Posted by: mdmusingsie | August 5, 2018

L Roads to Lovely Loch Lein

Heading south, we wound our way down to Killarney in County Kerry.

Now, I’m not saying that modern GPS navigation is a bad thing, but we had some interesting experiences with the navigations systems after leaving Galway.  First, my Garmin hadn’t a clue about the new M18 motorway, even though I had applied updates less than a month earlier.  When I say new motorway, I’m not talking about it being finished merely a month or less ago – it’s over a year old; and longer if you count the building of it.

For a good 20-30 minutes, the Garmin screen looked as if my car was plowing through fields as it actually sped down the motorway.  Eventually it caught up and placed a road under my graphically-depicted wheels.

As we headed further south, so did the ability of GPS to get us to our destinations in something other than a white-knuckled, round-about manner.  I had switched navigation systems at this point, hoping Google Maps was more up to date.  However, for some reason, Google Maps seems to think the fastest way anywhere is on L roads in Ireland.  L actually stands for little, local, back-roads, barely enough room for two cars to inch past each other.  They are roads where I frequently see my life flash before me as I round a narrow curve, expecting either car or truck to be barreling towards me.  Listen up Google – L roads are NOT faster, unless you’ve lived there your entire life and know the ins and outs.  They are not for tourists or the faint at heart.

We did eventually make it to the cottage just outside of Killarney we were renting, though I must say my nerves were quite frayed.  We also made it into town for dinner, but trying to find the Tesco was a Google Maps nightmare.  I spotted a Lidl store after several mis-turns and called it good.

Before heading to Muckross house, we decided on lunch at the Lake Hotel.  It’s right on Loch Lein, which is quite lovely.  There’s a castle ruin on the edge of the lake, worth exploring.  A nice ‘aah’ moment after the adventures of modern travel.

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Loch Lein, Co Kerry

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Loch Lein, Co Kerry

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Reed Beds, Loch Lein, Co Kerry

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Reed Beds, Loch Lein, Co Kerry

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Posted by: mdmusingsie | August 4, 2018

Ireland’s Ancient West

A few years ago, Ireland’s tourism board came up with slogans and travel routes to explore different parts of the country. There’s the Wild Atlantic Way from Kerry to Donegal, Ancient East from Cork, through Waterford, Wexford and up to the Northern Ireland border, and now there’s the Hidden Heartlands in the middle.

We were exploring parts of the Wild Atlantic Way but stumbled upon a hidden gem depicting ancient history in the west at Craggaunowen.

Wooden structures don’t survive thousands of years, so to get an idea of what life was like back in those days, they have to re-construct them based on oral, written, and pictorial accounts.  They have done just that at Craggaunowen.   Located in lovely woodland between Galway and Limerick, it contains a treasure trove of ancient dwellings and artifacts depicting the way people lived back in the Bronze Age.

There is a crannog – a set of dwellings built on an man-made island or stilts in a lake with a wooden walkway connecting it to the mainland.  People as well as animals lived in the crannog so if it came under attack, they could still survive if the bridge was destroyed.

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Another common dwelling place in Ireland was the ring fort.  An earthen bank surrounded the round houses, made of wattle and daub.  There were structures for animals as well as people.  Privacy was at a premium – most places where communal.

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They even had a souterrain, an underground passage used not only to store and preserve food, but could also be used as hidden entrances and exits.

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Souterrain storage as seen from inside the ring fort

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Souterrain outer entry/exit

Bronze Age hunters constructed Fulacht Fia – in-ground cooking pots, by digging a hole, lining it with wood, and filling it with water (or allowing it to fill with rain water).  Heated stones from the fire were dropped into the hole to boil the water and whatever meats or stews they wanted boiled along with it.

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Fulacht Fia – hunters cooking pot

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Hunter’s dwelling

Ogham writing was carved into stone or dangled from wooden blocks in the trees, marking routes and pathways through the once heavy woodlands.

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Look close to see the Ogham runes hanging from the tree

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Ogham markings on the right side of the stone

Portal tombs were the graveyards of the time.

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They even have a re-construction of Saint Brendan’s boat – similar to what he used to sail the Atlantic and discover the Americas – centuries before Columbus.  This one was actually used to re-enact the voyage in 1976.

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Newest of the structures in dating order is Craggaunowen castle – a 16th century tower house.  Even centuries after the crannog, personal spaces were small, but communal spaces large, as that’s where people gathered after the hunt or forage to meet with travelers and tell the tales of the day.

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Wild boars still roam the forest (enclosed in an electric fence).  Along with brown soay sheep.  I’d never seen a brown sheep before.  They look a bit more like goats.  No razors required for these sheep, they shed their wool naturally; you just have to pick it up off the ground.

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Craggaunowen boar

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Craggaunowen soay sheep

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Craggaunowen soay sheep shedding

What an amazing place to visit and explore life from the Bronze Age up to medieval times.  They have re-enactors on site to answer questions and provide demonstrations.  Well worth a visit.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: mdmusingsie | July 22, 2018

Kylemore Castle and Gardens

Another place I’ve visited several times is Kylemore Castle/Abbey.  Since it has always been on a bus tour and our time limited, I’ve always chosen the castle over the gardens.  However, knowing that it’s only the same five rooms to visit (nothing new had been opened), I decided to visit the gardens.

However, when researching previous blog posts, it seems I never posted pictures (or they’ve been removed).  So here’s a few photos of the castle and the rooms that are open to the public.

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The gardens had become an overgrown ruin, but were re-discovered and restoration began in 1995.  They have been open to the public since 2000.

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Metal and rope sheep outside the tea room at the gardens

Laid out in Victorian style, the gardens are certainly impressive.  They had the floral gardens on one side, and the ‘common’ garden, where the food and herbs were grown, on the other side of trees, hedges and a mountain stream.  It would not have been proper to mix the two. Both gardens are enclosed by a stone wall.

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Size alone would make these gardens remarkable; however, what I found more impressive was their overall ‘V’ shape.  The gardens slope down both sides of two hills into a valley walkway.

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Once I’ve finished admiring the beauty of something, I tend to turn it around and look at things from a practical point of view.  This meant wondering how they mowed the grass up and down those hills.

On the far side of the formal garden and up the second hill are a greenhouse and fountain that was under repair.

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The kitchen garden does not have the same dramatic slope of the formal garden.

To get to the gardens you need to take a 10 minute shuttle bus ride through lovely woodlands.  That practical side of me began to wonder how they brought the vegetables from the kitchen garden to the castle.  I suspect there was some kind of horse or donkey and cart, or maybe even a bicycle pulling a cart in the times before the engine.

There’s also a little fair glade for the wee folk.

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While the tourist trade does a lot to keep the place running, there has been speculation over the years about what will happen to the estate. The girls’ school closed eight years ago, and the Benedictine nuns are aging. I found out that the nuns who own/run the estate have entered into a partnership with Notre Dame University in Indiana. They have opened a center of excellence and hold workshops and courses of study of varying lengths.

I’m certain that anyone who sees the pictures of the place would be thrilled to be able to visit; however, from what the bus driver said, they don’t exactly tell the students that after a transatlantic flight they have to drive an hour plus to Galway then another 2-ish hours out to Kylemore.  Maybe the Notre Dame influence will help improve the roadways out to Kylemore.  Or the government could get wise and charge a 1 Euro road supplement to each bus passenger (there are dozens of buses that visit the site each day).  While I’m not proposing a motorway, it would be nice to have roads where two buses can easily pass each other without inching by.  Just a thought…

Posted by: mdmusingsie | July 21, 2018

The Cliffs and More

I’ve visited the Cliffs of Moher at least 7 times, but I still feel in awe every time I see them.  This most recent trip, however, we were able to see it from the top as well as the bottom.

You can either drive down to Doolin (or Rossaveal) yourself or book a bus tour from Galway that takes you on a cruise around the base of the Cliffs of Moher.

Weather can make or break this type of tour. In this instance, we were traveling during the warmest summer in 40 years in Ireland.  The bright sun may be good for tourism, but isn’t always the best for photographs; neither is bouncing about on a boat – have that high speed shutter ready.  Despite the hazy photos, it’s a great way to see the cliffs.

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Part two of our trip had the ferry take us out to Inis Oirr (pronounced Inisheer) – the smallest of the Aran Islands (only 3 km x 2 km in size).  My only other trip to the Islands was to Inis Mór, the big island, so I was looking forward to a new glimpse of these charming islands.

Tourism is now a large part of the economy on the island as farming the rocky land is not easy, and fishing isn’t much easier.  There are approximately 260 residents of the island – this can swell not only with tourists, but with students coming for months at a time to learn the Irish language.

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Eco-friendly school – Inis Oirr

If you have the time you can walk around the island, or rent a bike and peddle around yourself. However, if you’re on a bus/ferry trip your time is likely limited and you may want to take one of the pony and trap or tractor tours offered by local islanders.  When I say locals, that means someone living on the island, but not necessarily a native born islander.  Our guide happened to be an Australian (or New Zealander – I should have written it down!) who married an island gal.  It gave a new perspective to island life.

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The terrain is very much like the Burren; not surprising given its proximity.  Thus, you’ll find plenty of stone walls that weren’t built to divide but to survive.  The walls allowed sand and seaweed to be contained and turned into soil to grow some of the necessary food.  They also kept the animals, and probably small children, safe.

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Inis Oirr boasts quite a few attractions for such a small island.  There’s a ship wreck on the south side of the island.  The Plassey was driven against the rocks more than 50 years ago.  Fans of Father Ted will recognize it from the opening credits.

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O’Brien’s castle ruin sits atop the highest spot on the island.  It is estimated it was built in the 14th century.  St. Caomhán’s sunken church is nearby, built 400 years before the castle. Of course it wasn’t sunken in its day.  Blowing sand built up around the church, but it’s now kept in check by the islanders.

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Oh, and don’t forget the gorgeous sandy beach!

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People laugh when I tell them how warm the summer has been – particularly in July.  When standing on the asphalt/tarmac on the island, I noticed you couldn’t stand in one place for long or you’d get stuck as it was melting.  Our guide said it was much worse a week or so earlier when the heat was at its peak.

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Asphalt/tarmac melting in the sun

We had a fabulous guide on this tour – the best I’ve ever had.  Tom was at home as an islander on the island, helping serve food at the restaurant to ensure everyone had the maximum sightseeing time, helping board, disembark, and cast-off the ferry; that was when he wasn’t driving the bus.  He’s a real asset to the Galway Tour Company and I hope he’s around the next time I get out that way.

Sometimes you wonder about the tales told by tour guides, but I’m inclined to believe the one he told about a group of Italians who didn’t make it back to the ferry in time and were stranded on the island for the night.  When Tom came back the next day with another tour group, the Italian lads told him it was the best time they’d ever had!  There’s plenty of music and dance, and definitely a pint or two (or twelve).

Posted by: mdmusingsie | July 15, 2018

Dark Hedges – in Bloom

Just because you’ve done a bus tour before doesn’t mean it will be the same next time.  Sometimes all it takes is a different driver/guide to change the experience. However, occasionally the tour companies mix up the tour as well.

That’s what happened on my recent Belfast trip.  A few years back I took the tour with friends visiting from the US.  This year I had another set of friends visiting and there is a new stop on the tour – the Dark Hedges, near Ballymoney.  Fans of Game of Thrones will recognize this particular road.

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Bregagh Road is flanked on both sides with beech trees planted in the 18th century, which were designed to impress visitors to Gracehill House.  They continue to impress today, though slightly less ominous in daylight and in full bloom.  At dusk or after dark, watch out for the ghost!

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Due to the popularity given the road by the Game of Thrones series, traffic, especially to tour buses is limited.  However, it’s less than a 10 minute walk from one end to the other, and it’s definitely worth the trip.

Other highlights of the tour are your choice of the Black Taxi Tour of Belfast or the Titanic Museum. Since I’d taken the Black Taxi tour last time, I chose the Titanic Museum this time.  We all agreed it was well done, covering all aspects of the fated cruise ship from how it was constructed to the glimpse into the cabins, stories of the crew as well as survivors, all the way through its demise.

A visit to the north isn’t complete without a visit to the Giant’s Causeway.  There’s a new visitors’ center as well as audio sticks you can rent that give the geologic as well as mythological history of the awe inspiring phenomena.  More info on my previous post.

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Posted by: mdmusingsie | July 7, 2018

Ardgillan Castle – Revisited

My first visit to Ardgillan Castle October 2016 had me restricted to the outside.  I finally made it back to get a view of the inside.

There weren’t any formal tours today, but we were given a map with some history and there were information signs in the rooms.

As this facility is used for many different events, the lounge/drawing room was somewhat sparsely furnished.  There was quite a bit of furniture crammed into the sunroom, however.

Looking at the door frames that separate the rooms you can see that the inner walls are at least two feet thick.  Since there are outer doors and inner doors to the main rooms, there’s enough room for someone to spy on a conversation without being seen from either side.

 

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Ardgillan – Lounge to sunroom view

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Ardgillan – Coffee urn – see the intricate castings on the handle

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Ardgillan – thick walls, double set of doors

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Ardgillan – entry facing out

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Ardgillan – archway

The dining room was quite impressive with the intricately carved doors and paneling.  It also featured a hidden door, to the left of the mirror, which led to the Butler’s Pantry.

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Ardgillan – Dining room fireplace

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Ardgillan – Carved wood paneling

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Ardgillan – Carved wood inner doors

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Ardgillan – Carved sideboard and mirror

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Ardgillan – hidden door from dining room to butler’s pantry

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Ardgillan – butler’s pantry

Two more hidden doors led into and out of the library and were quite cleverly designed to look like bookshelves.  The latch to open the doors was carefully concealed in the woodwork.

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Ardgillan – hidden door on right…

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Ardgillan – Library hidden door on left

I did ask about the hallway to nowhere and was told there had been plans at one time to have that lead to gardens in the back, but it was never completed.

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Stairway to hallway to nowhere?

In the walled garden, the fruit trees are trained to grow against wire fencing to make it easier to pick the fruit.

Despite the drought Ireland was suffering (high temperatures and no rain for over 30 days at this point), the rose garden was beautifully in bloom. Ardgillan_117_sm

Ardgillan – rose garden

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Ardgillan – walled garden

Posted by: mdmusingsie | June 4, 2018

Bloom in Dublin

It’s the June bank holiday weekend and the two big events going on in the Dublin area are Riverfest and Bloom.  Since I went to Riverfest last year I thought I’d do Bloom this year.  A little corner of Phoenix park is transformed into a garden oasis.

If it’s warm, humid weather you want, come to Ireland for the June bank holiday weekend.  For at least the last 4 years it has been pretty consistent.  This year I was lucky.  Although it was warm and humid, I arrived at Bloom in the late morning under cloudy skies and was just leaving around 3 pm when the sun finally burned them off, so I wasn’t totally miserable.

The clouds also helped improve the quality of the photos I took of the show gardens and other interesting bits.  A bonus for you, faithful readers.

Each year, months before Bloom, a number of landscape designers compete in a contest called Super Garden to see who can transform the gardens of lucky homeowners.  The designer who wins the contest gets to build a replica of the winning garden at Bloom.  This years’ winner was Darren Joyce with his concept – The Lock Keeper’s View.  There is a mini canal leading to the replica of a lock gate in a canal.  If you would like a closer view, check out this link to RTÉ.

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The Lock Keeper’s View

Most of the show gardens contain way more flowers than I would ever want to tend (I don’t even like mowing the lawn), but they all have feature elements as a focal point.  Those are the pieces that catch my interest and this year they contained everything from whimsy to functional to fabulous.

We’ll start on the whimsy end.  No, I didn’t forget to rotate my photos, this was the upside down garden. I hope the gnome is glued on tightBloom23_sm!

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Upside Down Garden

Next up is Enchanted Wood – something straight out of Whoville with its own babbling brook.  Ancient stone carvers placed many a carved face in the churches or castles they built.  Sometimes the faces were of nobility, sometimes ethereal beings, sometimes mythical creatures, and occasionally themselves.  This creative gardener added his interpretation of a Green Man carving in wood.

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Enchanted Wood

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The Green Man

Leaving whimsy behind, only somewhat, was the Mama Mia! inspired Garden.  A little piece of Greece in Ireland.

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Mama Mia!

Sustainability was a recurring theme in many of the gardens.  This one was sponsored by Fingal County and designed and built by the Institute of Technology in Blanchardstown with the Dublin and Dun Laoghaire Education and Training Board.  It not only used recycled materials but was designed to be multi-purpose.

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Sustainable Seafood Garden takes us on a journey of food from the water to the kitchen table.

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Sustainable Seafood

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Some gardens came with stories and messages (both implicit and explicit).  The Beyond Boundaries Garden allows space for people confined to wheelchairs or with disabilities to not only move about, but comfortably reach the planting beds.

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Beyond Boundaries

Resistance, a garden for Trócaire highlighted areas of the globe fighting for human rights.

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Resistance – a garden for Trocaire

Focusing on empowering women, particularly in Africa, was No Limits – GOAL’s Garden for Women.

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No Limits – GOAL’s Garden for Women

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For people with very small back gardens, the Growing Shed Garden showed creative use of space, including a series of tiered roof plantings.

 

For people with very small back gardens, the Growing Shed Garden showed creative use of space, including a series of tiered roof plantings.Bloom30_sm

Have a small garden?  Go up!

I think the quality and diversity of the show gardens this year was exceptional.

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Gardens aren’t the only highlights at Bloom.  There’s a food village featuring many of Irelands best small to large food producers (and plenty of tasting opportunities).  Bord Bía sponsored cooking demonstrations and gave out free cookbooks (Flo Gas was also giving away little cookbooks). I attended a demonstration by Neven Maguire where he featured products being showcased in the food village.

There’s even time for a bit of horsing around.

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For more info about the show gardens check out the Bloom website

Posted by: mdmusingsie | April 1, 2018

Have a Chocolatey Easter

I’m sorry to say that my egg hunt this year didn’t turn up anything super spectacular.  Yes, there were some themed choices based on popular movies and such, but nothing “artful” enough to say ‘pick me up and show me off’.

Each year I purchase some type of egg for my team members, and this was the closest thing to interesting for 2018.

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I hope the Easter Bunny brings you something special and that you have a wonderful spring!

Posted by: mdmusingsie | March 31, 2018

California Dreamin’ – Part 4 (Final)

Apologies for the delay in finishing the California series.  Technical issues with my laptop, long hours at work, etc. got in the way.

The last stop on the trip was Santa Monica.  About an hour’s ride from Downtown on a reasonably priced mass transit train.

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Since Santa Monica has a pier, I was expecting something, well, more than what I found.  After a steep downhill walk (and already dreading the walk back uphill), we wandered the length of the pier.  There were a few tourist-trinket-filled shops, several restaurants, an arcade, and small amusement park and a smattering of other oddities.  Maybe it’s livelier when they have events or in the summer months, but in the middle of winter, it just looked a bit tired and sad.

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The beach, however, was lovely.  We strolled a fair way down as my friend gathered a handful of small shells; however, the sun was scorching with the temperature near 90 degrees (F) so we went in search of some shade.

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Santa Monica Beach

After lunch and cold drinks, we walked along Third Street Promenade – a pedestrianized, open-air, several block long mall.  However, this wasn’t your typical shop-street.  There wasn’t a CVS or Walgreens to be found, or a convenience store, either.  Primarily it sported high end and fashionable shops and restaurants with a couple movie theaters thrown in.

I was surprised to find a Carlo’s Bakery!  I’m a big fan of the TV show Cake Boss, having made a few cakes in my day (old school butter-cream piping, baby).  There were plenty of mouthwatering choices, but I decided to try my first lobster tail filled with dreamy salted caramel filling.  I also picked up a generous sized cheese Danish for breakfast the next morning.  Visiting a Carlo’s Bakery by itself was worth the trip to Santa Monica.  The shop had only been open a few months, so my timing was near perfect. Thanks, Buddy and the gang, as well as the staff at the Santa Monica site.

Here are a few more photos of sculptures we found around the downtown area.

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I feel like this plenty of days at work!

I hope you enjoyed this sun-filled sojourn nestled in the middle of winter.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | March 2, 2018

Emma and the Beast from the East

We interrupt this regularly scheduled trip through sunny Los Angeles with breaking news of a blizzard in Dublin, Ireland.

Yes, you heard that right, a blizzard in Ireland.  There’s a foot of snow in my back yard, accumulated over the last 3 days.

The first few flakes started falling on Tuesday.  I opened the door to head to work and snow was blowing around the courtyard.  I went back inside and was prepared to work from home when it stopped as quickly as it began.  According to the weather folks, who we know are always right, the snow wasn’t due until well into the evening.  A few more flakes fell and melted during the day and just as I was leaving work an ominous black cloud spread across the sky and the snow started falling in earnest.

Most people had gone home already, thankfully, so I encountered only a handful of vehicles on my 2 km (1.2 mile) drive home; which was a good thing as I was being quite slow and cautious and didn’t want to encounter some renegade thinking they could stop on a dime.  It stopped again not long after I arrived home.

Wednesday morning came and during the night a good 3 inches had fallen.  Luckily I can work from home as I wasn’t about to play chicken with a bunch of people who can count on one hand how many times they’ve driven in snow.  About 80% of my company worked from home that day.

On Thursday I’m pretty sure it had risen to 100% working from home as the back garden had accumulations closer to 6-8 inches and the blizzard was due to arrive around 4 pm.  Warnings were all over the news to go home and stay home – it was going to be a doozy.  That hour came and went and only a few flakes had fallen during the day.  The heavy hitter came overnight.

Up until now, the south and west of the country had escaped largely unscathed.  Dublin had been hit the hardest by this Beast from the East as they were calling it.  (For those who haven’t yet been convinced of global warming, the polar vortex had risen 50 degrees which caused the jet stream to flow from east to west instead of the other way around.  That just ain’t normal, folks.)

But storm Emma came charging up from the south and ran smack dab into the Beast from the East and dumped a load of snow all over Ireland and the United Kingdom.

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Dublin buses haven’t run for 2 days.  The train service stopped running at mid-day on Thursday, and flights from all the airports have been cancelled since Thursday morning.  Some people have been sleeping in Dublin airport because they either can’t find, afford, or get to a hotel.

A kindly neighbor has been shoveling the walkway in the cul-de-sac (I don’t own a shovel at the moment). A few have braved the elements to get out to work or to try and pick up a few groceries.

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Neighborhood kids built a snowman

Supposedly, the great thaw will begin sometime on Saturday with things returning to semi-normal on Sunday.  As much as I love the weather people, I’m not holding my breath.

 

(P.S. Don’t you think the title of this blog post would make a great novel.  Although, maybe it’s too similar to another popular beast who meets an enchanting woman.)

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