Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Music Session

Our last night in Ireland was spent in a pub (are you surprised?). The Cobblestone pub in Dublin is THE place for musicians. The session was led by renowned uilleann piper Neillidh (Neely) Mulligan with his brother Tom (owner of the pub) on flute. When we got there at 5:30 there were about 5 musicians including a harpist; by the time we left a few hours later, most of those had gone and had been replaced by many others who came, played for an hour or so, then left. There were flutes, pipes, fiddles, harp, concertina, mandolin, guitar. Apparently that would continue until the pub shut down at midnight. 

I enjoyed watching the harp player - she is a real pro. Many of the musicians who came are well known in the area.

This is kind of the definition of a traditional Irish music session. People just started in on tunes and everyone joined in. The occasional song (unaccompanied) was thrown in and the whole pub packed with people came to a hush to listen. I had my tin whistle and was able to join in on the few tunes I knew. 

It was so incredible to see these musicians, young and old, come together and create such joy. We’ve listened to a lot of music in the past 12 days but a lot of it is ‘staged’ for the pub patrons or is a performance. They were all very good but this was not a performance. Just folks getting together to make music for fun. Fortunately the pub was just a few minutes from our hotel so we were able to walk home before dark. And apparently this happens every night of the week. It was a wonderful end to our travels.

We were fortunate to have great weather for our whole trip. Although I came prepared for any type of weather in Ireland I never used my raincoat and the wipers were on in the car for about 10 mins. They’re talking of water restrictions. Unheard of in Ireland. 

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Is County Clare my Favourite County?

I’m not sure but it may be the wide sweeping, green hills lined with tidy rock walls, or the grand vistas from the edge of tall cliffs by the sea or the rich music tradition or … all of the above and more. It also may be a tie for first place with Donegal (and Connemara). 

The view from our wee cottage in Miltown Malbay.

The photos below are from our 2 days in Clare, one night in Lahinch and one in Milltown Malbay. That’s only because I screwed up the reservation and booked 2 places for one night and none for another! 

Luckily it all worked out. 

From Lahinch we drove north to the Cliffs of Moher, bypassing the regular visitor parking lot (full of buses) in favour of Guerin's Path - a farmer has opened his field for access to the trail and it’s cheaper, less crowded and you can actually drive up to the trail. Only one other car was parked at the top. Some views of the trail and cliffs.

Then on to the super cute little village of Doolin. Lots of parking when we arrived, starting to get a bit crowded with buses etc when we left. This castle appeared out of nowhere as we went down the windy hill into town.

After a break for lunch at Gus O'Connors Pub we headed south to find the bridges of Ross. These are (were) natural bridges formed by the sea. There were 3 bridges until 2 fell into the sea leaving this one. Can you see me there?

Thanks to Google we were able to experience some of Ireland's famous narrow roads. Marj has managed to keep us on the road and we only had to back up once. The roads with grass growing down the middle posted at 80kph are the most fun.

I’m not sure if it’s just the time of year or not but we saw more giant farm equipment on the road than I’ve seen in my whole life. There was a bit of a wide space here for this one to get by otherwise someone would have been backing up and I don’t think it would be the tractor.

There seem to be castles everywhere although Bonnie says there are more bouncy castles in Ireland than real castles. We’ve only seen one bouncy castle.

We were just leaving the road to the Bridges of Ross when some guy signals us to stop. We look over and there are about 50 dairy cows coming home to milk.  It wasn’t quite the wildebeest migration but it did remind me of that.

So many pubs and so much music. This group in the video were brilliant and so energetic. 

Off to Killarney for a few days. 

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Waxing Poetic

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade
-W.B. Yeats

We arrived in Sligo, on the west coast of Ireland with nothing on our agenda. The trip took us past this lovely waterfall (Glencar) that could be in some tropical oasis. Thanks for the photo Marj - because of my foot I didn’t climb all the way up.  

Sligo is famous for being the home of the great Irish poet W.B. Yeats. It’s a beautiful little town, with a river down the middle so some cute bridges.  

Looking online for 'what to do in Sligo' we noticed the "Rose of Innisfree" which is a boat trip on Lough Gill, where Yeats was inspired to write many of his poems. The meeting point was at Parke's Castle which, because it was the first Wednesday of the month, was free admission (yay!).  

The castle was originally built by the Irish Chieftain Brian O'Rourke but because he took in members of the Spanish Armada (enemies of the English) in the 1500s who had run aground near Sligo, Queen Elizabeth 1 had him hung and quartered in London. 

On the boat trip we heard several poems of Yeats that referenced various islands and landmarks along the way. Marj even had a chance to steer the boat. Tea and biscuits were served on board of course.

After the boat ride we drove down several narrow roads hardly wide enough for one car but posted at 80 kph with only a few close encounters. At Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery (again free admission!) we wandered among the many large Neolithic rock tombs. 

The fields were covered in daisies, buttercups and other wildflowers (with a few horses thrown in). 

This main gravesite looks like a circular mound of rocks but you can go inside and it is a rectangular room. 

Stopping for lunch and having our requisite beverage.

So far the weather is holding and we’re appreciating that very much.

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Scones, Giants and My Foot

 We set off in the late morning for our destination -  the Giant’s Causeway, probably Northern Ireland's most famous geological landmark. But sometimes apparently it’s about the journey. 

Our route was along the Antrim coast - a beautiful stretch of road filled with views of the sea, flowers blooming along the roadside, old churches and little villages. 

First we had to stop for coffee at this lovely little shop at Glenarm Castle. When Mary ordered the scone with butter, cream, and jam it didn’t take me long to order the same. The scones melted in your mouth….and the butter and cream,,,yum.

Then we set off to find the Hidden Village of Galbolly. Apparently it’s very well hidden as we didn’t find it. According to some online sources it’s on private land and the owner has many no trespassing signs and loads of barbed wire.  But we did see this rock structure known as the grey lady (below). 

Further up the coast is this abandoned church and graveyard, accessible via a short hike. 

Continuing the coastal walk trail for about 20 minutes took us into the beach at Cushendall. 

Then it was on to Ballycastle for some delicious fish and chips at Morton's.

Another stop for a little walk along the beach at Ballintoy. 

Finally we reached the Giant's Causeway but instead of stopping there Mary and Bonnie decided we should go a bit farther and do the 'short walk' from Portbalantrae along the cliff walk. So we set off across the beach and along the cliff. At one point we had to cross a stream where the bridge used to be but is now a series of stepping stones. Well the 40 min walk turned into a 2 hour hike but we eventually made it to t.he causeway. 

By this time it was early evening so most of the tourists had left and I was able to get a few nice shots. There are generally hundreds of people here. The Causeway is a series of basalt columns that create a tiled effect due to the way they cooled after the volcano erupted. 

The stones are uneven but generally quite smooth except for the one that had a piece sticking up out of it which I managed to stumble over. My foot was injured but I didn’t sprain anything and I was still able to walk on it.  Mary was able to drive the car down to pick us up. Off we went to a pub in Bushmills where I hobbled in and we got some ice for my foot and a soothing beverage. We packed a lot into one day but it was exactly what I came to Ireland for - beautiful scenery, delicious food, great company and cold Guinness. And I’m sure my foot will survive. 

Friday, June 02, 2023

Dolphins and coffee

Some dolphins joined us yesterday on the way to Paros:

Freddo cappuccino and cafe frappe - getting addicted to these on our morning coffee break. 

Then our afternoon refreshments:

The whole crew after our last ride. A great group of people  to spend the week with.

Our last night at the port of Sivarot on the mainland of Greece.

Back to Athens tonight with dinner at a Greek Taverna then off to Belfast for 12 days  

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Up, Down Repeat

If you plan on biking on these Greek islands be prepared to mostly just go up then down. There’s not much flat in between. The problem with down is that, although easy, isn’t really relaxing because you really have to concentrate and the braking is hard on the wrists. 

Ionian islands

There are 7 main islands in the Ionian group and we’ve visited 4. Some are very small and the populations range from about 2-40 thousand. We started in Lefkas, went to Ithaca, then Kefalonia and Meganisi.

We’re biking on main roads connecting one side of the island to the other. The roads are windy with many switchbacks. Fortunately the views are spectacular and the roads are lined with many different wild flowers. 

There are actually people down on that beach. They look like ants. 

All ports in Greece are public so the boat can’t reserve a spot in advance. That means that as we set off for a port to stay overnight there’s no guarantee there will be a spot for us and we may have to try somewhere else. 

Our typical view while moored.

Not all the houses in Greece are white and blue. 

This is an appropriate place to find goats. Some are wild, others have bells that tinkle like chimes as we go by. 

Another stunning view. 

A study in contrasts. Lots of luxury yachts in the vicinity. 


Monday, May 29, 2023

The Stigma of e-bikes is GONE, thankfully

It wasn’t until our 2nd bike trip in Italy that e-bikes started to be available. Five years ago In Croatia about 1/2 were e-bikes but there was still some stigma associated with having one. Well thankfully that’s no longer the case. This boat is flying flags from the countries represented on board. Two French,2 Italian, 2 Kiwis, 4 Americans, 4 Canadians (another couple from Golden BC).  The ages range from 35 to 94 and guess who didn’t have e-bikes? The older couple from France!

Technically this is Day 3  but since we didn’t get to the boat until about 9:30 pm on the first day it hardly counts. Day 2 had 400 m of elevation (yikes) and it didn’t take long till the French couple managed to secure e-bikes which means we’re all on e-bikes. Today’s elevation was 800m (260 feet) so we were very grateful for the extra boost otherwise I might still be there. . 

Here’s an animated video of todays trip. There were so many switchbacks I lost count. 

The boat is definitely not luxurious but fortunately, because 2 couples cancelled due to the changes, there were empty cabins and we managed to secure one cabin each. Good thing because the actual floor space in the room we would have had is 2 feet by 10 feet. Describing it as small is an understatement. Marj and I would have known each other a lot better than we’d ever want to. 

So far the weather is perfect (highs of 23-26) and the views spectacular. Then there’s the food and wine. 

Through the porthole in the room. 

Lifestyles of the rich and famous:

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