It’s Galway [gawl-wey] ya’ll

We arrived in Galway from Dublin by train with high expectations for this city.  Galway, a harbor city on Ireland’s west coast, didn’t disappoint.  We got a taxi to our new AirBnb hoping that it was a good choice for our 7 day stay.  It was.  Once again we arrived to meet our host and found a very clean, modern apartment – not in Galway (the city), but in a little seacoast city of Salthill.  Salthill is a 20 minute walk or 5 minute bus ride into the city center of Galway.  Perfect location and apartment as we had anticipated.  With a 2 minute walk to the bus and a 5 minute walk to the Atlanta Ocean – we concluded that “we did good”.

One thing that surprised us; however, was the size of Galway.  We would have guessed 100’s of thousands of residents, but come to find out it only has 75K people.  So much packed into this lovely city. Being a college town, it has a youthful exuberance that makes it feel so lively.  Lots of traditional pubs that offer live Irish folk music not to mention art museums, galleries, and restaurants.

First Day Trip from Galway – Connemara

We decided not to get a rental car here, but instead picked 2 separate day trips with a local tour company.  Yesterday we went to the Connemara region with numerous stops in local villages, and stops for camera enthusiasts to capture the raw landscapes and wild Atlantic coastline.

Rugged country

Waterfall with 2 girls

Small House

The highlight of the trip for us was the 2 hour stop at Kylemore Abbey (below) which was extravagantly located on a lake in the midst of the mountains.  This Abbey is also home to the Benedictine nuns.   Here are a few photos from the Abbey, and after the photos a little more history of this masterpiece of construction for the time.

Abbey

The Abbey

 

Next to the Abbey was the Gothic Church, a miniature Cathedral that was build by Mitchell Henry in memory of his wife Margaret.

The Gothic Church

 

And, further to the right of the church was the Mausoleum (see below)  where Margaret’s ashes were interred after her death from dysentery, and then later Mitchell’s ashes after his death at 84.

Mausoleum with green

The Mausoleum

 

Kylemore Castle was built as a private home for the family of Mitchell Henry, a wealthy doctor from London,England. He moved to Ireland when he and his wife Margaret purchased the land around the Abbey.  They had visited there while on honeymoon in 1850 and she was so charmed by Connemara that Mitchell purchased the estate (15K acres!) as a gift for her; thus building one of Ireland’s most iconic castles in 1862.

Mitchell Henry was a kind man and eventually represented Galway in the House of Commons, and was a strong advocate for home rule.  He set up a school on the grounds of the Castle because he wanted his tenants’ children to get an education.  Also, in hard times he reduced the tenants’ rents.

Since 1920 the Abbey has been home of the Benedictine nuns.  They arrived there during WWI as refugees having fled their monastery in Flanders.  The nuns have a long standing tradition of education.  Irish nobility sent their daughters to be educated with the Nuns.  It evolved into an international board school which operated until 2010 when the school closed.  It closed because of declining number of students and aging nuns.

 

Second Day Trip from Galway – The Cliffs of Moher

Having enjoyed our 1st trip with Lally Tours, we opted to do a second tour rather than rent a car and go ourselves.  Good decision I think.  The big attraction for this tour was The Cliffs of Moher, but there were additional stops at Dunguaire Castle, Aillwee Cave, and lunch in a local pub in Doolin.

Since the Cliffs were the main attraction we were excited to go, but our expectations were greatly exceeded.   The Cliffs were awe inspiring stretching 5 miles and standing 700 feet tall at the highest cliff.  Wind was a wee bit of a problem for us at 35 mph, and gusting much faster of course.  We were happy; however, that it didn’t rain on us, but slightly overcast all day.  Below are some photos taken on the tour, and a few photos of some people that were a little too close to the edge of the cliffs in my opinion.

view of cliffs maggieSeveral CliffsCliffs with bird

Of course there were you usual tourists who got to close to the edges.  The “bad hair photo” of me is why I think it was not a good idea to get too close.

 

We chose not to do the cave portion of the tour because I am a little claustrophobic, and besides the grounds were beautiful so we opted to take photos instead.  The cave tour was so short (30 minutes) so I don’t think we made the wrong decision. Do you?

scene from caveClay on Fencemaggie on rocks

As you can see the weather is interesting around here.  The photographs of Clay and me were taken just a few minutes apart.  I guess the sun was shining on the better of the two of us.  (wink!)

Also, we had a short stop at the most photographed Castle in Ireland according to our tour guide.  You know; however, that you can always trust what a tour guide tells you…..except me.

castleCastle sign

Here it is our last day in Galway after a week packed with interesting things to do and places to go. Enjoying catching up on our Facebook posts and our travel blog.  Tomorrow on to Dingle, Ireland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Galway [gawl-wey] ya’ll

Beer, Books and Bogs in Dublin

Next on the itinerary was a four-day stop in Dublin. Four days was not nearly enough time, but we did get a chance to get beyond the cluster of pubs in the Temple Bar district.

Our first stop was to the Guinness Storehouse: a complex of warehouses for the Guinness brewery, with one large building set aside as a museum of the history, craft and culture of Guinness. They even offer a lesson in the technique of pouring a pint of Guinness stout – you learn a new skill, get a certificate and you get to drink the pint after class; a useful education if you ask me. A cynic might dismiss the whole thing as a way to get people to pay for a two-hour Guinness commercial, but hey, nobody’s forcing anybody to go. Maggie and I had fun, we learned some things about the brewing process, and as part of the admission price, we each got a pint of Guinness, poured for us in the rooftop bar. We shared our table with a couple of beautiful 20-something American nurses, on a day’s layover in Dublin on their way to Croatia. All in all, I’d have to say it checked off all my boxes for a great way to spend an afternoon.

The Chester Beatty Library is a shrine to books. It’s divided into two parts: there’s a research library, where experts can come to examine the old and rare volumes that make up the collection; then there’s a museum of books that’s open to the public. The age and breadth of the collection is astounding.

On the first floor, there are love poems from 1160 BCE; Egyptian Books of the Dead on papyrus;  European, Japanese and Chinese prints; a display of book bindings with leather carved into intricate patterns.I got caught up in some woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer, which I had seen in books but never realized how tiny they are. Maggie was captivated by a Japanese love story, presented as a graphic novel in page after page of beautiful illustrations and calligraphy, with English translations presented alongside.

The second floor of the public display is devoted to religious books: mostly Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu works, with a small display on Manichean writings. Chester Beatty had one of the world’s most complete collections of ancient Korans. Maggie and I had already been introduced to the beauty of Arabic script, which covers the walls of the Alhambra in Grenada, Spain. What was amazing about these was the level of detail: pages and pages of script written in gold ink, each character outlined in a delicate line of black, so thin it was almost invisible. Some were miniatures from the early Mughal Empire, predating restrictions on images of people and animals. They were a tiny window on a different version of Islam, before the rise of fundamentalism.

We spent some time in the Archaeology wing of the National Museum of Ireland, which covers the history of prehistoric Ireland. It turns out that the peat bogs that cover so much of Ireland are a perfect environment for preserving artifacts: when something falls in the bog, the peat slowly grows over it; once it’s covered, the mixture of mud and water keeps out the air, so artifacts, animals, and people who wound up in the bog are found intact centuries later. We saw iron spear points, perfect except for a thin layer of rust; gold crescent-shape necklaces with their fine details easily visible; a wooden wheel from 400 BCE. The big attraction is the “bog bodies:” remains of four ancient kings, executed and buried in the bog. Archaeologists can tell they were kings because their remains show that their diet and health were far above average for their time. Their hands and bones don’t show the signs of the hard manual labor most people endured back then. The most telling evidence is that their nipples had been cut off: back then subjects showed their fealty to the king by sucking on his nipples – a demonstration that the king was the source of everything. With no nipples, he couldn’t claim kingship in this world or the next.

On this whole trip, our only regret has been not spending enough time in each place – we have yet to get bored, or stay in one place longer than we wanted. Our visit to Dublin was definitely in this category. We’d like to say that we saved something for next trip, but it’s a big world and our time on it isn’t endless, so I don’t know if that will happen. Our hope is that people will read this blog and share their stories, so we’ll all get to see a little more of the world.

Beer, Books and Bogs in Dublin

Stonhenge

Stonehenge-12.jpg

Maggie and I finally got to see Stonehenge in real life. The pictures and stories we’d  seen didn’t prepare us to understand impact the site had on prehistoric Europe. There’s a lot more to the story than just the stones. First of all, there is the site itself: the surrounding area is dotted with mysterious constructions of various sorts. Clearly this was a significant place in the religions of the time. Then there was the difficulty in assembling and carving the stones themselves. Based on the technology of the time, getting the stones to the site was a tremendous task; it consumed immense resources of time, manpower and materials. The evidence of the distances people traveled to be here was a revelation to us. Being here answered a lot of our questions about what happened here, but didn’t answer the questions of why: Why these stones? Why this arrangement? Why here?

It’s no accident that Stonehenge is in this precise location. In the surrounding area, there are dozens of human-made constructions, some in large, definite patterns, and some that date back 10,000 years.  There are circular ditches, groups of post holes, causeways and burial mounds large and small. Half a mile north, there’s the Cursus, built about 3500 BCE, a rectangular ridge two miles long and about 400 feet wide that marks the positions of sunrise and sunset on the summer solstice. There are the remains of Woodhenge, a forest of stakes a couple of miles away, built about 2500 BCE. Stonehenge is actually a set of features: it’s bordered by a circular ditch and ridge 300 feet in diameter  that dates back to about 3000 BCE. The circle of standing stones dates back about to about 2500 BCE (about the same age as the pyramids of Egypt); it was modified from time to time over the next 900 years or so, which makes it one of the newer features in the area.

Building Stonehenge took tremendous effort. The first stones (“blue” stones), placed in the inner ring, came from the Preseli Hills in western Wales, a distance of about 150 miles. They might have been hauled on rafts down the Bristol Channel, then dragged on sledges to get them to Salisbury plain.

Basic CMYK
Source: english-heritage.org.uk

The larger stones, weighing up to five tons,  were brought in from the Marlborough Downs, about 20 miles north. The stones would have been carried on a wooden platform that rested on logs, that weren’t attached to the cart, but rolled underneath. (The wheel had been invented, but wouldn’t make it to Britain for another thousand years.)  As the cart moved along, the rollers would have been left behind one by one, so another group of people would have been needed to carry the last roller around and put it back at the front. Pulling the cart any distance would have take 100 strong men – a twenty mile trip would have needed several teams of men relieving each other at intervals. It’s not clear if animals were also used in the hauling, but there were domesticated cattle in the area at the time, so it’s possible.

SledgeOnRollers

Each stone was carved into a specific shape and fitted to its location. The vertical stones are each standing in a post hole, with a bump carved on on its end that fits into a groove carved into the horizontal stone on top, which was hauled into place with ropes and ramps. There must have been some tremendous scaffolding around the vertical stones to support their weight, plus the weight of the top stone, the men, carts, possibly oxen and everything else needed to delicately place a stone weighing several thousand pounds in exactly the right position 18 feet above ground level.

As famous as Stonehenge is today, it must have been equally well known in its time. Based on the artifacts and human remains left here, people traveled long distances to be here: as far away as present-day Turkey, a distance of 2000 miles.They would have come on pilgrimages: there is evidence of ancient dwellings, not permanent residences but only used during ceremonies. These temporary villages were in use for hundreds of years. There was a wide road that led from the river Avon into Stonehenge; Magie and I imagined processions of ancient kings, arriving with great ceremonies of music, dancing, feasting to celebrate the union of the people with their gods.

What we don’t know is why. We don’t know why these particular constructions were built in these exact ways in this spot. It’s obvious that some of the features of Stonehenge line up with the summer and winter solstice, but there’s only a few stones that have any part in those observations – what are the rest of them here for? Why were the stones brought such tremendous distances? One theory is the blue stones were venerated because of their color, or the ringing sound they make when they are struck; it may be that the source of the blue stones was itself a holy place: either because of the presence of healing waters, an origin myth that is lost in time, or the presence of Psilocybe mushrooms. That works for Wales, but doesn’t say why these plains were considered holy. Clearly it was highly significant, otherwise they wouldn’t have taken all of these people away from everything else they would have been needed for: growing crops, tending livestock, defending their land from invaders, raising children and so on.We don’t even know why the site fell out of use, about 1600 BCE; Druids, Romans, and Christians wouldn’t arrive for another 1000-2000 years, so that sun-worshiping religion was replaced by something we have little knowledge of.

We will never have all of these answers – writing had been invented, but hadn’t made it to Britain yet, so the only evidence we have is the stones themselves, and what few artifacts were left. The people left no other trace, not even an oral history, so it’s left to us to invent our own stories and rituals around the stones.

 

Stonhenge

Long live Cornwall

Oh, how we loved you!  This was the first place we stayed that we only stayed for one week, and as it turns out one week was definitely not long enough.  The 3 main activities we did while in Cornwall were:  hiking (best ever!), music (surprise), and eating!  We passed on castles, cathedrals, because we had something else in mind.

We based our visit out of Boscastle.  Boscastle is a village and fishing port on the north coast of Cornwall, England.  Our little apartment turned out to be much larger than the AirBnb photos had shown.  We had 3 bedrooms, living room, big kitchen, separate dining room, but oddly only one bath.  It was extremely clean, and very old and perfect for the 2 of us.

Our apartment was right across the street from the Napoleon Pub.  In fact, we called it our 12 step program because we were literally right across from the Pub.  We actually measured the distance and turns out it was 20 steps, but a 12 step program sounded better.  Usually one doesn’t associate pubs with good food (just beer!), but this place was an exception.  We actually ate there 2-3 times.

Maggie Pub

Boscastle Harbor provided the perfect walk to hike up to the coastal walkway!

 

Five years ago, I made a trip to Cornwall with a Road Scholars Tour group.  Clay didn’t get to go because he was still working at the time.  I wanted to show him some of my favorite hikes from that trip.  My favorite then, and now too, was the hike from Boscastle to Tintagel.  It did not disappoint as the photos below show.  It is a 5.5 mile hike, and mostly up and down so a little strenuous at times.  We make it in about 3 ½ hours so we thought we did well.  We had lunch in Tintagel, and then caught a bus back to Boscastle.

 

 

Another great hike was near Padstow.  Padstow is this cool little fishing village, and after our hike we had our first Cornish pasties.  They were good, but honestly, we neither one thought it good enough to order again.  Here are a few photos from Padstow and the hike that we took from there.

Music was a real surprise while we were in Cornwall.  We were over at the local pub one evening and while standing at the bar drinking a pint, we started a conversation with a local guy.  Turns out he was a member of the singing group the Boscastle Buoys.  It is a band of Sea Shanty singers who entertained us well after our usual bed time.  They were an amazing group, and honestly I thought at the time that they were just a good as the more famous Fisherman’s Friends.

Boscastle.jpg

 

Enjoying the Boscastle Buoys so much we decided at trip to Doc Martin’s little town of Port Wenn as it is called in the series. Actually it is Port Isaacc where it was filmed.  Fisherman’s Friends show up every Friday night to put on a show for the locals as well as the tourists from all over Cornwall.  We enjoyed the show sitting on our butts just a few feet in front of the harbor and the singers. Port Isaacc is an amazing little village!  And, yes for you Doc Martin fans, that is his surgery 2nd house from the left.

Port Isaacc Habor

The Sea Shanty group, Fisherman’s Friends ended up putting on quite the show for us.

Fishersman friends

Food in Cornwall?    Pub grub was much better than I had expected.  My only complaint about the food was that all the menu’s seem to have the same things on them – fish and chips, pasty’s, soup, specials heavy on the meat, potatoes, and usually one curry.  Not as much variety of food that I was used to.

One of our favorite places to eat was just about 1 mile from our Boscastle home.  it was fun to walk down to the Boscastle Harbor, and then walk up to the Farm Shop situated along the coastal path.  The Farm Shop was on a local farm about 50 yards to the coastal path with spectacular views from the outdoor picnic tables.   They seem to have a great passion for great quality local produce!  We loved our visits there, the walk, the food, and one day – even a trip just for dessert!

Food Store

In conclusion our only regret about beings in Cornwall was that we didn’t spend enough time here.  Perhaps we will come back one day and spend another week or two.  One never knows when Cornwall will call us again.

Long live Cornwall

The Cotswold Olimpicks

Maggie and I got to witness this year’s presentation of a 400-year old tradition: the Robert Dover Games, aka the Cotswold Olimpicks. That’s not a misspelling; the town of Chipping Campden is proud of its heritage, and they like to bring it back alive in any way they can.  The Olimpicks is a celebration of sports that have been played in the English countryside for a long time. Some are familiar: tug-of-war, sack racing, log throwing, and “champion of the hill”- a foot race up a steep incline. Others are not as well known, like welly wanging – a contest to see who can throw a rubber farmer’s boot (called a welly, short for Wellington) with the most distance and accuracy; there’s also dwile flonking, which is essentially dodge ball played with a wet bar rag, and the dodgers have to keep dancing while they dodge. The Olimpicks doesn’t have all those sports every year, so it’s like a box of chocolates (Except for one event, the shin kicking, that happens every year; more on that later.)

This year, the games began with a few warm up acts: we saw a couple of dance troupes and a demonstration of a sword fight between two medieval knights. Then an actor playing the games’ founder, Robert Dover rides in on a horse with his entourage walking behind. Everybody is decked out in medieval garb, which would have been way out of fashion by the 1600’s, but that’s nit picking.

After the procession, the competitions started. This year there were a lot of relay races: a sack race, a wheel barrow relay over an obstacle course, a race while bouncing on big rubber balls, and  a competition between teams trying to fill trash cans with water, using small leaky buckets. The last two were run on plastic sheeting drenched in dishwashing soap, with people throwing buckets of water at the contestants (not traditional, but fun to watch. That ended with a water fight with the filled trash cans, followed by winners and losers alike joining in sliding across the plastic sheeting – on their bellies, backs, or knees.

The most popular sport (with the fans, anyway) is probably the least played: the shin kicking. That’s pretty much what it sounds like: two guys (always guys, no comment needed) grab each other by the shoulders and kick each other in the shins. As the web site says,”the hillsides ring with the sound of boot on bone.” That goes on until one of the kickers falls down. Two falls out of three wins the match.  Even in such a savage game, there are rules: no kicking above the knee; no pulling your opponent to the ground; the only protective gear allowed is straw shoved up the pants, and only leather shoes are allowed –  no steel toed boots. The rules are enforced by a “stickler” (yes, that is where that word comes from).

This year, there were several preliminary matches, then the final match to determine The Shin Kicking World Champion. Adam Miller defended his title against Zac Warren, a previous world champion. The preliminary matches had been relatively quick; this one went on and on. In the end, Adam Miller was declared the winner on a TKO when Zac Warren couldn’t stand up to go back in the ring. I think we were all a little relieved. There’s a video of the event on YouTube if you’re interested in seeing more. RobertDoverOlimpicks-61c

After dark, there was a fire eaters’ act on top of the hill: a trio of trashy looking women scantily dressed in semi-ripped clothes. I suppose the tricks they were doing were pretty standard for fire eating, but they had my attention. RobertDoverOlimpicks-79.jpg

The fire eaters were followed by one of the better fireworks shows we’ve seen in a while. Where in the U.S., the grande finale is usually the part where they let off a bunch of explosions all at once, here they did that, and kept going. They went back to single fireworks that just kept getting bigger and bigger. It was more amazing because it was so close; they were letting the fireworks off in the valley, and we were on top of the hill, so they were exploding right in front of us. I’m sure it was totally safe, but it felt like they wouldn’t get away with that at home.

Finally, the last event on the hill: the bonfire: a mountain of various wood scraps dumped into a giant receptacle that looked like a trash can. All of that disappeared when the lit the fire, though. Nothing but flames and sparks lighting up the night.

We had bought torches earlier, now we all lit our torches from the bonfire or somebody else’s torch, and we started a procession back to town. Maggie had described a silent procession form previous years,  but this time it was pretty raucous. For a little while, we got caught in front of some teenage boys that just wanted to hear the sound of their voices.  I think I would have preferred the silence. RobertDoverOlimpicks-87.jpg

Back in town, we extinguished our torches in in the bins provided, and they started up a street party of the young folks. It was bed for Maggie and me – we’d had a long and memorable day already.

 

 

The Cotswold Olimpicks

Surprises in Cirencester!

One of our day trips in the Cotswold region turned out to hold some pleasant surprises.   At the Corinium Museum in Cirencester, Clay and I were surprised by how much we learned about Roman-British history, but also about a newly discovered potential secret Christian code. Later we were also surprised when taking a walk into the countryside, a local farmer’s wife told us about a  small church down the rural trail that held a secret”.  We were hooked.  We had to go.   More on that later, but first I will tell you a little about the town itself.

A lot of people refer to Cirencester as the Capital of the Cotswolds.  During the Roman occupation,  it had a population of about 20,000 people, and was the 2nd largest city in England behind London.  The town’s Roman name was Corinium, and the earliest known reference to it was in AD150.  Ironically, today it is about the same population as in Roman times.  I thought that was so interesting and it tweaked my interest in finding out more about this town.

We arrived mid-morning and headed straight to the Corinium Museum, which documents the Roman history of Cirencester, or Cornium as it was known in Roman days. We learned that the Romans had arrived in Britain in 43AD, and that by 75AD the town of Corinium Dubunnorum was born. We also learned that there was an extensive public building campaign during this period of time including the 2nd largest known Roman bath, a forum complex as well as an amphitheater. The town itself was laid out in the traditional Roman style.  Recently discovered Mosaic floors are on display as well.

Tiles

The museum has a collection of many Roman objects which gave us an idea of what life must have been like in a Roman-British town. The gravestones provided a lot of details giving details such as age, names and places of origin, which show how cosmopolitan the town must have been.  The stone altars and religious sculpture are evidence of the variety of religious beliefs practiced in the Cotswolds.

There is also the Acrostic – a Roman word square that reads the same forwards as backwards.  This is one of only 11 found to date in the world and one explanation is that it holds a secret Christian code.

Christin puzzle

Explanation of Puzzle

After a hearty lunch at a French (yes, French!) restaurant, we got a map from the Visitor Center, and headed out for an afternoon walk through the country side.  While walking we met a local woman – the wife of a farmer who stopped to chat with us for a few minutes.  We told her we were headed to the hamlet of Baunton.  She looked a little surprised that we were going to such a small place instead of the usual tourist towns.  She obviously delighted in telling us not to miss the small local church in the parish.  There was a secret there we should fine.  Of course, we encountered a few sheep along the country path.

sheep

Finding the church was easy since it was such a small church.  I must admit that I felt a little spooky walking through grass that looked like it had not been mowed in some time – not to mention through the cemetery.  When I got to the door I thought it was closed (locked), but Clay figured out that I wasn’t putting enough “push” on the door and that it was open.  Subconsciously, I think I was hesitating to go in because of what the farmer’s wife has said about a secret find.

church yard

Well it didn’t take to long to discover the surprise she was referring to.  The church was so small, but on the wall was as it turned out a 13th century fresco with an interesting history.

St. Chrisopher

The painting was on the north wall of the small church and dates back to the 14th century.  It was covered with plaster during the reformation, and was forgotten about.  During the late 1800’s (1870?) it was discovered during a  renovation of the church.  Wow!

We left the Ciencester area very happy that we had made the drive over, and discovered some exciting surprises.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surprises in Cirencester!

Chipping Campden – the base

After being here for about almost two weeks, I can honestly say that renting a lovely Home Away property in Chipping Campden was great. It is a lovely town and centrally located.  We were able to base out of here and hit all the highlights of the things we wanted to do in this region (Cotswold).  We still have more “to do’s”, but thought some of you might want to see photos of the town, and also our rental place.  Who knows you might want to visit here one day.

Here are some photos of the town – population:  2206 lucky souls.

 

sign

Chipping Campden welcomes you with a “here you are” sign

flags on store

It was the Queen’s Birthday this way so most of the small shops had the British Flag and small tributes to her throughout the city.

Street scene with market

Street scene with old Market Hall in background on right.  It was build in the 1600’s.

The following photos are of our “home” in Chipping Campden.  If you turn right in just past a pub and walk about 1/4 mile – you would be at our home!  Here are a few photos from our home.

Throughout England you will see signs of the celebration of the Queen’s birthday.  Most of the small shops had tributes to the queen, but at the French Bakery I found what I thought of the best!

queen & here heirsprince william

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chipping Campden – the base