The End of Ireland… for now

The end of our trip was very sad for me – and probably a little for my parents as well. My biggest fear as an 18 year old was that I would never go back. Though we had traveled a good loop through Ireland (Dublin to Glendalough to Waterford to Cork to Blarney to Kenmare to Kilarney to the Cliffs of Moher to Sligo to Donegal to Carrick on Shannon and back to Dublin), I knew there was so much more to see– and so much more to see in the places we hadn’t stayed long… like Glendalough and St. John’s Point.

But our trip wasn’t over yet.

Leaving Carrick on Shannon we finally cut inland for the first time and headed back to Bellcamp Hutchinson. Though our trip around the coast of Ireland had held unimaginable joys for us, returning to Bellcamp was in many ways like returning home — to people we knew, beds we knew, and a few days of rest before the inevitable trip back to the airport.

We spent some time in Dublin again, but I have very little memory of those last few days. My mother reminded me that we went to a bookstore- a rather large one… two stories, I think. She wanted to find a book that was IRISH! So she asked a bookseller what she should get – if they had anything by an Irish author that would be good to get while in Ireland.

Coincidentally enough, they had just had an author signing there the week before and still had several copies of this man’s book, the first book he’d published. We’d never heard of the book or the author, but my mom bought it off the bookseller’s recommendation while I bought a book of Irish mythology.

On the flight home, my mom started to read the book, but she didn’t like the way it started and put it down. We didn’t think of it for months (or maybe even a year) until I heard the author’s name and title of the book again. I gasped and called my mom to see if she still had that signed copy of the book, and she did. And now on my bookshelf at school sits a signed copy of Frank McCourt’s book Angela’s Ashes with a unique cover that we didn’t get here in the States.

AngelasAshes

Unfortunately I will have to use this picture as a place holder until I can go back to school again and get a picture of the actual book with Frank McCourt’s signature in it.

At this point, I feel that I have to admit an error in my memory from of the earlier posts — I mentioned going to Malahide Castle on one of our first days in Dublin, but my parents corrected me tonight (they’re good about doing that). We went to Malahide on our return trip to the Dublin area and enjoyed the grounds. The weather took a rainy turn, and we found a pub close by to get something to eat. None of us could remember what time of day it was, but we were nearly the only people in the pub, so perhaps it was a bit early for the lunch or dinner hour, but it was cold and rainy and they served us the most amazing potato leek soup that I have ever had in my entire life! Years later when I had a home of my own, I tried to duplicate this soup but fell miserably short.  Though my (then) husband said it tasted divine and asked me to make it again, it just wasn’t right. Maybe you need the Irish air, or Irish produce, or maybe it is just my mind romanticizing the memory, but I long to someday have soup that magnificent again!

My father also reminded me of something that I hadn’t put together. On our last day we went to a “small little village north of Dublin to see a regatta.” When my father mentioned this to me today in our weekly talk about Ireland, my heart jumped a little bit. I asked him if he would recognize the name of the town if I said it, and he said he probably would.

regatta

“Howth?”

“Yeah! That’s it.”

On my My Take-Back Year (and a half) I traveled to Ireland on my own.  It was my first time back since I’d been in 1997. On the advice of a student, I traveled to the town that I thought I’d never heard of before.  Howth was the name of that town.  I spent the my birthday doing the cliff walk to the lighthouse and exploring the town. I loved Howth, and when (in my weaker moments) I start planning another trip, Howth is always on the list!

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Me on the cliff walk in 2016

The next day, we left for the United States, but I knew that I was leaving a part of me in Ireland that I didn’t quite understand. Ireland fed my soul. It spoke to parts of me that I didn’t know existed. I’d felt something tangible while in Ireland, a pull to go back, to find more.

I talked to my parents about their big take-aways from the trip, and my father talked about the magic of that night out on St. John’s Point. It was a place we just “happened upon” and had some of the most unique experiences there, like seeing the whales go out to sea. My mother talked about how much she enjoyed seeing the adventure through my eyes. It had been my graduation gift to go anywhere in the world, and she said it was fun to watch me experience Ireland. As an 18 year old, I wouldn’t have understood that, but now as a mom, I get it.

In fact, that has inspired me for my next blog series! I am going to talk about the trips that my son and I have gone on over the years and the joy of seeing things through his eyes. So, next week, we will start with our first big adventure as mom and son — St. Louis, Missouri! Stay tuned!

And if you missed any of the other posts from my 1997 journey around Ireland, you can click the links below.


The Gift that Launched A Thousand Trips

Dublin: love at first sight

Powerscourt: Surprised by Beauty

Glendalough: My First Love

Waterford: More than Crystal

Blarney: Everything but Kissing the Stone

Kenmare and the Ring of Beara

From the Disappointing to the Magnificent

In Shadows and Sunshine

Surprised by Kylemore Abbey

Happy Little Accidents – St. John’s Point

From the Highest Cliffs to the Famous River

In Shadows and Sunshine

On this leg of the trip, we left Killarney and visited Muckross House, a beautiful stately home in Killarney National Park. The house has been restored to the way it was in the late 1800s when Queen Victoria stayed there. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures inside the house, but we have many pictures of the outside of the house and the beautiful grounds. At the time it remind me of the Breakers (in the US) – not so much in the architecture of the house, but in the grand style of the rooms and the extensive grounds.

Muckross House

View from the house

The gardens

After leaving there, we drove along the coast for a while and having lunch in Dingle (where I had my first “lamburger”) and then took a ferry to cut nearly 100 miles off of our trip as we headed toward the Cliffs of Moher.

Few places are as iconically Irish as the Cliffs of Moher. I have been fortunate to see them multiple times in my journeys to Ireland. Both in the “shadows” — or fog, and the sunshine. My first trip to the cliffs in July of 1997, they were shrouded in fog so dense you could barely make them out.
I was beyond disappointed, to say the least. I’d learned that an infamous scene of my favorite childhood movie, The Princess Bride, was partially based off of the Cliffs of Moher — in the movie they are called the Cliffs of Insanity. Consequently, I was so excited to see them in person. But as you can see from the pictures below, there were barely any cliffs to make out.

It was a rainy day, and the fog was incredibly dense. However, we did walk around a bit and took some pictures with the realization that the trip to the Emerald Isle was going to be hit or miss with fog. I was disappointed, however, that it had descended on that particular day.

Afterward, we drove to our bed and breakfast for the night – Berry Lodge, which (at least as of 2018) is still in operation, according to Trip Advisor. The accommodations were extremely comfortable, and view surrounding the house was stunning and remote.

The women who ran the bed and breakfast were sisters and were incredibly kind! We ate dinner there, and when they found out that this trip was a graduation gift for me (read more about that here if you are new to the blog), they baked me a cake in celebration of my graduation. It was incredibly touching. And though I don’t remember how it tasted, I remember how the women made me feel – loved and appreciated.

My mom, one of the sisters, and me

We told the ladies about our sadness having not truly been able to see the cliffs, and she mentioned that we should try again the next day because “everything could be different of a morning.” Well, we took their advice and went back the next morning, and they were right! The sun had cleared away the fog, and it was a beautiful, sunny, warm day.

We enjoyed walking along the trails (as far from the edge as humanly possible, for me).  Climbing on rocks, and posing for a zillion pictures, we spent a large portion of the day there when the day before we’d only spent a few hours. The biggest surprises for me were that there is almost no barrier between the trail and the cliffs and that it is incredibly windy. There were a few gusts that I worried would push me right over the edge!

My parents went up in one of the observation towers. I, of course, kept my feet firmly planted on the ground and walked around at the base of the tower instead.

As a self-proclaimed anti-touristy person, the cliffs are definitely worth seeing despite the crowds you will encounter. Just be careful on the trails and take care when being “daring.” Especially in today’s “selfie culture,” people often don’t pay close enough attention when attempting to get the perfect shot. I assure you, there are several places that are very safe and offer amazing pictures.

I was at the cliffs roughly a year ago, and I learned so much more about everything the cliffs have to offer, but you’ll have to come back when I do a series on that trip. As a teaser, I did run across a picture of me in 1997 that is in nearly the same spot where one of my co-workers took a picture of me in 2019.


The rest of the blog posts in this series: 

The Gift that Launched A Thousand Trips

Dublin: love at first sight

Powerscourt: Surprised by Beauty

Glendalough: My First Love

Waterford: More than Crystal

Blarney: Everything but Kissing the Stone

Kenmare and the Ring of Beara

From the Disappointing to the Magnificent

 

From the Disappointing to the Magnificent

In recent days the world has seemed to turn upside down, and it has been very steadying to look through wonderful memories of a simpler time when I was in Ireland shortly after graduating high school. So despite the unsettled nature of the world right now, I shall press on in my remembrances.


After leaving the beauty of Kenmare (read more about that here), we headed to Killarney despite the warnings from our host in Kenmare. She told my parents when we were talking about our next stop that Killarney was nothing but “tour busses and plastic leprechauns.” And though I don’t recall seeing any plastic leprechauns while we were there, she was right about the tour busses. However, that was pretty much everywhere in Ireland.

However, that was not where our disappointment came from in Killarney. We were scheduled to take a tour by horse cart and then have a boat ride. However, due to circumstances that I don’t remember, we were late getting to Killarney. A cart driver offered to take us to catch up with the group for an extra £10 (again remember this was several years before the Euro was introduced in Ireland). This frustrated my father beyond measure, and we decided to explore on our own.

We walked to Ross Castle ourselves (where the cart would have taken us), and it was a lovely walk. Though the carts are nice (I rode in one last year when I went to Ireland for the third time), the walk does allow you to stop and enjoy the beautiful views at your leisure. I highly advise walking instead of taking the horse carts.

Ross Castle was very nice – it’s beautifully situated on the water. The castle itself, according to my 1997 journal, was nothing to look at, so we didn’t spend the extra money to go inside.  However, the surrounding area (part of Killarney National Park) is beautiful, wooded, and filled with wildlife.

Image result for ross castle

After coming back from the castle, we found our bed and breakfast, Cleevaun Country House. From what I can see, this B&B is no longer open or at the very least does not advertise on the internet. I couldn’t remember anything about the accommodations there, but my mother said she clearly remembered the mattress being so bad that when she and my father laid down on it, they actually rolled to the middle in what she humorously called “a gully.”

We had dinner at a restaurant that was recommended to us by the host of the B&B.  It overlooked the bay and shore. Though I tried to look for it online, I couldn’t remember enough about it to find it. Shame on me for not realizing I would want to write about it over 22 years later.

After dinner we went adventuring and searched for a place that the owner of our Kenmare B&B, Sallyport House, told us about.  From what I remember, she thought was the most beautiful coast line in Ireland – Slea Head. And so we took her word for it, and went to find it.

It. Was. Magnificent.

This is a terrible picture I took of my parents on the beach. Ah the days of film cameras that didn’t show you the image when you took it! 🙂 

The cliffs were stunning and the sound of the water on the rocks is a sound that I can still hear in my mind today. Dramatic and beautiful. We were there at dusk, so many of the pictures didn’t turn out very well. However, the cliffs were truly stunning. We walked down to the small beach at the base of the cliffs, and walked around for as long as we could until it started to get dark.

I wrote this in my journal later that night:

“You look one way and there was the ocean, with waves crashing up against he cliffs. The water was so clear and clean – totally unmarked by humanity.  Then you look the other way and as far as you can see are little green squares covered in the white dots of sheep and cows. It is so green and so wonderful. I never wanted to leave.”

I have yet to go back to Slea Head in my subsequent adventures to Ireland, but I do hope to go back some day. I know we were close last year when we were in Killarney, but due to the news we got the morning we woke-up there, I was hardly in a position to pay attention to the roads we were passing. For those of you who haven’t been reading this blog long, you can read about my 2018 experience in Ireland here. The trip in general was wonderful, but the morning in Killarney was one of the most difficult days I’ve experienced.

Next week I’ll be writing about our trip to the Cliffs of Moher… both times. 😁


Other posts in this series

The Gift that Launched A Thousand Trips

Dublin: love at first sight

Powerscourt: Surprised by Beauty

Glendalough: My First Love

Waterford: More than Crystal

Blarney: Everything but Kissing the Stone

Kenmare and the Ring of Beara

Waterford: More than Crystal

On our two week trek around Ireland, we found many interesting sites both planned, like Dublin, and unplanned, like Powerscourt. And after the “high” of Glendalough, I didn’t know if our trip could get much better, and we’d been in Ireland less than a week.

The 1997 tourism map for Waterford

The next stop on our trip was scheduled to be Waterford. We actually spent the night there the evening we left Glendalough. Our accommodations for the night were Diamond Hill Inn (now Diamond Hill Country House). I honestly remember nothing of this bed and breakfast, so I’m sure it was not terrible, but not as memorable as some of the other places we stayed.

That evening we didn’t get much of a chance to explore other than eating dinner. In my journal I wrote about how nice the restaurant was, but since the idea of public journaling (essentially what blogging is) was not even a glint in my eye in 1997, I didn’t anticipate ever wanting to know the name of the restaurant again. Consequently, though the food was amazing, all I know is that it was somewhere in Waterford.

The next morning we hopped over to the Waterford Crystal Factory.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Waterford Crystal is internationally famous for their plethora of famous additions to our culture. Probably the most notable item to the majority of people would be that Waterford Crystal makes the “ball” that drops in New York City on New Year’s Eve. However, they are also responsible for chandeliers in some amazing places like Windsor Castle (London, England) and the Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.). Waterford Crystal also makes everything from paper weights and vases to the statues for the People’s Choice Award winners.

We spent about two hours at the factory going on a tour and then ogling the showroom where you can buy things for between (at the time) £4 to £10,000 — side note: Ireland didn’t change to the Euro for another four and a half years. We had a lovely time, and even teenage me didn’t mind touring the crystal factory where you get to see all kinds of methods for shaping and engraving the crystal. It was actually quite fascinating. I highly suggest taking a tour and checking out the showroom and all of the beautiful things you could never possibly afford, and then buying something a bit more modest.

Waterford has much to offer. For one, it is the oldest city in Ireland. According to Ireland’s tourism website, the Vikings developed a settlement there over a thousand years ago. However, my cousin Tom would insist here that I clarify the term. “Viking” was originally a verb – to travel or to be a part of a traveling expedition. The term was then applied as a noun meaning people from Scandinavia who went viking. (How’d I do, Tom?)

Nevertheless, Waterford got it’s name from Old Norse Veðrafjǫrðr, which means “ram fjord”. However, the native Irish eventually took the city back, and then eventually the British wanted to stake their claim as well. It is a beautiful place with a wonderful port that is well situated to defend, so it is no wonder it was a contested location.

After we left Waterford, we traveled south and west to Dungarvan, another beautiful costal city.

The wind and rain pelted us as we got out to look at the beautiful St. Mary’s Church of Ireland. The ocean was dark blue and incredibly intimidating as the waves crashed long the stone wall around the church. As I would later realize was a common theme in much of Ireland, Dungarvan was both beautiful and intimidating.

After a quick look at names on tombstones, we hopped back into the car and drove a bit further west to a town called Youghal. Also a port city, Youghal was also commandeered by the Scandinavians as a base when they would go on raids along the south coast of Ireland.

My favorite thing about Youghal was the pub where we ate. I checked online just before  writing this, the pub still exists – Moby Dick’s

Photo courtesy of Youghal’s tourism website

It was a cold and rainy day and we had quite a bit of fun there because the pub owner was trying to have a conversation with my father, and my dad simply could not understand his accent. Though, I’m sure time has rounded the edges of my memory, I remember a conversation something similar to this:

(something unintelligible from the owner)

Dad: I’m sorry, what was that again?

Owner: What language do ya speak?

Dad: English. American English.

Owner: (laughing) Well, ya haven’ a prayer of understandin’ me then, have ya!

We all laughed, and somehow conversation became a bit easier – perhaps the owner knew to talk slower and louder for our benefit. We had a glorious meal, and the sun came out for us for a while so that we could walk along the port and see the vessels in the harbor.

After leaving Youghal we continued to drive and came upon some very typical Ireland- beautiful vistas, sheep, and even peat marshes!

Since the road was completely blocked with sheep, we stopped and the sheep parted around us, jumping and baa-ing loudly. It was hilarious!

This was all-in-all a lovely day trip. It was only two hours of driving between Waterford and Blarney where we ended up staying that night– but you’ll have to wait until next week for the blarney on Blarney! 😁

 

Other posts for this trip:

The Gift that Launched A Thousand Trips

Dublin: love at first sight

Powerscourt: Surprised by Beauty

Glendalough: My First Love

Glendalough: My First Love

Ireland just kept getting better.

I saw Dublin and I liked it there quite a bit.

I saw the Powerscourt Estate and loved it.

And then we found Glendalough, and I can honestly say that it changed my life. Up until that point, Ireland had been a wonderful adventure, and after Glendalough, Ireland was a glorious adventure. But in Glendalough I felt something I don’t fully know how to explain. I suddenly, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was were I was supposed to be— like my soul belonged there. I wrote about that a little bit in a blog I did last year. called “I found my soul’s home in Glendalough.”

That day when we found Glendalough, we crossed a little wooden footbridge into the ruins of a graveyard and a church.

Mom and me standing on the footbridge looking into Glendalough

At the time we were searching for the unknowns of our family lineage, and my parents scoured graveyards looking for headstones with our surname.

While they did that, I walked a little ways away and found a large rock next to one of the lakes (or loughs) that gave Glendalough its name. I sat and wrote in my journal until I couldn’t stay any longer.

In my journal I wrote, “I hope someday I can come back here and sit and write as long as I want. Perhaps I will never go back home and I will find a place here, in the mountains, that will be my new home.”

The place is positively beautiful. There are woods and trails, lakes and streams, and so much green, I could not believe there were that many shades of a color I thought I knew. There is nothing particularly “touristy” about Glendalough, other than its beauty and possibly St. Kevin’s cross.

 

In front of Saint Kevin’s cross

There is some fascinating history surrounding the place, but when we were there in 1997, I didn’t know any of that. I didn’t have a tour guide or a brochure to tell me of the historical beauty of that space on the globe that suddenly had captivated me in a way I couldn’t express at the time.

The picture I would stare at endlessly to remember that day

The mountains and the lough

In my travels both domestic and abroad I have enjoyed my time and relished in the opportunities that I’ve had to be able to travel to interesting places. However, I have never felt such a strong pull to any place like I felt in Glendalough. Intrigued by my pull to that place specifically, I did some digging in recent years, as much as I could, into the genealogy of my family try to find out if there was some rationale… if truly I felt pulled there because my family was from there. Alas, in all my research the only ties to Ireland I found were in the north of Ireland, nowhere near Glendalough.

However, over the next 19 years I would think about that place often and recognize it in movies – you can’t mistake the glorious slope of the Wicklow Mountains over the wide, reflective lake. And I did go back in 2016 (My Take-Back Year (and a half)), and though I didn’t get to spend the amount of time I’d wanted to on the banks of the lough, it was enough to fuel my spirit on. On my most recent trip back to Ireland, we did not get to Glendalough, but I did find solace for a wounded spirit in Blarney, where next week’s post will take us.

Dublin: love at first sight

In June of 1997 I graduated from high school, and in July of 1997 I was on a plane bound for Dublin, Ireland.  While my friends back home were listening to Hansen, Verve, Oasis, and Chumbawamba, I was on the trip that would shoot my life on a distinct trajectory of wanderlust – specifically to Ireland. Last week I wrote briefly about the gift, and you can read about that here.

As a side note, please forgive the lack of decent photographs. It was 1997 after all, and all I have are the printed photographs that have faded and yellowed with age. Many of them are in a scrapbook that I started years ago, and you’ll see the edges of the things I wrote in the scrapbook along with my very terrible attempt at being crafty.

The first few days of our two week trip had us stationed just north of Dublin in a lovely bed and breakfast called Belcamp-Hutchinson. To the best of my knowledge, the B&B no longer operates. There weren’t any websites about it with updates since 2006 – so I think it’s safe to say that it is no longer operational. And that is truly unfortunate! The owner, Dorene, was a very kind woman who truly seemed to love her job as hostess, guide, and cook! While we were there (two nights) we had lovely breakfasts of fresh fruit, granola, and yogurt. She also served hot items, but my 18 year-old self was not particularly adventurous when it came to eating things I couldn’t easily identify.

Our first place to visit was Malahide Castle, and it was a lovely day, in the mid-sixties, and for the Irish, that was apparently a heatwave because people were out in droves. While back home we would have considered that a little on the chilly side, there where people on the beach and even swimming in the Irish Sea. The castle was quite beautiful, though I don’t remember much about it now. I don’t think we went inside, but the grounds were full of people walking around and lounging in the grass.

Next we took the bus into Dublin city where I got my first glimpse of the city I would come to love above all others. And there were probably two places that sealed the deal in my mind.

Trinity College

Situated right in the middle of Dublin is Trinity College, and it was postively the coolest thing I had ever seen before. Dublin was loud and crowded, but once we walked through the gate, the city vanished behind the great stone walls of the college. It was so beautiful and peaceful, I couldn’t believe we were still in the city.

I didn’t remember this, but when I looked back on the journal that I wrote while we were there, I learned that we were there during their graduation ceremonies. Because of this, we weren’t allowed everywhere, but because the college is such a tourist attraction for the city, they don’t close it down completely, even for commencement. We walked around the grounds for a while and saw some of the wonderfully iconic buildings.

And of course we went and saw the Book of Kells. As an adult I can appreciate the historical and religious significance, but I was surprised that when I read back through my journal that I was even impressed with its history back then. No photography is allowed, so I didn’t have any pictures to look back on, but I wrote extensively in my journal about the intricacies of the book.

For those who don’t know, the Book of Kells was compiled in the 9th century by Catholic monks, and is a hand penned copy of the four Gospels of the New Testament. However, they are so much more. Each book was copied down letter by letter (to avoid accidental alteration of the text), and it was also intricately illustrated by the monks as well.

Close by the Book of Kells is the Long Room Library, and of course I was in heaven there. The book nerd in me was fascinated by the floor to (very high) ceiling book cases that contained books that I was forbidden to touch. What is it about the forbidden that is so enticing?

St. Stephen’s Green

Cities are known for their parks, and though some cities may have grander parks that St. Stephen’s Green, I had not seen anything I loved quite so much as that beautiful bit of green and colorful flowers in the middle of Dublin. It truly isn’t much to speak of, but sometimes simplicity is all you need to enjoy something. Much like Trinity College, once you got within the walls of the park, the city seemed to fade away.

There were short trails over rocky terrain, creeks, ponds, ducks, and swans. There were fountains, sun, and shade. My heart felt full as we walked around enjoying the day along with native Dubliner’s, and I even caught a glimpse of the statue of the famous Oscar Wilde. Though I was surprisingly ignorant of who he was for someone who a few short months later would declare herself an English teaching major, I enjoyed his cocky smile and semi-recumbent statue that lounged on the outer edge of the park.

After leaving the oasis of St. Stephens, we did what most tourists do (and I advocate it for people in a new city), we got on a hop-on-hop-off bus that tours the city. We saw a huge section of the city that would have been impossible to traverse on foot in one day, and we had the expert knowledge of the bus’ tour guide to tell us all about the history of the city.

We passed through Phoenix Park and saw some of their legendary deer.

We also went by Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

And we even passed by the statue of Molly Malone, “the tart with the cart” as our guide called her. Constructed as a tribute to the famous Irish ballad that goes, in part:

In Dublin’s fair city
Where the girls are so pretty
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through the streets broad and narrow
Crying “cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh”

My dad got quite a kick out of that, as did several people on the bus trip.

We finished out our day touring the area around Grafton Street, which is shopping area where the streets are closed off to cars.  As a result, pedestrians, street performers, and flower girls all converge around some very high-end stores to make up a strange montage of elegance and commonplace.

 

Next week I will take you on the journey of the next few days of our trip: Powerscourt and Glendalough!


To read up on my trip to Italy and Greece, read these posts:

The Gift that Launched A Thousand Trips

atlas close up dark dirty

Photo by Aaditya Arora on Pexels.com

I am obsessed with traveling. I know this about myself, and people often point it out to me. I will see someone that I haven’t seen in a while, and often their first question is something like “So, where was your last adventure?” or “Where are you headed next?”

Sometimes people ask why I love to travel so much, and it makes me stop and think. I’d just kind of assumed that everyone had the same cravings to go and do and explore like I have. However, I’ve learned over the years that isn’t true. Some people hoard and save their money for things other than airplane tickets and Airbnb stays. Who knew!?

My family has traveled since I was a kid. I remember trips to Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, New England, and abroad as far back as the third grade (and maybe we traveled before then and I just don’t remember). And I look back on those trips with very fond memories.

However, the trip that really solidified my love of traveling was my high school graduation gift from my parents. They told me that I could pick anywhere in the world that I wanted to go, and we would all go there. To this day, I have no idea where they thought I would pick– maybe Australia (because I’d been obsessed with Australia since my childhood babysitter went there), or New Zealand (to visit a former foreign exchange student). But I do think they were shocked when I told them that of all of the places in the entire world, I wanted to go to Ireland– the land of my ancestors to see if we couldn’t hunt down a tombstone with our family name on it (this was before ancestry.com and the internet being useful for anything other than chat rooms).

So, for the next several weeks I am going to reminisce about the trip that launched a thousand trips (give or take)– my first trip to Ireland in the summer of 1997. I dug out my old journal from the trip, and I’ve plotted out the story of discovering where my soul resides to this day: Ireland.

The true challenge will be getting good pictures– so bear with me as I dig through 23 year old photos that were taken on actual film and probably printed out by a teenager at the one-hour photoshop.

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Glendalough, Ireland 2016

The Light and Dark of Athens

Athens was a bittersweet day and a half for our tour. We had a wonderful time exploring the many beautiful things in the city — too many to name in one post, truly. The city is magnificent, but with the magnificent comes the harsh realties of heavily tourist filled cities… thieves.

Our first evening in Athens was very lovely in many ways. One of the wonderful things about Europe that I wish we would embrace here in the US is the delicious tradition of gelato. Yes, we can get it at the grocery store, but in Italy, Greece, and even Ireland (which will be the topic of my next series) had gelato nearly at every turn! Without fail, in every city in Italy and Greece, gelato was a part of the day. In Athens we went to a lovely little “gelateria” called DaVinci’s where we got the most delectable gelato of the entire trip… so of course I took a picture of it!

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I had no shame as I enjoyed every last morsel of this gelato, that I thought might be my very last of the trip (I was wrong, but for less than great reasons– you’ll find out about that next week).

After the gelato, Raquel took us to a very scenic look at the Acropolis by night. We walked and we walked and we walked… at Raquel’s lightning pace, by the way, and it was too much for a few of our number. As chaperone, I stayed back with the stragglers, so I didn’t get to see it in all of it’s glory by night, but I did snap a quick (albeit blurry) photo from where I had to stop. And even though I didn’t get to see the “amazing view” – what I saw was beautiful enough!

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And though I felt very safe walking around at night in Athens, the subway was an entirely different beast. We stayed close together and attempted to watch out for each other, but at some point, one of the gentlemen in our group who insisted on keeping his wallet in the cargo pocket of his shorts (despite being told multiple times not to), lost about 300€, but was fortunate enough to keep the vital things, like credit cards, ID, and passport. It was a frustrating experience, yes, but a lesson well learned to listen when Raquel tells you not to do something!

The next morning we took a tour of the city, starting with the cite of the first modern Olympics, the Panathenaic Stadium.

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The Panathenaic Stadium is very impressive, especially when you realize that it has (in some form) existed since the fourth century! Made entirely of marble, it’s amazing that it went largely unused after Christianity rose to power. It wasn’t until the modern Olympic Games came back in the late 1800s that the stadium was excavated and renovated.  Many events happen here even today — a classic marathon takes place every year, and the final hand-off in Greece of the Olympic torch happens here.

Back on the bus we passed many more impressive sites, but I wish we would have been able to get out and walk around a bit more. However, the purpose of the trip was to get a survey of both Italy and Greece in an eight day time frame, which simply does not leave time to walk around Athens for days and days. Photos out the window of a bus don’t come out very clearly, but I did get a relatively nice picture of Hadrian’s Arch. Hadrian is everywhere in Italy and Greece– he was kind of a big deal. Our guide, Raquel told us that the gate was a divider between old and new Athens.

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Then we moved on to the Acropolis, which was breathtakingly historical. SO many things contributed to my love of it, but I simply could not stop thinking about how people from a time so long ago walked where I was walking. I even took a picture of my shoe after walking around in the Acropolis just so I could remember the dust of the Acropolis was on my feet at one time.

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I know it’s a little silly, but I probably sat and looked at that dust for a full minute pondering the mass of humanity who had been there before me.

Pictured below is the gate that you have to walk through to get to the Acropolis.  There is exactly one way in and out, and this was the way it was originally constructed for security purposes. I find that fascinating that they worried about security even back then. Obviously we have different means of hurting people now, they still needed to think about how to make the place safe even way back then.

The most identifiable structure is the Parthenon (pictured below). And it is very beautiful. It was under construction while we were there as they struggle against nature and time to keep the structure a semblance of what it once was.

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However, the portion of the Acropolis that fascinated me the most was the Temple of Athena. The sculptures were so beautiful, and the history of the people of Athens and the myth of Athena is just so interesting to me. There is even an olive tree there that is said to have been planted by Athena for the people of Athens. IMG_8797IMG_8798IMG_8799

Here are some of the views from the Acropolis:

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The ruins of the Temple of Zeus

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Another cite, just outside of the Acropolis, was where it is said that Paul first preached the gospel in Greece. He was atop a large rock, situated so that everyone entering and exiting the Acropolis would have heard him. You could go up on the top of it, but I found it more interesting to stand and look up at the people and imagine what it would have been like to listen to Paul. What did he sound like? Did people listen or dismiss him as a lunatic? I stood there for quite some time and tried to soak it all in.

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Later that night, we were once again reminded of the frustrations of traveling. On our way back to the hotel, one of men in our group was robbed on the subway in a classic trick. Someone pretended to fall just as the subway approached a stop, and has he tried to help her, someone else cut the string on his passport lanyard (that he was wearing under his clothes), and got away with his passport, wallet, and money just as the doors were opening. It created a huge headache that included him having to file a police report that evening and then making a trip to the American Embassy the next morning… which should have been a problem because we were supposed to leave the next day. Alas, due to an airline strike, our flight was canceled, which resulted in relief and anxiety for different reasons.

That evening we spent wondering what would become of us the next day instead of our flight, but we were greatly distracted by a night of Greek food, singing and dancing while Raquel tried to find suitable activities for us to do the following day, which you can read about next week!

 

The Oracle at Delphi

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The Oracle’s view of Delphi

Situated beautifully between the mountains and the ocean, Delphi was once considered the center of the known world by the Ancient Greeks. (Pronounced delf-ee not delf-eye like the town in Indiana) People from all over the world would come here for trade, information, and the wisdom of the Oracle.

Legend has it that Zeus sent two eagles from either end of the world, and where they crossed each other was the center of the earth. That was Delphi, or Δελφοί. Often called “the navel” of the world because of the stone that marked the exact center of what the Greeks knew as the world.

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In ancient times, Delphi was known to be the seat of the Oracle. People would ask the Oracle a question, and after pondering it, she would give an answer that would be interpreted by the priests. The Oracle was always a woman with an “unblemished past.”  She was kept in a crevice where “vapors” would give her wisdom. We now know that the oracle was breathing in hallucinogenic gasses — so basically she was high.

Delphi is also home to the temple of Apollo. It now lies in ruin, like many ancient temples. But even more so, Delphi is located over two tectonic plates (source of future-telling psychedelic happy vapors) and was rebuilt several times before the site was abandoned as having lost its religious significance (largely after the rise of Christianity). People then stopped coming to Delphi.

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It’s built on a hill, of course, and after climbing most (not all) of the stairs, I took this picture of the temple (entrance on the left) and the amazing scenery surrounding it all. Honestly, I do not understand why people left Greece. I supposed, you know… population stuff… but really! Why would you leave this place? It is beautiful!

Here is the view from the opposite direction:

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Pay attention to the people at the bottom of the picture to give reference to the size of the cliffs.

Also, the amphitheater (which is not accessible to the masses for preservation sake)

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The man was painstakingly attempting to keep nature at bay by weeding the amphitheater

And the Athenian Treasury building – the only building that still stands in some semblance of wholeness. But you can see the places that are much newer where there was an attempt to keep it upright.

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This was a beautiful day! The weather was just right – and we enjoyed the outdoors as well as the museum close by with more of the relics and artifacts from the area.

Next week’s blog post will be our first day in Athens!

 

Now for a Break from the Normal Programing: 2019 in Review

Credit to my fellow blogger, WriterInSoul, for inspiring me with her own year in review post. I’m usually a travel blogger, so I wondered if anyone would even be interested in a year in review kind of thing, but this type of writing can often be therapeutic, in a way. And this year has definitely been a year of highs and lows. I know that a years have ups and downs– and I have had much lower lows than I did this year, but I think the whiplash of sudden change from so good to terrible in an instant is often more unsettling to the soul than a long period of turmoil.

Twenty nineteen was a year of extremes.

The year started off very well. On the 5th of January I drove to surprise a friend with a meet up for her birthday. Rachel and I were roommates in college, and she was passing through the hometown of one of our other friends, Jana, on her way home (northern Illinois) from her hometown (Memphis, Tennessee). So Jana called and asked if I could show up and surprise her when they met for ice cream.

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He is one of the greatest men I know. Though he is not perfect, he and his wife are both the epitome of caring and giving people. Whenever I come to central Illinois, I am welcome to stay at their house on a moments notice. Like that night, I simply buzzed by on my way out of town for an hour or so of chit chat.

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In March I went on a wonderful spring break trip with students to Ireland (my favorite place in all of the world), and we had a amazing trip! Everything went right, the weather was amazing, the traveling from place to place went smoothly, and we were able to have some of the most amazing experiences ever! I got to hold a sheep!

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But less than 24 hours after this picture was taken, the lead chaperone, my dear friend Chase, got word that a former graduate had died by suicide. I write at length about that experience here, but I will write here that the death shook me to the depths of my being. “Bear,” as everyone called him, had been in my creative writing class the year before.  He was nearly always smiling, and when he wasn’t it was because he was angry that someone had mistreated someone else.  He was a self-proclaimed defender of the weak.

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Bear with his ‘Life on a Cardboard Box’ project. “Get it, Pdise? I misspelled ‘brawn.’ It’s funny!”

He rarely wrote seriously, always the clown, but when he did share his heart, he wrote about the death of his brother and how that changed him and left him heartbroken many years later. We’d talked about mental health and how he just wanted to make people’s days better so they would have a reason to smile.

An hour after we got the news, we were off to a new place to see and experience. I didn’t know how to handle the whiplash. I cried much of the day, and avoided people as much as I could (which is not easy when you’re the chaperone of a group of students), but as I mentioned in the blog post I linked earlier, the grounds at Blarney Castle gave me the solitude I needed.

When we returned to the states, there was the funeral to go to. I didn’t stop crying until well after I returned home. And even now, I feel some level of guilt that he didn’t know how much we would all mourn his loss.

Summer followed quickly, and with it the end of the school year. My summers are usually pretty tame, and I try to soak up as much time with my son as I can. I did a lot of reading, and went to several open mic nights where my uncle and cousin played and sang.

I also got a roommate over the summer, Nina, a former student who wanted to break out on her own, but with a little support. She’s been a blessing to our family now that my son gets on the bus by himself now rather than going to my parents’ house in the mornings. And she’s a great buddy for when my now teenager would rather keep to himself than hang-out with his boring mom. It has made that transition much easier for this mom, that’s for sure!

Nina and me as we try out “lip masks” for the first time – do not recommend!

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and this year, my heart was heavier than usual as I walked in the Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention fundraiser. With Bear’s death on my mind as well as the other losses to suicide the school had faced, I felt like I moved a little slower. But I walked with a glorious friend, Amber, and her daughter who made the walk easier. We talked about all kinds of things, and they lightened my load. A day that could have been easily one of the hardest I’d had in a few months, had a positive spin to it, and I left the walk feeling much better than I thought I would.

The group that walked this year from Cascade High School

Just a few weeks later I got a text message from Chase, the chaperone who’d broken the news of Bear’s death to me just a few months ago.

“Call me” it said.

I was busy getting ready for work, and I was a little annoyed that she didn’t just text me with whatever she had to say. So I finished my hair and pushed the button on my phone to call her on speaker while I put on my shoes.

She was crying when she answered the phone, and my gut sank. I knew that someone was hurt or dead, and my mind whirled wondering who it could be and how bad it could be.

Nothing prepared me for her words. “Dylan is dead.” And again, my mind searched for meaning in this sentence. Dylan who? How did he die? Was it a car accident? But she was crying too hard to answer my questions. But I knew who it was. I just didn’t want to know. And just like that, in less than a year, we’d lost two former students to suicide. And this one was not only a student, but the son of a co-worker – the woman I’d walked with at the Out of the Darkness walk.

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I’m not entirely sure how I drove to school that day, only that it was through tears. And I’m not entirely sure how I told my first period class the news (the administration wanted to students to hear it from a person, not the PA system – which is a good call, just hard), only that it was though tears. And this time there was no Blarney Castle to clear my mind. I taught all day, I coached the Spell Bowl team (some of them crying on the bus) to win the county meet, and went home to be a single-mom. It wasn’t until bedtime that I was able to sit and try to process it all. Being truthful, I don’t know that I have completely processed it yet. I’d never had Dylan in class, but I knew him very well – he was an outgoing kid who loved to help others, he’d gone on the Italy/Greece spring break trip with us, I’d helped him edit papers for his English class, and he was the child of a co-worker and friend. So I knew him better than the teacher/student relationship.

It has never ceased to amazing me how the world can simply upend itself with one phone call. A few brief words and the trajectory of life is completely altered. That day was one of those days. And the haze of the next few weeks is honestly hard for me to remember. Hugging crying students, co-workers, sitting on the floor in the hallway talking to a student about how to keep moving when life feels so heavy.

And the year kept going up and down. My best friend had a miracle baby. My other best friend had a stroke and was in the hospital in Chicagoland for weeks and I couldn’t go see her. I felt like a failure as a friend because she needed people to help her, and I couldn’t make it up to her when she needed me the most. Up – down – up – down.

November and NaNoWriMo came along with tons of students who wanted to write novels with me. My 41st birthday. The end of the semester, and finally Christmas.

So much up and so much down.

But the big lesson I’ve learned this year is to make sure the people I love know that they are loved. I’ve learned I need to check-in with people with more than the often trite “How are you?” Also, I’ve learned that it is very important to take care of myself- to do things that are good for me physically and mentally.

Over the last calendar year I’ve lost 30 lbs and done my best to get more in touch with who I am and focus less on what I do not have. I have become less downtrodden over my seemingly terminal singleness, and realizing what being single can allow me to do: travel selfishly, invite people to live in my little home, and be available for people easier than if I had to take someone else’s wishes and calendar in mind.

Thank you to all who have been a positive influence in my life these last twelve months. I appreciate your encouragement, your mentorship, and friendship even though I am not the best when it comes to returning phone calls. 🙂

I anxiously await what I have to learn in twenty-twenty.