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Monday, January 11, 2021

Bunratty Castle & Folk Park - County Clare, Ireland



It was our last day in Ireland.  The first thing we had to do was to end our vacation the way we started it with breakfast at Gus O'Connors Pub.  We had wanted to have breakfast here again ever since the first time we ate here but never made it.  This morning was our last chance and we got here which actually surprised us a little bit.

While my sister, Sandie, and her husband, JT, loved the black and white pudding, a type of sausage and staple of an Irish breakfast, I was not a big fan and tried their vegetarian fry this time.


After our delicious breakfast, it was time to head to the castle.  We left our excursion to the Bunratty Castle & Folk Park for the last day of our trip.  We didn't think we would be up to traveling the hours we traveled on our other road trips around Ireland all week.  A short one hour ride to the castle sounded like the perfect plan for Day 7.


The building we had to walk through to get to the castle was the gift shop.  It was one of the best shops we had been in the whole trip.  There was something for everyone here.  I came out with a bag full of the nicest gifts for myself, including a charm for my Pandora bracelet and this adorable hat and soccer ball for our grandson.


We saw the castle to our left when we came out of the gift shop and headed there first.


The Bunratty Castle is the most complete and authentic castle in Ireland.  It was built in 1425 and restored in 1954.  The furnishings, tapestries and art date back to the 15th and 16th century.


We climbed the steep staircases to explore the three floors of the castle.

The Great Room - the banquet hall

Earl's Kitchen - the large turtle shells were used as dishes and covers.

The Main Guard - the main living room of the common soldiers


We took some pictures out on the rooftop of one of the castle's four towers.


After carefully descending the winding staircases, we exited the castle and wound up in the Folk Park, a living reconstruction of the homes and environment of Ireland over a century ago.  


We followed the path and walked through the park enjoying the many buildings both inside and out.

The School House 


The Loop Head House was the home of a fishing-farming family.



Ardcroney Church, built in 1838, was moved stone by stone from County Tipperary and unveiled at the Folk Park in 1998.




There were a few farmhouses around the park.  This one would have been the home of a farmer from the rich lands in Limerick and Tipperary.

Golden Vale Farmhouse

Inside this farmhouse, we met the Bean an Ti. (Woman of the House.)  She chatted with her guests and answered any questions they had.


The Folk Park included The Village Street where we found a collection of shops and buildings typical of 19th century urban Ireland.



After having a great time and spending hours at the castle and park, it was time to get back to the cottage to get ready to have our last dinner in Ireland.  We were going to O'Connor's Pub, our favorite pub in all of Ireland.  We were hoping their dinner was as good as their breakfast and it was!

We all really enjoyed our side of pureed carrots and parsnips.  After asking the waitress about it, I tried my hand at making it when we got back home.  It actually came out really good!  (You can find my recipe here.)


The guys drank as much Guinness as they could on our last night!


One of the top things on our To Do In Ireland list was to make it to an Irish pub session.  Finally, on our very last night, we would have that experience.  It would have been so disappointing if we didn't.  

We saw that the pub was getting very crowded, with people showing up to enjoy the music, as we ate dinner but luckily we were able to find a spot where we could sit and get a good view of the band.


The music was lively and fun but the highlight of the night, for me, was when the young daughter of one of the musicians jammed with the band.  I was really in awe of her unbelievable skills on the banjo.  I imagined she must have been playing the banjo since toddlerhood! 


Unfortunately, we had to leave the pub before the band was done.  We had to get up early to catch our flight back to the U.S.  On our way to the airport the next morning we stopped for gas and ran into the station's store to grab some snacks.  And guess who was in that store?  The little banjo playing girl, along with her mom and siblings!  After I confirmed with her that she was the talented girl from the night before, I was very happy to be able to compliment her on performance.  I also had to ask her how long had she been playing the banjo and her answer was one year!! 

We made so many amazing memories during our vacation in Ireland and talk about returning one day.  I crossed Ireland off our bucket list but after our unforgettable trip, it is back on! 

Erin Go Bragh!    

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Monday, December 21, 2020

It's Christmastime At The Gardens

 


We just renewed our Bok Tower Gardens membership so that we can enjoy another year of these beautiful gardens located 15 minutes from our home in Lake Wales, Florida.  And not only can we enjoy our local garden, as members we can take advantage of the reciprocal program that allows us free entrance to more than 300 gardens, aboreta and conservatories throughout the US.

We paid $75.00 for an annual membership for two.  Considering that it would cost us $15.00 each to spend the day at Bok Tower and we go on average of 1 - 2 times per week per year, it is an amazing bargain.  But we really got our money's worth when we used our membership to get into gardens in San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth and Tennessee in February.

When my daughter, Lisa, told me she was going to Texas last month and that she had the San Antonio Botanical Garden on her itinerary, I bought her an annual membership (an early Christmas present) to Arlie Gardens in Wilmington, NC, her local garden.  She was able to use her pass to get into the Texas garden for free and then used her membership to get us free admission to the very popular Enchanted Arlie event at Arlie Gardens.  I couldn't get free admission to this event with my membership to Bok Tower since the reciprocal program only gives you free admission to special programs happening in the gardens you signed up with, but with Lisa's pass we were able to save the $30 a carload admission price.


These cute trees lip-synced favorite Christmas songs.


Lisa and Amelia posed in front of the gorgeous tree inside the butterfly garden.




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Last Christmas, me and Soko finally got to Peace on Earth holiday celebration at Bok Tower Gardens.  We had heard so much about it and know people who look forward to going every year.  One of the highlights of a visit to Bok Tower is the tour of the mansion located there but they definitely are not to be missed at Christmastime.  The rooms of the Pinewood Estate are festively decorated for Christmas by volunteers.  The decorations change every year so that you can be sure you will see something new each time you go.  

Unfortunately, Pinewood Estate is not open because of the pandemic this year so we feel very lucky to have gotten a chance to see the beautiful displays last year.  There is plenty of holiday joy around the gardens and of course the music of the carillon coming from the tower is always a treat so I am sure there will be plenty of visitors to Bok Tower as usual in spite of the estate being closed.
Note:  There is a separate fee for the Pinewoood Estate tour.  

Bok Tower

                         We found this cute display in Hammock Hollow, the children's garden at Bok.








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Lisa was lucky enough to visit two gardens this season with the second garden being Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, SC.  Their holiday event is called Night of a Thousand Candles.  Looking at the pictures Lisa's friend Kathy took made me want to visit this garden so badly but the tickets for the event are all sold out.  Guess I will have to wait until next year.
Note: Brookgreen Gardens are not participants in the reciprocal program.








We are hoping to get a chance to visit the Cape Fear Botanical Garden in Fayetteville, NC before they take down their festive displays and if we can get to more gardens this season that would be wonderful.  There is nothing like enjoying some holiday cheer at the most wonderful time of the year! 

Happy Holidays from our home to yours!

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.