Ireland - December 2002

Ireland was a different world almost…and I got a brief glimpse of it as I sat in the O’Hare airport listening to an older Irish gentleman telling a 30-year-old man and his wife what they might want to see while in Ireland.  The flight was long, and, as you can imagine cramped, but I was so excited about finally leaving America to see something I’d longed for so long to see…the Emerald Isle.

Sure, people thought the package was “too good to be true” and the weather would be horrible, but they were mistaken.  Thanks to Sceptre Tours we got a week in Ireland for less than $750 per person (lodging, car, flight, taxes, and breakfast every morning).

The package I bought included roundtrip airfare from IAH to Shannon Airport in Ireland with two layovers, one in O’Hare and the other in Dublin.  We received two meals and a snack on the flight from Chicago to Dublin, and they had sodas/juice/water available whenever you wanted it to keep from dehydration.  The flight attendants are even different than American flight attendants…just the manner about them, the way they speak, their friendliness…and there are so many more of them.  The airport security is so very lax compared to ours.  It is lax compared to ours prior to 9-11.  At the changeover in Dublin they hand you a laminated colored card as you step out of the plane…and all you have to do is hand it to someone as you are boarding the other plane…no id necessary.


The rental car was actually decent.  I suppose it may be because I upgraded to the automatic…but the shuttle driver, who took us to the car lot to retrieve our rental, was telling a bunch of American tourists, including Kris and me, about how to drive on the other side of the road.

The amazing thing was, no matter how tired I was when we finally got to Ireland, when I stepped off that finally plane I felt so much lighter…this freedom that I haven’t felt before washed over me.  It felt so good! 

I won’t give you all of the stated facts about our trip right now…you can read that all a bit later if you want.  The names of the places we stayed and saw…but that isn’t want I think you want to hear, or what I really want to tell you.

Ireland = Atmosphere.  Or at least, that was what I discovered, and really had expected before I ever left.  I think that was one of the things that intrigued me the most about the country…and why I wanted to visit it so much.  There is a mysticism that exists about Ireland…how the historic enchantment still exists due to so many old artifacts that have been restored, and still survive, after all this time.  The “old country”…a place that still seems untouched by automation and advancements; but it has been.  They have electricity and use modern day farming equipment…yet, they have found a balance between this technology and the land on which to use it.  They haven’t destroyed their beauty.

 

It was indescribable to be driving down one of their horrible roads and see a tower come into view…and you just imagine what it was once part of…

The castles, the greenery, the people and their tales…nature at its finest.  And the weather wasn’t bad at all (we only got one day of rain, and it was just a misty rain, so you could function in it).


One of my favorite places was the Muckross Abbey, and we had no intentions of visiting it at first…just crossed our path and we stopped.  This abbey had some modern tombstones, but so many of them went back to well before my time.  The Abbey itself was something out of a textbook…old and obviously worn, but withstanding nature.  




It was amazing to see where these monks/nuns would have lived, worked, cooked, and worshipped…so primitive…yet so advanced.  And I say that because, even though we are obviously more advanced than they were, they built such strong and solid buildings…these castles and abbeys are immense…multiple stories tall…and without our cranes and machinery of today, you can only imagine how hard they would have had to work to construct them…how much labor they had to put into the task of procuring shelter for themselves.  Not a simple task.

I felt an inner peace there.  I don’t know if it was due to the country I was in or the fact that I was away from home and telephones and all things of the sort…but I felt better physically, and emotionally, than I have since I can remember.  I was relaxed and enjoyed myself without question.



Ireland is so hard to describe.  Green even in the winter…the people warm even when they are weary…I loved my time there.

I plan to go back…best deal of my life.


The nitty gritty trip details:

Our journey actually began on Sunday, December 8th when we drove to Houston to stay with Terri, Wayland, and Adam for the evening. The package deal that I was able to get through Sceptre Tours (affiliate of Yahoo Travel) had us flying out of the Houston Intercontinental Airport on December 9th at 2:00 pm. Kris was quite glad; he likes any excuse to go eat at Fat Maria's.

Jesse Mace and Terri drove us to IAH where we took American Airlines to Chicago O'Hare airport. We had a 3 hour and 45 minute layover in Chicago. Being we had eaten lunch at a Chili's To Go in Houston, it was difficult to pass the time. We flew on Aer Lingus from Chicago to Dublin and finally to Shannon. (To give some perspective on just how long this flight was: we received a snack, and two meals. There was also two hours of network television, some random music videos, and two movies.)

Tuesday, December 10th:
We finally arrived in the Shannon Airport at around noon. We got our rental car from Dan Dooley (it came with our package). The car we received was a blue Hyundai Accent (automatic). When we received the car, the guy told Kris where the gas and brake were and reminded us to drive on the left side of the road. We were then off to encounter our first roundabout. (These are really tricky at first, but, in a country the size of Ireland, it really is an effective method of directing traffic.)



Our first night's accommodation was chosen by our travel package. We arrived at the Two Mile Inn without any accidents, though there was some screaming, and Kris proceeded to take a four-hour nap. He woke up just in time to attend the Sceptre Tours information session on Ireland. We walked next door to a pub/restaurant for some dinner, opting to save Kris from having to drive any more that day.

Wednesday, December 11th:
During the information the evening of the 10th, we were told that Ireland does not have many hours of daylight, so we went to bed early and were able to wake up early. The hotel had a complimentary breakfast buffet for us consisting of scrambled eggs, toast, sausages, bacon, grapefruit, and black and white pudding. After stuffing ourselves, we hit the road.

Although it wasn't in our original plan, we stopped at this quaint town named Adare. The town has thatched roof cottages and an overall ambiance quite like Fredericksburg. I found some wool and cashmere socks for Wayland in a little shop in Adare, and we looked around the town a bit, stopping to take pictures in a little park.




Our next stop was at the Muckross Abbey. This was an old friary constructed in the 15th century. We explored this for quite some time, looking both at the existing cemetery and the old stone building. There were quite a few passageways we snuck through. We later found a ceramic depiction of a map describing where the kitchen was located, etc.






Kris and I decided, after exploring the Abbey, to take the 1.3 km hike to the Muckross House. When we finally got to the house, a guy with a horse jaunty intercepted us. (The horse's name was Joe.) We decided to accept the 30-euro, forty-minute ride on the buggy to see the Lough (pronounced Lock but means Lake) Leane and some mountains. The only stop on the ride was the Torc Falls, which was quite a gorgeous site. 




He then headed back to our car. We then drove to the Muckross House and Gardens, which we had missed because of the interception, and ate at the Cafe for lunch.



After Muckross, we headed toward Goleen where our B&B, the Heron's Cove, was for the evening. We ate dinner in the dining area, which seemed well deserved after such a painful drive. (Goleen is in the southwest of Ireland, and, in order to get there, we had to take a lot of rural roads that were extremely narrow and rocky.)


Goleen Harbour


Thursday, December 12th:
The Heron's Cove itself was gorgeous. The place was so tranquil and had a great view of the bay. During better months, seals, dolphins, and sharks will wander into the bay and you can view them from outside your balcony. After our full Irish breakfast, we headed toward Cork County and into Blarney.



We decided to stop at the Blarney Castle, which was built in the 1400s. This is home to the famous Blarney Stone, which, contrary to popular belief, is not rumored to bring good luck to those who kiss it. Legend has it that the Blarney Stone's gift is actually the gift of gab. This came from a fair maiden who had such a beautiful voice that anyone who she spoke to fell in love with her. Her gift is supposedly trapped in the stone now, and those who kiss it are believed to inherit some of this gift. (I didn't kiss the Blarney Stone, because, as Kris said, I speak enough as it is. Plus, can you imagine how many centuries of germs are on that rock?) In order to get to the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle, you must climb up a series of steps that proceed to become skinnier upon ascent. Then you must hang over the edge of the castle in order to kiss it. A guard will gladly accept tips to hold your feet while you hang over the edge.





After actually visiting the Castle and its grounds, we went to Blarney Woolen Mills (Ireland's department store extreme). We then headed for Dungarvan (county Waterford) where our B&B, the Rosebank House, was located. This B&B was nice, but very cold. We ate that evening at the Shamrock, a family restaurant in Dungarvan.




Friday, December 13th:
Our morning began fresh and early at the Rosebank House. We met two female redheads (mother and daughter) at breakfast. They were really nice and talkative and hailed from Springfield, Missouri. We soon headed toward the Waterford Crystal factory tour where we stayed until noon. The tour was really quite amazing. It showed all of the steps in making Waterford Crystal. We found out that 75% of the cost of the crystal goes toward labor, as the process is completely done with the human touch. While many of the employees are paid on a piece-rate basis, many of the engravers and other master craftsmen cannot be, as some engravings will take up to 39 hours to complete.




I had read in one of my books about Kells in county Kilkenny. It was supposed to be some Medieval Ruins, but it was closed. We drove through Kilkenny intending to stop to see Kilkenny castle and grab some lunch, but we could never find any parking. We did make an unplanned stop at the Dunmore Caves, which was rather amazing. 




We checked into the Ballaghmore House (the nicest B&B we stayed at in Ireland) and met Carol, the hostess of the B&B. She recommended a wonderful Italian restaurant in Roscrea, La Serenata, and we were able to walk around Roscrea and enjoy the town a bit. We even stopped inside a corner market and bought some candy bars. The Ballaghmore House was extremely warm and well decorated. (We actually had reservations at another place in Ireland for this evening, but the owner of that B&B passed away leaving us to find another place at the last minute. It was fortunate for us to find such a wonderful place.)




Saturday, December 14th:
Carol was nice enough to give us a wake-up knock in the morning, and we headed to a wonderful breakfast. We met two women from Ohio there. After stuffing ourselves, we headed to Birr Castle and Observatory. 




At the Centre, you go through seven galleries of discovery. The actual castle is privately owned and unable to be viewed except exteriorly. The grounds were quite large, and they included: waterfalls, rivers, gardens, a well, a fernery, the tallest box hedges in the world, and the Great Telescope. The third Earl of Rosse constructed the telescope in the 1840's.





We made it into Galway at the Waterfront House at 3:00pm and set back into Galway city for some major shopping and eating. Galway had quite a busy pedestrian mall area, and we were able to find some entertainment on the street. There was a skinny guy jigging in a chair dressed as Santa, a bagpipe player, a violinist, and a women singing with her guitar.



Sunday, December 15th:
Waterfront House was very warm. I actually woke up so warm that I was forced to turn down the heat. We set out pretty early for the Burren that morning and spent a couple of breathtaking (but very cold) hours at the Cliffs of Moher.





We later went to the Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. The castle was from medieval times and has been refurbished and restored to resemble the rooms of that time. The folk park is a furnished replica of what homes and shops of various tradesmen/workers of Ireland used to live in.






That night we stayed in the Dromoland Castle. It was extraordinarily lavish and the staff was extremely attentive. We were upgraded from a standard to a deluxe room, which had a king sized bed, dressers, tables, free bottles of water, free truffles, a very large bathroom equipped with a towel warming rack, and more. The maids come in and turned down our bed while we went to an excellent dinner in Ennis. (The restaurant was called Ruby Tuesdays and isn't at all the same as ours in Texas.) We even got a card on our pillow that said, "Dreaming permits each one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night of our lives." (Fisher)



Monday, December 16th:
This was our last day in Ireland, although it was really just a morning. We drove back into Ennis for some breakfast. Then back to Shannon airport.

Our route:



Las Vegas - August 2002

Kris asked me to write a recap of the family vacation for 2002. (I've never contributed to the website before, except to take some of the pictures, so you'll have to excuse me if this a bad summary...you can blame it on Kris; he's being lazy, as usual.) As many already know, the trip was to Las Vegas, and, since I had never been before, was quite an experience. Kris and I flew up from Dallas and met Terri, Wayland, and Adam at the airport. We left the airport after all of the contracts for the rental car were signed. After taking the rental car lot bus, we discovered we had a Saturn for the trip. (I had considered buying a Saturn a couple of months ago. Needless to say, I am very glad I purchased a Corolla instead.)


Terri had gotten us reservations at Circus, Circus, which was a nice, but extremely crowded, hotel. (I had never seen so many children running around in one area before. It reminded me of an expensive Chuck E Cheese.) Circus, Circus has certainly lived up to its name. The big top was huge, the television had a channel devoted to broadcasting Clown TV, and there were tons of circus acts that took place upstairs at the Big Top Carnival. Adam and Wayland spent some time up there playing the carnival games, and I joined them on occasion while Kris and Terri gambled. 




There were a few selective things I had heard about Vegas: the lights are overwhelming, there is a ton of good food to eat, and you can simply never be bored there with all of the activities available. All things I had heard were correct. 




From the first moment we were in Vegas, everything seemed to go at a much busier pace. Terri and Wayland took us to one of the strip's most famous buffets, and we certainly enjoyed every moment of it. Afterwards, Kris and I decided to walk the strip (which we would do a lot). We crossed the street, and, after checking out a couple of the local casinos, we went toward the Stratosphere. 




At the Stratosphere, we took an elevator to the top and rode one of the roller coasters. It was a really hot day, but on top of the Stratosphere there was a nice breeze...and a really nice view. 




Afterward, we left to head back to the hotel to meet up with Adam, Wayland, and Terri. By the time we got to the hotel, Kris looked like he was going to pass out. That experience taught us the valuable lesson of proper hydration in Vegas. The sun can be brutal, as was recognized by the nice pink shade my skin took on after that first walk.




One of my personal favorite things about Vegas is the elaborate decorations of the casinos. Watching the volcano erupt outside of the Mirage, the lights of the Luxor, the intracacies of the Paris, and the street scene of New York, New York really was breathtaking. All of the hotels have something new to offer, and we saw as much of them as possible, either by driving through the strip at night or actually walking to the hotel. There were gondolas outside of the Venetian, you can walk underneath lions in a glass cage at MGM, and find yourself getting hotdogs in New York. The attention to detail was quite amazing as well. The inside of the Paris had walls that looked like Parisian apartments, and they went so far as to place curtains and furniture inside the windows. 




We were certainly entertained during the trip. We had stomachs full of good food and were amused by some entertaining shows as well. One of the shows we saw, probably the personal favorite by all who attended, was Daytripper, a Beatles Tribute. They played a handful of songs spanning the entire career of the Beatles. 




On Kris's birthday we went to Legends in Concert. (Everyone had seen it before but me, but it is one of those shows where they consistently change the performers being impersonated so that people who have enjoyed the show in the past are encouraged to come again.) They had Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen, The Temptations, The Blues Brothers, Celine Dion, and Elvis. The Blues Brothers and The Temptations really did a spectacular performance...everyone had conflicting views about the others. 




Another show that Terri, Kris, and I stumbled upon was a free performance in the Excalibur. There was a man and woman dressed in medieval garb playing a bass and a fiddle. It was really a children's show but had quite the entertainment value. Terri did not seem very happy about being subjected to this form of torture (oops...I mean culture).




Another trip highlight was the nature drive to Mt. Charleston. Wayland had plans to hike on the trip, but an unfortunate leg injury altered his plans. We did manage to travel to Mt. Charleston and breathe in some fresh air on the steps to nowhere. We had tried eating at Denny's that morning for breakfast, but all we got was a strong disdain for the restaurant and a secondary trip to McDonalds.




Another diversion from the strip was the Freemont Street Experience. I had never seen anything quite like it. A revitalized downtown Vegas is now home to a large "roof" in which an amazing light and music show is played in the evening. There is quite a lot of displays and crafts available for the tourist. Kris and I actually took home one of the amazing spray-paint pictures that one vendor was creating on the street. Kris and Wayland seemed to enjoy the "ladies" quite a bit as well as Lady Luck, the Cowboy, and the other signs so commonly seen in shows/movies with Las Vegas.




Oddly enough, gambling, which Vegas is really known for, wasn't really a common activity for this vacation. Neither Adam or I are 21 yet, so we were unable to gamble. Kris decided to wait until his birthday to gamble, hoping for freebies, and lost about $100 before calling it quits. Terri either won some money or broke even. I'm not sure what her ending balance was, but I do know that she had a cup full of quarters at one point.