Tag Archives: Ireland

Bonjour! (Need I say more?)

Oldest working pot still in Ireland 

Friday at Trinity was quiet…the kids and I were home all day while Reed toured Kilbeggan Distillery, where one can find the oldest working pot still on the planet and enjoy a guided tasting of four distinct Irish whiskeys (or so I hear). While there, he enjoyed a guided tasting of four of their whiskey’s (check in with him if you want to know what he was able to try). Jackson rested up for the next leg of our journey, and it seems to have paid off as he’s feeling pretty good today.

We said goodbye to Trinity bright and early today as we caught a 4:00am bus to the airport. It was raining pretty good as we walked and waited, so we were a bit soggy by the time we got on the bus. This was the first real rain our whole time in Ireland, so I’m glad I finally had a use for my rain jacket that I brought all this way. ūüôā

Anyway, as Paris is Reed’s and my favorite city in the world, we wanted to share it with the kids since we were relatively close. We took a cheap Ryanair flight from Dublin into Beauvais Airport, which is about an hour outside of Paris. The tiny airport reminded me of one in Waterloo, Iowa, though Beauvais does have passport control. We hopped on a bus and enjoyed the French countryside for awhile (& did some napping).

Jackson’s first cafe creme

We took two metro trains to our favorite stop (Ecole Militaire), dropped our luggage at our hotel, and set out for some coffee and snacks.¬†Jackson really liked his cafe creme with four sugars…so much so he even let me get a picture of the moment! We had croissants, eggs, and coffees…very Parisienne. Then we headed to the Eiffel Tower, something we all we looking forward to. We had built it up pretty big to the kids so I was a bit worried they might be let down, but it completely lived up to expectations. It truly is a marvelous structure…blows me away every time I am near it!

We spontaneously decided to do a Seine River cruise, and it was a great way to show the kids some of the big sites in an easy fashion. Seeing the Musee d’Orsay, the Louvre, Notre Dame, and all the wonderful bridges and architecture was just awesome. I think the kids are starting to understand why we love this city so much!

Abbie’s got a new hat!

We got checked into our hotel, which is just a few minutes from the Eiffel Tower (the kids even have a view of it from their window!). It will be a great home base for the next thee days while we explore the city together. We got some crepes right next door and we have some wine for later. I feel very happy in this city of light…j’adore Paris!

Signs & Symbols

Thursday was busy with site visits for me. I went to Peamount Healthcare in the morning to see what Jamie has been doing, and I visited St. John of God in the afternoon to check in with Jamieson. Both places provide services for individuals with intellectual and other disabilities. The students have been doing good work here while being immersed in the Irish culture (it hasn’t just been about pubs and tours!).

Reed stayed home with the kids while I was traveling around Dublin and its outskirts. Jackson now has the Irish cold, so that is a bummer. Hopefully he will be better quickly and it will avoid me completely!


Tony, our AIFS guide, and our students

In the evening, the students and Tony met up at our apartment, and they headed out (along with Reed) for some “trad,” or traditional Irish music. We presented Tony with some thank-you gifts, including a Concordia fleece jacket that is a bit too big for him (he wasn’t quite what we had pictured back home when we gathered our items!). He laughed about it and said now he looks like an American tourist. ūüôā


While out and about in Dublin, I took a few pictures of signs and symbols. The photos are tagged with captions, but I thought I’d go into a bit more detail since I don’t have much else to share today.


Official Dublin Flag

The flag of Dublin says “√Āth Cliath,” which is Irish for “fording point” on the River Liffey. The name “Dublin” originally was “Dubhlinn,” which means “black pool.” Where the Dublin Castle Garden is now located used to be a small lake for mooring ships. As the city grew in the early 1700s, the lake was covered over. I like the shades of blue on the flag, alongside the castle and ship (and imagining a lake beneath the city!).


The beautiful clock and “√Ārd-Oifig an Phuist” sign are on the O’Connell Street General Post Office (GPO). This massive building has an interesting history. During the Easter Rising of 1916, the GPO served as the headquarters of the uprising’s leaders (remember the likes of Patrick Pearse, and later Michael Collins?). The building was destroyed by fire in the course of the rebellion, and the facade is all that remains of the original building.


GPO and The Spire of Dublin

There was a pillar (Nelson’s Pillar) in the center of O’Connell Street adjacent to the GPO. However, it was destroyed by the IRA in 1966. The shiny “Spire of Dublin” now stands in its place…it is nearly 400 feet tall! There also is a marvelous statue of Daniel O’Connell in front of the GPO. He was a political leader in the first half of the 19th century who campaigned for Catholic emancipation. Leaders such as Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King are said to have gained inspiration from O’Connell and his leadership style.


On more of a pop culture note, I included signs related to Starbucks, soccer, and a sandwich. I had a few minutes while waiting for my first bus to get a coffee. I happily bypassed the Starbucks for the more local Costa Coffee. It was delicious and satisfying (and it’s good to know that Starbucks hasn’t taken over Dublin!). While waiting for my second bus, I enjoyed reading the upcoming soccer (football) schedule of the Premier League. Wouldn’t it be fun to be able to watch all of those matches? Finally, while waiting for my fourth bus, I enjoyed a sandwich: tuna and sweetcorn on oatmeal bread, handmade in Ireland. Who knew that combination of favors would be so delicious? (Sorry, it was a quick transfer to my third bus and I didn’t get any pictures!)

Just one more day in Dubhlinn, √Āth Cliath…



Wednesday Talk & Walk

The highlights of this quiet Wednesday were a talk in the launderette and a walk in the neighborhood around Trinity…both were shared with Reed, which makes everything even better.

In the morning, we visited the Trinity launderette to get everything washed up and ready to last the next week. While waiting on our clothes to dry, we talked with an older gentleman who was there emptying out the Euros from the machines (his son’s business). He had kind eyes and spoke with a thick Irish accent. He asked if I was Reed’s girlfriend or wife, and he couldn’t believe we’ve been married 17 years (said we look too young). He said he’s been married 44 years (pause)…to the same woman. ūüôā

Then he shared that he has been told he’s got 18 months to live…he has pulmonary fibrosis. It runs in his family, and some have died from it at a much younger age. He said he is trying to keep a positive outlook and enjoy what time he’s got left. He keeps himself busy, and he has straightened up his behavior as he gets closer to the end and having to answer questions in heaven. He also spoke of the conflict in the world and how people just need to be kind to one another. Our conversation came to an end when he had to get going to the next launderette to collect the coins. We wished him well and he went out the door. We don’t know his name and will never see him again, but he taught us some big life lessons in the small time we shared.

After lunch at the Buttery, Reed prepped for his last class, and then he had some time before the students arrived. We set out for a pint at yet another pub, and then we walked around Temple Bar a bit. We headed over to Grafton Street for gelato, and then we walked back on Dawson Street. We strolled across campus and marveled at the architecture. We have come to know our neighborhood around Trinity quite well, and we are appreciative of the time we’ve gotten to spend here. I think this will remain a very special place to us, and we will remember the very special man we met here this morning.

An Irish Birthday

Tuesday was my birthday. Over the years, especially as a kid, I’ve celebrated my summer birthday on the road…mostly at the northern lakes in Minnesota or Wisconsin. Well, I guess this year tops those, being that I was in Dublin for the big day. My mom and dad left in the morning, and the skies were a bit misty, so it was kind of a dreary start. Thankfully, by day’s end, the sun appeared, my folks made it home, and we had a nice family time together celebrating.

Backing up a bit…I visited one of our students at her service placement site in the afternoon. Our host partner, the American Institute for Foreign Study, matched the students to volunteer placements based on their interests noted in their applications. Hannah, being a collegiate athlete (national women’s soccer champion and tournament MVP, in fact!), wanted to work with kids in a sports’ setting. So, she has been volunteering at kids’ camps at Surf Dock, a water sports’ school on the Grand Canal in Dublin. She has been having lots of fun in the water with the Irish kids, and I enjoyed seeing her in action. I took the bus to the canal but enjoyed a nice walk back as the sun had made its appearance by then. I got a couple of pictures of some favorite signs, along with a very decent latte, on my way home. I plan to visit the other students at their placement sites on Thursday.

Reed booked us a dinner reservation at Boxty, which is “totally Irish” and where they make interesting items out of potatoes, such as pancakes, dumplings, and cakes. It is located in Temple Bar, so we once again walked to our favorite little area along the Liffey. It was fun to try the different forms of spuds, along with a couple of new (to us) Irish beers. Jackson loved his ribs, and Abbie tried corned beef (not her favorite). The kids got me some gourmet chocolates and a cute “best mum” sign. ūüôā Reed got me a beautiful Celtic cross necklace…the perfect gift from Dublin. I’m a very lucky girl!

The rest of our evening was spent at our apartment, sampling chocolates and sipping whisky (for those of us 18+). Reed and I watched the 1991 Robin Hood Prince of Thieves classic. Why? Well, some of it was filmed at Alnwick Castle (we visited it last Thursday in northern England). The castle scenes were there, but they didn’t make up for the lame acting, bad accents, and awful mullet Kevin Costner wore. Gotta love the 90s. All in all, it was a very nice Irish birthday…I wonder where I’ll be next year?

Lovely Last Day Together

Monday was my folks’ last day with us in Dublin. As I write this on¬†Tuesday morning, Reed is headed with them to the airport for their¬†flight back home. It was great to have them share time with us here.¬†Since we live nearly 2000 miles apart and don’t share day-to-day life,¬†packing quality time into trips like this is something we really love.

Mom and Dad came over to our apartment mid-morning, our typical¬†routine by now as the kids enjoy sleeping in. Now you may think we¬†would have coffee or tea together, but not this morning – it was¬†whisky time! Don’t worry…it was just a little tasting, which is far¬†different than actually drinking…and, it was after 11:00, which is¬†the time whiskey can be served here. (You may have noticed the¬†different spellings of whiskey…the “e” is in Irish [& American]¬†whiskey whereas it’s not in Scottish whisky, i.e., Scotch.) Dad and I¬†had to sample the special whisky Reed bottled for us in Scotland at¬†Cadenhead’s. We admired the color, swirled it, and then mixed in a¬†little water, as we had learned to do with this strong stuff (112¬†proof!). Then we tasted it…and…it wasn’t too bad! I think my Dad¬†likes it a bit more than me…not so much the taste but the warmth¬†after it’s down the hatch. (I think I’ll always be more of a tequila¬†girl; sorry Scotch lovers.) It was fun.

On the River Liffey

After lunch together on campus at “The Buttery” (all 6 of us; yes,¬†Jackson is still here, just avoiding the camera), I took my folks back¬†to Temple Bar and its quaint cobblestone streets. I wanted to get them¬†to the old Ha Penny bridge (mentioned in my first Dublin post), as¬†well as the new Millennium Bridge. I really enjoyed strolling along¬†the River Liffey with them. As we couldn’t find gelato in Temple Bar,¬†we headed back up Grafton Street for one last “tub” as they call it¬†here. It was delicious, and we are thankful for all of the walking we¬†do so we can manage our gelato indulgences! (Side note…we have¬†sampled both Irish and Scottish ice cream and find it doesn’t compare¬†to the Italian stuff.)

Later in the afternoon, my parents and I walked up Dame Street toward¬†St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The plan was for all six of us to take in the¬†5:30pm evensong service, but Abbie now has Reed’s cold so he stayed¬†back with the kids. It is about a mile walk, and we left in time to¬†visit Christ Church Cathedral along the way (the four of us went there¬†before my folks arrived so it was mentioned in a previous post).

St. Patricks’s is larger than Christ Church; in fact, it is the¬†longest medieval church in Ireland. It is known as “the people’s¬†cathedral,” and it is the national Protestant Church of Ireland. It¬†stands on an early Christian site where St. Patrick baptized converts¬†in a well in 450 AD. There is a park adjacent to the cathedral where¬†the fountain marks this place. The original church was wood, and the¬†stone structure was built in 1192 and then expanded to make it a¬†cathedral between 1220-1270. It’s still hard to wrap our heads around¬†this history sometimes! You can read more about St. Patrick here¬†– there’s good reason why he’s such a big deal to the Irish!

The evensong service was beautiful. A choir dressed in purple robes, a¬†gowned woman with a scepter, and three ministers processed in. The¬†organ played throughout and there were several songs, prayers, and¬†scripture readings. We said the Apostle’s Creed and prayer of grace¬†together. It was a good reminder to me of how long people have been¬†relying on faith to get through life.

After the service, we walked around the nave a bit, looking at the¬†graves and other ornamentation. Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels)¬†and his wife, Stella, are buried here. The area in the front where¬†the choir sits is adorned with swords, banners, and helmets, which is¬†a bit surprising. They represent the knights of St. Patrick. We¬†departed very content with what we had experienced; I hope to attend¬†again this week with Reed and the kids.

Campanile, nearing dusk, Trinity College

We walked back toward Trinity and met Reed at a nice pub he had located for our last meal together. We enjoyed the beautiful setting in the old Ulster Bank, and we had some delicious food. Upon re-entering Trinity, we were greeted by a wonderful view of the campanile (detail on the architecture here or here). We then visited for awhile in our apartment,  finished off our Irish shortbread, and then my folks said goodbye to the kids. It was a lovely last day together.



Goodbye Edinburgh, Hello Dublin

Sunday was our last day in Edinburgh. We booked a “silver tour” (recommended for families) at the Scotch Whisky Experience. It is quite touristy, but since Reed got a wee bit of the real deal by going to Cadenhead’s, I thought we should take it in. The Whisky Experience is located right next to the castle, so we walked up the Royal Mile one more time amongst the crowds and raindrops. In this tour, you are educated about how whisky is made while riding along in a whisky barrel. There is a ghost that takes you through the steps, and you are immersed in the sights, sounds, and even smells (smoky peat!) of the process. It was well done and sort of like a slow ride at Disneyland.

After you depart your barrel, you enter a room with a guide (ours was very cheerful and animated) where you continue your education about the whisky regions in Scotland. You are given a scratch-n-sniff sort of card where you can smell scents in the whisky from each region. One of them smelled fresh like citrus, another kind of like bubble gum, and of course one was very smoky. Then it was time to decide which one you wanted to taste. The four grown-ups chose one of each so we got to try them all; the kids got a glass of Irn Bru, Scotland’s soft drink (an orange soda).

Next we entered another room where we were surrounded by the world’s largest Scotch whisky collection. Here we were told how to tip the glass, swirl it around, sniff, and then sip. I sure didn’t taste any of that citrus or bubble gum, but it was fun and informative. The one I disliked the least was from the Speyside region…I’m not going so far as to say I liked it, but I could appreciate it a wee bit. My dad liked the one from the lowland region; Reed loved them all but especially the Islay. My mom didn’t like any, and the kids downed their Irn Brus like good Scottish children. As part of the tour, you get to keep your sipping glass (Glencairn), which will make us a nice set at home (so come on over for a dram!). ūüôā

We watched a little Commonwealth Games “lawn bowls,” packed up our stuff, and took a bus to the airport (even the bus seats are Tartan plaid!). The airport is surprisingly small, and we navigated the process much easier than when we left Dublin. We enjoyed a nice dinner while waiting for our plane; I had a pint of Caledonia, a Scottish beer, and Reed got ready to return to Ireland with a Guinness. Our flight was just 40 minutes or so, and our bags arrived safe and sound (no broken glasses or bottles!). Another bus dropped us right off at Trinity, and I got my folks checked into their room. They depart Tuesday, so we will share one more day together in Dublin.

Another Castle and a Few More Pubs

Today we had Dublin Castle on our agenda. It is kind of amazing that a¬†castle lies in city center and you don’t really even see it. It’s not¬†a towering one like Blarney, but it impresses nonetheless. We did a¬†fairly quick tour of it as we did not pay to enter the “fancy” part.¬†We did, however, get to go in the Royal Chapel, as well as the garden.¬†It was a warm, sunny day, so many people were out enjoying the midday¬†sun along with us. We lunched at The Stag’s Head, an historic pub I¬†had read about in my guidebook. It was really cool inside (check out¬†the stained glass windows), and our waitress was very friendly (she¬†attempted to serve Jackson his dad’s Guinness). ūüôā

This evening we had a literary pub crawl tour with our students.¬†Basically, you walk from pub to pub, as well as places like Trinity¬†College and St. Andrew’s Church, to hear tales of famous authors¬†(e.g., Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde) who frequented the¬†area. The two guides are actors and go in and out of character. It was¬†entertaining and informative, but we gave the kids a pass and I’m sure¬†glad we did as they would have found it incredibly boring (especially¬†with the 20-minute stops for people to get their pints). I ducked out¬†with my folks a bit early to get everyone settled into bed as we have¬†a 4:30am bus to catch to the airport for our flight to Edinburgh.¬†(Also the reason why this post is short!). More from Scotland…

Tuesday at Trinity

Today we stuck close to our Trinity College “home” after a weekend of¬†traveling around the Irish country- and seaside. We slept well and¬†took the morning fairly easy. I stocked up on some provisions at the¬†little shop on campus, and then I did three loads of laundry¬†simultaneously at the launderette (for ‚ā¨15 or about $20!). Mom and dad¬†kept me company, and Reed showed up to help tote the clean piles of¬†clothes back to our apartment. Small, yet large, blessings indeed.

Then we ventured out to Temple Bar for lunch, returning to The Quay¬†(say “key”). This is where we ate our first meal in Dublin. We again¬†were quite pleased with our food, the atmosphere, and the cheerful¬†staff. Abbie had bangers and mash and Jackson had cottage pie, so they¬†are becoming good Irish kids. I enjoyed my mushy peas with my fish and¬†chips, so I’m right there with them. Reed had (another) burger. ūüôā My¬†folks shared salmon, and dad tried a “Guinness Black.” This is where¬†black currant syrup is added to the Guinness, resulting in a sweeter¬†pint. He liked it better than normal Guinness, but I just don’t think¬†it’s his drink. He will likely stick to Coke from here on out.¬†[Sidebar… I neglected to mention yesterday that our bus driver told¬†me how Guinness is very good for pregnant women due to the iron. The¬†saying “Guinness is good for you” is wholeheartedly endorsed over¬†here!]

Back to our day… When we returned to campus, we went to the Old¬†Library to go (wait in line to) see the Book of Kells. This is¬†Ireland’s most treasured possession, so it is a true must-see (even¬†though we had seen it before). It is a beautifully decorated,¬†illuminated Biblical manuscript dating from around AD 800. After you¬†read about the book, how it was made (it took 185 calves to make the¬†vellum pages!), and see some other ancient manuscripts, you go into a¬†dimly lit room and there it is, in a big glass case under soft lights.¬†There are four volumes but only two are on display at any one time. We¬†saw an open page in the gospels of John and Luke. It truly is¬†beautiful (no photos allowed).

But, it gets even better, in my opinion. Next you ascend some stairs to enter the Long Room, which is the amazing old library. It looks like something straight from Hogwarts (sorry for yet another Harry Potter reference; they will likely keep coming). There are two levels of tall, wooden bookshelves, and the rows are lined with statues at each end. A bonus this time was an exhibit of Brian Boru, the Irish king who battled the Vikings and died in the battle of Clontarff in 1014. The artwork in this exhibit is magnificent (see/read more here). I was looking forward to seeing it as I had read a bit about this part of Irish history (thanks, Faye!), and I marveled at both the art and the story.

We walked around campus a bit after we left the Old Library, and then¬†we wandered back to our apartment for awhile. I took my folks out for¬†a little shopping (we had to replenish our Irish shortbread cookie¬†supply), and we FaceTimed with my sister and nephew so mom and dad¬†could get caught up on the happenings in Iowa. Reed left to meet up¬†with the students for class at “their pub” out in the suburb of¬†Clondalkin where their home stays are. I cooked some scrambled eggs in¬†an aluminum takeout pan (we have no cookware) and made some toast for¬†the rest of us for dinner. Pretty gourmet (not). We have tomorrow in¬†Dublin before heading to Edinburgh early Thursday morning, so we will¬†see what the day holds!

New heights in Eireann

photo-321Today we had a “phenomenal tour,” as Sean Finnegan would say. He, and our bus driver Frank, did a fine job motoring us over the Irish countryside. We set out for the Cliffs of Moher, spectacular 700 foot high walls above the Atlantic. This was not scheduled on our tour as it is weather dependent. Although the skies were a bit gray, the visibility was good enough to take in excellent views, as the photos clearly show. We hiked up like “real Irish people” rather than going on the sidewalk from the parking lot. We were on more of a cow path, complete with nice Irish cows.

The views once we arrived to the top were spectacular and made me feel very small. We did not lay on our bellies and look over, though some around us did. Sean clearly warned us about the danger of doing so. We also saw a huge sea cave that was in Harry Potter 7, Part 1. The cliffs themselves were also featured in The Princess Bride (“The Cliffs of Insanity”). Pretty cool.

We ventured on for a lunch stop next to the Bunratty Castle. (We saw LOTS of castles today, many of which looked a bit “broken down,” as our nieces stated.) It was a nice stop with good food (all of which is very excellent here, though a bit heavy…lots of potatoes, which we learned today are mostly imported from Cypress and Spain as the farm ground here is too valuable to waste on potatoes!).

Dungeon w/ prisoner @ Blarney Castle

We departed for County Cork, specifically the Blarney Castle. Reed and I visited three years ago, so we knew what to expect. You climb many, many stairs up a narrow, winding stone staircase to the top of this mid-15th century castle. Then you wait in line to lay on your back, grab two iron bars, lean your head back, and kiss the stone in the wall. The Irish believe this process gives one the gift of gab or eloquence. We all kissed it so we will see what happens! (Abbie already has the gift, so she said perhaps it will work in reverse for her!)

We separated from our California group as they were staying in Cork for the night. We headed back to Dublin on the 7:20 train from Cork via Mallow and Limerick. Then we went by bus to Trinity….it was good to be “home,” which is also my folks’ home for the next few days until we head to Scotland. Our students are a bit weary and may be taking the day off from their placements tomorrow, which I approved of. It was a very busy weekend…we saw a lot of this small, green island, and feel much better acquainted with her (called Eireann in Gaelic, my namesake).

Aran Island Expedition

Sunday we spent a day on the largest of the three Aran Islands off the coast of Galway. I was too tired once we finally settled back into our hotel last night to blog, and this morning we head out soon, so this will be a bit brief (though there are lots of pictures to share!).

We took a bus about 20 miles to the ferry port, and then we rode the ferry about 45 minutes to the island of Inishmor. It is a lovely little island, about 8 miles long and 2 miles wide. Our guide was local and full of wit…lots of zingers. ūüôā I could imagine him and Uncle Jeff in some sort of battle of one-liners!

Dun Aonnghus

We visited a few sites on the island, including a 2500 year old fort, Dun Aengus. This was probably the highlight, as it is perched atop a 300 foot cliff on the edge of the sea. If you google it, you will see pictures of people laying on their bellies with their heads over the edge looking down. Yes, some in our party did this as well. It was quite a hike up the rocky path to get to the fort, but it was well worth it.

We lunched on sandwiches, soup, wraps, and fudge at a nearby cafe and enjoyed the sunshine. We reboarded the minibus and went to the Seven Churches, a monastic settlement dating back to the 8th century with the remains of some 11th century Celtic crosses there too. Only two of the churches are in tact, and it is still used as an active cemetery with new headstones mixed in with the old ones.

We had a little time for refreshments before getting back on the ferry and heading to Galway. The kids, Reed, and some students passed the time playing “slappy hands” and “zip bong”…extreme silliness! It was a nicely paced, though long, day. Sean Finnegan was with us but he let the local guides have the spotlight. Tony stayed behind to take one of our students to the doctor as she has been dealing with a rash on her hands (diagnosed as hand, foot, & mouth so we all are taking precautions to keep healthy while helping her recover).

We got the kids fed and settled in for some gaming time, and the four of us went out for dinner. The busy Shop Street was less crowded, though still fairly lively for a Sunday night. We ate at The King’s Head, an historic pub we had learned about the day before on our walking tour. Mom had her first mushy peas and fish & chips, so she is adapting well to the local fare! Oh yeah, we snuck in some gelato too, but don’t tell the kids. ūüôā Onto Cork and the Blarney Stone today before returning to Dublin…we will go by the Cliffs of Moher if the weather is good, so fingers are crossed!