Our last week in France we took a day trip to Normandy to the Airborne Museum (two of our friendsī father has a painting hanging there). It became a complex excursion - the train only went so far and after an unsuccessful attempt to hitchhike the remaining 13km, we got a cab that, though costly, took us to the door of the museum. It was a heart wrenching experience, even being on the grounds of the honored "heroes". What a tumultuous time in so many thousands of families. Our friendsī fatherīs painting was hanging in a good location. We took several photos of it, though didnīt look around at all the memorabilia - war stuff just isnīt our cup of tea. The museum is rather impressive, for those who take a liking to these kinds of exhibits. Our return trip was equally complex, but this time an angel heard our plight and she offered to drive us to the train station. (This is a very short explanation of what took place - wait for our book and you will get the details). Basically, good fortune has continued to be with us.
Our friends returned from their holiday. We thanked them, shared a few of our stories with them and were on our way to London two days later.
We got in touch with friends of a friend there - people weīd never met before. They graciously insisted that we stay with them, so we did an unscheduled visit to London. We took a 2 hour tour boat on the Thames with them (saw the big tourist attractions from afar) and also went to see a live theater show - RENT (great show - top notch orchestra/band, performances and voices).
Our time for the UK and Ireland was locked in, so we left for Dublin after only 4 days there.
What London lacked for us in appeal, Dublin made up for!! Itīs a beautiful, clean, young and īhipī city. It was easy for us to find internet access and good vegetarian food. Our hostel (yes, we did stay in hostels in Ireland!) was not far from the Temple Bar - a district of restaurants and pubs where we had our pints of Guiness and experienced live traditional Irish music and dancing. The architecture is stunning and looks to us to be a synthesis of Victorian and Celtic. Alas, only 3 days and we moved on, sqeezing in our highest priority place to visit before we rendezvoused with Eileenīs mother and brother.
Galway was where we were by the afternoon of day 4! A quaint (but highly touristic) town on the west coast. We found out we could get a bus to Doolin, 1 1/2 hours south, a little/tiny village famous for traditional music - so we did. It was a very scenic ride along rugged stone-walled countryside and cliffs next to the Atlantic, complete with a castle, or two, and a couple of surfers! Our hostel in Doolin was small and earthily intimate - more than adequate. Half a mile down the road was a pub (more than one but we chose the one where we could squeeze in) which we walked to with some other hostel mates, after fixing and eating our dinner. More Guiness, traditional music and dance...even a guy in a kilt that set his dog on our table when he came in!! It was a unique and colorful evening.
Next day we tried to take the ferry from Doolin to the Aran Islands. After the 1-1/2 mile trip to the dock we found out it was too rough for the ferry and only the Galway ferry could do the trip. BUMMER...almost; some people we had met at the hostel and who had taken us to the ferry landing, Therese, Tracy, and Campbell, offered to take us to Galway with them since they were going there themselves! They got us there just in time for the bus connection that got us to the ferry that got us to Inis Mor by that afternoon, the largest of the Aran Islands where we had reservations at another hostel.
We had just enough daylight to take a mini-bus tour and walk around some prehistoric ruins, getting a description of life on the islands by the driver. We picked his brain, and he gladly answered all our questions. Oddly enough, tourism has made it possible for more natives to stay on the islands. It was raining that evening; after a vegetarian buffet, we wound up entertaining the hostel guests with songs and stories!
Next day we headed back to Galway. Our first bed and breakfast experience was next up, and it was great - a small residence not far from city center. It was very clean and cozy - PLUSH after almost a week of hostels. Found an excellent veggie restaurant that evening (even had some Chilean wine) and felt very pampered by the comfort of a home.
Next day was a bus tour of the Burren and Cliffs of Mohr, countryside and sea side of the area - very rugged/rocky and very beautiful. The bus dropped us off outside of Galway where we made our connection with the bus back to Dublin; by 9 p.m. we were settled again in our Dublin hostel.
The next morning we met Eileenīs Mom and brother, John, at the airport. John got a rental car and drove us back to the B&B weīd secured for them...quite an experience to ride shot gun for someone learning to drive on the opposite side of the road! John did very well, especially for not having slept for 28 hours.
After only a day in Dublin (Trinity College, Book of Kells, more Guiness and traditional music) we all headed up to Belfast, stopping at Newgrange along the way (believe us, this is a condensed version of our trip). It was astounding to walk amongst these ancient grounds.
Belfast is also a beautiful city (though more industrial than Dublin). During our two days there we did a family mission (Eileenīs father had been born there), toured the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods most impacted by the "troubles," and went to the Opera at the Grand Opera House (an impressive place) to see the original version of The Mikado (only small artistic liberties taken with some lyrics). Fantastic costumes and great entertainment.
The next two days we drove through the countryside along the northern coast. We took a small road driving past the Glens of Antrim - 9 valleys (glens) that run inland from the coast, all very green with hedges of fuscias and fields of heather. We had to stop for some goats in the road, once, and had some great chowder in Cushendun for lunch. We also stopped at the Giantīs Causeway - the "8th natural wonder of the world" according to our tour book. It was truly amazing; hexagonal columns of rock jutting up from the shore in clumps like crystals and exposed in the cliff sides looking like rows of chimneys. It was very windy but a phenomenal place. The wind on the water created a very hard to explain effect that made mist rise without any white caps or waves being present. We left there after a couple hours, and stopped at Portrush, a seaside resort town about 12 km further, for the night (seemed like an Irish Santa Cruz).
The next day we went south, through Londonderry (Derry), another town torn by the troubles, and walked the 10'-15ī wide wall that once encompassed the town.
Then we drove on to another village that Eileenīs father mentioned often - Armaugh. We ate lunch there (from a grocery store; it was Sunday and everything else was closed) and visited a couple cathedrals - one had a truly amazing amount of mosaic art; the floors and walls were truly TOTALLY covered with mosaic tiles no more than 1/2" square! This Catholic cathedral also amazingly had incorporated Celtic designs into the floor!? ! ...seemed slightly odd to us. (see photo at right)
From there it was back to Belfast shortly after dark. Another day in Belfast the next day, but we also went to the east coast to see the Irish Sea and had some fish and chips for dinner. Later, we went to Malahide and toured a castle, and awoke the next morning early enough to catch the sunrise over the Irish Sea - gorgeous; a cloudless horizon - very special for us. Later that morning Eileenīs Mom and brother dropped us off at the airport and we were off to London.
Our new friends (Dennis and Mair) met us and took us back to their place. It was Dennisī birthday, and there was a small dinner party that night where we met interesting people that we didnīt have enough time to visit with. The next morning they took us to the underground station and we said our goodbyes there. Weīll miss them, we got on very well with them.
Four hours later we were in Paris. Because of a misunderstanding, we were unable to connect with our friends Chuck and Emily (who we house sat for in August); too bad, but weīll reunite for a visit on the way back, we hope.
The next day we were on our way to Marseilles by noon, and our roommate from last year, Terry, met us on the platform when we arrived. It was great to see him again; too bad heīs moved to a city that we really donīt like. He took us to a tiny local beach, and I got to swim in the Mediterranean, finally (Eileen chose to bask next to the lapping waves). It was very nice - not warm, but not cold at all, either. He took us to another park with a huge sandy beach, and we watched the sunset there.
That night we went to a very hard to describe and unique "spectacle" on top of a warehouse. It was a sound and video collage - maybe a dozen 6ī x 8ī screens, with dozens of speakers spread all over this huge flat rooftop. Scenes from Marseilles or of thematically connected objects/people were projected simultaneously on all the screens as well as on the sides of several LARGE buildings within eye sight, and sounds associated with the pictures came from the speakers (not all screens had the same pictures, at the same time, but they were connected in topic, though different). As I said - unique and hard to describe.
In the morning, Terry's boys came to visit. We went wandering while they went to the sea. We all ate dinner together (Terry cooked) and then 'jammed' afterwards - us guitars, Terry recorder and mandolin, the boys percussion...very cool.
The next day Terry took the boys and us to Arles (he was taking the boys back to their home, and we were going to visit Marie-Pierre, their mother). Terry dropped us off at the train station where weīd arranged to meet Marie-Pierre, and then went to visit some friends.
Marie-Pierre took us to her house and we had a great lunch with her and the boys (and Bernard, her friend). After weīd eaten we all went to her sister Francoiseīs house (where weīd stayed a few days last year near St. Remy en Provence) and we spent the rest of the afternoon visiting again with her sisterīs family. Coincidentally, a friend of theirs happened to also be there that day who had also stopped by last year - small world connection... then it was back to the train station and back to Marseilles with Terry in his van.
Next morning we headed for Barcelona via train. It was good to be on our way. We changed trains twice before we got to Barcelona - once with some confusion and once easily. We made in OK, though, and even got a cab to our Pension (less fuss than a hotel, but an upgrade from a hostel) without TOO much difficulty. It was definitely foreign, again - weīd become familiar with France, but not yet with Spain.
Barcelona is BIG, but it was warm there, We walked around in our summer outfits even late at night. The most outstanding feature of Barcelona, to us, besides Gaudiīs work - which is phenomenal - was the crime. Even the first night we met and saw people that had been ripped off - purses, fanny packs, and larger packs, etc. The atmosphere of possible thievery was more than we were ready for, though we had fortunately been pre-warned. We spent one day orienting, and two days being tourists, and then headed for Valencia and the small towns south on the coast. We could possibly have worked in Barcelona, but doing the research there that we did in Paris last year was too much work.
We did visit some sights in Barcelona, since we were there. First we rode a ībus touristicī around the city and chose what we wanted to see. The next day we did our tourist gig, and went to the Park Guell and Sagrada Familia - both products of the genius of Gaudi. The park rambled up a hillside, and contained sculptures, promenades, plazas, and fountains, all with his unique, curved, and imbedded-with-bright-pieces-of-glass-and-ceramic style. Several of the promenades were supported by columns made of rough stones that actually closely resembled palm tree trunks. Itīs very difficult to describe his unique work - we suggest everyone check his work out at a book store sometime.
His cathedral - Sagrada Familia (sp?) - is impossible to describe! The scope of his vision is way beyond anything that could even possibly be built in several life-times, and larger and more intricate in detail than any cathedrals in the world today. They are still, after a century, constructing the shell of the building! Itīs mind boggling. Though we canīt describe it, we were VERY impressed and awed.
We also visited a display of life sized buildings all put together in a walking museum that represented all the regions of Spain, sold crafts from each area, and had restaurants with food from each region. For some reason it was almost deserted, and nice to stroll around free of hordes of people ...a good museum of Spain. When we left we happened to wander into an International Horse Show in front of the Royal Palace - found out later we were supposed to have paid... guess we found the back door somehow. The impressive thing there was actually the HUGE fountain, the Font Màgica (photo to right) with colored lights that changed with the fountainīs sequential flow.