Sunday, 10 December 2017

You’re in for a Big Surprise

James and Amber were coming to visit for the weekend and I spent the day excitedly preparing for their arrival that evening.  I had just sat down to work out what time to put the roast on, when I heard the key in the door and Michael’s voice talking to someone.  I immediately thought that James and Amber had arrived early and stood to meet them.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when Tim instead stepped forward – seriously, I couldn’t believe it was Tim – my eyes told me that it was Tim but my brain was still expecting James.  I could see the top of a blonde head behind Michael and assumed it was Amber so it wasn’t until Jess stepped forward that I realised it really was Tim standing in our hallway.  What a surprise!  There was much hugging and laughing and crying (they were laughing, I was crying) and I sounded like a stuck record repeating over and over that I couldn’t believe it.  I don’t know how Michael kept their visit a secret, as he has never been good at hiding things from me.  James and Amber arrived later that evening and the Herring family were together again, enjoying the rib roast that Tim cooked for us all – just perfect!

The next day we took them all for a walk around Dublin city, pointing out various highlights.  We took a tour of a brand new whiskey distillery, Pearse Lyons, which is housed in the restored St James’ Church.  Our guide was informative and he not only took us through the distilling process but also told us about the local history and showed us through the attached cemetery grounds.  It was all very interesting and of course the tour ended with a whiskey tasting which was very nice.

The following day we visited the Teeling Distillery for yet another whiskey tasting (believe me, if you live in Ireland you will eventually get a taste for the spirit), followed by a traditional Sunday roast at FX Buckley.  It was then time to say goodbye to James and Amber, as they had to return to London.  I was really happy that they were able to spend the weekend with us and it was just lovely having the family together again.  I wasn’t too sad saying goodbye, as we will see them again at Christmas.
It was a Bank Holiday on the Monday, so Michael and I were able to take Tim and Jess on a short train ride to the seaside town of Howth.  Howth is one of my favourite places and it was a lovely, sunny day so we were able to walk around the harbour.  There were a number of seals, including two seal pups that put on a show playing together.  Naturally we enjoyed a seafood lunch before doing part of the cliff walk.  There were a ridiculous number of tourists considering that the tourist season is officially over, however it was a lovely walk and the view was fantastic.
Michael unfortunately had to go back to work so I had Tim and Jess all to myself.  It was only natural that I should take them to the Guinness Storehouse and we spent the best part of the morning exploring the exhibits. The tour finished in the Gravity Bar where you redeem your ticket for a pint of the black stuff, and, I am proud to say, I finally drank a full pint of Guinness.  I think that officially makes me Irish now!

Michael arranged to have the day off work and hired a car so that we could show Tim and Jess a bit of the Irish countryside.  We set off early to beat the traffic and arrived at Glendalough so early that nothing was open.  We found a hotel where they took pity on us and invited us in to have a hearty breakfast, and thus fortified we took a walk around the ruins and the lake.  It is such a peaceful spot, even more so as there were no tourist bus crowds.  We saw a troop of young Irish dancers filming a video alongside the lake and it was nice to see them in their costumes.
We continued our drive to the Powerscourt Waterfall.  Earlier in the week I had taken Tim and Jess to the newly renovated National Gallery of Ireland where Tim was enamoured with the painting, View of Powerscourt Waterfall by George Barret.  When we saw a road sign directing us to the falls, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.  It is the highest waterfall in Ireland and is 121 metres tall, situated at the foot of the Wicklow Mountains.  It is a beautiful spot and there is something very relaxing about the sound and sight of the cascading water.

The drive continued through the Wicklow’s and we managed to get lost, only realising when we had completed an enormous circle.  Eventually we found our way to Kilkenny where we enjoyed a very late lunch and a look around the town.  Then it was back into the car for the return journey home where we managed to get stuck in the Dublin peak hour traffic.  It must be tortuous for people who have to commute in the heavy traffic every day.

On Boyne’s Red Shore

Tim and Jess caught the train to Belfast where they were meeting up with friends for the weekend.  Michael still had the hire car, so we decided to make the most of it and take in a few places we hadn’t visited.
First stop was the Glasnevin Cemetery, which is in Dublin however it is a little awkward to get to without a car.  The huge cemetery was opened in 1832, and I had wanted to visit as it contains the graves of many of Ireland’s most prominent national figures.  The most famous grave is that of Michael Collins, the nationalist leader killed during the Irish Civil War and we saw his grave along with the memorial inscribed with the names of 183 soldiers of the Irish Free State who are also buried in the cemetery.  The cremated remains from the mass grave discovered at the site of a Magdalene laundry were also interred here.  It was a fascinating place to visit and I would like to return to take part in one of their guided tours.

The next stop was somewhere Michael had wanted to visit for some time – Skerries.  Skerries is a seaside town in Fingal and Michael had it on good authority that the Blue Bar served the best wings in Ireland.  Naturally he had to see for himself and, after tucking into an enormous platter, he declared them very good indeed.  We needed a walk after our lunch so headed along the shore to take in the view.  There are five islands off the coast, one of them being St Patrick’s Island which is where St Patrick is reputed to have landed and began his mission to convert the country to Christianity.  Skerries is a beautiful town and is a very popular place for a day trip.
The following day our destination was Newgrange, somewhere else on Michael’s visit wish list.  This prehistoric monument was built around 3200 BC and consists of a huge circular mound with a stone passageway and chambers.  No one really knows what it was used for however the entrance is aligned with the rising sun on the winter solstice, when the sunlight shines through a window (roof box) over the entrance and lights the inner chamber.  To access the monument, we had to board a shuttle bus, which drove us out to the middle of a huge, flat field where the large mound is.  We stood outside the entrance where the guide told us about the history and then, just as we were about to enter, he announced that those with claustrophobia should stay at the end of the line as “it makes for a more dignified exit”.  Well, that was it for me, there was no way I was going in so I stood outside whilst Michael and the rest of the group entered.  Michael was very impressed by what he saw inside although he said it was very cramped going through the main passageway.
Not far from Newgrange is the site of the Battle of the Boyne, which took place in 1690 between the deposed King James ll (a Catholic) and King William lll (a Protestant).  Looking at the site now, it is hard to imagine such a huge battle took place there and that the ensuing victory by King William is still celebrated today.  There is a visitor centre with interesting audio-visual displays and you are able to walk the vast area, which are now huge parklands. It was all very interesting and a very pretty place to visit.

Winter is Coming

Michael and I drove up to Belfast to pick up Tim and Jess and spend a few days travelling around Ireland with them.  They filled us in what they had been doing and it sounded like they had enjoyed themselves.  They did their own Black Cab tour and it sounded as though they had a very political driver who put his own interesting spin on the Troubles.  I suppose that is only to be expected as everyone’s truth is coloured by experiences.
White Walker
Jess is a massive Game of Thrones fan and so our first stop was the Dark Hedges.  This avenue of beech trees forms a tunnel, which is quite unlike anything I have seen before, both creepy and beautiful at the same time.  We parked the car and walked the length of the tunnel and back again marvelling at the way the 140 year old trees intertwined.  The road is to be closed to traffic soon as tourism has increased, largely because of the tv series, and there are fears that the tree roots will be damaged by the frequent traffic.
A short drive took us to Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.  Michael and I had visited there before and once more I declined to cross the flimsy looking 20 metre bridge, suspended 30 metres over the rocks below.  I was quite happy to wave the others off and watch them make the crossing and walk around the tiny island of Carrickarede.  It was while I was gazing out over the rugged coastline that I was hit by the sudden realisation of just how much I loved Ireland.  I had always known that I liked living here, however I had always thought of it in terms of being a temporary thing and a very convenient place to live to enable us to hop over to London and Europe.  Now I understood that I considered Ireland my home, not Australia, and that it will be a real wrench to say goodbye when it is time to return.  Hopefully I won’t have to think about that for a little while longer and I guess that I will just have to make the most of whatever time we have left here.
Our next port of call was the Giant’s Causeway and once again it was fascinating to gaze upon these alien looking rock formations.  Michael related the legend of the Irish warrior Finn McCool and the Scottish giant Benandonner to Tim and Jess, which amused them greatly.  We spent some time walking among the rocks and listening to the very informative audio guide and stood at what is known as the windiest place in Ireland.
We arrived in Londonderry (Derry) at nightfall and found our hotel, which was located just inside the city walls.  We were all pretty tired after our long day, so we just had dinner, a few pints of Guinness and then it was off to bed.

The next morning, after breakfast, we took a walk around the Derry City walls.  Derry is known as one of the finest examples of Walled Cities in Europe and dates back to the 17th century.  Various signs along the wall tell of different events in the history of the city and make for fascinating reading.  The view is impressive and, fortunately for us, it was a clear morning and we could see for miles.  We also took a walk around to see some of the murals and the Bloody Sunday memorial. A simple granite obelisk commemorates the 14 civilians shot dead by the British Army on Sunday 30 January 1972.  It is hard not to be moved by the memorial and I remarked that I had a line from the song, Zombie by the Cranberries, going around in my head “with their tanks, and their bombs, and their bombs and their guns”.  Jess nodded and said that she had the song Sunday Bloody Sunday going around in her head.  Michael eager to join in, said that he had Loca, the pug that can’t feckin’ run going through his head.  Well, that lightened the mood!
The rest of the day was spent driving along the coast and through the ever- changing countryside until we reached the beautiful city of Galway.  We arrived just in time for dinner and found a pub called An Pucan (a traditional Connemara open sailing boat), where they served hearty Irish meals.  Our meals were all very good and, as the night was still young, we found another pub to have a whiskey.  It just so happened that we ended up at O’Connells bar, which featured in Ed Sheeran’s video for Galway Girl. 

Galway Shawl
The one thing that Tim wanted to do most of all whilst in Ireland, was to play at one the many, many golf courses.  He did suggest playing at the Trump International Golf Links however one look at my face told him what I thought of that idea!  Instead he chose the Connemara Championship Golf Links right on the west coast of Connemara.  The course was a couple of hours from Galway and as we drove along showers kept coming and going.  Jess was fretting about the weather but I just reassured her that the showers were only passing and they would be fine to play their 18 holes.  We dropped them off and as we drove away, down came the rain. 

We kept driving, still optimistic that the showers would pass, and we headed over to the pretty town of Roundstone to while away the time.  Well, it didn’t just shower, it poured, and not only that, the wind came whipping up.  We received a call to come and fetch them and found the pair of them in the bar having completely changed, with their soaking clothes and shoes in bags.  They had only played nine holes as the wind blew the rain horizontally into their faces and they couldn’t see either the balls or the greens that they were aiming for.  Luckily for us, they had regained their sense of humour about it by the time we arrived.  I did say to them that they will forget many things about their trip to Ireland but they will never forget playing golf in Connemara!

How Can You Buy Killarney

The next day was the full-on Irish countryside experience, starting with a drive through the wild landscape of the Burren and stopping at the Burren Perfumery.  Michael and I had been here a few times and it is a lovely place to visit and see and smell the beautiful perfumes, soaps and balms.  We watched a video presentation which Tim and Jess found hilarious (it did go on a bit) and then made a few purchases before heading off to Lisdoonvarna for lunch in a cosy little pub. 
Jess wanted to see the Cliffs of Moher, so we made that our next destination.  The cliffs are spectacular and stretch for 8 km along the Atlantic coast.  Luckily it was a sunny day and not too windy so we were able to take a walk along the cliffs, stopping to take in the view along the way.  It is always awesome to see the waves crashing along the rocks and I think that Tim and Jess were impressed with what they saw.
We arrived in Killarney in time for dinner and once more we found a pub in which to dine (you may have gathered that the one thing that Ireland is not short on is pubs).  We took a walk after dinner and came upon the Celtic Whiskey Bar & Larder.  Michael and Tim took the opportunity to have a whiskey tasting which they thoroughly enjoyed.  Then it was back to our hotel where we listened to a set of Irish music before heading off to bed.  It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

Bye Bye Bye

It was time to head back to Dublin however there was still one place that Jess wanted to see – the village of Ballybrophy.  Jess has Irish ancestry and her surname is Brophy.  Ballybrophy means “townland of Brophy” and she had promised her father that she would have a photo taken at the railway station.  We found the station and Jess had her photo taken.  It is lucky that she came when she did as it looks like the station will close permanently next year to save money.  That actually makes me a little sad, as the station has been there since 1847, however I guess that the line is so little used now that people drive everywhere.

Michael made sure that we arrived back in Dublin before the worst of the peak hour traffic clogged the streets and to give Jess and Tim time to pack, as they needed to be at the airport very early in the morning.  We decided to try a new restaurant, which has opened nearby for dinner, Urban Brewing.  It is a microbrewery in the vaults of a 19th century warehouse.  We couldn’t have chosen better, as the food was fantastic and the atmosphere amazing.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time with Tim and Jess and I am so grateful that they made the trip to see us.  It was sad to say goodbye, as it always is, but what wonderful memories I will treasure of our time together in the Emerald Isle.





Saturday, 9 December 2017

Arco Felice

Another two train rides took us to Arco Felice, a beach side suburb of Pozzuoli.  Once again we found that the summer crowds had left and many of the restaurants and shops were closed for the coming winter.  Michael had chosen this destination, as he had wanted to dive the ancient ruins of Baia.  We took a walk to the dive centre and booked Michael’s dive for the following morning.
Michael awoke the next morning with a thumping cold and quickly worked out that he couldn’t risk diving with his blocked sinuses.  The dive was cancelled and so we decided to head into Naples to have a look around.  I was reluctant to visit Naples, as I really hadn’t heard anything nice about the city.  The tone was set when we arrived and an elderly gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and indicated that I should carry my backpack on my front to thwart the many pickpockets that frequent the area. 
Our first stop was the National Archaeological Museum.  We had wanted to visit there as it housed many of the artefacts discovered at Herculaneum and Pompeii.  The museum itself was built as a cavalry barracks in 1585 and has undergone many changes over the years although it looks a little run down now.  There were a number of beautiful statues on display, including the massive Farnese Bull as well as the Herculaneum papyri, which were found in 1752.  The highlight for me though, was the museum’s mosaic collection.  They were absolutely stunning and we were able to see the original Alexander Mosaic from Pompeii. 

There were other mosaics, which depicted fish, octopus and ducks and a beautiful Cave Canem (beware of the dog) one.  They were in remarkable condition and it was well worth the visit to the museum just to see these alone.
We spent the next couple of hours walking the streets of Naples but neither Michael nor I really warmed to the city.  It was very dirty, with litter all over the streets and pavements and there was graffiti, primarily tagging, everywhere you looked.  We have visited so many beautiful cities and towns in Italy, all in various stages of restoration and renewal, however Naples just seemed like a city forgotten.  It was with relief that we returned to our hotel in Arco Felice, glad that we had decided to stay there and not in Naples.
Michael felt a little better the next day, however the dive centre did not have any scheduled dives. We decided instead to take a short train ride to Torregaveta to see the Tyrrhenian Sea.  It was a beautiful seaside town and it was nice to walk along the bay, watching the fishermen go about their daily business.  We then caught the train to Pozzuoli, Sophia Loren’s hometown, and spent some time wandering around the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre and piazza.  

 The town is a very pretty fishing village and is famous for its habit of slowly rising and sinking again which is caused by volcanic activity (the city has risen over 11 feet in the past 30 years).  We had lunch in the town square and spent a relaxing time just watching the world go by.
Michael’s cold had finally abated enough for him to consider diving and it was with great anticipation that he headed off to dive the ruins of Baia.  I will turn the blog over to him once again. 
To be able to dive an archaeological site was a real treat and seeing we had read the series I Claudius by Robert Graves it was even more surreal, realising that the villa I was diving on was owned by Claudius when he was emperor.
The area had sunk by 5 metres over time due to other lake and bay subsidence so the diving was really pleasant at 5 metres with the average depth 3 metres looking at the remains of the villas and thermal baths that still had their piping in place.
Thermal pipes
The villa had the mosaic floor for the entrance and then the garden area with statues that had been replaced looking into the centre. The remaining walls were only a metre high, but provided a good layout of the buildings and surrounds.
I ended up doing 3 days of diving on the site and enjoyed each dive in a different area.

What Did The Romans Ever Do For Us?

A very quick trip on a high speed train and we were once again in the Eternal City (I knew that tossing that coin into the Trevi Fountain would be worth it).  Our hotel was conveniently located only three stops from the main station in an area called Bologna.  It was a very lively area with many fabulous bars, restaurants and shops – a perfect place for our two-night stay.
There were many reasons to return to Rome and one of them was that I wanted to walk part of the Appian Way, the queen of the long roads.  The Appian Way was one of the most important roads of ancient Roman times and connected Rome to Brindisi.  We had been lucky enough to see the Brindisi end of the road and now I wanted to see the Rome part.  It seems incredible to me that parts of this ancient road are still in use today. Indeed, it is a very busy thoroughfare and we shared our walk with cars and buses hurtling down the street and unfortunately, there were no pavements (I guess the ancient Romans didn’t foresee the need for them).  Nevertheless I really enjoyed walking along the route that so many have walked before me. 

There were many interesting things to see along the way including the Aurelian Walls and the Church of Domine Quo Vadis, where Saint Peter met Jesus and uttered those famous words.  We entered the small church and saw the copy of the footprints in the marble, which are said to be those of Jesus Christ (we saw the original footprints later on our walk).
We also visited the basilica, Saint Sebastian at the Catacombs.  Michael wanted us to visit the catacombs however I noticed a large sign warning that the tour was not suitable for claustrophobics.  I still had the memory of Otranto fresh in my mind, so I passed on the opportunity and Michael went ahead without me.  He enjoyed the tour and found it very interesting.  The church itself is dedicated to St Sebastian and we saw the martyr’s altar and one of the arrows which struck him as well as part of the column to which he was tied.  It was here that we also saw the original stone imprinted with Jesus’ footprints.
We saw a number of other ruins along the way including the Circus of Maxentius and the Tomb of Caecilia Metella.  We lunched in the garden of a lovely family-run restaurant and enjoyed the sunshine and surroundings before catching the bus back into the city centre.
Our final day in Rome was spent wandering the streets following a Rick Steves podcast, which Michael had downloaded.  Our walk covered many of the places that we had seen on our previous visit however the podcast delivered many different facts and pointed out features that we had missed.  We made sure that we visited the Trevi Fountain to once more toss our coins, so we are sure to return to this wonderful city again.