Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Ireland - London Photo Album Links

You can see our Shutterfly photo albums for this trip.  After the albums load, click on "Full Screen", then click "Single Page". Change the speed as necessary.




Thursday, June 27, 2013

Four Days in London - Part 2

Hi All:

On Tuesday, we started out early (8:45) because we were taking the Underground to the Tower of London and wanted to get there before all those darn tourists showed up.

We once more walked through Russell Park (which had many people sitting and reading or drinking coffee), and got on the Piccadilly Line. No escalators in this very old station; either an elevator (by which a mass of people were standing) or 175 steps (about 14 floors!) down a winding staircase! We chose the staircase...not such a good idea! (pant pant) This time we went one stop north to Kings' Crossing where we changed to the Circle Line.  Six stops later we got off at

The Tower of London, parts of which date back to the Norman invasion in 1066, is really a fortress (actually, it was built on and around the Roman wall to Londonium of almost 800 years earlier). It consists of a number of buildings whose function has changed over the centuries. For example, this was the Royal Armory for many years, and also the National Mint (which has now been moved to Wales). The fort / compound was originally built right on the banks of the Thames; indeed, there was a portcullis that allowed entry via boats! Many of the buildings and parapets offer spectacular views of Tower Bridge, which is just off to the left.
 The White Tower

Waterloo Block (Home of the Crown Jewels)

 Queen's House

Most people know the Tower for two reasons: prisoners were tortured and killed there, and, the Crown Jewels are stored there. Both are true, although the scope of the former has been exaggerated.

The torture room has models of shackles, the head-chopping block and axe, and a rack (which Wendy likened to a Pilates Reformer). There are also stories of several unfortunates who spent time here.

The display of the Crown Jewels, and associated exhibits and videos / explanations, is really well done. After walking through a preliminary area with pictures and commentary, one enters (and later exits) the actual "storage" area through two massive bank-vault doors!  There are a number of "jewels" including those big crowns we see at coronations or in official royaldom portraits but also gem-encrusted rings, spurs, scepters, orbs, swords, and more. Some of these are permanently "display only", while others are actually used at various state ceremonies. One section was especially well managed: a case (about 20 ft long) filled with crowns. The people were funneled onto two moving walkways (one on each side), that forced you to view as you went past. No clogging up in this area!  Again, the downside: NO PHOTOS ALLOWED! :-(   But, here is a sampling courtesy of the web:
Gold, silver, diamonds, rubies....you get the idea.

And, to show they are state-of-the-art re tourist attractions, each main area has a themed gift shop! There is the "Crown Jewels" shop which features jewelry (duh!), The Raven Gift Shop and Cafe which features, um, souvenirs with a raven theme (although it is connected to a store which sells pink princess clothes and crowns), etc.  Wendy wanted one of the crowns but we didn't think it would fit into our carry on bags; so we took a pass.

Of course we saw the famous Beefeaters, the Tower's ceremonial guards...
...as well as the ravens....

The presence of the ravens is traditionally believed to protect the Crown and the Tower; the story goes that if the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it. To minimize that from happening, their wings are clipped so they can't fly. And they make a very unusual clicking sound.

We walked through several other buildings / exhibit areas. By that time it was really getting crowded, including a number of groups of schoolchildren wearing their various school uniforms. All in all we spent almost 3 hours there. And the weather was perfect: mid-70s and sunny.

Our next stop was Harrods. We could have taken the Underground and gotten there in 15 minutes, but instead we hopped on the Big Bus (the Blue Line tour this time) to rest our weary legs for a while. With the traffic, it turned into a 90 minute nap time. But we finally reached this shopping Mecca. 

The building, like our own Marshall Field's...er.....Macy's, covers an entire city block, but this looks way more massive and imposing.  One of the main attractions here is the Food Hall, which is a series of rooms that feature all kinds of upscale raw and prepared foods. There is a patisserie, a cheese counter, meats and fish, a whole roomful of biscuits and candy, and on and on and on......

They also prepare custom hampers (aka picnic baskets).  The Halls were packed! Obviously there were many tourists, but there also seemed to be a fair number of locals buying their dinner food. But even in this gastronomic heaven there is a dark cloud:
This actually makes perfect sense as it a) keeps food and garbage away from the merchandise, and b) might discourage someone from eating in one of the dozen or so restaurants scattered among the 5 floors.  Which is what we decided to do. We had a late lunch (and, due to vacation-food-overload, it served as our dinner) at the East Dulwich Deli (5th floor). Absolutely wonderful pea and basil soup, a smoked tuna salad, and (for Wayne again) chicken breast on white with crisps and salad.

Afterwards we walked around several departments, picked up a few souvenirs, and (after 2 hours), got back on the Underground for our hotel. We were quite fatigued by the time we got there, so we stopped in the bar for some iced tea, ginger ale, and 3 scoops of sorbet.  After a little time for freshening up, we cabbed over to the St. Martin's Theatre to see Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap", the longest running play in history.

It opened in November, 1952 and has been playing continuously ever since!

This was a quintessential English drawing room mystery. Eight people snowed in at an English B&B and one is a murderer and one (or more) might be murdered!!!! So whodunnit? let's just say one of us figured it out at the interval (translation: intermission). But the guilty party admonished everyone during the curtain calls not to spoil the secret for everyone else. So you'll just have to go there and find out for yourself.

Our final day of touring began with more Underground rides; by this time the veddy friendly woman at the ticket counter recognized Wayne! We took the Piccadilly Line back to Charing Cross. Our first stop was Hatchard's, a wonderful book shop that first opened in 1797, making it the oldest bookseller in the U.K. One could easily spend several hours on one of the 5 floors. Not surprisingly, there was one entire wall of "British History" books. We contributed to the London economy here.

Then we went next door to Fortnum and Mason (not to be outdone, they were founded in 1707!!). This very genteel store (the male sales associates wore morning coats and ties)  had two floors of foods, very much like at Harrod's.



In the Game department

But this store was way less crowded, much more upscale, and did not seem like a stop on the tourist must-see list. Another floor had crystal and china, and we found a fantastic vase by an English potter.

Back on the Underground, then we headed to our hotel for an early tea / lunch. There were different goodies on the tea tower, and it was just as wonderful as the previous time (was that only 3 days ago? My oh my.).

Then, across the street to the British Museum. Our must see item here was the Rosetta Stone.

This 2,100 year old stele contains the same text in three languages: Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic, and Greek. This allowed scholars to translate across the 3 languages, and was a critical factor in understanding and reading the hieroglyphs.

There were other fascinating exhibits of Greek and Roman and Egyptian artifacts (all looted over the centuries by the British).
The Standard of Ur, c. 2,500 B.C.

There are over 6 million objects in the entire collection (not all on display). And happily, there were NO restrictions on taking photos.

Then, another walk back to the Russell Square Underground station and a ride to Covent Garden. This was the warmest day of our trip, mid-70s, and there were tons of tourists out. We walked along the old cobbled streets and marvelled at the several-hundred year old buildings...ok, some of them had stores like Starbucks, Bath and Body Works, and (oh dear!) Eileen Fisher. But also many local stores, and of course many, many restaurants and pubs. After a while we headed over to Jamie's Italian, one of several restaurants owned by BBC (and The Food Network) cooking star Jamie Oliver. This was simple food but, wow, was it ever good!

We started out with the Vegetable Plank:


So Cheerio until next time!

We hope you enjoyed our journey as much as we did. Please give us any comments (good or bad) that you have, either directly in the blog or via email. We love to hear from you too!


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Four Days in London - Part 1

Hi All (Look: We're back to English!)

After a week plus in the Auld Sod, we said farewell to Ireland.  Our 65 minute flight got us into Heathrow at about 1:30, where our pre-arranged driver met us. Traffic was not bad, but it still took about an hour to get to our hotel, The Montague on the Gardens. WOW!!!!! What a wonderful place! Located just across the street from the British Museum, it is the epitome of an intimately exclusive English hotel. Our room is small (about 1/3 the size of the one at Dromoland), but absolutely perfect. The rug looks like it is a needlepoint. The walls are covered in that same cushy-soft fabric that we had at the Alfonso XIII in Seville, Spain.  The bathroom is tiny but quite functional;  it even has a wooden box with a brass plate reading "Spare Toilet Roll"! How proper. Five minutes after we got into the room the phone rang; it was the front desk asking if everything was satisfactory and if we needed anything! When we said it was fine, she replied "Lovely". Yes, we're in England!

The ground floor has a sitting room / library, a formal dining room, a conservatory where you can take afternoon tea, and a bar / grill area for food and drink. There is also a covered patio overlooking the garden, which is where we went for some refreshment. As the weather is quite chilly, they had some welcome heat lamps on.

The girls opted for High Tea (with 3 tiers consisting of oh-so sandwiches (chicken salad, egg salad, smoked salmon, cucumber), scones (currant and plain), and pastries and petits-fours (carrot cake, brownie-cupcake, fruit tart, lavender cupcake, chocolate-filled-popcorn-studded meringues on a stick, eclair), served with traditional English breakfast tea....
...while Wayne went for a more traditional lunch - dainty chicken / cress / mayo sandwiches on white bread triangles, crisps, and a glass of Spitfire Ale.
A perfect start to our stay. When we got back to the room there was a hand-written welcome note from the General Manager and a box of "Bea's Homemade biscuits"! (You probably know that in England "biscuits" are "cookies".)

Then we headed out. Since it was about 4pm (but staying light until after 9), we decided the best thing to do was to take the double-decker bus city tour. We walked about two blocks, then through Russell Square (a small park) to the bus stop. After a short wait we hopped on The Big Bus and were somehow able to snag the first row of seats on the upper deck; an excellent vantage point! And, even better, the first few rows had a roof, so no wind or chill at all. For the next 90 minutes we had a fabulous overview of the city courtesy of our narrator Neera.  Like all good tour narrators, she totally knew her stuff, but she was entertainingly snarky (many corny jokes). She really made it a fun experience. We passed by all the famous buildings and were able to take some amazing pictures. Here's a sampling:
Tower Bridge...
Big Ben....
The London Eye....

Since it was so late (about 6pm), the bus tour ended at stop #1 (we had gotten on at #15). So we were nowhere near our hotel. But we felt good and refreshed and it wasn't too chilly so we decided to walk back. There are a number of good tourist maps (we have at least 5), and most major intersections have a "you are here" map of the area. We walked to and past Piccadilly Circus, then on to Leicester Square. All the time we patiently waited at each intersection until we saw the "little green man" ("Walk") signal; no "heads down" crossings here as in Viet Nam or Italy. From there we went up Charing Cross Road (famous for its old bookstores; we passed by many, as it was Sunday evening, all were closed), to Tottenham Court Road and saw one of the great street signs of all time:
Any volunteers?????????

About 10 minutes out from our hotel it began to rain, but we were well prepared. We got back slightly soggy, but safe.

Monday, like all other vacation days, began with a panoply of pastries: scones, croissants, etc., plus ham, bacon, sausage, black and white puddings, baked beans, eggs, juice, and tater tots!  (oddly called "hash browns" by the locals.)

Scrumptious! We needed fortification because we had a full day of walking and sightseeing planned--little did we know how much!

Our first stop was to join a walking tour to see the changing of the palace guard. To get to the meeting point, we took the Northern Line underground from Tottenham Court Rd to Charing Cross. (Here's a map of the London subway system, which is the oldest in the world.)
Just kidding!  This is one of many "Art on the Underground" posters that adorn the walls. You see, each year they have a contest for the cover of the Underground Map guide--all recent winners are displayed on the walls--along with advertisements for every possible musical now showing in the West End!  No gratuitous advertisements here. 

Once there we walked a few blocks, saw the iconic British phone booths, and took this picture.....
They really do have working phones inside, but who uses them nowadays? Well, who uses them for phoning.  After a half-step inside, it was quite apparent to Paulie and Wendy that they are being used for something else!  Yuk!

Across the street we met our friendly guide, Kevin. At the proper time (Kevin: "Trust me I've done this before"), he led the group on the walk toward St. James's Palace. This was where the Royals lived before Queen Victoria moved into Buckingham Palace in the 1830s. Kevin explained that the changing is really a multi-step process that begins about 7am, and it occurs at several places in the area. So one choice is to stand at Buckingham starting about 8am to wait until after 11 with thousands of other people, or be in Kevin's group and see much more!!!  Lucky us!!! At St. James's (which was the first brick palace in the world), we saw the outgoing group (old guards) of Welsh guards come out, accompanied by a military band. We watched for a few minutes as they assembled and then Kevin said "OK everyone! Follow me!!!" and he began briskly walking (or as he put it so English-ly: "the group should keep momentum"!) toward The Mall. This is a wide boulevard that leads to Buckingham Palace. We crossed the street and assembled again as the guards came marching around the corner.

Then, on his signal, we (along with hundreds of others) raced along the verge to the next important point. At the next stop we saw another group (the new guard of soldiers and band - men and women) assembling. We watched them go down a short road toward the Palace.

Then, Kevin explained, when the new guard meets the soldiers going off duty, they stare at and inspect each other for 20 minutes! Next, they walk past each other and the new group takes over. Ta-da!  This ceremonial ritual has been going on continuously since the 17th century.   

That was the end of the walking tour. From there we walked up Victoria Embankment toward Westminster Abbey. Along the way (since it was after 12) we stopped at a lovely estabishment, Albert's, for lunch.  The 3 of us split two orders of fish-and-chips; one had regular peas and one had mashed peas. One order probably would have been enough!

This was washed down with London Pride beer and Aspall Draught Suffolk cider. So good!!!!!

Then, sated once more, we continued on to Westminster. This has to be the most magnificent edifice in the world! Huge vaulted ceilings, incredible stone carvings, brilliant stained glass windows, and of course, the tombs (and markers) of the rich, famous, immortals, and used-to-be-famous. Newton, Joule, Darwin, Halley, etc., represent the sciences; Handel, Britten, etc., music; Shakespeare, Austen, Coward, Browning, etc., literature, and many kings and queens, dukes, earls, and lords (and their wives and daughters), statesmen, and hundreds of men who fought valiantly and died bravely in service to King and Country. You might remember seeing it as the home of royal weddings, the latest being Kate and William. It takes at least an hour to see it all. The only big negative is that absolutely no photography is allowed! (Not even sans flash). So here are some internet pictures to give you an idea.

Then we walked past Parliament, through Parliament Square (with statues of Mandela, Lincoln, and Churchill, et. al.), and on to the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms. This underground complex was where much of the British war strategy for WWII was conceived and managed. It was in operation from 1939 - 1945. Many of the rooms have the original equipment; others have been faithfully recreated. The superb audio guide walks you through life underground during those harrowing days.

We spent at least 45 minutes in there, and could have spent longer, but the clock, and our legs, told us it was time to move on. So we walked up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square (with Admiral Nelson's Column), and hopped back onto the Northern Line, and back to our hotel to freshen up before dinner.

Ah, dinner!  London is known for its Indian cuisine, so we picked one of the finest, Moti Mahal. The menu promises a trip down "The Grand Trunk Road",  which we traveled on in Varanasi during our India trip.  Our table was situated right next to the glass wall behind which a chef continually made skewers of tandoori chicken and rounds of naan.

Wendy started off with an Inspiration aperitif--prosecco flavoured with lemongrass and pink grapefruit juice, garnished with a sugar-dusted grapefruit slice.  We also were served a lovely platter of perfectly sliced fresh vegetables to arrange our own starter salads.

We started off with Kumro Phool Bhaja (from Bengal): crisp fried courgette (zucchini) flowers stuffed with spiced whiting, flavoured with curry leaf and smoked onion seeds. (Rating: Divine! This rated right up there with our first-ever squash blossoms in Rome.) 

Then came Murghi Nazakat (from Punjab): a trio of chicken tikka, prepared with tantalising variations of mint and basil, poppy seed and Kashmiri chillies, and cracked pepper and dill. (Rating: 5 star!)
Next, 3 items: dal makhani (from Delhi): black lentils slow cooked overnight on charcoal; saffron baked rice; mappas (from Cochin): prawns simmered in a tangy coconut and curry leaf sauce. (More, more! Sooo Sooo delicious, why bother eating other ethnic foods when you can have this?)

Of course, all served with copious amounts of naan and Kingfisher beer.

Dessert was the Kulfi Selection (from Delhi): Chef's selection of mini Kulfis on the stick - Gulkand and Honey, Milk Chocolate and Raisins, Blackberry, Pistachio, Mango (Creamy ice cream - Delicious!)
Surprisingly, we ordered the perfect amount (first time ever, after much discussion!) and we left vowing to return for more.

Thus ends our first two days in London.
Fun Fact:
When you fly from Dublin to London, there is no customs declaration and no passport check at the airport. And you land at the domestic terminal! So apparently the English think that Ireland is still part of the U.K.

Ta ta for now,

love w&w..................

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Dabblin' in Dublin

Dia dhuit everyone:

Thursday morning we bade farewell to Cork and headed east and then north.

Our first stop was Waterford....yes, that Waterford...home of the famed crystal.  The guided tour was one of the best and most interesting we have ever been on. We actually walked through the factory and could stop and talk to the workers! However, we must note here that this is just a small factory; the majority of the production is done at a larger factory in town. And we were surprised to learn that they are now owned by a conglomerate which also owns Wedgewood and Royal Doulton!  The first stop was a time line showing the history of the brand. It also included information about what it takes to become a crystal cutter: 5 years as an apprentice. Then the person has to successfully cut a test bowl. If it does not meet the required standards, they have to do another 3 year apprenticeship! Yikes! When we got to the area where these cutters worked, our guide said all 6 of them had at least 30 years experience.

Of course the tour ended at the mother of all gift shops: Waterford, Waterford everywhere!!!! (yes, we did.) 

Then a short trip to the Waterford train station for our 2 1/2 hour train ride to Dublin. The train was labeled:

Irishrail.ie homepage
which, when translated into English, obviously means "iron road (railway!) of Ireland". Maggie, our tour guide, had provided each of us with a sack lunch consisting of a turkey rollup, a bag of Taytos ("The original Irish crisp"), an apple and an orange, juice, and a brownie. Tasty! 

The ride was great: very smooth and comfortable, and there were only about 4 stops along the way. We enjoyed seeing the names of the towns written in Irish and English.

We got into Dublin about 3:15 and got a quick overview as the bus went from the station to our hotel. Dublin is built on the banks of the River Liffey. The capital of Ireland, and home of Trinity College, it has a population of about 500,000 (1.2 million for the metro area). If anyplace could be said to be the birthplace of great authors, it would be Dublin, having produced many prominent literary figures, including Nobel laureates William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and Samuel Beckett. Other influential writers and playwrights include Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, James Joyce, and the creator of Dracula, Bram Stoker.  The city also seems to have, by our estimation, the most pubs and restaurants per square meter of any city we've seen.

Our Thursday night activity was a visit to the Jameson's (Irish whiskey) factory-- except it was a tourist center not a factory. We had the requisite tour and tasting, and a not-so-memorable dinner. (Wendy had a Hewitt partner who would only drink Jameson, in the day...so she was quite curious about all the fuss. OK, that partner was brilliant-- but the fuss about Jameson remains a mystery; although it certainly was smoother than the Scotch or Jack Daniels they served us.). Anyway, the highlight of the evening was a performance by two singers and three dancers. Excellent -- and we learned that When Irish Eyes Are Smiling isn't now nor never was Irish. We also learned that Irish coffee is amazing and has NO calories! (ahem). 

Friday morning, we had another sumptuous breakfast (this buffet gets an "A"; first time we ever saw one with mini quiches!).  Then we did another (!) bus tour of the city, including Phoenix Park, the largest enclosed park in Europe (it has an 11 km perimeter wall). The English name is somewhat of a misnomer; it comes from the Irish fionn uisce meaning "clear water".  Ooops!
Here is an obelisk dedicated to Lord Wellington (yes! That Lord Wellington!) who was born in Ireland.

Then we stopped at St. Patrick's Cathedral. This classic prototype Gothic church was built in 1220 on the site where St. Patrick purportedly performed baptisms

It is the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland, which is an Anglican denomination. Jonathan Swift (yes, that Jonathan Swift!) served as the Dean here (i.e., the top guy), from 1713 until his death in 1745. He is also recognized as the creator of the genre of satire. Swift is entombed here under his self-penned epitaph.

Next we went over to the Trinity College Library to see the Book of Kells, a world-famous illuminated manuscript produced by Celtic Monks in AD 800. It is actually several books; they rotate them for public viewing. However, since they are very small (about the size of a hard-cover book), the first part of the exhibit features poster-sized replicas of some of the pages, along with excellent descriptions of why they were written and what (especially the illustrations) they mean. Here is a sample of one of them.

While it was very impressive, it reminded us a lot of how the Jewish Torah was (and still is) produced: on treated sheepskin, with guide lines marked, and very fine, precise lettering (although without illustrations).

At that point the organized touring was over for the day, so the three of us went across the street to Kilkenny's, a recommended cafeteria-type restaurant. We had a quick light lunch and then headed out to explore on foot. Paulie has been on a mission to find a James Joyce t-shirt. While hunting one down we learned that Bloomsday was last weekend. This celebrates Leopold Bloom, the main character of Joyce's Ulysses. So we probably could have found one then, but, alas, now our search was in vain. But our hunt took us all over the main part of the city. We first headed toward the river, where we saw the statue of  Daniel O'Connell, a 19th century nationalist leader, and, behind it, the Monument of Light (also known as The Spire of Dublin, but it looked like a gigantic lightning rod to us).
We walked along the river and crossed over at the Ha'penny Bridge.
This is the most popular pedestrian bridge over the Liffey. It is also the "official" spot for love padlocks in Dublin:
Then we walked through the Temple Bar section. Unlike the areas surrounding it, Temple Bar has preserved its medieval street pattern, with many narrow cobbled streets. It is promoted as "Dublin's cultural quarter" (translation: more pubs) and has a lively nightlife that is popular with tourists. In other words, if you're over 30, avoid this area.

Finally, we walked over to St. Stephen's Green, a beautiful, lush city park, with ponds and blooming flowers, and walking paths with benches. It was gloriously sunny and warm, and many people were there soaking it up.

Click here for other (internet) pictures of the park.

It would have been wonderful to visit one of the synagogues on Friday for Shabbat but we didn't have our act together in getting the proper clearances. So, we decided to do something altogether different. Seeing that Evensong is a choral service, we decided to check that out instead. Apparently, St. Patrick's Boys' Choir is second in renown only to the Vienna Boys' Choir (according to our local guide). The choir school was founded in 1432. (By the way, the St. Patrick's girls' choir was founded in 2000 "to provide girls with an opportunity provided to boys for many centuries" - taken directly from the cathedral's website).  The music was stirring; to imagine such soaring, angelic voices from such little boys was awe inspiring. The singer among us was VERY glad we went. However, since it was a service, we were not able to take any photos.

Knowing we had only one free night in Dublin, we decided on OnePico for our "over the top" foodie delight. (We should note that hotel meals on prior trips were not always good and we went out of our way to miss them.  On this particular trip, the dinners have been superb, as noted in our last post). This contemporary beautiful restaurant has merited Michelin stars in the past. It doesn't have any currently but met the "one eyebrow up" evaluation from both our tour guide and the concierge. One Pico did not disappoint.

Paulie decided that a smaller meal would suit her better so we made the sacrifice without her.  Wayne started with delicately delectable langoustine risotto--garnished with Dublin Bay prawns, truffle, bisque, sweet peas and sorrel. In a veritably un-Waynely-manner, he licked the plate clean.

Wendy had the succulent seared scallops artfully arranged on the plate with carrot purée, sesame caramel ( doesn't everyone?), and hazelnut jus.  Need we say more?

For mains, we did a flip-flop from our normal food preferences with Wayne ordering fish and Wendy ordering meat (yessiree). They serve a lot of turbot here and that was Wayne's choice with fennel purée, shellfish ravioli, braised chicken wing, and vanilla clam sauce. Again, his plate cleaning skills were exceptional.

Lamb is a ubiquitous dish here in Ireland (and hillside sheep seem as plentiful as in New Zealand). Wendy felt it would just not be right to forego the lamb here when it had been so delicious Down Under.  And it did not disappoint. The roast lamb loin was pink and delicious--wrapped in bacon to keep it moist and flavorful. It was served with courgette and basil purée, rosemary terrine, crisp belly (we assume lamb) and fine ratatouille. Wendy said the lamb belly was the best she’d ever had. The dish was very special.

For dessert, we chose to share a raspberry Mille-feuille with berriolette (mixed berry) sorbet. It was light and lively and would have rounded out the meal perfectly. 

But, alas, just as we were ready to push back our chairs, the petit-fours arrived. A wonderfully memorable meal. We should mention though that while the chef was Irish, the entire wait staff was East European!

Saturday was our last day of the tour, and last in Ireland.We started out with a 1 hour ride to Glendalough, the word's best preserved monastic site. It was founded by Saint Kevin in the 6th century.
This settlement was located in a valley near two lakes. Hence the name "Glendalough". The day alternated between sunny and cloudy (with a few sprinkles, and at 13 Celsius, it was the coldest day of our trip), but that did not stop us from walking among the ruins and learning about their history

Next, back to Dublin, another quick light lunch, and then (off-tour) we went to "Jig", a very kitschy place dedicated to Irish dancing. There is a small theater off of the "museum" area. First, there is a video of "man on the street interviews" asking people in Dublin what they know about Irish dancing. It appears from this video that most Irish children (boys and girls) learned some of the dances (in school?) at an early age.  Then, the owner, Sean (who is a former Champion) and Megan do a series of Riverdance-type dances. Next, everyone in the audience is asked to come up on stage and learn to dance! There were 12 other people there besides us, and all went up, but Paulie and Wayne decided to stay firmly planted in their seats. After all....someone had to take pictures and be the audience!  Right?  Sean and Megan led the group through a number of step combinations. Some people picked it up quicker than others, but all were having a great time. After about 15 minutes of learning and practicing, here's what they were able to do:

Pretty impressive, huh?  And a fabulous way to end our time in Ireland.

"Kil" means "church" in Irish. In the old days, there were often not real "towns"; rather there was a cluster of people who lived around the focal point of their community, the church. Thus, these communities eventually did become towns with such familiar names as Kilkenny, Killarney, Kildare, Kilcullen, etc.

In Dublin, we have seen many anti-abortion signs. For such a strongly Catholic nation, abortion is still illegal (except in extreme circumstances). However, over the last few decades attempts have been made to legalize it. Another such attempt is being hotly debated in the national legislature right now; hence the signs.

So we leave our quick spin around the Republic of Ireland Sunday morning.  Our impressions?  The people are warm and family-oriented with little pretense. As a culture, the Irish are wise and witty with a wonderful sense of sarcasm.  The scenery is spectacular -- we opened this trip's blog with "fifty shades of green" partially tongue in cheek (without having truly experienced the scenery). But that description wasn't far off -- they talk about 40 shades here -- but who's counting? The scenery was breath-taking and particularly wonderful given that we had unexpectedly great weather.  The history is fascinating and the castles and monasteries captivating. The food (once we got past several traditional items) was great. The literary, dance, and musical talent is impressive. Lots more to do and see here but that is always the best way to leave a new destination. So glad we came.

On to London!

Love, w&w.............