Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dublin Sunshine

Top to bottom: Dublin Castle, interior of City Hall, St. Stephen's Green, and St. Patrick's Cathedral.

The sun came out nicely this morning, and the day got warmer as it got later. We walked (of course) to St. Patrick's Cathedral. Then, back to the hotel to do on-line check in. USAirways website was acting up, and we couldn't complete that operation. An hour and a half wasted. Doesn't it drive you nuts when what should be very simple is not attended to by a vendor? The front desk put me through on their toll free line, and I was told their techies had been working on it for some time now. Why isn't it fixed? Well, we'll go to the airport a little earlier and stand in line a little longer.

We then walked back downtown to St. Stephen's Green, a lovely park with primroses, tulips, hyacinths and daffodils all in bloom. The trees are beginning to put out new leaves and the grass if very green. Through the park and on to the National Museum which has a wonderful display of archeological artifacts from the entire history of Ireland, dating from 3600 BC. It's well-done and fascinating. There are displays of some beautiful gold jewelry from thousands of years ago. We had lunch in the cafe across from three representatives (politicians?) from the Houses of Parliament which is next door. Well, we saw them eating there and full of business on cell phones and conversing animatedly, and they were all too old to be civil servants, so they must be elected somebodies.

Then, the National Library with its beautiful reading room (no pictures, please) and a great exhibit on W. B. Yeats. Off to Dublin City Hall and the Dublin Castle. So, I guess we walked several miles, but it was a beautiful day and it's a fascinating city.

We fly out at 11:15 in the morning, and should be home tomorrow night. It's hard to believe the trip is over. Who wants to go next time?


We arrived at our hotel about 2:00 yesterday after a drive of about 3 hours on the motorway. Not a bad trip. We went from castle to Motel 6, but it's clean and okay. Only one more night. Leaving tomorrow from Dublin Airport at 11:15 on USAir. Looking forward to sleeping in our own bed tomorrow night.

We walked into the downtown area, slipped in to see the Book of Kells just before closing, and enjoyed Trinity College campus. Then crossed the River Liffy and back again, listened to some Irish folk music in the Oliver St. John Gogarty's Pub - a real treat. Dinner in the Bank Hotel Restaurant which was recommended, I don't know why, excpet the interior is gorgeous Victorian. Bill's steak and ale pie was tasteless, as was my "baby" chicken. The Irish do make great seafood chowder, however, and a bowl of that as starter will pretty much do for a meal.

It is raining in Dublin. Can't complain, as we've had a week of sunshine. It does make picture-taking difficult. I'll try to post some later this afternoon.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Our Very Own Castle for the Night

The first and last pictures are of Dromoland Castle where we are staying tonight. There is something for everyone - a golf course, tennis courts, a walled rose garden, ducks to feed, a river for fishing, and a handsome falconer who demonstrates the talents and characteristics of birds of prey in the parkland. There is also a chef, a very formal restaurant, a less formal one, and also porters who look like they have been here since the turn of the last century and have manners to match. Lovely. For such a formal stately hotel, there are many families here with young children. Everyone is very friendly and welcoming.

The next pictures are of the Cliffs of Moher and Droghaire Castle, County Clare. I hope I've spelled the castle correctly. If your ancestors lived here, please excuse. The guidebook is in the car.

We drove out of Galway pretty easily with the help of TomTom. There are lots of new roundabouts and highways. We took the scenic route again, so it took us about 2 hours through the Burren to reach the Cliffs of Moher. Ireland is turning greener by the day as we move south and the weather remains beautiful. We have been lucky. There are now fruit trees in bloom, and the tulips are begining to open to join the daffodils. The cliffs are one of the major tourist attractions in Ireland, and we heard many more Americans there than anywhere else. We had lunch in the cafeteria restaurant.

Tomorrow we'll take the motorway all the way back east to Dublin.

Inishmor, Aran Islands

A forty-five minute ferry ride from the mainland is a world of rock walls, crashing surf, thatch-roofed cottages, and tour guides talking blarney. Only 800 residents on this island, but there are lots of tourists arriving on every ferry. I can't imagine what it might be like in summer. We had one of the best spring days yet this year, and everyone we met was out soaking up sunshine. The pony carts are used to give tourists a ride on the single lane and very narrow roads, but most of us ride in vans. We were driven from one end of the island to the other, about 9 miles, with a 2 hour stop at Dun Aegan, the 2000 year old fort. We had lunch in one of the cafes. It's an unusual place, and it looks like the people, both historic and contemporary had little to do but build stack stone walls. Cattle, sheep and goats graze in the tiny spaces between. There's even an ocassional donkey and pony.

It was a visit to a different world. Today, we are off the the Burrens, which we are told look much like the landscape in the islands.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Connermara, Galway, and the Aran Islands

I can't believe it was only yesterday we drove down from Westport through Connemara to our hotel in Salthill which is just outside Galway on the "beach." It's like a mini-mini Myrtle Beach here. Our hotel is very nice and very comfortable, but there are tour buses coming in, and tonight being Sunday, all the wrinklies are here for music and "dance" in the bar. I'm not sure what that is about, but maybe ballroom dancing????? Yesterday, when we arrived, there were tons of kids in the lobby from little ones to high school age. I don't know what that was about either - maybe the first weekend of spring or something. We prefer the wrinklies. They are much more quiet.

Connermara is a remarkable countryside - with lots of rocky landscape, not much green, and high rocky cliffs and mountains on either side of the road. We stopped at Croagh Patrick, but didn't have five hours to do the pilgrimage up and down, and then drove on to Leeanne, getting lost only once, and having lunch in a small pub there. It reminds us a lot of NZ. We arrived here at the Galway Bay Hotel about 2:00 p.m. The broadband connection in our room wasn't working, although a hotel "porter" (geek) tried to fix it. Tonight, it is now connected, so I guess he did something right. We ate dinner in the hotel - not great, but expensive.

Today, we got up early and took the ferry from Rossaveal to the largest of the Aran Islands. It was amazing. The scenery is unlike anything we have seen before. Lots of rocks! In fact, there are 7000 miles of rock walls - enough to reach to NY and back. They are all dry stack walls, and you can see light between the stacking. The fort on top of 400 foot cliffs is amazing, too. Back to the hotel about 6:30, and we hopped in a cab and went into Galway for a seafood supper and to hear traditional Irish music in pubs. Great evening. What a birthday! Thank you for all your very wonderful wishes.

The Knockranny Hotel, which was gorgeous and wonderful, in Westport is the top picture. Then, Croagh Patrick, and the Loo Lough (Black Lake in Connemara) and a dog reading the menu outside a pub in Salthill. Smart dogs here in Ireland.

I'll do photos of Aran Island and Galway tomorrow. Hopefully, this broadband connection is fixed for the morning. Then, we are off to Dromoland Castle for Monday night. It's been a whirlwind tour.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Westport in County Mayo

Here's the upstairs bar at our hotel in Westport. The service is very formal and polite. The waiters wear tuxes. We felt like travelers from another era - the 1940's maybe, except the music was all 1960's American - Dione Warwick, Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas. We've heard more of that vintage music since being in Ireland than anything else. At least we had classical in the lovely restauarant at breakfast. The pananoramic views from that room include Croagh Patrick, a famous pilgrimage climb for thousands every year, and the sea to the east. Beautiful at sunset.

Westport is a graceful town built in Georgian style with a river through the middle and close to the sea. The harbour in Westport is adjacent with lots of fishing boats and seafood restaurants. We ate at The Helm last night, one of the more popular ones. It was packed on a Friday night, mostly with locals. Our only disappointment was Matt Malloy's pub was also packed, and we couldn't (didn't want to) get in to listen to traditional music. The owner is a former Chieftan. I envisioned an intimate pub with tables, but this was just a little too intimate with lots of boisterous young beer drinking lads, few women, and jammed elbow to elbow in three very cramped dark rooms. We were early, but walked in and walked out. We came back to our hotel and heard a very good guitar player and singer who sang mostly Irish ballads. Much more comfortable.

Our hotel, the Knockranny, is fabulous and built in Victorian style. The indoor infinity pool is heated and so relaxing I had it all to my self yesterday afternoon. There is also a spa with all sort of treatments, steam and sauna rooms as well. The Fougere restaurant has a very famous chef, but we opted for the local seafood.

Today we drive through the countryside of Connemara and down to Galway where we'll stay two nights.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Donegal and Glenveagh Castle

Donegal is the most remote county in Ireland, on the northwest coast and fairly cut off from the rest of the Republic. It is the area where one is most likely to hear real Irish language spoken, though we heard only our guide at the castle speak a short welcome in Gaelic. We drove miles through brown peat bogs, along estuaries, and through the stoney mountains along the coastline. The scenery is dramatic. The villages are small, but unfortunately, there are hundreds of new and empty houses dotting the landscape - remnants of the banking/mortgage collaspe that has led to the recent economic recession in Ireland. One wonders what will happen to all these empty houses. Will they be removed? crumble into ruins? ever be sold? In the meantime, they make a real impact on the otherwise pastoral scenery.

We drove north to Glenveagh Castle built by an Anglo Irishman named Adair as a hunting lodge in the mid 1800's. He married an American widow from upstate NY who inherited the estate upon his death in 1889. She was very popular with the locals, entertained lavishly and added to the castle and gardens. After being owned by a Harvard art professor after WWI, the property was sold to a Philladelphia mult-millionaire named McIlheney who again added to the furnishings, art work, and gardens. He and his wife enjoyed the castle until his death in 1986, at which time it was bequeathed to the Irish government which created a national park from the property and adjacent land. The lake, this morning, was absolutely calm, like a mirror. McIlheney put in a heated swimming pool which is pictured above. It is difficult to see where the pool ends, and the lake begins. It was amazing this morning with the reflections making it seem as if both are on the same level. In fact, the lake is about 6 feet below the pool.

The gardens must be magnificent in the summer. Today, only a few rhododendruns and a lot of daffodils were in bloom. It was a lovely day, about 56 degrees, with lots of sunshine. We drove back through more of the Donegal peat farms and mountains.

Bill is becoming very adept at negotiating the rough and narrow roads. It takes practice.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Distillery Then Donegal

We had a very big breakfast including smoked salmon (I believe we're getting our quota) and scrambled eggs, then made the 10:00 a.m. tour of the Bushmills Distillery. Irish whiskey is distilled three times and aged a minimum of three years in oak, which makes it very smooth. The barley is all grown in Ireland and is malted (germinated) and then air dried in kilns. It is barrel-aged a minimum of three years. Scotch whiskey is made from barley as well, but it is smoke dried, giving it the characteristic smokey taste. American bourbon is made from corn, and aged a minimum of one year. You can imagine which whiskey is smoothest. See how much I learned? It's also interesting that Bushmills, depending on its age, is placed in American bourbon oak barrels, Spanish sherry barrels or Port barrels, or a combination of these, then blended. See how happy Bill is at the end of the tour?

We bought a bottle of Black Bush, one of their speciality whiskeys, aged five years. Our guide said his favorite is the 16 year old bottle. You can try to find it there, if you're interested in a tasting. It spends the final months in oak barrels used for Port wine, giving it a reddish color. We didn't get to taste this one.

It was a 2 1/2 hour drive through beautiful rolling sheep farmland to Donegal. Our hotel is fairly new with nice rooms but none of the historic charm of Bushmills Inn. It's not a fair comparison. We walked into Donegal Town this afternoon and checked out restaurants for dinner as well as had a look at the waterfront and old abby. We met an English gentleman on our walk who is a retired former chef to some well-known West End Hotels, The Dorcester and Savoy included, who recommended The Abbey Hotel restaurant as being one of the best for seafood. He should be a well-informed judge! We'll see.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bushmill Inn, Bushmill, N. Ireland Worth a Trip

This is one of the finest hotels we have ever stayed in, and it's historical, comfortable, luxurious, spacious, interesting,full of fascinating antiques and pictures, had alcoves and lounges tucked beneath rafters of solid wood, well-serviced, friendly, and the mattresses are some of the best we've slept on since we left home. I don't know what it is about Europeans that they prefer to sleep on rock hard beds, but we have been uncomfortable, except in Bern, until tonight. At times we have doubled the duvet under us and covered up with what remained. Last night, in Belfast, in a newly remodeled hotel, The Wellington Park, with lovely linens, towels, pillows, and modern bath, the bed was a board. (the carpet was also sticky. ewwww-w-w-w.) Our bed in the cottage in Tonbridge was a challenge to negotiate with a slender slice of mattress contained within a wooden frame that caught your leg as you tried to climb out and duck the very low ceilingS over the bed.

We enjoyed a Bushmill whiskey in the timebered lounge. There were several rooms with comfortable chairs and wonderful peat fires. In the restuarant, Bill had fresh Donegal salmon baked on top of risotta with fresh spring peas. We had a first course of a terrine of Donegal Salmon with mint to spread on thin toast. Very mild and tasty.
My fresh venison tenderloin was perfect and served with fig jam and confit of onion and plum. Fresh steamed kale on the side. Bill had a butterscotch sundae. It was great food, and the young waitstaff was so gracious and friendly. You can't help but smile at the accents and charm.

Bushmills is worth a visit just to stay in this hotel. It's the way every hotel should treat guests. And if you can get here, stay in the hotel, eat their good food, you can also tour the distillery, the Giant's Causeway, and the coastline. Wish you were all here.

Carrick a Rede, The Giant's Causeway and Bushmills

Here's a look at the entrance to the Newgrange tomb we visited yesterday. It's a dramatic place.

We drove up the lovely Antrim coastline of the Irish Sea and through the glens and daffodils to the swing bridge at Carrick a Rede. It was built by salmon fishermen to allow them access to a small island off the coast, taking advantage of the channel where the salmon migrate. By the time we arrived, the mist had also descended. We both successfully navigated the swing bridge - it wasn't bad - and enjoyed the coastline views and screaming gulls. The National Trust cafe on site had good leek and potato soup for lunch.

It was a short drive to the Giant's Causeway, further up the coast. It's an amazing geological phenomenon (of course there's a legend involved about a "girlfriend" in Scotland) caused by lava coming to the surface and cooling. The National Trust is doing a huge amount of construction above the site for a new tourist center, but there are comfortable small buses running down to the beach. That was an unexpected surprise. We walked down and rode back up.

The Bushmill Inn where we are staying tonight is gorgeous. We have a big room with a sitting area, a walkin closet, and a large bath. There are peat fires burning in the woodstove downstairs. Since it is still cool and misty, it's a welcome retreat. We are eating in their very fine dining room this evening. It's a charming town and terrific hotel. Tomorrow we'll check out the distillery and Blackbush whiskey, although I'll probably have a wee taste tonight before dinner.

Monday, March 21, 2011


We were only an hour late leaving Gatwick due to heavy fog, but after getting up at 5:00 a.m. to meet the taxi in front of our cottage at 6:45, we were really sorry we didn't get to sleep that extra hour. We had to pay extra to Ryanair because I hadn't checked in on line and printed out boarding passes. Now, I ask you how does one carry a printer while traveling? I suppose I could have found a business center somewhere, but not in Tonbridge! Next time, I'll just fly with Easy Jet. They have automatic check in machines at the airport that print out your boarding passes and luggage tags. So easy. I'm disgusted with Ryanair - don't fly them. If you do, read the fine print.

But, anyway, we picked up our car at Hertz and got on the road. Stopped by the 5000 year-old burial mound in Bra n'Boine. An amazing construction - 500 years older than the pyramids, and 1000 years older than Stonehenge. Sorry I left the camera in the car tonight, so will post a picture or two tomorrow.

Mr. TomTom got us right to our hotel which is two blocks up from Queens University in Belfast. We walked down the street and searched around a bit, and with the directions of a friendly Irishman who asked me, "Would you be lookin for something, darlin?" We found the great restaurant and brewery "Molly's Yard." It has been written up and marked highly on Trip Advisor where I found the recommendations. The server was wonderful, and the food very good. Bill got the Irish stew with a complimentary glass of chocolate stout. It comes with a foamy head that leaves a mustache ("Got stout?") and is smooth and chocolately. I loved it, and I don't drink beer. I had grilled chicken with bacon and blue cheese on a pesto covered country bread with freshly browned chips. Oh, my. The green salads were wonderful.

So tomorrow we are off to drive the Antrim Coast and stay in Bushmills where we'll visit the Giant's Causeway. It's going to be different moving from hotel to hotel every night - except we have two nights booked in each of Donegal and Galway. Whew. This is when I wish I had left half my clothes at home. I'll be living out of the top of the suitcase so I won't have to unpack. That means the same clothes, wash them out, wear them again kind of traveling. But, no one knows us, and we do bath every night and smell good.

Weather is improving and there are borders of daffodils everywhere. Hope we get some sun tomorrow. You can check out the Giant's Causeway and Carrick a Rede on google.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ireland Tomorrow

We leave at 6:45 a.m. by taxi to Gatwick, and then a 9:40 flight to Dublin. Pick up our car around noon. So, another day of many miles, long hours, and some stress. I don't much enjoy the "transfer" days. England has been great fun.

We went into London right after lunch and went to Evensong at Westminster Abby - the wedding spot! It was gorgeous. All the choir boys in their red collars and white ruffs, and an elegant glorious sound of organ and choir combined. It's unbeatable, and free! We sat in the choir itself, and could have reached out and touched the singers. What a treat. Neil Gibbons put us on to this, and we owe him.

Then went down to the Tate Britain, that's the "old Tate" and basked in the John Singer Sargeants, the Pre-Raphaelites, and the Turners. My second favorite painting, "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose" by Sargesnt is still on display here. It's so full of light and color. Google it, if you don't know it.

We had dinner at a funky restaurant on the Strand named after Mozart's nemesis - I don't have time to look it up. Solenari? Soleneri? Come on you muscians, let me know. Anyway, their fixed price menu was reasonable and the food very good. Bill had lamb shank that fell off the bone - with mint sauce, of course. If you are in London, try it out.

Packing up tonight and on the move again. We'll be in Belfast tomorrow night.

Dover Castle and Good Friends

Yesterday, we took the train to Dover - about an hour trip from Tonbridge. It was a crisp sunny day with lots of blue sky and sparkly sea. The huge castle was built by Henry II to offer hospitality and to impress pilgrms coming across from the continent to visit the shrine of Beckett at Canterbury. Was it was a form of political spin to detract from Henry's part in the martyrdom of Beckett? He was certainly a strong monarch and capable of such.

The castle was also used in the defense of England during WWII. There are many anti-aircraft gun turrets and bunkers for ammunition and soldiers. On such a clear day, we could see the coast of France and Flandesr across the Channel It was easy to envision German aircraft coming in to bomb London. We could also see the ferries coming and going to the continent from the port of Dover.

The castle sits atop a very high hill surrounded by a moat. The interior is furnished with modern-day replicas of furniture and hangings that one assumes are like the medieval originals. It was interesting to walk through the halls and climb to the tower. There were actors dressed in period costumes who spoke in the voices of historic characters. We chatted for quite some time with Henry II himself. Very interesting. I think he enjoyed holding forth for two Americans who knew something of English history and asked questions about Eleanor, Richard and John!

We got back to Tonbridge about 4:30, picked up a frozen beef and brandy casserole and an Eve pudding from Cook, a shop that does chef-prepared meals ready to "bung" in the oven and serve. It was delicious. Wendy and Rosie arrived right on time at 7:00 with a bottle of champagne and their own naturally good spirits. We had a wonderful time catching up and looking at the beautiful moon over the garden. They left this morning to go back to Wallington (London). It was so good to see them both. We are making plans to meet up at their place in Ibiza one day soon.

Friday, March 18, 2011


We had a light lunch in a very modern (they call it gourmet) Mexican restaurant near the theatre yesterday. The waitress even made guacomole at our table-side. Reminded me of Miami. Then Bill destroyed the low calorie healthy atmosphere by ordering a warm very chocolaty brownie with hot caramel sauce and ice cream. It was so delicious, it totally ruined our appetite for an early supper at Jamie's. We did, however, stop in there for wine and a couple of starters at 5:30. By 5:45, there was a line out the front door for tables. Although, there was a chauffered Rolls parked in the street just outside, we saw no sign of the famous chef. Oh well, it would have been fun to spot him. We bought a set of Jamie napkins, rather than steal the ones in our laps. We just don't live life on the edge any more.

Priscilla was as lavishly costumed a production as we have ever seen. The loud and energetic Disco music was great fun. The dancing cupcakes were over the top, only to be closely matched by the grooving pink paint brushes. You just can't imagine. Bill never did find a boa, but there were several in the dress circle. Most of our audience consisted of seniors and groups of women. I think the audience would be more diverse at an evening performance and a lot more fun.

Walking back to Charring Cross, we detoured through Covent Garden and happened upon the new Apple Store which just opened in August. It's the world's largest. There were hundreds of people inside "playing" with all the new technology around tables plugged into Apple products. A small live concert going on just inside the huge glass window walls provided a party atmosphere. A very nice young man demonstratd the I-pod for us, even though he knew we were Americans who wouldn't buy anything from him. He is completely convinced Apple is the best! A good salesman.

London is truly an energetic environment. Every street corner provides a surprise. It's fun just to walk and look. Of course, there's no greater city for the performing arts. We could spend a month here and never see all the performances we'd like to see.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Legally Blond in London

It was a silly, feel-good show, about cheerleaders, sororities, the Irish, Harvard Law School, lawyers, fitness celebreties, and UPS. And, it was great fun, highly energized, and very entertaining. We had great seats in the middle and toward the front of the dress circle. We are looking forward to the matinee of Priscilla this afternoon, though Bill has yet to find a boa. Thought we'd try the 99 p store on Tonbridge High.

We ate a light supper before the show in Jamie's Italian(Jamie Oliver)restuarant on North St. Martin's Lane. As you'd expect, the food was very tasty and the service informal, but professional and friendly. Supposedly, the great man himself will be in this evening to check out the new menu. The staff is a bit on edge. We may stop by after the show just to see - and, maybe eat again. It was that good.

I think we'll pursue the elusive "best pastrami sandwich" again for lunch. There is a Jewish deli in Edgware Road that comes highly recommended. We'll see if it lives up to the one in LA.

Weather is still grey this morning, and cool. Sunny patches this afternoon. Maybe.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Where are the Pictures?

London is not at her colorful best in the middle of March. While our "cottage" sits in the midst of a charming small garden which has great potential, nothing is in bloom except a few daffodils and crocus. Right outside our front door is a cherry tree whose buds are forming; but at present, it has narry a leaf or bloom. Yesterday morning was sunny and blue-skied here in Kent, but by the time we got into London, a light fog covered the spires and monuments. It was a pleasant water-color-like grey blue, but not condusive to great photographic documentation.

This morning is grey even in Tonbridge, but may brighten later in the day. We'll go into London after lunch, but doubt the camera will come along.

I think I'll pop into the corner store and buy an Indpendent newspaper and a Cadbury chocolate bar. Nice way to spend a grey morning!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


We have tickets for the Thursday matinee of Priscilla Queen of the Desert! Went to the box office, requested the OAP concession, and purchased our tickets for 22 pounds each. If you are unacquainted with OAP - It's old age pensioners' discount. The theatres don't call it that anymore - probably not politically correct - but, nevertheless it is a discount that even Americans in England can claim. You must be over 65. Otherwise, you could ask for the "wrinkly" discount, and would likely be understood.

We spent more than an hour in the National Portrait Gallery, and then met up with Jean Hedden on the steps of the National Gallery, and all went to a leisurely lunch in the restaurant above the Portrait Gallery with a foggy view of the skyline of London. Bill said it reminded him of an Impressionist painting, which was a very accurate description. Great food in a great setting. If you are in London, try it out.

Down The Strand, we checked out the box office at the Savoy Theatre, and found they only give the concession discount an hour before the evening performance, but we were assured there were plenty of seats available tomorrow night for Legally Blonde. We'll go back in tomorrow evening and claim our reduced price seats. Probably have an early supper at Jamie Oliver's Italian restaurant in Covent Garden. We found it today while wandering around the area. That's the best part of visitng London for the ????? time. We can wander and not feel lost.

The train from Tonbridge to London Charring Cross takes about 45 minutes. We purchase a "cheap day return," and it costs 12 pounds each, which is expensive, but puts us right into the heart of London and back again without any hassle. There are frequent trains to Tonbridge, and we were pleased to find we can get back and forth to Gatwick also very easily.

So, supper in our cottage consisted of English bacon, range free eggs (from Waitrose Grocery, and marked even with the breed of chicken that produced them - obviously someone cares), Cox apples, brown bread, French butter, Cadbury chocolate, and NZ sauvignon blanc which was less expensive than in the US. It' not a bad life.

We wash clothes, drink German coffee from the French press coffee pot, eat Greek yogurt, English Stilton and cheddar cheese, and French pain au chocolate tomorrow morning. Then, back to downtown London to eat with Jamie and see Legally Blonde. See you tomorrow. Think how we are all connected in this world.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Back in Tonbridge Again

I am sure we are the only Americans who ever keep coming back to Tonbridge. We met some locals in NZ last March, and they couldn't believe there were any Americans who even knew that the town exists. But, it is familiar and on a straight train line to London.

We left Bern and the Hirnis at 7:00 a.m. this morning, changed trains in Bern with Baenz's help, and arrived at Geneva airport at 9:30. Our flight left just a little late, but we got into Gatwick at 12:00 UK time, an hour earlier than Switzerland. It took a long time to walk to the terminal, clear customs, walk and walk to baggage claim, change money, and we finally decided to eat lunch in a new place upstairs in the south terminal that claims to be a Caribbean restaurant. It really was very good! It was a good decision - a little food and a little wine go a long way to restoring one's faith in humanity and the ability to carry on. Gatwick is being renovated, and it needs it. It is very crowded and looks a bit down at the heels. I am sure they are thinking about the Olympics in 2012.

The train trip to Tonbridge was remarkably easy, with "lifts" at each station, and we were in Tonbridge by 3:00 p.m. (English time). Now, we are settled into our "cottage," and ready to walk up the High Street to Waitrose to find supplies for dinner. Bill, of course, wants a "pie." Probably, a chicken/mushroom one.

We have negotiated another day of connections and long-distance travel. It is a bit physical and a little stressful, but we can still do it! We now have a week of England before leaving for Dublin next Monday. The saga continues.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Explosion of Music and Imagination: Fasnacht

A few pictures, rather hastily chosen, can't begin to portray the creativity and sound of Fasnacht. The costumes are amazing. There is a wonderful band on every corner, most restaurants, and on many band stands - all playing their hardest and attracting crowds. It's amazing. On Friday and Saturday evenings, the bands play and the people in costume rove amongst the food and drink vendors. It's an exciting impact on the senses.

During the parade, Thomas had secured us VIP seating in one of the bleachers errected in the middle of the street, and we had seats on the front row. Wave after wave of bands came up the main street toward us, all in costumes, each more surprising than the one before. Much of the music in the parade is drum and bugle corps arrangements, American New Orleans jazz, and rock and roll beats. It's all loud, fun and display real musical ability. Anyone, with permission, may join in the parade with an imginative costume, pushcart, or bicycle powered "float." Everyone was throwing conffetti, candy, and even small bottles of vodka.

Bern is a surprisingly "small town" big city. Lots of people know each other and greet with hugs and kisses. Of the 54 local bands in the parade, many musicians have played with one another over the years. Each year, the themes and costumes change. There are children and babies (being pushed in strollers) in the bands, as well as people of a certain age. What they all have in common is good will, enthusiasm, talent, and imagination. It's a street party, a fourth of July celebration, a proud community display, and a chance too greet old friends and family. I have never seen anything like it.

I wish you had all been here to experience it.

After the Parade, Beatrice, Helen's mother, took us to dinner at a lovely restaurant overlooking Bern and the River Are. We ate while the lights came on below us. We then returned to the city to see Helen and Thomas's band play once more in a restaurant called the Belle Epoque. We then left her on the platform in the train station for her return to Interlocken.

Bill and I leave tomorrow morning very early on the train to Geneva. Then, we have a flight on EasyJet to Gatwick. We should be in our cottage in Tonbridge by the middle of the afternoon, if all our connections work as well as last time. I'll put this up now, and edit later.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bern and Fasnacht

We spent about six hours on the train from Montpellier to Bern on Thursday evening, arriving at Bumpliz Nord (the station near Helen's house in west Bern) about 11:45 p.m. There was Sabine waiting for us at the station. Bill and I had successfully navigated three trains in three stations with one big suitcase and one small one each. The Geneva connection was about 30 minutes, so no problem; but the one in Bern to the local train was only four minutes. We were lucky and very pleased to see Sabine. Bill drove "home," and we were in bed by midnight. Thomas was out with the band, but Helen was under the weather with the beginnings of a bad cold. She has since made a rapid recovery.

After a Swiss late breakfast, Bill and I went by tram into Bern and visited the new Bear Park where the new baby bears have just come out of hibernation. They were playing on the bank of their canal while their mother snoozed in the warm sunshine. They have been re-named Berna and Ursina because upon closer examination by the vet, it was found they are both females. The new park is built along the banks of the Are River that runs through the city.

The beginnings of Fasnacht were apparent on the streets in the afternoon as vendors assembled stalls and people began to appear in costumes. Any kind of costume is encouraged. It is not like Carnivale in Venice where everyone wears masks and formal clothes. There were some really innovative costumes, some homemade and others purchased at great cost. Friday afternoon is most popular for children, and there were lots of them on the streets with parents. Everyone was throwing confetti and having a wonderful time.

Friday evening we went back into Bern with Helen and Sabine. Thomas had gone ahead. They have gorgeous costumes made by a well-know costume maker. We joined the band at the Ratskeller Restaurant for dinner. We couldn't understand a word of the comedy and the satirical routines, but it was a festive and friendly event. What a treat to be with such good friends and talented musicians. Everyone was warm and welcoming. Then, to the streets and the crazy costumes, incredible bands on every corner, food and drink vendors lining the streets, and people of every age enjoying the biggest outdoor party I've ever seen.

Here's Sabine in her costume. She began to come out of some of it as the restaurant warmed up. Part of Helen and Thomas's band are playing a welcome as we arrive at the restaurant.

We go back downtown for the big parade this afternoon and then more party tonight. I'll take lots more pictures and try for a video or two.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Chateau de Flaugergues

Another adventure which turned out extremely well. With bright sun and little wind, we rode the tram from Comedie to Place Europe and then caught Bus 9 to another stop, walked three or four blocks through what appeared to be an industrial and commercial estate, and suddenly there were acres of vines, a lovely garden, an 18th chateau,a tasting room, and an up-scale restaurant. We even met the comte when we arrived. He directed us to his marketing lady who later conducted the degustation and introduced us to her apprentice, young woman studying oenology and gastronomy at the university here.

The garden had few blooms at this season but some interesting specimens of trees from around the world including a sequoia from the US. Anemones were blooming all over the grassy paths. The vines are still dormant but apparently quite happy within the city environment.

Our lunch, among several beautifully dressed young and trendy business boys and girls, was a real treat. There is obviously a chef in the kitchen, and this was the first "gourmet" meal we've had in France. It was a wonderful blend of subtle flavors. Bill had a "cold soup" with avocado cream and legumes, with a cream sauce," and my entree included thinly sliced beets, baby spinach, poached egg, and crisply fried bacon (lardons). The main courses were delicately prepared chicken and fish, respectively. We, of course, had the chateau's wine to accompany it - a rose and and white. Obviously, rose is really the fashionable drink here for lunch. Everyone is drinking it - even macho Frenchmen.

We came back, an easy reverse of the trip out, using our "family" ticket on the public transportation. We could continue to use it until 10:30 am tomorrow, as it is good for 24 hours and cost about $7.00.

We will be cleaning up and packing tomorrow morning, moving out by 11:00 am and then "killing time" until our train leaves at 5:30 pm. We'll be into Bern at 11:30, and Sabine is to meet us. We can't wait to see them all again. It is not too cold in Switzerland - low thirties at night, and around 50 in the daytime.