Sunday, July 3, 2011

Home Again

Our return flights on Wednesday went smoothly.  We went to bed in our own beds in Wichita almost 24 hours after waking up in Dublin...a long travel day!  It was so fun to be met at the airport by friends!  All our luggage arrived (surprisingly).  We are now just waiting for all of the boxes that we shipped home to arrive (hopefully the first one will come any day now).   It was quite a shock to go from Dublin where the temperature was about 60 degrees to Wichita where the temperature was 105 degrees!!

We slept well in our own beds, and then began the re-settling in process.  Our wonderful house sitter was leaving for law school and finishing her final packing as we unpacked.  I spent a lot of time putting things back where I wanted them (pots and pans in the kitchen etc), and just doing general cleaning.  It is so nice to have a large washer and dryer that leave our clothes fluffy and soft again, and a vacuum cleaner with *real power*!

Its been fun to be back with our pets again.  We've now adopted a new cat (#3)...Skeeter.  He belonged to my house sitter and got along so well with BC and Miles that we decided to keep him since she can't take him with her.

After making a long list of the foods and other things that we missed from home, we are steadily working our way through that list.  For dinner the first night:  Papa John's thick crust pizza with garlic dipping sauce!  The kids have had sleep overs with friends already and we had a big welcome home party last night where we got to show the video of our best travel pictures.  (I managed to make it 1 hour long...not bad for 6 months worth of travel!)

It took several days, but I finally finished opening and sorting the mail.  Our house sitter did a good job of weeding out the junk mail, so it was a smaller pile than it might have been.  Not too many loose ends, but I do have to take care of filing our taxes

We can't wait to attend church today and see all of our church family that we have missed for six months!  Its a special service with a neighborhood bar-b-que afterwards to celebrate the 4th of July.  Should be fun!

Next week I'll get back to my office and attack the pile of mail and other duties awaiting me there.  I'm sure that will keep me busy right up until the start of the semester in August.

Its been fun blogging this adventure, sharing our experiences with friends and family from home, as well as with many unexpected readers in Poland.  We've enjoyed reading the comments that others have posted in response.  This trip has been a remarkable experience that we will never forget.  As we continue to adjust to being back home and reflect on our travels, I'm going to conclude our blog with this posting.  Do widzenia!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"So, how was Poland?"

I'm still reflecting on our total experience and trying hard to get my 3 hour answer down to a 3 minute answer so I don't torture everyone who will ask me this question in the coming weeks.  I think it will likely take at least a month to sort through all of our adventures and reflections and pull out the ones that are most meaningful and memorable.  In the meantime, people can just put up with my babbling a bit : )

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Final night in Ireland

We went to an Irish pub with traditional dinner, Irish music and dance for our final night in Ireland.  It was a wonderful.  As soon as the music started, Delaney leaned over to whisper to me "Mom, I feel like jumping out of my seat"... and a few minutes later she did.  She was dancing around and thoroughly enjoying herself.  When the dancers came out, she made her way right up to the edge of the stage so she could watch their fancy footwork up close.

We headed back to the hotel about 10:30 at night.  I couldn't believe how light it still was out!  The city was very pretty at night.

Thornton's chocolate

Tried some Belgium chocolate today...
Milk chocolate fudge; dark chocolate with mixed berries; and milk chocolate with banana.  My favorite was the banana.  It had a very strong banana flavor!

Last Days in Dublin

On our second-to-last day, we went to the National Aquatic Center (which houses the largest indoor water park in Europe).  We enjoyed the wave pool, lazy river, bubble pool, master blaster water coaster, and water slides.  When we first arrived, it was mostly young school kids (1-3rd grade) on field trips.  I felt a bit out of place standing in line for the water slide (and the line kept getting longer as kids let their friends cut in).  Later in the afternoon, the little kids left and things got a bit roudier with the teens who arrived.  When we had finally turned to prunes, Delaney was ready to leave.  Can you believe we finally got Adam into a swim cap in Europe?? (Speedo suits were not required, but swim caps were!)

On our last day we visited Stephen's Green park (below) and played on the playscape for a while.  Delaney made friends with two girls, Alyce and Eve (who was born on New Year's Eve).  It was a great park!

Later we headed to Dublin Castle which has been at the heart of the city for 800 years.  It burned to the ground (and was blown to rubble by the power magazine exploding) in 1600 and rebuilt to the current style.  It was occupied for years by the Irish Viceroy of the British Empire, until Ireland was free of British rule in 1922.  The palace today is mostly used for state functions and receptions.  The exterior is not particularly striking compared to many other royal castles around Europe.
 This is the royal chapel and the one remaining old tower.  It was the prison tower and the walls were thick enough to survive the explosion that destroyed the rest of the castle.

  The interior is attractive and functional for state receptions.
 Castle garden.  The old coach house is visible on the back edge of the garden.

 St. Patrick's Hall
  During construction work in the 1980's, the old castle wall and city wall were discovered.  Segments of both were preserved under the new building that was constructed.  These are the postern stairs up from the moat/river to the castle.


Galway Cathedral
 Flags representing the "14 tribes" (14 founding families) of Galway

Monday, June 27, 2011

Random observations of Dublin

•  The double decker buses only have one entrance/exit at the front of the bus where you can buy a ticket with exact change (and a cool coin counting machine that issues tickets), or validate a pre-purchased ticket. The stops are longer because it takes longer to get on and off with just one (instead of 3 sets of doors like in Poland).  The drivers are also far less aggressive (ie no "crazy bus" rides).  I expect driving a double decker down the very narrow streets with hairpin turns slows them down considerably : )

•  All of the school kids we've seen are in uniforms, and most have been speaking English to each other.  I learned that all school kids are educated in both Irish and English from age 5-17.  They are totally bilingual.

•  The Irish appear to be very courteous and friendly people, greeting you with a smile, waiting patiently in line to board a bus, merging/yielding to other vehicles in city traffic.  The bus drivers even provide navigation advice if asked without any bother.  Several total strangers have passed me while out walking early in the morning, looked me in the eye, and said "good morning".

•  Public toilets are free (in the train station), but cathedrals charge for an entrance.

•  I asked our waitress if there is a particular dessert that is Irish.  She thought about it a minute and replied: in the winter its Christmas pudding, otherwise its just Irish coffee!

•  It truly is rainy, cloudy, grey much of the time!  We've only seen about 6 hours of sunshine total in the 5 days we've been here.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Bay

The return trip to Galway took us all along the coast.  We made another stop at a smaller set of cliffs, at a castle, and at an outlook point.  It was all quite lovely and I couldn't take my eyes of things for the entire trip.  I snapped a lot of pictures out of the bus windows, some turned out better than others.  It was too hazy to see the Aran Islands off the coast, but on clear days they are clearly visible in the distance.

  Dunguaire Castle

The Burren

Throughout our bus tour, we were driving through the lands called The Burren = barren.  These are high hills that are largely made of limestone.  The hills themselves are rock covered and slope down into valleys that are also full of rocks (used to make the ever present rock walls).  The land is good for pasture, but not farming. And the higher hills are too rocky even for much grazing.  The landscape was absolutely beautiful.  I'm not sure any of my pictures to justice to it...Delaney remarked "it looks kind of like snow" - there is a clear line of rock that begins about halfway up the hills and caps them off.  With the rain today, the water was soaking through the almost non-existent topsoil and then running off the rocks to small waterfalls cascading down the hills.

Cliffs of Mohar

After the cave, we stopped at a Dolman (VERY old grave site dating back to 3000 BC).  The bones of 33 adults and children were found at the site along with a stone axe, beads, flint weapons, and pottery fragments (These are now at a local museum).

We then drove on to the highlight of the tour:  the cliffs of Mohar.  These are 700 ft cliffs that drop into the Atlantic ocean.  We arrived and it was so foggy we could barely see the path in front of us, let alone the cliffs, but the fog lifted a bit and we got to see the crashing surf, soaring puffins, and amazing cliffs.   It would have been cool to have a clear view, but the fog made it kind of enchanted.  The wind was blowing so hard it made me think I was back in Kansas for a moment (the fog dispelled this impression immediately however).

Aillwee Cave

Our first stop was at Aillwee Cave.  This cave was discovered in 1940 by a farmer who followed his dog into a hole in the ground as it chased a rabbit.  The cave system is quite extensive and carved out of limestone by an underground river.  Its an active cave with growing stalagmites and stalagtites (the guide said the translation of these words meant "thing that drips" and "thing that catches drips" - haha). There were two waterfalls in the cave that were really flowing today because of the rain.  At the entrance, it takes about 2 hours for ground water to filter down to the cave level, but at its deepest point (200 ft underground), it takes several days.  The guide said they have not traced the source of the bigger waterfall.  They believe that its source is an underground lake.  After the cave, we hiked around a bit and took pictures of the beautiful wildflowers (the pink ones are Fushia).

Bus tour of County Clare

We took a full day bus tour of the countryside in County Clare (just south of Galway, around the Bay) today.  It will definitely go down as one of my most memorable travel days!  It started off with a little rain (an improvement from the heavy rain yesterday), then reduced itself to a mist, eventually became a fog, and then simply an overcast afternoon.  Much of what we saw totally fit my stereotype of what Ireland should look like:  green fields with cows and sheep (and a few llamas!), green fields, stone fences, and lots of old ruins.

Our bus driver/guide was a lively Irishman from Galway and took delight in telling us all about the places we were passing.  I was fascinated by the 'dry' stone fences everywhere - very little mortar is used, just gravity to hold the stones in place.  Many date back several hundred years.  I can't imagine the effort it takes to construct these!  And there are miles and miles of them.

I was glad to actually be riding in the front seat of the bus because the roads were very bumpy, curvy, and narrow.  Every time we approached a car coming from the other direction, it would immediately pull over as far as it possibly could into the brush on the side of the road, but it was still a tight fit!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Heavenly meal!

I'm in heaven, and it is called Galway. Dinner tonight at Busker Browns: fish chowder, baked sea bass with bacon, two FREE pints of Guinness, and an Irish Coffee for desert (the best I have tasted). Delaney dined on, as usual, plain pasta (penne pasta with butter) that she declared was the best that she has ever had. Adam had baked salmon and Carolyn had curry chicken. Desert: Carolyn and Adam shared lemon cheesecake and Delaney scarfed down a brownie with orange ice cream.
Our mosey on back to the hostel included a stop at a bookstore to stock up on some more books for the remainder of our journey home.
We will sleep well tonight.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Irish Chocolate

The chocolate tasting continues...Butler's is made in Ireland.  This choice was particularly yummy and smoothe!

Dublin - shopping

At the end of the day we decided to stop in Grafton street in the shopping district to check things out.  There were street musicians every 20 feet or so.  Delaney was particularly taken with a "one man band" - a man playing his guitar, hitting a set of cymbals, and beating a drum mounted on his back.  We found a Celtic ring for her and a special (unnamed) item for one of Adam's friends.  I couldn't resist a summer scarf : )

 Statue of "Molly Malone" from the famous folk song

Dublin - Churches

The architecture of many of the oldest buildings in Dublin is quite similar - grey stone.  Both St. Patrick's and Christchurch Cathedrals are built in similar styles.  Christchurch has been the site of a church since 1000's and St. Patrick's all the way back to 400 AD.  Both are episcopal churches (since the Reformation).  The interiors were far less decorated than many of the catholic churches we have visited.  It was a bit annoying to have to pay an entrance fee (it was included with the Dublinia museum pass), but I understand the need for financial support for the restoration efforts.

It was particularly cool that an international organ competition was underway in Christchurch cathedral.

St Patricks
 View of Christchurch from the tower of the Dublinia Museum
 View from the Dublinia tower
  floor tiles in Christchurch