debbieahlers

Debbie and Ken's Excellent Adventure – we take off…..


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SWEET SWEDEN AND HOMEWARD BOUND

Stockholm is in Ken’s blood: he is 25% Swedish. Other people here look like him. It’s a vibrant city with lots of water in and around. In other words, it is made up of islands. It reminds me of Vienna where we couldn’t even attempt to recognize or say the names of streets or places. The language is VERY foreign. English is spoken, but many of the signs do not include it. It does feel nice to have people driving on the “right” side of the street again, like we are used to. It is also hot and humid (and few people have A/C, as this is unusual and will probably not last long), which we will have to get used to, having just come from chilly Ireland. We take a walk around to the old town and that starts to make me feel comfortable, with its narrow, cobblestoned streets and small shops. We wander into one for dinner: Swedish meat balls with ligonberry, of course! Delicious! Ken is delighted that a bunch of people are playing bocci ball, like we saw in France, by a beautiful fountain.

Fountain

In the winter, there is only 6 hours of daylight. Now, in summer, it gets dark late, late and is bright by 4:00 AM. We are further north than parts of Canada that are above the tree line in the Artic Circle! Also, Stockholm is the largest city in Northern Europe.

We tour the palace the next day and also view the Nobel Prize museum. We learn that Albert Nobel made his money from inventing dynamite.

Even though they are part of the EU, they are not on the Euro. They are trying to become a cashless city, so you can charge everything. We try not to get any krona and just charge stuff. It is a very expensive city, as there are a lot of taxes added to bills (like 25%, and we complain at 7 or 8%). They have great social systems and take care of their citizens cradle to grave, but that all has to be paid for.

The people are young and beautiful, walking around: LONG legs, blond and stylish. It is very much a biking and walking city. It has a good infrastructure and transportation.

On our last day, we take the ferry to another island, which is also a part of Stockholm, and go to a Nordic museum and a Viking museum (and no, Vikings did not have horned helmets…that was invented in the 19th century for an opera costume). All very interesting. We eat at a nice restaurant for our final dinner on the Continent, and reminisce about what a great trip we have had.

So, that’s it for this journey. This is my last post, for this trip. We start for home middle of the night, tonight (taxi ordered for 4:15AM!!). If all goes well, it will take us 2 days to get home. And then the “fun” begins with trying to unpack boxes and settle into our new environment. It will be like traveling and adjusting to a new Airbnb and a new city! At least they speak English in Greenville!! LOL

It’s been an incredible 2 months and both Ken and I have enjoyed it. I feel very lucky to have had this wonderful and enriching experience and to be able to “walk the world” a little bit more.

Passport

THANKS for “joining” me along the way. I always felt your presence, as I looked for things to pay attention to that I thought you might enjoy hearing about. It gave me a new way of looking at our travels. Take care and thanks for following me…..
HOMEWARD BOUND……

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DELIGHTFUL DUBLIN

The days in Adare pass quickly. We take a trip to a rural farm. VERY interesting, and important, as Ireland is a mostly rural country. They raise sheep and cattle for slaughter. There is a lot to it and the farmer who told about it all was charming and informative.

We also dine in the Adare Manor, which took 30 years to build in the mid-1800’s. Three years ago, it was bought by an American couple for $30 million, closed for 2 years for renovations, which cost $80 million, and just recently reopened. We went right from our farm visit to this fancy Manor for lunch….talk about from “farm to table”!!

Adare manor

We leave Adare for Dublin. On the way we stop at the Irish National Stud, where thoroughbreds are bred. Very interesting, and the horses were beautiful. It’s really a major business, with one champion making the enterprise 13 million Euros in the 3 months of mating. They do it the old fashioned way and there are no drugs given to any of the horses.

On to Dublin!

With 1.5 million people in metropolitan Dublin, we are definitely not in rural Ireland anymore. We see loads of young people (think Ireland has the “youngest” population in the EU) and the streets are bustling and crowded. There are new buildings and venues settled right next to old ones.

We start at Dublin Castle. Our guide is easy to understand, with the typical absence of the “th” sound in her speech (like every other Irish person here).
In the Castle, we see the symbol of Ireland: the harp.

dav

It is the only country with a musical instrument for a symbol. With all the music that is a huge part of Irish life, this seems appropriate. Since Guinness beer, which was established in the mid 1800’s, uses the harp, also, as a symbol, and Ireland only gained its independence in 1922, Ireland had to turn their harp symbol the other way so as not to be the same as Guinness’ symbol. Again, this seems appropriate that the beer came first here in Ireland! Also, the background color of the symbolic harp, is blue, not green, as most people assume.

We also learn that the Irish flag, with its green, white, orange colors represent the Catholics (green), the Protestants (orange) and the white represents the peace in between them.

Next we go to Trinity College and view the Book of Kells. These are 638 pages of the 4 gospels meticulously written (on calves’ skin) by monks as far back as 500!! The illustrations are intricate and unbelieveable: a true national treasure.

We also go into the Long Library at Trinity College. It almost looks like something out of Harry Potter.

Long Library

For the last 300 years, there has been a law that every book ever published in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, must have one of the first editions in this book depository. There are hundreds of thousands (maybe millions). In this part, in Trinity College, they keep books from the 1800’s. We’re talking first edition Dickens!! They are shelved and organized all according to size, so a book on poetry might be next to a book on medieval medicine. The way they categorize the books and find them is amazing. It’s also amazing that they let all these tourists just walk around. Yes, they have guards watching, but, doesn’t seem secure in my American mind.

Last night we went to the Abbey Theater (remember in an earlier post we had gone to Lady Gregory’s estate where she and Yeates founded the Abbey Theater?).
Fun to go there after learning about its inception. We saw a wonderful play, “Jimmy’s Hall”, based on the true story of Jimmy Gralton, a political activist in Ireland in the 1930’s. There was Irish song and dance, along with the acting. After all we had learned this week about the history and political struggles of the Irish, the story was a lot more meaningful than it would have been without this knowledge. Everyone in our group really enjoyed the performance.

Today we are on our own for our last day in Dublin. We plan to take in a few museums, including the Irish Whiskey museum (of course!).

Tomorrow we travel to Stockholm, our last city before we start our journey home.


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INTO IRELAND

A few misc. observations: in Ireland, they put ICE water in a pitcher or a carafe at your table at a restaurant. Other places we’ve been in Europe: you have to ask for water (for “still” or “mineral”) and might have to pay for it. Of course, Ireland has lots of water, re: rain…LOL Their bread is a brown soda bread, comes with lots of butter and is delicious. It is served with everything and is free (unlike some countries where you have to pay extra and/or ask for bread).

Also, they seem to have more than one wait staff service your table. One thing they do have in common with Europe: wait staff uses these little handheld machines (a bit bigger than a pack of cigarettes). The bill is brought to you and then you stick your credit card into the bottom of this little machine and it prints out two copies of your bill. One you sign and one they keep. This eliminates your server going back to the register to run your card. Very efficient.

We went to a movie and it started on time with no commericials, previews, or anything, just the movie. Unusual for us!

Some police walking around, but not many, and they do not carry guns, of course.

Before we leave the Ennis area, we stop at the Bunratty castle again, which we had already seen. Ken and I take a little walk to see the Bunratty Winery and museum.

Bunratty Winery

They don’t make wine in Ireland, but they do make mead, which is honey based “wine”, mixed with fruits and spices and fermented. The monks originally made it for medicinal purposes. In Medievel times, a bride and groom would drink it daily for a month after their wedding to promote fertility and verility, thus the name “honeymoon” came into being to signify the honey mead being drunk for one cycle of the moon.

We next go to the town of Adare, a picturesque Irish town, with the prerequisite castle and churches dating back from the 13th century. We will be here a couple of days.

The next day we take a day trip to Dingle. I just love the name! A cute little harbor town, but the best thing was the drive around the Dingle Penninsula, just beautiful and the western most point of Europe. The landscape was unique and 2 of the Star Wars movies used locations as filming spots, including “The Last Jedi”.

Dingle Penninsula

It reminded us of California’s scenic Highway 1. Just spectacular.

There were also important archeological sites. Gallarus Oratory is a stone building 1300 years old! It is a perfect example of dry rubble masonry and kept its occupants dry. It would keep current occupants just as dry as when it was built. There is no mortar, just stones fitted together. It’s very cool.

Dry rubble masonry

Tomorrow is visiting a farm, as most of Ireland is rural, and then off to Dublin for the rest of the Irish part of our trip.


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EXPLORING MORE OF IRELAND

Since I was in such a rush last night, forgot to add to the latest post that the whole story about the Lynch family and how the father, the Judge, ended up hanging his son out the window, is where the word “lynching” came from: the point of the story! LOL

Also, Ken reminded me that the music last night also included a 4 string banjo, an instrument important for Irish music which actually was brought from the slaves in Africa to America and then over to Ireland. The folk tunes reminded me of how the Appalachian folk music is handed down (remember the movie we saw in Movie Club, AAUW Beaufort gals??) and is all played by ear. Same here.

Our trip with Road Scholar is called “Enchanted Ireland: Town and Country”. Yesterday was “town”, today is “country”.

We go to a remote landscape called the “Burren”. Our guide shows us lots of flowers (70% of the flower types in Ireland grow there).

At the Burren

It is a unique, rocky terrain made of limestone. He carries a stick made of hazel to “keep the evil spirits away”. Lots of limestone, which is crucial to the area, including used to whitewash houses in the old days. He also points out a lot of lichen, which only flourishes where there is no pollution. The elements are rough here, and farmers herd their cows to feed in between the rocks. Stones are used a lot for everything here, including a “dry stone wall”, which marks boundaries of the farms and has holes so the wind can blow through.

Dry Stone Fence

We stop at a place called “Poulnabrune”, a Stonehenge type of burial tomb older than the pyramids.

Lunch is at a tiny village pub for some wonderful stew (beef and carrots simmered in Guiness: yum!).

After that, it’s on to the Cliffs of Moher, where Ireland meets the Atlantic sea with cliffs over 400 feet high. Unfortunately, we get to experience a true Irish afternoon: with strong winds, rain and all around misery. Despite that, we gallantly climb to the cliffs and see NOTHING!: thick fog. A disappointment, as it’s one of the most famous Irish landmarks. They do have a visitor center, and we see pictures, a film and study the exhibits. It’s interesting, but wish we could have seen the real thing. We’ll just have to come back some day.

Tomorrow we go to the castle at Bunratty: the one we already explored ourselves! Didn’t know we’d see it on the tour, but there will be a guide this time, so guess we’ll revisit some of it again.

In the afternoon, we visit Adare, with a guided tour and then stay overnight.

Can’t believe how fast the trip is going. A week from today the Road Scholar tour is over and we are off to Stockholm for a few days and then home!! Feel so blessed to have had this experience. For now, living in the moment and enjoying exploring more of Ireland.


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SURPRISING IRELAND

We met up with our Road Scholar group at the airport and we were on our way to Ennis. The people seem nice and I’m sure we’ll get to know them better over the course of the week. Already I’ve been dubbed “The Social Director” (I’m sure any of you who know me well are not surprised!) I just wanted to make sure everyone was introduced, felt comfortable, etc. Everyone else had just walked off a Trans-Atlantic flight and were jet lagged, etc. Ken and I were awake and ready to “rock and roll”, since we’ve been on the Continent for so long! I just wanted to meet everyone and know all about them!

While people were recovering from their flight, Ken and I explored the town of Ennis, where our first hotel is located. A delightful little town that was clean, vibrant and filled with people. The weather is perfect: pleasant, sunny and high 60’s. There is a music festival going on (called a “Fleadh”), apparently, so there is Irish music wafting from every establishment and many musicians are just set up on the street (including children playing and singing). It’s a wonderful,
party-like atmosphere.

We wander into the Ennis Friary (County of Clare) that was originally built in the 1200’s. We learned a lot from one of the gals who was selling tickets, including a ten minute history of the religious ebbs and flows of Ireland. Very interesting! The people here seems so outgoing and friendly: just nice.
We decide that we really like Ireland a lot, so far, and didn’t realize how much we would enjoy the place and the people.

The next day we are out and about with our group of 24. We are learning so much about Ireland! It has 4 Provinces: Connacht, Leinster, Ulster and Munster, each containing counties. The weather usually is really good for 2 weeks in the summer and it is usually really green, thus “the Emerald Isle”. This year it snowed FEET (they usually don’t get any snow) in March and they now have had great weather for 2 months, which means there is a draught and some of the land is brown. Unusual! All the signs in our area here in the west (Munster), are in the “Irish Language” (what we call “Gaelic”) and English.

Ireland is SMALL: 300 miles by 150 miles with currently about 4.5 Million people (a little less than the population of WI). After some political/religious persecution and the famine in the mid 1800’s, the country went from over 8 million to 2 million! They really were in bad shape. In 1963, JFK visited/broadcasting his speech, and really gave the Irish a turning point.

Jfk visit

With TV being new and jet engines, which allowed travel, 70K Irish around the world got the idea of coming back to visit Ireland, and tourism was born. It is still their biggest industry today (“Riverdance” has helped “sell” Ireland, too, more recently). Also, Ireland has really made an economic comeback, with it being the 4th wealthiest per capita income in the EU.

We spend the morning in Galway: a delightful town that is still essentially the same (see map) as it was in 1640 when Charles I in England had essentially a Civil War with Parliment.

Galway map

Since Charles was Catholic, Ireland sided with him; however, he lost. 14 families who were Anglo-Irish, built a wall around the city (which parts of still stand today) and kicked the Galway people out to live outside the walls. There was a curfew and if the 14 families didn’t get into the walls by then, watch out!!

Galway was also the place where Christopher Columbus found his “proof” to convince Queen Isabella to fund his voyage in 1492. He was in Galway when 2 Intuit bodies (from now Alaska) washed up on shore and he took that fact to the Queen.

We learn all this from our guide. I am amazed at how vibrant the town is on a Sunday!

Galway Street

All the stores are open and there are many people on the street. In France, another very Catholic country, everything is closed and the streets are deserted on Sundays. Everyone is in Church and then with their families. Not in Galway!

We do see the oldest Church that has been continuously in use: since 1320.

Church from 1320

Inside the walls, our guide shows us the house of a very prominent family, the Lynch family. In the 1500’s there was a fire. The Lynch family had a pet monkey that the husband had brought back from his travels. The couple finally had their first baby. During the fire, the story goes, the baby was trapped on one of the upper floors. The monkey scooted up to the top, grabbed the baby and fell from the top of the house. He was killed, but they found him holding the baby, who lived. Hard to see in the picture, but there is a sculpture on the front of the house of a monkey holding a baby.

Monkey hero and baby

Another story about the Lynches: one of the sons who was married to a woman named Sarah, had a friend named Gomez, from Italy. Sarah and Gomez had an affair. The husband in a jealous rage grabbed a kitchen knife and came at Gomez to threaten him. He slipped on some ice and actually stabbed Gomez to death. The son’s father was a judge and sentenced him to be hung. The hangman refused as it was the judge’s son, and he feared retribution. The judge felt he had to serve justice, so he hung the son himself, pushing him out of the window…as attested to by the picture of the plaque where “supposedly” it happened.

Lynch Window

We also see where Claddagh rings were designed originally and are still made today by descendents from the original designer. If the heart is facing the nail of the girl wearing it, it means it is a sign she is available and looking for a husband.

We have some free time in Galway, and Ken and I stop in a pub to get some wonderful Shepherd’s pie, along with some local beer: Rock Shore. A perfect lunch and we sit outside and enjoy the sights. There are musicians, dancers and performers on every block just doing their thing. It really is a happenin’ place. Also where the Atlantic meets the coast, so an important port in the old days.

Since our trip is called “Town and Country”, we go to the woods in the afternoon: a place called Coole Woods, where Yeats would summer every year for 20 years and write his poems. Lady Gregory, a woman who was his patron, lived there and really impacted the intellectual and artistic heritage of Ireland.

Lane to front steps to Lady Gregory’s


She was committed to supporting the language, literature and culture. She wrote 40 plays herself and established the Abbey Theater where many of her plays, along with other artists’ works were shown. The woods are beautiful. She hosted many other artists, including George Bernard Shaw, and asked them all to carve their names in the “autograph tree”.

Autograph tree

After dinner tonight we were treated to traditional music and dance by 5 kids, ages 11-16. They played fiddle, Irish flute and Irish harp. They explained that the Irish harp is the symbol of the Irish spirit. In 1607, Elizabeth I from England tried to suppress her Irish subjects by killing all the harp players. She was very successful, as they were all blind from birth in those days and most couldn’t escape and were immediately hung. Thank goodness some did survive and the Irish harp is played by many today. It is a beautiful instrument and has a lovely sound. We had a delightful evening with the kids, who were very talented.

Kids playing harps for us

Busy day tomorrow, so will sign off now from “Surprising Ireland”.


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TALKING ENGLISH AGAIN….IN IRELAND!

Couple of days of travel from 92 degree weather in Southern France to high of 65 here in Shannon, Ireland. We’re at an Airbnb near the airport, waiting to meet up with our Road Scholar tour across Ireland tomorrow. The only place nearby (4 miles to walk, which we will do this morning) is Bunratty, where there is a castle and grounds which we’ll explore. We had dinner there last night at a pub that was established in 1620! Really good food and nice people. We tried a warm black pudding as an appetizer, which is a lot of pork parts (stomach lining, etc..). Sounds disgusting, but was delicious! Had lamb shank and duck: all prepared very well. We enjoyed the atomosphere, also.

Irish Pub

Interesting to hear only English again, and very understandable, with a delightful little accent. In some ways, it’s a relief not to struggle, BUT, they do drive on the other side of the road, like they do in England, which we did not realize (I tried to get into the “passenger” side of the car and there was the steering wheel!).

Later: back from walking to the castle and exploring the grounds. Really enjoyed the walk. Ireland seems peaceful, calm, unpretentious and low key. The people we have met are warm and friendly. The scenery is beautiful. The food is better than we thought it would be. Of course we had a Guinness and a local beer (Rock Shore) with Irish stew at lunch. We see all sorts of flora and fauna. This monkey tree (with spikes on the trunk which you really can’t see in the picture), captures Ken’s eye.

Monkey Tree

The castle was interesting and built in the 1200’s. The grounds offered relocated houses and buildings from long ago. There was one house which showed how farmers lived with their cows in the house! We don’t realize how good we have it. Think sometimes we just take things for granted.

Tomorrow on to the tour, so will write more once we meet up with them.


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GOODBYE MONTPELLIER, HELLO IRELAND

Onto a new chapter on our trip: Ireland.

A few thoughts to wrap up our time in Montpellier, France: know we’ll be back, as it still feels like a type of “home”. We just LIVED here. Ken got a haircut (like you do at home), as it had been awhile since he had had one. Was proud of him directing the barber in French. He got a very chic and Continental cut that all the guys here in Europe are wearing.

Ken’s French haircut

Ken’s French haircut

I like it! A new look for a new beginning when we get “home” to Greenville, our new permenant town.

The other different thing while we were here was the World Cup. VERY big here and like our SuperBowl and World Series rolled into one. It is only played every 4 years and I like how the teams represent an entire country, not just a city or state. Little Croatia, with the same amount of people as WI, was in the finals with France. How cool for us to be here during that final game. France had not won the World Cup since 1998, and they wanted to win badly, against a sort of Cinderella story of Croatia upsetting all the more established teams. I’m not a big Sports fan, as most of you know, but talk about being in the right place at the right time! Had a “watch the game” party at our house, and they won!! Celebration went on practically all night and was so fun to be a part of it! Below is a view from friends’ Linda and her daughter Brecka’s place, that looks onto the main square: Le Comedie.

Celebrating French win of World Cup

France wins!

It was great to experience their joy. No police or soldiers about, no guns shooting, of course, no destruction/crowds out of hand, no violence. Just everyone celebrating and having a good time: unified. Lots of driving around the streets, hanging out of cars with the French flag and honking the horn. It went on until the wee hours. So glad we got to be here for that!

So, as we leave Montpellier, we are sad, but look forward to our Ireland experience. Feel so blessed to be able to have this trip.

Will be wrapping things up here in France over the next day or two and taking a few days to travel to Ireland…will check in when we get there. Thanks again for following me…