Mom and Dad’s Visit To Ireland

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I just had the most amazing two weeks with these two: my mom and dad (or, as they are better known around this house, Nana and Papa). I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderful it was to have them here–to hug them, to show them our new home, to explore Ireland with them, to marvel together at how quickly my boys are growing, to introduce them to our new friends, to laugh with them, to have conversations that are not only between the hours of 3 and 9 PM (which happen to be the only times that we’re all available with time zone differences). It was…incredible. And I never wanted their time here to end. But, alas, the time has already come and gone. Now all we have are the memories…and lots of photos. LOTS of photos (we’re talking in the tens of thousands here, folks). So, I’ll try to do their visit justice with this little (read: LONG) photo diary of our adventures together in the Emerald Isle.

Cork City

Mom and Dad flew in to Dublin and spent a couple of days there exploring the capital and celebrating their 35th(!) wedding anniversary. I love that they are still in love and that they always keep things new and exciting in their lives. Although they have traveled all over the world, neither of them had ever been to Ireland before. It was my mission, then, to win them over to this beautiful country.

After their brief stay in Dublin, Mom and Dad took the train to Cork where two VERY excited little boys were waiting to greet them at the train station:

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For our first full day together, I took them on a whirlwind tour of Cork City, the real capital of Ireland. We started at the old Cork city gaol (jail)…not because I wanted to send any subliminal messages, but because I had already purchased a Groupon voucher to use there and I wanted to make sure we got to it before the boys got cranky (which is basically any and every time after they’ve woken up in the morning, so I don’t know why I even try).  The gaol is a beautiful 200-year old building with a colorful history.  We got to walk through the hallways where the guards would have kept watch and even go inside the cells where the poor miserable inmates would have worked away their sentences. Let’s just say I was glad we had the freedom to leave that place when we were ready!

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After exploring the gaol we went to another part of the city called Shandon. We hiked up a big hill to St. Anne’s Church, home of the famous “Four-Faced Liar” clock and the ever-ringing Shandon bells. We played a few songs on the bells (yes, they let anyone who pays the 4 Euro admission price ring those giant church bells to their little heart’s content) and then we climbed the steep, spiraly, claustrophobic stairs all the way to the tippy-top of the tower.

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When we got to the top of the tower we were rewarded with a gorgeous panoramic view of Cork city. Definitely worth the precarious journey.

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Once we got our feet back on solid ground, it was time for some lunch and shopping. We strolled through the city and crossed one of the many bridges that cross the quays (wharfs) that divide the city. This was about our (and by our, I mean the boys’) limit for the day so we called it quits and headed back for a quiet evening at home.

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Morning Run

My parents are both avid runners. I always feel a bit like a lazy slob when I’m around them because they’re up at 7 AM every morning lacing up their running shoes before I’ve even rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. I happen to have a few favorite runs around here, though, so I was ready for them. After we dropped David off at preschool on Thursday morning we went down to the pedestrian path that goes along the waterfront. Since my dad is the fastest, I made him push Jacob in the stroller (nothing like pushing a baby through a head-wind to even out the pacing!). Our turn-around point on this run was Blackrock Castle (and, like me, they were adequately impressed at being able to run to an actual castle).

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As you can tell from the plastic-wrapped baby in this photo, it started to rain a bit on our return trip. All the more reason to run faster all the way back to our car!

Later that day I converted my dad over to “The Darkside”: I taught him how to use Facebook. And now, instead of running, this is what we might all look like at any given moment:

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Now, since we all needed something worthy of posting to Facebook, we decided to go out and listen to some local trad (Irish music) downtown. Unfortunately for us there was a jazz festival going on that night so every SINGLE pub in town was featuring jazz musicians. No trad for us, but we did get some pints and some good music after all.

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Cliffs of Moher

Jon was actually able to take a few days off of work while my parents were visiting so we took a couple of bigger day trips while he was with us. The first outside-of-Cork trip we did was to the Cliffs of Moher on the western coast of County Clare. On our way up to the cliffs we came across this beautiful old abandoned church. We got out to stretch our legs and snap a few photos before continuing on.

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The cliffs are one of the most dramatic natural sites I’ve ever witnessed. Truly magnificent.

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The cliffs were the perfect backdrop for a family photo-op:

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There are miles and miles of trails that you can hike around the cliffs, but we decided to stick to the main paved path with our two little darlings.  After all, you never know when a lovely stroll might turn into a full-on fit because you aren’t allowed to swim in a giant mud puddle:

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Note: I should have just let him swim in the giant mud puddle because about 20 minutes later he FELL in an even BIGGER puddle and had to get showered off in a public restroom.

It wasn’t all bad, though. We did find some fun activities at the Cliffs, like throwing pebbles in drains:

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And catching some sweet air with Papa:

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After a few hours (and a few thousand photos) at the cliffs, it was time to pack up and move on. We had a dinner date at…

Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet

Yes, that’s right. A medieval banquet. I know it may sound cheesy (ok, I KNOW it sounds cheesy!) but it was so much fun that I don’t even care. Actually, I think this is one of my favorite things that we’ve done in Ireland.

The castle has a folk park that is set up like a medieval village, complete with houses, shops and animals–like this “piggery”:

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The castle itself was built in 1425. Incredible.  Just to imagine the things that have happened in this place…

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When we walked into the banquet we were greeted by our hosts who were wearing period dress and handing out mead (honey wine). I liked them already. There was also a harpist and a violinist (who, we discovered, studied at Juliard) playing for us in the entrance hall. I love this photo I got of David sneaking Daddy a kiss as we all settled in:

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After we all had sufficient mead it was time to go downstairs to the banqueting hall. We were all seated at long tables (except our family, who they sat in a secluded table away from the other paying customers. I wonder why…). There was much music and merriment.

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We were served course after course of delicious food (and bottomless wine. Did I mention that this is my favorite place in Ireland?).  David and Jacob both consumed ribs like they were rabid little baby beasts. It was awesome.

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And then Jacob had a meltdown. It had been a very long day for a 1-year old, and I felt his pain. Literally. I ended up eating my dinner standing up while holding a screaming, flailing, eye-gouging, hair-pulling baby. All I can say is, thank goodness for the loud music. And the bottomless wine. That helped, too. In the end, though, it really was an amazing experience. Perhaps we will return again some day with baby-restraint devices in tow.

Cobh and the Titanic Museum

Our next outing was to the quaint town of Cobh, about 20 minutes from our house. Formerly called Queenstown, Cobh was the last port of call for Titanic before her fatal voyage out to sea. Curiously, it is also the location where survivors and the bodies of those who perished in the sinking of Lusitania were brought ashore.

We started our day at the Experience Titanic museum, housed in the former White Star ticketing office from where passengers departed for Titanic.

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The museum is an interactive experience where each guest is given a “ticket” with the name of an actual passenger who boarded Titanic from this very spot over 100 years ago. As you go through the museum, you see mock-ups of the state rooms, the loading dock where passengers said their final good-byes, and audio-visual presentations.

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At the end of the tour you can search for your passenger to see what their fate was on Titanic (sadly, all of our passengers perished).  It was a fascinating museum to visit.

After our time at the museum we went outside to explore a bit more of Cobh. In the center of the town there is a Lusitania memorial. My dad actually has a relative who died in this shipwreck, so it was pretty humbling to stand in this place.

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We walked past rows of brightly-colored houses:

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All the way to the top of a huge hill where an even huger church stands guard over the town and her harbor:

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After sufficient exploring was had by all, we headed back home. To save us a little driving time we took the tiny car ferry that runs between Cobh and Passage West right up the street from our house.

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Kinsale

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We actually had a few days between our visit to Cobh and our visit to Kinsale. We celebrated David’s 3rd birthday (detailed here), we enjoyed a fun Halloween (yes, they dress up and trick-or-treat here!), and Jon and I went on an over-night trip to Killarney and the Ring of Kerry (read all about it here). While Jon and I were in Kerry, Mom and Dad took the boys to Fota Wildlife Park and the Rock of Cashel. I think they’re pretty brave adventuring alone with our boys!

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After our refreshing trip to Kerry, I was ready to continue my role as local tour guide. Next stop on the tour: Kinsale. Like Cobh, Kinsale is a cute little harbor town with a character all it’s own.

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Kinsale is known as a “foodie” capital and has some of the best restaurants around. We ate lunch at my favorite cafe in town, the Lemon Leaf. After lunch we walked around town and saw some of the beautiful sights: the harbor with its pristine white sailboats, Desmond castle, shops (where I bought my first pieces of Irish art–I’m in love!), and beautiful old churches. This is St. Multose church, built in the year 1190 and used as a place of Christian worship continually since then. In fact, they were even having a church service there while we were walking around.

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At about 3:00 I excused myself to take the boys home for naptime while Mom and Dad continued exploring. They had a pint at The Spaniard pub and then checked out the impressive Charles Fort.

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Blarney Castle

I wanted Mom and Dad to go out with a bang, so for their final full day with us it was a trip out to Blarney Castle and the famous Blarney Stone.

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The stone (which is said to impart the gift of eloquence on all who kiss it) is actually built into a precipice at the top of the castle. We hiked up flight after flight of stairs until we reached the roof of the castle.

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To kiss the stone, you actually have to lean backward, hang onto support bars, and dangle upside down from the top of the castle. Mom was the only one brave enough to actually kiss the stone on this occasion, so we’ll just have to let her do all the talking for us from now on:

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After exploring the rooms and staircases and crazy defense mechanisms built into the castle, we spent a couple of hours exploring the beautiful grounds. There are actually lakes and rivers and forests you can hike to within the castle grounds so it was the perfect place for David to get out and run around.

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Seeing such an amazing castle was the perfect ending to an amazing trip!

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It really was the visit of a lifetime. So many fun times were had and so many lasting memories were made. I think I did a good job showing them the local sites–and left just enough out that they may have to come back and visit us again. Miss you already, Mom and Dad!

Medieval Festival In An Ancient Walled City

This has been one of those wonderfully rare weekends that had just the right balance of fun, rest, and rejuvenation. On Saturday morning I basically got a mommy-vacation: I went grocery shopping by myself for two glorious hours (because it still takes me that long to figure out where to find things and what packaging to look for and convert prices from dollars/pound to kilograms/Euro so I know if the item is actually worth purchasing).

After my little “shopping spree” I went to our church for a women’s mini conference. It was a beautiful event with a talented speaker, heartfelt worship, and delicious food–including my favorite: scones (oh my, the scones here are to die for. Seriously, one of my favorite things about Ireland.  The fact that scones with jam and cream are a part of daily life makes living here 100% worthwhile).

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While I was at the conference noshing on scones, Jon took the boys to our local castle in Blackrock for a tour of the dungeons. Turns out, this was not nearly as cool as it sounds. The dungeons were not actually dungeons–it was just the basement, and had never been used as a dungeon at all. Very misleading. The boys enjoyed themselves as much as they could walking around an empty castle basement for half an hour, and at the end of the tour they got to go up to the top of the castle to check out the view (upon which David stated that he was going to throw his baby brother off the roof. We may need to work on the whole “brotherly love” thing).

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On Saturday night, Jon and I got to go out on our first date night since moving here to Ireland. A sweet girl from our church came over to our house and looked after our (sleeping) children so we could go out to a movie. It wasn’t the most unique date, but it sure felt nice to get away from our house and enjoy some time together.

The big event of our weekend, though, was the Youghal Medieval Festival. The event was in Youghal (pronounced “yawl”), an ancient walled city in County Cork where people actually lived during medieval times–how cool is that?!  There were lots of fun events going on at the festival: food, music, crafts and medieval demos. And lots of people dressed up in awesome medieval costumes. We forgot our costumes, but we tried to fit in as best as we could.

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We all enjoyed listening to the Youghal Pipers:

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And we got a great view of the town:

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When asked what his favorite part of the day was, David said it was “watching Mommy get scratched.” This is what he was referring to:

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They had a tent set up with all sorts of medieval torture apparatus and drawings showing how they used to be implemented. Gross. A little girl was manning this tent and she convinced me to help her demonstrate some of the apparatus. She literally tied me up to this torture board and started hacking at me with a foam axe. I was putting on a great show for the kids, cringing and writhing in pain each time her axe came down on me. It was all fun and games until my tormenter went over to her table of torture devices and picked up a real metal anvil. I quickly slipped out of my restraints before she could finish her demonstration.

I have suspected for quite some time now that our son is crazy. My suspicions were confirmed today. There was an arena set up for toy sword fighting. All of the kids were invited in to use foam swords to attack some guys in medieval garb. While all of the other kids rushed to attack their targets, David ran in the opposite direction and started “stabbing” an unsuspecting spectator (David is in the green shirt in the left side of this photo). Thankfully David’s victim wasn’t caught too off guard by David’s advances and he managed to fight off the wild little beast.

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After all of the excitement of the festival we had to get some nourishment. We ate grilled kangaroo (yes, the jumpy things from Australia–not totally medieval, but definitely different), sausages, pizza and ice cream. Yummmm…

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A very sweet weekend, indeed.