Wednesday, July 30, 2008

And Then There Were Five

My cousin David and his wife Ramona arrived in Dublin Sunday morning. After a little R&R at their B&B, we picked them up, squeezed into the mighty Polo, and headed for Trim Castle. We had collected some picnic items and after the three visitors toured the castle, we had some sandwiches, crisps and biscuits. There was an ice cream truck handy, so Bill and I got 99s.

Chris atop the Keep at Trim Castle.

After Trim we drove to the Hill of Tara, an ancient site in Irish history and mythology. The visitor center was closed when we arrived, but the grounds were still open and we wandered up and down the curious hills and circles, which are now quite popular with sheep.

We expected David and Ramona to pass out at any moment, but they were going strong. We came back to our apartment and walked to the Watermill for dinner.

Monday our visitors toured Guinness and met up for dinner at our apartment for lamb burgers. Thanks, Bill! Tuesday they took a bus tour of the East Coast which included a tour of Malahide Castle. Tuesday night we met in town for dinner at our favorite chipper, Leo Burdock's. Bill and I went through a phase where we thought the Leo Burdock's on Abbey is as good as the one near Christchurch, but we've repented. Sure, the Abbey location has seating and plates and is more convenient, but after several visits where we were not amazed by the fish, we decided to head back to the original. Tuesday night we got the paper bag full of piping hot fish and chips, doused in vinegar and salt, and it was amazing. As my boss said, it's Proper Fish. We walked around Christchurch, pinching off pieces as we went, and found a seat on a low wall. After our feast we stopped by a pub for a pint.

Chris headed back to Arkansas Wednesday morning. [Chris introduced himself at church on Sunday, and got quite the happy reaction when he said he was from Ark.] Chris, we had a blast while you were here!

I'm hoping we might get some blog recollections and ruminations from Chris and D&R, but I can tell you David and Ramona had lovely weather Wednesday for their visit to Dalkey. Wednesday night they moved into the Gunter B&B. However, I didn't even see them Thursday--they left for their tour to the Cliffs of Moher before I woke and returned after I went to bed. The cliffs performed in all their splendor and they had a great day. Friday, they did their final shopping in city centre. We met for dinner at Wagamama. We were so glad to be a part of David and Ramona's 20th Anniversary trip!

We shuttled our guests to the airport Saturday morning, and then there were two.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Chris' Visit in Pictures

Chris in Stephen's Green.

After dinner Friday night in Malahide.

Driving through the Sally Gap in the Wicklow Mountains on Saturday.

Eating breakfast Sunday morning after dropping David and Ramona at their B&B for a small rest. That's the mini-brunch.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

We'll Take the High Road

Back in the recesses of time, three travelers set out for a wild and woolly land. The date was July 12, 2008, and the trio braved a low fare air trip, landing square in the middle of mystery and history, the capital city of Scotland since 1437. This is what they found there:

Edinburgh's Castle Rock and curvy streets linked with steep staircases, closes and wynds give the city a more medieval feel than the Georgian squares of Dublin. Although I'm not really sure what medieval feels like, and am quite happy to not know what medieval smells like. Somehow the Scots transformed crags and bleak and windswept into a beautiful city that continues to encompass the idea of a New and Old Town, as the main sections of town are called. Edinburgh's duality is a possible inspiration for Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. (Let's all promise to pronounce Jekyll correctly, Jee`-kle.) And the city continues to evolve. With a Gothic core and neo-classical New Town (constructed between 1765 and 1850), Edinburgh also felt a bit more modern than Dublin as well.

We arrived in Edinburgh Saturday afternoon, checked into our apartment and then headed for the Royal Mile. We stopped into a couple pubs, our favorite being The Jolly Judge. This cozy pub has a low ceiling with painted beams taken from a ship. At the Jolly Judge we tasted our first Scottish ale. Cask ales are popular in Scotland. Cask ale or cask-conditioned beer is unfiltered and unpasteurized beer conditioned (including secondary fermentation) and served from a cask, usually without additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure. After delivery to the pub, the beer continues to develop and mature due to the presence of live yeast in the cask. Typically it's dispensed via a hand pump. Bill enjoyed three different cask beers, two from Caledonian and one he can't remember. Of the two from Caledonian, the Caledonian 80/- and Deuchars IPA, the Deuchars was his favorite. He didn't think he would like an Indian Pale Ale as they are often quite bitter, but the Deuchars was very tasty and refreshing and eminently quaffable. Its relatively low alcohol content makes it a perfect session beer (meaning you can drink a lot of it and still play your fiddle). We also visited another pub to listen to a bit of trad.

We had read that it was best to visit Edinburgh Castle in the morning, but we decided to snooze a bit on Sunday and had some brunch before arriving at the Castle around 1:00. Armed with our audio tours, we spent all afternoon at the Castle. We learned tons of history, saw amazing views and the oldest building in Edinburgh, St. Margaret's chapel, built in the 12th century.

We had lovely weather for our day at the castle. Note the pictures below for comparison to my parents' visit last November.

Sunday night we went on an entertaining and educational literary pub tour. We heard stories about Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stephenson, Robert Burns and others while visiting the setting for all that literary history. It was a fun two hours, and we wound up at a lovely pub called the Cafe Royal.

We got a slightly earlier start on Monday and visited the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Holyrood was Mary, Queen of Scots, home until she was imprisoned by her cousin Elizabeth I. It's still the official residence of the Queen of England when she visits Scotland. Adjacent to Holyrood house are excellent ruins of an Abbey built by King David 1 of Scotland in 1128.

While walking around the grounds we noticed some tiny figures atop the peaks in Holyrood Park, so we decided to do some hill walking. After eating lunch in the Palace Cafe--Chris had a baked potato topped with Haggis!--we set out for the hills. The seat is 823 feet high, and while most of the path is grassy hills, it gets rockier as you approach the seat. Chris scrambled easily up the path--he has a natural hill walking physique. Bill stayed with me as I took frequent breaks to enjoy the scenery. I decided the scenery was so nice on one plateau that I stayed and sent Bill ahead. After a bit of rest I noticed people ascending the last bit via a somewhat easier route than the mountain goat trail Chris and Bill used. I'm glad I got the final burst of motivation to climb to the top, as the view was spectacular (and windy).

Arthur's seat is the high point in this picture, taken last fall during my parents' visit. We descended to the East, crossed a small field, and made our way down a long set of stairs to the village of Duddingston to find rest and refreshment in a pub called the Sheep Heid--the oldest public house in Edinburgh. The name came from an ornamental snuff box presented to the Inn by James VI in 1580. By that time the Inn was already over 200 years old.

We ate the splendid meal of adventurers that night, after surviving our rocky climb. And that is why Chris was so happy with his fish and chips.

Tuesday morning we explored the Royal Mile a bit more, visiting St. Giles Cathedral. This cathedral is the "Mother of the Church of Presbyterianism," and houses the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle (Scotland's chivalric company of knights). We liked the angel playing bag pipes in chapel. After lunch we did our last wandering, and then headed for the airport around 3:00.

By the way, the apartment was the perfect accommodation for the three of us. It was great to have a fridge for soda and yogurt and an oven to heat sausage rolls! Perhaps my favorite part was the huge sofa on which to lounge and watch TV. After nine months with only a love seat, I was sprawled in luxury.

Oooh, a castle sucker!

Additional Reporting by Bill Gunter.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Au Revoir

As Kevin reported, we dined on pizza after a sashay through our last château. Many restaurants don't open for dinner until 7:00 or 7:30, so we wandered the streets of Amboise for awhile, waiting for the pizza place to open at 6:30. We ate in the oleander-lined courtyard, armed with our pizza knives, sipping drinks coordinated with our outfits. Well, Andrea's matched at least.

Bill and I flew out of Tours the next day around 1:00. Andrea and Kevin took the train to visit some friends. They wound up visiting several more cities in France including Nancy and Dijon. We welcomed them back to Dublin Saturday evening. We didn't plan anything too ambitious for Sunday. It was not a lovely day, but we decided to take the easy DART ride up to Howth to try a place we'd heard was good for seafood, The Bloody Stream. It's located beneath the DART station, and was indeed tasty.

It was crazy windy in Howth that day. We walked around, and climbed Church Street to look at the church ruin on the hill. We met with some avian excitement there, but that's a story for another day. (I'm really into the blog teaser these days.)

Kevin and Andrea spent a few more soggy days exploring Dublin before heading back to the States. We were sad to see them go, but I know they were thrilled to see their son, and of course Toblerone.

Bill and I loved France. Having Andrea there to translate--not just to order food or get directions, but to translate the little comments of passers-by, or the man parking by us who declared that he was not born to park--gave extra dimension to our experience. We were talking to a friend who spent a few days in the Loire valley about 20 years ago. She said that quick trip stands in her memory as magical days. I predict we'll recall our trip with similar fondness. Til we see you again, France. Til we see you again.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Chateau D'Amboise

Our fourth and final Chateau was Amboise. The cool thing about this castle was that the city of Amboise was built all around it. This castle was the principal settlement of the Celtic Turones tribe, which is where Touraine gets its name. (Just tying together the French and the Irish).

To get to the chateau, we parked along the main street. Before parking we met a new sign, the flashing X on a warning sign. This means that you give right away to people turning left from the side street. This was quite confusing. From the street we walked up a long ramp and a bunch of stairs. It opened up to a big green area overlooking the city on one side, and the river Loire on the other. It was a beautiful view.

There is quite a history to this Chateau. Leonardo da Vinci was buried at this site. Also, we were shocked to see that only one-fifth of the "palace" constructed by Charles VIII was still standing. (See the shock on Sharon's face as she looks at the drawing of the full castle.) For more history on the chateau, please see the website:

After our tour of the castle, we were hungry. Since we had eaten 3-5 course meals the past two nights, we wanted something simple. Pizza? That is correct. We had the best pizza that night in Amboise. Each of us had our own pizza with our own pizza knife. Delicious! Thanks Amboise!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Good times in Edinburgh

We're having a good time in Edinburgh. We head back to Dublin tomorrow afternoon. Check back to learn why Chris is so happy about his fish and chips.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Airport Shot

Chris arrived safely and is trying to stay awake.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Let's go to Chenonceau

Chenonceau was number one on Andrea's list to visit because of its impressive location, spanning the River Cher. We set out for Chenonceau around 10:30 Tuesday. The morning was lovely for a drive along the Loire. The section of the Loire we saw reminded me of the Guadalupe, wide with low banks, somehow both quick moving and sleepy. I wonder if you can float trip through the French towns and countryside. Tuesday was free with its sunshine, and the light was beautiful on the river. I could see why France gives birth to so many painters.

Chenonceau is a very popular chateau, definitely the most crowded one we visited. As we parked and moved in the current of people toward the entrance, we all had a similar thought: Disney World. And I suppose it was similar, when you consider that Disney World is excellent at its particular brand of entertainment and experience, and Chenonceau fully convinces you that life can be luxurious and exquisite.

The château built near the village of Chenonceaux in the early 16th century charmed various women loved by several generations of Henri. In 1547, Henri II gave the château to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who oversaw construction of a bridge connecting the château to the opposite bank and planted gardens along the river. After King Henry II's death in 1559, his widow Catherine de Medici (her portrait is pictured) forced Diane to exchange it for the Château Chaumont. As Regent of France, Catherine hosted lavish parties in the new Grand Gallery built over the bridge and in the newly expanded gardens. Upon Catherine's death, Chenonceau went to Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont, wife of King Henri III. After Henri died, Louise turned Chanonceau into a house of mourning. (Her bedroom is painted black.) A favorite mistress of Henri IV took possession in 1624, but Chenonceau remained in Louise's family for the next 100 years.

In the mid-1700s, the Dupin family bought the estate. Madame Dupin entertained many leaders of the Enlightenment, and is credited with saving the château from destruction during the French revolution by highlighting the chateau's role as a bridge. The château had minor roles in the two world wars: during WWI the gallery was used as a hospital ward; in WW2 the gallery allowed escape from the Nazi occupied zone to the free zone on the opposite bank of the River Cher.

The rooms of the château are large with ornate fireplaces, walls covered in 17th century Belgian and Flemish tapestries and carved or painted patterned ceilings . The turrets create many wonderful nooks with views onto the Cher. My favorite part of the château was the kitchen rooms located in the basement on the river level. The kitchen had its own platform to receive goods directly from boats on the river and featured a stone bread oven, a butchery room and walls covered with brass cookware. The Grand Gallery is truly huge, lined on both sides with windows looking out onto the water. I also liked that each room in Chenonceau had huge bouquets of flowers.

While Chenonceau's gardens don't compete with Villandry, they are lovely and provide wonderful atmosphere for the home and grounds. The two rivals for Chenonceau (and Henri II) are each remembered with a garden, Diane de Poitier and Catherine de Medici. I really liked the method of planting beds, interspersing the variety of plants, rather than grouping them into bands or rows. I don't know if that's a mark of French gardening, but I saw similar beds in a park in Tours. The gardens' 130,000 bedding plants are rotated in Spring and Summer. Beyond the gardens are peaceful, sun-dappled woods. Chenonceau also has vegetable gardens and a maze that we did not even see.

Chenonceau was my favorite château. The gardens and grand home along with a gorgeous, sunny day will stay forever in my memory. We stayed at Chenonceau for several hours, eating lunch on the patio (after a long wait in a short line at the cafeteria). We left around 3:00, headed for the next château.