|Written by:||Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)|
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|Written by:||Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)|
Travels in the UK and Ireland/2007|
Author Note: A year ago we were traveling through Ireland. I thought perhaps some readers might enjoy doing some armchair traveling by reading about out trip.
We started our trip to the United Kingdom on Friday, June 15th by going to Kansas City for the night. Ken wanted to try a restaurant there that we’d seen before, so we had a very nice dinner at Trezo Mare, which means Treasures of the Sea…a Mediterranean décor and menu. Our flight was at 11:30 the next morning. We left our car at a motel as we had a Park and Fly program which was cheaper than in the airport parking lot. We had a connecting flight at Newark, NJ. Both flights were good ones, and we arrived in Birmingham, England at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Godawful time to arrive anywhere!
Mike and Mavis, our friends from South Africa, were there to pick us up. What a wonderful feeling to come into the waiting area and see them with big smiles and warm hugs. We’d not seen them for about 2 ½ years but stay in close touch via e-mail. Mike had picked up the rental car the day before, so we drove 45 minutes to their daughter’s home. Sandra and Alan and their two children left South Africa 8 years ago and settled in England near Stratford-on-Avon. Megan had just graduated from high school and Niel from university, both nice kids. Sandra had hot muffins and tea waiting for us. We visited awhile, then went to our B&B, called Monk’s Barn Farm, a working sheep farm. It had been home to an order of monks in the 1200’s, and the barn was still there and under renovation. We went back to Sandra’s that evening after a shower and nap. Alan grilled chicken, lamb chops and fat little sausages that were so good. Sandra added many other side dishes and a chocolate mousse that was superb.
We spent the next two days in the same area, toured Warwick Castle, a medieval castle that was furnished and an interesting place. Shopped in Stratford-on-Avon, home of Wm Shakespeare, and then toured Blenheim Palace, once home of Winston Churchill. Fabulous place. We ate in pubs nearly every night as they are cheaper than many of the restaurants, have a great atmosphere and a nice selection of food. Most of the food we had was excellent. The UK countries get a bad rap on their food. We’ve found it to be good, other than the occasional bad meal but we have that here, too.
On the 4th day we put the car and ourselves on a ferry and crossed the Irish Sea. A very rough crossing. Lucky us! But none of us got sick, although we did see people who were green around the gills and heading toward the restrooms frequently. I felt fine, as long as I didn’t try to walk, stayed in my seat. We spent 12 days in Ireland and loved it. A very prosperous country, quite evident by the neatly kept, freshly painted homes everywhere we went and seeing people in the shops and eating places happily spending their euros.
We visited Blarney Castle and climbed to the top but didn’t kiss the Blarney Stone, as you have to hang darned near upside down to do it, and I figured I’d never get up again if I tried. Besides, I’m Irish and have the gift of gab anyway. Coming down the winding stone stairs was almost more difficult than going up.
Next, went to Cork and Waterford, toured the crystal factory at Waterford, not one penny cheaper there either, so I just looked at the marvelous showroom they had, being careful not to drool on the crystal as I admired it. We went to a downtown pub alive with Irish music after dinner and enjoyed the local color and a tall ale.
We then traveled south and west to a lovely town called Kinsale. There we visited a South African friend of Mike and Mavis—Pat was mother to M&M’s son-in-law who died of cancer some years ago. She is 86, an artist, a fashionplate, and sharp as a tack. We had drinks at her condo and a nice visit. The B&B we stayed in was nestled in the rolling hills outside the town. It was a beautiful spot and a lovely place to stay. Breathtaking view from every window.
The next day we drove the Ring of Kerry which is a narrow, winding road along a coastal area with gorgeous scenery. All of Ireland is picture postcard kind of scenery, and so incredibly green. From there, it was on to The Cliffs of Mohr, huge cliffs by the sea. It was so cold, wet, and windy there, but lots of tourists. Reminded me of the area where many of the gothic novels take place. We heard a few days later that a Hungarian tourist had fallen off one of the cliffs and was killed instantly. Sad.
Mike did all the driving since he is use to lefthand drive in his country. So he drove the 2600 miles we covered, Ken navigated, and Mavis and I were superb backseat drivers. We managed to make it on all the narrow, no-shoulder, curvy roads. A slower pace but it allows you to see more, even in the rain, which was frequent.
We went on to Tralee, where I met with Caelinn, a girl in my online writers group, for an hour. She is from Dublin but was in Tralee on holiday. She’d asked me to call her cellphone when we got to that area, and she and I did manage to have a drink together in a hotel lobby. She’s a delight and a darned good writer.
Next stop was Galway, where we saw the famed Galway Bay. We had a terrible B&B there, run by Slovaks who spoke only minimal English. We learned later that it was a boarding house for migrant workers. Poor quality everything in it, but it was clean, and if it’s clean I can survive most anything. We did have a good meal at a nice pub that evening. From there we went on to Swords, which is outside Dublin. Found a great B&B out in the country and took a bus into Dublin the following day where we rode the Hop On-Hop Off bus to all the attractions. We went to Trinity College, then St. Stephens Green (lovely park in the heart of the city), big city shopping mall, Grafton St, which is filled with mimes, street musicians and lovely boutique shops, and Guiness Brewery. Part of the admission price at the brewery allows you to go to the 7th floor Gravity Bar, which is all glass from floor to ceiling and you are given a pint of Guiness. We were enjoying the brew and the view when a woman next to us started coming close to me and bent down to get under my chair. In doing so, she spilled her very brown Guiness onto the sleeve and pocket of my very white coat and my navy pants. “Excusez-moi!” was her remark to me, over and over. Seems she was looking for her grandchild’s pacifier which he’d tossed under my chair. I did get the stain out with a Tide Stain Pen. Worked like a charm. I can still hear Grandmere and her “Excusez-moi!”
While in Swords, I needed to do some laundry, so we took it to the one and only place in the town and discovered it was not do-it-yourself. I paid the equivalent of $32 for 2 loads of clothes. Mavis and I were both incensed over that, but we had little choice, so we both left it and left muttering and mumbling.
We saw the Kennedy ancestral cottage one day, but it was not open for touring. Went on to Northern Ireland next and visited the town where my great-grandfather, William Doonan, was from (Portadown). It was near Armagh, where we stayed. Armagh was an interesting spot as it had two cathedrals, both named St. Patrick’s, both the seat of a bishop, but one was Catholic and one Church of Ireland (Episcopalian) We went to see both. Our B&B hostess gave us tea and scones when we arrived, and she told us all kinds of Irish stories. She had definitely kissed the Blarney Stone some time or other, but she sure made good scones.
We drove up to the north coastal area and stopped at Giant’s Causeway, a ruggedly beautiful spot, more cliffs. Ken and Mike took a long hike, but we women passed. Glad we did as they were both huffing and puffing when they returned. Bushmill’s distillery is near there but was closed. The next day we went back to the Rep of Ireland to Donegal, which turned out to be one of our favorite spots. Then back to Northern Ireland where we drove through Londonderry, skipped Belfast, and on to Ballymoney. Every other place in Ireland is Bally something. We learned it means Town of…. That night we had gone to bed at the B&B and were reading before going to sleep, when we heard drums and fifes nearby. Ken dressed in a hurry and went out to find a big drum and fife parade. We left Ireland the next day taking a catamaran ferry from Larne over to Cairnryan, Scotland. Flew like the wind across a smooth sea in much less time than the day we came over.
We spent two days in Scotland. One night was at a sheep farm in a large home. Our room had 2 single beds and a double bed, meant for a family. Not all together, but spread out nicely…huge room. Went to the famed Gretna Green which is on the English/Scottish border and where English people use to come to be married without waiting days for a license. Shops now all around the Blacksmith shop where the weddings took place.
Next, weaded into northern England in the Peak District. One afternoon, we had lunch with friends of M&M. Ben was a retired British army colonel, and his wife, Libby a retired nurse. She had invited her twin sister and husband to join us. We’d heard about Ben and Libby for years from M&M, and they had heard of us, too. We had a long, leisurely lunch and a wonderful visit.
M&M had booked our B&B for the next two nights ahead, and they said they had a terrible time finding one not booked as there was some fair going on in the area. We landed in The House of Horrors. This stone cottage was over 400 yrs old and so filled with “stuff” it gave me claustrophobia. The host and hostess were like people from a sitcom and they were most disappointed we did not sit in the living area with them all evening. I think we were meant to be their entertainment! We had the Pink Room, and believe me, it was like living on the inside of a peptobismal bottle. M&M had one only slightly better. We wanted to leave, but there was no place to go, so we stuck it out but spent as little time there as possible. With B&B’s you take pot luck, and some are great, some not. But I will say all were clean and had bathrooms with the room.
Our last day of touring was spent at Chatsworth Hall, the home of the Duke of Devonshire. Fabulous place and there was a garden shop, a Tea Room, a food shop that was so interesting, and a lovely gift shop, too. The garden shop was as much gift shop as the other one. The grounds were like a huge park, sheep grazing and gorgeous flowers. After the nice day there, we went to The Devonshire Arms pub for dinner where we savored our final lamb dinner. We like lamb and had many good lamb dishes, also roast beef and Yorkshire pudding one night. The pubs are great, had good food with special sauces, wonderful gravies, and delectable desserts. We ate in them as the exchange rate was bad for us but worse for M&M. We multiplied by 2 for the pound to the dollar and they had to multiply by 14 for the pound and rand. Euro was 1.38 dollars and 9 rands. So we didn’t eat in fine dining places, but I think we had good food. The huge breakfasts at the B&B’s meant you needed very little for lunch, so we usually stopped at a Tea Room Bakery, most of which serve good food, too.
The last full day we had was spent driving to Birmingham, England where we stayed at a Holiday Inn hotel near the airport. It was a very contemporary and high quality hotel, which Sandra had booked for us at a great price. They had a beautiful dining room, so Sandra and Alan and their son met us there for dinner and to say farewell. While we were eating, Colonel Ben called on Mavis’ cellphone to wish us a safe journey home, which made us feel very good. He had told us we were the first Americans to eat at his table, and he was honored to have us. I replied that we were honored to be the first, too.
We had to get up at 4:30 a.m. the next day, but it’s not hard to do in England as the sun comes up around 4 a.m. Off to the airport just before 6. After the Glasgow bombing attempt a week earlier, security was on High. As we drove up to the terminal, police with assault rifles paced the drive. There was no dropping off passengers, so we parked and walked over to the terminal. It is startling to see something like that when you aren’t use to it. Even though 6a.m., the check-in lines snaked all through the terminal. But they had lots of agents working and we stood in the queue about 35 minutes. Said a tearful good-bye to our dear friends, and headed to security. The guard would not let me take my purse and carryon, one or the other she told me. She and I stared at each other a couple minutes, and she finally said to go over to the side and “squash” my purse into my carryon. We rearranged some things and did “squash” it in. I feared for my 3 pr of glasses in the purse, but they made it. The rest of the security was a breeze. And our flights went fine, too. We spent the night in Kansas City and drove home early the next morning.
The memories of the green hills, stone walls, and sheep grazing will be with us forever, also the many pubs and B&B’s we went to, the people we met and more. Doing all we did with close friends added to everything. We had a lot of laughs on those many miles. The rain almost every day and chilly temps seemed not so bad thinking back on it now. How blessed we are to be able to travel and see how others live.
Photo 1: Gretna Green in Scotland
Photo 2: One part of Warwick Castle in England
Photo 3: Windblown at the Cliffs of Mohr in Ireland