Posted by: mdmusingsie | December 28, 2019

Beginning in Bernin

I’ve done so little traveling about Europe since moving to Ireland, when a friend invited me to France over the holidays, I jumped at the chance.

Unless you’re visiting family or doing something like skiing, traveling in the wintertime can limit the available sightseeing opportunities. In France you have to beware of the intermittent worker strikes as well.  Only the former affected my trip.  That and the French lunch hour(s) where many businesses and attractions are closed from around 12:00 (noon) until 2:00 pm for lunch.  Therefore, to visit more than one attraction in a day plan to be at one in the morning, take a very leisurely lunch, and go to the second in the afternoon.  The other thing to be aware of when traveling in France, is many attractions only have tours and/or exhibits in French.  My French is trés peau/pauvre, but I can read more than I can speak.

My ex-coworker/friend lives in a small village outside of Grenoble in southeastern France in a valley of the French Alps. One side of the mountains, bordering Switzerland, are tall peaks covered in snow. On the other side of the valley are smaller rock cliffs.

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Several of the roundabouts even had festive Christmas decorations, including this one on the outskirts of Bernin.


Somewhat like Ireland, there are castles or châteaux everywhere. The main difference in France is that most of them are intact and inhabited, either by familes who allow you to take photos from outside the gates, hotels, or tourist attractions.

We checked our lists (and websites) twice as we headed for the first of the castle-hunting expeditions.

Chateau de Vizille is a gorgeous castle not far from Grenoble.  Well, the outside is gorgeous, anyway.  Despite our double checking, the facility, including the museum that depicts the start of the French revolution which began in the region, was closed.  We weren’t the only ones who expected it to be open, there were other people who had come to visit – even the postman hadn’t expected them to be closed.

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After a walk around the lovely park grounds, we spotted a very small sign by the entry – probably one-inch cut off a piece of standard paper where they had typed, in fine print, that they would be closed from December 22nd until January 1st.  C’est la vie, as the French say.

We stopped for another outside photo only chateau, but this time we knew they were closed.  Chateau Touvet is only open during the spring and summer. One side of the 13th century chateau was built on a cliff but it also has a moat (full of fish) surrounding the buildings. We could see snatches of the gardens, which are terraced and in a formal style. According to Wikipedia, the estate is still in the possession of descendents of the original owners, which is impressive.

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Posted by: mdmusingsie | November 2, 2019

Dunsink Observatory

Part two of my Culture Night outing was spent at Dunsink Observatory, which turned out to be relatively close to where I live.  Dunsink is the oldest purpose-built scientific research centre in Ireland and an extension of Trinity College Dublin, built in 1785.It’s now managed by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.


Dunsink Observatory


Dunsink moving ceiling


Dunsink moving ceiling

Originally, the telescope was located in the room being used for lectures on Culture Night and the movable ceiling panels are still in place.


Dunsink telescope


Dunsink telescope


Dunsink telescope

Back in the 1700 and 1800’s there wasn’t the light pollution that detracts from celestial observation, nor was Dublin quite as large; however, Ireland doesn’t exactly have the best climate for scanning the night skies, unless you want to observe a lot of clouds.  Undeterred, the observatory is a popular attraction for amateur astronomers and hopefully the next generation of astrophysicists and scientists. The annual event was chock full of visitors enjoying the lectures, checking out the displays, and chatting with fellow enthusiasts.

Historically, Dunsink was used not only for research and science, but it also kept the time, with relays throughout the day to O’Connell Street where ships could set their clocks by the time ball.

It was at Dunsink where they determined that Ireland was 25 minutes (and 7.4 seconds) off from Greenwich Mean Time.  This aligns with my suspicions about why events always start late in Ireland – they are operating on Dublin Mean Time.  In 1916, Ireland moved the clocks back 35 minutes and switched over to Greenwich Time.

Around the mid 1800’s the second dome shaped building was added along with a new telescope.  This is where the main telescope resides today.  I was able to peak through it before dusk, but once darkness fell the queue to view the heavens was so long I didn’t stick around.  They are open twice a month in the winter for open viewings, so perhaps another time.

A fun fact I learned on the night, which might help you on trivia night, it is take 500 seconds (8 min 20 sec) for light from the sun to reach the earth.

I’ve had a long fascination with astronomy and have visited several observatories around the world when I (remember to look for and) find them, including Dominion Observatory on Victoria Island, Canada; Griffith Observatory near Los Angeles; and now Dunsink.  Had my stars been in a slightly different alignment, I might have been an astrophysicist.  Maybe on the next turn of the wheel..


Posted by: mdmusingsie | October 25, 2019

At the Casino

Time, having moved swiftly on, found me facing Culture Night – an event with too many possible, amazing, choices and far too little time.  Decisions, decisions, what do I do?  Naturally I headed for the Casino.  Casino Marino that is.

Although Dublin (and Ireland in general) has a fair number of small traditional gambling establishments by the same name, this particular venue didn’t have a single slot machine, poker table, or roulette wheel.

Casino is Italian for ‘small house’ and looking at the exterior, it does appear on the small side, however there are 16 rooms over three floors.  Built to look like a Greek temple, the building is completely symmetrical.

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Commissioned by James Caulfiled, 1st Earl of Charlemont around the late 1750’s the building wasn’t completed until around 1775.   It wasn’t just the lack of modern machinery that caused the project to take so long to complete.  It’s the detail in all the stone carvings and plaster ceilings that were the biggest contributing factor.

Lions guard the four corners of the stairways and four gods adorn the top – Bacchus, Ceres, Venus, and Apollo.


Not only is there plenty to admire in the stone carvings and attention to detail, but there are lots of little architectural tricks employed in the building of this house.  For instance, four of the outer columns are actually hollow and serve as drain pipes for the roof terraces.  The urns at the top of the house disguise chimneys.  The glass windows make it appear as if there is only one room, however, each floor has several.

The entry or reception area has an intricately decorated plaster ceiling as well as a half-dome.  This leads to a great room for dining or entertaining.  The parquet floor boasts a large star of David in the centre. Flanking both sides are smaller chambers – to the left a library and to the right what could have been a bed chamber or study.

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The ceilings of all three rooms are full of plaster carvings.  The most interesting is in the library where a circular carving depicts the signs of the zodiac.  The bookshelf is built into the wall and has curved shelves.

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Entry to the side rooms is through ‘hidden’ doors, made to blend in with the wall when closed.

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From the entry, a switchback staircase leads to the upper floor, containing an ornate bedroom complete with sitting area separated from the sleeping chamber by Grecian columns.  Opposite the fireplace is what I called the walk-in closet, but other accounts label it a 3rd bedroom, possibly for servants.  Another smaller, plain bedroom is across the hall with its own hidden door in the wall that leads who knows where.  There is also another stairway leading up to a viewing platform on the roof.  We were only allowed to glimpse the stairway but could not ascend it.   Not a bathroom in sight, which for the time it was built is probably not that unusual.  There was another door on the upper floor that was closed to visitors which may have contained a water closet.  They probably relied more on bedpans.

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The lower floor, which can be glimpsed only from the outside, contained the kitchen and servants quarters.  Since the current remodeling has only recently been completed, that level is not accessible and probably contains construction materials.  Hopefully that level will be restored one day as well.


Outer access to lower floor


Lower floor access

Supposedly, the casino was linked to the main house, Marino house, by a tunnel, which has been blocked off due to all the construction in the area.

For a small house, it certainly packs a punch, which is exactly what Earl Caulfield intended when he had it built.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | September 28, 2019

Back in the Saddle (so to speak)

After nearly a year of stress and trauma over buying a house in Ireland, remodeling, and moving, I’m finally back in the saddle and out and about (though it has taken me a while to write things up and arrange the photos.)

My first real outing was during Heritage week in August.  Although I only made it to one event, I considered it a breakthrough.

This is actually the second year in a row I’ve attended this particular event called Feis Teamhra held at the Visitors Centre on the Hill or Tara.  It’s a celebration of literature and music hosted by Susan McKeown and Paul Muldoon. Last year the featured fiction writer was none other than Sebastian Barry along with poet David Wheatly and the musical group Mongoose.  I was quite impressed with Sebastian Barry’s live reading.  He really breathes life into the words as he reads them aloud.

The program begins with music, followed by a reading by each writer, more music, then, after a short intermission, the cycle repeats.  Last year, although I enjoyed the music, I thought it took up too much of the program.  The musical act had 4 sets whilst the readers only had two each and they were considerably shorter in length.  Maybe they took the comments that I put on the Heritage Week survey on board, as this year, although the format was the same, the amount of music at each segment had been slightly reduced.

This year the feature readers were novelist Glenn Patterson and poet Eamon Grennan.  The music was provided by Sive, who they announced had sold more CDs at the event than any previous musical act.

While waiting in the church-cum-visitor’s centre, I was checking out the stained glass window and walls and happened to see what looked like the shadow of a musician playing the piano in the corner of the wall to the right of the window.  The head seems enclosed in a halo and the arms reach either for piano or maybe a desk, depending on your interpretation.  See what you think.


It’s a lovely afternoon out and my only wish would be that it lasted longer than 2 hours.  I’m already looking forward to the last Sunday in August, 2020.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | April 21, 2019

Egg Hunt 2019

First, apologies to my readers as I haven’t posted anything in months.  Mostly because all I’ve done in the past few months was fret, stress, fume, and steam over the house buying process in Ireland.  Never have I been a part of anything so dysfunctional in my life.  I could go on and on, but that’s a rant for another day.

As viewed from the on-ramp of the freeway heading from what will be my new home town of Ashbourne, Co Meath onto the N2 motorway is a giant rabbit sculpture which fit in nicely with this year’s Easter post.


It was Marks and Spencer who had the best options for eggstravant eggs this year.  Nothing too otherworldly to make you go WOW, but I did find some on what I consider the sophisticated end of the chocolate egg trade.

First up is a dark chocolate egg with a lovely feather design.  It also has a little tray below bearing golden truffle eggs.


Next was one of two I saw in the new ruby red range of chocolate.  According to Wikipedia, ruby red chocolate has only been around since 2017 and only to the general public since 2018.  Also according to the same source, ruby Kit Kat was introduced to Japan and South Korea and that’s the other ruby red I saw this year – a large red Kit Kat egg.  However, I considered my version more elegant and in keeping with this year’s theme.


Lastly, an egg I didn’t get to purchase because I didn’t find out about it in time, is the Wild Atlantic Way egg by Hazel Mountain Chocolate, located in the Burren and Galway.  Checking their events page, you can have a ‘lock in’ day at the chocolate factory learning about the chocolate making process and sampling plenty of goodies along the tour.  I need to book one of these for a future excursion.


Hope you have a safe, healthy, and happy Easter!

Posted by: mdmusingsie | December 31, 2018

Raise a Glass

Time seems to slip away with increasing speed.  Maybe that’s because I’m getting on in years.

Many of the posts this year were back dated and spread weeks or more after their occurrence as I struggled to find the time to download and edit the photos as well as write the posts.

One of the stops my September group and I made was to Tullamore Dew Distillery.  One of the gals was a big fan of this particular Uisce Beatha.

We were given a tour which told the story of the whiskey and the grains involved in its making.  Like most distillery tours, it also included a tasting segment.  I find the ones with the greatest age, and price, are the smoothest.

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The photo below shows the aging of the whiskey.  The dark shaded area at the top shows how much evaporates or is sacrificed as the “angel’s share” as the spirit matures.


Tullamore Dew – each year the angels share increases

So raise a drop of your favorite beverage, whether it be a coffee, soft drink, beer, wine, spirit , or humble water, as we bid 2018 a fond farewell.


Posted by: mdmusingsie | October 21, 2018

Inis Oirr – Revisited

My second set of visitors and I also took the boat ride to Inis Oirr; however, due to the weather (mid September), the Cliffs of Moher part of the cruise had to be cancelled.  On the way to the island it was a bit choppy and more than once we hit a wave and received a salty splash.  By the time we reached the island the sun had come out and helped us to dry in short order.

Instead of the horse and cart ride, we opted for the tractor.  Unfortunately, our ride had to be cut short as the driver had a wedding to attend in Galway and needed to catch the little 6-seater plane that flies to and from the island.


Inis Oirr

While waiting to return on the ferry, we happened to catch the Ferrier in a visit to tend to the horses.


Ferrier visiting Inis Oirr


Ferrier visiting Inis Oirr

Fortunately, the return boat trip was much smoother and we arrived back on the mainland with nary a drop of sea water.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | October 7, 2018

Trim Castle

I hadn’t visited Trim castle in years, more like decades.  I have a vague recollection of stopping there on one of my early bus tours of Ireland.  As it’s only about a 30 minute drive from where I’m living, it was the perfect place to head off to on a what-do-we-do-today trip.

What remains of Trim castle, it’s curtain wall and structures are impressive enough.  It must have been quite imposing in its prime, between the late 13th century and early 15th century.  Hugh de Lacy and his descendants were the, if not architects, then at least financiers of this complex.

The curtain wall contains a number of building remains – nearly a city in themselves.

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The earliest fortification, dating around 1173 or so, was burned to the ground rather than be surrendered to the King of Connacht.  A few years later the stone keep began to take shape, complete with a moat and drawbridge.   Following that the curtain wall and associated defensive structures attached to it were constructed, negating the need for the moat.  Over the next number of decades, several extensions were added to the main keep, along with a separate great hall.

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One would think that with walls so thick these dwellings would have been warm, but from what assorted guides have said over the years, they were cold, drafty places.  Of course, during some of the earliest construction, there were no windows – just hides and curtains attempting to keep out the draft.

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A number of castles I visited had separate great halls, which were added later, during less troubled times.


Trim Castle – Great Hall and Solar


Trim Castle – Great Hall

Trim Castle was used to film parts of the movie Braveheart.  A photo album, available from the ticket office, can be perused to see the modification that were made (and subsequently removed) from the buildings to make them look more authentic and habitable.

Outside the castle is a lovely park to stroll through which includes the remains of the 13th century St., Mary’s Abbey.


St. Mary’s Abbey – Trim


St. Mary’s Abbey – Trim

Posted by: mdmusingsie | September 23, 2018


Sometimes when people come to visit from abroad I take them to some of my favorite places, which are also popular tourist spots.  Other times people have their own wish list which includes places I haven’t visited before.  Clonmacnoise is one of those I had heard of but never visited.

Some of the more ancient, sacred sites are not an exit off the motorway.  They may have a sign on the motorway telling you which exit to take, but from there it can be an easy jaunt down a reasonable road, or, as in the case of Clonmacnoise, practically over the river and through the woods.  We exited said motorway, went down a national highway to rural routes, crept along 1+ lane roads in an assortment of conditions, through small towns and villages and finally found our destination.

Clonmacnoise is an ecclesiastical site founded around 548 by St. Ciarán.  Although it is a bit of a trek by modern road, it is situated along the ancient primary east-west land route as well a stone’s throw from the river Shannon.  We saw boats coming and going from a pier a short distance away, so if you don’t fancy the winding, narrow roads, take a boat from Athlone.

The earliest buildings would have been built of timber and only an archaeological dig can locate any remaining post holes.  The stone structures that remain date from the 10th century onwards, and include the main cathedral.  In addition to the cathedral there are a number of other temples or smaller churches, and two round towers.

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What Clonmacnoise is most famous for, at least in modern times, are the high crosses.  To prevent further damage from weather, the three largest and most decorative are housed in the museum.  Replicas have been placed in the original location around the grounds of the site.   There’s an abundance of grave sites and intricately carved grave markers.

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What I find most impressive about these buildings, grave markers, and high crosses is the detailed carving and shaping of stone.  There were no machines banging out these designs, it was people with mallets and chisels working for months and possibly years to create these impressive monuments.

I can’t help but wonder, when looking at the round towers and the cupola/dovecot, whether the monks were having a bit of a laugh with the shapes.


Clonmacnoise – round tower 1


Clonmacnoise – round tower 2


Clonmacnoise – cupola

We were lucky to get some nice sun breaks so we could explore the grounds at leisure as there are plenty of artifacts to explore in the area.


Clonmacnoise – interesting hole


Clonmacnoise – butterflies at play

Posted by: mdmusingsie | September 1, 2018

Queens (or at least Princesses) for a Day

I can’t believe I forgot the pièce de résistance.  We spent the night in a fabulous castle in Tralee!  Ballyseede Castle is located just outside of the town of Tralee in County Kerry.  This is what a proper castle stay should be – all the ambiance of a castle with the right amount of mod-cons (i.e. a proper bathroom and not a garderobe) and no royalty-only prices.

The outside is a fabulous 16th century structure and they have kept the inside tastefully decorated; reminiscent of bygone eras.  This is in contrast to some castle hotels where the castle look and feel, disappear as soon as you cross the threshold.

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We each had our own room and they ranged from the single (double bed, shower only), to the standard (I thought it well above standard), and the deluxe (four poster bed).  While maybe not quite fit for a queen, the standard room that I had certainly appealed to my princess tastes.  The room was good sized with views over the garden.  They actually had top sheets on the bed (a real rarity in Ireland) and face cloths in the bathroom (another near rarity).   We were on the 2nd floor (3rd floor if you’re from the US), and although there isn’t an elevator, the staff will happily schlep your bag up the stairs (and back down again).

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Between floors there’s a nice sitting area to have a chat and a view over the gardens.  It also has two lounge areas – one with free tea and biscuits.  There is a formal dining room that doubles as the breakfast room, as well as a small pub that serves food.

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Most castles probably have ghosts, whether the staff admit to it or not.  Ballyseede is said to have several, however, you best chance to glimpse one is on March 24th when Hilda, the last of the Blennerhssett family who once owned the castle, appears in the Crosby Room.  We didn’t see any ghosts, but we were there in July.

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