The view beyond the back yard of the Airbnb place in Cashel.

We woke up to storybook fog. Our hosts wished us a wonderful day touring castles. Our first stop was the Rock of Cashel, only 7 minutes from where we spent the night.

On our last full day in Ireland it was time for us to see some castles. We had been seeing ruins of fortifications and towers for days, but the two well-maintained and managed places we decided to see up close were in Cashel and Cahir.

View of the Rock of Cashel as we approached.

The city of Cashel disappears into the fog below us, as we stood at the top.

Wonderful foggy views surrounded us from the Rock of Cashel.

Ubiquitous Celtic Crosses stand clear in the foreground of the misty day.

The cemetery at Cashel is at the base of the fabulous round tower.

A lone sheep sentinel stood bleating in the fog.

The Rock of Cashel is not the name of the structure on top, but the name of the whole prominence, and all the structures on it. The Rock of Cashel, also known as St. Patrick’s Rock, was the seat of the kings of Munster from the 4th century until 1101 when it was presented to the Church in a political move. Structures include Cormac’s Chapel, finished in 1134, the Round Tower, also built in the 12th century, St. Patricks Cathedral, built in the 13th century and used till the 18th century, and The Hall of the Vicars Choral, built in the 15th century. There is also a castle, which was the bishop’s residence.

Our admission fee included a tour of the whole site except the Chapel. We purchased tickets to tour the Chapel as well, which is locked to visitors unless they are attended by a guide. The Chapel shows multiple global influences in its architecture, with the message of unification. A Chapel for worship was meant for all people, in other words. It is remarkable inside and worth the extra Euros.

Tara explores the inside of the Chapel.

This sarcophagus was moved inside because its outside location subjected it to detrimental effects of the weather. One corner was not protected by a roof, and you can see the damage done by rain to the soft limestone.

Roof of the Chapel shows remains of murals.

Much of the stonework inside contained detailed faces that our guide explained were all symbolic of either saints or wicked spirits.

On the tour of the whole site, we began in the Hall of the Choral, and it was explained to us that the Vicars Choral was lavished with luxury. This beautiful building was built for the singers to live and practice their skills in assisting with chanting the cathedral services. They received the best accommodation and food, in hopes of attracting the most talented choral members. Hopes were that God would be most glorified by the most talented choral, and if it became well-known that they had the best choral, Cashel would gain prestige, power, and wealth.

Inside the main common room in the Hall of the Vicars Choral.

In an idea that reminded me of the Muslim belief that it is a sin to create art of living things and therefore presume to copy God’s creation, this tapestry was woven with intentional flaws. It shows that humans are not perfect and cannot mimick God’s creation. Look closely to see a one-legged man whose right leg has a left foot. The boy next to him has a hoof instead of a foot.

There is a small museum in the entrance building. Here different Coats of Arms are displayed.

Here there be dragons!

Standing inside the ruined cathedral, looking to the tower outside.

It was a cold visit, up there on top of the hill where breezes were stiff and it rained the whole time in the fog. We found a small theatre showing a film in German. The theatre was heated. Tara took a seat but I hovered over the radiator through the rest of the German film, and then through the English version that followed. Finally warm and dry again, we went down the hill and found a lovely restaurant to have a hot lunch.

Fortified, we moved on to Cahir. Tara deftly used the navigator software called Copilot they had downloaded a few days previous. We did not have cell service, but were fully functional in areas with Wifi. While we had Wifi, Tara downloaded the Copilot app, and then a map of Ireland. Phone GPS continues to work even when you don’t have cell service. So outside of Wifi access, Tara had a fully functional navigational tool to plot or replot our path, and constantly gave me updates on speed limit and upcoming traffic circles.

Good heavens there are a lot of traffic circles in Ireland! Also – note to the driver in other countries – when you enter a traffic circle in Ireland, you turn LEFT!

Also note: Wifi was available, and free to visitors EVERYWHERE. Every train station, convenience store, point of interest, coffee shop, or gift shop had free wifi. Menus at restaurants had their wifi passwords on them. It was super fast and reliable at all times. We went to the most incredibly remote spot I can imagine finding in Ireland, on the tippy tip of the Dingle Peninsula, and boom – free, cheap, reliable wifi from our host. Um….America? Can we fix our obvious failure in this category?

We drove just 20 minutes to the town of Cahir, and quickly found the carpark for Cahir Castle. There are signs posted at the carpark that list all the movies in which Cahir Castle has made an appearance. One look explained why: it’s picture perfect.

Movie-worthy scene with geese, a swan, and a rook at Cahir Castle.

Our guess at how to approach the castle was incorrect, but serendipitous, as it led us through the grounds in a wide circle behind the castle. It was still raining and foggy, but had warmed up, and we were in good spirits as we walked the grounds and got soaked again.

Walking in the wide lawn behind Cahir Castle.

Cahir Castle from the grounds.

Cahir Castle up close, with a cathedral spire in the background.

We made a big loop and never found an entrance, so we ended up back at the carpark. Luckily for us, this time we noticed the signs for how to pay, as well as a parking security car moving along the other side of the lot. Ooops. I sent Tara on ahead and paid the 2 Euro fee before the security car got there, and ran to catch up. Our entrance into Cahir Castle was free that day because they were in the middle of uploading a software fix, and couldn’t run the computers to take our money. “Enjoy!” the man at the desk told us. We did.

This rook greeted us at the official entrance.

Inside the grounds of Cahir Castle.

Cannon displays inside Cahir Castle.

During the whole trip we had been noticing the attractive flowers and ferns growing from old stone walls.

We had so much fun exploring Cahir Castle, situated on the River Suir. The grounds are huge, and there is so much to see. And then there is more to see, if you keep looking! We found delicious dungeons, and tower overlooks. We followed one spiral staircase up, up, and still up, and kept finding new rooms not previously explored. We found museum displays and mock rooms set up to look like they would have when the castle was lived in.

Cahir Castle is in excellent condition, well cared-for, and very interesting. What luck for us to add this one to our list, when we know practically nothing about Irish castles.

A room in the castle.

Fabulous rack mounted on the wall in one of the castle rooms.

Peering at the city of Cahir through panes of glass.

Looking onto an overlook point from the highest room in the tallest tower.

Tara stands at the overlook and gazes at Cahir and the River Suir.

One museum display had a large and beautiful mock battle of the seige of the castle by Oliver Cromwell in 1650. The lord of the castle surrendered without a shot being fired, despite cannons being at the ready, inside and out. This lack of cannon fire may be responsible in part for the intact walls today.

After hours of happy exploration, we returned to the front desk to ask questions about some arrow slits we had found that fanned open on the outside of the castle, which didn’t make sense to us. If you’ve ever seen arrow slits before, you know that they are tall skinny windows in V-shaped windowsills, to allow the shooter a wide field of view, and ability to shoot from multiple angles while remaining protected. Tara and I found those V-shapes on the outside of the castle walls, which was not intuitive, and seemed like a mistake. The docent explained that these are actually fanned both inside and out, and are partially with a thought to retaking the castle should it ever be captured. I had never heard of that idea! We headed back to the car, still admiring the beautiful place.

River surrounds the castle like a moat. You can see one of the “backward” arrowslits.

Looking toward the front entrance of the Cahir Castle.

The swan posed for me, as though he knew he was helping to create the scene.

The scariest part of my drive was ahead: back into Dublin! Only we were fortunate to be heading to the airport car rental, and that is well outside of the city. We were able to take a circular highway around the outside of Dublin, and thus never had to brave the city itself. Totally unsure of what to expect, we fumbled our way into the parking lot and were treated immediately with calm assurance and tons of help. They took our car, checked it over quickly, asked if we had any problems (we didn’t), then called us a cab. While we waited for the cab, we posted photos to Instagram using – yeah, free Wifi.

That evening we found a nearby restaurant and had our last Guinness in Ireland.

The next morning we had an easy 7am wake up, and got to the airport in plenty of time so we shopped the duty free and bought Ireland mugs and some Slane Whiskey to honor our visit to the Slane distillery. We went through pre-flight customs that allowed us to skip customs when we arrived later that day in Newark. Woo Hoo! Going through US Customs is a pain in the ass and it takes forever. In Ireland it was friendly and quick. By midnight we were home and in our beds in Oregon.

This scene made me laugh because it reminded me of all the traffic circles I had been through recently. There’s a real roundabout in the bottom left of the photo.

Lovely Irish countryside, with a circle in a subdivision, and a quarry too.

Ireland finally dropped so far below me that I realized it was time to say goodbye.

Sunshine streamed in through the windows to remind us that we were in a magical place by the sea.

When we arrived at our Airbnb the night before, we knew immediately that it was perfect for us. That night we reviewed our itinerary and cut out today’s tour of the Jameson distillery in Midleton, the Kindred Spirits Sculpture honoring the Choctaw Nation, that I really wanted to see, and we would also skip Lismore Castle. This was all so that we could spend our day right there instead, exploring the beaches and the rocky outcroppings, and then taking our time to look at the rest of the peninsula. We never wanted to leave, and would have simply booked a second night, but I had already paid for the next night in Cashel, a good 3 1/2 hours away.

Fishing boats visible from our sunroom.

Grizzly, the cat, came in and slept on our bed during the night. Tara and I miss our own kitties so much that it was a very welcome third party on our shared bed.

This is the sign we passed in Ballyferriter while lost the evening before.

On our way in the night before, we had passed a sign saying something about Star Wars, but we were lost so we didn’t slow down to read it. I spent the evening researching what it could be about, and found out that scenes in The Last Jedi were filmed in County Kerry! Since the area is so undeveloped, it was very hard to find a place name, or directions, or much information at all. I finally figured out that one film location was Ceann Sibéal, but my map only pulled up a golf course and a hotel with that name. They were in Ballyferriter, so I knew it was oh, so close. On the outer wall of a small museum in Ballyferriter was a map of our little spot, and finally I found Ceann Sibéal. It was the hill I spotted with what looked like ruins on top of it, but there are no roads to the hill, and it would have been a long walk, after permission from the property owner.

I could swear those are the ruins of some wall on top of Ceann Sibéal there, but my lens was just not powerful enough to pull it close to me. But that place, my friends, is one shooting location for The Last Jedi.

The above photos were taken as we left our Airbnb. We said hi to some sheep with Ceann Sibéal in the background.

We enjoyed a luxuriously lazy morning, watching the sun rise, drinking coffee in the tiny sunroom splashed with light, and watching boats fishing out in the bay. Eventually we emerged and and explored the place.

Have I mentioned that the spot is magical? Like a dream for an 11 year old. Or, for Tara and me, because we haven’t quite grown up yet. The shape of the rocks on the coastline is a series of parallel wedges that poke into the sea. The property owner has built structures in a row, following each of the wedges out to their seamost point. Some structures are guesthouses. We talked with one other guest who showed us his place, which was only big enough to hold a bed. He had to come outside onto his patio to boil water for tea and run a toaster for breakfast. And he had no shower, like ours did. Past his place was a tiny rock-walled garden with a bench, and beyond that a scary bridge from one outcropping of rock to another – just for fun. They both coaxed me onto the bridge with some effort. Beyond the bridge was a little fishing hut.

If you look closely, you can see a series of buildings that go ever farther out along the rock outcropping into the sea.

Super scary bridge that I actually walked across!

Me taking photos from the walled garden on top of one of the rocks.

This is what the water looked like from up there. Ceann Sibéal in the distance.

View from the common room for guests, which has a TV with couches, a small bar, and strong wifi signal.

Fishing hut at the very outermost point.

Next we played down on the beach with the two dogs, Bruno and Dora, who ran around barking loudly for a long time.

Tara with Bruno and Dora on the beach.

Natural arches formed by wave action.

Tara (geology major) was getting some up close images of the rocks.

We revisted the beach multiple times during the morning, and the tide went farther and farther out.

The retreating tides allowed us more beach access, and soon the dogs were bounding up a trail on the opposite side of the beach. So we followed them up another crag of rocks. At the top we found a dilapidated stone and wood hut that delighted us. But then, we found a door ajar at the back of the hut, and pressed through it. Obviously. Before long we were at another fabulous vista point.

Bruno led us along the path to more wonderful sights.

Hut at the top of the hill across the beach.

Great view of Binn Diarmada from that vista point. Every time we see a green field scattered with sheep, we are delighted.

It was finally time to leave and get some food. We tried Ballyferriter first, but nothing was open. The tiny town was darling though, and we stopped and walked around. Sadly the museum was closed, as was the church across the street from it. In Ballyferriter, 75% of the population speaks Irish daily, rather than English. People come here to learn the language, too.

St. Vincent’s Church in Ballyferriter.

We scrapped our plans to drive from Ballyferriter counterclockwise around the peninsula, since we needed to eat first. We went to Dingle and found a bustling town filled with tourists. In our trip so far, two places stood out as the locals’ favourite spots to visit, and those were Galway and Dingle. It seemed to be the case, as most of the obvious tourists looked Irish. Though it was noon, we were specifically craving breakfast, and sat down in the first cafe we found that was still serving breakfast. The food was great, and the place filled with characters.

Luckily, we found this cafe open, and not Feckin’ Banjaxed.

Next Tara wanted to do more gift shopping, and since we were finally in a tourist town again, we had access to shops with the right kind of things for sale. I killed time waiting for Tara by browsing the items as well. I can’t stand shopping in any context, unless it’s for outdoor gear or at a hardware store. But while I waited for T I found a gorgeous cable knit wool sweater for €45 and couldn’t walk away from that price. So I had my souvenier! Finally T was satisfied and we hopped into the car to make the Dingle loop clockwise. But we had used up so much time eating and shopping that now I was beginning to worry about the long drive to Cashel, where we would be staying the night.

Past Ventry, along Slea Head Drive, we came across a small museum that was freshly painted in bright colours and looked very appealing. I was beginning to get into “Go Mode,” worried about time, and drove on past. But Tara helped me remember that we were on vacation and should enjoy the journey. So I turned the car around and went back and we explored this curious museum. It was a very reasonable €5 to get in.The Celtic and Prehistoric Museum is the result of owner Harris Moore’s hobby of collecting prehistoric treasures from all over the world. On TripAdvisor, the owner said, “A considerable fortune and 30 years of blood , sweat, and tears (and joy) have gone into this. Yes, the collection is totally unique, rare, and in my opinion, beautiful.”

Tara and I agreed with him. The museum itself is small but beautiful, with a classy and thoughtful arrangement and lighting. There are objects from the Jurassic, Stone and Bronze Ages, as well as the Celtic and Viking eras.

One of the main showpieces of the museum, for obvious reasons.

I particularly love the carved stone female figures.

The variety of artifacts was impressive.

A collection of Celtic brooches and clasps and belt buckles.

A baby dinosaur skeleton.

More female figures.

The three-headed god is on the right. See how it is left profile, center, and right profile?

We talked to Mr. Moore and he was very personable and welcoming. I could have happily spent another hour there, but I really wanted to get back on the road.

My plans were interrupted once again. This time by beehive huts. There had been several signs advertising beehive huts to tourists, and I don’t know one from another, so I can’t say if any are legit any more than another. From Wikipedia: “A clochán, or beehive hut, is a dry-stone hut with a corbelled roof, commonly associated with the south-western Irish seaboard. The precise construction date of most of these structures is unknown with any degree of certainty.” The beehive huts have been constructed since neolithic times, but as recently as the 1950s. That’s why it’s hard to pinpoint an age for a specific site. We had seen evidence of corbelling in Newgrange on our third day in Ireland. That’s when stones are overlapped closer and closer to the center, until a capstone can be placed on top for a ceiling.

We were curious about these ancient structures, and pulled into one of the places, paid €2 to a man who clearly lived there and owned the property, and climbed a very steep hill to see what it was all about. It was the Fahan Beehive Huts, Caher Conor (Cathair na gConchuireach). This particular spot had stone huts that had been rebuilt. I would have been disappointed at how fresh these structures were, when I was expecting something old, but gazing around the site it actually looks like the real thing was once here. It seems as though the current huts have been rebuilt by using the materials of the old huts. The bonus was that we got a good quick workout climbing that steep hill to get to them, and we also had a wonderful view of the sea.

Reconstructed “beehive” huts, so-named for their shape, though these had flat tops that don’t bring to mind the beehive shape.

A single hut that we walked inside. It was not sealed, and a bitter cold wind still blew inside, albeit not as stiff as outside. Tara and I guessed that if these were used as homes, they certainly would have been sealed somehow, perhaps with turf in between rocks.

The site looked authentic, which made me happier about spending my money there.

I poked around the old stuff, since that’s what I like best. I have an active imagination and don’t need them to be rebuilt for me in order to be impressed.

From the side of the mountain we had a great view.

Back on the road we finally rounded Slea Head, which I thought would have an access point down to the sea, but it did not. It had a statue of Jesus, rather, which was a traffic hazard, as tourists stopped in the road on the blind corner to take photos of it. We continued in order to find a good place to turn around, and then headed back to Dingle so we could start heading for Cashel in hopes of arriving in daylight. Sadly, we found out later that the place we turned around was Coumeenoole Beach: a fabulous beach with spectacular views. We had no idea at the time, and therefore did not even look around other than for oncoming traffic, much less get out of the car. *sigh*

I haven’t mentioned the road, but on my second day driving in Ireland, today’s driving was a serious challenge and I passed the test! Much of Slea Head Drive is a single lane despite being a two way road. The speed limit was frequently higher than I was comfortable driving. It’s curvy, with a drop off into the sea, or possibly bound between a rock cliff and a rock wall with just enough space to get our little car through. If any traffic is oncoming, I had to quickly dart into someone’s driveway. Very stressful, but WHAT an adventure!

Tara took this photo of Slea Head Drive while I chewed on my lip and kept the car on the road.

We determinedly headed east from Dingle and came across no problems at all. We got lost again, trying to find our Airbnb place once more. (All the hosts say, “just pop our eircode into your GPS!” or “Call if you have a problem!” which is all well and good for people who have cell phone service, but for us, totally worthless advice.) But of course, we found our next beautiful home to stay in, and while it was still light out. Yet another warm and welcoming host in a beautiful and comfortable home at a great price.

Muckross House in Killarney National Park.

We had breakfast at the hotel since it was Sunday, it was early, and NOTHING was going to be moving until 11am. We took a taxi to the airport and rented a car.

We rented a car!!!

You know what that means, of course. It means I had to DRIVE in IRELAND. I had been lulled into a false sense of security by Tara who had volunteered to do all the driving before the trip. But we found out Tara is not old enough to drive a rental car yet. So that meant it was all on me. I was so scared. I mean, really scared. But what can you do? I got into the car and figured it out. Tara navigated while I tried to remember what it was like to drive a manual transmission. Tara gave a helpful yelp anytime I was too close to the edge of the left side of the road.

Our first plan was to go to Killarney National Park, check out the Muckross House and find some trails to hike. There isn’t a town at the park entrance, just a congested area with twisty narrow roads and I was clenching the wheel like my life depended on it. But we found an open space to park. As we walked from the carpark we were met by Patrick. Patrick believed that we were in need of a jaunting car. I had seen this on websites but ignored it. Tara, on the other hand, had done more research on this park than me, and had already determined that to make the best of the time ahead, we should hire a horse and buggy. So we did. Can I confess that I was singing this song to myself in my head the whole time?

Tara made a beeline for the greenhouse, that turned out to be closed to the public.

Tara ran to the shores of the lake because that vast expanse of mowed lawn was irresistible and had to be run across! Then they ran back.

Also, there are some wonderful exposed rocks there that needed a closer inspection by my geologist scholar.

Nancy was not having one of her better days.

Nancy waited impatiently while I snapped a photo of this magnificent rhododendron.

Me under blankets with my trusty camera in the buggy behind Nancy.

Patrick introduced us to Nancy, his horse, who was in a pissy irritable mood the whole time but grudgingly pulled the buggy. We didn’t care. A cranky horse is still a horse pulling a buggy, and it was fun. We walked the garden of the Muckross House, pictured at the top. It’s a beautiful place and beautifully maintained. We didn’t go in because it cost money and time and we wanted to spend our time hiking. Walking the gardens was free, however. Tara ran across the wide wide lawn down to the shores of the lake. Then we hopped back into the carriage where Nancy and Patrick took us to what he called an abandoned abbey surrounded by a graveyard.

On site it was referred to instead as a friary. The Muckross Franciscan Friary was probably founded in 1445 by Donal MacCarthy, a local chieftain. This friary is said to be built around a yew tree inside, which means the tree is 600 years old today. The community here were Observantine Franciscans, so-called because of their rigid observance of rules of diet, clothing, and posession of property. Muckross Friary was said to be in posession of a miraculous statue of the Virgin. The friars were driven out in 1652 by Cromwellians, and the building destroyed. Enough of the ruins survive today to make it a very educational and compelling stop.

Ruins of the Muckross Friary

Graveyard around the friary, and the park beyond, with cyclists.

Interior of the friary and church are still beautiful.

Occasional bursts of sunlight made delicious patterns on the ground, bringing life into the rooms.

The yew tree inside was remarkable.

Next it was time to drive to the trail head and begin a hike. We were both excited to hike near the creek, but we were out of breath because of the elevation gain. Southwestern Ireland has mountains, and we were climbing for real. But we were quickly rewarded by our arrival at a waterfall.

Creek at the trailhead for the Torc Mountain hike.

The trail included these fabulous stone steps for the first half mile.

Torc Waterfall of the Owengarriff River.

Past the waterfall we continued up the mountain and were afforded some great views of the lakes below and the area surrounding us. We walked through forests, which are not as common in Ireland as we are used to in the Pacific Northwest. Finally we continued our loop back down the trail to Muckross Lake. We played at the lake for awhile, enjoying the beauty of it.

View of Muckross Lake and Lough Leane beyond it.

Looking over my head to ferns growing from a tree branch.

Despite the density of the forest, we continued to find views through the trees.

At the shores of Muckross Lake.

Walking back from taking photos at Muckross Lake.

Next we walked the trail that follows the lake back to the carpark where we had miraculously found a parking spot in a tiny carpark for the second time today! The trail was so lovely that we took our time and enjoyed identifying the plants and birds, and then stopping to chat with a pony having lunch.

This pretty pony was only somewhat tolerant of our presence, and soon after this photograph turned its head away from us and stayed that way the whole time.

Life is hard when you’re so beautiful that people want to invade your personal space.

The trail turned into a bike path as we got closer to the back side of the Muckross House gardens, and the lake.

Even in the open area along the lake, we were greeted with gorgeous scenery.

Satisfied with the hike, we got into the car and hit the road again in earnest. We had used up most of our day and because of the extreme rural site of our evening’s Airbnb room, I wanted to get there in the daylight so we would have an easier time finding the place.

We drove out to Dingle, and past it, on to Ballyferriter. And past that. If you looked at a map, you’d see we were heading almost as far west as it is possible to go on the mainland of Ireland. When we began plans for this trip last summer, Tara had said to me: “Cliffs! Cliffs! Cliffs!” and so I made an effort to find a way to get us out to some cliffs. I found an Airbnb room in our price range (which was modest) that was directly ON the cliffs of the Dingle Peninsula. The place was apparently so small we had to share a bed, but it seemed like a good place.

I was getting worn out from the stress of driving, and the sun was going down, but we kept going. We saw scenes like this, and began falling in love:

The clouds lifted a little and showed us fairytale scenes of green hills and white sheep.

Fields divided by hedges and scattered with sheep.

We could see the sea beyond the green slopes.

We passed Inch Beach, where cars drove right out there on the sand, like they do in Oregon.

Crepuscular rays splashed across the sky.

We went north from Ballyferriter and took a wrong turn and took another wrong turn. Each time ending at the seashore and nowhere near anything like the description of our room for the night. It was frustrating. But one stop was very cool, and if we hadn’t got lost we wouldn’t have seen it. At the end of a narrow dirt road was a site named Dunanoir (Dun an Oir in Irish), meaning Fort of the Gold. Its use as a fort may date to the Iron Age (500 BC to 500 AD), but is notable for the events which took place in 1580 AD. A force of Spanish, Italian, and Irish soldiers, supporters of the Desmond Rebellion, landed in Smerwick Harbor in that year and immediately began to build new fortifications here. Before they completed their work, English government forces led by Lord Grey de Wilton, began a three-day seige. On October 10th defenders surrendered, and up to 600 people including men, women, and children, were massacred on the spot. The commanders were spared, but some have written that theirs was the worse fate. It was demanded that they renounce their Catholic faith, and if they did not, their limbs were all broken. The earthen remains of the unfinished bastions are still evident at the spot, and a monument to recognise the event has been erected.

A monument sits at the site of Dunanoir.

We also said hello to the sheep before we got back into the car.

We drove all the way back to Ballyferriter and tried again. Bear right at the golf course, turn left at the handwritten sign, turn right at the next handwritten sign, down a very long, bumpy, very narrow road in which brambles brushed both sides of the car at once. I was panicking that someone in another car would meet us there, and one of us would have to drive backwards for 200 yards. Finally, we came to a spacious parking area in front of a lovely little house. A kind and smiling older man came out to greet us and asked if I was Crystal. Yes! We had found it. The spot was incredible. Our room was a darling tiny attic cottage with lots of glass windows and a tiny sitting room that looked out over the water. We went to sleep that night listening to the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashing just beneath us.

The stairs lead up to our room.

The view from the garden in front of our room.

 

 

Our names at our seats on Irish Rail.

We didn’t plan our time well and gave ourselves 3 minutes to eat the buffet breakfast we had each paid €13 ($15) for. Instead of eating, we collected food into take-home containers we had saved from the day before and ran out of the hotel with rollerbags and shoulder bags, and paper bags of breakfast and coats tied around our waists.

It was only a couple blocks away, over a bridge, and into the station. I had already purchased the tickets, but needed to figure out how to get them, and of course I chose a machine that wasn’t working, but since I didn’t know what it was supposed to do, I stood there, poking buttons until the intercom said our train was boarding and my stress level ramped up.

We ran to an information booth and no one was there, but when a man showed up, he directed us to use the kiosks we had just left. I was about to say I had already tried that, but I spotted a different kiosk and the screen was different, so we tried that, and realized the first one had been broken. With our tickets we ran toward the trains.  At the entrance gate Tara’s ticket worked to open the bars, but mine didn’t. I stood there frustrated again, until a woman on the other side of me couldn’t get hers to work either, and asked the agent nearby if she could just walk through the path for people with disabilities. Without looking up he said “yeah,” and she ran through. So I did too. Then I saw that our platform was at the very very end, past another whole train, so we ran the length of the train. The whole time the intercom is announcing that the train for Cork is boarding, please get on the train. We finally get to our train, but we have “E” seats, and we’re at “A” car. So we run past A, then B, etc. Finally, finally get onto our car, drag all the luggage in, and collapse into our seats.

Our seats displayed our names at them, which was cool. We were not cool, but hot, from having run so much. It was not a good start to the day. By noon when the train stopped, we had eaten, chatted, listened to the group of chattering ladies who got off the train at Mallow to go to a wedding, and finally relaxed. We were ready to take on a new city.

The River Lee flows through Cork.

Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church is right on the riverbank.

It was a short walk to our hotel, and we were too early to check in, so we ditched our bags behind the counter and took off walking West, along the River Lee. We were later to find out that Cork is built upon several rivers, and some run in tunnels under the streets. We went first to Elizabeth Fort, in the oldest part of the city, on Barracks Street.

The current fort was completed around 1626 and named after Queen Elizabeth I, of course. It has played a key role during significant historical events, including Cromwell’s occupation, the famine, the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. We were in time for the 1pm tour, and got to walk the ramparts of a fort and look out over the city of Cork. It was a great first stop. Our tour guide, Steven, not only told us about the different key moments in the history of the fort, but also had us look out across the city while pointed out the landmarks to note the boundaries of the original city. He explained that the old city wall is now gone, and only a tiny piece remains, which is in one of the city parks.

Walking the ramparts of the “star-shaped” fort with the city of Cork surrounding it.

View of St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral from the fort.

Tara was really engaging with the exhibits on display in the Fort.

Tara peers over the edge at a view of heads on pikes.

Steven explains that he wanted one of the heads to be modeled after his own, but they wouldn’t do it. #makestevenshead

From the fort we had great views of nearby St. Finn Barre’s Cathedral. We took our time walking along the perimeter inside, peeking into gardens and admiring the neighborhood now grown up around the fort. When the tour was over, we chatted with Steven a bit more and he told us about the oldest pub in Cork, and one of the oldest in Ireland. He also told us about a place to get whiskey. Tara wanted to circle the fort, so we made our way out and around and found some fun graffiti along the way. We had been noticing a ton of graffiti in Cork, and between the two of us collected a ton of photos. I think I’m going to do a blog post of only Cork street art.

We walked into what was the original Cork city, then we found the park with the wall, and went to see it. Elizabeth Market was across the street from there, so we next went to the big market. I bought snap peas and Tara bought a pomegranate, and we finally headed back to the hotel in hopes that they would now have a room for us to check into.

Street art in Cork.

The original city wall surrounding the city of Cork actually drops below street level. The plaque under the pigeons says “Remains of 13th Century City Wall.”

Elizabeth Market in Cork. Named after…uhhh… guess who.

After checking in to the hotel, we headed directly back the way we had come, since the city along the river is so inviting. We stopped at a National Monument from 1906 with an inscription on it that says: “To perpetuate the memory of the gallant men of 1798, 1803, ’48, and ’67, who fought and died in the Wars Of Ireland to recover her sovereign independence and to inspire the youth of our country to follow in their patriotic footsteps and imitate their heroic example and righteous men will make our land A NATION ONCE AGAIN.” Prior to the trip I had been studying the key points of Irish history. I had noted a couple of battles and events that seemed relevant – all being the same to me. But arriving here, I find this history is still alive. Every single tour guide tells the stories, and every common person at some point refers to England, and Cromwell, and Bloody Sunday if you talk to them long enough. Every monument you look at tells the stories once again. In the Cahir Castle (we went there several days later) there was a whole room dedicated to biographies of the 14 men who were killed after the 1916 Easter Uprising. I have a much better sense of the feelings behind the ache for Irish independence and the complications that have prevented it.

Monument to Irish independence.

Peter O’Neill Crowley

Library in Cork has this engraving of the city seal, which shows a ship sailing into the city between two towers. This suggests a history of a city straddling a river, as we learned from our tour guide.

Close up of the stonework showing the imagery of the Cork city seal.

We headed for St. Finn Barre’s Cathedral, completed in 1879. However, it was too late in the day to admit the public, and the gates were locked. So we circled the enormous gorgeous cathedral, glittering in the setting sun, and took sunset photos through the gates. Then we tried to find the oldest pub in Cork but were never sure which one it was so we settled on Forde’s Bar. A man there chatted us up and told us he had lived in Massachusetts for 20 years, which was fun because we also have lived in Massachusetts. The man left, but when I paid our bill, I paid for a couple of pints for that gentlemen whenever he returned. We had a Beamish stout, which apparently is what you drink when you’re in Cork, rather than Guinness. We had only been in Cork a few hours, but already we had detected a sharp criticism of Dublin. Rejection of Guinness was part of that criticism. More graffiti echoed the sentiment.

St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral sparkles in the setting sun.

Close up of  Cathedral entryway.

Gargoyle on St. Fin Barre’s

Beamish stout from Cork

Forde’s (in the corner, to the left) is a very old, and very comfortable bar.

St. Fin Barre’s reflects off the river. Look closely and you can see a tunnel where one of the underground rivers flows beneath the city of Cork.

Narrow Cork city streets.

Cork at night.

Inside Frisky Whiskey

I don’t know who the musicians were, but they were entertaining.

We walked once more down Oliver Plunkett Street and found ourselves in front of Frisky Whiskey, that Steven had mentioned. So we went on up to the second floor where there was live music. We drank Teeling, a new Irish whiskey we had just heard of, and enjoyed the music till we were tired enough to sleep.

Tara and me in the gorse atop Dowth

Michael Fox picked us up in Dublin and took us on a Boyne Valley tour. Most of our trip is on a budget, but we splurged for one thing: an all-day tour of the Boyne Valley. This particular region is packed with neolothic sites and points of interest, and we had little confidence in our own ability to get around to see much of it in one day. We solved this problem by hiring Michael to take us around. He studied the region as a hobby, and one day nine years ago decided to turn his fascination into a job. Now he works as a tour guide, taking people on full-day personal tours of the Boyne Valley, north of Dublin and west of Drogheda.

Our first stop in the morning was Newgrange. On his website, Michael describes it like this: “Newgrange is a Stone Age monument in the Boyne Valley, County Meath, Ireland. It was built about 3200 BC during the Neolithic period, which makes it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. Newgrange is a large circular mound with a stone passageway and chambers inside. The mound is ringed by ‘kerbstones’ engraved with artwork. It is the best know monument within the Brú na Bóinne complex, alongside the similar passage tomb mounds of Knowth and Dowth.” Note that he calls it a monument, while it’s scientifically referred to as a passage tomb. The “passage” part of that name is due to the long narrow passage leading to an inner room. However, most current scientists will agree these mounds are not tombs, or at the very least, much more than tombs.

Our first look at Newgrange, as we walked up the hill toward it.

The entrance into Newgrange. Note the fabulously carved entrance stone.

While we waited for our turn inside, we explored the outside.

These enormous stones ringed the outside and some of them were carved.

Each stone was carved differently and Tara and I imagined what the shapes could mean.

We found this intriguing hut of stone. It turned out to be a novelty building that some farmer built out of scavenged stones from the site. It has little cultural significance.

We were not allowed to access the site without supervision, and not allowed to enter without a guide. This was fine with us, because the guide told us more about the site and helped us appreciate it while we were there. We were not allowed to photograph the inside. We entered here, the entrance you see in the above photo, and walked through a very narrow passageway into a central room. The guide turned out all the lights so that it was pitch black, then lit another light to simulate sunlight streaming through into the room as it would during 17 days of solstice in December. This would have given hope to the people at that time that days were getting longer, and Spring was coming again.

I am not that superstitious, and find myself a practical person in most situations. When I walked inside and felt those gigantic stones surrounding me (the inside is filled with stones the size of the ones out front), I felt a presence. I felt something, and I didn’t want to leave. I reached out to touch the stones; to put my hand onto the stones that a hand had touched 5,000 years ago. How incredible.

This is a ring of stones we found outside Newgrange after our tour.

Next we went to nearby Dowth, part of the same historical complex. Dowth is unexcavated, and for that reason I found it particularly appealing. No modern human has attempted to put his own interpretation onto the outside of the site, as was done at Newgrange. There is a hill over two entrances, and the tops of the outside circular stones showing.

Hillside of Dowth, with high gorse. Some effort has been made to cut down the gorse, which is similar to the bush I would call Scotchbroom. You can see the tops of massive stones ringing the hill.

One of the entrances at Dowth. Behind it, gorse is chopped down on half the hill.

This is inside the entrance at Dowth, and gives some idea of what it was like inside of Newgrange.

From the top of Dowth we could look back and see Newgrange. {click to enlarge photo.}

We also saw a cemetery from the top, and Tara wanted a close up look at it.

…So we went to the cemetery. From there we looked back up at Dowth.

Michael took note of how much we enjoyed the cemetery, and next took us to see the High Crosses at Monasterboice. The site was a monastery that existed in the 6th century. The High Crosses are very large crosses that date to the 10th century with carved scenes from both the new and old testaments of the Bible, possibly used as a teaching tool to help a congregation.

This is an example of the teaching scenes on the High Crosses. Here on the left, Adam and Eve hold an apple. On the right, Cain holds a weapon toward Abel.

This is Muiredach’s Cross, the more significant High Cross.

Tara and me in front of the other High Cross at this site. The remains of the monastery behind it.

Much smaller crosses in the cemetery that surrounds the high crosses.

This gravestone is interesting because it was carved onto a stone that was already sort of gravestone-shaped.

It was midday and time for a bite to eat. We went next to the Slane Castle, which is really a faux castle. Wealthy property owners had their home built to look like a castle. Today it is open for tours and weddings, and once a year hosts a gigantic concert. Michael said he saw U2 perform here in 1981 when they were the opening band for Thin Lizzy. In the lower level of Slane Castle is a lovely little cafe. Tara and I had ordered carrot soup and sausage rolls the day before and liked it so much we ordered the same thing again. It was scrumptious. After we ate, we walked over and explored the Slane whiskey distillery.

Slane Castle.

Entrance to the old stables, now hosting a whiskey distillery.

Inside the stables/distillery grounds.

There is a bar at the distillery, where the individual stalls for horses have been somewhat maintained, and made into booths for customers. Tara and I sampled the whiskey of course. But I was already a fan of Slane before I went to Ireland.

Back on the tour, we next stopped at another cemetery that had some ruins in it. From the cemetery was a lovely view of the River Boyne and a castle-type ruin there too.

Beautiful Boyne River valley.

Next was a stop that we had been looking forward to: The Hill of Tara. This site has been important for thousands of years. The site is much more than a hill, and more like a compound of many important places, including passage tombs, memorials, wells, an promendade and a church. We stopped first at the passage tomb called The Mound of the Hostages. It is a Neolithic structure, built between 3350 and 2800 BC, and is believed to be the oldest part of this complex.

We then walked up the hill to the Stone of Destiny. It was said to roar when touched by the rightful king of Tara. Of course we both put our hands on it. Just to check.

After that we walked across the large grassy area while Michael told us about how techonological advances such as LIDAR and ground penetrating radar are revealing new discoveries, and how this is improving theories people have about the site. We found a fairy tree, we walked up a long promendade (curiously named “Banquet Hall”) from a lower area up to the top of the hill again, and then gazed in every direction, as the Hill of Tara offers a 360 degree view.

Mound of the Hostages is a dramatic name for this passage tomb.

Stone of Destiny did not roar when either of us touched it. I guess we’re not Kings of Tara.

Fairy tree?

View of the countryside.

Tara peeks into one of several wells at the site. This one is called Well of Tara.

It had been a long day and it was time to head back to Dublin. Michael drove us all the way back and to our hotel near Heuston Train Station (we were headed out on the train the next day). We had fun chatting all day, got great tips for what to do in the remainder of our stay, and were truly grateful for our time with Michael. It was a great decision to hire him as our guide.

The view out the window of our AirBnb room on George’s Quay, in central Dublin, right on the River Liffey.

Tara and I got up early and caught a city bus to the other side of downtown Dublin. On our second day Tara was feeling better so we could explore together, unlike yesterday. Our first brave thing on this trip had been taking the express bus from the airport and finding our way to the apartment without copping out and hiring a taxi. Our second brave thing was to take the city bus from the apartment to Kilmainham Gaol. We found out the bus we needed, and the stop, by using Google maps. But we didn’t know the fare. While we waited for our bus, we saw fares posted on the outside of a different bus, with a note to use exact change, which we didn’t have! So we hustled back to the main street, found a convenience store and asked for change for the bus, which the shopkeeper graciously complied with, no questions asked. Then we ran back to the bus stop just as our bus was arriving, and hopped on. We used the map on my phone to track our progress and hit the button to stop when we got close. As we thanked the driver, he pointed the direction we should walk for Kilmainham Gaol, and viola! We arrived on time, produced our tickets, and were ushered directly inside.

The Kilmainham Jail opened in 1796 and is important in Ireland for multiple reasons. First of all, it was the first jail to offer individual cells, men separated from women and children, and with a design of cells surrounding a central open area. Our guide explained that this was following the Panopticon design idea from Bentham, in which cells were arranged to make inmates more visible to the jailers.

The outside of Kilmainham Gaol

Walking the hallways inside.

Artwork done by famous inmate Grace Gifford Plunkett.

The open center of the jail – unlike any jail built before it.

Looking into the cells ringing the center.

Graffitti from inmate – likely on his last day there.

Kilmainham Gaol Museum is three stories high.

The jail is currently most famous for its association with imprisonment of political activists, and with the execution of 14 men following the Easter Uprising in 1916. Prior to the trip I had been trying to educate myself on Irish political history and learned about the drastic turn of Irish public sentiment from predominantly neutral on the question of Irish independence, to predominantly in favor. This was because British Troops came in and rounded anyone up that was vaguely associated with the rebellion, or that they simply felt threatened by. They held courts-martial in secret and condemned 90 people to death. Then they began executing them, a few each day, in Kilmainham Jail. One of the Irish Republican leaders, James Connolly, was so injured and sick that he could not hold himself up, and had to be tied to a chair in order to be executed. The public became more agitated each day as they heard about the murders, and finally a stop was put to the executions because elections were coming up and this was not going to help current leaders get re-elected. Our tour guide said that in her opinion, the fallout from the Easter Uprising was the event that changed the tide of Irish history.

And there we were, in the very place where it happened.

Courtyard within the jail complex.

This is the wall at which 13 men were executed in May 1916.

Except for the flag, this is what they saw before they died…if they were not blindfolded. Connolly, the 14th man, was executed down at that end, since it would have been too much trouble to drag him from that door (where he arrived in a stretcher from the hospital) all the way to this end.

We ended the tour in a wonderful museum inside the grounds, and finally went out into Dublin once more. We caught a different bus back to the room, quite comfortable with public transportation already. 😉

the Spire

Cathedral spire

I found it amusing to have a farm truck on the streets of Dublin.

Attractive bank building.

Temple Bar – don’t know why it’s famous, but lots of people were having their photos taken here.

We wandered the streets in the Temple Bar area, since that is the area around our room. We stumbled upon Dublin Castle, and passed on the tour, but happily explored the garden nearby.

Dublin Castle tucked out of sight between city blocks.

Tara in the garden behind Dublin Castle.

Dublin Castle from the garden.

While we were in the garden it began to rain pretty hard and we got wet and even colder. The temperature had been in the low 40s all day and we had about had enough. By the time we got back to the apartment, my fingers were so frozen I couldn’t feel them, and Tara had to get the key into the lock for me. We sat there and dried out a little while, then went back to Mulligan’s for a pint. This time we got to chatting with the bartender and enjoyed ourselves so much we stayed for a second. A patron gave me a hard time for not having a Guinness, and he said if I was going to have one anywhere in Ireland, I needed to have it there. I asked why, and the bartender explained (it has a lot to do with freshness, and exceptionally clean lines). We had earlier decided we weren’t hungry enough to have a Guinness because the beer is so heavy it makes us too full. But after the explanation, Tara and I were convinced.

Oh. I stand corrected. Guinness is a whole new thing if you have it from Mulligan’s. It’s a completely different drink. It’s not even beer, it’s so amazing. It’s a creamy, delicous liquid that’s in a whole separate category. It went down so easy. Yum. I can’t believe the stuff in the states can be called by the same name.

We ended the night playing around on Tara Street.

Do have a pint at Mulligan’s.

Tara at the Tara House, on Tara Street.

In Ireland for the first time.

The Custom House in Dublin, on the River Liffey.

Tara and I boarded our first plane Tuesday morning. After a 6 hour layover in Washington, D.C., we boarded our second plane and in 7 hours arrived in Dublin. Exhausted. Sadly, during that time, Tara developed a cold. Though we felt excited and upbeat at first, the kiddo was wiped out by noon.

I was tired too, but tucked my sweetie into bed and went out to take a look at Dublin. Our room is in the center of town, near the mouth of River Liffey, a couple of blocks from Trinity College. I walked along the water at first, and admired The Custom House across the water. Then I made my way south through the streets past Trinity College. School was clearly in session and crowds of young people pressed past me on the sidewalk, all the boys in suits and slacks – they looked so nice.

Sights of Dublin on the way to Trinity College.

Streetcar curves past shops near Trinity College.

 

Narrow streets of Dublin.

St. Andrews Church

Springs blossoms in front of St. Andrews Church.

Dublin has so many smiling happy chatty people. I’ve had five random strangers strike up a conversation with me. One guy watched me taking photos of St. Andrews Church.

“You wanna take a photo of me? I’m famous.”

“Oh yeah,” I ask, “what for?”

“Football,” he replies.

“Unfortunately,” I tell him, and this is with real regret, “I know nothing about football.” I’m sure he’s not famous, but it would be nice to know more about the World’s Favourite Sport.

“You must be from America,” he says. And we both know Americans are famous for being completely out of the football/soccer loop compared to most of the rest of the world. “So what’s it like? Living in America?”

I tell him that so far, Dublin is a lot like Oregon. Same climate, same early stage of Spring, same plants grow here. He talks about Trump a little, and says he’s not racist like people are in America.

I walked past Trinity College and continued south to the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology, because it was one thing I wanted to do, and wasn’t sure if Tara did. I found the museum easily and was pleased to see that the entrance fee is free. This is one of those museums in which the building itself is a big attraction. I happened to stop first at the almost-identical library across the parking lot (oops forgive me: carpark), and shot a photo of the whole building (which is enormous):

National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology

The entire floor inside is mosaic tile. Some places are so beautiful that I hesistated to walk on it.

Columns inside the museum.

Decorated bronze mount.

Ancient carved stone.

Roman silver artifacts.

Exceptional metalwork

Carved stone 1-2 century AD

Golden cross.

After the museum I found a convenience store and bought some medicine for Tara, then went back to the room to deliver hot lemon medicated tea and cough syrup.

It was quiet and warm in the room and I couldn’t help it but take a nap! Later that evening, I went back out for sustenance and found quite by accident, two great places. I stepped into The Vintage Kitchen and put my name down for an 8:30pm table, then went next door to Mulligans.

It turns out that Mulligans Pub is an old and famous pub! Apparently James Joyce drank here, as well as John Kennedy. I was treated well and surrounded by Irishmen, their accents rising around me. I finished my pint of Five Flags lager, and walked back over to the kitchen.

The Vintage Kitchen is another narrow, quirky place with immediately friendly staff. The waiter insisted that if I like seafood, I needed to order the chowder. I obeyed. I enjoyed the quirky atmosphere and in no time had my chowder, which is to die for. I filled a little dish with mussel shells that I dug out of it, and dunked a variety of homemade breads into it. The chowder, though listed under “starters,” was a meal unto itself. Alas, I still had a risotto coming. No worries though, once I crammed as much of the fabulous risotto with kale (and leeks and broccoli) into myself, I asked them to pack up the rest for my sick kid. Tara was happy to take the leftover dinner off my hands.

John Mulligan’s Pub around the corner from our AirBnb.

Inside the pub

Inside The Vintage Kitchen

The rain makes everything sparkle at night.

Pubs and cobbled streets.

We had a better look at Dublin the next day.

The Genie (Major Attaway) from the lamp sings his own praises. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

My ticket for Aladdin

{Note: None of the performance images are mine, I have used media photos provided.}

When we’re talking about live shows, performance and production can be words to describe the same thing. I recently saw two shows and for one I declared “That was a production!” and for the other, I was moved by the performance. They were equally wonderful and nothing alike. I’ll try to explain.

Tara, my 21-year-old-offspring, loves all things Disney and Broadway. Thus, tickets to Aladdin were an obvious choice for a Christmas present. I did not know anything about the show and did not take the time to look it up.

Consequently, I was totally blown away on Thursday when I saw this show. The creators pulled out all the stops for entertainment. This was the sparkliest, loudest, flashiest, most-colorful, most frequently jaw-dropping, silliest, gaudiest show I have ever seen. The costume changes were constant, and every costume was layered in mesmerizing colours and more rhinestones and sequins than I thought possible to fit on fabric. There were scarves and bangles and turbans and feathers and every single, every single male character wore pointed shoes. At one point, cannons shot metallic glistening streamers over the audience and we sat transfixed, watching them spiral down onto us.

Leaping, turbaned dancers

Golden cave of treasures, where Aladdin (Clinton Greenspan) finds the lamp.

Back up dancers and singers, male and female, supported nearly every scene, and these were the fittest performers I’ve seen in a Broadway show. I could tell because most of them were only about 50% covered in clothing. It was nice to see men objectified for a change. All those glistening six-packs….sigh. They leapt, spun in the air, spun on the ground, flipped and skidded and cartwheeled back and forth.

Aladdin as the Prince, with Jasmine (in Portland played by Lissa deGuzman)

The sets were incredible, in the literal definition of the word. At one point the whole back of the theatre dropped away into a convincing starry night sky…WITH a legit flying carpet that Aladdin and Jasmine sat on and sang A Whole New World to us. The scene inside the cave of treasures, where Aladdin found the lamp, looked like it was made of solid gold. Indeed, every surface shone like metal. This made it particularly splendiferous when the fireworks went off. YES!! Real fireworks inside the theatre!

Genie explains to Aladdin how the three wishes work.

Genie was hilarious, Jasmine was convincingly strong, Aladdin convincingly vulnerable, and Jafar sufficiently evil. We were all glad to see him change from one costume to another in a blink before our eyes like magic, and then just as quickly disappear leaving only a lamp behind, when Jafar foolishly wished to be an all-powerful genie (and therefore had to live in a lamp).

What. A. Show. What a production!!

The set for Tiny Beautiful Things was a cross-section view into a beautiful home that is clearly lived in. (Left to Right: Lisa Renee Pitts, Brian Michael Smith, Dana Green, and Leif Norby)

My ticket for Tiny Beautiful Things

Storytelling took center stage in Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. This play is based on the book, which is about an advice columnist named Sugar, and the letter-writers who contact her and sometimes get responses.

The set was great!! So perfect and beautiful. I wish we were allowed to take photos during performances, so I could have captured just one shot that showed the whole thing. Multiple times during the show I thought how nice it would be to live there. If you look at the kitchen shot above, imagine a small dining table to the right, with a door off stage on the right to the laundry room. On the far left of the photo, you can see two steps leading to a playroom in the back. Imagine that farther to the left, there is a living room with a couch and table, and behind the couch is the front door leading off stage on the left, and at the very back a staircase upstairs, and a door to the basement? beneath the stairs.

Sugar “listens to” one of her letter-writers.

We watched Sugar, a busy mom, as she carried her laptop with her around the house, answering mail (outloud) all day long as she does the laundry, folds clothes, picks up toys, straightens the living room. We also watch as three other actors perform the words of the letter-writers, who are children, people with cancer, or people who are pregnant. Letter writers told their secrets, exposed their fantasies, regretted their choices. Gender, age, and background aren’t visually reflected by the actors, so we had to listen carefully to the words to find out who was speaking.

Sugar didn’t answer everyone. She wore yoga pants and a cardigan, and at one point pulled her long hair back into a sloppy bun while she read the letters. One writer kept submitting the same letter over and over, that said, “WTF. WTF. WTF?” She didn’t answer that one, obviously. Until…. the end.

The way Sugar answered the questions was to tell a story from her own life (taken from true stories of Strayed’s actual life) filled with pain and tragedy, joy and fear and bravery and hope. She connected to the letter-writers by telling what got her through her own similar challenges, and recommended that we be more compassionate, kind, and generous – particularly to ourselves. It was thirty stories told, hers and theirs, linked by the advice column, and a thousand stories told, linked by all the people laughing and crying in the audience. Proof that we were all feeling these stories as our own.

Sugar answers a letter at night, after the day’s chores are done.

Sugar dispenses advice to a letter-writer.

Sugar would usually speak to her laptop as she answered letters, even while the letter-writer was sitting beside her on the couch, speaking to his phone as he typed his question. But when the topic or the connection got more intense, they would turn and face each other, and have a conversation. During one wonderful scene, she brought all the letter-writers into the kitchen with her to help pack school lunches for her kids while she answered a letter.

Live performances get to me more than TV or the movies (and all of these actors have been on TV or in the movies). This show was deeply personal, designed to make the audience reflect, or identify, or consider. Ultimately, this play took up all the parts of us that are dark, acknowledged them, and then made us feel good anyway. It is wonderfully done.

Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland.

In Old Town Portland, Chinatown has lost most of its character from bygone days. Its in the oldest part of the city of Portland. After multiple attempts to revitalize this area and emphasize the Chinatown aspect, it remains small and quiet. However, there is one vibrant and much-visited place: Lan Su Chinese Garden.

This is my last post on stuff Will and I did together. We had two weeks to enjoy the Pacific Northwest and now he’s far away in Rhode Island again.

The name Lan Su is formed by combining the name of two sister cities:  Portland and Suzhou, China. Suzhou is famous for its gardens, and Lan Su was built by Chinese artisans from Suzhou and is one the most authentic Chinese gardens outside of China. But of course, care was taken to choose words that have another meaning, and “lan” means orchid, and “su” is arise, or awaken.

Admission is $10.95 with discounts for students and seniors. A ticket gets you into any event happening in the garden for the entire day, to include guided tours and cultural events. There are classes to teach Chinese games, live music in the teahouse, calligraphy and poetry demonstrations and classes.

All of this is in the center of a bustling city that somehow you forget while you’re inside. The design is so well done that from inside the garden you can hardly see the buildings outside, and you honestly cannot hear much of the street noise.

Skyscrapers are barely noticed from inside the garden. Instead, I noticed the architecture inside, the variety of plants, and the peacefulness of the setting.

I carried a laminated flower guide with me into the garden, that was provided as we entered. I thought with the early season that I would be lucky to find any of the blossoms. To my surprize and delight, I found almost every single blossom in the brochure. It was like a game to find them all, and the added bonus was a reminder that Spring is really on its way. Lan Su also provides plant-specific tours for both home gardeners and professionals in the fields of horticulture and botany.

Blossoms were small, and few, but unmistakably all over the garden.

This garden was created with an extraordinary attention to detail, with symbolism tucked into every viewing angle, and poetry all around. If you wanted to zip through in 15 minutes and get a good look, it would be easy, as the place occupies a single city block. However, if you wanted to spend your entire afternoon there, followed by evening tea, that would also be reasonable, as the longer you gaze out across the waters, or through the branches, the more you see.

Symbolic fish, peaches, and bats adorn the top of one building.

Weak spring sunlight highlights early buds.

For many more photos, from a trip to the garden in 2015, please see my other Lan Su blog post.

View of Netarts Bay from the patio of our room at Terimore Motel. The Pacific Ocean is on the horizon.

The morning dawned splendidly in Netarts, Oregon, just west of Tillamook and right on the shores of Netarts Bay.

There was a notice posted in the room I had not seen the night before, asking people – admonishing people – not to touch baby seals. The flyer says that mother Harbor Seals stash their pups on the beach while they are out hunting, and if a person or a dog messes with the pup, the mother will not take care of it after that. The sign begs in all caps PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH OR MOVE A SEAL PUP. DO NOT LET YOUR DOG TOUCH A SEAL PUP! Sounds like this is a problem. So sad if it is.

We took the scenic route coming home and kept right on the coastline for a while, rather than return to Highway 101. At multiple beaches we saw signs posted that explain the catch limits for shellfish and marine invertebrates. It would be fun to live close enough to the beach to simply pop out there at low tide and fill a bucket with mussels or clams. By lunchtime we reached Pacific City, with its fabulous beach and eye-catching Haystack Rock and Cape Kiwanda. Interestingly, Oregon has a collection of rocks named Haystack Rock, including multiple sea rocks. This one is 327 feet high and is the fourth highest sea stack in the world.

A helicopter flies over Haystack Rock. Well, one of the Haystack Rocks.

Pacific City beach, looking toward Cape Kiwanda.

We stood awhile on the beach and gazed at the scene. Surfers were paddling out to try and catch a perfect wave. People built sand castles and threw frisbees for dogs and children launched kites. A stream of people climbed Cape Kiwanda’s sandy slopes to get to the top.

One great choice for a meal and a drink is the Pelican Brewery, because the deck with outside seating rests directly on the sand and the views are extraordinary. But it was crawling with people. We ate instead at Headlands Lodge. The Meridian restaurant has large open windows overlooking the beach. While we waited for our food, the air & sunshine coming in the window was warm and we contentedly watched surfers and parkers viciously vying for a parking space on the sandy lot. The parkers turned out to be the more interesting group.

Our corner table at Meridian, with open-air windows and the busy beach below.

Heading south we reached Lincoln City, and Will humored me while I ran into the local McMenamins to get a passport stamp. I’ve only just learned about this program, and found it too much fun to resist. McMenamins is a restaurant chain that began here in Portland. Frequently they are found in rennovated historic buildings, and the atmosphere inside a McMenamins is always creative and humorous. They have great food with a limited menu, because they are all about their craft beers, wines, and ciders. I am a fan of McMenamins and have been to many of them (I think there are currently 52 and have spread all across Oregon and into Washington), so the passport program sounded fun. Each time I visit a new place, I get a stamp. When a page is filled with stamps, I get a free thing, like a basket of fries, a pint, or a T-shirt. The free stuff is not as appealing to me as the game of getting all the stamps.

McMenamins passport, featuring the logo for Hammerhead Pale Ale.

Stamps for Kalama Harbor Lodge. Only one more stamp to go!

My stop at the Lincoln City McMenamins took a few minutes because some places make you earn the stamp and this was one of them. There is a riddle at the bar counter, that you must solve by finding the matching artwork inside the restaurant. Take a photo or a selfie with the art, then go back to the bar counter. If you got it right, you get your stamp!

We pulled over at Siletz Bay to soak up another view of the sea on a gorgeous day. We read an information sign about the 50-foot tsunami that crashed over this shore in the year 1700 and decimated everything there, including the local indigenous tribal villages. The sign said “Native peoples probably had little idea about the relationship between earthquakes and tsunamis…” There can’t be significant evidence to support this claim, and I am aware of evidence that proves otherwise; that native people have been aware of that very relationship since before written history, and passed on the knowledge through storytelling. I am sure that many Native people died in the 1700 tsunami, just as I am aware tsunamis kill many people in the 21st century. So much for advanced technology. I am irritated at assumptions that place the speaker in a position of power and knowledge merely because they don’t understand the group being discussed.

We went as far south as Newport, then turned east toward Corvallis, where we stopped to visit Tara and Brynnen and the OSU campus, as I mentioned in an earlier post. After spending the remainder of the day with my kiddo, we went on home back to Rainier.

A section of our beautiful Oregon coastline.

One thing I love about the Oregon Coast scenery is the frequency of rock outcroppings, often with trees on top. At this spot was an information sign about the 50-foot tsunami of 1700.

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