Saturday, May 31, 2014

Knock and Athlone

Today Travalon and I made the arduous journey to Knock. You would think a major pilgrimage site, with over one million visitors a year, would have a direct train line from Dublin, but we had to take the bus with very limited options. The bus was leaving from the airport at 8:50, so we figured we'd take the 8:10 shuttle, and we showed up for breakfast at 7:30... just to discover it doesn't open until 8:00. The woman did let us have some cold cereal, but as soon as the hot food opened up, people materialized out of nowhere and got into line so fast we had no hopes of getting any eggs before the shuttle arrived. That's OK, we told each other - we didn't need a huge breakfast, even if we had already paid 7 and a half euros for it.

The bus from Dublin did not go directly to Knock, either; we had to transfer at a substantial town called Athlone right in the middle of the country. I had been wondering what was in the middle of Ireland, since our tour only covered the coasts, and now I know. The ticket machine in Athlone did not accept our credit cards, even though it said it would, so Travalon had to hoof it to what they call in Scotland "the hole in the wall," i.e., the cash machine. While he was gone, I attempted to use my credit and debit cards with no success either. Then the machine did not accept 50 euro notes, so we had to get change from the concession lady. I bought a bag of popcorn from her, and Travalon bought potato chips, and this ended up being our lunch.

The trip to Knock was longer, but more interesting, since we stopped in lots of villages. We were expecting to have 55 minutes in Knock before the last bus left for Dublin just after two, but because another bus was late into Athlone, our bus driver had to wait, so we only had half an hour there. We explored the site and saw the old church and the wall where the apparition took place in 1879, but we didn't bother with the big, ugly, new basilica. I also bought a scapular, which I desperately needed, for like 65 cents. (Euro cents, not US ones.) Then we caught the bus back to Athlone.

Since Knock was so hurried, we decided to take our time in Athlone, which is not very touristy at all. We had a fine dinner of fish and chips and then ducked into a pub for half a pint (I was the only woman in there), then we went to Mass at Sts. Peter and Paul Church. Like in Knock, they knelt where we stand; like in Cobh, they received communion while kneeling. The music was, oddly enough, oompah stuff with guitars, an accordion, and a drum. Then we returned to the bus station and found a whole bunch of information about what is in Athlone, including the Medieval castle we'd seen near the church and the oldest pub in Ireland, from the year 980 AD. Had we only known... Also, there was a place we could have eaten dinner overlooking the river Shannon, since it was such a beautiful day. And they have Viking ship cruises on the Shannon. So if there is a place in Ireland we'd like to return to, it's Athlone.

The return bus from Athlone to Dublin did not take a direct route but meandered through a bunch of villages, so that was fun. Also, it was a double-decker bus with more comfortable seats and more legroom for Travalon. Some of the villages had great names like Killbaggen and Killcock; if "kill" means church, those names still make no sense. There were names I couldn't even begin to pronounce. We wanted to stop into some of those villages too, where people were very authentic, walking dogs and going for jogs and hanging out smoking in front of pubs. So very much like Wisconsin. We didn't see a single tourist shop in any of them. In Dublin, there is a tourist shop every five feet, and the pubs are what they think Americans are looking for in an Irish pub. But don't skip Dublin, if you come - the Archaeology Museum is excellent.

Famous Hat

Friday, May 30, 2014

Loch Ness

Yesterday Travalon and I got going early to catch the train from Aberdeen to Inverness, a very cute town on the Ness River. We went to the tourist office and managed to grab the last two tickets for the Loch Ness tour that day. Our bus driver was a woman named Sue who had an outrageous Highland brogue. She told us about "heeland coos," fuzzy brown creatures we call Highland cows, and also about Nessie the famous monster that allegedly lives in Loch Ness. Apparently the first recorded sighting of Nessie was when she (Sue always referred to the monster in the feminine) appeared to one of St. Columba's followers who was swimming across the lake and scared the living bejeebers out of him, so St. Columba told the monster to get lost. There were a bunch of sightings in the 1920's and 30's, when some photos were taken that I'm pretty sure were all later discovered to be fakes. You don't hear so much about Nessie these days, but they sure play the legend up in Inverness, which means "the mouth of the Ness," since it's good for tourism.

Sue dropped us off at the docks and we got onto a boat and cruised Loch Ness, a very beautiful, long loch (Sue says, "Don't call it a lake!") with high, craggy hills all around it. We had a gorgeous, sunny day, and Travalon and I stood at the front of the boat enjoying the sights, which did not include the monster, I'm sad to say. The boat stopped at Urquhart Castle, a Medieval ruin that overlooks the lake, and we climbed all over it. Travalon took lots of great photos, but of course I cannot take any because my camera is dead - I can't see anything in the view screen. It's not entirely clear that my previous photos are gone, or even that I cannot take photos now - I just can't see what I'm doing. And of course I will not know if my photos survived until returning to Wisconsin, when I can try to upload them to Rich's computer Aquinas. The question is this: is it worth repairing such a cheap little camera?

After Travalon and I returned to Aberdeen, we had dinner at Jamie Oliver's restaurant. (He is apparently some celebrity chef.) I was starting to get a cold, so they made me a hot toddy, and that really seemed to help. Today we had another uneventful flight back to Dublin, then we explored some free museums here, like the Natural History Museum (aka the Dead Zoo) and the Archaeology Museum, which had displays of the remains of some people found in the bogs, so it was kind of a creepy day. One guy had perfect fingernails, and in the notes it said this shows he was of high status. They all met violent ends.

I was feeling much worse today and wanted another hot toddy, but the first pub we went to couldn't make them so we set off down the street. We happened to pass a place called Toddy's and wondered if the name was any indication of their familiarity with the drink (so far as I know, it's just hot water, whiskey, honey, and lemon), and indeed they could make one for us. Travalon had one too because he's been suffering with a cold since before our trip started, and it waxes and wanes, but today it is waxing badly. So we're both sniffly and miserable, but the hot toddies and seafood chowder at Toddy's really helped. How lucky to have found them!

Famous Hat

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Castle Hat

Sorry for the lack of blogging yesterday, but we were staying at Castle Hat, and there were no computers there to use. The day started out fine, with an uneventful flight from Dublin to Aberdeen. (Uneventful is just how I like my flights, since I am terrified of planes.) The Aberdeen airport is small and seems to be nothing but an ad for something called the RSB Group. We weren't sure where to catch the train to one of the two villages Lady Hat would have been willing to pick us up from, so we just took a taxi, which was a fifty-pound trip. At least the taxi driver had an entertaining Scottish brogue and told us Hat was a really popular surname in the area - his best friend's name was Hat.

We arrived at Castle Hat in the early afternoon, which seemed to throw Lady Hat for a loop. "I understood you weren't arriving until five," she said. She told us we could explore the grounds, which were covered with spectacular blooming rhododendrons, and that dinner would be at eight. Eight!? We hadn't eaten lunch, so Travalon and I decided to find the nearest pub. Lady Hat practically jumped at the chance to dump us off in front of the Hat Arms Hotel, a very cute building bearing the Hat family coat of arms, but it was not open. Travalon and I wondered what to do: walk the three miles back to Castle Hat on an empty stomach, or wait around and hope the pub opened? Fortunately a woman walking a dog helpfully told us there was a bistro in a village another mile and a half down the road, so we headed there. Once in town, we asked a guy if he knew where the bistro was, and he laughed and said, "I'm the owner!" So we had a good lunch and walked back to the Hat Arms Hotel, which was mysteriously open for business. It was a gorgeous day, so we sat outside sharing a ginger beer and then decided to walk the three miles back to Castle Hat, but we hadn't taken into account that all the creatures in Scotland are very friendly and come to greet you when you pass by. We had to stop to talk to horses, ponies, cattle, and sheep, plus Travalon took lots of shots of the Scottish Highlands, with rugged mountains rising behind pine-covered hills and yellow fields filled with rapeseed plants. Consequently, we were late for dinner at Castle Hat, but oddly Lord and Lady Hat didn't seem that put out, especially considering how annoyed Lady Hat had seemed when we arrived earlier than she expected.

Castle Hat is not as sumptuous as the Irish castle we stayed at, but it was not a disappointment. The decor involved loads of animal heads and tiger skins, the Hat family tartan everywhere, the Hat family coat of arms everywhere else, the Hat family crest in the rest of the places, and paintings of ancestral Hat clan members all over the walls. Lady Hat is a fellow plant lover, and there were blooming orchids and cacti all over. Our room was light-filled, with a bathroom nearly as large and just as light. Richard Bonomo will be proud to learn it contained a bidet. (Unlike the toilet downstairs, the one in our room did not have the Hat family coat of arms prominently featured on the lid.) Dinner was in the formal dining room and was fish soup, roe deer from the estate, spinach grown on the estate, and for dessert, a plum crumble with plums grown on the estate. We talked with Lord Hat, a fine tall specimen with very blue eyes and white hair, about the Hat family history, although I felt a little like the poor cousin admitting my branch of the Hats were Irish. (I didn't even mention the Catholic part.) He is the twenty-third Lord Hat and can trace his family directly back to Angus Hat in the eighth century. Wow! I'm not sure I can even name all my great-grandparents. We talked late into the night, since the sun doesn't set in Scotland at this time of year until well after 10 pm. Then I took a bath, because there was no shower, and fortunately I had brought my own shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel. Castle Hat does not provide such amenities, though oddly they did have shaving cream in the bathroom.

This morning Lady Hat fed us cereal and toast in the kitchen, then Lord Hat took us to see the stone circle on the Hat estate. It had a huge stone altar carved with what looked like a shamrock, three sort of round indentations Lord Hat said are called "the devil's hoofprints." Then Lady Hat dumped us in the village of Insch, a place with no amenities like coffee shops or toilets, but there was a hill towering over the town known as Dunny Deer Hill, and on the top of it was an ancient stone arch. Travalon took lots of photos, since my camera died once we arrived at Castle Hat. (Probably from getting so wet at Bru Na Boinne.) I am just loving all these ancient stone monuments all over this area, the northeast part of Scotland. Lord Hat tells us there are more here than anywhere else in the country. Then Travalon and I took the train to Aberdeen, a very pretty town full of granite buildings. We had lunch at a Brazilian restaurant and then set off to explore the city. Fortunately we found the internet cafe where I am now writing this, since I know my family members will be most interested in reading about Castle Hat. One guess where Pa Hat and Brother Hat's Christmas presents are coming from this year.

Famous Hat

Monday, May 26, 2014

Ireland: The Ancient Stuff

It is getting late, and we have a very early morning tomorrow, plus I am writing this on the hotel's one free computer, so I will make it quick. Last night the "modern" shower at the castle was a letdown, since it had temperature regulation problems, so I used the claw-footed bathtub. And that was great! Otherwise, staying in a castle is an amazing experience. I highly recommend it to everyone.

This morning we drove to a place called Bru Na Boinne (or "the Boyne riverbank") to see Neolithic tombs. Before that, our busdriver/tour guide took us off the route just a bit to see what some people regard as the finest high cross in Ireland. It was enormously tall and carved with Biblical scenes, and I took a bunch of photos of it. That was what I'd been hoping to see in Ireland - ancient Celtic crosses! Then we drove to Bru Na Boinne to see sights that made the cross look brand-new. We went to a burial site called Knowth, right near the more famous Newgrange, and admired the 5000 year old, very tall mound of the main burial site and all the smaller mounds surrounding it. Around its edges are rocks carved with all sorts of swirly designs. I took lots of photos of that too. We even climbed up on top of the mound, but then it began to rain on us really hard - bad juju from standing on ancient graves? The guide told us to climb it.

Since we were thoroughly soaked but we were going to take a walking tour of Drogheda, the town we are now in, I elected not to bother changing in case we just got rained on further. There aren't that many highlights in Drogheda, but two of them were fabulous: the head of the martyr Oliver Plunkett and an ancient Norman gate still towering over the city. After the walk, I did change into dry clothes for dinner. A number of amateur musicians played traditional Irish music for us during dessert, and after they were done, I struck up a conversation with them and played a tune I know as "Coleraine" on some guy's mandolin. He had an app on his phone that records a tune and then figures out what it is, and it said that it was indeed called "The Coleraine Jig." (They played a tune they call "The Cork Hornpipe" that my band calls "Harvest Home," but they were aware of that name for it too.) None of them knew "The Coleraine Jig," but they liked it and want to add it to their repertoire. It figures that I would go to Ireland and end up teaching Irish musicians Irish tunes.

Hopefully my famous hat will be dried out by tomorrow. It got quite waterlogged in the rain today. They say in Ireland it only rains twice a week: once for three days, and once for four.

Famous Hat

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Titanic Museum and Cabra Castle

Today we drove to Belfast and went to the Titanic Museum, on the site where the Titanic was actually built. It is a weird modern building with things like the prows of ships sticking out in several directions. Inside we took a ride that sort of showed us what it would have been like to help build the Titanic (LOUD!!!) and watched actual video footage of the underwater wreckage being explored. Travalon is a HUGE Titanic fan, so he went a little nuts in the gift shop buying stuff for himself, me, and friends.

For lunch our tour guide dropped us off in downtown Belfast, but most places were closed on a Sunday, so Travalon and I ended up eating lunch at a Chinese restaurant. I was jonesin' for pizza, but at least Chinese food is a break from meat, salmon, and potatoes. With some meals they would actually give us more than one type of potato, like fried and mashed. And potatoes with pasta! The insanity never ends. And the only vegetables they seem to eat are carrots and turnips, so the Chinese veggie mix was most welcome.

On our way to Cabra Castle, we were delayed by a Eucharistic procession that included a brass band, little girls in white First Communion dresses, and a young African priest. It was raining, but that didn't dampen their spirits. All the houses and shopfronts had little Marian shrines set up, so it must have had something to do with May being the month of Mary. We could hear them praying the rosary, and the little girls waved enthusiastically at us. They were headed for a church up on a hill. We were going so slowly behind them that one of our group got off and used the facilities at a hotel along the route and then caught up to us, no problem.

I do not know why this castle is named Cabra, which is Spanish for "goat" but who knows if it means anything in Gaelic? Travalon and I couldn't believe it when we saw our room: stone walls, a canopy over the bed, a claw-footed bathtub (and a blessedly modern shower), and antique furniture. I didn't think they would have internet access at a castle, but in fact they do have a computer here - three euros for a half hour, but that's better than nothing. This place is so romantic, it's the ultimate honeymoon destination!

Famous Hat

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Giant's Causeway

Today was much better than yesterday. First we had a tour of Derry (which is what I call it; were I Protestant, I would call it "Londonderry") by a guy who was both entertaining and incredibly moving when talking about "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland and the peace that has lately been reigning. We almost cried, listening to him. Also, his accent was endlessly entertaining. The Northern Irish accent is much stronger than what we'd been hearing so far. He took us up on the old walls of the city, but we only got to see part of them, so Travalon and I vowed to come back.

After the tour, our group drove to the Giant's Causeway, an amazing natural formation of hexagonal basalt pillars each about a foot and a half across, so it looks like a giant stone beehive from the top and a pipe organ from the side.. We climbed out onto it - no big deal for someone used to the rocks at Devil's Lake - and I took lots of photos, one of which turned out really well. The reason it is called the Giant's Causeway is that the mythical giant Finn McCool created it to walk across the sea to Scotland to fight another giant, over a woman, of course.

Back in Derry, Travalon and I took our laundry to a laundrette, where they do it for you, since this town does not have a good old do-it-yourself laundromat. Then we had lunch at a very authentic Irish pub recommended by a drunk guy who had asked us if we were tourists. Because Northern Ireland is not as touristy as the Republic, it seems more real. People were watching rugby and what we call soccer on TVs and cheering on their teams, and the food was much better than at touristy pubs. There is sort of a British veneer over things around here, like the wake-up call and elevator talk in the Queen's English, but underneath things are very, very Gaelic. I would recommend Derry as a great place to visit, despite what I might have said about it yesterday. The people we encountered today were unfailingly friendly and helpful.

Travalon and I walked along the city walls, making the whole circuit, which is about a mile. Then we went to Mass at the Cathedral, St. Eugene's, and it was just like Mass back home, unlike the one we went to in Cork. They had vigil Masses at 6:15 and 7:30. So far my fears about finding Mass here have been completely unfounded - they always have them at wonderfully convenient times. Now we don't have to worry about finding one in Belfast tomorrow.

Famous Hat

Friday, May 23, 2014

Bad Luck in Derry

Today was our first bad day of the trip. It started with breakfast, which was overcrowded, and a woman in our group had hot tea spilled on her by a waitress. They didn't seem to have enough waitresses to handle the crowd. Then we went to the Museum of Country Life, and just as we arrived, they had a preplanned fire drill, so we had to wait to use the bathroom after our long bus trip. At least they had delicious scones in the cafe. Good thing we had those scones, too, because we had to wait forever in line at our lunch stop, some restaurant with five choices on the menu, all meat. (Richard Bonomo would love it.) It was cafeteria-style but very expensive. The line snaked out the door, and Travalon and I were at the end of it, so we shivered in the cold weather. We went to the Belleek Pottery factory, which was the only thing about the day that seemed to go fine, because then when we got to our hotel in Derry (Doire), they didn't have a room key for Travalon and me. Finally they "upgraded" us to a normal-sized room, begging the question: what was our original room like? To top it all off, the front desk sent us a message that our flight home had been canceled, and the first one they could get us on is June 1st. The downside: I'll be really exhausted when I get back to work the next day. The upside: maybe now we'll have a chance to visit Knock, the one place I'd wanted to visit that wasn't on our itinerary. Here's hoping tomorrow is a much better day!

Famous Hat

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Connemara Marble and Kylemore Abbey

One quick note from our visit to Durty Nellie's pub yesterday: they had an "I closed Wolski's" sticker on the wall (that's a pub on the east side of Milwaukee) and several stickers advertising Milwaukee's Irishfest. Between that and my dessert last night, which had some fancy French name but was a cream puff, it was like a little taste of Wisconsin right here in Ireland.

Today we went to the village of Cong, which comes from the Irish word "conga," meaning not a dance but (and this is truly relevant for those of you back in Madtown) an isthmus. The reason this little village is known among tourists is because the John Wayne/Maureen O'Hara picture (or "filim," as our tour guide pronounces film) The Quiet Man was filmed (filimed?) there. We took a walking tour of sites from the movie, and when it began to rain on us, our tour guide asked someone to play Gene Kelly (who is not in the movie), so one guy from our bus kept singing, "I'm singin' in the rain!" at the top of his lungs, over and over, because he didn't know any of the rest of the words. Then the tour guide picked a guy to play John Wayne's character, and wouldn't you know he could do a dead-on impression of John Wayne. I didn't have a part in the re-enactment of the movie, but Travalon got chosen to be the young cleric Father Paul because he is the tallest guy in the group.

After leaving Cong, we drove through the countryside of Connemara, admiring breathtaking scenery like Lough Caragh ("lough" means lake) full of wooded islands and surrounded by mountains. We went to Kylemore Abbey, a Victorian castle built by some guy for his wife, and when she unfortunately died of fever at the age of 45 while they were visiting Egypt, he built a miniature neo-Gothic cathedral the size of a chapel for her memorial. We had lunch in a tearoom with a stunning panoramic view of the mountains and lake.

On the way back to Galway, we stopped at the Connemara marble factory for a brief tour and to purchase some marble pieces to bring home. I added yet another rosary to my collection. Why not, it's been way over a year, maybe two, since I've acquired a new rosary. Then tonight we are going to a traditional song and dance show that is supposed to be one of the premier ones in Ireland, so hopefully it will be quite a bit better than the one we saw in Dublin. It runs very late, and of course we have to be up early again tomorrow, so we're going to be short on sleep until getting to Scotland, where we have no breakneck agenda.

Famous Hat

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Cliffs of Moher

Last night after blogging, I went with Travalon to a nearby pub to hear some live music in Killarney. We struck up a conversation with a very bitter man from West Cork who doesn’t believe in God because of all his suffering. It made me realize how precious to me my faith is, because without it, you would wonder what the point of it all is. Pray for this man, who was polishing off his second pint of Guinness. It was too hard in a loud bar to have a deep theological conversation with an inebriated man, but maybe I made the slightest of impressions on him.

Today we got on the bus and drove to Adare, a village that seems to mostly consist of tourist shops, but the good news is I found the perfect gift for Richard Bonomo there, to thank him for watching Cashmere for me. Then we stopped at Bunraddy Castle and a very old pub called Durty Nellie’s, where the bartender gave me a shot and wouldn’t tell me what it was. “Guess,” he said. I guessed ouzo, but it was actually sambuca. The inside of Durty Nellie’s was dark and ancient-looking, just what you’d expect in a real Irish pub. We stopped for lunch at a pub called Dillon’s in a village called Einagh and then drove to the Cliffs of Moher. They drop 700 feet to the sea below, and I took lots of photos but am afraid they will not do them justice. You had to be there and see the seagulls wheeling around in front of the cliffs, and the water foaming at their base.

Past the Cliffs we drove through an area called the Burren, which is hard to describe; Travalon said it was like the Badlands of Ireland. Lots of craggy rocks, but there were plants peeking out between them, including 44 species of orchids that all seemed to be in bloom. Our tour guide/busdriver told us 22 of the species are unique to the Burren, and the plants in the east/west cracks are Mediterranean while the plants in the north/south cracks are alpine. When we arrived in Galway, Travalon and I were stunned to see our hotel room – our tour guide had told them it was our honeymoon, so we have a suite, with a sitting room overlooking Galway Bay. They even left two cupcakes for us. At dinner we got complementary drinks for our honeymoon. I am not going to be able to adjust to regular life after being spoiled like this! We took a walk by the beach and found lots of seashells and stranded jellyfish, and we ended the evening by going to Ireland’s first Slovakian pub, or so they claim. Tune in tomorrow when we voyage to Connemara.

Today is Pa Hat's birthday. Happy birthday, Pa Hat!

Famous Hat

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dingle all the Way

Today our group toured Dingle, which is a peninsula in Southwestern Ireland. The scenery was really beautiful, what I always imagined Ireland looking like, with the misty mountains in the distance and rolling green hills divided by hedges and rock walls, and sheer cliffs dropping to the sparkling sea. They had said it was going to be a worse day today than yesterday, but for most of the day it was sunny and lovely. Travalon says Dingle is his favorite place we have visited so far, and I enjoyed it a lot myself.

Not only is Dingle beautiful, but it is in the Gaelteach, or the areas where they still speak Irish. Travalon and I attempted to learn a few phrases today, like "Thank you" (which I totally had down but now have completely forgotten, except that it starts with a G), "How are you?" which is "Canas ta tu?" and the reply is "Taim go maith," or at least that's how the woman in a shop we stopped at wrote it down for me. I don't think I have pronounced it right yet, so don't ask how to say it. Apparently "tu" is the only word for "you" in Irish; it feels very weird to use it with strangers when you come from a Romance language background, where "tu" is reserved for close friends and children. Irish does actually seem to have a lot in common with Romance languages, especially French, so I can sometimes make out what the signs say. Seeing all these bilingual signs in a mountainous, overcast land brings back memories of my time in the Basque country, except that I'm not struggling to understand them when they speak English... for the most part. A few people have such strong accents that I'm not quite sure what they're saying.

Travalon did buy me a lovely piece of jewelry today: a silver necklace with a pendant that has both our names written in Ogham, the ancient Celtic alphabet, and then on the back it says "Go Deo," which means forever in Irish. Then our group went to an education center to learn about the people who used to live on the Blasket Islands, rugged islands off the Dingle peninsula. The government made them leave in the 1950's because it was too hard to get there in an emergency during the winter. Yet people had lived there for millennia without any concern about that. We didn't go out to the island, but on the mainland we saw stone beehive huts that were four thousand years old. Pretty impressive! As our busdriver/tour guide said, "I doubt if my house will still be standing in four thousand years." Then we returned to Killarney, where I am blogging before we go out this evening for a late dinner and maybe some live music. Tomorrow we're off to the famous Cliffs of Moher!

Famous Hat

Monday, May 19, 2014

Kissing the Blarney Stone

This morning our group piled on the bus and drove to Blarney Castle, which has unbelievably beautiful gardens around it. The rhododendrons were in spectacular bloom in many colors. I agonized forever about climbing the steep stairs to the Blarney Stone, leaning over the chasm to kiss it, and going back down the stairs (the worst part when you're scared of heights), but finally I did it, and it really wasn't so bad. I didn't even get winded climbing all the way up to the top of the tower, so maybe all the walking we're doing is paying off. Then we drove to an adorable town called Kenmare, where half the businesses were called O'Sullivan, so maybe that's where some of my ancestors came from. The buildings were very traditional and painted in a rainbow of colors. We had amazing fish and chips at a pub there called O'Donnabhain's, which is pronounced O'Donovan's. We drove through part of the Ring of Kerry, up in the mountains, and I tried to get a really good shot of the mist shrouding them. We went to a sheep farm to watch demonstrations of shearing and dogs herding the sheep, and we got to pet some baby lambs. Finally we arrived in Killarney and took a horse carriage ride through Killarney National Park, seeing excellent views of the islands in the three lakes and the ruins of Ross Castle. Now I am blogging on a free computer in the hotel lobby, but other people are waiting to use it, so I'm making the description of this eventful day brief.

Famous Hat

Sunday, May 18, 2014

High Speed Mass in Cork

This morning we had to get up criminally early for a vacation so that we could get on the bus by 8:00. You'd think I'd be used to getting up early from going to UGGH Club... We had put in a wakeup call the day before with the same hotel and just got a phone call, but this morning, in a creepy Orwellian twist, the TV in our room switched on, started beeping loudly, and displayed a message along the lines of: "Welcome Travalon!"

Our first stop this morning was a farmhouse in Kilkenny County, where we had scones and tea and learned about life on an Irish farm. For example, Irish farmers do not get up at 4:00 am and they don't understand why American farmers do. They get up between 6:30 and 7:00, which is much less painful. We drove through the ancient city of Kilkenny ("kill" in Gaelic place names just means "church") and saw the beautiful old castle and a café called the Blah Blah Blah Café, but we didn't get a picture of that. Then we drove to Waterford and toured the famous crystal factory. We had a very long drive from there to Cork, but the scenery was lovely; it was an overcast day, so clouds were drifting down off the mountains in the distance. Plus everything is in bloom here, including the palm trees, most of which are actually dracaenas but so big that they look like trees.

I am not clear about whether the Hat clan came from the city of Cork or the county by that name, since it is the largest county in Ireland. Cork City does have lots of intriguing stores, like one painted with flames and named "Fred Zepplin." (Travalon did get a picture of that.) Unfortunately, just like in Dublin, all the really beautiful old churches were long ago taken over by The Church of Ireland, which is apparently some branch of Anglicanism. So I wonder if anyone goes to those churches, since 90% of the population is Roman Catholic. We had a walking tour of Cork but fortunately got done in time to go to Mass at 6 pm at a church called - you guessed it - St. Patrick's. It was the fastest Sunday Mass I've ever attended because they skipped the sign of the peace and recited the Gloria, though they did sing the Our Father... in Gaelic. The rest of the Mass was in English, and we didn't feel underdressed because everyone wore jeans. They knelt during the times when we stand, unlike the Mass we attended in Cobh, which was basically like an American Mass except that they received communion while kneeling, which they actually did not do here in Cork. Because Mass was so speedy, we got back to the hotel just in time to join our group for dinner, and our table had a toast for Travalon and me to congratulate us on our recent marriage. Now we are at an internet café with very slow speed, which just seems wrong when you have to pay for it. Oh well, it's only three euros for the two of us.

Famous Hat

Saturday, May 17, 2014

I'd Rather Be Blogging about This

It's a nonstop adventure blogging in another country. I just had to change my password, and I can't reuse either of the ones I regularly use. Here's hoping I remember this one... Today was another eventful day in Dublin, which is apparently Gaelic for "dark pool," in case you were wondering. We are learning so much on this tour, like did you know that "whiskey" comes from the Gaelic word for water? And that young guys will give a lady their seat on the tram, which they call the Luas, which is Gaelic for "speed"? And the college girls here wear the same tacky black leggings as the ones back home do. This morning we toured a Georgian mansion called Rossbourough House from the 1740's filled with antiques, then we toured the Guinness plant, although not the part where they actually brew the stuff. At the end of the tour we were in a glass tower overlooking Dublin, and we got a free pint to enjoy. Then we took the double-decker tourist bus around town and got off at the museum, where we looked at all kinds of cool artifacts. My favorite were the early Celtic Christianity things, but the prehistoric and Medieval stuff was all really fascinating. Because we are so random, Travalon and I had a light lunch at a Mexican restaurant, then in the evening the group went to dinner and a show. First there was singing, then a guy playing the pipes (I did like that), and then dancing, which is technically Irish dancing in that it is dancing that is taking place in Ireland, but I have seen more authentic Irish dancing in Madtown. The singing was also a lot of stuff that I don't like, for example "When Irish Eyes are Smiling," "Tura Lura," and "Danny Boy." Is this genuine Irish music??? Maybe it is, but I sure don't like it. And the show just kept going on and on... First the singers, then the dancers, then the singers again, then the dancers again, then the singers again... I was sure we were in Purgatory. Afterwards on the bus I said I would rather have been blogging, and Travalon said I should get a shirt that says: "I'd rather be blogging." You know me, I'm a little rude, so I'd like one that says: "I'd rather be blogging about this," and I could hide it under a jacket and then reveal it if things are getting too boring. We wished we had skipped this extravaganza of questionable Celtic culture and gone to Mass, so that will be our adventure tomorrow - finding a Mass in the evening in Cork. Pray that we find one!

Famous Hat

Friday, May 16, 2014

Famous Hat in Gaol

Today Travalon and I slept in, then we went to a cafe for brunch and took a taxi ride with a very entertaining cabbie to our present hotel. This guy reminded me of my paternal grandpa, the way he kept saying how lovely I was and regaling us with entertaining stories. We met up with our tour group and took a tour of Dublin, stopping for a tour of Kilmainham Gaol. The little cells in the "new" part reminded me of cells I've seen in monasteries, and one of them had a very cool painting of the Virgin Mary that I took a picture of. No idea if a prisoner painted that - how would he have gotten a hold of paints? There was lots of graffiti everywhere except in the room where condemned prisoners went to await execution, which sort of surprised me - if there was ever a time you'd want to leave your mark, it should be your last hours of life. Unless they cleaned all those up... The room did look freshly painted. I swear you could still feel the tension in this room from all those people preparing for their executions. We also saw the room where they did the hangings, and the yard where they shot fourteen Irish protesters back in 1916. The prison closed in 1924 and fell into disrepair until some people decided to fix it up in the 60's. The prison tour guide said we had all been well-behaved, so he was letting us leave. Then the tour took us through beautiful Phoenix Park, with its herd of fallow deer visible under the trees in the distance.

This evening Travalon and I went to a sports bar for fish and chips (he had prawn and chips), then we went to a place called Dawson Pub which is supposedly the smallest pub in the world. It is downstairs and reminds me of someone's basement, though to tell you the truth it isn't that much smaller than Le Tigre Lounge. It reminded me of there too, with the dim lighting and chill atmosphere. Now I am blogging for free at the hotel - no internet cafe for us tonight! The keyboards here are a little weird, like the @ and " are switched around from what I'm used to. Plus I had trouble getting into my blog the first time because Google was skeptical that I was logging in from Ireland, but I've gotten that problem solved now, so expect more updates from me.

Famous Hat

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Sunburned in Ireland

Yesterday Travalon and I took the train from Dublin to Cork, and then we took a commuter train to Cobh (pronounced "cove"), a beautiful harbor town on a hillside. An enormous cathedral towers over the whole town, and the houses are painted in pastel colors. I took a photo, to be posted later, called "Everything that's right about Ireland," with a palm tree in front of shanties just like the ones on Lake Mendota. We stayed at the Ardeen B&B, overlooking the cove, and last night we had an amazing seafood dinner and then explored the town. Today was a gorgeous, sunny day in southern Ireland, and I actually got sunburned! We had a traditional Irish breakfast at the B&B, went to the cathedral for Mass, and then went to the Titanic Museum, where we followed in the footsteps of actual people who got on the Titanic at that port (then known as Queenstown). I was a third-class woman named Julia Smyth who actually survived. It was very harrowing watching a video of what they thought the survivors would have seen, with the ship splitting in half and sinking. After that we went to the museum's overpriced cafe and sat in the sun for hours, which is why our next stop after this internet cafe will be a pharmacy to get some sunburn cream for me. Even in my ancestral homeland, I still get fried! Then we took a very stuffy train back to Dublin, which is more overcast like it was yesterday. The countryside for most of the ride resembles Wisconsin a great deal, with green rolling hills and lots of cows, but around Cork and Cobh it is very hilly and maritime. I would recommend anyone who visits Ireland should check out Cobh - it's gorgeous! And they have good coffee there too, so it's not just something you can find in Dublin. We talked on the train to a young couple, an Irishman and his Thai wife (and their adorable three-year-old son), and the husband was telling us the coffee culture in Ireland really took off about a decade ago; before that, they drank tea. Of course, the tea here is really good too. On the train we had Barry's Gold Blend, just like we were at Richard Bonomo's house. It was a little bit of home over here, although I'm not feeling any culture shock. Irish people like to talk and laugh, just like Americans.

Famous Hat

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Famous Hat in Dublin

So as most of my readers know (because you were there), a very special thing happened to me on Saturday - I became Mrs. Travalon! Since most of you were at the wedding, I won't bore you with details. Let's just say I've never heard so many superlatives in my life. People were telling me I had the most beautiful dress they'd ever seen, the loveliest Mass, the most fun reception, the best wedding band (Light Bright's band), the best cake, etc. They even said I was the calmest bride they had ever seen, which is somewhat astonishing because I felt like a nervous wreck before the whole thing started, as I stood listening to my OTHER choir director play a Bach transcription of a Vivaldi concerto. Tiffy was my maid of honor, Jilly Moose and Luxuli did the readings, Richard Bonomo chanted the psalm, OK Cap and Anna Banana II read the Prayers of the Faithful, Mo-Girl, B-Boy, and A-Fooze brought up the gifts, and Cecil Markovitch and the other B-Boy were ushers. Pa Hat walked me down the aisle in full Scottish regalia, including a kilt and a Prince Charles jacket. Kathbert and Miss Heartsong sang Grancino's "Dulcis Christe" just beautifully. Palm Tree Fan took photos of us at the Arboretum, and then we enjoyed Jamaican food before the 42nd Doctor gave a brief toast and Pa Hat gave a very moving speech about music in marriage. Our first dance was "Fly Me to the Moon," which Astrochick approved of because of all the astronomical references. Then I danced with Pa Hat (and Travalon danced with Ma Hat) to "Beyond the Sea." The coral colors were lovely.

Sunday I opened gifts, and people gave us all kinds of wonderful things. Luxuli gave us an icon she had painted herself, Kathbert gave us beer glasses, Anna Banana II gave us a painting of palm trees, and Richard Bonomo's gift was renting a van to haul the wedding party around on Saturday. Mo-Girl and B-Boy gave us a gorgeous Celtic cross holy water font, and Cecil Markovitch outdid himself with a statue made of forks that holds six shot glasses. (He also gave us an icon and Croatian brandy.) We also got everything on our registry, margarita mix and a blender from my brother, an embroidered pillow made by Ma Hat, and many other wonderful things, not to mention loads of cash, which is helping us now. For example, it costs two euros an hour to blog in this internet cafe. I also said goodbye to Cashmere, who seemed surprisingly sad to see me go, since she never seemed to care if I was around at my house. (Right now she is at Rich's house.)

Yesterday we ran a few errands and then took most of the rest of the day getting down to Chicago and then over to Dublin. We got here around 11 am today Dublin time and immediately got coffee. So far I love Ireland because they have WONDERFUL coffee (even without whiskey in it), and the people are very direct, friendly, and curious, so somewhat like me. I mostly fit in here, except that nobody wears hats, and hardly anyone wears sunglasses, and nobody else is fat. Know why? There are no elevators here - you have to take the stairs everywhere. I don't know what handicapped people do here... So far we have seen the Book of Kells (which is unbelievably beautiful), Trinity College, Christchurch Cathedral, and St. Patrick's. I have taken loads of photos already, and this trip has barely begun! Travalon has taken even more. We have bought some souvenirs and passed a lingerie store earlier, so we're thinking of making another purchase and planning on a fun evening. ;)

Famous Hat

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Black Calla Lilies

Last night I got highlights put into my hair. I asked my hairdresser to make them subtle, and did she ever comply – hardly anyone has noticed them! Then I went to choir practice, and my OTHER choir director showed up with Kathbert toward the end to run through the music for my wedding. He is playing the organ while my non-other choir director directs the choir. It mostly went well, so here’s hoping for no great musical disasters.

This morning I went to Trader Joe’s to get some calla lilies for the reception hall. I was planning to get nine in various colors like pink and yellow (there were no white ones), but I was astounded to see a black one. I’ve never seen a black calla lily before! I grabbed that one too, for me – would black calla lilies seem weird at a wedding? The woman ahead of me in line asked what I was going to do with so many calla lilies, and I explained they were for my wedding. Then the cashier gave me the black one for free! And another Trader Joe’s employee carried one box of them all the way to my office for me!

I showed Handy Woman the black calla lily and she said, “I’ve always wanted one, but I don’t know where to put it in my garden.” Then I texted a photo of it to Ma Hat, who loved it. I said I would get one for her for Mother’s Day, so back to Trader Joe’s I went and got some more black calla lilies, one for Ma Hat, and one each for Kathbert and Miss Heartsong for singing at my wedding. I even got one for Handy Woman to thank her in advance for taking care of my plants here at work. Now Trader Joe’s is almost out of black calla lilies, so if you want any, you’ll have to hurry over there.

Here is a picture of my black calla lily.

Famous Hat

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

LOL! U 2!

The other day Travalon’s mother asked me what color Ma Hat was going to wear to our wedding, since she didn’t want to clash with her. She said she was wearing pale blue. I had no idea, so I texted my mom, who texted back that her dress was light mint green according to her, sea foam green according to Pa Hat, and sage according to the label. I said both mothers would be wearing oceanic colors, and Ma Hat said, “We’ll make quite a splash.” I replied “LOL” to acknowledge her pun, and she replied “U 2.” I assume by that she meant “You too,” but that response really makes no sense to “Laugh out loud,” which makes me wonder if she thinks LOL stands for “Love you lots.” There was a textversation posted online where this guy’s mother said, “Your Aunt Esther died. LOL,” and he wanted to know why that was funny. She said it’s not funny, why would he think so? As it turned out, she thought LOL was “Love you lots” and had been texting this to ALL her relatives when notifying them of her sister’s death, so she was going to have to call everyone back and explain. That is the danger of acronyms and abbreviations.

Speaking of death, we just found out a person we work with “up the hill” died unexpectedly. She was not young, having worked there for almost fifty years, but neither was she particularly decrepit, just out of shape. People had been expecting her to retire for years, but someone told me she didn’t have much of a life outside of work so she just kept working to have something to do. How sad! I love my job, but I can’t imagine having nothing else to do. Surely she had some hobbies…? I was going to write a post at some point about her office full of fake flowers, which I’ve always found depressing. You know me – I love REAL plants.

Right now there is an amaryllis in full bloom in my office window. (It usually lives at Richard Bonomo’s house, but I brought it to work for my coworkers to enjoy, since Rich never notices my plants.) Handy Woman said she would take care of my work plants during my honeymoon, and Rich promised to try to take care of my plants at home. He is also going to take Cashmere to his house, so he can more easily administer her meds twice a day. Hopefully the change of scenery doesn’t freak her out too badly, but she was going to leave my current condo anyway, so she might as well adapt now. We’ll see how she feels about the new condo… 

Famous Hat

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sick Rabbit

Last night Light Bright and I converged on Richard Bonomo’s house to print out programs. His printer did fine for the first fifty or so, but then it got persnickety, so we went to Kinko’s, where even their printer did not really like the fancy paper. Still, it was so quick and so cheap, I should have just gone there in the first place. Then we folded all the programs, and Light Bright and I made lists of where we have to be when. There’s so much to do in the last few days leading up to the wedding! It’s kind of mind-boggling, and then in a flash it will be all over. I just hope I don’t have to use the restroom right in the middle of the nuptial Mass…

Cashmere my bunny has exquisite timing, and she has chosen now to get sick. I’d noticed she was sneezing a lot lately but had chalked it up to springtime allergies, since those are getting everyone. But then yesterday Hardingfele and I clipped Cashmere’s claws, and we noticed she had gunky discharge from her eye and her nose. I thought it might just be a cold, but Hardingfele was sure it was some terrible bacterial infection called Pasteurella. Luckily my boss is a really understanding guy, and he let me run to the vet for a couple of hours. Cashmere, who is so indifferent to me at home, was totally cuddling up to me at the vet clinic, even trying twice to jump into my lap. It’s nice to know she loves me at least a little. She just has trouble showing it most of the time. The vet prescribed antibiotic eye drops and oral antibiotics that taste like banana, Cashmere’s favorite food. Poor Rich will have to administer them twice a day once I leave for my honeymoon, and believe me, putting drops in Cashmere’s eyes is no picnic. At least she adores Rich, so maybe she will let him hold her. We’ll see if she is feeling better soon… When I brought her home, she was so tired, she just collapsed on the floor. She’s not a young bunny anymore; in a couple of weeks she will be eight and a half years old. Who can say how much more time she has left? I thought she was tougher than Charlie and would last a lot longer, but maybe she is so lonely without him that she has lost her will to live. And now I’m abandoning her for three weeks… Luckily she will have her favorite person, Richard Bonomo, visiting her twice a day. That ought to make her feel a lot better.

Famous Hat

Monday, May 5, 2014

Parties: Kentucky Derby and Bachelorette

The countdown continues: only five more days of the single life for me! Then I will be Mrs. Travalon. At that point, my blogging may get somewhat sporadic while we are on our honeymoon, but I will try to check in now and then. It depends on how many of our hotels have free internet, and how much free time I have. Watch this space for pictures of Ireland and Scotland, probably in June.

Saturday Travalon, Tiffy, and I watched the Kentucky Derby at the Great Dane in Fitchburg while drinking mint juleps and eating bourbon pecan pie and (in my case) wearing a big fabulous hat. Though I must admit my Famous Hat is not as fabulous as some of the hats we saw there, many of which matched their wearers’ outfits. Of course, my Famous Hat matches every outfit. Then Travalon went to Smokey’s Steakhouse with Twins Fan, Prairie Man, and Richard Bonomo, while I went to dinner at Brocach with Tiffy, the Rosary Ladies (Luxuli, Jilly Moose, and OK Cap), and Catzookz, who bought us all a round of drinks. She didn’t come with us to Le Tigre Lounge, but Travalon joined us, and we stayed out way too late but weren’t really rowdy. Bachelorette parties are so much tamer when we’re all middle-aged.

Sunday Tiffy and I managed to get up in time for Mass somehow, then after brunch she headed to Home Depot with Rich and Luxuli while I headed to the Five O’s to see Travalon and his mother. We took a ride out to Holy Hill and lit some candles for prayer intentions, then we stopped by Travalon’s brother’s house, which is very cool. It has a spiral staircase not unlike the one in the condo that will soon be ours, and the outside is all stone. The downstairs is a studio for Travalon’s sister-in-law, who makes jewelry. Travalon’s dad created the plans for the house years ago but never used them, so his brother asked to have them, and he built the house. He was complaining about all the maintenance a house needs, which made us glad we’re getting a condo. Then Travalon and I had dinner at a restaurant called Spinnaker’s that looks over Lake Labelle.

This morning after our calisthenics, Rich went to the weight machines and I followed him, although on Mondays we do aerobics instead of weight training. I felt like doing weights instead; it’s easier. When Luxuli arrived, she said, “Isn’t it Monday? Shouldn’t we be doing aerobics?” They both looked at me, so I said, “I didn’t say anything because I’d rather do weights.” Luxuli said, “You’re like a little girl trying to get away with something,” and I said, “Daddy didn’t notice it was past my bedtime.” Since we had already started weight training, we continued with that, which means tomorrow we'll have to do aerobics. Ugh, or should I say UGGH?

Famous Hat

Friday, May 2, 2014

UGGH in Swedish

In a couple of hours I will be going to pick up Richard Bonomo from the airport. He went to Sweden for work, and he really wanted to keep up his momentum with working out while there. Fortunately he found a nearby health club that let him have three free trial days, so that took care of UGGH for him… until the day the gym shut early due to an elementary school’s parade. (He couldn’t do UGGH in the morning, so he was doing it in the evening.) Still, what luck, right?

This morning I was on the elliptical machine and sort of noticed a woman arriving and using the machine next to me, but I was too into my workout to pay much attention. She didn’t say anything until I went to get the spray wipe to clean my machine, and then I noticed it was Luxuli. She said, “I was wondering how long it would take you to notice me!” I said, “Before coffee? Forever!” Then, in one of those wacky coincidences that always plague my life, the radio personalities were talking about a study that said women would give up MyFace and sex and even chocolate before coffee. Clearly I am not the only addict out there. This is why I always say my life is scripted by a sadistic sitcom writer.

Famous Hat

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Dancing the Jitterbug

Know what I would love, besides a new scapular? I’d really love some comments on this blog. If you don’t have a Google identity, you could always email them to me and I’ll post them. It makes me feel better when all the little numbers after “comments” aren’t zeroes. Thanks! And thanks for reading this blog because I have a Very Exciting Announcement: I am going to get paid again! It’s only taken exactly two years. I used the first paycheck I got from this blog to throw a party for many of my loyal readers. This second one will hopefully post before my honeymoon, so I can use it to boost the Irish economy. (Or possibly the Scottish one.) It makes me feel like a professional writer to make about thirteen cents an hour writing this blog.  

Apropos to yesterday’s post about dance class, I was having a conversation with some friends about dancing back in college when I was tiny and a man could easily lift me over his head. A couple of us demonstrated the jitterbug for a beginning ballroom dance class, and indeed the man did lift me over his head and swing me between his legs. That poor man couldn’t do that now without suffering terrible physical damage! One person said back in college she had done a similar move, “and that was the famous clunk that ended my intellectual growth.” I laughed and said, “I’m not laughing AT you, I’m laughing NEAR you,” so then she began to laugh too. She said I could post this story to my blog. It’s amazing how many people used to be that good at the jitterbug; my boss says he also did it in college and accidentally dropped a girl while doing the same move. Maybe I was lucky not to get dropped! Who knew that back in the 90s all the college kids were swinging around wildly and falling on their heads? That might explain a lot about Generation X…

Today my coworkers were going to have a surprise toast for me to congratulate me on my upcoming wedding, but someone spilled the beans not half an hour beforehand. Then this same person told a terrible story about someone she knew getting a divorce before the item she had ordered from their registry arrived, and later Handy Woman told me she ALWAYS tells that story whenever there is a wedding-related fete at our workplace. Speaking of registries, I hear mine has been cleared out, so I will try to get some more stuff on there pronto. Otherwise, you know what I’d love? Besides a scapular? A canoe!

Famous Hat