Ireland Day 6 Waterford and the Waterford Crystal Factory
At ten last night, when I finally finished writing and fell into bed, the music started. Seems as though there was a wedding at the hotel and the incredibly loud and raucous band could be heard. Not well, mind you, but that boom boom boom sound of music that vibrates the floors but doesn't give you the satisfaction of actually hearing the words or melody. I put in the ear plugs, which did very little to make a difference, and while Mo slept peacefully through the noise, I was awake until 2am when I actually heard the voices of the musicians signing off for the night...you know....that thing they do yelling ‘bye’ and ‘thanks’ and then everyone joining in to sing ‘American Pie.’ Would have been nice if it had been that kind of music all night, but instead it was unintelligible whatever that sounded like heavy metal power chords coming through the walls and vibrating the floor.
So this evening, as we entered the hotel after a very long and once again tiring day, I stopped at the desk to ask if there was going to be music again tonight. She smiled and said, yes, but that we really shouldn't be able to hear it clear down on the end where we were located. I laughed and said, OK, I'll plan accordingly. Which is exactly what we did. I put in the earplugs, decided to skip packing until the middle of the night, and fell into a deep and very satisfying sleep around 9, with plans to be ready to write when I woke up to the booming.
Well, here it is, almost midnight, and I don't hear a sound. Maybe it was really the wedding and not the normal music from the hotel. Whatever. I'm grateful, and still decided I had better get up and write anyway.
We woke this morning to gorgeous, crystal clear skies with the sun rising over the water of the Suir River across the street. Suir is pronounced "Sure" and is another one of the major rivers in Ireland. Isabella told us today that the Shannon was actually the largest river, with an impressive length of more than 300 miles. Hmmm. Not many rivers in the US that I know of that are merely 300 miles in length.
Breakfast was at 7:45 and we were to be at the lobby downstairs by 8:30 for our walking tour of Waterford on our way to the famous crystal factory. When the manager told us yesterday that Baileys and other spirits would be served with the organic oatmeal, we thought he was joking. He wasn't, and I must say that breakfast was almost as impressive as last night's dinner.
I included this fuzzy iPhone photo because I had to prove it!
We were treated to the buffet, with dozens of choices, including the porridge station, and then once we sat down were served the traditional Irish breakfast on hot plates. I had yogurt, fruit, nuts and dried fruits with my porridge, topped with flavored honeys Turkish style, and liberally doused with Bailey's Irish Cream, and skipped the hot breakfast. I did decide it was time for me to get over my unwillingness to try the local stuff, and took a bite of the black pudding. While I was tasting, someone mentioned that they don't actually use blood any more, just dried blood. Give me credit, I at least tried it, but I wasn't all that happy about it. I won't need to do that one again. Ick and double ick. Happy for the tart grapefruit juice I had to get it down and get that taste out of my mouth. I might have Irish blood in me, but I certainly don't have any kind of taste for that particular Irish staple!
With the clear skies and very little chance of rain to come today, I decided that my Oofos would be the perfect footwear choice. It was quite chilly, however, I laughed to see that 2 others out of our group of 31 had decided on sandals as well. Can't beat those Oofos for a cushy bottom and the ability to go anywhere. I once hiked along the Snake River in Hells Canyon with those things on.
Morning along the river was sparkling and gorgeous, and Isabella led our group along Coal Quay to Custom House Quay, telling us little tidbits along the way of the Viking invasions, the sacking of the local people and development of a port here in Waterford.
We saw Reginald's Tower, the oldest complete building in Ireland, and the first to use mortar. The Normans built its 3 to 4 meter thick walls on the site of a Viking tower that stood there from the 1100's. We learned even more Viking history, which I promptly forgot. Isabella regaled us with lots of stories and historical tidbits that were entertaining, but after a bit they all started to run together. The only way I could track everything was to go back and actually read about it later. Here Isabella and one of the people in our group are yukking it up at some touristy Viking site. I guess a Viking married a local girl, who unlike many tribal societies, had the ability to choose her own mate.
We enjoyed the Viking ship replica nearby, trying to imagine crossing the Atlantic Ocean in this galley, with no protection and no place to go except to row. Trying to imagine how the men slept took some creative thinking. We wandered through the side roads toward the Medieval Museum, cathedral, and art galleries. These museums and galleries tell the story of Ireland's oldest city, celebrating its 1100th anniversary in 2014. A walk that could have been completed in ten minutes, took an hour.
I am so terrible at this tour stuff, with long stretched out strides being my walking style of choice, and taking little mincing steps in a huge batch of folks just about kills me. Can't do it for long without rebelling.
I knew this included tour of the Waterford Crystal Factory was another one of those inside things put on by the tour company to sell "stuff" and get a good commission for their recommendations. Entering the building with a bit of an attitude, and a determination that I certainly didn't need a piece of Waterford crystal, within minutes my skepticism was completely shattered, no pun intended!
The entrance gallery was lovely enough, but when the wide double doors opened to the multimedia display of light and sound I thought I was in some Disney ride. After being exposed to this light show, more wide doors opened as our young guide led us into the workrooms of these world class craftsmen.
Most of the blowers and engravers have been with the company for 25 to 45 years and currently they are very proud of the one new young woman who has completed her five year apprenticeship. We were treated to up close interaction with full photo privileges of each step in the process, handling the heavy crystal at various stages of development. I have visited glass blowers in many places, delighting in the process, but have never seen anything quite like this.
In fact the creation of crystal is a complicated and extremely skilled operation, which involves the initial ingredients of silica sand, potash and letharge (which contains the lead) being mixed within a furnace, raging at 1200 degrees Celsius. The molten crystal is then removed and, with the primitive tools of blocks and moulds, blowers then work their magic to begin the journey from molten crystal to masterpiece.
One will never find Waterford Crystal seconds for the simple reason that any piece which is seen as less than perfect, is literally thrown back into the furnace. So, while unfortunately it is impossible to buy bargain price pieces, you can at least be certain that each Waterford Crystal item is perfect.
I took a ridiculous number of photos of the amazing craftsmen at their work, and by the time I reached the showroom, I knew that without a doubt, I would try to find a piece of Waterford to add to my small collection of world "stuff" to remember Ireland. I succeeded, and for a very reasonable sum, found a small vase that I will treasure. It is a very classy place, as you would expect, and the sales process is refined and incredibly helpful, with shipping to the US for a very reasonable fee making the whole thing as simple as pulling out the credit card and filing in the blanks.
After a few minutes to enjoy a good cup of coffee "having a cawfee" as Melody and I remember from Vienna, we ambled out to again be the first on the bus. I have to say we aren't greedy, and choose our seats about 1/3 of the way back so as not to always hog the front. But I do want to get my seat and am willing to fight for it. Glad I don't have to.
Leaving town, we traveled north through the countryside for about an hour and a half toward the town of Cashel, and the iconic Irish Rock of Cashel.
The only thing about being on the bus that is frustrating is the inability to stop and take photos, or to even catch something as we pass by. Always so many reflections, and always the perfect little thatched roof cottage shows up before I can get the camera back out and turned on. I tried to keep it off for a time since I had been rather extravagant for the first half of the day and didn't want to lose anything from the afternoon. I had two batteries with me for the day, but one ran out a bit early on.
I love the Lumix camera but it definitely is a battery hog, especially when I choose to review the photos as I shoot. I am trying to eliminate the throw-aways as I go since I don't have an upload method with the iPad, and the photos for this entire trip will be held on two giant cards. Hopefully they are giant enough. Still shooting RAW and JPEG, but considering stopping the RAW format if I have to.
The only time I really miss the DSLR is when the lighting situations are full of contrast, and lighting contrast is my most seductive weakness. I love shooting into that late afternoon slanting sun to capture the golden moments. I guess I won't know how my bridge camera is doing until I get back home. As Erin reminds me, don't expect it to be a DSLR, it isn't. But so far I think I am getting some good photos that will satisfy my craving to remember what that Irish green actually looked like.
Next up: The Rock of Cashel, Part 2 of Day 6