And Finally…

Some parting thoughts.

Pheasants are not good at crossing the motorways. On our 2-hour drive from Lea to Heathrow Airport Monday, we lost count of the dead pheasants on the sides of the roads! Mostly males.

We had a bit of a heart attack on March 28th when Icelandair emailed to tell me our flight home was cancelled. And we could call them if we wanted to. Or not…? All throughout our dealings with them, we have found their communication style lacking in, well, communication! Very abrupt notification of changes, with no real explanation and not much good direction for how to find any answers. Fortunately, they are quite decent when you get them on the phone. I immediately called to see what we could do and they were looking at booking us on a British Airways flight on the 30th. Unfortunately, they had to wait until British approved the change and that was going to take 24 hours! There we sat, on tenterhooks waiting and not knowing if we were going home or not. Finally got approved on the 29th and tried to check in for the flight, only to be told that we could not check in online!

We got up and packed out on the 30th and headed to London. We had heard that if airlines were flying, they were not offering food services, so we found a market on the way to pick up sandwiches and snacks for the almost 10-hour flight. We dropped the car at the rental lot, which was empty, and got on the shuttle to the terminal.

Now, the three of us adults have all been to Heathrow at some point in the past. It is huge and always jam-packed with travelers. Terminal 5, which is where BA flies in and out of now, had three people open for checking in (out of about 20 stations, maybe more?). We were in line with perhaps 15 other people checking in for flights. There were a few more going through security, but not many. And when we got to our gate, the entire terminal looked like a ghost town! There were possibly 40-50 people on our entire flight and we were all able to spread out and away from each other very well.

SeaTac was nearly as empty as Heathrow, so getting through Customs was easy. We did have to fill out paperwork on the plane regarding our health and whereabouts the previous 14 days. and we had our temperatures taken as we deplaned, then on through Customs as usual. Very easy from start to finish!

I came home with my obligatory upper respiratory infection, but no fever and no corona virus. Everyone else is happy and healthy and keeping busy while on state-wide stay-at-home orders.

Thank you all for following along on our journey and listening to all my ramblings! Hopefully there will be another short trip later this year; we just have to wait and see what the next few months bring.

Cheers! (enjoy the last couple of photos)

Remember back in Dublin when we bought a coffee maker? Here it is on our last morning, having traveled the whole way with us! trusty coffee maker

And this is what Heathrow Airport looked like at 1:30 pm on a Monday! Unnerving, to say the least!

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Another day in queries

Well, queries and photos! I finally loaded more photos of the last few days we were able to travel.

Speaking of not traveling, of course we are self-isolating and wouldn’t you know this week has been spectacularly sunny and warm! Would have been perfect weather for exploring London! Ah well, we are able to get out and wander through some lovely woods nearby; that has to do.

We have made the decision to return home early, based on the ever-changing nature of government responses to the pandemic. The uncertainty of border restrictions and airline and airport closures was becoming a daily guessing game, so we finally gave in and changed our flight to the earliest we could get, which is March 30. Once home, we will self-isolate again at home, other than the necessities.

Okay, business aside; let’s talk curiosity! All the houses and flats we have rented are furnished with IKEA products. It has been interesting to see just how many items IKEA sells and how they work (some much better than others!). Since we get some things from IKEA at home for our place, I have been making mental notes for when we need to replace things. Also, nearly all (maybe all?) the places have had radiator heat. I am reminded over and over how nice that is! Several places have had heated towel racks, which is SO nice! However, several have had no space to hang wet towels at all, either hand towels or bath towels, and not one shower stall has had any place to put your soaps! The showers in bathtubs are better, you can use the corners of the tub, but for the  most part, you are just supposed to set everything on the floor of the shower I guess. We are spoiled that way. Some of the places we rented had no way for us to clean: no dishrags or towels, no broom, nothing. Since we tend to do dishes by hand, and even if we used the dishwasher, you still need to wipe counters and tables down…so that was odd. Most have had a fair amount of helpful items, but it goes to show how differently we manage our homes.

Highway signs, revisited. As we were driving along one day, we saw a sign for Richards Castle. No apostrophe. Second sign, same thing. We decided it must belong to all the Richards. According to the internet, sadly that is not true. It was given to Richard FitzScrob by Edward the Confessor in the early 1000’s.

We are staying very close to an area called The Forest of Dean, so naturally we wondered who Dean was. The land is actually the second oldest royal wood in the country. There is some debate over the origin of the name, perhaps named for the Danes, or perhaps a corruption of the Welsh for hilltop, din. (more information here: )

There are many towns and villages that are High or Low, Upper or Lower, Under and Upon and all have to do with surrounding villages or estates or rivers. Also, several houses in very small villages have houses rather than numbers. Makes using GPS fun, let me tell you!

Some roads are too small for HGV, so we had to look that up. Heavy Goods Vehicles. Big trucks, whose drivers like a good challenge from what we have seen! We watched a fellow jack-knife his truck and trailer and get himself off the side of the small 2-lane road we were on and turned to go back the way he came. It would never have happened with our American tractors!

There are millions of deciduous trees in the UK. Lots of conifers too, but more leafy trees than not. Among those, we have seen a huge number of growths called Witches Broom, which are caused by some insult to the tree, sometimes pathogens, that are clumps of small shoots that grow all in one spot and become a huge tangle. We have also seen a lot of mistletoe growing, which are also big clumps that don’t belong, but are usually green rather than brown. Once in awhile, we see an actual bird nest!

One thing we saw a lot of in Cornwall were stone mile markers. Some very old, some appeared newer.

One sign we passed in our travels was for Honiton Lace. Why? Well, it is a specialized lace and that is where it comes from! More info:

This one had us all in stitches. We came to a group of villages beginning with Puddletown, then Affpuddle, Tolpuddle, and Briantspuddle. Why? Well, it turns out all of them are situated along the River Piddle. It was thought at one time (possibly ahead of a royal visit) that piddle had a slightly offensive connotation, so they changed all the village names to Puddle instead of Piddle.

Well, that is the end of the list of interesting items. There are always so many different things that catch your eye when traveling, it is hard to capture them all!

Below are some photos from our last little jaunts before we were shut down. This is a sign we found more than once in restrooms.

seen fairly often in restaurant restrooms

A thatched roof in Lizard

one of the remaining thatched roofs in Lizard

You would not believe just how many Monty Python churches there are in England!

So many Monty Python churches

Tiny sinks are a thing. Seriously miniature house kind of tiny. Hard to see in this photo.

very tiny sink

We went to Penzance and Lands End one day. Birthplace of the Bronte sisters. Home to Admiral Benbow’s Pub. The admiral was a famed pirate hunter and the pub has been around since the 17th century. It played a large part in the writing of Treasure Island. Lands End has a huge entertainment complex, which was closed for the winter.

One day we went to Poole and Falmouth. Poole has a very old waterfront with loads of pirate history and Falmouth is where a lot of Poldark was filmed.

Lastly, our luck held just long enough to visit Windsor. No photos allowed inside, but trust me, it is gorgeous!

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Things That Make You Say What?

As we drive or ride trains around any country we are in, there are always things that catch my attention and make me ask: Why? or What??? The UK has been rich in such curiosities, so now that I have some time on my hands…which are sparkling clean, I’m ready to do some serious research!

When we arrived in Ireland, Erin and I noticed lots of cars with a big white square sticker with a capital L in red in the back windows. Why? Before long, we also started seeing N’s and a few R’s. In England, we also saw P plates. So here are the facts: drivers just learning to drive must obtain a provincial license. This will allow them to drive in public with a licensed driver, but they are not allowed onto the motorways (freeway equivalent) yet. They are limited to speeds no more than 45 mph (72 kph) and the L lets people know that the reason traffic is slower is that there is a learner in front of them.

New drivers who pass the driving test are expected to post an N sticker; N standing for Novice driver. These must be displayed for a full 2 years. In Ireland, a driver is considered to be a novice until they have driven a whopping 100,000 km! That could take a decade or more to achieve! (it is a small island!)

In Northern Ireland, the R sticker is for restricted drivers and those are basically the same as novice drivers. The R has to be displayed only one year after obtaining a licence, but the speed is restricted to 45 mph for that entire year. (we did see some R’s on the motorways in Northern Ireland, so…)

In England, there is a P sticker for probationary drivers. These are voluntary and offer some protection from drivers who might expect too much from the new driver in front of them. Overall, we have not seen one single case of road rage or impatience with any drivers, including us! Don’t get me wrong, drivers here are assertive and have an uncanny depth perception and barely slow down in small roads that look too narrow to pass safely, but if you are dawdling along there is very little tailgating and even less shouting and anger.

More info can be found at these links:

Before driving over here, Erin researched all the traffic rules and signs. There are so many signs! Now that we have been here so long, they mostly make sense when we see them.  There was one big yellow square sign with about five shapes on it and no writing that we never did figure out and I have not been able to find it anywhere. The yellow ones are generally roadwork signs, so it had to have been warning about something, but we may never know. We call it the abstract art sign.

I have also spotted signs that say Cold Slod Only, but can find absolutely nothing online that these may refer to. Is Cold Slod a place? If so, it doesn’t show up on any map. Is it a thing? No idea. This one may be relegated to the ‘we’ll never know’ pile.

Near here (in Herefordshire) is Clifford’s Mesne (pronounced mean), which made me ask: What is Mesne? Well, it appears to have a couple of very old meanings, but it relates to the family that owned the land during the Norman conquests. According to the short history of the village I was able to find:

The village is mentioned in King Williams Doomsday book, as ‘Cliffords
Meend/Mynde’, as being ‘forest waste belonging to Cliffords’, perhaps
meaning that the village was only a tiny settlement at the time of the Norman

This link to that short history is really quite interesting:

Click to access A%20short%20Village%20History.pdf

Okay, that is only a tiny fraction of my list, but the day is moving on without me, so more another time!

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Pubs Are Closed in the UK?

It’s the end of the world as we know it!

Okay, so we have been watching and waiting to see what the world is doing about this global pandemic and hoping that the panic will not cause us to get sick. We were isolated in Cornwall, which was lovely and I will write more about our explorations there. Then we moved on to Portsmouth, a day (ONE DAY!) after the Royal Marine Museum and the HMS Victory were closed down. They were the sole reason for our stay in Portsmouth, so that was sad. Fortunately, several restaurants were still open, so we could still wander the shopping center and docks across the road from us and get good food. A few days before we left the lighthouse, we learned that London was starting to shut down, so we changed our plans for the 11 days in Greenwich. We were able to get a house in the village of Lea, where we had stayed before. We knew there were good restaurants and pubs and things to do out here, so it would be fine. However, at 6pm the night we arrived, Boris shut down all pubs and restaurants! So, here we sit, in a lovely home, with plenty of groceries (fortunately) and sunshine, waiting along with the rest of the world to see what comes next!

We are checking our flights and both Gatwick and Keflavik airports remain open and operational so far. We have decided that waiting here, in self-isolation, until our scheduled return April 9 makes more sense than joining hundreds or thousands of panicked travelers in an airport for who knows how many hours of exposure now. We know our friends worry about us being able to return, but this is an informed decision on our part. Neal and I are in the “at risk” population, so we are taking the least worst option available. Our biggest concern here is boredom, now that we can’t visit any of the public places we had on our agenda after we changed our plans.

On the upside; we were able to visit Windsor Castle on Friday. They announced they would close on March 21, so we drove to Windsor on our way to Lea on March 20. We had the castle nearly to ourselves, which was fabulous and a little eerie. The village itself was still fairly normal, as far as shops being open and people going about their lives.

As we have traveled the country, I have been jotting down things that make me curious. I have a whole list that I will spend time researching and I will share with you what I find out. Some of it may only make sense in the context of where we are, but hey, you’ve traveled this far with me, you may as well stick with me!

Before I go start looking things up: The Lizard and the south of Cornwall. The village of Lizard is quite small, but there are several small businesses there for tourists. The lighthouse and point are very popular with tourists and even though it was March and cold and windy and sometimes rainy while we were there, the constant stream of visitors was interesting. There is a stone found in the area that comes from the mantle of the earth (as you can read about here: ) called Serpenitine or Serpentinite. I had never heard of it, but of course Erin had researched and knew all about it. We were lucky enough to find some loose pieces along our walks, and the shops in town specialize in jewelry and other souvenir items. The stone was mined very heavily after Prince Albert discovered its beauty, so there is less of it available now than in years past.

We took a day trip to the west to visit Penzance and Land’s End. Seeing and standing at Land’s End was on Neal’s bucket list, so we were very happy to get over there. Not much going on this time of year, April is when most tourist things typically open. This year of course, most of the attractions will simply remain closed until further notice. Penzance was only disappointing in that we did not meet a single modern major general…

Another day we traveled to Falmouth and Charlestown. We were able to have lunch in The King’s Head pub in Charlestown; which was of particular interest to Erin, having used the setting in her writing. She was able to get some history of the pub along with a visual idea of where the tunnels were (are) and who used them over the centuries. We also drove through the tiny village of Mousehole because, why wouldn’t we? It had the narrowest roads yet, but it was fun to see. The girls spent one afternoon exploring the point, with its caves, beaches, waterfalls and rocky climbs. We also explored the next cove over, Kynance Cove, which is really beautiful too. If you watched the Poldark series, you know just how beautiful the area is.

Well, time to clean up and fix some breakfast on this Mother’s Day. (yes, it is March 22 in the UK. Lucky me, I will get two of them!)

Stay safe and healthy, all of you!



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On the Road Again…

Okay, so we left Ruthin for The Cotswolds and found our cottage in a village called Lea in Herefordshire. The drive was easy and we got in to the place at a little after 3. We were nearly next door to a pub and across from a small market, so we had everything we needed for the night. The pub is famous for its Indian food, so we decided to try that. (so far, we have been very disappointed in the Indian food we have tried in Ireland and looked at in Scotland, so…) It was very good! Except for the butter chicken, which for some reason everyone over here puts grated coconut in! Samara doesn’t like coconut, so it is ruined for her. We can’t figure out why they do it either.

The next day we drove to Hereford to see the Hereford Cathedral which houses the last remaining chained library in the UK. The library has manuscripts and books dating from the 700’s up through the 19th century. What is on display may not be the entire collection the church owns, but it is very impressive. The current library was brought up out of the basement several years ago and put on permanent display. If you have never heard of a chained library, it is worth reading about them (link below). Books and knowledge have always been power, and books were originally hand copied and illustrated by hand over what must have taken months per book.

We have found the English countryside to be as pretty as the Irish farmlands, with hedge and stone fences with stiles all creating beautiful jigsaw-like farms. With as much pork and as many peas as are served here, we cannot figure out where they are raising the pigs and pea crops! We see cows once in a great while and sheep everywhere. We have seen a few crop farms, but it is too early to see what they will be growing.  While in Lea, we did learn that for many years farmers were encouraged, if not forced, to monofarm one crop or animal. They soon found that was counterproductive, so many farmers are reverting to varied crops and livestock and those farms are called Model Farms.

After Lea, we traveled to Cornwall, to Lizard Point, the southernmost part of Britain. Before leaving the Cotswolds, we traveled north to a village called Bibury (buybury) which is allegedly the most beautiful village in the Cotswolds and has the row of weavers houses that are traditionally in all the photos of the area. We found the village to be about 2 blocks long, with that row of houses across a small river, with a small hotel and a few places to park. Neal did get a photo or two, but it was hardly worth the drive honestly.

We were told that the roads in Cornwall are all narrow…This from people in a village where the roads are wide enough for one car at a time and the speed limits are 60 kph! Fortunately, we found that the roads were good highways all the way down to Lizard Village. The drive to the lighthouse got very narrow, but that is only about 1/4 mile and we did fine.

We are staying in one of six cottages at the Lizard Lighthouse, which is a national heritage spot run by Rural Retreats in the UK. Our unit is on the tower end opposite the working lighthouse. When we got in, it was dark, so we couldn’t really see out to sea. We explored the unit thoroughly and Erin was very disappointed because we were supposed to have a tower. We couldn’t find it at first, but then I found one last door and voila! There it was! The three girls made tea and climbed the spiral stairs and proceeded to sing sea shanties and laugh for quite a while. What a great thing to hear! This trip has had so many of those moments, it is worth every minute!

We are scheduled to go to Portsmouth next week, and then on to London. We have our fingers crossed that we will be able to see and do the things we want to there, but have already decided we will have to cancel our side trip to Paris at the first of the month. The Eurostar is so far still running, but the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower and other attractions are already closed, so there is little reason for us to go. We are waiting now to find out if we can get our money back for the rental unit and tickets we purchased while planning. If we can do that, we will search for another property in the countryside to spend that week. Then we go to Hampton Court Palace for the final three days and then home, to whatever is left of Washington State.

As we were driving out here, we passed Hampton Court Castle, which was a huge surprise. It was built by Henry IV and then sold to one of his courtiers. It is a tourist attraction now, but doesn’t open until April.

Music along our travels has all been American so far, except for the one traditional Irish live music in Dublin at the beginning. Mostly 60’s-90’s pop and some Johnny Cash. Interesting to be in a place and be able to sing along with all the canned music.

Hereford Cathedral. We were able to hear the larger pipe organ being played and feel the wind from it in the hallway behind it


Weaver’s Row Houses, Bibury, The Cotswolds

Bibury, the traditional Cotswold photo

The Lizard


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Scotland: Extra!

I was in such a hurry to take you all to Ruthin, I forgot some of the things I wanted to tell you about Scotland!

So, golf…there are golf courses about every three miles. Seriously. There are a LOT of golf courses. And they aren’t for the feint of heart. Hills and deep (looked like about 5′ deep) sand traps. With all those courses, I don’t know why anyone would spend the money to go to Trump’s Turnberry Club, which we passed on the way to Edinburgh. His place is very large, and we couldn’t see the course from the bus, so maybe it is spectacular, but still…every three miles.

Another cool thing is that when you are leaving a village by car, there are signs that say “Haste Ye Back” instead of Come Again. Cool, right?

Dogs. Scotland loves its dogs. We enjoyed meeting many of them. Unfortunately, lots of dogs means lots of dog poop and few people bother to clean up. Walking around on the sidewalks is like walking through mine fields.

Which reminds me: Scottish cities were not as clean as Irish cities. I was surprised by that.

Okay, off to find dragons tomorrow. Most of the people I know need a dragon.

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OMG Grandma, It’s a REAL Castle!

I think I may have mentioned how much fun we all had planning this trip. One of the best finds overall was Ruthin (pronounced Rithin) Castle. Erin was in charge of finding a castle we could stay in and she looked at quite a few that were essentially meh…

Then she spotted Ruthin Castle in North Wales. The photos of the rooms were very pretty and the grounds looked exciting, so we decided that a short stay in Wales was a necessity! When we drove in through the castle gates at twilight last night, the grins on the kids’ faces were so huge the whole trip was made for me. We got inside and the entryway and reception area are a gorgeous peacock blue, with very high and ornate ceilings. Our rooms are lovely, and as near as we have been able to tell, each of the 56 rooms are decorated differently. All are quite posh, even the smaller rooms. The bathrooms are very modern and comfortable. By the time we were settled in, it was dark, but we could hear peacocks calling out their good nights for the evening.

This morning, our wake up call was peacocks welcoming the day with their loud mix of Meow and Help! (yes, that is what we all agree they sound like!) Breakfasts are included with our rooms, but we also had the option of having breakfast served to our rooms and we all chose to do that. It was something fun for the girls, who have a room of their own, and a lovely convenience for the grown-ups. After breakfast, the girls explored nearly every inch of  the interior of the castle. When we had eaten, they took us to see the highlights; we saw the medieval banquet room and kitchen, plus some  meeting rooms and other lounges.  There are two thrones in the dark end of the medieval room, so the photo of that isn’t great, but it was interesting to see. The room also has a small musician’s balcony. I can imagine how much fun it must be to rent that for a function.

After seeing the inside, we all went out to wander the various courtyards and gardens. We did not see the mini stone henge until we came back from a trip out to the countryside, I will try to get photos later of that. We found pea hens and cocks in the small courtyard below our room, plus an Italian garden and the way to a grave site of one of the previous owners of the castle and the dungeons. Of course the grounds are very interesting, as this is a 13th century castle that has been in service nearly continuously since it was first built. You can see the original wall ruins and the rabbit warren green that separated the castle from the town of Ruthin and its peasants.

We had a lovely light lunch in the small bar in the castle and had the chance to try Welsh Rarebit, which is extremely delicious!

We walked a couple of  blocks into the tiny town center. Being Sunday, most shops were closed. There is a souvenir shop we will try to get into as we leave town tomorrow…we need Welsh Dragon souvenirs! Afterward, we took a drive out through the countryside, which is all farmland and there are loads of new lambs out right now. We were able to pull off the road in one spot to look at sheep and when the girls got out of the car to take photos, the entire herd came running to the gate! It was really funny.

Tonight we will walk out to a cafe for some supper, then tomorrow we are off to Herfordshire in The Cotswalds, which we are being told is beautiful.

For more information on the life and history of this castle:




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Scotland, Part Two

So, the girls were able to ride Scottish ponies after all, and Erin rode a mare who was very sweet. They could only ride English saddle, and they all did just fine, despite never riding them before. Unfortunately, no photos because they figured their phones would be safer locked away than in pockets. They all had a wonderful time riding and the girls were ALL smiles from the surprise.

Thursday we took a train north to Inverness to look around and see if we could find any argyle sweaters, tartan goods and Harris Tweed. The trip up into the Highlands was really very pretty and we had excellent weather, again. (honestly, it was supposed to rain most of the week and we barely had any at all!) We wandered through town a bit and found a clan tartan store, where we were able to find some of the clan items we wanted. No argyle or tweed, unfortunately. We did go into a great little museum that covered the history of the area very thoroughly. After that we caught a cab out to the Culloden Battlefield because Erin and I were very interested in seeing it. I didn’t get a lot of photos because my phone was dying, but did get most of the mass grave markers. It is a somber place, as one would expect.

Friday we wandered around Old Town Edinburgh again, this time determined to find the argyle Erin wanted and the tweed Samara wanted. I had researched both online and found stores that were supposed to have both. We were lucky enough to find Erin’s sweater in the store that said they had them, but no luck with Samara’s waistcoat. Then we happened into Woolen Mills of Edinburgh, where we met the very most helpful clerk in all the world! She knew that their store had a small vest somewhere and bless her heart, she did not give up until she found it! The first one she found was just a bit too small and we were all disappointed. Not one to give up, she asked us to come back in an hour or so and let her call around and find one the next size up. We returned and sure enough, after calling all over Scotland (maybe?), she had found one and it was ours! What a terrific ambassador for the company she is!

Speaking of great ambassadors: I need to give a shout out to the Central Edinburgh Taxi Co. We called for taxis once or twice a day while we were there and every single time the dispatchers were sunny and cheerful and the drivers were all very nice too! We really liked their services, so if you are ever in Edinburgh, use them!

After our successful shopping, we went out to Swanston Farm and Golf Course for dinner and a look around the farm. (we were hoping to see their highland cows, but none were nearby that day) The farm is on a hill overlooking the city, so it was nice to just enjoy the meal and the view. We had haggis bon bons to start, which were amazing! After dinner, the three girls went on walkabout looking for livestock. They met (and named) the hens, then a couple of ponies; one of whom stopped eating and posed like a prima dona for them. I’ll try to get those photos to share later.

Saturday we got up and moved out of Edinburgh. We took a train to Preston, England, where a very chatty man who was also going to Liverpool helped Neal and I with our bags on the terrible stairs in the station and then rode to Liverpool with us, talking about all sorts of things from college tuitions to politics to kids. In Liverpool we took a cab out to the airport to pick up our rental car. The drive to Ruthin (pronounced Rithin) took about an hour, but was uneventful. Next post will be all about the castle!

I had taken a short video of someone playing piano in the Edinburgh train station, but I don’t know whether it will play on the blog or just show as a still…either way…

Edinburgh train station player

A view of the city of Edinburgh from the Swanston Farm

Edinburgh from Swanston Farm

Inverness and Culloden Battlefield

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Scotland, Part one

The ferry ride across to Cairnryan was easy, even though we were warned of high winds. There may have been more crew than passengers, but what a nice ferry! There is a cafe and small casino as well as a small arcade, regular seating areas and a movie theater room. They also provide a special cafe area just for the truck drivers!

We had to get on a shuttle at the ferry terminal to get out to the boat, and to our surprise, the shuttle boarded the ferry and then took us to the terminal when we landed! Imagine that’s your job all day; riding the ferry back and forth!

Unfortunately, I made an assumption about being able to get food at the terminal before getting on a bus for 4-1/2 hours. We made do with what we had and the trip was no big deal. We got into Edinburgh and caught a cab out to our apartment, which is smack-dab in a university area. Loads of students and many parties going on Saturday night. We got settled in and walked out to find food. Managed a place a couple of blocks away, which was loud and busy and had awful food, but it was something.

Sunday we did wander about just a little bit and found a very good Thai place for lunch. We’ve been back for dinner once and they were quite pleased to see us again! We also found an American ex-pat running a pet store a few doors down and he gave us some good info on places to see and things to do.

Edinburgh is huge, and very chic and young. People are nice if you slow them down and talk to them, but will run you right over in the street if you get in their way. Much different pace than even Dublin or Belfast.

Monday we went to breakfast and then caught a bus down to the old part of town and then walked up the hill to the castle. The castle is full of interesting history, of course, and houses the crown jewels of Scotland, which have their own story. They have been buried and hidden almost as many years as they have been in existence, in order to keep them safe from warring countries. We were able to see the prison areas, both ancient and modern, along with the chambers Mary, Queen of Scots lived in and where she birthed James. After the castle, we walked down the Royal Mile to Deacon Brodie’s Pub and had lunch. If you don’t know the story of Deacon Brodie, do look at it: He was the inspiration for Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde! Here is some info at this link:

Tuesday we took a train north to Aberdeen. We were able to cross the Firth of Forth, something Neal wanted to do while here, on the way. The train route follows the coast most of the way, so it was a very pretty 2+ hours going up. Aberdeen is near granite quarries, so while most of Edinburgh is a brick red/brown color, Aberdeen is nearly all grey or silver. We walked through the campus of Kings College and down to Old Aberdeen for lunch and then back on the train for the trip home in the dark.

One thing we have found in most of the train stations we have been in both here and in Ireland is they have upright pianos in them and there is always someone playing. And they play really well! In fact, when we went into the Waverly station to get tickets for Aberdeen, people were standing in line to play!

Today we had a little easier day, visiting The Georgian House Museum, which may have been the best thing we have done all trip so far. The house belonged to the Lamont family in the late 18th and early 19th century, until they went broke with their lavish lifestyle. What is really nice is there are period costumes that kids and adults can put on and explore the house and the docents are great! They are genuinely excited to share the house and all the great information about the family and the items in the home. There are several things you are allowed to touch, along with many you absolutely may not, as Neal found out when he touched a 200 year old quilt! The family were not aristocrats, but were of the gentleman class. Unfortunately it was quite expensive to keep up appearances and they eventually had to sell. They later moved to Australia and made another fortune and there is currently a 25th Lord Lamont in Australia.

We had lunch at a nice cafe down the street and then put the girls into a taxi for a surprise for Keira and Samara: They got to go horseback riding! We had looked all over for a place they could ride Scottish ponies, which are adorable, but being off season, we couldn’t find any place offering rides. We did find a horse stable just over 3 miles away that was doing a ride today at 3, so off the three of them went. We haven’t seen them yet, but I’m sure they all had a great time and we will get more good pictures of them doing that.

I am going to post several photos below, and will have more to post once I get them from Erin, but before I do, let’s talk toilets…

Well, to be fair, let’s talk “efficient” advancements in the UK (and I’m sure plenty of other places in Europe) While there are some amazing square toilets that I absolutely wish I could take home, the flushing system is frankly the most wasteful thing I can imagine. If you use paper at all, you must flush twice or three times or six times…well, however many you need until you get a “full flush”. Newer models will do better than older ones and public ones are the worst. When you get a full flush, it is SO much water! I cannot imagine how that is efficient.  Then you have the washer/dryer combos. Good lord, where to begin! If you do anything close to what we would consider a small load of laundry, you will be a week getting it all dry! You are literally supposed to do a 1-2 pound load of wash and then preferably hang it all up to dry, even after you’ve had it on the wash and dry cycle for the full 4-1/2 hours that takes! We have learned that if we do tiny loads we can get them mostly dry and then put them on radiators to finish, and once in awhile we get it just right and it all dries, but honestly; how is 4-1/2 hours and 6-9 loads of wash a week efficient??? We could do the same amount of laundry in one load that takes an hour and 40 minutes start to finish!

One thing we have noticed and enjoyed is that the cars here all seem to have a no-idle deal where when you are stopped, the engine cuts off. The car has sensors and when the car in front of you begins to move, the engine comes back on so you can proceed. It works great, except in stop-and-go traffic, then it gets pretty hacky and rough starting each time. We only had that happen in Belfast when we were trying to return our rental car and there was a wreck or something that stopped traffic for an hour.

Okay, that off my chest, on with the photos! The first batch are of our Bruntsfield neighborhood in Edinburgh. The architecture is all the same, so if you don’t know where you live, you could be lost for days looking…


Then there is downtown, the castle and the skyline of all of Edinburgh:


Walking to Deacon Brodie’s Pub, we saw this bus and cracked up when Erin sang: Who you gonna call? Ghost Bus Tours!

Who you gonna call

Heading out to Aberdeen from the Waverly train station and walking around the city


Lastly,  just a few photos from The Georgian House. More to come when I get them

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Northern Ireland

We boarded a train in Galway and rode out to Dublin where we caught a tram (light rail) to the other train station (Connoly) and caught the train to Belfast. The second train was cramped and very uncomfortable, but we survived. There were a couple of young men (possibly 18?) sitting across from Neal and I on that leg of the journey that had me in stitches nearly the entire ride. Of course, I couldn’t laugh out loud as they were simply talking amongst themselves and ignoring us old folks.

For those of you who love Gone With The Wind, there IS a Tara in Ireland! It is near Tullamore in the Republic.

You can see almost immediately when you cross the border into NI, the topography changes to beautiful rolling hills and even more farmland than in the Republic. We fully expected the train to stop and our passports to be checked as we entered the UK, but that didn’t happen. Neither did we have to show passports when we got to the train station. So far, the only time I’ve shown my passport here was to rent the car! One thing we have seen plenty of is flooded fields throughout the entire island. I don’t know if this occurs every winter or is a current issue, but this place has had a LOT of rain this winter. In spite of that, and of the cold right now, it is definitely spring! Trees are budding out and the daffodils and crocuses are everywhere.

We had a bit of a scare at the train station: we needed to get cash from an ATM to pay cab fare to the house and the machine in the station refused our cards. We have run into that in Mexico too, so finally decided it was the ATM and not our bank! We were able to get a cab that would take either a card or take us to a bank to get cash, so we made it to the house after a short but stressful few minutes. 

This house is one that I absolutely fell in love with when Erin and I were planning our stays in all the various places we are visiting. It is every bit as wonderful as I had hoped. Very comfortable for 5 nights and the hosts are terrific too. I know we will be in other great places along the rest of the trip, but I think this will be hard to beat.

Architecture and building materials change as soon as you come north. Most of the homes and buildings we have seen in the Republic are Georgian style with stucco exteriors and yellow, beige or grey coloring. In the North you see more Edwardian style and almost exclusively brick homes and other buildings. It is really beautiful everywhere we go. The churches are much different too. Of course, there are still Catholic Cathedrals, but then you have Presbyterian and Methodist churches as well and some of them are just gorgeous.

There are three freeways here, and they are The North, The South and The West.

We spent Tuesday just relaxing and letting the kids recuperate from our travel day. Groceries bought, we planned a good home-cooked dinner schedule for the week! Wednesday we drove to Londonderry/Derry in the West. NI is home to the Mourne Mountain range; highest elevation almost 2800 feet. There is snow on the mountains and Derry is in those hills. It is also very near the border and many people go back and forth between the Republic and the North there. We took a terrible walking tour (mostly standing in the freezing rain) where we saw the old wall and two of the seven gates, saw where Bloody Sunday occurred and heard stories about the troubles from someone who grew up during that time. It is called slash town by some for the double name: it was always Derry, until the English ruled it and insisted it be called Londonderry. Depending on your loyalty, you call it one or the other if you live there.

Thursday we drove to the West Coast to see The Giant’s Causeway. It is just outside of Bushmill, home of the whiskey, and we stopped there for lunch before attacking the hike to the famous stones. The weather was cold and there were closures on the trails for falling rocks, so no buses were allowed to go down to the beach. Many people were walking the trails anyway, having been warned it was at their own risk. Neal and I walked to where we could see the formations, but Erin and the girls continued on another 1/4 mile to go out onto them. They got some good photos there and in the small tidal pool area between the Causeway Hotel where the trail begins and the stones themselves.

Today we are taking it somewhat easy. We plan to go into Belfast proper to wander around. There is a Titanic Exhibit that none of us are excited about, and there is an old gaol that I would like to tour. The kids may decide to go explore antique shops instead, so it will be a do-as-you-please kind of day. We have to return the car this evening and be ready to get out to the ferry dock early tomorrow morning, where we will make the 2-hour crossing to Scotland. Unfortunately, we were unable to rent a car from the ferry dock there, we get in after the rental agency closes. We will be taking a bus from Cairnryan to Edinburgh, about a 4-1/2 hour ride. We will definitely be taking Sunday off to recover again!

I am including photos of a couple of the gorgeous birds we have seen here: hooded crows (grey and black) and magpies. Also a photo of the Galway Hookers with sails up, and photos of various statues and art installations that the locals have given very silly nicknames to over the years.




The Irish have their own humor, and it shows in the irreverence they have for art and memorials. The statue of Molly Malone in Dublin is called The Tart with the Cart, among other things. The statue of Anna Livia is The Floozie in the Jacuzzi, Oliver Wilde (which is the only statue in Ireland with color) is The Queer with the Leer and other less PC things.


Then you have the important things, like The Spire in Dublin. “The Dublin Spire was the winning entry in an architectural competition to provide a replacement for Nelson’s Pillar which was blown up in 1966. After a planning appeal and a High Court case, the Spire finally got the go ahead. It was erected between December 2002 and January 2003 to great public excitement.”  So much excitement that it is fondly referred to as The Stiffy near the Liffey or The Erection at the Intersection…



When we got to Belfast, we drove by a huge ball within a ball along the highway. We asked the cab driver if it was an art piece or part of a company logo. He said it is art, but when it was first built, he assumed it was part of the big football stadium nearby. He had no idea what it was supposed to be or what it was called, but all the locals call it The Balls of the walls, The testes of the Westies, and The Westicles. We found out online that it is called The Rise and actually has a very pretty story. “The globe-shaped, white and silver steel sculpture is a representation of a new sun rising to celebrate a new chapter in the history of Belfast.[8] The inner sphere represents the sun rising over the bogs and the outer sphere represents the sun’s halo, while the angled, steel supports are to represent the reeds of the bog meadows that extended more widely across the area before it was developed.[5] Due to the Belfast’s history of conflict and the location of the Westlink separating some of Belfast’s unionist and nationalist communities, the sculpturer noted that it was important to design a sculpture that could be viewed in its ’roundness’ from any angle and therefore any political or religious persuasion.”

RISE sculpture - Belfast

Here is another Belfast art piece, called Beacon of Hope. But you know that isn’t what the locals call her. I figured she might be The Doula with the Hula, and I was close: The Nuala with the hula, or The Thing with a ring or The Belle on the Ball.  “As with other public works of art in the island of Ireland the sculpture has been given several nicknames. These include Nuala with the Hula (credited to Gerard Doyle), the Belle on the Ball, the Thing with the Ring or the Angel of Thanksgiving.[5][6][7] It is currently the second largest public art sculpture in Belfast, after Rise on Broadway Roundabout.”

beacon of hope belfast

Below are some of the photos of the Giant’s Causeway and our girls:


And finally, some of the lovely buildings here:

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