Morocco or Bust – Part 1

“You should come visit,” I remember him saying, the night of his farewell party. “Better to make plans now before too much time goes by.” This must have been in response to my saying how I would like to go to Morocco. “Okay,” I answered. “I will try my best.”

Seven years passed. Finally, I decided, this year will be THE year! “Hey, I’m coming!” I wrote. “Is that okay?” “You are welcome anytime!” came the reply. But, I wondered, did he really mean it? I should find a tour that goes through his town and then visit just for a few hours or so with him and his family. After all, they never even met me! In my world, it seemed highly unlikely that in such a scenario, a family would welcome me with open arms. Would they?! I also was nervous about going to a Middle Eastern country. Would I be safe as a single woman? After a few reassuring messages from Abdellah and a former college classmate (thanks Jennifer Jones!), I jumped into the unknown.

Royal Air Maroc

At the airport, I found out I would be sitting in the middle seat. “Ugh! This is gonna be a long flight!” I was already overwhelmed at the crowded gate full of families with crying babies and small children, as well as an African woman near me talking and laughing loudly. But once I got on board, a stranger helped store my unwieldy backpack and the man I sat next to, was very warm and friendly, even reminding me of my Uncle Tom, a laid-back hippie in his day. This man was born in Morocco but had lived the last 40 years in the United States. We had a nice long talk, and even watched the same movie. The third person never appeared, so I had the window seat to prop my head up against and sleep. I was staring out over the wing and the narrow fin looked like a scimitar, reflecting the region’s design, I thought. It turned out the windows were hi-tech as well – instead of window covers, the window tinted to dark for night and in the full sun of the morning, muted the light too. Very cool!

In Casablanca, I wished my seatmate well on his epic home visit and found my way through in-country transfers, turning the wrong way at one point, as I didn’t see the door to go through. My connecting flight was delayed a bit and I was rather reluctant to explore or even order something at the cafe as I didn’t have any Moroccan money yet, nor could I spot an ATM or an exchange booth. But I did admire some rather dramatic architecture on my way to my gate.

Casablanca Airport

We finally boarded the bus to our airplane just as we had taken a bus from our landed aircraft. On that initial descent down the stairs and stepping onto the ground, I thought “I’m in Africa!” and felt the solidity of earth under my feet. Our flight to Marrakech was only an hour and after going through passport control and passing my bags through an x-ray, I was out in the main hall. It didn’t take long to spot Abdellah. I gave him a big hug and then he took me to meet his family. His wife, daughter, and son were all smiling and greeted me very warmly. I had arrived and everything was fine! Whew!

A Passion for Travel!

My biggest passion has to be Travel! I love it. It makes me happy. I have a lot of fun. However, it can be stressful, making all the decisions and preparations: where do I want to go next? When? What flights are the cheapest? Where will I stay? What is my purpose?

I recently sent out a survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/VTTZKTG (Feel free to participate) to friends on Facebook and Contacts on Linked In because I was curious about where people wanted to travel and what held them back. The most popular destinations proved to be Europe and Oceania (Australia and New Zealand). The biggest reason that stopped them from traveling was lack of money. Folks were most interested in traveling for a two week period (possibly because most survey takers were Americans and generally get only two week vacations) and would be most likely to take a trip focusing on learning all about the culture, food, history, etc. of a country, which I felt very heartening!

I want to share with you my travel experiences this year in detail – not just what happened when I was in the travel moment, but my readiness process. Hopefully this will give you ideas on inexpensive ways to travel for two weeks (or longer) and open to exploring all that journeying has to offer. I welcome any questions, comments, or tips from expert travelers. Stay tuned!

Existential Crisis

It seems to be going around. A darkening of mood. Perhaps it’s the season. Darkening skies, less light. Into a more introspective season. For me, it came after an “epic” month in Germany, with highlights in the Netherlands and Switzerland. Back to reality. Time to get a new phone (since mine plopped into toilet water in Switzerland), new car (sold my old one back in June), part-time employment (can’t live on stagnant funds). In light of this sobering situation, I sought out enjoyment in former ways – a night of tango! My relationship with tango is complex – it is a reflection of my life and every dance event reveals my current level of self-confidence. And although I had some nice conversations with acquaintances and several dances, I left feeling unfulfilled and as I walked home, my thoughts got darker and darker until I contemplated suicide. But no, that wouldn’t work, because I was even more fearful about what it would be like after death. Would my soul still exist or would I be obliviated or…? My thoughts involved wondering what life was really about – I have lately believed life is the Matrix, where I am living in a computer game and everyone around me are just pawns or rather figments of my imagination. Sure, I could make the game anyway I wanted, but it was fake and I felt sooo lonely and that thought, that I was all alone in the world, was the most scariest of all!

I still am not sure what life is all about, but am speculating that it is what you make it. I am no satisfied with “playing” small, just coasting along tediously, until I die. But how do I “play” big? It seems so overwhelming. Not only because it feels out of my element, but also because I have a lot of interests and not sure which to pursue, since when I turn my attention to one, my passion crumbles under my gaze. Ideally, I would love to gather all my key passions in one glorious undertaking, even if it is ultimately a fatal one, a la Prayer for Owen Meany. As of now, in this moment, I don’t want to sit out any more. I will do what comes to mind, little steps, over and over, until Universe willing, it will all come together.

 

Letting Go

 

Today is the first anniversary of the death of Isabella Jiardini, Princess of Mercer, my soul mate and familiar. There will never be another Being like her again in my life; grieving her loss has been very painful. But writing about it has expelled it from my mind, where it no longer belongs. May only joy and love persist.

“Sits in one spot all day, not sleeping or grooming, some drinking (with some food in bowl), urinating in box, no feces, seems to breath a bit heavy, does still respond to me – blinks eyes and purrs if pets (sic), if walks, does so rather slowly and a little creaky.” These observations I recorded on a computer sticky note, so I could report to the vet about my kitty and best friend Isabella. It was the next day by the time the vet rang back and by then I choose to believe she was not eating because she didn’t have the right foods to tempt her. But when she was presented with all her favorite treats by her other best friend, Jamal, and she did not eat one morsel, we knew something was seriously wrong. We took her first to one vet, and then back to her original vet. They did blood and urine testing and X-Rays. When her poking and prodding was finally over, the vet came out with a grim look on his face. Her lungs were almost completely full of fluid and her digestive organs were also rapidly filling. He guessed at lymphoma. When we asked if we could get her hooked to an IV so she could get nutrients, he said she was too filled up already. He suggested we come back later that afternoon to euthanize her. We stared at each other and shook our heads in idisbelief. Neither of us EVER wanted to put our sweet Isabella to sleep!

In the next days, we tried everything we could to help her – energy healing, petting her, singing to her, playing bird songs, and trying to syringe feed her pro-biotics, broth and bits of meat. The feeding was very stressful: I could tell she did not like it and I was afraid of her choking or throwing up what little was going down. And we prayed. Hard. We prayed that she would get healthy and go on to live a good long life – that she would be able to play, go outside and eat grass, roll on her back, and do all the things she normally did. Or if it was her time to go, that she go gracefully and peacefully.

I talked to a FaceBook friend’s friend who was an animal intuitive – she could sense what animals were feeling. I was very concerned about the fact that Isabella NEVER closed her eyes. I was afraid that she would not be able to recover if she was unable to rest. The intuitive reassured me that she was getting rest, even if she wasn’t truly sleeping. That comforted me. Then she told me, that although it was not yet time to put her to sleep, she would not survive this illness. I tried not to believe this. I started praying in earnest.

We thought we had seen some improvements, I was told about some supplements for cancer, so we spent multiple hours looking around town for this medicine and even more time on the Internet and phone. On a sunny day, we put her in the window. She seemed to enjoy seeing the outdoors.

The night before she died, I had a lovely dream about Isabella. She was running down the hall, all full of energy and happiness. I took this as a good sign. It was the fifth day after diagnosis, five days after we “should have” put her to sleep. The sun was out again. Midmorning, I carried her from the litter box, where she had been laying. Her stomach felt like a water balloon. I brought her to the window so she could look out. I cracked the window so she could smell the air. I stood next to her, our heads close. We used to do this a lot – look out the window together. At one point, she turned her head towards me and I did the same and gave her a little kiss on her furry cheek. It was the sweetest last connection. I made a courageous attempt at thinking positive thoughts. When I wrote down more and more positive sentences, I did feel more empowered and Isabella stirred as if she was content to know this. She wanted to come down and I put her on the bed, pushing her back from the edge. My neighbor knocked on the apartment door for exercise class. Isabella stared at me from the bed; I told her I’d be gone for a while and that I loved her. Then I left.

At the end of the exercise class, we had a meditation where surprisingly the instructor talked about how the death of others can teach you to appreciate life and to let go of negative emotions. I imagined releasing sadness like a helium balloon. I got back home and saw her in the bedroom, in her cave (a box with a small door cut out) – her hindquarters sticking out. I affectionately petted her rump and tried to rearrange her so she could fit better inside. After making some calls about her supplements and eating a bit, I opened the top of the box, lifting up the interwoven flaps, flopping the box around. I apologized to Isabella, but when I finally got it opened and looked down, her body was splayed out and her head was to the side. I slowed to a halt and thought, “Oh, is she dead?” I didn’t want to pick her up because I didn’t want to hurt her if she was still alive. Finally, I reached down in, cradled her in my arms and bring her to the bed. I laid her gently on her side. I listened for breathing or a pulse and felt nothing. I felt relief – I didn’t have to see her suffer any longer. I pet her over and over. And waited for Jamal to come home.

Why Not To Wait To Travel

Some years ago, in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, I saw an elderly couple, both in wheelchairs, being pushed through the terminal. “Wow!” I thought. “How can they travel like that?!”

Indeed, how could they have the stamina, the where-with-all to enjoy what even in this day and age can be a rather strenuous endeavor?! But this is only one of the more obvious reasons not to wait until you are in your advanced years to travel.

For one, you really have no idea how long you have to live. Better not to put off an adventure, when you might not have the chance later. Okay,  maybe travel isn’t really your cup of tea. And that’s fine. But there is no better way to experience life and grow, in my mind. Because when you encounter new lands, your mind is stimulated by multiple unique smells, sights, and sounds that photographs, videos or movies can merely simulate. This three dimensional exploration not only fills your senses but seeks to change your mind, expand it, let new thoughts in, and learn to see from new perspectives and solve problems in new ways.

When I studied in Moscow back in the late 80s, many of the modern hotels has multiple doors but only one would be unlocked. This seemed to make no sense to me, initially, but after some thought, I realized they wanted to have the option of making a grand impression with all the doors, should there be a big event happening in the building. Having just the one door available during normal hours created more control and security. At the institute, the elevators stopped only at every other floor – again, I discerned that the crowd of students waiting on the ground floor would have twice as long to get up to their classrooms, if it stopped at all 20 or more floors!

Just think, if you started at an early age to see other places in your own country or out in the world, you would have a greater understanding of life and the world. Because travel is a killer of prejudice – if you reach out and interact with the natives – even a smile or a nod – that connection is breaking down walls, barriers, and soon you will realize we are all the same – beings who care about family, friends, fun, freedom, enjoying life. There is nothing like sharing stories and hearing others’ stories. Imagine if everyone traveled, there would be no need for war, as everyone would know we are all just friends who have yet to have met.

So, don’t hesitate. Get out there and learn – about the world and ultimately about yourself!

 

Homeward Bound

dave

To be expected, I didn’t rest well, afraid to oversleep. I got up before 5, and got myself and things together and downstairs by 5:10. I went looking for Dave, who was on the coach, to give him his tip and say goodbye. He offered to drive me back to the front of the hotel since he was going there. He waited with me, while some members of a wedding party from the night before hung out on the front steps. Suddenly, one, then another taxi arrived. It was the second driver, a female, who was for me. I shook Dave’s hand, then leaned in for a hug. He promised to come to Albany some day, and I climbed in the cab to the strains of “I will always love you” on the radio.

It was before dawn, as we made our way to the airport. The tunes played seemed all sweet and sappy – perfect for the moment. The cabbie and I chatted away about people in my office, as she knew many, which somehow seemed surreal! At the airport, I took my backpack from the trunk and handed her my voucher. She was off and I made my way into the terminal, through the labyrinth of check-in. I was asked if anyone had given me anything to take with me. I said no, which was not the total truth, as I was carrying a client’s iPad that was left on a bus. But I knew what it was and it was part of my job. Through Irish security and into the Departure Hall. The Irish workers were laughing and having a good time together. I found the VAT (Value Added Tax) reimbursement center and used my Horizon card as well as put some form in an envelope to get my taxes back on items purchased. Then it was time to purchase last minute gifts and when the monitor indicated, to go to US Clearance, which was a longer snake-like line for security, with taking off the shoes, putting my tablet in a separate bin from my toiletry bag, shoes and coat, and handing my ticket and passport simultaneously to a humorless agent. Immigration involved positioning your face correctly to take a picture – actually a  nice one, but not one I could keep! I handed it and my passport to an officer and he asked me what I had been doing in Pakistan. “Visiting with a friend.” “But what did you do there?” “Uh, visit my friend’s family?” He let me go. Down the hall and finally I was at my gate. It didn’t seem long until they called boarding. An American guy asked me if I could understand what the announcement was saying. He apparently couldn’t hear through the brogue.

On board, my row mate was a congenial Irishwoman who worked for IBM, I believe, and was on her way to a conference in Las Vegas. We chatted for a while and then started watching movies. Another girl joined us after dinner, since her video display was broken. Three and a half movies later, we were at the gate in Newark. I was texting my colleague Alaine, when my phone updated itself, so I had to wait and worry we would miss each other. But as I had witnessed several times on this trip, no need to panic, things have a way of working out. I took the shuttle to Terminal A, where she was waiting, and I filled her in on the trip until my flight was called. I told her I was jealous that she was going to Ireland. “You just came back,” she said. “I know,” and turned to go.

Hello Dublin!

Breakfast at the Fitzpatrick boasted the return of juicy hot sausages as well as triangle hash browns – yum! I brought my apples from my room and asked folks on the bus if they wanted any – I had two takers.

Dave drove us into downtown Dublin and pointed out the sights on the way to Trinity College. He wanted to go down this one street but a worker in a yellow vest denied him. As a result, we were stuck turning right onto a street that had a car on one side and a delivery truck on the other. As we attempted to squeeze through, the man who owned the car, made haste to his vehicle; he must have been afraid of it getting crunched. Dave kept his calm through the whole inching along process. When we got to Trinity, he had to park the coach far down from the entrance. He told us to head towards the entrance and he would follow after us and get our tickets. He seemed a bit flustered. We were waiting in a line, when he appeared in front of us in an apparent panic, as he couldn’t find half the group. He went off again and brought them back, got brochures for us, which turned out to be in German, except for the graduate student’s , which was in French. She and I were both pleased but I don’t know about the rest of the group! It amused and captivated me that Dave, although a paragon of calmness on wheels, had trouble with his land legs!

So we went into Trinity College on the obligatory Book of Kells tour. Don’t get me wrong – I love illumination and have tried my hand at this craft. But honestly, viewing the open pages of the two volumes in dim lighting was anti-climatic. The  Long Room Library, on the other hand, was very impressive! I thought the harp there that represented Ireland was beautiful as well, and I thought of my sister, Diana, who plays such a harp and must have seen it here as well. It was nice to share that same space if not at at the same time.

trinityharp

We found our way back to the coach through a secret door in an iron fence. It was locked but we were lucky that a woman with a key opened it and allowed us through at just the right moment! Dave took us to Whitefriars Church, where the relics of St. Valentine were housed. Yup, in we filed, while a mass was in session, to a side chapel with a small chest. I imagined his bones all disassembled and cramped in there and figured there must be many missing! As I was leaving, I saw Michelle lighting a candle and decided to do the same – with my brother in mind and also my friend Michael Jordan who died recently. I paid the 3o cents and light a tealight candle from an already lit one.

mjcandle.jpg

From there, we headed to the Guinness Storehouse. This was a huge establishment, with 7 floors. The first floor contained all the merchandise, second floor, about the ingredients and process of making Guinness, the following floor had taste testing. Lisa and I decided to forgo the line and moved up to the ads floor. There were photo booths where you picked an ad and then had ten seconds to place yourself in the proper spot inside the ad before the photo was taken. Afterwards, you could look through tablet screen shots to find your photos and send them to FaceBook. Lisa and I had a bit of fun with that! There was also a whistling clam – I kid you not! – and a fish riding a bike – very cool! Next flight up and we stood for a short time in a line to learn how to make the perfect Guinness. We were called up in groups of eight and our instructor demonstrated the steps. When it was my turn, I pulled the handle AWAY from me, which was the exact opposite of what I was supposed to do. Lisa made me feel better by spilling a little when she started. But we were all able to get the foam just up to the rim of the glass without breaking the seal! Afterwards, we took our free pints up to the next level and met up with Matt. I decided to go up one more level to the Gravity Bar, where I could get a 360 degree view of the city. I chilled for a while, sipping my pint, and bopping along to some romantic 80s tunes I could barely hear over the din of conversation.

fishonbike.jpg

When I had finished, I made my way down the staircase, holding onto the railings, as I definitely was tipsy. Each flight, when my palm clasped the cool metal, I would dwell in the moment, trying to solidify and extend it, because I knew my time in Ireland was coming to an end.

Dave took us back to the Trinity College area and turned us loose. Lisa, Ellen and I went to a cafe across the street and had some lovely hot sandwiches before walking up to Grafton Street, a pedestrian zone. We heard some lovely music from a couple of nice looking young men, as well as some other performance artists and ducked into several stores to check out the merchandise. I found my favorite flowers, freesia, among those being sold on the street. They smelled so good and weren’t as expensive as in the States. But what would I do with them? My feet were almost unbearable – my fashions boots probably didn’t help. Lisa and Ellen were tired as well. I gave my remaining two apples to a woman sitting on the sidewalk. We were back almost an hour early but Dave and the bus were where we left it. I asked Dave if he would be going to the farewell dinner that evening and he said no, he never ate with the group.

Back in my room, I noticed my apple bowl had been replenished! In the restaurant, there were four large round tables for us 36 participants to sit at. Ralph got up and gave a short toast and then I decided to give a small speech as well. I felt sad and sentimental. Lisa tried to cheer me up and told me not to cry. At the end of dinner, there were hugs and goodbyes. I had a drink with Mike and Michelle before heading up to  my room to finish packing and get to bed. It would be a very early morning!

Kissing the Blarney Stone

After breakfast, I was up in my room, working out my limerick. When I felt it was adequate enough, I got all my belongings together and made my way downstairs. There was no one in the lobby, which made me nervous. Outside, the bus, with almost everyone on it, was waiting. Dave was talking over the microphone about the day’s journey. I turned in my limerick and quick sat down, but still got teased.

On our way to Cork, we passed some statues and stone markings along the highway that Dave pointed out. It amazed me what a fountain of knowledge he was! The cloudy skies completely changed to sunshine and there were more forested areas with small meadows appearing, which reminded me of home in the Mid-Hudson Valley of New York State. It felt wonderful! When we got to Blarney, we parked in a big parking lot. In front of us was the Blarney Woolen Mills – a huge gift store. Behind us, through a park, was the Blarney Castle. We each paid our 13€ to get in, though first I tried using my travel agent card, to no avail! We walked through lovely grounds up to the castle and made our way up the circular staircase (where I noted that as a left-handed sword fighter, I could have advanced quite well against my defender, as the stairs circled up to the right). We rested in the kitchen (rather small), before we walked just a bit higher to the top, open level and then to the end, where there was a short line to kiss the famous Blarney Stone. When it was my turn, I laid on my back and scooted my butt toward the wall behind me, while clutching two bars in my hands. A older, distinguished-looking man held on to me, while another snapped  photos. Lisa also was capturing the moment, but not fast enough, so I leaned back to kiss the stone again, smooching it for an extended piece of time!

kissthestone

I felt strangely victorious afterwards! We came back down and wandered the poisonous gardens for a while. There was a marijuana plant there, encased in a huge black metal net. Also a tobacco plant. There were signs not to touch or eat the plants. Lisa did take a bite of something that we both knew was not poisonous, though. Hee hee!

marijuana.jpgLisa with Mary Jane

We walked back through the Castle gift shop and I asked the clerk if she had ever kissed the stone. She said, yes, when she was a girl, several times, as she had grown up in Blarney. So it WASN’T just for tourists! Next, we went to the Woolen Mills and many of us plunked down substantial money for gifts!

Back on the road, we drove through Cork real quickly, going by a couple of intriguing restaurants. We stopped again when we got to the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary. Sean, the other bus driver was washing the windshield on his coach and Dave told us Sean was making him look bad! We had some time to walk up to the fortress but decided not to go in. Instead, Lisa and I got to meet an authentic Irish Wolfhound and then we walked along the outside of the walls. I got pictures from the parking lot before boarding the bus.

Dave determined that this was the moment he would read our limericks out loud. I was a bit sheepish to hear mine, though there was a small noise of appreciaton from the group. Apparently, few people wrote true limericks – I was not one of them. But one of the two winners went something like this: There once was a driver named Dave, who on his coach had a knave. Said Dave to the knave, you better behave or you’ll end up in Sibelles Cave!”

Then we were on the final leg of our trip to Dublin, though we did stop at a rest area right before the city limits, in case we got stuck in traffic. We got to the suburb of Killiney, where the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel, our accommodations, was located,  around 5pm. We got to check in right away and I was delighted to find a bowl of apples and a petite box of chocolates with a card from the hotel manager. How sweet, literally! I shared my goodies with friends.

Shortly thereafter, Mike, Michelle and I headed down the hill to the village of Dalkey. It was easy to spot the purple house where we were to turn right. We decided on the Queen, a fancy pub, for our evening repast. Michelle and I had glorified (but very tender) fried shrimp, while Mike had a steak on a stone – the rock was very hot, and so the longer he kept his steak on it, the more it got cooked. I had my final Guinness there. On our walk back up the hill, there was a local who was walking at a brisker pace, so we let her pass and she started talking to us, asking us if we were staying at the castle and then ended with “I’m Joy.” Then she turned and walked on. Such friendliness was really so refreshing! I retired to my room and took a nice, relaxing bath in my luxurious tub. Sigh! What a life!

 

Dingle Peninsula

The next morning, our first breakfast at the Killarney Towers was a little disappointing – the sausages were not quite as hot and succulent as in Galway! But there were nice mini croissants and sauted mushrooms, which are part of the traditional Irish breakfast.Killarney Towers.jpg

Afterwards, we waited outside the hotel for our Jaunty Car rides. Michael lead  the quadruple horse and carts. I climbed in with Lisa, Ellen, Mike, Michelle and a few others. Once everyone was safely on board and tucked into blankets, if they so desired, we were off, headed toward the Killarney National Park.

jaunty carts.jpg

The day was damp and overcast, but it was still lovely trotting through the park. We saw some Sika deer up close as well as some Red deer in the distance. We stopped at Ross Castle for a half hour and took some photos. Our driver, Michael, was quite amusing. He said he had drank “a gallon and a half of beer” the night before and from his glassy eyes, he seemed to still be recovering.

Sika deer                                                     At Ross Castle

Dave met us close to where the jaunty cars let us off, so as to shorten the time until departure to the Dingle Peninsula but some people didn’t see him and went back to the hotel. It wasn’t too bad of a setback though and in short order, we were headed towards Dingle. A few minutes into the trip, Dave told us he wanted to give us a taste of the Ring of Kerry so we would have a contrast: at a roundabout, he went around one full time before exiting in the direction of Dingle. We all laughed heartily at the joke!

My favorite part of the tour was our brief stop at Inch Strand (strand means beach in German, so probably was an Old English name?) You can see from this photo the reason why. The view was stunning!

Inch Strand.jpg

Some other places that delighted me were Skellig Michael, a rocky island quite a distance off where the last scene in the last Star War movie was filmed, the Giant Island, and Sibelles Cave, with the island behind it where the upcoming Star Wars movie was filmed. Sibelles Cave had a tragic story to it – a father brought his daughter there for safe keeping but she drown when the tides came in! The last fascinating structure, this time man-made were the beehive huts. These were also used in Star Wars.

Along the way, we stopped in the town of Dingle. It is known as a cute tourist town with a local celebrity, Fungi the Dolphin. Unfortunately, we did not see him in the harbor, but there were boats that went out to see him. We were hungry for lunch, so Lisa, Mike, Michelle and I sought out a wonderful fish and seafood chowder at a place called, you guessed it, Chowder. A lovely piece of brown bread came along with it. We had a few minutes to step in some shops before our tour continued. We came back around to the village when we finished touring the peninsula for a pit stop before heading all the way back to Killarney.

Dinner was again at the hotel. There were some delicious beef tips with a lovely bourguignon sauce among the various meat options and meringues for dessert!

Most tour participants went to a performance of Irish music and dance for 8pm. I’d seen Celtic Woman and found that sort of thing to be a bit cheesy so did not go. Instead, Dave invited me for a drink at the Grand Hotel. I arrived first to the pub. It was a cavernous place with perfectly positioned skeleton and witches on the walls. I sat by the window and waited. When Dave came in, we approached the bar, and I tried a local beer. It was a bit too bitter, I felt – even the youthful bartender agreed – so I went for a half pint of Guinness. We sat down together on an old fashioned settee and chatted for a while until the band started to play and it got a bit loud. We both went back to the hotel. I left him at the lift and took the short flight up the stairs to the crazy long hallway to settle in for the night. I was quite tired and it wasn’t too long before I turned off the light and fell asleep.

Sheeps to Cliffs

Another lovely breakfast with hot sausages and tea with milk. I held back a little to save room for “Ireland’s Best Scones.” And indeed, after Dave did a miraculous backup of the bus out of the hotel parking lot and we all clapped appreciatively, it didn’t take long to drive to Rathbaun Sheep Farm. Dave announced as we drove up that Frances would be coming out to greet us and would tell us the drill, either first scones and tea and then viewing the sheep or vice versa. First, though Fintin, the farmer, came out with his border collie.

fintin-and-daveFintin and Dave the Driver

Frances wasn’t far behind. She boarded the coach, welcomed us to the farm, and told us quite confidently that the scones were in the oven, so we would view the sheep first. Off we trodded, beyond the lovely old thatched farmhouse that had belonged to Fintin’s grandfather to the barn in the back where a series of sheep were penned. I felt as if I was back at the county fair in the 4-H Animal Buildings.

We saw some huge bags of wool (two not three bags full) and had a view of a fenced-in meadow. Fintin came in and started his spiel about the farm and let us in on a horrific secret: Wool was no longer sold to make sweaters in Ireland. In fact, no one in Ireland wore wool because no one had time to wash and dry them in the damp air. Instead, they wore acrylics. The sheep were raised for meat (mutton), although they were first shorn before slaughtered. That wool was sent to China at 5 Cents a pound, as they were the only ones who wanted it – the quality was not that great. The Merino wool sold in Irish Woolen Mills were all from New Zealand sheep. We all felt not a little disillusioned! But then we got to watch the very eager sheep dog round up the sheep several times – they’d come around the corner and slam right into a gate – that was rather disturbing!

fintin-and-dog

Finally, Fintin brought out some baby sheep to be given bottles, although they didn’t seem that small. Ellen hesitated for a moment before she feed one, as she thought these were full-grown sheep trying to get in on a milky treat.

Ellen and sheep.jpg

After that, we crammed into a cozy room, with a fire going in the hearth, and scones and tea on the table. There was also clotted cream and rhubarb ginger jam – that was my favorite part, although the scones were quite lovely as well.

scone table.jpg

 

The final bit was touring the old farmhouse, which was quaint and cozy. Some folks picked up the recipe for the scones as well as cutters for few Euros.

thatched-farmhouse

We piled back into the coach. Later numerous passengers would tell me that this was their favorite part of the journey! On we went, through the Burren, which fascinated me. It is uncovered limestone rock cut into square wedges. In some places, vegetation has covered up the stones, as well as other historical structures. Dave declared they found things all the time in the Burren that had disappeared many years ago.Very mysterious! As we approached the coast, we passed through a town called Lisdoonvarna. Its claim to fame was that every September they had a matchmaking festival. Dave rambled on about the history but never did tell us what the present day festivities entailed – was there a present day matchmaker who would match you up if you came at the preordained time?!

From there, we soon reached the Cliffs of Moher. I’d been here before in the mid-1990s. Then, you could sit right next to the edge of the cliffs. Now there were all kinds of warnings and a wall. Of course, some people stepped over it and stood next to the edge anyway. With the wind, I would find it foolhardy to get too close. Though I did find one spot where I felt more confident in getting a photo op!

warmingOne of several warning signs

mecliffs

We walked back down to the parking lot area, which was much gustier than on the cliff itself! We witnessed several frail older women with walkers falling over and needing a hand up! We had a look at some of the shops built into the hillside and grabbed sandwiches in the cafe to eat on the bus.

And on we rode. As we drove past Limerick, Dave recited a limerick and announced that we would be having a contest for best limerick. We would have to turn our creations over to him before we left Killarney, which we were on our way to. But first we stopped at Adare to stretch our legs and take a look at a dovecote, which was part of a monastery.  Dave asked why they might have kept doves. I responded, “To send messages.” He returned with, “Nice idea, but they were kept to be eaten.”  Ah. We also could go into the church and see across the street some of the nice thatched houses Adare is known for, although some of the roofs had burned in recent times.

dove cote.jpgDovecote

In another hour, and after lots of Dave’s meanderings, which made for excellent napping fodder, along with the lulling motion of the bus, we finally arrived in Killarney. I was one of the first people to check in and make my way down an incredibly long hallway that then turned right and there finally was my room. Whew! The staff of Killarney Towers had been sweet to me and given me a bottle of white wine and some mineral water and chocolate mints! I went out the wrong door and down the stairs out to the streets to find I had come out at the BACK of the hotel! I wandered in and out of shops for a while until I met up with Lisa and we made our way back together to the hotel. But first, I had a taste of Murphy’s ice cream which was very rich and creamy!

The group met up at 7pm for dinner, which was a buffet. I was in line to get some hot food, and there was a server who helped someone in front of me. When it was my turn and I asked him for something, he told me I could serve myself. Hmmm! My favorites were the roast beef and pate on a crostini – had two of those – mmmm!

Later, I went out to a pub and met up with some people from the tour. We chatted for a while, then left and ended up at another pub- Murphy’s. There was a lively session there and  even more tour participants. It was like our own private party. Finally, I decided to make my way back to the hotel. I checked into the hotel pub briefly and then made my way down the maze of a hallway to catch my nightly zzzs.