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Monday, November 30, 2020

Aran Islands, Ireland - Exploring The Largest Island, Inishmore

On Day 6 of our Ireland vacation, we took a 45 minute ferry ride to explore the largest of the three Aran Islands.  Me and my sister Sandie researched and found out that we were able to buy our tickets online here before our trip which we found to be very convenient.  The receipt for the ticket had all the details we needed to know about when and where to meet the ferry.  We were told to get to the dock 45 minutes before the scheduled departure time.   We had a 1 1/2 hour drive to the dock from our cottage.  We were getting very used to getting up at the crack of dawn here in Ireland.

After reading about Inishmore in travel writer, Rick Steves, book, we knew that we would not have a problem finding a tour bus to take us around to see the highlights of Inishmore once we reached the island.  So that was our plan and we found a bus as soon as we got off the ferry.  There were horse and buggy transportation for tours also or bikes you could rent if you wanted to explore the island at your own pace.

Our friendly tour guide was very knowledgeable about the island he grew up on.  He took us to all the sights we thought we wanted to see in Inishmore and more.   When we weren't exploring a sight, we were enjoying the beautiful island as we passed through on the small tour bus.

We saw miles and miles of stone wall here.  In fact there are 3,000 miles of wall on Inishmore which is only 12 square miles in size.

We stopped here and there for photo ops and to learn about iconic Irish treasures like the little cottages with their thatched roofs.  They are a vision of life in the 1800's when half of Ireland's population lived in them.  These are the houses that I thought I would see all over the country but there are less than 1,500 scattered throughout Ireland now.

Our first stop was to the site of the Seven Churches.  It's called the 7 churches but there are only two.  Saint Brecan's Church, built around the 7th or 8th century, is the larger and more intact.

The second church, Church of the Hollow, was built much later than than the first and dates back to the l5th or early 16th century.

The graveyard is still used for local burials and you can find St. Brecan's grave here.

Our next stop was Kilmurvey Beach where Sandie was looking forward to seeing the seal colony.  We were very far away from the coast but we were excited to see movement and thought we might be seeing seals but after Soko zoomed in with his camera we realized it was only birds we were looking at.

Our guide took us down further on the beach and the rocky coast reminded us of The Burren where we  were just the day before on our hawk walk excursion.  We found out that Aran Island is an extension of The Burren and it was once attached to the mainland millions of years ago.  Now it sits in Galway Bay.

Our tour guide let me take a picture with the seaweed he picked up to show us.  It was not like any  piece of seaweed I've ever seen on a beach before.

At lunchtime, our guide dropped us off in the small town of Kilronan.  This was where the foot path to the prehistoric Dun Aonghus fortress started.  There were also couple of small shops and a charming thatched roof cottage that housed a small restaurant run by two sisters here.

Teach Nan Phaidi was such a treat.  The two sisters did all the cooking and serving and even took time to make friendly conversation.   The interior had a few mismatched tables and a blazing fireplace that added to the charm and coziness of this place.  

The lasagna, we were curious to try something that was not traditional Irish, was perfect.  It was comforting and delicious.   We rated Teach Nan Phaidi a perfect ten!

After our delicious meal, it was time to hike the 15 minutes up the hill to the fortress, the most visited sight in Inishmore.  But first we needed tickets.  The disclosure on the back of the ticket made sure that we knew the Office of Public Works or the State were not liable "for any damage, injury or loss to the person or property of visitors to this site, howsoever caused".  I wasn't that concerned about the strong warning until we approached someone coming down the hill who warned us to "be very careful up there!  The wind just blew me off my feet!!"

We understood the person's warning as soon as we stepped into the fortress.  It was almost like walking into a hurricane or tornado.  This was definitely a bad hair, don't care day.  You can see Sandie in back of me.  I couldn't watch her get so close to the edge of the cliff on a day like this. We were surprised that the fortress wouldn't be off limits to visitors on days as windy as this one was when there was not a single barrier between the cliff and the 200 foot drop down to the Atlantic.  

Sandie did eventually feel like she needed a break from the wind and found this small nook to hide in!

After our visit to the 2,000 year old fortress, we walked down the hill and into the small town to wait for our guide who picked us up and brought us to where we would board the ferry.  We walked around and checked out this part of Inishmore.

We still had a bit of time before our ferry ride back to the mainland.  We found Tigh Joe Mac, a small, cozy pub to have a drink in and to get out of the wind and cold for a little while.

We all enjoyed our day in Inishmore.  It was a long day, though, and we were ready to relax at our cottage where we talked about the great day we had and how we were excited for our visit to a castle on our last day of a wonderful vacation.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Hawk Walk At The Aillwee Caves - County Clare, Ireland


Our fifth day in Ireland might be the day we reminisce about the most when we relive the memories we made during the week we spent in The Emerald Isle with my sister, Sandie and BIL, J.T.  We had been waiting for the day when we would interact with hawks ever since the day we put the Hawk Walk at Aillwee Caves on our itinerary.  We were excited and a little apprehensive at the same time!

The day was finally here but first we made a pit stop to Gregan's Burren Geosite on Corkscrew Hill.  This is one of a few places to get a great view of the Burren.  The landscape and terrain of this area was very interesting mostly because it was so different from rolling green hills that we were getting used to seeing.  

The Burren means "great rock" and that's exactly what this region looks like.  It is actually made of limestones created when most of Ireland was covered by a tropical sea over 300 million years ago.  The grey stone covers acres and acres of northwestern County Clare.

The Aillwee Mountains, where our hawk walk experience was awaiting us, was not far from this Burren viewing area and we made it there in time for our scheduled visit.  We went into a small gift shop to check in and were told that there was a group ahead of us and that we could go right outside the shop to see a collection of eagles, falcons, hawks and owls.

All the birds here were born in captivity so wouldn't survive in the wild.  They were injured or sick and rescued from their captives and being cared for by the Birds of Prey Centre.

Our instructor for the day, Clodagh, greeted us while we were bird watching and told us it was time to become falconers for the day. 

Before we went on our hike with our birds she led us into a room where she gave us an informative introduction to falconry and the Harris Hawks.  J.T. volunteered to help demonstrate how we would wear the glove that the hawks would land on.

Clodagh, then led the four of us and two hawks, Juan and Al, into Hazel Woods.  The birds stayed close but most of the time we couldn't see them as we hiked along the limestone pavement of the Burren.  Every so often we would all stop walking and Clodagh would call out to one of the birds.  If it was your turn to have a bird land on you, you would hold out your gloved arm.  It was pretty scary because you couldn't tell where they were coming from.  They would suddenly be swooping in from behind you or even more intimidating was when they were coming right at you.

But after a short time, it became so much fun and the birds were so adorable, that I couldn't wait for it to be my turn again.

The hour went so fast.  None of us wanted to part with the hawks, or Clodagh.  She made the day very special with her patience, knowledge and friendliness.  She was nice enough to take one last picture of the four of us with our new feathered friends.

We walked back, with Clodagh, after our hawk walk, to the Birds of Prey Centre.  We got back in time for a flying display.  The birds showed us how well they responded to the trainer's commands.

We saw our instructor, Clodagh, change hats easily to become Clodagh the demonstrator.  She didn't have a lack of volunteers wanting to be a part of the show.

After the very informative display we were off to the Aillwee Cave.  Soko, Sandie and J.T. registered to go on the next guided tour of the underworld of the Burren.  Because of my claustrophobia, I waited in the gift shop/waiting area.  I saw some great pictures of the Burren's most accessible cave when they got back.

We had a full day of  adventure on Aillwee Mountain and actually stayed until it closed at 5:00.  Now it was time to take the short 30 minute drive back to the Atlantic View Cottages, our home for the week.

We freshened up a bit before heading out to have dinner at one of the two pubs in Doolin.  We walked 20 minutes, using the quieter back roads, to the small town.

We were all starving and ready for another delicious Irish dinner.  McGann's Pub's selections were authentic Irish and it was very hard to make a choice with everything sounding very delicious.

We had another day full of adventure in Ireland.  After walking up the hill and back to our cottage we were ready to relax for a short while before calling it a night.  We had to get up at the crack of dawn to be on time to catch the ferry that would bring us to our next stop, Aran Islands.

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Monday, October 26, 2020

Taking An RV Road Trip During A Pandemic


We have been getting stir crazy, like the rest of the world, because of months of lock down regulations caused by Covid 19.  We had been talking for awhile about what the safest vacation for us to take would be and we kept going back to thinking that traveling in our RV would be our best bet and maybe our only real choice.

We decided we would try it when we were reunited with our RV when we got back to our snowbird home in Florida recently.  We were not taking any chances though.  We mapped out 3 campgrounds no further than 2 hours from home and not out of the state of Florida.  We bought a couple packs of disposable masks because it would be easier to use than our washables.  We made sure to bring the big bottle of hand sanitizer and threw smaller bottles in the car and our backpacks.  After we made sure we had the Lysol wipes packed, we were ready to go.

Our first stop was Fort Desoto Park.  It's a county park, Pinellas County, located on 5 keys or islands.  

The first sign we had that this camping trip might be a little different because of the pandemic, was that the office was closed and we were told by the masked camp store clerk just to go directly to our site where we would find our parking pass attached to our site number post.

Not too long after we pulled into our site, our son Mike, DIL Chrissy and grand puppy Frankie showed up to hang out with us for the day.  We were too distracted and having too much fun to think about Covid 19.

We liked that the bathrooms had roofs that were raised above the walls so were well ventilated.  We had no worries using them.  Most people in the area we camped in, like us, have their own bathrooms so I rarely bumped into another camper when I used it.

We found lots to do at Fort Desoto Park.  We avoided the indoor museum at the fort but enjoyed their beaches, for one thing, where we found lots of sand dollars at North Beach and had a great view of the Skyway Bridge at East Beach.

We left the park once to take a ferry to Shell Key Preserve.  The ferry left from the boat dock at the park.  The captain's mate had her mask on as she checked us onto the boat and half of the passengers, including ourselves, wore masks but we felt comfortable enough to take them off after the ferry left the dock.

The beach on this uninhabited island was covered with beautiful shells which I had fun hunting for but the real treat this day was the dolphins that jumped all around our ferry at one point as we headed back to the park.  The captain of the ferry was nice enough to stop so we could enjoy this amazing sight.

We had a great time at Fort Desoto.  There were plenty of safe and fun things to do here.  Now it was time to check out the first of the two state parks we booked for this trip.  

Check in was a little different at Lake Griffin State Park in Fruitland Park, FL, than it was at Fort Desoto where no one checked us in.  Here we could not enter the park without a pass so we had to stop to pick one up at the ranger station first.  Soko made sure he had his mask on when he checked in.

This park was a small park, 620 acres compared to Fort Desoto which was 1,136 acres and had over 200 campsites. The campground here only had 40 sights and the public park area was also compact but there was still plenty to do here.  In fact, one of the top 10 things to do in this area was to see the mammoth Live Oak which was in Lake Griffin State Park.


This amazing tree is the second largest in all of Florida and is estimated to be between 300 to 500 years old.

This is only the second time we've seen them in a park, but when we do, we love using the exercise apparatus.  I mean, we mostly just play on them.  We don't really do a real workout even though we promise ourselves that we will when we have more time...tomorrow!    We wondered if this gym got used more these past few months while the indoor gyms were closed.  We had the gym to ourselves the day we checked it out.

And Lake Griffin State Park is where we tried kayaking for the first time.  I was a little nervous about it but I found out that there was nothing to worry about.  Soko did all the rowing while I sat in the front and took pictures.  We saw, and waved, and had a couple of brief chats with lots of people in boats, kayaks and fishing off piers.  We never came closer than probably 15 feet to anyone. It was a fun way to socialize while being able to social distance.

Most of the ride was through the Dead River.   We saw birds relaxing in the middle of lily ponds decorated with the prettiest flowers while we took it slow and relaxed and enjoyed the view.

We did leave the park once, besides for going to Walmart, to check out The Villages which was just a couple of miles away from Lake Griffin.  We have heard so much about this community and were curious to see it.  We decided to go to one of their town squares, Spanish Springs.  We walked around but didn't go into any of the cute shops.  This clothes store was advertising their current sale and made sure to let you they had a great selection of masks on sale also.

We felt comfortable at Lake Griffin and we were happy with how our vacation was going so far.  Now it was time to head off to the third destination of our road trip, Colt Creek State Park in Lakeland, FL.  This was the biggest park of the trip at 5,067 acres.

The park was large enough to have three campgrounds in it and the sites here were huge.  Our nearest neighbor was probably 60 feet from us and with only 33 sites in their only W/E hook-up campground, social distancing wasn't a problem at all.

The bathrooms here were not ventilated like the first two but, because there were only a small number of  campsites, there was never a problem of overcrowding in them.  In fact, I hardly bumped into anyone at all even though most of the campsites were being used.  

The shower in our trailer is really small so we use the campground's showers  We would have used our shower if we didn't feel comfortable in the campground's though.  If you did use the bathrooms, there were a lot of rules to observe.

We didn't have any plans to leave the park grounds so we were happy to have a few things to do here.  We leisurely kayaked around their small lake twice and we hiked a couple of trails.  We felt like we were at nature's botanical gardens on the Yellow Trail. 
Colt Creek State Park was our last stop so we really wanted to enjoy relaxing also.  We had a nice lazy day watching Sunday football and I even had a chance to do some reading during this stop, which I can never seem to find time for when we are home.  

If we were on a vacation pre-covid, we would have found a couple of restaurants to go to and definitely would have checked out the museum at Fort Desoto, but we avoided being indoors, besides for the few times we went to Walmart, and still had a really great vacation just relaxing and finding things to do in the parks.  We never felt uncomfortable and will definitely make future camping plans.  This will, most likely, be the only way we travel until the world is Covid 19 free again!

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