Western Med: Days 3-5 ITALY

GENOA DAY 3


It was lovely to wake up to sun and sea and our view from the balcony was stunning as we sailed into Genoa, the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. No BIG BUS or open Top Bus for us! Instead we got a lovely taxi driver who brought us on our own personal tour of the city stopping at the Palazzo San Giorgio, Piazza de Ferrari, the San Lorenzo Cathedral.

Sitting on the back garden wall of Christopher’s house


The piece de resistance of course was Columbus’ house, situated in the old town beside the Soprano (upper) gate.

DAY 4: La SPEZIA
Fiona took off on her own today while I sat by the pool with kindle – soaking in the rays. As most of the passengers were ashore (gone to Pisa or Florence which were ours away!) it was peaceful to just lie and relax!
Our only regret is that we didn’t realize that a short train ride would have taken us to Cinque Terre (Five Lands) a breathtaking stretch of Italian coastline. It’s named for its 5 villages which are wedged into a series of coves between sheer cliffs.
Fiona bought me the guide book – so perhaps a return visit will be in order sometime! And what about La Spezia – she got the LITTLE TRAIN and passed the Castle of St George she thinks! Rather under-impressed I think!
Rumba classes by the pool were a bit loud for our liking so we moved to pool at back of ship (aft I think it’s called!!!) and sun soaked some more.

DAY 5 CIVITAVECHIA
This is one of the largest ports in Italy. The name means “ancient town”. We decided today to the “Rome on Your Own Tour” on our own. So we partnered up with a couple from Australia and a brother and sister and their 2 kids from Latvia and hired “an English speaking Taxi” to take us to Rome. To guarantee that we would be returned to the ship, payment was promised at end of trip. A brochure showed us the sites we would visit.
The English-Speaking-Taxi consisted of a lovely driver with about 3 English words and a CD that was played during the drive about the sites of Rome. Price was agreed and off we hit for the Eternal City.

Over Looking the City of Rome



What a trip … it was like having our very own chauffeur who dropped us at the entrance to all the more important sites – parking and traffic meant little to him as long as he got us to the entrances.

St Peter’s Square

A visit to St Peter’s Square was a must – some of the more able- got up to and into the Vatican for a few minutes – I just enjoyed being in the square and seeing the famous Basilica, watching my bag as there are pick-pockets and street sellers everywhere. Our second stop was to the Pantheon, again right to the door. Long queues that moved quite quickly allowed a view inside.

Vitoriana Monument

We stopped in the middle of a very busy roundabout to visit the Vittoriano , a colossal mountain of white marble , modern by Roman standards as it was built at the turn of the 20th century to honour Italy’s first king. Since 1920 It encompasses the tour of the Unknown Soldier.

The Coliseum was our next port of call before the Trevi “three coins in a “ Fountain. The place was mobbed and we were lucky to be able to get a photo without half of Italy in it!!!! Some time for retail also and a quick cup of coffee before the return trip to the boat. It was an excellent trip and for those who don’t/can’t walk about much THE ONLY WAY TO DO ROME.
Almost last onto the boat!!!!!
Lovely dinner (well I thought so but then I’m not too fussy and a show – Songs of Tina Turner. One of our many losses tonight – mobile phone – but luckily handed into reception and it was retrieved in the early hours of the morning!!!! Another story for the dinner tomorrow!

WESTERN MED Days 6-8 France and Spain

DAY 6 CANNES
Was in Cannes a few years ago and it was lovely to return – we knew exactly where we wanted to go – the main shopping street.
The place was gearing up for the Festival and the place is just as glitzy as I remember. We spent a lovely afternoon shopping and eating gateaux.

Image result for macaroons


Russell headed for the mountains while Indu and Brian hit off along the coast to Monte Carlo so we had great exchange of stories over dinner.
Did some ship shopping tonight only to have it forgotten with a jacket in the bar!!!! Hoping that we’ll be as lucky as last night and someone will hand in the lost items!!! Our dinner crowd will never believe this!

DAY 7 PALMA DE MALLORCA
Hard to believe that after 43 years I return to the site of my honeymoon. We landed in Palma before hitting off into the wilds of the island to a very under-developed ‘resort’ called Alcudia. Alcudia now is like Palma – row upon row of hotels and shops along the beach front and stretching back into the slopes of the mountains. There was a promise of good weather for the day and departure from Palma was late, we decided to spend the morning by the pool. Times like this when you return to a place from your past, you have to wonder where time goes?????

Palma de Mallorca


By the time we went ashore for the shuttle bus to city centre / Cathedral there was a deluge. We just got back on the shuttle and returned to port.
But what a story for dinner – as we tried to explain how someone, thinking they were in Barcelona. decided against visiting the great gothic cathedral as “ they had already seen it”! At least my reason of “weather, climb, distance, mobility” were understandable!

This is NOT Barcelona!


Some fond/nostalgic memories of my only previous trip here: my honeymoon. Weddings now are so different and the expectations are so high. We were married in my Parish church in Walkinstown, our reception was the Sports Hotel, Enniskerry- within easy driving distance for all guests- early departure from reception for bride and groom: it was almost “mandatory” to leave to allow guests to go home!!!! Now weddings are two and three day affairs. We had scraped together the money to go “abroad” and got a special in Alcudia, Mallorca. NO WONDER – it was like a building site: our apartment block was the only completed building in the resort! But the beach was great, the weather wonderful, food different, we hired a car and went to the Caves, life was good – we were young and in love!!!

DAY 8 BACK TO BARCELONA

Bags had to be outside cabin at midnight to be brought ashore. We had our last “hearty” breakfast at the buffet before disembarkation at 9.30. As flight was not till late we decided to send bags ahead to airport and spend the day in Barcelona. We had both been here before and opted for a ramble on Las Ramblas with some retail and refreshments rather than sightseeing. Cities now are so alike re shops; I think they call cosmopolitan!!! Yet it’s amazing that “foreign” branches of home stores still hold an attraction – probably stocking different goods to the ones at home and purchasing will be done?

Great to see the mime artists, the local craftspeople, flower stalls, street-side bars and the new pavement mosaic in the centre of Las Ramblas designed by Barcelona-born artist Joan Miro – the spot where 2017 tragedy occurred, a poignant reminder of how quickly tragedy can strike.

It took us the day to walk the 1.2 km of La Rambla from the Christopher Columbus statue to the Placa de Cataluya where we discovered a gorgeous Spanish restaurant. Taxi back to airport for return flight; a

https://cdn02.visitbarcelona.com/files/5445-7467-Imagen/pla-os-rambla-barcelona-pf-c1.jpg

Western Med DAY 2 Azaccio

After a hearty breakfast in The Marketplace – an all day buffet of every type of food you could want from fast food to carvery, Chinese to Italian, starter to dessert. We spotted “our” LITTLE TRAIN from the balcony and so knew exactly where to head for when ashore.

We spotted the Little Train

I’m a big fan of traveling through a city and not having to walk or drive, stopping at some of the important attractions and having a roadside coffee. All at an easy pace! The Little |Train offered two types of trip – long and short – and we chose the longer route and had to haggle seriously to get places when eventually the particular train arrived.

AROUND AZACCIO

The town is famous as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte who was born here in 1769 and there are few places that do not pay testament to his life – his home, where he was christened, where his brothers lived, etc. Other landmarks such as the Citadel are a memorial to the many wars fought here. Ajaccio was the first French city liberated from the Nazis at the end of
WW2. However, the train buzzed by most sites with little explanation only to stop at the top of the hill at Napoleon’s Grotto.

OUT ALONG THE COAST

The “LONG” trip was about to begin, out along the coastal Routes des Sanguinaires (the road of the Bloodthirsty!) to Pointe de la Parata passing houses of famous actors and singer – none of whom we knew (though they drew Aws and Ahs from the French tourists). We also passed an amazing cemetery, Cimetière d’Ajaccio (a replica of that in the film Double Jeopardy where Ashley Judd was incarcerated in a tomb by her husband). In Ajaccio, the houses of the living are alongside those of the dead and so the dead are interred in rows of monuments. The cemeteries are so much like a city that at the time of the war, the Germans, by mistake, bombed the cemetery.



It was a journey of “musical seats” as the little train swayed from side to side along the road, making sure to hit ever pot-hole! But what a treat at the end: The story told in French about the tower that regulated maritime traffic and the harbor that was used to quarantine the African coral traders was lost on us but the view at the end of the promontory was awesome. And there was some great HOMEMADE NOUGAT for sale in a little van!!!
Back to Ajaccio for coffee and some retail therapy (hat and bag) before embarkation!

We enjoyed sharing stories of the day with Russell, Indu and Brian and hearing about their exploits in Corsica.

CRUISIN’ THE WESTERN MED – all aboard

BARCELONA

The indomitable duo (Fiona and I) hit off again, this time TO BARCELONA (at the crack of dawn as usual). Heartiest thanks and well done to the OCS team of helpers who not only check in your bags but transport you quickly past/through queues, passport control and  security to the step of plane (and beyond if necessary!) Even offer to help you with shopping in Duty Free. Big thanks to you guys – it’s very much appreciated.

We were met by MSC courier in Barcelona, a very pleasant girl who translated all our jokes for the (my) Spanish transport assistant. Only two Irish couples on flight for cruise, one a honeymoon pair from Laois – Fiona knew her father from school and the other a Dublin couple (she originally from the Tenters who went to school in Warrenmount!) We’re a very small island.

Our home from home!

MSC Seaview is a massive ship and our cabin is right at the back – aft I think they say – on the 15th deck. We had barely settled in when we were called for mandatory evacuation drill – heartening! Then we did the quick obligatory tour of the boat to get our bearings ( even though I frequently got lost after). An elevator almost our own private on, outside cabin, brings us to most of the ship’s facilities easily – pool on back deck, buffet, etc

Back to the Cabin to bling up for dinner – it’s always interesting to see who you’re seated with as more than likely you’ll be there every evening with them.

We were lucky – Brian and Indu from Trinidad and Tobago and Russell from Naples in Florida and two no shows (they did on the third night – a young couple from Miami who quickly assessed our age and interest profile and never returned) .

Glasgow for Strictly

I cannot believe that that the sixteenth season of Strictly Come Dancing has finished. Mam and I started watching Strictly in 2004, cheering Natasha Kaplinski and Brendan Cole to victory in that first series. The routines were very much of the dancing style she enjoyed, an extension of her old time dances in the hall in Crumlin. Year by year the dances became more involved and the final show dances tended towards gymnastic routines. I was unaware that “the live shows” started in 2008 but in more recent years when some of the stars brought their own shows to Ireland (Anton du Bek, Giovanni Pernice and Vincente Simone) I was niggled by the desire to see the larger cast perform live.

As the tour is British based, I needed to find an easy to reach location preferably serviced by “cheap” carrier Ryanair: Glasgow became my choice of destination and I booked the concert and flight tickets and accommodation.
I arrived in the Millenium Hotel in the iconic and historical Georges Square just in time for breakfast following which I headed for the Hop-on Hop-off tour of the city. It was lovely listening to the humorous stories of the city sites in the lilting Scottish accent.

View of Georges Square from Millenium Hotel

THE TOUR

I was amazed at how many of the statues around the Square I knew: The famous “George” for whom the square was named is marked by his absence. He had died before his statue was placed on the central plinth and Sir Walter Scott who wrote many famous poems took his place. Also recognizable were Queen Vicoria, her consort Albert, Robbie Burns, Robert Peel, James Watt and Gladstone.

CITY MURALS

I was very impressed with the many murals about the city.
The Glasgow coat of arms is linked to the stories of Saint Mungo, the city’s patron saint. It contains a shield framed by two salmon having rings in their mouth. In the shield, you see the same fish, a tree, a bird and a bell.

Here is the bird that never flew
Here is the tree that never grew
Here is the bell that never rang
Here is the fish that never swam

St Mungo and the robin Mural

This verse refer to four stories that are told about Saint Mungo
The Bird: Saint Serf, a teacher of several children in Mungo’s youth had a robin (roodborstje) as a pet. Mungo, a good student, was disliked by his classmates who decided to kill the robin and blame Mungo. Mungo, however, miraculously restored life to the robin.
The Tree: Mungo fell asleep while charged with minding a fire in Saint Serf’s monastery. The fire went out and Mungo miraculaously restarted the fire without using only a nearby tree.

The Bell: the bell is thought to have been brought by Mungo from Rome. It was said to have been used in services and to mourn the deceased.
The Fish: The salmon and the ring relate to Queen Longuoreth’s affair with a young soldier and Mungo’s saving of the Queen. The Queen gave a ring (a present from her husband) to her secret lover. However, a servant informed the king of the affair. The King retrieved the ring when the young man fell asleep and threw it into the river Clyde. He then demanded that his wife show him the ring and when she failed denounced her and threw her into prison to await execution. In prison, she sent a messenger to Mungo asking for forgiveness and help. Mungo told the messenger to go fishing in the Clyde and to bring back the first fish he caught. It was a salmon, which on being cut open, contained the ring. It was immediately brought to the queen. When the King saw the ring he forgave his wife.

BILLY CONNOLLY
I always enjoyed Billy Connolly’s Glasgow stories of childhood life in the tenements of Glasgow and work the shipyards. It was particularly interesting on the tour to see the tribute the city paid to him on his 75th birthday – 3 giant muras were painted in his honour. The shipyards have now disappeared from the Tyneside- their only memory now is the giant crane.

Memory to the Clydebank Shipyards

SCOT-FREE
I loved the story of Madeleine Smith and how her trial for the murder of her lover tied to the peculiarities of Glasgow justice system – findings of “Guilty”, “Not Guilty” and “Unproven”. Madeleine got off “Scot free” a term associated with the “unproven” verdict that a court can deliver.

SHOPPING
Buchanan Street was a dream shopping area and I found some great bargains in the many sales- good sterling rate at the moment too!!! It was also great to visit Weatherspoon and cheer on the Scottish Rugby team to victory.

STRICTLY COME DANCING
After a busy day, I put on the glad rags and headed to the SSE Arena for the Strictly Live Tour. The atmosphere was brilliant as over 80,000 fans gathered to cheer on their favourites from the show and to watch spectacular dance routines.

Strictly – Darcy Routine

My favourite group routine involved a ballet routine with Darcy Bussell. After an hour queuing in minus 6 degrees for a taxi back to the hotel I thought I was more than entitled to “A Glasgow Kiss” as a nightcap!

TASTING, FELTING, CRUISING

Funny that even though retired, I still regard July and August as holidays so getting away in September is like an extended holiday season. And September 2018 has certainly been busy.

TASTE OF WEST CORK

Liss Ard House

I started with a few days at the Taste of West Cork Festival – following good advice booked into a “nice” hotel: Liss Ard House just outside Skibbereen where everyday started with a delicious breakfast and finished with drinks and chat in the drawing-room.

 

 

Kileena House, Baltimore

Taking everything at a very leisurely pace I savoured the fairy and ghost stories of the area in Killeena House just outside Baltimore, with a gorgeous fish lunch overlooking Sherkin.

 

I followed Michael Collins’ eventful last journey to Béal na Bláth as well as taking in his home place and other places relevant to his history starting with a wonderful lecture on his life.

Church Restaurant, Skibbereen

I shared a wonderful evening with in-laws in the Church Restaurant in Skib. Finally spent a morning in Glandore exploring perfume making using natural ingredients, coming away with many samples including “an elixir of youth” which claims to “take years off any face”!!!!!!!

BOOT CAMP WITH NATALYA BRASHOVETSKA

I returned just in time to attend a four-day Boot Making Workshop in Kilteele. I ended up with the dearest pair of boots I’ll probably ever own but it was thoroughly enjoyable. The felt makers are a great group and Natalya was excellent – sharing her many tips and also a lot of labour so that all projects were completed in the allotted time. Hard work!!!!

 Boots awaiting soles

Almost finished product!!! Boots for walking?

 

CRUISING THE ADRIATIC

DAY 1 VENICE and welcome aboard!

MSC Poesie at anchor in Venice

We set off for Venice on the 22nd transferring from Marco Polo Airport to the cruise ship – oh boy! was embarkation a lengthy process: to guarantee safety for the cruise passport checks, bag checks, photo for IDs cards, luggage collection. Eventually we got to our cabin which was huge (think mobility issues helped with assigning!!!) and it was great to sit on balcony and see all the sights as we left Venice.

Leaving Venice Port

Out along the Lagoon

DAY 2 Bari

Before disembarking in Bari, we had compulsory Emergency Drill to which of course we forgot to bring our life jackets!!!! Then we made our first use of the Shuttle bus system to bring us into the old town of Bari.

Santa Claus, the patron saint of Bari

 

We had decided to give the organised excursions a miss and we took a little train through the old town (Bari Vecchia) where we visited the Basilica of St Nicholas (Santa Claus, Bari’s patron saint. The tasting of local produce (which I missed) was a bit over-rated.

 

 

I hadn’t realized the Normans had made their way so far south but we saw the 12th century Castello Normanno-Svevo before a glass of vino and back to the ship!!!

Tonight was our first Gala evening on the ship so we put on our finery and off to the restaurant. We had changed to First Sitting and as we were quite close to the kitchen our food was piping hot ( it had been a bit disappointing last night). Also the wine list had been improved – all making for a lovely evening! Ending up in the Zebra Bar

In disguise? in the Zebra Bar

DAY 3 Katakolon (MOUNT OLYMPUS)

The Isles of Greece

Overnight we crossed the Ionian Sea and were able to view from the balcony some of the Greek Islands before arriving in Katakolon. Again we decided to give official excursions a miss and proceeded to the taxi rank where we met 2 other travelers of like minds and we shared a taxi with them to Olympus. The heat there was unbelievable and luckily we able to hire a horse and carriage for a trip around the ancient site, this time-sharing with a very loud but funny Portuguese group who were convinced the Irish were very wealthy!!!! We were lucky to get back to the taxi in time but glad to have seen Temple of Zeus, the Hippodrome and the Stadium. It’s a UNESCO site and worth even the short visit. Our taxi driver returned us to the town (again at breakneck speed and with NO regard or road signs) where we had some  retail therapy followed by ice cream!

DAY 4 Mykonos

Disembarkation by tender

Today we had our first experience with “Disembarkation by tender” procedures. The little port of Mykonos was lovely, quite like a fishing village and we both explored at our own rate(!!!!). I  stayed pretty close to the port, paddling in the sea, sunning myself on beach and some “linen” shopping with a group of American ladies.

Seemingly the town was designed to confuse invaders and thwart pirate attack with its layout and it certainly flummoxed some of us who were lucky to get back to port for return to ship. This proved to be a pretty painful process as we all arrived at the port together and had to queue for tenders, many of our fellow travelers having no concept of THE QUEUE. I had to avail of the “free sea sickness tablet scheme this evening as the ind rose and the sea got pretty rough! And the captain informed us that due to stormy conditions the port of Piraeus was to be closed for a few days and we would now be sailing to Nafplion(?????) The sea was very choppy during the night with howling gales – thank God the pills worked and I slept like a log!!!

DAY 5 Nafplion

Tenders again today to get into the town of Nafplion, passing the Bourtzi.

What’s a Bourtzi? you might ask!

A Bourtzi is a fortified islet. The Bourtzi in Nafplion was built by the Venetians in 1473 and protected the entrance to the harbor from Pirates. In the 19th century this is where the executioners for the prison at the Palamidi fortress lived since it was bad luck to have them live in the city itself. We could have taken a taxi to the top of the Palamidi fortress but thought the only access was the hundreds of steps!!!! After a short spell ashore we hit back for the tenders before the crowds. We also wanted to be sorted ‘style-wise’ for the 2nd gala night!!!

DAY 6 Saranda

Saranda on the Albanian Riviera was our port of call today. We had no plans for the visit but were met at the entrance to the port by a taxi driver who showed us the sights available – 4 postcards.

Amphitheatre at Butrint

Roman ruins at Butrint

By luck rather than design! we picked the Butrinti ruins. Amazing! And no wonder they are a UNESCO site. We strolled around at our leisure through the ruins of a number of successive civilizations and supported some local artisans by buying knickknacks. Once again we got our driver to drop us back to the town for some shopping and eating before embarkation. It proved very difficult to find a restaurant that served food – “sorry only drinks!!!” We eventually found a little jewel where it was suggested we have a local dish. We think it might have been a stew veal ( an animal that mooed!) washed down with a FULL glass of local wine! A walk along the sea front market indicated the great poverty in this country and we purchased some bits and bobs just to add to the weight in the cases and support the local economy!!!!!

DAY 7 Dubrovnik

As we are both Game of Thrones fans we had to come ashore today in Dubrovnik. (I think it might be the setting for the fictional capital of Westeros????).

Franciscan Monastery Crucifix

 

 

We came in through the Pile Gate and visited the Franciscan Monastery. I strayed a wee bit up the Stradun (main Street) but friend went as far as San Blaise Church and had her throat blessed! We found a lovely alleyway restaurant and had the most delicious shrimp risotto. We did some quick packing on our return to the ship before the farewell dinner. Our cases had to be out before 1am for collection.

Statue of St Frances In Dubrovnik Franciscan Monastery

DAY 8 BACK TO Venice

Scandinavia Hotel, Campo S Maria Formosa

We had an early start this morning and our first sit down breakfast of the cruise – we had availed of the buffet breakfast up to this. There was massive confusion on disembarkation about water taxis, water buses, shuttle buses and the usual difficulties with queues. Eventually we landed on the quay side in Venice and hired a porter to take us the Scandinavia Hotel for our stay here! We took a ramble to get our bearings and find a Trattore for dinner – no dressing up tonight.

 

Grilled prawns- Yum

We found an amazing seafood restaurant whose owner remembered the Ireland/Italy game of the 90s and their hero Scillachi. Our hotel was situated quite centrally on the Campo S. Maria Formosa and we sat out well into the night (once we fetched our jackets!!!) with an Irish/Scottish/N Ireland group.

DAY 9 Murano and Burano

Glassware display in Murano

 

 

Murano and Burano were on the cards for today. The islands are gorgeous and well worth a visit: Murano to see the glass works and Burano for its (very expensive) lace.

The coloured houses along the canals of Burino

The water buses are filled to capacity and beyond but as long as you ignore the aspects of safety AND you get a seat, the trip out through the lagoon is lovely.

At the Bridge of Sighs

Taking a break outside the Doge Palace

Above the door of St Marks

While it was getting late when we got back, we had to see the Bridge of Sighs, The Doge Palace and St Marks and take a few photos. We made a return visit to our Trattore before back to hotel.

DAY 10 HOME

SCOTLAND WITH THE CKAS 2018

 

The Titanic, Belfast

 

The CKAS trip began
As we climbed aboard Sean’s coach
Belfast bound for a city tour
Before sailing to Scotland’s coast.

 

 

 

An empty Stormont!

 

Across the Irish Sea we sailed
From Belfast to Cairnryan
Some studying the itinerary
Others talking, eating, buying.

 

 

The Doubletree Hilton, Dunblane

 

Fine dining at the Doubletree
A back-door bag collection
A weary crowd hit off for bed
With Edward’s first edition.

 

Edinburgh Castle

 

Scottish history based in Edinburgh
We heard from Scot guide Mike
All about the Castle, Giles Cathedral
And of course the Royal Mile

 

Inveraray Castle

 

Day 2 we took “the high road”
To Loch Lomond and wee Luss
Inveraray in the afternoon
Back to Dunblane on the ‘bus’.

 

 

The Grouse Distillery, Crieff

 

Wednesday’s tour of Stirling
In well-known Cook’s we’d buns and tea
Then off to taste some whisky
In the Grouse Distillery.

 

Roslyn Chapel

Made famous by Da Vinci Code
Roslyn Chapel and its crypt
A stroll at leisure around Dryburgh Abbey
Completed Thursday’s trip.

JMG Coach driven by Sean Ferry

 

 

An early start on Friday
For the coach trip to Stranraer
Our thanks to Hugh and Bernadette
Put my name down for next year!

Castle in the Highland

 

MADRID – A CITY BREAK March 2018

The joys of retirement – a trip away without too much preamble!

Flew into Madrid on the VERY EARLY Ryanair flight on Monday morning. The assistance at the airport is brilliant especially as Ryanair gates seem to be at the furthest end of every airport! The plan was for a restful break, a little bit of sightseeing, some retail therapy and nice food and wine! We were armed with some recommendations from a previous resident of Madrid, which is always helpful.

 

Our hotel, the Petit Palace Hotel in Plaza del Carmen was a find – really central (close to Sol which is the main centre and from which many streets radiate with plenty of shops and bars and restaurants) with lovely staff, a nice sized room with a balcony overlooking the plaza.

We did some unpacking on arrival, before hitting out for a look around. I was particularly fascinated by the clear blue skies – not a cloud – and as we were staying in Old Madrid, some gorgeous architecture.

We allocated Tuesday to city sightseeing. The hop-on-hop-off bus is a super way of seeing the city and it allows for stopping at the sites that interest you most. We hadn’t factored in that this was Easter holidays and a major event on Madrid’s calendar, so there were lots of queues. We were quite happy to sit in gardens and read about what was inside!!! A return visit at a quieter time to explore these culture areas.

Statue of Goya, outside Prada

 

Unfortunately Retiro Park was closed due to a tragedy and it would have been great to get in there as there is usually daily entertainment.

 

 

 

We opted for the Templo de Debod instead – a haven of tranquillity in a busy city. We were only sorry we hadn’t a picnic but found a lovely restaurant nearby for a bit of lunch.

 

 

 

 

A plate of seafood paella is a must in Spain! Although Madrid is located in the centre of the country we were assured that the fish is brought in daily from the Northern coast.

 

We arrived back in Sol and found ourselves in the middle of Argentinian celebrations – before a friendly football match planned for the evening. Very colourful and cheery.

 

It’s always nice to see somewhere outside the city, so we headed for Toledo on Wednesday. Really impressive and worth the trip. The tourist Office recommended an audio visual presentaion, “Toledo in Motion” as a quick and easy way to get an idea of the history of what was the capital city of Spain and is now a UNESCO site.

 

 

It was great to sample the Toledo speciality dish, “DEER BURGER” and a pitcher of Sangria as we sat on a terrace overlooking the city.

We took the metro back to Sol, again the centre of celebrations. This time is was the passion procession – hundreds of people were gathered to view the procession of bands behind the cross, a very joyful approach to the Passion and the reason so many Spaniards were in the city this week! We did not realise the celebrations would continue well into the night- our room gave us a prime viewing platform.

Retail therapy up around Grand Via was planned for Thursday and we arrived back to the hotel with our purchases, hoping they would all fit into the cases going home!!!! We booked a really nice restaurant, Casa Alberta, reputedly where Cervantes completed Don Quixote for that evening, a really atmospheric old restaurant with great food, accompanied of course by a bottle of Rioja!!!! Had a vino in Plaza Santa Ana on way home – coolish so glad there was a heater!

 

Case packing on Friday morning before we went out for breakfast. We obviously made a good impression on our waiter as he treated us to a glass of champagne. A nice finish to a lovely break!

A Visit to Fatima

IMG_0284Mam had such devotion to Our Lady. I think the stories of the apparitions in Knock and Fatima were her two favourites. She made many pilgrimages to Knock where she found great strength and calmness in facing the many trials of life. We always had holy water from Knock in 32 and Mam always carried her Rosary beads in her bag. I know how much she would have loved to visit Fatima and when that became an impossibility, I promised myself a visit on her behalf.

IMG_01632017 was the centenary of the apparitions in Fatima and six statues of Our Lady were commissioned by the Pope and sent to each of the continents. The European statue came to Ireland in March and was displayed at Mass in Naas as it began its journey around the country. Although I decided then that this was the year to travel to Fatima it was October before I made the snap decision, googled flights and hotels and booked.

ApparitionIn preparation, I revisited the story of the Cova da Iria where on the 13th May a “Lady brighter than the sun” appeared in the branches of a holm oak to three little shepherds and wondered would I be as touched as Mam with enthusiasm, fervour and faith. I did little research into the trip other than that!

TUESDAY
My Ryanair flight was EARLY (5.30am). Airport assistance whisks one from entry to plane, through check-in and customs making travel SO EASY. I must compliment the staff who are most friendly and pleasant, although some feel speed is of the essence and the journey in the wheel chair can be sometimes hair-raising.

I landed in Portugal shortly after 9 and public bussed into Lisbon. Nice way to get the feel for a place. I had decided to do one of the hop-on hop-off city tours and the “Tagus Tour” seemed to offer the greatest range of sights.

Lisbon top tourist attractions printable city mapWe travelled the city’s main avenues (“the fresh breeze of the Tagus on your face” had been promised but a heavy mist of rain is what we got). We did get a taste of Lisbon. The commentary was a bit haphazard and so I would do some research or buy a guide book if I travelled again.

exporers portugalHowever I was fascinated by the lovely avenues, and the stories of Portuguese explorations, some of the amazing tiling of which the city is very proud and the variety of architecture along the Tagus.

I particularly liked this sculpture celebrating the age of the Portuguese Explorers to the Orient on the banks of the river: “Padreo dos Descobrimentos“. Note the 25th April bridge in the background

The fine mist however had become a deluge before the end of the trip and a second tour on the trams was scrapped in favour of a typical Portuguese lunch. The driver suggested a small café in a side street. The bacalhau (cod fish) with rice and side salad was delicious; however the compliments of a “charming” (???) young waiter dancing attendance on “the pretty Irish lady who brought the rain” did became a bit wearisome after a while.

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(Eduard Gordeev’s “Rain in Lisbon”)

The weather was a decider on taxi transport to Set Rios (the seven rivers) Bus Station for the bus to Fatima. The initial plan to see the countryside was also scuppered by the rain – visibility was limited – but good chance to catch up on lost sleep!

FATIMA:

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I was really pleased with choice of hotel: Hotel Coracao de Fatima and my room overlooking the cross in the Basilica square (previously the Cova da Iria where Our Lady appeared). I couldn’t have been closer to the shrine: I could hear the prayers and hymns from the Chapel of the Apparition without leaving the room. Tonight, I took a stroll over for Rosary before dinner. I had forgotten to bring beads – but there was any amount of them available in the MANY surrounding shops (don’t think the commercialism of the centre is as evident at this time of the year; it’s also much easier to get around and visit places without the throngs of people).

The “comboio de Fatima” (little train) was going to guide my itinerary for the days ahead.

Day 1 (Wednesday):
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• Monumento aos Pastorinhos (the Monument of the Shepherds)

 

 

 

Image result for valinhos fatima   Valinhos (a monument to Our Lady on the site of one of the apparitions)

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• Via Sacre (the Hungarian Calvary, the stations of the Cross- a gift from Hungarians in exile around the world)

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• Loco do Anjo/Cabeco (site of two of the apparitions of the Angel)

 

 

 

Day 2 (Thursday):

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• Mass in the Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Rosario de Fatima (the Basilca of Our Lady of Fatima)

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• Azinheira (the holm oak in which Our Lady appeared to the children in the Cova de Iria)

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• Basilica da Santissima Trindade (new Basilica of the Holy Trinity
• Confession in the Chapel of Reconciliation

• Art Exhibition: “The Colours of the Sun”

Day 3 (Friday):
• Aljustrel (the village where the children lived peaceful village marked by the seasons and work in the field as well as weaving)
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• House of the Santos Family (Lucia’s home- she was the youngest of six children)

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• Loco do Arneiro (site of the second apparition of the Angel at the end of Lucia’s garden)

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• House of Marto Family (the home of Francisco and Marta)
• Museum of Aljustrel

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• Igreja Paroquial de Fatima (Parish Church in Fatima) where the three children were baptised and where Lucia received her First Communion

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Particulary liked the story of this, the oldest statue in the Parish Church, OUR LADY OF JOYS, where the baby is playing with Mary’s hair. it is said this is the only statue of Jesus playing.
• Candlelit Procession

SATURDAY
Taxi to Lisbon Airport for Aer Lingus flight at 10am.

So what did I come away with? I probably was somewhat sceptical going, following the belief of a mother rather than any personal conviction. But I was moved. In the peace and quiet especially of the countryside one would have to find an inner tranquillity. The intent of the other pilgrims as they prayed and sang and lit their candles at the various celebrations impressed me hugely. I thought back to the nights awaking from the coma, the desolation of not being able to move and the fear of what lay ahead, the comfort the hospital chaplain brought assuring me that God would help, reciting the Memorare (Mam’s favourite prayer), listening to some favourite hymns. I think Our Lady of Fatima reinforced that faith, the belief that God will send help if it’s needed.
It might not be in the form of an angel; it could be in the guise of a friend who will call at just the right time or a piece of music that raises the spirit or words in a story or poem that inspire. God is watching me; He cares. The smallest concern of mine still matters to Him.

You might think after reading this entry that I have fluent Portuguese – unfortunately not BUT I do love the “real” names of the places. My only Portuguese – “Obrigada!” THANKS!!!!

Derry: First “Retirees” Trip APRIL 2017

DAY 1- HEANEY COUNTRY
Early morning pick-up at the Cinema in Naas for the trip to Magherafelt. Great to see so many faces from the past both INTO and teaching colleagues – even people I’d interviewed for various jobs (their smiles and warm greetings implied they had been successful!). Sas, the driver, seemingly a regular driver of the retired teachers of Kildare kept us amused with odd stories of where we passed through. His stories of trips to Jonesboro in the days of the border brought memories of Jimmy O’Loughlins hitting off with his family to that same market, ever a man for bargains, and my poor mother wondering where on earth all the toilet rolls and boxes of washing powder would be stored in our small house!!!! It was strange to be stopping for breakfast at 9.30 but after the early start the Carrickdale Hotel was a pleasant break – tea and gorgeous scones. Back on the bus promptly at 10.15 – I wonder will we all be as prompt as the trip progresses?

Just after noon, and right on time we arrived at Laurel Villa in Magherafelt, owned by the Kielt family -an award winning guesthouse and a reported haven for Seamus Heaney fans.

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Eugene Kielt’s welcome included halting the traffic for us to cross the road where his wife, Gerardine ushered us into her dining room. There we were treated to home made soup and wheaten bread (we have all come away with the recipe) and tea/coffee with a choice of apple tart or pavlova (the pavlova was a replica of my mother’s in appearance and taste and that’s a true compliment!). To say that this is a centre for Heaney fans does not do justice to the memorabilia that is around the house, not to mention the private collection of books and leaflets and information that Eugene can show and talk about.Image result for laurel villa magherafelt

We bid farewell to Gerardine as Eugene joined us on the bus for a trip around Heaney country, highlighting many of the people and places that featured in his work, including the poet’s birthplace at Mossbawn and his final resting place in Bellaghy Graveyard.

 

The highlight for me had to be our stop on the Hillhead Road:

“The Hillhead Road links Knockloughrim and Toomebridge” Eugene told us. “It is not a speeding dual carriageway, just an ordinary rural link road of no great consequence. It was here, in February 1953, that two of Heaney’s younger brothers, 3½-year-old Christopher and an older sibling, walked from Mossbawn with a letter to post. Something distracted Christopher and he darted into the road. The driver could do nothing”.

Eugene tapped on his smartphone and instantly the bus was filled with that familiar voice, rich and mellow, reading his own memory of that awful day when he was called home from boarding school in Derry for the return of Christopher’s body to Mossbawn Farm.

“Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four foot box, a foot for every year.”

Eugene left us to self-guide our way around an amazing exhibition on the poet and his work when we arrived at the Seamus Heaney Home Place in Bellaghy. We had plenty of time to view the artifacts, listen to commentaries and view videos (and even have a peek in the shop) before the signal came to return to the bus for the final leg of the journey into Derry. Sas demonstrated his driving skills as he reversed down the narrow Butcher Street in Derry to drop us right outside the Maldron Hotel. Check-in was speedy – an envelope for each of us, up to the room for a quick tidy up and down for dinner at 7.30. Lovely food, friendly service and lots of chatting about past and present, and of course the odd glass of vino!

DAY 2 – TOUR OF DERRY

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Hands across the Walls on the entry road to the city – note the GAA jersey on one of the lads!

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My room/suite!!! is on the corner of Butcher St overlooking the Butcher Gate and the walls ….what a view over the walls/Bogside at night!

Leisurely breakfast before meeting with guide to walk the walls. He looked quite energetic (and later reports confirmed that he was indeed a fast mover with little patience for dawdling! Wasn’t I wise to let them away and do the wall touring myself?

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There were plenty of information plaques giving relevant information.

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 and I was able to stroll at my ease and take some photos.

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Windswept on the Walls!!!!

 

 

Met up with some of the returned walkers for lunch before hitting off on bus tour of Derry with Martin McCrossan.

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The Peace Garden with the Eternal Flame

 

And boy did he know and love “his” Derry. Some of the crowd had asked about Martin McGuinness’s grave and so that was added to our tour and was our first port of call. Flowers still fresh, it was hard to comprehend that had we travelled a week earlier the funeral may nor have allowed a tour of Derry at all. The Bloody Sunday grave was adjacent.

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Sas’ skills at manoeuvring the narrow street were award winning – although we had an encounter with police and ambulance services all worked out well (another story for another day).

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“The shirt factory horn (just up behind the trees)                   Called the women from the Creggan, the Moor and the Bog”

I gave the “Walking Tour of the Bogside” a miss and accompanied SAS back to the hotel – between Sas’ stories and the book I bought about the Bogside Murals, I had lots of information!!!!

20170404_170238 Sas told about an old guy who used to sit opposite this corner day after day, in all weathers – he was the father of this girl, one of the first children to be killed during The Troubles.

 

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Many of the Murals represents marches, the hunger strikers, etc. but there are modern murals also that celebrate PEACE and people who stand for Peace. The FREE DERRY CORNER is repainted regularly to celebrate even the different seasons, so it may not always be white!

 

DAY 3- HOME VIA KAVANAGH COUNTRY
After breakfast we had a free morning to catch up on some missed sights or to shop before boarding the bus for Monaghan and home.
Sas had returned to Tipperary the night before to pick up a crowd going to Wales and our new driver was a quieter guy. However, there were some on the bus who knew that part of the country and so the journey was peppered with tales of their childhoods and happenings at various locations. Reminded me of travelling with Mam and Dad – a story for every bush and stone!
We were ready for eating when we pulled into the Shirley Arms in Carrickmacross for lunch accompanied by the usual vino! Isn’t it great to be driven around????

300px-KavanaghcentreBack to the bus for the drive to Monaghan and the Patrick Kavanagh Centre. The Centre is located in Inniskeen and was set up to commemorate the poet Patrick Kavanagh who is regarded as one of the foremost Irish poets of the 20th century. He was born in Mucker townland Inniskeen. (You can imagine some of the rhyming slang attached to that!!!! especially in his associations with Brendan Behan!!!!) We listened to some lovely stories from the guide about the exhibition – not only did she know her stuff, she knew how to entertain. Two of our own gave a rendition of “Raglan Road” before we went out to see the grave.

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The guide was excellent – after all our travels and info gathering, he was still able to hold our interest as we drove through the narrow roads of Kavanagh country.

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“The bicycles went by in twos and threes,             There’s a dance in Billy Brennan’s barn tonight.”

(from Inishkeen Road by P Kavanagh)
Lots of sleeping as we headed back to Naas (and Newbridge). What a great tour, due entirely to the excellence of the organiser – she had accounted for everything – I’m a definite for next trip!!!