillsides filled with sheep, and some cattle, ancient graveyards with Celtic crosses. 

We’re looking for signs to Dingle, but instead see signs to An Daingean. Most road signs in Ireland include place names in English and Gaelic, but here on the Dingle peninsula, the English has been eliminated, which is very confusing for tourists.

We begin to notice, however, several road signs where the word “DINGLE” has been spray-painted on. What’s going on? In the town, we see large posters proclaiming Dingle as a place “without democracy.”  

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While the others shop, I take a seat on a bench. I’m joined by an elderly gentleman with a cane who I learn is named Jack Farrell. I welcome him to my bench, which we soon decide is far more his bench, since he spends part of every day on it.

Jack explains that there was an election, and 95% of the people voted to have both names on the signs, but the powers that be decided otherwise, and one dark night the word “Dingle” was eliminated from all the road signs, starting the battle royal.  

This war of the signs and spray paint has been going on for almost a year, a local skirmish in the larger, nationwide effort to resuscitate the Gaelic language (forbidden centuries ago by the British), and Jack at least made no predictions as to how it would end. 

Dingle Town (or An Daingean – go ahead, pronounce it, I dare you) is as delightful as we remember it, with green hills peaking through between the old buildings, good shopping, and great pubs. 

The kids go off to complete the ring, including the Connor Pass, while Pat and I take the road back to Killarney. I’m not used to so much driving, it’s hard driving requiring constant intense concentration, and, quite frankly, I’m tired. 

We check our email at an excellent internet center in Killarney, where we receive daily updates from Karen and Joe, who seem to be enjoying Collioure. They’re playing with all our toys, making calls on Skype (they report that they owe us $0.38), watching TV on Slingbox, and using mlb.com to watch a Phillies game.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Kevin, Dawn and Susan drive off to Cork to kiss the Blarney Stone, Kerry gets a bike for an extended ride in the national park, and Pat and I spend a quiet day in Killarney before our long drive to Westport tomorrow. 

We explore options for cell phones in Europe. Our Cingular cell phones would work here, but the per minute charges are fierce, and we have set our service to a reduced rate, no use for the summer. Vodaphone offers phones for 40 euros or so, with more than that in call credits, and a rate of 0.19 euro/minute for calls. However, calls in France and elsewhere have a 0.79 euro connect fee per call, and if we call each other, we pay the connect fee twice. When we get back to Collioure, we’ll go to Perpignan and see if we can make similar arrangements based in France. 

The book store.

I have been waiting all week to look at the selection on Irish history, and today is the day.  So far on this trip, I finished Trinity and read Brian Moore’s Lies of Silence about the more recent IRA in Belfast. Now I’m ready to read the history that underlies these and other works of fiction.

First, I want an overview of Irish history from the first invasions to the present, and I select The Course of Irish History, a book produced in conjunction with a 1966 TV series. Each chapter is written by an eminent historian, including several chapters to bring the work up to date. What I’ve read so far is excellent, much more than an outline but not too overloaded with detail.  

Later in the week, in Westport, I buy Tim Pat Coogan’s Ireland in the 20th Century, and decide that I will later purchase Robert Kee’s The Green Flag, A History of Irish Nationalism. Kevin, however, buys the Kee book and loans it to me, so with the three, I think I’ll get a very solid understanding of the long and tortuous Irish national experience.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Our original plan was to drive from Killarney to Westport, about 5 hours drive time. Then we decided to detour in the middle of that trip to see the cliffs of Moher. The kids stick to the revised plan, but I revert to the straight drive.

We’re all on the road before 8:30 am. Pat and I arrive in Westport by 3:00 pm, having stopped for lunch in Tuam, the largest town between Galway and Westport.

We find our B&B on the South Mall in the very center of town, and wait for the kids, who arrive at 7:30 pm. They’ve seen the cliffs and made other discoveries, including a ruined castle that I think is the sightseeing highlight of the trip for them, since it was not a tourist spot and they were there all alone, as if they had discovered it. 

We have a terrific dinner at the bar adjacent to Wyatt’s Hotel, where we toast Pat’s father, John Hanahan, whose ancestors emigrated to the U.S. from Westport. This trip was funded in part by the inheritance left to Pat by her father. She thought that bringing his grandchildren to the home of his ancestors was a wonderful use of the money and surely would have made him very happy. 

Friday, July 13, 2007

Our B&B breakfasts are excellent, after which all 6 of us walk around Westport in the on again-off again drizzle. I stay too long at the bookstore, as I often do, and the others move on. When I go to look for them, they are nowhere to be found. But Susan comes to find me.

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They’re all assembled on a side street, at the shop of Pat’s cousin Betty, who, together with her husband Michael, manufacture and sell individually cut wood puzzles. They also sell Michael’s photographs. Among us, we purchase three puzzles and three photographs.  

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We have lunch at Henehan’s Bar. Which somewhere in the dark and musty past, had something to do with Pat’s Hanahan ancestors. The food is excellent, and Mike Henehan, son of the current owner, who Pat and I met last year, comes over to say hello. 

By the time lunch is over, it’s just about time for the purpose of our trip to Westport, a visit with the Irish cousins. We walk to Mary Carroll’s house on the Crescent adjacent to the church, but she does not answer Pat’s knock.  

We drive south on C59 approximately 9 kilometers to the cousin’s family compound. On land that we believe used to be Henahan owned, three of Mary’s children have built homes adjacent to each other. So there’s son Liam and his wife Anita, and their four children, daughter Maggie and her husband Noel, with their two children, and daughter Betty and her husband Michael with their two children. 

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Kerry, Susan, and Kevin had each ordered one of Michael’s photographs in Betty’s shop that morning, and now they’re ready. But first, Michael shows us his album, and explains how he took some of the pictures. He is an excellent photographer, with the patience and skill to wait for the proper light.

There’s one photo of an old building, a place Michael knew when he was a child. When he re-visited, it had not been entered for many years, and he was careful not to disturb even the dust. I bought the photo, and when we returned to Collioure, realized how wonderfully it reflects, in a way that is different but similar, the stunning photo of an entryway in one of the Greek Islands by Georges Meis hanging on our wall. 

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 Back downstairs, Dawn sits on the floor with the four youngest children. She starts out with animal noises, seal noises, complete with flapping flippers, and they are captivated. None will try it, until Owen suddenly erupts with a great imitation. As the afternoon goes on, we come to think Owen is in love with Dawn. 

We make our obligatory trek to the Henehan homestead, just up the road, with Liam and Noel to guide us. The ancient huts, once with thatched roofs, are a reminder of Ireland’s poor history. Liam says the road to Westport, 8 km away, used to run right in front of the old cottages. We climb through the mud and take our pictures. 

Our lovely visit finally concludes, and we drive back to Westport. Pat wants to visit Mary, the mother of those we just left, so we return to the Crescent and she’s there. It turns out she has two new hips, and is much spryer than we remember from last year. The captivating smile has returned to her face, and she claims to be “on top of the world” now that she can walk to the store or anywhere else she wants to go. 

The kids didn’t follow us to Mary’s, and when we get back to the B&B, they’ve already gone to dinner, having expected that our visit would be much longer than it was. We go back to the Wyatt and have Irish coffee and dessert. Perfect.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The kids are ready to leave at 5:00 am, off to Shannon to catch their flights home. We say goodbye and agree it’s been a great trip.

At breakfast, we learn that Anita’s sister is engaged to the son of the woman serving us at the B&B. 

Pat and I drive to Bunratty, a tiny town just past Shannon. Actually, we’re not in the town, but on an isolated farm house with beautiful views of the meadows and the Shannon River. There’s also internet connection at a computer in the hall provided for guests. 

We go out for an early dinner in the little shopping area that surrounds Bunratty Castle, eat at Durty Nellies, and buy two CDs of Irish ballads and drinking songs. The kinds of things you buy at the end of a trip.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Breakfast at the Bunratty B&B, fill the tank and drive 10 minutes to the airport, return the car to Hertz, and fly Ryanair to Carcassonne, where we taxi from the airport to the train station. 

We think we have time for pizza, and walk two blocks, with our luggage, to a small restaurant. Then I suddenly realize there’s an hour time change, and we have but 20 minutes to get back to the train station and catch our train.

We change trains at Narbonne, and then on to Collioure. It’s great to be back, having completed one of those surreal travel days, where you end up in a different world from where you started.

Both good worlds, and we appreciate every minute of it.  

 

 

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2 Responses to “* Ireland with the kids – July 2007”

  1. Karen & Joe from the New World said

    Hard to tell which of us had the better time! We were happy to “housesit” in beautiful Collioure with its beautiful weather while you traveled in “cold” Ireland. Thanks for the memories.

  2. Kevin (son) said

    What a trip! A great time. I was so happy to finally go to Ireland, and to be there with my wife, mother, and sister (all of Irish heritage), makes it that much more special. Dawn and I can’t wait to go back. The highlight for both of us was meeting “the cousins.” I just loved sitting in their house and talking politics. Additionally, discovering castles that were not part of our agenda was also spectacular. This was a great ‘family trip.’

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