Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Grumpy Cat

It's become a tradition for Doug & I to terrorize our cats questing for fun Christmas cards.  

We both wish you the merriest of holidays and a new year filled with good health and great adventures!
The cats wish other, less cheerful things.  

For your viewing pleasure, past terrorizing...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Gathering, Ireland & Scotland

Close on the heels of the wedding of Doug's brother, Andrew, to his lovely Anne, we headed off on a grand adventure to Ireland and Scotland. We landed in Dublin, early on a mid-September Monday morning. It was a wee bit cold and rainy.  We were a little exhausted from the fabulous wedding weekend. I was just recently freed from my walking boot after ankle surgery in early August.

But did we nap?  NO!  With our Dublin Tourist Passes in hand, we headed out to tourist! I've got to say, I was surprised as how much I enjoyed the "Hop On Hop Off" tour bus. They ran most of the day, every 15 minutes or so a new bus showed up at every stop, so we could get to most of the places we wanted to visit in a pretty short amount of time without having to rent a car. And the bus drivers kept up a decent patter of history and information along the ride. There was also a pretty good bit of sightseeing from the top of the double-decker bus. Yay.

We stopped at the Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin Castle, then on to the mecca of stout drinkers, the Guinness Storehouse!  It's big, it's beery, it's pretty amazing.  We drank a beer at the top of the Storehouse in the Gravity Bar, with Dublin at our feet!

Alas, many weeks without real walking was starting to take its toll on me.  My ankle--recently freed from the walking boot-- was really starting to complain, so Doug and I split up for a bit. He attempted to visit the Dublin Zoo (weirdly closed in the middle of the afternoon), then went on to the Kilmainham Gaol. I stayed on the bus for a bit longer for a bit of a rest, then took my whiny ankle to the Jameson's Distillery, to ease my pain. Then I hopped on the next bus to head back to the hotel...and weirdly enough, Doug was on the same bus.

We headed back to our bed & breakfast at the Townhouse. For anyone looking for a reasonably inexpensive (for city centre Dublin) that is only a block from the central bus station, I'd highly recommend this place. The desk folks were excellent at giving advice, recommendations, and were generally fun & awesome. Then we found ourselves some dinner and thankfully called it a night. And were reasonably successful at trying to beat jet-lag!

Sadly, the next day was even rainier and colder. While we were well prepared for the weather, most of the indoor tourist options were jammed full of people...usually with lines out the door.  After a nice damp walk through the Trinity College campus, we decided to not stand in the hours long line to see the Book of Kells (booo!), and wandered up Grafton Street and around St Stephen's Green. Then we collected our luggage and caught a bus to Navan, so we could pick up Darth.

Who is Darth!?! He was our trusty companion, steed, and home for the rest of the trip, a Spaceship! When we were trying to decide how we wanted to travel around Ireland and Scotland, we decided to rent this mini-camper van. This was Doug's first trip to the Ireland, so he was game for anything. I've never camped in Ireland, so I was thrilled! The mini-van had been converted to fit a full sized bed, refrigerator, and cooker. It was great!  Some minor design flaws, but overall, not a terrible way to travel. It came fully equipped with bedding and everything we'd need to cook meals.

Anyway, we arrived in Navan several hours ahead of schedule (why should we walk around in the rain, when we could be in a nice dry van?!) and had to do a little bit of wandering to get in touch with the Spaceship folks. After we had a nice pot of tea at the Navan hotel, our ride found us, and we went out to meet Darth for the first time.

And now we started our real adventure! Driving in Ireland! Doug did a fabulous job. We managed to get a grocery store, stock up, and get out to our campsite on the other side of Ireland before it was full dark--with only a minor amount of wailing, terror and confusion. We spent the night on the Aille River, in Doolin on the west coast. And it was windy and rainy, but we managed to get Darth tented up for the night before it got too dark to see. Then we headed into Doolin, found some lovely live music and dinner.

Darth with tent

Doug with Darth with tent

We can see the river!

And it's WINDY!

and wonderful!
and it's time for dinner and music!

Our first night in the van was just fine.  We stayed dry and slept. Yay! And in the morning, we had a quick breakfast, packed up (in less than 5 minutes) and headed just up the road a bit to visit the Cliffs of Moher.

The last time I was in Ireland, the Cliffs were one of the first stops of that trip.  Unfortunately, it was so foggy that we couldn't even see the trail to the cliffs, much less the cliffs. So I was very excited for fairly clear (cold and blustery) day. If you aren't familiar with the the cliffs I'm talking about, they are the "Cliffs of Insanity" from the Princess Bride movie!

We hiked along the edge, got cold, enjoyed the view, then headed back toward Doolin to catch our ferry to Inis Oírr. Did I mention yet, that it was a wee bit windy? Well, the ferry ride proved it, with the biggish waves to go with it! Many of the folks got well soaked before they managed to got into the covered portion of the boat. So, there was a fairly mad rush to get to the nearest pub on the island, once we landed. But all was solved for us with a nice toasted  sandwich and a pot of tea. Then we headed out to explore the island.
Rock walls, ruins, a long beach, horses, and dogs that know the ferry schedule better than the tourists. It was lovely.

Doug captured a very fun series of photos of one of the island dogs, hoping to share some tasty lunch.

After a very rough ferry ride back to the mainland, we headed up the coast through Galway and up to Connemara. After getting a bit lost in Galway, we drove the last hour to Clifden, and then a bit beyond. We spent the next two nights ecoCamping on the beach on the Atlantic. It was a lovely campground, run by folks who strongly believe in sustainable practices, habitat protection, and showing their guests a wonderful way to enjoy their little corner of the world.

After setting Darth up, we tried cooking for the first time in the camper.  It was a bit challenging.  A small propane stove just can't compete with the wind off the Atlantic. But we made it work. And have a lovely campfire....in a keg. Yep, a keg, cut in half, up on a pedestal to keep from damaging the delicate coastal vegetation.  Fun.

The next morning, we took it a bit easier. We had a leisurely breakfast and found a new friend. She was the most effect mooch I've ever met. No whining, no active begging, just sheer hopefulness. It totally worked.

Then we spent the day up the road at Kylemore Abbey. Doug was very excited, because we were finally getting to a castle! Kylemore was originally built as a private castle with a church and walled gardens by Henry Mitchell in the mid to late 1800s, and  it was later turned into an abbey and school by Benedictine nuns. The Benedictines have restored the Abbey gardens and Cathedral with donations and local artisans, in order to be a self-sustaining estate.

After we finished with all the delights at Kylemore, we finished the day with a leisurely evening of drinks and dinner in Letterfrack, the little town between the Abbey and our campground. The next day was an early start for us, for the drive County Monaghan, to Clones, my Mom's hometown.

The real motivator for this trip was a McMahon Family reunion, organized by my wonderful cousin Rory. He was inspired by Ireland's "The Gathering" to put this all together. Not only did he organize a historic tour of Mom's hometown, a family Mass, dinner, and party, but he also opened his home to seven of his nutty American cousins. For a full weekend, Rory & his lovely wife Caroline (and kiddos Eimear & Aaron) put up with me & Doug, my sister Deirdre & her husband John, my niece Tiernen & her husband Nathan, and my nephew Garret. And he also made sure my Mom & Dad were comfortable and taken care of in the slightly less hectic hotel where the party was being held. It was marvelous! And our visit with them was entirely too short!!

McMahons and various offshoots on the historic tour of Clones

Mom and cousins
Rory and brother Barry

Sacred Heart Church
The Round Tower

The Reunion!

The nutty Americans
After our family packed reunion weekend, we split up again to to our separate ways. Doug and I mushed Tiernen and Nathan into the tiny back seat in the van, and we headed to Scotland, with a quick trip to Northern Ireland.

The last time I'd visited Ireland, I had a delightful time visiting with my cousin Moya and her husband Roy. They live in Coleraine, just down the road from the Giant's Causeway. So, I was highly motivated to share my adorable cousins and the amazing Causeway with Doug, Nathan and Tiernen. We left as early as we could manage and made it to Coleraine by mid-morning. And despite our foolish protests, Moya made us a "fry". Or full Irish. Breakfast. Delicious.

Then we headed out to Duluce Castle and the Giant's Causeway. I'll just let the photos speak for themselves. If you ever make it to Northern Ireland, these are places not to be missed!

Another great reason for visiting my cousins in the North, was because of Doug's endless questions. I do my best to know things, or at the very least to make things up, but Roy is a font of great information. So I sicced Doug on him.  And Roy gave us a great driving tour and an impressive mini-education on religion & politics of Northern Ireland. And Moya stuffed us all with a spectacular dinner. And a bit sadly the next morning, after much too short of a visit, we said goodbye to Moya & Roy, and headed to the ferry to Scotland.

Other than some exploding toilets (with us trapped in the stalls), the ferry ride from Larne to Cairnryan was pretty uneventful. And then we drove up to Glasgow. Where we got horribly lost downtown trying to find Nathan and Tiernen's hotel. After many may wrong turns, we found it, and let my niece and her husband escape to start their own adventure on a train tour across Scotland. And Doug and I headed out to Loch Lomond.

One big difference that we discovered between the camping we did in Ireland & Scotland, is that we loved the campgrounds in Ireland. The ones we stayed at were small & sparsely populated--and the ones in Scotland were way more expensive, and crowded full of much larger RVs or permanent "holiday homes". If we'd had a bit more time, we would have figured out how to wild camp in some of the public lands up in the Highlands. But that being said, we still had a pretty great time.

Doug woke up early our first full day in Scotland and took a hike along its bonnie bonnie banks while I slept in. Doug was lucky enough to run into a farmer who was taking care of his herd and got to have an interesting conversation with him.

a gorgeous campground kitty

And we took a nice long drive up the coast of Loch Lomond, stopping a few times to enjoy the beauty of it.

 And we wandered through Luss, a picturesque little town on the edge of the Loch.

And as we reached the northern part of Loch Lomond, we headed further into the Highlands, toward the Cairngorms. And we stopped in villages along the way, marveling at all the green, and water, and Bens.  

And, of course, stopping as castles!

Blair Castle

Shaggy Highland Cattle Beast!

And don't forget the Scotch!  

And sadly, I got a bit ill.  And napped in the car for most of a day. So we didn't really get to wild camp in Cairngorms National Park. Boo. Luckily, my ick was short-lived, and as we hit yet another castle, we were delighted to find out it was most of the castles from Monty Python's Holy Grail movie!

And before we said goodbye to Darth, we stopped at the most elaborate of the castles on our trip, Stirling Castle!

 And we dropped Darth the Spaceship off in Edinburgh and caught a bus to Glasgow.  We wandered a bit that evening, and caught our flight back home the next morning.

It was a fabulous trip.  Yay.

Many of the places we stopped at are on the map below.  And more photos, if you so desire.

View Ireland-Scotland Trip in a larger map