As we fly high over the Atlantic Ocean on our way home, (I wrote this post from the airplane) it is fun to roll around in my thoughts a bit, examining what stands out most for me from the last two weeks. Surprisingly, the last day we spent in Ireland was also a highlight, and that will be the next story.
In Belfast, the night before our day in Northern Ireland, Mo and I skipped going out into the seedy streets of the city and opted instead for dinner in our hotel. It might have been the very best dinner of all for me, with succulent baby back ribs, corn on the cob, cole slaw, and sweet potato fries, all done up high end chef style. Wow!
The next morning, we were on the road at 8:30 as usual, and with Dublin just over 100 miles south, didn't expect much. Our route was along A1, the very fast, very smooth, very nice "flyover" between the two cities, but again, within minutes of crossing the border back into the Republic of Ireland, we all cheered. It was nice to see the Gaelic signs again and the castles dotting the landscape which seem to be missing in Northern Ireland, at least the parts that we saw.
Isabella stopped again at one of her little trip extras at an historic site with one of the most magnificent Celtic crosses in Ireland. The ancient monastery on the edge of the Boyne Valley was founded in A.D. 521. Although none of the original buildings are still there, there are three high crosses and the round tower that all date from the 10th century.
We arrived in Dublin around noon, with plenty of time and unbelievable weather once again to explore the city and see one of the most important things that we missed on our first time around. We walked from the hotel, via O'Connell Street across the Liffey River toward Trinity College, beyond Gaston Street and down Kildare Street to the entrance to the National Museum of Archaeology.
What surprised me most was how different the city felt from our first day when we explored it on foot. After two weeks in Ireland, we had a much better sense of how things worked, and how Dublin was put together as well. On this beautiful Sunday afternoon, the city was absolutely teeming with life and people, there was some kind of demonstration across the bridge and people literally thick everywhere. Walking in Dublin requires concentration, the Irish walk very fast, at least in the city.
To our delight, we arrived at the Museum at 1:59 only to find out that on Sundays it was only open from 2 to 5PM. How incredibly lucky!
I couldn't help thinking of Erin as we perused the magnificent displays. She does such an amazing job of documenting these world class museums. I can only hope that the photos I took are as good as I think they are and that the camera, set on the "hand held night shot" setting, caught the beautiful detail of the art and archaeology that we experienced.
The gold "hordes" were magnificent, dating from the Bronze Age around 1200 B.C. I enjoyed the extremely well done interpretive displays, and got a real kick out of image of a person draped in gold. It must have been incredibly heavy to wear.
The current special exhibition of Brian Boru, Irish King who brought the Celtic tribes together and defeated the Vikings in the late tenth century was impressive. The name had been bandied about throughout our entire time in Ireland, and it was good to see this famous king with some kind of perspective about when he lived and the great battle for which he became famous.
Precious religious pieces from the 12th century were beautiful, including this gorgeous silver chalice and the relic cross that allegedly once held a piece of the original wooden cross of Jesus. However, nothing I have seen can quite compare with the special display Kingship and Sacrifice, the story of the Bog Bodies of Ireland. Preserved for centuries and in some cases millennia, in the boggy peat lands, are the bodies of people who were killed somewhere around 300 B.C. It is incredible to look into the faces of real people who lived thousands of years ago. It is an unforgettable experience.
We were impressed with the tasteful and respectful way that the remains were displayed. The mood is somber, respectful; the lighting subdued. The written material is displayed on the exterior of simple circular enclosures that contain the softly lit preserved bodies in glass cases. Mo and I were both enthralled with the kind of painstaking work required by archaeologists to retrieve everything from the peat bogs. We read with fascination how archaeologists have determined what each person ate before they were killed as well as what they ate for several months prior to their death. Here is a link to more extensive information about the Bog Bodies of Ireland
Ireland is 17 percent peat land, only Finland and Canada have a greater percentage of peat. I have mapped organic soils, knew of fens, peat bogs on a slope but really had no understanding at all how these thick peat deposits formed over bedrock and on hills. I loved the detailed animated video of the development of these peat soils on this landscape.
When our own bodies finally wore out and we left the museum, we walked with the huge happy crowds toward Temple Bar to look for a good pub to have one last glass of Guinness and a bite to eat. The Temple Bar area was teeming with tourists. We found an outside table at Gogarty's, where the music was loud and lively, but certainly not Irish. A sign proclaimed music to start at 10:30 PM until 2 AM. Not for us. We still enjoyed sitting there for a time where we had one last plate of crispy chips and watched the people walking by. It was easy to pick out the tourists: they were walking slowly and gawking up at the buildings. The locals walked fast and never looked up at all, and were outnumbered by the tourists at least 3 to 1.
Back to the hotel, we actually had time for a short nap before our farewell dinner at the hotel with the group. Once again, it was just OK, but gave Isabella the chance to give us instructions for our morning departures and to say goodbye to everyone.
This morning when we woke it was raining. Actually dark and drizzly and raining. Just such amazing timing! even 12 hours earlier would have seriously messed with our 7 mile walk about the city yesterday. Breakfast was included, and our group didn't have to leave until 8:30 am for the airport.
Dublin airport is really quite nice, but the security level is definitely time consuming. Isabella had warned us that three hours wasn't too much and that we would need to be ready. She got us as far as the first check-in kiosk and then we were on our own with a few other travelers to negotiate the security checks, two of them even before you get to Customs, the tax refund kiosks, US Customs, and then two more security checks in the US Pre Screening process. Shoes and even iPads out four times! Then more passport checks with some kind of screening machine before we finally made it to our gate.
Before entering the fray, Mo and I stopped in the main part of the airport to fortify ourselves with one last Irish Coffee. With only 7 Euro left, it wasn't enough for the coffees, but I did manage to find a trinket at the Duty Free shop just before our last gate. We left Ireland with no excess pounds or euros. Meaning money pounds. I won’t know about personal pounds until I get home, but even with the food we have been eating, I am reasonably certain that all the walking (always much more than 10,000 steps per day according to the FitBit), the pounds added will be minimal.
Once on the plane, it pulled away from the gate right on time. Perfect. I was impressed. Until the pilot informed us that we were overweight and would have to return to the gate to offload cargo and burn up some fuel before we could take off based on the conditions. Bummer. We finally pulled away from the gate 2 hours late, so what would have been a 9 hour flight became 11 hours on the plane. At least they brought us water and let us get up and about to use the bathrooms.
Once again, we are satisfied with the GoAhead experience. Although the focus on education isn’t as strong as some other travel companies, we were lucky to have an excellent tour guide who taught us much about the country. I would love the luxury of staying in one place long enough to really explore an area, and do hope to do that when I visit Italy with daughter Deanna in the future. For now, however, I am at a time in life where I have no idea if I will ever get the chance to return to Ireland. I would rather see as much as possible in the time I am here. GoAhead kept us moving, with only 2 or 3 nights at the most in one place, and days packed full with activities. I can't think of any of the sights I would have chosen to miss, but now that I have seen a good portion of the country, I do know which places I would chose to return.
A tour like this is a bit like a cruise, it gives an overview, and a taste, and if you want more there are other ways to do that. The hotels were OK, and some were quite nice. The included tours were good, the excursions that we chose were excellent. Of course, another highlight for us was the Newgrange Tour which I researched and booked myself. I wouldn't have wanted to miss that. I am so glad I took the time to study a bit and booked that tour a couple of months prior to our trip.
We will be in Portland tonight, and we are both so ready to get back on the road to Eugene to pick up Mattie! Joanne has sent a few photos and stories of the time they spent, and it is wonderful to know Mattie has been loved and coddled and so well taken care of. Now we have to hope that she still remembers us! Tomorrow, after a good night's sleep at the Radisson Portland Airport we will once again have the little dog safely tucked between us for the long trip home.