Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Fostering Bubba 12/14/2010

I have talked about missing a dog and may have already mentioned the fact that I was trying to be a foster mom.  I have been in touch with a dog shelter here in our area and was cleared to do some fostering for them.  They call references and do home visits before they deem you reliable and responsible to care for their dogs.  This was all fine with me.  I was very excited to get started.  

As soon as my girlfriends went back to the states in October, I told the foster coordinator for Leicester Animal Aid (Linda) that I was now available as I didn't have any traveling lined up for a month or so.  The next day Linda showed up at my door.  With her was 50 pounds of an excited, wiggly, muscle bound, Staffordshire Bull Terrier named Bubba.  He ran to me immediately sniffing me and wanting to be petted.  Then he took off to explore the house.  I knew right away that this was no shy, shrinking violet.

Linda told me Bubba's story.  He was given up by a man and wife who split up.  Apparently they had him for four years (they had adopted him from the shelter when he was one).  The man drove a truck for a living and Bubba went with him in his truck everyday.  However when the man moved out he couldn't take Bubba to his new home.  So Bubba stayed with the woman.  She worked and was gone nine hours a day.  She couldn't seem to understand why Bubba (who had hardly been left alone) suddenly was messing in the house, barking and tearing things up!  She dropped him off at the shelter telling Linda that they probably couldn't home him because of the above issues and oh, by he way, he hates other dogs and chases cats.

So Bubba ended up with me because he was at the moment a basket case.  Besides these other issues he was overweight.  Our home would be perfect as there are no other pets or young children, we have a fenced in yard and I am home all the time.  The shelter provides all the food for the foster animals along with vet care if needed.  They also make arrangements to take the animals back when I travel.  That was a must for us.  

I should say that Joe was not real excited about this new venture for me.  He likes dogs (his favorite phrase is "I like OP dogs", meaning other people's), but would rather not have one in his house.  He doesn't like messes, dog hair, us being tied down, all the things that go with having pets.  But he knows how I feel about dogs and more importantly that I needed some companionship while he is working long hours and traveling.  Without a car, things can get pretty mundane around here.  We didn't want to adopt because then we'd have to get it back to the states when our gig here is over.  Also, we do travel a lot.  Reluctantly he agreed that fostering was probably a good thing for me.  Also, there is a real need for foster mums, as they call us here.

As it happened Joe was out of town when Bubba arrived.  After Linda left, Bubba jumped right up on the couch next to me.  I made him get down as my first idea was to not allow shedding dogs on the furniture.  He promptly jumped down when I said, "no".  However about 15 minutes later while I was using my laptop he suddenly appeared next to me on the couch and put his head on my knee.  Well, that was the end of that rule!  That afternoon Bubba and I became quite acquainted.  He nuzzled me, tried to lay ON me, and licked me all day!  I could not believe the affection that this dog craved.  Naturally I responded to his every need.  Later we took a walk and I saw the negative side of this love bug.  There is no love in him for other dogs!

Bubba is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier.  All bull terriers, the Pit Bull, American Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier originated in Great Britain.  During migration to America they were gradually introduced there.  They were bred along different lines for different purposes changing their looks slightly and eventually becoming three different breeds.  However, they all look so similar they are many times confused for one another.

Consequently the Bull Terriers as a whole have a bad reputation in the media, especially the Pit Bulls.  Staffies don't actually have as bad a rep here in the UK.  They are the most popular dog breed here, so of course they are the most prevalent in the shelters.  I have heard so many different reasons for their aggression to other dogs I really don't know what to believe.  I've never dealt with this breed before.  Bubba was raised by one family (after one year old) and as far as I know has not had much contact with other dogs.  But when I took him for that first walk that day, he was extremely aggressive to any dog that we walked past.  To the point that I almost lost control of him.  So is it in the breed?  Sure seems like it to me.  It is a common personality trait in the Staffies, equally as much as their affection to humans.  

I noticed that Linda had brought a nose guard with his leash.  It was just a strap that went around his nose that reminded me of some kind of muzzle.  But she had said it wasn't a muzzle. I sat down on the computer to see what the nose guard was all about.  Turns out it is a very popular tool for walking dogs who pull at their leash.  It goes around their nose and hooks to the leash.  It doesn't hurt them or keep them from barking, eating or drinking.  Its purpose is to pull their head to the side when they start to pull away and not allow them to get their body behind a charge.  I have used it ever since that first day.  Bubba still gets crazy when he sees another dog but I can at least control him.  It is not fun to walk him and have him make such a spectacle of himself.  But he needs walking (losing weight and using up energy) so I go.  We walk an hour a day.  

I talked Joe into walking with us one Sunday.  He had never seen Bubba turn into the growling screeching monster that he does when faced with another dog.  It was so funny because we passed about three dogs on our walk and each time Joe would walk towards the other people explaining that "this isn't our dog, it's a dog we are fostering".  Of course he was so embarrassed by Bubba's behavior and didn't want to take any responsibility for it.  That also happened to be the last time that he went for a walk with us.

Bubba and I settled down to a nice routine.  He would wake me up around 8:00 in the morning, sniffing my ear and licking my face.  Then he'd go to the bathroom and eat and we'd go out for our walk around 9:00.  He just loved his walks, but I always could tell his ears were perked for other dogs.  He'd look up any street we crossed and up into driveways on his search for canines.  I was looking too for the opposite reason!  He soon learned that if I abruptly changed directions or crossed a street he'd look back knowing that there was something interesting there that I didn't want him to see.

The rest of the day he would keep me company no matter what I did.  He followed me from room to room.  He was the perfect companion.  He barked just a little when someone came to the door but as soon as I answered it he was right there waiting to be petted by whoever it was.  In his mind everyone should love him!  I told one delivery guy, "don't worry, he's friendly".  The guy replied, " 'course he is, he's a Staffie".   Another man was telling me that he had a Staffie that died that he loved so much.  He went on to say that his wife now wanted to get a smaller dog since they had a small child.  He was kind of thinking out loud about it, making reasons to go with the smaller dog when he looked at Bubba and said, "But Staffie's a proper dog they are".  

Bubba would go right up to people with the littlest bit of encouragement.  While walking if a person spoke to Bubba he'd run right up for a pet or jump on their leg for a real big pet!  I always tried to warn them.  Workmen, the mail carrier, it didn't matter.  Most didn't care at all if he jumped.  I would see this old couple walking regularly on our street.  The man was a big tall guy and the woman a tiny little short thing.  They are always friendly and stop to say hello.  One day it was wet out and she had a nice light blue raincoat on.  As we walked closer she started talking to Bubba.  I held on tight so he couldn't get too close and told her that I didn't want him to jump up on her nice coat.  She just shrugged, "oh, that's OK, I can just throw it in the wash".  That's pretty much the Brits attitude about everything.  They don't get bothered by life's little problems.  I told her that Bubba had been a bad boy that day and had gone after two dogs.  She replied while petting him, "Oh, he's a cheeky boy is he?"  Gotta love the Brit talk!

Bubba would spend his afternoon relaxing on the couch.  About 5:00 he'd start looking for Joe.  He had a place on the couch he could sit and watch the front door.  He couldn't really see out of it, but could see the headlights as they panned towards the door when Joe was parking. Joe doesn't usually get home before 6:00 but Bubba would start the watch at 5.  When Joe did come home he'd tear over to the door to meet him.  Once in a while I would open the door and let him run outside after Joe turned the car off.  When Joe opened the car door to get out, Bubba would jump right in!  He loved the car!  Once they came into the house the game was on.  Bubba would grab a toy and Joe would chase him all over the house for about 10 minutes or so.  Bubba would cross under the dining room table, go circles through the kitchen, dining room, living room and entry way, run back into the bedrooms and then leap past Joe who was blocking the hall.  It was a huge game that was hilarious to watch.  He was just like a kid.  Finally he'd have to stop, Bubba, not Joe!  He'd get winded and settle down with the toy.  I think that was his favorite time of day.

After having him for almost six weeks I had to take him back to the shelter as I was going to Washington state for Thanksgiving to visit with my mom, sisters and their families.  I was supposed to get him back on my return, but I had to extend my stay in Washington as my mother needed to be moved.  We are leaving Friday to go to Maryland for Christmas so I have not had him back yet.  Linda was able to find another foster for him during my absence.  Of course all this time he is up for adoption.  The trouble is there are so many Staffies to choose from and of course the ones at the shelter get picked first as they are there to see.  I'm not sure how long they will keep a dog like Bubba, who is dog aggressive.  Not only that but he can't be left for long periods of time or he will destroy things.  About two hours is the max. So he has proved hard to home.  I know there are a lot of other dogs that could use a foster home too.  Thank goodness that decision is not in my hands.

I told Linda that I would be glad to have Bubba back or another dog, if that is what she needed.  She is coming by to talk to me before I leave Friday, so I guess she's got something in mind.  

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A visit from the USA: Part II LONDON ENGLAND 11/18/20

I probably should have done this last blog.  I want to give you some idea of the four personalities that we have with Sarah, Cathy, Joe and myself.  Cathy is an aggressive, brave, doesn't back down, knows wants she wants and usually gets it in a hurry, good to have on your side, friend.  I follow close behind.  Not quite as aggressive, not quite as brave, or in a hurry, but definitely know what I want and more often than not I get it.  Joe and Sarah follow the pack with their easy going, laid back style.  They were happy to bring up the rear as Cathy stormed through the crowded streets of London with me trying my best to keep up with her.  They let Cathy and I figure maps and directions, argue with people when need be, and generally run things.  The two of them are also workout fanatics so they have a lot in common there too. They were happy in their shoes and of course we wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

When we got home from Ireland on Wednesday afternoon it was a beautiful day outside.  Sarah, Cathy and I decided we'd walk down to our little village.  There is a ruins of a castle at the end of our main street.  It is called Kirby Muxloe Castle, I have written about it before in this blog.  

A very quick description of the castle.  The land was given to William Lord Hastings in 1474 to build a castle on by King Edward IV.  Hastings father had been loyal to the Duke of York and continued to the Duke of York's heir, King Edward IV.  William followed the loyalty of his father.  During those times, it was common for Kings to shower their loyal nobles with land and riches.  Hence, the castle land.  

Lord Hastings started work on the castle in 1480.  As happens in those times, the ruling families last only as long as their lives or as long as they can keep their thrones from being taken.  In 1483 King Edward IV was executed because he was an obstacle to the Duke of Gloucester's (the future King Richard III) ambitions.  Shortly thereafter, King Richard III had Lord Hastings executed for treason.  Therefore the castle was never finished and still stands partially completed to this day.

Kirby Muxloe Castle 
On our way home through the village we bought fresh produce and stopped at the local bakery for wonderful meat pies.    Meat pies are very very popular here.  Almost any restaurant serves them and you can get them in street markets, all different kinds.  The sausage ones are the most popular.  They are basically a pie dough with meat and vegetables inside.  A little like a pot pie, except they come in turnover type sizes, rolls, squares, etc.
Anyway, those with the salad from the produce and fresh bread from the bakery was our dinner for the night.

We had plans to go to London Friday for the weekend so we had just the next day, Thursday, to figure out a day trip.  Joe had to work so I was going to drop him off at work and then we had the car for the day.  We discussed possible day trips.  Liverpool, Windsor Castle, Shakespeare's hometown, the Cotswolds, various other castles in the area etc.  Cathy asked where the most scenic areas were and both Joe and I responded, "the Cotswolds".  

The Cotswolds is an area of 790 square miles in the upper part of the southwest part of england, called the Heart of England.  It is the country's largest officially designated 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty'.  This is where Joe and I did our country walks back in the early summer.  The scenery was so beautiful walking through the countryside.  

I explained to Cathy and Sarah that there are walking trails all over England that cut through the countryside, farms etc. and are open to the public.  We have them in our own village.  No one can deny passage on a trail even though it may go right through their property.  The trails are marked with arrows on fence posts.  It's the way it has always been in England.  It took a little getting used to when Joe and I first walked them.  You literally walk through someone's farm, right through their herds of animals and sometimes right down their driveway following a trail.  But no one even blinks an eye at it.  As long as you close gates and keep control of your dog if you have one, there is no problem.

Cathy is a horsewoman and is very comfortable in the farmland, Sarah the workout champion is game for anything that has to do with exercise.  The weather was supposed to be nice, I had a walking map of the area so the Cotswolds seemed like the natural place to go.  I even knew of a particular walk that I wanted to try.  The last time Joe and I went we tried to find this medieval village and ended up going on the wrong trail, so never found it.

Thursday morning we three women head out with our backpacks, cameras, umbrellas (always), water bottles, jeans and comfortable shoes.  It only took us a little over an hour to get to the village of Todenham, and I recognized the little car park that Joe and I had used previously.  This was the description of the walk on the map I had:
          A loop to the north of Todenham crossing pastoral countryside.  There are
          medieval relics such as Lower Ditchford and Ditchford Frairy villages as well
          as the visible furrows in the fields.

          It can be quite boggy in wet weather, particularly on the bridleway from High            
          Furze to Todenham.  There is also a ford on this stretch but don't fear, there is 
          a bridge over to the west.

          Parking is just down the hill a couple of hundred yards southwest of the village hall.    

The map stated that this was a two mile walk.  Joe and I had tried it in the past, but inadvertently had gone on the trail going south (because we didn't even see the other trail across the street until later after we got back!)  So I was very excited to finally do the trail right and get to see the medieval relics, whatever they may be.

The beginning of the trail had us go straight into a field of sheep.  We started walking through the field and suddenly Sarah says, "is this sheep poop?"  That should have been my warning that this walk wasn't what Sarah was expecting.  Cathy and I both answered "yes" as we were dodging the piles here and there.  It felt neat to be walking through a field of sheep on this beautiful day.  Sarah wanted to know why we had to walk through grass that was so tall, but shortly she became distracted with taking pictures of the sheep.  

The arrows on the fence posts that you follow are gold and about three inches tall and wide.  So when you enter a field, there is no pathway that you might expect to follow.  You are going in the direction that the arrow said, but the fields are very wide, so you don't know if you should walk in a straight line or diagonal.  Joe and I learned the first time that walking straight can be a big mistake as the next marker could be way off to the right or left.  You basically have to keep walking until you can find another arrow.

We probably spent 15 minutes in that darn sheep field.  Everywhere we walked there was a fence with no gate!  We walked up and back and even laughed at how we hadn't even gotten out of the first field yet!  Then Cathy walked up alongside a barn and found the arrow.  So, we were officially on our way.  

We continued through several fields.  Every time we thought we weren't going to find an arrow, we would manage to find it.  This was becoming quite a challenge.  Sarah then admits that she thought the walk would be a paved sidewalk through open fields!  I couldn't believe it.  I guess she might think that, no one had told her differently.  I had written a pretty long blog about it back in the beginning of June but I guess she hadn't paid attention.  I told her I was sorry.  She had worn comfortable shoes, but they weren't shoes for walking through fields of grass and stickers and such.  She of all people I thought was going to love this.  Turns out she loves to exercise, but only in controlled environment.  We were kind of laughing about it though.

We then walked through another farm where a horse was standing in a field.  Cathy loves horses so she had to spend some time petting it and talking to it.  We were sorry we didn't have any treats for it.  We left the farm by way of their driveway which was going to put us out on a main road.  We were still looking at the map, but those things are so hard to follow.  I've never had good luck with them yet.  Every walk that Joe and I have gone on we have never reached the correct destination.  Just end up coming back around some other way after miles and miles of walking!

We cross the road and into another field.  Throughout this walk we have to decide which way in a lot of these places.  Do we walk along the line where they've planted crops, or go along the fence line?  At one point we thought we should go to the left but that would mean entering a field where there was a bull.  Cathy remarked that maybe we shouldn't go in the field with the bull.  I agreed, especially because he was looking right at us!  So we walked along the bushes that separated one field from another.  By now we are getting sick of walking through all this and wondering if we are ever going to get to where we think we are going.

But we were buoyed by the fact that every time we thought it was hopeless we would see another arrow and it got to be a challenge.  We wanted to find the medieval village!!  We were walking along and came to a sharp corner in a field.  Suddenly Cathy sucks in her breath.  She has just put her foot down and it has sunk to her ankle in water!  She's standing in water and trying to hold onto hanging branches to keep upright.  I'm right behind her and Sarah is behind me.  We stand and discuss whether we should go on.  (Sarah and I are still dry.)  We know that this has got to be the only way we can go.  Somehow we decide to go on so Cathy has to wade through this flooded area to get to the other side.  (Yes, I read that it could be quite boggy in the description, but we hadn't had any rain lately).  I'm next and I have a walking stick so I start feeling around with my stick to see if there are any shallow places.  Finally I just GO and immediately scream.  Cathy hadn't told me it was ice cold!  I think I scared poor Sarah to death, she had to come next.  She's got these brand new little shoes that are so cute and comfortable yet they are not made to stand up to this abuse.  She decides that she is going to run through the bog and maybe she'll just fly on top of the water!  She ends up almost as wet as we are though.  OK, now this is not fun anymore.

We did find some wild blackberries along the way.  At first I didn't want to eat any just in case.  I told them that I'd wait and see if they started having fits, then I'd try them.  But they were oohing and aahing so much I had to jump in.  They were so delicious.  We ate so many of them too.  Cathy liked hers hard and sour.  Sarah and I loved the real ripe ones.  At least we were getting a nice snack for our troubles.  Oh, and getting to see some pretty scenery too.

The next thing we came to was a creek that had a little bridge over it.  There was absolutely NO yellow sticker anywhere in sight.  So Sarah took off to the left and Cathy took off to the right and walked and walked to try and find a marker.  I stayed right there and waited.  It got to be quite a while and neither of them had come back.  I hollered both their names and neither one answered.  I started feeling all alone and a little spooked so I decided to walk one direction.  As soon as I moved I scared a bunch of pheasants out of a tree.  They made such a huge racket flying out of the trees, I didn't know what it was!  It felt like my heart stopped, and then I got a hot flash.  I hate to be startled like that!

Finally they both came back, neither had seen any sign of any marker.  We were so frustrated.  That meant we had to go ALL THE WAY BACK THE WAY WE CAME!  This is NOT what we wanted.  According to the worthless map our hike would take us to the medieval village and circled around to bring us back to where we parked.  This was much farther away and we had to turn and go back!  I had worn hiking boots because I knew what to expect, but they were soaked.  Cathy had on tennis shoes so hers were absolutely filthy and wet.  Well, we were all wet.  

I don't remember why but we decided to go to this farm close by and ended up coming out of their driveway out to the street that we had crossed earlier.  Except way down from where we had originally crossed.  There was a little side road that we walked on that ran parallel to the main road.  The main road had no sidewalks and was very busy with fast moving vehicles.   Finally a car came down the side road and without even discussing it we flagged it down.  It was a woman and we asked her where was Ditchford Friary Village.  She pointed in the direction that we were walking and said, "it's a good ways down this road".  I don't remember if we asked her for a ride, or if she offered, but the next thing we know we are in her car and heading to the village.  She also pointed out a road on the way and said that that road would take us back to Todenham where we had begun this escapade.  We thanked her profusely as she stopped along the busy road and pointed to a little tiny road and said, "that's Ditchford Frary".

So we set off down this narrow lane.  We walked and we walked and never came to anything!  Finally Sarah got a brilliant idea.  She said, "since we know where the car is now, why don't we just go get it and ride back over here".  Ah, smack to the head, why didn't I think of that!  So we turned abruptly and headed back to the main road.  We managed to get back on the road to Todenham.  We walked and walked and walked.  Sarah was happy now because she had pavement to walk on, but we were all tired.  We walked up and down hills.  We got to the bottom of one hill and looked up to another one ahead and I said, "I just don't want to walk anymore!  I don't want to walk up anymore dang hills!"  Sarah offered to run the rest of the way to the car while Cathy and I sat down and waited.  She didn't mind, (like I said, she loves to exercise).  I gave her the keys to Joe's car and we sat and waited.  It took what felt like a LONG time for her to get back to us.  When she did get back she said, "Kathy you would have died if you saw the hill after this one that I had to go on".  Apparently there was an even worse one.  Yes, I would have just layed down and died!

We drove down the narrow lane that the woman had shown us, all the way to the end.  We NEVER saw that darn village.  I don't know how we could have missed it.  It was just a narrow road.  I hated to give up but we were starving by now.  I'm not sure but I think we were on that darn walk for at least 3 hours.  So we headed to a larger village close by.  Of course as is common in this country, all the restaurants were closed after lunch so we had to be satisfied with tea in the only open place we could find.  It was good though and we did get some sandwiches too.

We didn't get back to pick up Joe until 7:00 that night.  He said he didn't care as he was just going to work until we got there.  I think we just had leftovers that night and hit the sack.  We were headed to London the next day for their last few days here.

The next morning Joe was going to drop us off at the train station so that we could catch a train into London.  He had to work Thursday and Friday so we decided to go on down ahead of him.  He would drive down Friday night.  He was very clear in his instructions about the train.  He told us to be sure that we caught the Virgin train as all others were commuter trains and would be stopping along the way.  So we got online to look up ticket prices.  A ticket would cost about £65 ($97) each and take less than 2 hours to get there.  We didn't bother to buy tickets, deciding we could do that at the station.

At the station we waved good-bye to Joe and ran into the station, wanting to get the first train available for London.  No wasting time for us!  When we got to the window we said we wanted to get a train to London.  The lady said there was a train leaving in two minutes and the price would be only £52 ($78) each.  Hey that sounded like a deal!  Plus we could leave right away so she hollered at some man to hold the train and sold us the tickets.  We ran and jumped on the train so happy to get one right away.

After about five minutes into the ride, here comes the conductor.  He wants to see our tickets and being friendly, starts asking us about our plans.  We excitedly tell him we are going to London to sight see for a few days blah blah blah.  He then said, "well, make sure you get off at Coventry station and switch trains".  We were like, "what?"  He then proceeds to tell us we are on a commuter train and we need to switch trains part way and also it is going to stop all the way to London.  WE HAD DONE EXACTLY WHAT JOE TOLD US NOT TO!   We consoled ourselves that it wasn't that bad and besides we'd saved money on the tickets.  When we told him that we were going to be using the bus and the tube in London he happily sold us those tickets too.  We thought, man now we are prepared.

We were laughing and joking about our mess up and admiring the two little twin girls who were riding next to us with their grandma and grandpa.  They told us they were just riding the train because the girls wanted to, they didn't have any place to go.  The girls were adorable and of course their little British accents were precious.  They were probably about four years old.  We asked them to take a picture of us so we were busy posing for the picture when the train slowed down.  One little girl asked her grandpa (who was taking our picture) if this is where they were getting off.  He said, "No, this is where these ladies are getting off".  You should have seen the feathers fly.  We went from smiling to the camera to jumping up, grabbing our things (which were laid out all over the table, we had four seats facing each other with a table in between), grabbing the camera out of the old man's hands and racing off the train.  I don't know what we thought.  We hadn't even asked when the stop we were getting off was, and weren't prepared in the least when it came.  Thank goodness that man paid attention to what the conductor said!

So now we are at Coventry train station and had to wait about a half hour or so for our next train.  There we sat on the bench, tapping our feet trying to wait patiently.  

We got to London without any other mishaps.  But when we got there we looked at the time and realized it had taken us 3 hours to get there!  The conductor who had sold us our tube and bus passes assured us that when we walked out of the train station there would be a bunch of personnel hanging around to help people get on the correct bus to where they wanted to go.  He said there is a big presence now because of the upcoming 2012 Olympics, they are really working hard on public transportation.  Did we see ONE person when we came out of that station? NO!  Not one!  There were tons of buses lined up along the curb but who knew where they were all going?  Cathy immediately started going up to the drivers and asking if they were going in the direction of Mayfair.  It was obvious they didn't want to be bothered by tourists and were of no help at all.  We felt like they were muttering "dumb Americans" under their breath at us.  We were starting to get a little panicky because we had a reservation for Afternoon Tea at 3:00 at The Connaught Hotel all the way across town.  Finally at last we found a woman who directed us away from the station and across several busy streets to the correct bus stop.  We would have never figured out the correct bus stop was way over there!

Getting to the bus stop and waiting for the correct bus took a little while too.  There are SO many people in London.  It really gets crazy at times just trying to walk on the sidewalk.  I thought it was supposed to be less crowded now that it is not summertime anymore.  But I didn't notice any change, possibly it was MORE crowded.  Once we got on the bus we then had to get out our map and figure out where to get off the bus.  There was a little old lady sitting nearby that had an old old map book, black and white, with tiny tiny streets and a magnifying glass.  Sarah sat by her and she helped us as Cathy and I poured over our own bright colored tourist map.  We got off at the stop we felt was closest to the hotel and were so grateful to see that it was 2:30.  The Tea reservations at a good hotel are hard to come by  and we didn't want to miss ours.  We still had to consult our map and get over to the right street, but we managed and arrived at the restaurant just in time to go to the bathroom and make our reservation on time.

Let me just say that The Connaught Hotel is probably the fanciest hotel I've ever been in.  And we have been in some really nice hotels due to Joe's working for Aireco for so many years and going on their annual trips.  The hotel was just beautiful, very very posh.              www.the-connaught.co.uk  They had maids in the bathrooms (which I've seen many times), however I've never seen them fold the toilet paper after each person, turn the water on for you to wash your hands and wipe the sink down after each use.  I know I know, they work for tips, but there certainly wasn't any tip jar evident.  

We were ushered into a bright restaurant with floor to ceiling windows circling the room.  I don't remember if I asked Sarah or Cathy this but I felt a little out of place.  We were dressed fairly casual and were surrounded by expensively dressed business people and ladies dressed to the nines to shop and have tea.  I just can't hardly believe that people do these type of things on a regular basis.  Our waiter was a French guy, trained superbly in the art of waiting tables at a ritzy place.  He was a little hard to understand and it was hard to not chuckle at his flamboyant ways. 

There are two kinds of tea occasions in England.  Afternoon Tea is usually between 3 - 5:00 in the afternoon and includes sandwiches, pastries and tea of course.  High tea is later, between 5 - 6:00 pm and includes sandwiches, meats, eggs etc.  It is usually followed by a late meal in the evening.  We have noticed that the English eat dinner much later than we did in the states.  You can go to a restaurant here around 6:00 and it won't be crowded at all, but give it a couple of hours and it will be packed.  But don't wait too late in the small villages or it will be closed!

Back to our Afternoon Tea adventure.  There is not a menu for food because the same is served for each table.  But the tea menu was several pages long!  Even though we had a menu with lengthy descriptions for every kind of tea you could imagine, the waiter still went through the whole thing describing each one as if it were a rare delicacy.  His strong French accent took on an excited tone while his hands waved around in delight.  It was truly a show to watch.  The trouble for me is I don't care for tea (or coffee) so I was in a bit of a dilemma for me on what to drink.  The choices were tea, coffee or champagne!  (I really wanted a diet coke, but no way was I going to say that!)  I decided to go with tea, since that was the main attraction.  I asked for the blandest tea they had and he went off at a trot to fulfill our tea orders.   

Once our tea came and he served us with his own personal flair and impeccable manners, he brought us our three tiers of finger sandwiches.  There were several different fancy types of sandwiches.  Smoked salmon and wasabi cream, egg salad with watercress, cucumber and dill cream, and chicken with Greek yogurt and chives.  When we were finished with the sandwiches he brought ANOTHER three tier service full of desserts and pastries.  Such as, raspberry and pistachio tart, hazlenut dacquoise (layers of nut flavored meringue with a cream filling), chocolate ganache and salty caramel mousse and chocolate cake to name a few.  While we were eating the desserts he brought us a basket of fresh scones with clotted cream and jams.  The scones here are wonderful, so are the jams.  But if you have never tried clotted cream you are surely missing a treat.  Clotted cream (also called Devonshire cream) is a thick cream made from scalded milk.  You put it on top of a scone with jam and it just melts in your mouth.  It is scrumptious!  

I don't have to tell you that we left that tea room so full!  It was delicious and definitely an eye opening experience.  It was costly though.  We paid £40 per person ($60) so it wasn't cheap.  But it was fun and I'm glad we did it.

We had tickets to see the play Billy Elliot that night all the way over on the west side of London in the theater district.  The show was at 7:30 so we decided to walk that direction and we'd stop along the way if we saw anything that we must have in a store window.  We had a couple of hours so we didn't have to rush at all.  But wanted to find the theater ahead of time to make sure we knew where it was.  We made our way through London (and again the crowds) but got over to the west end in plenty of time to have a couple of drinks and get to the show on  time.

The play was fantastic.  It has won 10 Tony Awards including best musical.  It is the story of a young boy who grew up in North East London where coal mining was the lifeblood of the community.  With the encouragement of a couple of teachers he discovers he has a talent for dance and going behind his family's back he learns ballet.  Eventually he is discovered by his coal mining father and brother and they make things very hard for him.  But he is so talented that he manages to get an audition at the Royal Ballet School and of course, the rest is history.  

When they were looking for a boy to play Billy Elliot, they not only needed one, but three boys to do the part.  It is a grueling schedule for the kids in the play.  So ironically while they were looking at ballet schools all over the country they were looking at real Billy Elliots.  Kids who had fantastic talent but were basically unknowns.  Naturally there were a lot of kids in this play who all sang and danced beautifully.  I was surprised when we walked out of the theater after the play and there was a van pulled up to the sidewalk.  The side door was open and inside were a bunch of the little kids who were in the play that night.  They just looked like a van load of tired little kids and I felt sympathy for them at that moment.  It was like 11:00 at night and they were obviously exhausted.  

It had been a long day of walking and riding but we still had to walk over to the tube station and ride 45 minutes back to our hotel.  Joe was to already be there after driving from work to London that night.  When we got to our tube stop and tried to leave the tube terminal, the personnel there informed us that we didn't have the correct tube ticket to get off at that particular station.  Apparently our train conductor in the morning didn't sell us the correct tube ticket that would also allow us to travel on the outskirts of London.  They let us through though, after reminding us that we could have been charged £50 each for the error.  That would have just topped off the day wouldn't it?  We probably would have run sobbing into the hotel!

The next day we had planned to go on a bike tour of London.  The same company that Joe and I used in Paris has them in London too.  Even though I had the bad crash in Paris, I was game to go again.  Especially since the weather was supposed to be so nice.  We had to be in London at 11:00 AM for the ride.  So we thought if we left our hotel, caught the tube by 9:45 that we'd get there in time. 

Cathy and Sarah had come down early for breakfast.  Joe and I were just going to meet them for a quick cup of coffee.  While we were getting ready that morning Cathy called our room and said that they were down having breakfast and that it was free with the room.  I had booked the rooms and knew that I had specifically said no to the breakfasts because I didn't know exactly what we'd be doing every day.  We get down there and the host at the restaurant tells us that "no, our breakfast did not come with our rooms".  I told him that I had booked two rooms and my friends had been told that their breakfast was free, so I wanted to make sure they weren't going to be charged for it.  About this time Cathy comes by and I tell her that her room wasn't supposed to include breakfast.  She said, "well, you told us it was free and we ate it so we aren't going to be paying".  She started to walk away and then turned and I saw her face change to the go getter that we all know and love.  She said, "And you owe these people a free breakfast because you told me that mine was free and I told them too".  Joe (who was about to go into his flee mode) and I just kind of laughed and so did the guy.  We didn't even care because we weren't planning on eating anyway.  But when the guy chuckled she didn't like it.  She said, "I'm not kidding.  You owe them a breakfast just like ours".  About this time a manager walks up and says,  "go ahead, eat".  So we walked away.  We were laughing and saying, "thanks for the free breakfast Cathy".  

Naturally we went and got a plate of food.  The four of us were eating and had already forgotten the time.  When we realized it, it was 10:00 and we only had an hour to get down to the tube station (a couple of blocks walk) and all the way to London!  We hurried and hurried onto the tube, rode while nervously watching the clocks.  We had to change trains one time.  That entails walking what seems like forever in the undergrounds stations, up steps, down steps following signs to the right train.  We ended up getting to where we were supposed to be at 11:20 or so.  We even ran up and down the streets in the area hoping to catch up with the tour before they actually rode.  We knew that in Paris they stayed at the meeting place for like 15 minutes after the hour and then walked with all the tour people to their shop to fit everyone with a bike.  But we couldn't find them anywhere.  We were really disappointed.  That would have been so much fun with Cathy and Sarah.

We finally gave up and walked BACK down to the tube station to catch another tube.  We decided to go to The Tower of London.  Joe and I toured it back on our first trip to England before he had even accepted this job.  Funny, that it is the first historic place that I saw in this country and still remains my favorite. 

The Tower of London is a historic castle that sits on the River Thames in London.  It was built in 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England.  In the early days it served as a royal residence but since at least 1100 the castle served as a prison among other things.  

With Sarah and Cathy we took the one hour Yeoman's Warder tour.  These are ceremonial guardians of the palace whose knowledge of it is excellent.  They wear the historic dark blue uniform with red trim and tall black hats.  It is not easy to become a Yeoman Warder.  They must all be retired military with at least 22 years of service.  They also must hold a long service and good conduct medal.  They live on the castle grounds with their families.  Among other things, these men learn all the history of the castle and must  pass a difficult test giving presentations as their main job will be giving tours.  They are also called Beefeaters, a nickname going back to their position in the Royal Bodyguard where they were permitted to eat as much meat as they wanted from the king's table.

Housing for the Yeoman Warders
When Joe and I went a year ago last October we toured the whole castle.  Some of the interesting parts were:  

The White Tower:  Built to strike fear and submission into the unruly citizens of London.  It houses 500 years of royal armour.  Each armour was different and decorated according to        
the King's power and personality.  They also served to show the actual size of the king wearing the armour.
The White Tower
The Crown Jewels:  The crown jewels are under armed guard in the Jewel House.  They are the greatest collection of Crown Jewels in the world and priceless symbols of British Monarchy.  There were rows and rows of crowns, sceptres, swords, rings, spurs and royal robes.  It was a sight to behold.  I don't know how they supported those huge heavy crowns on their heads!  There was a moving floor that ran along the showcases of jewels, otherwise they'd never get people to stop gawking at the beautiful diamonds and jewels.  To give you an example:

The Imperial State Crown:  The crown that is generally worn at the end of a coronation when the new monarch departs from Westminster Abbey, although it is not normally the actual crown used at coronation.  It is worn annually by the Queen at the state opening of parliament.  This crown alone has 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and five rubies!  That's what I want for Christmas!!

Sarah and Cathy did go and see The Crown Jewels.  What woman wouldn't?

The Ravens:  Legend has it that the kingdom and Tower will fall if the six resident ravens ever leave the fortress.  It was Charles II who first insisted that the ravens be protected.  There are seven ravens at the Tower today (the six required plus one spare).  There is a Yeoman Warder who is the Raven Master.  That is his sole job.  The ravens eat 170g of raw meat a day plus bird biscuits soaked in blood.

The Raven Master Yeoman Warder
The Tower Green:  This is a large grassy area in the courtyard amidst all the surrounding castle walls.  It is where some of the great names in history were executed.  It was a privilege reserved for those of high rank to be executed here instead of outside the castle walls where the public could watch.  There is a memorial where the executions took place.  Some of the most famous ones were:  
   - Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII (age early 30's)
   - Catherine Howard, fifth wife of King Henry VIII (age early 20's)
   - Lady Jane Grey (age 16)
   - Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury and relative of King Henry VIII.
         Ordered executed by King Henry VIII for treason at age 67 she was brought to the
         executioners block.  She fought and struggled and an inexperienced executioner chopped                                 a huge gash in her shoulder.  Then proceeded to take 10 more blows before she was dead.
The memorial where the executions took place.
The Salt Tower:  The tower where many prisoners were held hundreds of years ago.  We climbed all the way to the top where there is actual graffiti written by the prisoners all those years ago.  It was really a neat thing to see.  Truly amazing.

Close-ups of graffiti on tower walls.  Unfortunately
you can't read them in the picture.

There were more towers and of course the medieval palace with all the decorations and the kings' beds and such.  Very interesting and fun.  It would take hours and hours to see it all.  Joe and I did see a lot of it though.  I still remember it fondly.

The Bloody Tower

                                                         Examples of Medieval Torture


We found a restaurant and had a leisurely late lunch.  After that we walked the streets of London and shopped for the rest of the afternoon.  We had tickets to see Warhorse at the theater district that night.  When it got to be evening time we found an Irish pub that was near the theater to relax in until time to go to the show.  The Irish pub was playing a Rugby game on their big screen TV.  It was a match between an English team and a team from Limerick.  Of course the Irish servers and  customers were all roused up for the Limerick team.  I kept hearing the men holler "c'mon Monster"  "go Monster" etc.  Joe had already been chatting with an Irishman sitting next to us.  I leaned over and asked Joe which player was Monster.  He said the Irish team was called Munster.  Ohhhh, now I get it!

The trip would not be told accurately if I did not show a
picture of Sarah sleeping.  She tended to take cat naps if
we weren't moving or talking!  This snapshot was
taken at the Irish Pub.
War Horse had come highly recommended to me by several people.  A woman I sat next to at Les Miserable who was very well traveled and cultured told me, "If there is nothing else you do in London, you have got to see War Horse".  The people who sat in front of us at Billy Elliot hard heard raves about it and told us we'd need boxes of tissues.  Even the men they knew had sobbed through it.  So we were very excited about seeing the play.  As sometimes happens when a movie is built up so much in your mind that you are actually disappointed when you see it, this is what happened with War Horse.

I have to say it was a great story.  The story takes place in World War I when the beloved pet of a young boy, a horse named Joey, is sold to the cavalry for the war.   The young boy, who is still not old enough to enlist, sets out on a treacherous mission to find his horse and bring him home.  

The incredible part of the show is that all the horses are life size puppets.  It is just amazing to see how they move.  Their movements replicate the exact same movements of real horses, down to the way they pull grass while grazing in a field.  Of course you knew they were puppets, and you could see they were puppets, but when they ran, bucked, died, they moved like real horses.  Even the sounds were real.  Hard to explain, but fascinating to see.  So all in all the show was very good, and yes it was a tear jerker in the end, but I suppose we were all expecting SO much that we were a little disappointed.

When the show was over we had another 45 tube ride back to our hotel.  You may wonder why the heck we got a hotel that was so far from the city.  Well, hotels in London are pretty expensive and the hotel we were at was right at Heathrow Airport, where Cathy and Sarah's flight was taking off.  They were going to have one whole day to themselves in London as Joe and I had to go home.  He was leaving for Germany the same day that Cathy and Sarah were flying home so we had to get him ready to go.

We had a nice breakfast with the girls the next morning and then we had to say good-bye.  They were going to go to Harrods and take a tour of London on the double decker bus.  We had such a good visit and so much fun with our friends.  It was kind of a whirlwind visit, trying to fit so much in.  I learned a lot from our first visitors as far as planning and making mistakes.  They said they didn't mind being the guinea pigs for us!  What else are friends for?

This is us, saying good-bye at the hotel.
Kathy, Joe, Cathy and Sarah

Sunday, 24 October 2010

A visit from the USA: Part I: IRELAND 10/21/10

I can't believe that Sarah and Cathy's visit has come and gone so fast.  But what a breath of fresh USA air to see their smiling faces coming off that plane!  We had such a great time, even if it was a bit of a whirlwind.  Me being the rookie tour guide learned some valuable lessons along the way that will help for planning subsequent visits.  Cathy and Sarah were the willing guinea pigs, being our first visitors.

The girls will probably kill me for posting this picture but
I held my camera on for over an hour just to get this picture of them arriving and then it turned out blurry!
Naturally they were exhausted after their overnight flight so when they arrived Saturday morning we went directly to our house and lay low for the day and evening.  We spent the time talking and catching up.  I realized how my new quiet life has affected me when my throat started to get scratchy after a few hours from talking!  My voice has gotten out of shape!  I don't think that's EVER happened to me before.

We had to leave early the next morning for Ireland.  Somehow we all managed to get out of the house by 5:00 AM (with Joe's gentle urging) and off to the airport for our cheap quickie flight on Ryanair to Dublin.

We rented a car in Dublin. The lady at Hertz was so engaging (our first real experience with the Irish accent).  She enjoyed joking with us and I guess decided she liked us as she ended up giving us a great deal on a Land Rover so that we didn't have to deal with a small four door car.  In Ireland the steering wheels are on the right side of the car (just like here) and they drive on the left (again just like here).  That was fortunate for our driver (Joe).  He had to deal with three backseat women drivers, and very narrow roads, at least he was comfortable with something!

After finding our hotel, and parking our car there, we set off to see the city.  Thankfully our hotel was right in the middle of Dublin so that we could walk to pubs and buses.  We decided to take the Hop On/Hop Off bus around the city first to get our bearings.  As we were buying our tickets the man selling them was trying to give us some pointers.  He kept saying that our "goid" would help us with this or that.  We kept asking him to repeat the word, because we couldn't understand his accent.  Cathy thought he was saying goit as in goiter, a lump on someone's neck.  Finally he gave up and said "g u i d e", loudly while at the same time drawing the word out in an exaggerated American accent.  We instantly understood.  This was one of many times we had a hard time with the accent.  BUT we all loved their accents.  Out of all the accents that I've heard, Irish is my favorite by far.

We were only in Dublin for the day as we planned to drive to southern Ireland for our next three days.  We tried to make the best of our day with the Hop On/Hop Off giving us an overview of the city.  We did take time to tour the Kilmainham Gaol.  It is one of the oldest unused prisons in Europe, built in 1792.  I found it fascinating.  The tour took us through old, old, cement cells where prisoners were held.  These included men, women and children.  The youngest known prisoner was a seven year old boy.  The cells were COLD and dark and of course not heated. Cathy and I loved touching the walls, just imagining how many sad sad people had touched those same walls years ago.  There was overcrowding and the prisoners were not segregated so all were thrown in cells together.  The tour guide talked about the famine in Ireland and how some people committed crimes to get into jail as they were at least given bread and water and would not die of starvation.  

Door to cell block in old building.

Entering a hall of cells

Cell door.

What a horrible feeling to have this locked behind you!

There were some famous people in Irish history who were jailed in those walls.  Charles Stewart Parnell was one of the most important men in Ireland in the 19th century.  As a Member of Parliament he led the Parliamentary Party through a period of nationalism in Ireland between 1875 and his death in 1891.  He fought for the poor people of Ireland making trips to the U.S. and Canada to raise funds for famine relief.  One of his biggest causes were for the poor land tenants who worked on landowners farms with little or no land rights.  He also felt strongly that if Ireland were allowed to be independent from British rule that many of their problems could be solved.  He was imprisoned for nearly a year (with his party lieutenants) for opposing the Irish Land Act, a law written by a British Prime Minister and passed by the House of Parliament.  He is still to this day considered a hero in Irish history and some even call him the "uncrowned King of Ireland".

One other reason for our interest in Charles Parnell.  Our friend Cathy's maiden name is Parnell.  While she has not traced her history (yet), we had great fun telling people during our Ireland trip what her maiden name was.  We never failed to get a reaction.  One man who owned a bakery and came out to talk to us bowed down to Cathy with his hands raised over his head as if he were bowing to a God.  Cathy's family is Irish and her mother has been to Ireland a couple of times.  I think someone in her family ought to trace their roots.  Who knows, maybe they are descendants from THE Charles Parnell!

Charles Parnell's cell

Another interesting story from the Gaol was what was known as the Easter Rising in 1916.  This was a famous rebellion mounted by Irish Republicans trying to end British rule and establish the Irish Republic.  There were several groups that made up the Irish Republican Brotherhood, its counterpart in the US was called the Fenian Brotherhood.  Later the members were just referred to as the Fenians.  The rising lasted the whole week of Easter in 1916.  The fighting took place mostly in Dublin by the members of the Irish Republicans and other splinter groups and volunteers.  The rising was suppressed after seven days of fighting and the leaders were court-martialled and executed.

Joseph Plunkett was one of the leaders of the Easter Rising and many of the plans that were followed came from him.  He was to marry his sweetheart Grace Gifford (another republican sympathizer) after the uprising.  When Joseph (age 28) was arrested and set to be executed, Grace showed up at the Kilmainham Gaol wanting to go on with the wedding ceremony before he died.  They were allowed to marry there and had 10 minutes of privacy before Joseph was taken out and executed by a firing squad in the prison yard.

Over the years many republicans were arrested and incarcerated in jail without trials or charges.  Grace was arrested among others in February 1923 and detained in Kilmainham Gaol for about three months.  She painted pictures on her cell walls while she was held there.  I have taken photos of this cell among others.

Grace Plunkett's cell and the artwork below that she painted on the inside walls.

The last wing built at the jail.  This huge room of cells has been used in several  prison movies.

Inside one of these cells
My feet on the cell block, because I can't believe I'm standing here!

Original graffiti above cell door.

The execution yard.  The flag marks the spot where the executions
took place.  This was also the area where the prisoners were
forced to hard labor breaking up large stones into gravel.

This cross in the execution yard commemorates the Easter Rising of 1916.

The sign under this old scale said,
"Food in the Victorian prison was weighed on scales as delicate as those of Justice herself."

This is the front of the jail.  The two small squares to the left and right above the window marks where
they used to hang prisoners when a public hanging took place.

While riding on the tour bus around Dublin we saw the Guinness Brewery.  Guinness signs were everywhere, as they have a huge presence in Dublin.  Their advertising was in almost every single pub window you saw.  We also saw ambulances driving by with  Guinness emblazoned on the side.  The tour guide said that Guinness has their own private hospital and ambulances that are free of charge for their employees.  He also mentioned that Guinness retirees get their dinner free for life.  He probably mentioned more but those are the only notes that I was able to take as the bus bumped along and he continued talking.  It peaked my interest enough to look up the history of Guinness online to see about this unheard of philanthropy.

Guinness beer was developed in Ireland by a young entrepreneur named Arthur Guinness. In 1759 he signed a 9000 year lease (@ £45/year) for a four acre site to start his brewery business.  Within ten years he was already exporting his beer to England.  By the 1770's he had developed a new type of dark English beer and by 1799 he stopped making any other beer altogether.  I found it interesting that he had 21 children by the same woman, although only ten survived to adulthood.  There have been 6 generations of the Guinness family who  continued to run the successful business, the last family member resigned in 1986.

Young Arthur was raised a Christian and was brought up that it was his God-given duty to help the poor and down trodden.  He criticized the excesses of the upper class and sat on the board for a hospital for the poor.  He was also the founder of the first Sunday school classes in Ireland.  The legacy that Arthur and his family left over the past 250 years of running Guinness is a legacy of benevolence, as much as it is running a successful and thriving business.

A Guinness who headed the company during the 1800's said, "you cannot make money from people unless you are willing for people to make money from you."  This was quite a farsighted sentiment for the industrial age, but it is an example of the Guinness mindset that gave them their legacy.

In the 1920's a worker at the brewery would enjoy round-the-clock care from doctors, nurses, dentists and home health workers.  Retirees received pensions as a gift from the brewery (they did not have to pay towards it during their working years).  These retirement benefits were extended to widows as well.  Funeral expenses of employees and employee's family members were largely covered.  The wages were 10 - 20 per cent higher than average.  The company provided a savings bank on site and contributed to a fund that the employees could borrow from to buy houses.  To make sure that life was as it should be in their homes, the company also sponsored competitions to encourage domestic skills with cash awards for sewing, cooking, decorating, gardening and hat making.  There were clubs of all kinds including sports, raising poultry and other birds, a library, music, wood carving, sketching,  photography etc.  The educational opportunities were one of their best benefits.  Guinness paid for all of their employees aged from 14 - 30 to go to technical school in Dublin.  Each year every employee was paid to take his family into the country for a day.  Train fare and money were provided for food and entertainment.  On the Jubilee of Queen Victoria, Guinness gave every employee an extra week's salary.

One story tells of a member of the Guinness family who was given millions of dollars as a wedding gift, but then moved his bride into the slums to draw attention to the plight of the poor.  Guinness also pledged to all of their employees who fought in World War I that they would be given their jobs back after the war and paid their families half wages until they did.
I would be remiss if I didn't tell you one more benefit for the workers.  They were all allowed two pints of free Guinness every single day!

I searched to find examples of more recent years, but I could only find the information above, which is from the early 1900's.  However the tour guide is the one who mentioned the benefits of Guinness employees today and I saw the ambulances so I have to assume that it still goes on today in some fashion.

An ad in the Brazen Head Pub

After riding the bus around most of the day we ended up in a pub called O'Shea's where we heard there was traditional Irish singing every night.  We were not disappointed.  It seems that the pubs in Ireland have a tradition of sing-a-longs featuring whoever brings their instruments and voices and joins in the group.  They sing mostly Irish tunes that unfortunately we don't know the words, but we enjoyed it just the same.  They even ask for requests from us.  All I know are the songs on our Scotland CD and I was careful to ask for only the couple of Irish tunes that are on it.  One, I can't remember the name of and had to sing part of it.  To my embarrassment no one recognized it!  (But a few days later at another pub they actually did recognize it, after I had to sing it again!)   

Look what we found on this wall in O'Shea's!

I was amazed at the friendliness of all the people in the pubs.  We made sure we went to a place popular with the locals, not the tourists.  We were treated like royalty with many of the patrons coming up and starting conversations.  Unfortunately for Joe, it seemed like all the men wanted to do was talk about American politics as soon as they found out we were Americans.  He got tired of having to stick up for George Bush and other politicians.  This was only in Ireland, he has not had this issue here in the UK.  And they only did it with Joe, not with us girls.  Funny!  Had they known how into politics I am they would have surely bent my ear.  But I was glad to remain out of those skirmishes!  

We left O'Shea's pub and walked across the street to The Brazen Head, Ireland's oldest pub dating back to 1198!  It is hard to imagine that the pub has been around that long.  I don't know how much of the place is the original 11th century coach house, but there is a courtyard and three bars there now.  The Irish are famous for their story telling and their gatherings at pubs.  They lived so close together that sitting at home in the evenings was not the norm.  The English couldn't understand how the Irish could be such happy folks, despite their poverty.  But they had this social outlet that helped them immensely to enjoy life.  They didn't have art, or architecture, but they had the gift of story telling and happiness.  I can tell you it is still there today.  They are such friendly people.  I thoroughly enjoyed meeting them.

The Brazen Head, oldest pub in Ireland
Established 1198

Just a neat looking building in Dublin

The next morning we headed south.  Our first stop was Limerick.  It was about a three hour drive.  We wanted to get there by 2:30 for an Angela's Ashes tour (Frank McCourt's best selling memoir) that I heard about online.  The tour is given by an older gentleman every day of the week.  We arrived at the tour office in Limerick at 2:00 and were disappointed to hear that his tour that day was a private tour that had been previously booked.  As we were talking to the desk person he happened to come in.  He saw our sad faces and agreed to give us our very own tour AFTER his private tour!  He said he couldn't stand to turn anyone down, especially when we came from so far away.  He was such a nice guy.  He walked us outside and pointed out a castle that sat across the way. He suggested we tour it while we waited for him and agreed to take us around 5:00.  That would give him time to do his private tour and ours before he had to be at his wood carving class at 7:00!  A busy retiree!

Limerick was established by the Vikings in 812.  The whole city was on an island on the River Shannon, (now called King's Island) and was a walled city.  The Vikings fought various different clans to keep control of the city over the next couple of hundred years.  But they were eventually reduced to the level of a minor clan.  The Anglo-Normans arrived in 1172.  But there was a political leader at that time, Domhnall Mor Obrien, who burnt the whole city to the ground to keep it from the new invaders.  After he died in 1194 the Anglo-Normans took over the city.  A castle was built on orders from King John of England in 1200.  The castle still stands today, although the city walls are almost all gone.

King's John Castle from the bridge in Limerick

Castle courtyard

Castle Courtyard

Sarah, Cathy, Joe

While the castle sits on the island with a few other administration buildings, Limerick is on the south banks of the River Shannon, just a stone's throw away.  There was a cold wind coming off the water that day and then it started raining.  I'm telling you it was cold too!  The rain came down right after we got finished with the castle.  We barely got back to the tourist office and were able to stay in there while the worst of the rain came down.  Right before 5:00 when our tour started, the sun came out and it was beautiful again!  We felt extremely lucky.

Our tour guide for the Angela's Ashes tour was an older gentleman named Noel Curtain.  Sarah, Joe and I had all read Frank McCourt's books.  Cathy hadn't (she said she doesn't like to read depressing things) but we all enjoyed the tour.  It was clear that Noel loved giving the tours which of course leads to a more enjoyable experience.  Many of the places that were in the book, Frank's home and such were not there anymore.  Long ago torn down for newer, better buildings.  But we were able to see the area, the churches, his school.  For me, just walking on streets where history had taken place is a thrill.

The pictures below have captions telling you what part of McCourt's story they represent.

Hartstonge Street, one of the streets Frank McCourt lived on.
Of course housing tenements are gone now, but the area he lived in was called
"the lanes".  These slums were the most crowded and poorest possible living areas

Barrack Hill, another street Frank lived on.  His house was one of  a whole lane of
houses that shared one common lavatory, which was located right outside their rented rooms.

Frank's house was about halfway down this steep hill.  The River Shannon
runs along at the bottom of the street.  In the winter the downstairs of the house
was saturated with water from the river.  The family was forced to live upstairs during those times.
He and his brothers would go down to the docks to collect coal that was dropped during ship loading.
They would then drag it up the hill to their home.  This and begging or stealing food were everyday activities.

W.J. South.  The pub where Frank's Uncle Pa Keating took
him to have his first pint at the age of 16.

The Franciscan Church
This is where Frank went to pray for his first love who was ill with consumption.
She later died and he went to the priest for forgiveness for their sin of love making and was forgiven.

St. Joseph's church.
This is where Frank had his first communion.  He was washed and cleaned by his grandmother for this
"happiest day of his life" according to his mother and grandmother.  Here is a funny excerpt from the book
 about Grandma trying to fix his hair:

'Come here till I comb your hair said Grandma. Look at that mop, it won't lie down.You didn't
get that hair from my side of the family.  That's that North of Ireland hair you got from your father.
That's the kind of hair you see on Presbyterians.  If your mother would have married a proper
decent Limerick man you wouldn't have this standing up, North of Ireland Presbyterian hair.' 

After his communion his grandmother cooked him a huge breakfast to celebrate.  Frank, not used to a belly full of food
promptly went out back and threw it up.  His grandmother was furious that he had 'thrown up the body and blood of Christ' in her backyard.  She dragged him to the priest to confess and ask the priest what to do and that Grandma says she has God in her backyard.  .  The priest tells him to say one Hail Mary and  one |Our Father and tell his Grandma to clean up the mess with water. His mam and his grandma were waiting around the corner for him to finish the confession, his Grandma said,

'Were you telling jokes to that priest in the confession box?  If 'tis a thing I ever find out you were telling
jokes to the Jesuits I'll tear the bloody kidneys outa you.  Now what did he say about God in my backyard?'

Frank told her that he said to wash it with water.  But that didn't satisfy his grandma.  She wanted to know if  it
should be ordinary water or holy water?  This Frank did not know so she pushed him back into the confessional.
The priest replied,

'ordinary water and tell your grandmother not to be bothering me again.

When Frank relayed this message to Grandma she replied,

'Don't be bothering him again.  That bloody ignorant bogtrotter.'

Same church.  This is the door that Frank's dad took him to to ask the parish clerk,
Sacristan Stephen Carey, if Frank could be an altar boy.  The man said,
'we don't have room for you'
and slammed the door in their face.  The tour guide wondered if possibly his father
was drunk (as he so often was) at the time and offended the priest.  Descendants
of the priest say that he would never have done anything like that.

This is the park where Frank would watch the young, well off protestant
girls play.  He was so sad for them because they weren't Catholic so he knew
 they were all going to go to Hell.

St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Where Frank's mother Angela had
to wait in line for charity (food).

Frank McCourt's school, below, the bust of Frank outside
the front of the school.

The Leamy School from a distance.

By the time we left Limerick, it was about 7:00 PM.  We decided to try and get to a village
closer to the Dingle Peninsula which is where we wanted to be the next day.  So we headed out of Limerick.  We figured we'd come upon a nice village where we could get dinner and a bed and breakfast and maybe some pub entertainment for the evening.  I purposely had not booked any rooms other than the first night in Dublin.  I didn't want us to have a set schedule, not really knowing how far or where we'd be each night.  It's October and there are not that many tourists around.  Besides, it was fun just winging it.

We ended up driving about an hour and a half to Tralee, which was located right outside of the Dingle Peninsula, where we wanted to head to the next day.  We found a hotel that looked good and went in to get a room.  The women that is.  Sarah and Cathy had heard rumors about bed bugs in Europe so every hotel we had a little bed bug checking party on the mattresses before we agreed on the room.  We never found any thank goodness.  Patient Joe would wait in the car until we gave him the green light.  

It was when we were at this hotel (rather than the larger one in Dublin) that we noticed that things are done a little differently in Ireland than we are accustomed to in the U.S.  At least the smaller towns in Ireland.  There was no one at the hotel desk so we went into the bar to ask about a room.  Out from around the bar came the bartender to register us and so forth.  We asked him about getting dinner.  He said they weren't serving dinner this late (9:00!) and that we wouldn't find any restaurants or bars in the city that served that late either.  Only ONE restaurant was open and it was the Chinese restaurant up the street!  However, when we asked what time the his closed he said, "whatever time you all decide to leave"!

So, the hotel clerks double as bartenders, the food preparation only goes until 9:00 pm, but the bars stay open until the last customer leaves!  Interesting.  So that is how we ended up eating Chinese food in an Irish village and topped it off with drinks at the bar of our hotel.  Wow.  As was par for the course, Joe ended the evening in another conversation about politics with a chatty Irishman!

Before we left the town of Tralee the next morning, we walked up the street to a wonderful bakery and had pastries and scones for breakfast!  The place was packed with locals so we knew it would be good.  And of course it was!  What a treat.  Then we hopped in the car for our ride to scenic Dingle.

A few snapshots of the ride to Dingle.

Dingle is a town on the Dingle Peninsula which is located on the south western shores of Ireland.  While I was researching places to visit in Ireland, Dingle was mentioned frequently.  Once named by The National Geographic "the most beautiful place on earth".  It is voted among the top 100 places to go in the world by Trip Advisor.  With mountains in the background the town sits on a harbor.  The population is only 1200.  Gaelic is still spoken
throughout the home, workplace and schools, all the signs are in English and Gaelic.  

Signs in Gaelic and English

There were all kinds of shops, art, music (Joe bought some Irish CD's), Irish sweaters (worn by everyone),  crafts, purses, souvenirs, you name it.  They were all along the narrow streets in brightly colored building fronts.  We also bought several small paintings done by local artists of the Dingle area.  We ate lunch in a place called "Murphy's" and had a great lunch among the locals. 

Joe was shocked to see a man crossing the street wearing a Philadelphia Eagles hat!  It happened to be the day after they had played the Redskins.  Joe knew that they had played but didn't know the results.  So he asked the guy how the game went.  The guy responded by saying "we lost".  Well, we were happy anyway!  Joe thought that was such a small world.

I am in all Sarah's pictures and she's in all mine.  We were the only ones with the cameras!

The main street in town with the mountains in the background.
Same below:

The harbor in Dingle

The Dingle Peninsula goes out 30 miles into the Atlantic Ocean.  There are mountains down the center of the peninsula with miles of coastline along the edge.  The views were spectacular.  The coastline changed from steep rocky cliffs that had sheer drops to the sea, to sandy beaches to waves that crashed onto rocky shores to grasslands that literally stopped at the ocean.  The grasslands came complete with sheep grazing on them!  Such a weird sensation to see grass growing right up to the ocean!  And all this with NO buildings, parking lots, or anything that remotely resembles our idea of a beach area.   There is one main road that takes you up around the peninsula.  I say main road, but it was extremely narrow!  There were small roads every once in a while that ran off of it, but all roads fed from the main one so traveling along it brought you round full circle.  There were few houses along the way, mainly on the opposite side of the road from the beach, up on the mountain slopes.  We all decided we'd love to live in one of those houses with the peaceful quiet and the breathtaking views...at least for a little while!  There were a few pull-offs along the narrow road and we instructed Joe to pull off at each and every one so that we could take pictures.  Usually there was no warning when one would be coming along so we didn't want to miss anything by him having to ask "do you want to stop here"?  

Here are some of photos from the peninsula itself:

Sarah went all out for her pictures.  I didn't climb walls to take mine!

We all really enjoyed our time in Dingle.  I learned several things on this trip.  Instead of so much driving, we probably should have stayed a couple days in Dublin and another couple days in one other town.  We ended up spending a lot of time on the road.  It worked out fine for us, and we chatted the whole time in the car, and saw lots of Ireland, but there are probably better ways it could have been done.  One big thing I learned was that we could have flown into Dublin airport (like we did) and then flown out of Shannon airport which was in the southwest of Ireland, where we were.  As it was, we had to drive back up to Dublin to catch our flight the next day.

One thing we noticed about the Irish.  They don't travel much in their own country.  Their country is only the size of Indiana.  Of course it is an island so it has 3,000 miles of coastline.  But most people stay very close to their town and villages and don't venture out to see other parts of the land.  I met a local on our last night in a pub near Dublin.  I told her that we had been in Dingle that day and she said she'd never been there!  I was so surprised as Dingle is a very popular destination and even if it might be touristy at times, it is still a beautiful place to see.  We heard that several times from people.  They pretty much stayed put where they were.

As I mentioned above we wanted to get back in the Dublin area for the night so we set off from Dingle to a village right outside of Dublin called Naas.  The drive took us about four hours.  We went in and did the bartender/hotel clerk/bed bug check routine again.  We dropped our stuff off and that's about the time we realized that we had managed to get into town late with the prospect of no restaurants open again!  

Our bartender/desk clerk said they weren't serving any food but told us of a restaurant up the street that should still be serving food.  Off we went on a trot to get to the restaurant before it closed!  We passed a convenient mart, several closed restaurants and just as we got to what we thought was our destination they were putting the closed sign up!  We hurriedly asked if there were anymore open places and were directed up the road a bit more.  Practically running now we took off for the next open place.  (You'd think we hadn't been fed for weeks!)  One pub was not serving food (not even bar snack food, we were desperate enough to take that) and our last hope restaurant had just closed too!  How could this happen again!  And this time it didn't look like we would even get a Chinese place to go to!  We turned back with sad faces and decided we would have to buy a sandwich at the convenience store.  What a disappointment.  We so looked forward to our meals out and the fun of eating with the Irish.  When we finally dragged ourselves to the convenience mart it was all dark.  In the 20 minutes or so that we had gone up to find restaurants, it had also closed!  This just wasn't funny anymore.  We all looked across the street at the gas station that had a little store in it and sadly realized that this was going to be dinner.  So we went in and picked out a few items and took them across the street to our hotel bar and had our little gas station meal at one of the tables there.  How pathetic are we?  We let that happen to us not once, but twice in our three nights in Ireland!

There was one highlight of that night though.  Our hotel bar had a great group of folks who were singing that night.  They had two or three guitars, one fiddle, a flute and a drum and a nice selection of singers.  One guy was quite a character that kept us entertained.  They loved having Americans in their audience and treated us to some American tunes too.  It was such an enjoyable evening.  Sarah went to bed first, followed a little while later by Cathy but Joe and I ended up staying until we were the last patrons there.  They played for the two of us for about an hour until they had to go around 1:00 am.  I even got them to sing Danny Boy, something no one seems to want to sing because it goes so high.  They did miss a couple of the high notes, but I still loved it.

That pretty much ended our Ireland trip.  We left the next morning for Dublin airport and flew back to our home in England.  I will write about our London excursion in my next blog.  

I can't end this blog without a mention of the wonderful man that I married.  He basically put up with three wives yacking and cackling at him while being trapped in a car with us for four days without one complaint!  He was great company, an excellent driver and patient as a saint when we were shopping and running around. Cathy and Sarah marveled at his patience over and over again.  They both said that their men wouldn't have lasted five minutes with us! 
Love you Joe!