Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Needed: Goals

"It takes action to achieve excellence - deliberate, careful, relenteless action.  There are no shortcuts to quality."

Before we left on our trip to Ireland I'd been read a wonderful little book titled, "The Pursuit of Excellence" by Ted W. Engstrom.  I am now rereading it because I feel like I got so much out of it the first time around, and I know there's more I could soak up.  If you've been with my blog from the beginning, or even just read the "About" section, you'll know why I wrote this blog and you'll understand why I'm loving this book.  Decision making has definitely not been my strong point, but it's something I want to get better at doing - this excerpt from the book is exactly what I need:
"There are so many things to do.  How can I possibly decide what is really important for me and my life?  How can I be sure that what I choose to do is what I really ought to do?
Perhaps the simplest advice to you who face this dilemma is Do something. Choose a goal and work toward it.  Later you may modify it, expand it, or even eventually abandon it for a better one."

His book is obviously focused on excellence, but there have been so many little nuggets of wisdom that you can apply to life.  It's a tiny book, and less than 100 pages so you can easily read a chapter in about 5 minutes and I love starting my day some wisdom and Godly guidance.  It's so easy, as I've said before, to just float through life, but "that which is easy and non-demanding is seldom truly fulfilling."  I especially struggle with how my love of travel can relate to, and strengthen, my Christian walk.  How can my pursuit of traveling the world mesh with my pursuit of a Godly life?  Plus, sometimes I feel guilty for the amount of money I spend on travel, knowing how much good missionaries could do with the money - not to mention when I travel and it's NOT a missions trip specifically.  While the book doesn't necessarily speak to that specifically, I do think that personal excellence is a chance to worship God, because as my Pastor has stressed, worship is life. I'll leave you with this small bit of wisdom, which also happens to be a pretty good summary of the book:
"Now is the time to develop new habits, new goals, and new perspectives that will give your life a quality that will bring honor to the God who loved you so much that He gave His life for you."

excellence (noun)

1.  the fact or state of excelling; superiority; eminence
2. an excellent quality or feature

Friday, July 17, 2015

A Fairly Fabulous Friday

After our night at Anna Marie's house we headed south-east with our first stop being Cahir Castle (it's pronounced "care").  It was a very nice castle, not too big and not too small, plus it was on the water.  The staff were very helpful and informative as well.
Once the stronghold of the powerful Butler family, the castle retains its impressive keep, tower, and much of its original defensive structure. It is one of Ireland's largest and best preserved castles. It is situated on a rocky island on the River Suir. 
From there we hopped back into Sioban and were on the road for Kilkenny Castle. Kilkenny was a lovely town and the castle there was impeccable, quite possibly my favorite.  It has existed for over eight centuries, so with the many additions and alterations it has plenty of architectural variety.  They also have a huge park surrounding the castle, complete with a wall and gates!

 The castle has been refurbished in a faithful recreation of the furnishing style of the 1800's.  Sadly, we weren't able to take any photos inside.  They were able to exactly replicate or reuse a stunning amount of original materials, I found it all very impressive.  They found a fabric remnant behind a skirting board and the French silk poplin on the was was able to be reproduced in its original pattern and color by a firm in France.  They even found the original receipt for the carpet in the library, and they were able to trace the original company who had retained the design records!

For lunch we stumbled upon a place called Uncle Sam's.  They made the pizza fresh, in front of you, and the pizza maker had an Italian accent :)  Excellent pizza, so I would definitely recommend a visit (and according to TripAdvisor they also have great burgers and chips).  After our pizza we headed back through castle's park and then we were off to Waterford for a visit to the SS Dunbrody Emigrant Ship: "a unique insight into the bravery and fortitude with which Irish people faced up to a desperate situation".
an authentic reproduction of an 1840’s emigrant vessel

Our tour guide Jason was really funny and made the tour very enjoyable, despite the sad information we'd come to learn.  It was a bit disheartening to see the conditions these people endured and to hear the stories that forced them into such a situation.  Many were basically kicked off the island and put on a ship by the owners of the land they farmed.  Most of them had never seen the ocean, nor heard of "America" and had no other choice but to leave.  "In 1845 potato blight killed the staple crop of the Irish tenant farmers. This economic blow was exacerbated by the disinterest, and outright hostility, towards Ireland by British politicians. Due to the inaction of Westminster, famine ensued. Within seven years, 1 million people had died and 1.5 million had emigrated. A new pattern of mass emigration was in place, and would continue for a century and a half."  Because JFK was the son of Irish immigrants, and Wexford County is where his family came from (you can also visit their former homestead), they love him here: his picture is all over the place, as is a life-size statue of him.

In addition to the ship tour they also have the Irish America Hall of Fame; since the attraction is located in Wexford County where JFK's family came from (he also visited), it seems fitting. "The Hall of Fame commemorates the critical contribution of Irish men and women to US history, as well as acknowledging the continuing contribution of contemporary Irish-Americans. Each year the Hall of Fame inducts new members; most recently Donald Keough, Michael Flatley and Maureen O'Hare."

After checking into our hostel in Waterford we wanted to find another activity, but apparently there's nothing to do in Waterford (or if there was, we didn't find it).  We walked around town a bit and then ended up in Aldi.  Call us crazy, but we kind of enjoyed our trip to the grocery store.  We bought Jive candy bars (they're kind of like a Twix), and I even found an off-brand of Weet-Bix (I was incredibly excited about that - I ate a similar breakfast cereal in Australia all the time).
Canned Hot Dogs, is that really what they think we eat?!
 We also got this fruit smoothie, it was incredible and we were both saddened that our Aldi back home doesn't carry such a treat.  We took our purchases down to the river and sat on a bench in the sun.  Some local kiddos were sitting not far from us and surely thought we were crazy - with our random purchases drinking smoothie from the carton...

Emigrate (verb – used without object)

1.  to leave one country or region to settle in another; migrate:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A bunch of blarney, I mean baloney...

Thursday dawned a bit dreary, which, considering our present location on the globe, was hardly surprising.  Although not surprising, it did not make it any more welcome.  Our first stop of the day was the world famous Blarney Castle.  As we arrived the sun was deceptive and misleading, and assuming it would come out I made a poor wardrobe choice.  As many of you know, I am not a fan of shoes, so I wore my Sanuk Sidewalk Surfers (Sanuk is Thai for "fun").
They are the closest shoe to not wearing shoes I have ever found, and their tag line is "They're not shoes, they're sandals" - so it's pretty accurate advertising from my point of view.  Possibly the best shoe purchase I've ever made, but anyway, enough on my love of Sanuks. Shortly after our entrance into the castle grounds it started to mist a bit, and eventually to rain.  We got some lovely photos of the outside and then decided we'd better go take our tour of the inside.

Your tour is basically just you waiting in line to get to the roof of the castle, where the Blarney Stone is located.  We made our trek up the tower and to the stone itself, which we did not kiss due to sanitary reasons (you should have seen the group of high school students in line in front of us), coupled with the rain; it was very disappointing to behold such a famous "stone".  To be honest, I feel as though it is a well concealed joke on the tourists. According to their brochure, "Its powers are unquestioned but its story still creates debate."  I guess Heather and I will never know if kissing the stone makes one grow eloquent, it was a risk we were both willing to take.
To kiss the stone you lie on your back and tilt your
head backwards, the gentleman in the corner of the
photo helps you.
 Personally, if kissing the Blarney Stone is on your bucket list, I would encourage you to re-think that one's presence on your list.  Despite the rain, there were some nice views from the roof, and I'm sure on a sunny day it's even more spectacular.  There are several gardens on the estate, including Ireland's only Poison Garden, so on a nice day there would be lots to see and do, as they also have several walks (some of which are over an hour long).
L: View from the castle roof.  R: Blarney House
 Blarney House, which is inhabited by the current owners of the castle & grounds, is incredibly lovely.  You can take a tour, but you have to pay extra and I didn't feel as though it would be as impressive inside (seeing as it is occupied).  In lieu of the tour we decided to head to the cafe to dry off a bit and wait out the rain burst.  We enjoyed some hot chocolate and a pastry in the stables (don't worry, the stables were unoccupied by animals).  I did get to try a scone with jam & cream, but it just didn't match the amazing ones I had with Lesley and the boys back in Adelaide.

We headed into Cork after finishing at Blarney, but couldn't seem to find any of the things on my list using our GPS.  I accidentally turned off the road down an alley that lead only into a parking garage, so despite the rain we decided to walk around and try to find some things on our own.  The Crawford Art Gallery was practically right next door (and was on my list of possible things to visit), so we did a quick walk through there and then got directions to the information center.  From there we visited the English Market (a roofed food market that has been trading since 1788; it is one of the oldest municipal markets of it’s kind in the world), and then attempted to find St. Fin Barre's Cathedral.  Unfortunately, we ended up at St. Fin Barre's church, which looks nothing like the cathedral.  By this point my feet were completely drenched and we were both hungry.  The woman at the information counter told us to visit Jack Lennox's chippy (I'd once again asked for a recommendation), she said it was famous in town and she claimed it was the best.  Not without issues, we found it and I got to try some fish 'n chips.  Although it was a crazy amount of chips (we would call them French Fries) the fish was pretty good.  Thankfully St. Finn Barre's Cathedral was nearby so we were able to visit (lack of food must have been clouding our directional skills - and mine are that good to begin with).  St. Fin Barre is the patron saint of Cork, and the site of the cathedral dates back tot he 7th century when a monastery was founded there.  The current cathedral was built in the 1860's, designed by William Burges, and interestingly, there are many links between Freemasonry and the cathedral (there is even a plaque in memory of the only Lady Freemason in Ireland).

We very much enjoyed our visit: Heather was incredibly impressed by the organ which has almost 4,000 pipes and is one of the biggest in Ireland, I loved that they had a mosaic floor made by craftsmen from Udine (a town very near where I lived in Italy - and I actually know a girl going to mosaic school there).  We killed some time wandering around town a bit (we tried to see a movie, but there wasn't anything playing that was interesting.  Our Irish AirBnB host Anne Marie was very nice, and we had a lovely little room.  We prepared a pretty good plan for our last two days, and the weather for the next day didn't call for any rain, so we crossed our fingers and went to bed.

blarney (noun)

1.  flattering or wheedling talk; cajolery.
2.  deceptive or misleading talk; nonsense; hooey

Read about Day 6 here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

By Car & By Boat

We had a delightful breakfast at The Maze Eatery on Wednesday morning.  Well, that might be overselling it a wee bit, but it was nice to go out for breakfast.  I had found a site, similar to Groupon, that had a 2 for 1 deal on a "Traditional Irish Breakfast" (which meant Heather only ate maybe 2 things on her plate.  I thought it was the perfect opportunity to try it out since our hotel didn't provide breakfast for us.
 An Irish breakfast generally consists of the following: ham, beans, eggs, hashbrowns, sausages, blood pudding & white pudding.  I will admit that the "pudding" threw me off because it is not of a pudding consistency at all - more like a potato patty!  I tried the white pudding,  but it was not tasty at all so I didn't bother with the blood pudding because I just couldn't imagine it tasting any better.  As I'm sure Heather will tell you later - Irish coffee was not our favorite part of the trip: it was always too bitter for our tastes.

Anyway, we headed out and had a lovely walk along the River Shannon, heading towards King John's Castle.  We didn't have time to visit the castle however, because we had booked a boat tour in Killarney and needed to be there by noon.  We were soon back on the road heading towards Killarney and Ross Castle. Our Killarney Lake Tour left from behind the castle, so although we were right there we decided not to pay to go inside, it was too small.  Heather mentioned, in passing that there was no way we'd find someone we knew here, I quickly informed her that, on the contrary, we were quite likely to find someone from our "neck of the woods".  That's just the nature of travel, and as the song goes, "It's a small world, after all."

Although the boat tour was not quite what I had in mind, it was half-price (I love a good deal) and was also a nice break from driving. Our captain was the quintessential Irish man, and I loved listening to him talk.
  As we left the boat, I asked him if there was a good fish n' chips shop in town (he'd told us he'd lived in town his whole life so I knew he'd know the best spot and I really wanted some good fish n' chips).  He said that indeed there was an excellent one, located on High Street, called Quinlins.  And with that we set off to see if we could find it.  The streets were packed and we couldn't find a spot to park, and hadn't noticed it while driving trying to find a spot either.  We decided we'd just start along the Ring of Kerry, since it was already after 1:30pm, and find somewhere to eat along the way.  Naturally, we set off in the wrong direction around the ring, so we had to go back through Killarney anyway.  We checked again, and ended up deciding a picnic would be the perfect choice; we'd find a little spot along our scenic route and enjoy our meal then.  Murphy's Law would dictate that after buying our picnic lunch we would find Quinlins.  While that wasn't exactly true, we did find all the parking lots that we missed the first few drives around town!

The drive was lovely, we started out in the section through Killarney national Park, and we eventually found a fantastic lunch spot.  I'm not sure if the next turn of events qualifies as Murphy's Law, I'll leave that up to your judgement, but it was certainly timely.  We were looking for a good spot to sit when a gentleman asked if we'd like our picture taken.  There was a lovely view (it seemed to be a regular stop for all the tour buses), and we certainly couldn't pass up the opportunity, so we told him that would be lovely.  He asked where we were from and we told him Pennsylvania.  Moments after he walked away another man came over and asked where exactly in PA we were from, since he'd over-heard us telling his driver our home state.  As it turns out, his son had graduated in April from the same school as Heather!  Not only that, but the driver had apparently driven the Rooney family around and was a huge Steeler's fan.  It truly is a small world.

Although we didn't have enough time to drive the entire Ring of Kerry (it's 179km or about 111 miles), the portion we did drive was beautiful.  The road is extremely narrow - tour buses are required to all travel in a counter-clockwise direction - so you definitely had to be alert, so as not to get run over by one coming around a blind corner.  We also had some near run-ins with some sheep - but all-in-all it was great.

Heather did mention at one point that I drive like Paul Walker around all the curves, but I think that was just the difference between being a driver and being a passenger.  After visiting some tiny little towns with names like "Sneem" and "Castlecove" we turned around and headed back to Killarney for the evening.
After some souvenir shopping we topped off our evening with some amazing "Gaelic Gelato".
And that my friends, is how you end a day of vacation.

Read about Day 5 here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Meeting Sioban

On our third day in the country we met up with our representative from Dan Dooley and went over everything on our car (which we decided to name Sioban), and then we were off.  Our first stop out of Galway was at Dunguaire Castle; although not very big it has a nice view.
 We were driving right past and decided we might as well stop before continuing on our way to the Cliffs of Mohr.  We were incredibly lucky, it was an amazing day for a visit to the cliffs: bright & clear.  We had lunch at the Puffin's Nest Cafe and then headed out to see the cliffs.  They have 2 "paths" you can choose, one has a rock wall protecting you from falling over the edge, and then you can also walk on the other side with nothing keeping you from the edge.  Heather definitely did not like the unfettered path, but it didn't bother me - the view was intoxicating.
I can definitely understand why they nick-named them the "Cliffs of Insanity" in "The Princess Bride" movie.  And to our credit, we did not use the term "inconceivable" at all during our visit.

From there we headed south-east for a visit to Bunratty Castle & Folk Park.  This was definitely my favorite castle, so far.  The Folk Park was similar to a replica village, they even had actors pretending they lived there and you could ask them questions and interact with them, so in a way it was a bit like visiting Williamsburg, PA.  According to their brochure, "Bunratty Folk Park is a living reconstruction of the homes and environment of Ireland over a century ago.  Rural farmhouses, a village street complete with shops, and Bunratty House with its formal regency gardens are recreated and furnished as they would have appeared at the time."
The present castle, the last of a series on the same site, was built around 1425.  It was furnished with mainly 15th & 16th century furnishings in the style of the period of the Great Earl (not entirely sure who he is though).  The village street was adorable, and the little church was extremely picturesque -

After we finished up at Bunratty, we got back in the car and headed to Limerick.  Our plan was to tour St. John's Castle (which is quite large and sits right on the water), but we couldn't find anywhere to park (their parking lot closed at 5:30pm, even thought the Castle didn't close until 7pm).  We decided we'd just check into our hotel (our only hotel stay of the trip) and relax.  Overall, it was a really great day.  I found the driving to be quite easy actually.  We did go on a couple really narrow roads (if we'd have come across another car, one of us would have simply had to back up to the end of the road) which would have been tricky regardless of the side of the car you were driving on at the time.

Read about Day 4 here.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Gallivanting in Galway

Day 2 --

After a rushed breakfast we headed to the bus station and, of course, had plenty of time (because we'd rushed breakfast).  We caught our bus with no trouble and then dozed off the whole ride there.  We were almost to Galway when I decided I should look at my paperwork and find the address for our hostel.  I know the name was Kinlay Hostel, but with dread I read the address on the confirmation: 2-12 Lord Edward Street, Temple Bar, Dublin.  I checked at the information desk at the bus station and they confirmed that they do indeed have a Kinlay Hostel in Galway, it seems I'd just booked the wrong one.  We arrived and were able to get a room, but since they are not actually affiliated with each other, we ended up having to pay for two rooms (if I'd realized my mistake earlier I could have cancelled the night in Dublin).  Oh well, all part of the adventure.  We dropped off our bags and headed out to find some lunch.

The streets of Galway are so cute and we both liked it much better than Dublin. After wandering around for a bit, and getting distracted by some street performers, we stumbled upon an awesome placed called Finnegan's Corner.  They offered traditional Irish Food and it's located in the oldest medieval building in Galway (apparently).
We really enjoyed the atmosphere and the food was good and priced well - we'd have definitely returned had we stayed in town longer.  The bread they served (not sure if it was just Irish Whole Wheat or Irish Soda bread) was amazing.

After lunch we wandered through town a bit more (and watched some more street performers - Galway is more of an artsy town) and then headed back to check in to our room.  One of the employees suggested doing a canal walk and since we didn't really have any plans, we decided to give that a try.  
It was a beautiful walk and it ended at Galway Cathedral.  It's not an old church, it is the most recently built of Europe's great stone cathedrals: construction began in 1958.  It's real name is actually Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St Nicholas (or Ard-Eaglais Mhaighdean na Deastógála agus Naomh Nioclás if you speak Irish), but it's much easier to say Galway Cathedral.

On our way back into town we decided to sit in the grass, with our feet hanging over the edge of the canal and chat for a bit.  A bit turned into a couple hours - the sun was shining and it was so peaceful.  That's why you travel with people to have conversations and it was definitely a high-light of my day.  We then wandered back towards our hostel, finding some lovely buildings along the way.  It stays light for so long during the summer that we decided to try and find the cemetery and Lynch Castle before we called it a night.  Sadly, the cemetery, which dates back to the 1500's had closed at 7pm, and when we found the castle we realized it was now a bank and we'd already walked by it twice that day!  Oh well, the real adventure would start on the following day - we were picking up our rental car!!

canal (noun)

1.  an artificial waterway for navigation, irrigation, etc.
2.  a long narrow arm of the sea penetrating far inland.
3.  channel; watercourse.

Read about Day 3 here.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Dublin on Jet Lag

At long last, I'm getting around to blogging about our Irish road-trip!  Life has been so busy, but I've got some spare moments so I'll start with Day 1.  We arrived, exhausted, in Dublin on Sunday morning.  We'd had an overnight flight, so I had taken a sleeping pill on the plane, but that doesn't guarantee I sleep, just make it more likely.  I was able to doze on and off, but Heather didn't have the same luck (and she's usually able to sleep anytime).  Thankfully our Aer Lingus flight had in-seat entertainment so she could watch movies or listen to music.  We caught the shuttle to our hostel and were able to enjoy some breakfast (provided by the hostel) and drop off our bags before heading out to explore (we couldn't check in because it was too early).  We headed out to see Trinity College & their Library, St. Stephens Church, and Christ Church Cathedral.  Our hostel was very near Trinity College so we started there first.  After determining that you cannot gain access to the library with out paying to see the Book of Kells (which we didn't care that much to see), we decided (as was suggested to us) to come back a little after lunch to the tour as it was usually not as busy then.

Heather was definitely the navigator on this trip.  Obviously I am capable of figuring out where I'm going with a map, but it's certainly not my forte, and takes me quite awhile to do.  It was nice to just hand her the map and say, "ok how do we get there? "  We did manage to get to find Dublin Castle and Christ Church Cathedral, but we decided we'd rather not pay to go inside either of them.

Dublin Castle

Since it was a Sunday there were evening services that we could attend which would get us into the churches for free (I learned that trick on one of my previous European trips).  We decided we'd go to the service at St. Patrick's Cathedral, but had a few hours to kill before that happened.  A stop for coffee, we were in desperate need of caffeine by this point in the day, and then back to Trinity college for the tour.  It was 13€ for the tour and admission to the library, which seemed a bit steep, it was a great, albeit brief, tour.  The guides are all students at the college, and our guide was a soon to be graduate who majored in English Literature; he was quite funny which always make a tour more enjoyable.  The library was beautiful, but apparently the reason most people visit the library is because it houses the Book of Kells.  I'll admit I did not find it all the fascinating, or impressive, but it is neat to see how God preserves His Word down through the ages.  

With our tour finished we decided to head back to the hostel to check in and maybe get a quick power nap.  We then hurried back to St. Patrick's and although we were late they still let us in.   
 The choir was amazing and I wouldn't have enjoyed visiting near as much without them.  It just feels right to visit a church during a service and to hear a Gregorian chant or some type of song, sung by a choir, while taking in an old cathedral.  After the service, the rest of our evening was rather uneventful: a grocery store run, cooking dinner and then a wander along the river just chatting.

armor (noun)

1.  any covering worn as a defense against weapons.
2.  the outer, protective wrapping of metal, usually fine, braided steel wires, on a cable.

Read about Day 2 here.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Off to the Emerald Isle

Hard to believe the time will soon be upon us - we're heading to Ireland!  This time when I say "we" I mean my cousin Heather and I.  She is amazing and just graduated with her Masters, so we're celebrating with our passports.  While this is not my first time to step foot on the Emerald Isle (it is for her), it will be my first time driving there (fingers crossed it goes well).  I did do some driving on the left side of the road while living in Australia, so at least that won't be a first.  It has been an interesting trip to plan since I've never planned a roadtrip before, and certainly not one overseas.  Actually, now that I typed that it might not be 100% true.  I did sort of do a roadtrip down the East Coast of Australia, but I didn't plan it and I did drive.  Georgie planned everything for me and it was a bus trip, so a bit different but I guess technically a roadtrip.  Anyway,  I was trying to use a new road trip builder website I recently found called RoadTrippers, but it seems suited more for the USA than for overseas.  Hopefully in time they get their other countries beefed up a bit.  After spending a decent amount of time trying to use their website for our trip I gave up.  Then, I stumbled upon a delightful new Google Maps feature that lets you do what I was trying to do with RoadTrippers - Kevin And Amanada's blog post explains it all.  So, as we prepare to leave (I haven't even started packing yet, which is a bit strange for me), I've still got to figure out how to download an Ireland road maps onto my GPS, among other things.  And if all else fails I guess we'll be kicking it old-school with a paper map.  Seeing as I'm "directionally challenged" that would certainly make the trip more interesting.

My last trip to Ireland was in 2007, on school break, while studying in Italy with Saints Bible Institute.  Six of us decided to do a quick tour of Paris, London, and Dublin during our week off school.  I'd already been to Paris, but it's such an awesome city that I didn't mind returning.  We didn't spend much time in Ireland, less than 2 days, but the most memorable part was the day we spent in Bray, a small coastal town south of Dublin.  It was incredibly charming, and I'm hoping to at least stop by on our drive up to Dublin before we go home, just for old-times sake.

Bray, Ireland - November 2007

Bray, Ireland - November 2007

road trip (noun)

a journey via automobile, sometimes unplanned or impromptu; a journey involving sporting game(s) away from home