Sunday, February 25, 2007

Touring Ireland

Jay’s parents came into town for 10 days and we are so happy to have them here. We spent the first three days letting them acclimate and touring around Dublin. Leaving the kids at home with Breanna, Jay and I set out with them to tour the South and West of Ireland. We had five days and I took a condensed version of many of the recommended drives. We started out from Dublin to Cork (about 3 hours) with stops in Cashel to see the Rock of Cashel and Cahir to see the Castle but the Swiss cottage I was hoping to see was closed.

In Cork, we stayed at the Garnish House Bed and Breakfast. The rooms were typically small but the bathroom did have a jacuzzi tub. It was quiet and clean and the breakfast was amazing. It boasts over 28 menu items and the food we had was delicious. We only stayed in Cork for the night. The city is big and with all the quaint beautiful towns awaiting us we didn’t stick around. We headed over to the obligatory Blarney Castle. It is a great castle on amazing grounds. The steps up to the top were narrow, spiral and of varying widths of rock. They were also wet so a bit treacherous. But we made it to the top (Norma chose not to climb) and kissed the Blarney stone so all of my blogs should now be full of eloquence.

We left Cork and headed for the beautiful town of Killarney. It is between these two towns we saw the most spectacular scenery. Flat lands, to mountains, rolling hills and ocean front. It is still very green and I can’t imagine the vibrancy in the Spring and Summer. It’s hard to believe after being in Dublin for so long that this is the same country. I am a bit sad thinking it’s taken over half of our trip to venture out of Dublin but we have been so busy and all of this does require driving which with four kids isn’t exactly relaxing and fun. There aren’t many stops to make along this way which is perfectly fine since the scenery keeps us busy. We pass the town of Kenmare (that is on the Ring of Kerry (which is a circular drive that begins and ends in Killarney that is famous for its scenery) I wish we would have stopped here as it looked like they had cute shops. We drove part of the Ring on the way to Killarney and that was all that we would do on this trip. The perfect planning would have given us at least two days here. We drove along the lakes (there are three of them) to our accommodations for the night the Lake Hotel. As the name insists, it is located right on the lake and the rooms are large, beautiful and we are on the ground floor with a sliding glass door out to the lake area. Breakfast and dinner was included in almost all of the hotels. Since the meals are so big we really only ate twice a day. Although, I think all of this travelling and amongst other things have sent my internal balance into a tail spin. My body is staging a revolt it doesn’t want to eat or travel. What to do? I am suppose to leave for Amsterdam in 5 days…..

Anyway, the dinner was great in Killarney. The following day we went to see the Muckross house but unfortunately it was closed until April. So we hired a jaunting cart (pony cart) to see the waterfall. The guy that took us up I am convinced is a leprechaun. Listening to him sing and talk was like flipping through a television station every 5 seconds. He knew about 5 words to 15000 songs. But it was entertaining and interesting enough. The falls were gorgeous but he kept reminding us they were not Niagara. We headed out of town and missed the turn off for the Ross castle so we will have to catch that with the kids. We drove on towards Ennis, sort of a layover destination on the way to Galway. We stopped at a Franciscan Friary, (we saw from the road) in that was in partial ruin. But enough remained to really enjoy the architecture. Apparently they used to allow burials within the walls so you would see headstones hanging on the walls. The grounds of this and as I noticed, many other churches and abbeys in ruins are used as cemeteries.

This drive didn’t include as spectacular scenery but still beautiful and continued through all the quaint towns with their colorful store fronts and large signage. For some strange reason, the Irish are not afraid to paint their homes and business, ANY color. Bright purple was my favorite but yellow paint seems to be a best seller. There isn’t much cultivation and the only livestock you see are occasional cows (never a herd) and mostly sheep. Our hotel in Ennis was the Woodstock hotel. It also had unique, large Victorian rooms. Dinner was good but nothing truly amazing about this place. From here we visited the Bunratty Castle. It was a great Castle that had period furniture inside as well as cottages and workshops on the ground.

We headed towards our final destination, Galway. We first stopped at the Cliffs of Moher. The weather hasn’t been spectacular but it has been cooperative. However, while usually windy at the Cliffs, it was gale force. This really is one of the most fabulous, breath taking spots in Ireland and I knew this day would be an injustice. And it was. So Gary and Norma had to take the postcards word for it and Jay and I will return with the kids in the Spring.

Now, our accommodations for Galway.. I must admit that I didn’t thoroughly research all of my accommodations for this trip but they have all been unique and interesting. I didn’t realize however that the place I booked in Galway was actually in a town 15 minutes from there on back country roads. Nor did I realize it was an old manor (or that it is owned by Merv Griffin) I did know however that it was pricey as it was taking the place of the Dromoland castle that I wanted to stay in whose price made this manor look like Super 8. As we pulled up to St. Clerans, I was quite surprised. Jay went up to the door and using the huge door knocker waited to see if we were in the right place. Indeed we were. A fellow showed us through the entry and down wide carpeted steps to the two suites on the bottom floor. Spacious, full of antique furniture, heavy window treatments, fireplace, huge bathrooms and my favorite, L’Occitane soaps and lotions. So it has lots of ambiance and character that it will serve as nice ending of accommodations on our first trip around Ireland.

We had a superb dinner and the next morning I was hoping to go to Connemara west of Galway but we first headed up to Cong, a village 45 minutes north in County Mayo. Here was where the movie "The Quiet Man" with John Wayne was filmed and with folks intrigued by that sort of thing we headed over. Well, the cottage was closed as seemed most of the sleepy town but it was a nice drive. We didn't have time to take in Connemara so we headed home to Dubin.

It was an excellent trip with wonderful beds, tasty food and great company.

Friday, February 16, 2007

I asked the boys what they thought

was better in Ireland/Europe...

~Ice cream
~Being seven hours ahead we get to see things earlier like, New Years and breakfast
~We get to wear compulsory swim caps at the pool

~movie theaters are never busy

~School teacher
~Four hours of school
~Nice people
~Going to school with no shirt on
~More history
~Reflective bike vests

Obviously they found this task difficult and didn't give it very much thought.....

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I Love This Movie..

I realize everyone has probably already seen this and it is old news. But, it just opened at the cinema here in Ireland. I love the soundtrack and especially the song from Sarah McLachlan. Although can a miracle really be ordinary? The story reteaches us important truths that make it a timeless classic.....

Saturday, February 03, 2007

With much phanfare....

I announce you can now view photos from a much more interesting and interactive site. I will eventually be loading the past photos here as well.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen.....

I put this trip together in about 5 days before we left. I found our apartment from a recommendation on I keep forgetting to take photos of the places we stay but you can see it here. It is the blue apartment. Our trip got off to a 2 hour delay at the Dublin airport so we got into Rome about 7:30pm, a three hour flight. We took a taxi to our apartment from the Ciampino airport that Ryanair flies into. It takes about 30-40 minutes and the cab fare should be a flat rate of 30 or 40 euro depending on the time of day, or you can take a bus into the main train station. I had Rick Steve's Italy 2006 that I relied heavily upon for recommendations.
Our apartment was in a great location but it was on a noisy pedestrian street. The weekends were the noisiest but even on the weekdays it would wake me up. We were near the street level so maybe a higher apartment would have been better. We awoke Sunday morning and I wasn't sure whether to seek our the LDS church or go check out the Pope at the Vatican. I was concerned about getting a taxi back from the ward building but now having visited and how close the chapel was, it wouldn't have been a problem. And we didn't think seeing the pope from his window would be too exciting. Now if he were out and about and we could check out the Prada shoes that would be another thing.

So we set off for our first destination the Pantheon. Just behind our apartment we first run into the cat sanctuary. Many stray cats living among the ruins, however they look healthy and well cared for. We did not venture down there. I am not sure you can. We arrive at the Pantheon and is one of my favorite destinations. I love the dome, the portico and how well preserved the inside is and it's free.

We eat lunch near here at Taverna Le Coppelle and it turns out to be our favorite meal. I had the vegetable zuppa, Cameron the pesto fettuccine, Brianna the cannelloni and Grant orders the same thing the whole trip, Margherita pizza. Everywhere we have the bruschette. We have gelato at one of the more popular locations: Palma and it was the best we had as well.

We head over to the Coloseum and the line wasn't extremely long but we didn't really feel like waiting and plan to return another day. So I follow the Rick Steve's guide and walk through the Forum pointing things out to my followers as if I really know what I am talking about. They know I don't but don't seem to mind. The weather is crisp and sunny. We walk our way back towards the apartment passing other ruins along the way. We eat dinner at a place our apartment owner recommends and is also in the Rick Steves's guidebook, . Cameron orders spaghetti bolognese, you know what Grant ordered and I thought I ordered the special: lasagne. And the waiter said something about tuna. I ask him if it was good and he said yes definitely. Well, I sat thinking about lasagne with tuna and I just wasn't looking forward to it. Well, amidst the language barrier I end up having spaghetti with tuna. Now, some things just don't go well together and for me this is one of them. So, I can't be objective with this place and think I owe it another opportunity with my Italian phrasebook in hand.

We sleep in each morning until 10 or 11 because what I am finding out, is that you can do Rome in as little as two days. Especially with kids. While they enjoyed the trip, there are not many kids activities. We set out for the Vatican. We wind our way through the narrow alleys and take the long way to everywhere but don't mind. We first start at the Vatican museum. I admit we don't take advantage of the full admission price and basically head to the Sistine Chapel. Although on the way there we see impressive statues, tapestries, frescoes but the main event is the Chapel. Grant has been studying the Italian Renaissance so he is familiar with the history and is able to point out some Michelangelo's more famous sections of the ceiling. No pictures here and no talking. Should a flash go off or the noise level rise: take cover. You will hear security yelling from across the room while running over to try to find the culprit. We took the exit from here (it is not clearly marked but read this in my guide) and this allowed us to avoid the long walk back to St Peter's Basilica. This church houses the famed statue by Michelangelo~ The Pieta. It is behind bullet proof glass after some maniac once took a hammer to it. The church is huge and is also one of my favorite sights. Breanna and Cameron take the elevator and 323 stairs to the dome. I decide after past experience Grant probably shouldn't go. So we head over to the Vatican post to send off some post cards and buy stamps for Noah who is collecting them. We eat lunch at another Rick Steve's suggestion near the Vatican called Perilli in Prati. It was OK. We take a taxi back to the apartment and rest up for our walk over to the Spanish Steps.

We take the Rick Steve's recommended night walk from Campo di Fiori to the Spanish Steps with an added bonus of my unintended detours. So what should have been a leisurely 1 mile walk was really kind-of-confusing-longer-than-a-mile-walk. To say the streets in Rome are confusing is an understatement. Here you will find all the shopping (mostly expensive) and much activity, especially on the weekends. I did allow the kids to eat at McDonald's here. Usually when Jay isn't around we avoid it at all cost. But it was the nicest McDonald's I have ever seen with granite, pillars, murals....the food isn't any better. We then walked down to Elevator Rome. It is a 3-D film with your seats on hydraulics and was worried about all the reviews I had read that says how nauseous it makes you. However, you would have to be very sensitive to motion to get sick on this. By the way, Rick Steve's calls this "cheesy and over-priced", he is exactly right and the kids love it.

Our last day in Rome I had planned on taking the double decker bus around but we never got to it. We walked in the morning to the Trevi fountain. This was also one of my favorites but it was also the most tourist packed place we visited. Apparently you should try to get here early but on this trip early wasn't in the plans. But I still loved it. We continued walking towards the Villa Borghese Park. It was all up hill but the day was gorgeous. Spring-like. This park is referred to as a "scruffy Central Park" and I would say that is pretty accurate. We rented a four wheeled bike that we all rode in for about an hour. I then rented the boys bikes for 30 minutes. We ate at the Hard Rock nearby. Their food usually isn't that great and it still wasn't but it was nice to see a menu with American food, and have some Nachos.

We leave the park and take a taxi to the St. Peters-in-Chains church. This was again one of my favorite places. Here you will find another Michelangelo sculpture: Moses and the chains that bound St. Peter. We thought about going to the Coloseum at this point but Cameron was the only one that wanted to go and after some discussion and realizing I had lost the apartment keys, we head back. We ate at a Mom and Pop place near our apartment. The food was good, not great but the owners were so nice and loved speaking to us in Italian with huge smiles on their faces as if we understood each word. We then called it a night and woke up early for our flight back to Dublin. The morning ride to the airport was nice as the huge sun (it does look bigger here, well compared to the sun we never see in Ireland, it would appear bigger everywhere) rising above Rome brought to life all the ruins that constantly whisper its history as you are living in the present. It amazes me each time I visit one of these ancient cities, how people live among these artifacts that are thousands of years old, that bear the names Bernini, Michelangelo, Caesar, Pantheon. And while they rise imperiously to the forefront for the visitor, they somehow for the locals become an unassuming backdrop.
You can find our photos at" .

Friday, February 02, 2007

I'm It

I have been tagged to reveal 5 things about me that you may not already know. So...

1) Despite my love of travel, and five years working for Southwest airlines, I don't like flying. It makes me nervous and anxious.

2) As a freshman in highschool we had to write a report on the career that we wanted. I wanted to be a television journalist. For some reason, I was researching how Barbara Walters got into the industry and decided to call her. What?! I think I called the studios where she was working, they asked me who was calling and put me through. Barbara answered and was shocked as how I got transferred to her. She answered a few of my questions then directed me to the Who's Who in the library. The only reason I can think they put me through is they heard "Jodi"- apparently that is her daughter's name.

3)I once tried throwing change into a toll basket in Dallas without stopping. I missed.

4) I have owned 4 cats: returned one, closed the garage door on another, a dog got the third and the last one we gave away. No more cats for the Beans.

5)I have only recently joined the sudoku craze.

This was incredibly difficult. During this moment of introspection I can either not remember anything or I am just not interesting or both.