CAMINO 2024

8 Day French Way (Sarria - Santiago) | Magic Hill HolidaysAs a very young child, I remember my granny bringing me on a pilgrimage to Knock. The long train ride, the station in Claremorris and transferring to the bus, walking around singing hymns, they are still very clear memories.  In more recent times, it was the Camino that grabbed my interest. Illness and mobility issues meant that it was never more than a dream. This year, however, new knees, improved health and the anniversary of surviving sepsis in 2014 meant that it was now a serious plan. I thought Holy Week would give the spiritual aspect to ‘pilgrimage’ that an ordinary walking holiday might not have. Initially booked out, I jumped at the opportunity when a cancellation arose. My enthusiasm was further fuelled by a visit to thhe Camino office in St James Church on Thomas St.

DAY 1

Sarria to Santiaga, the last 100+km was the proposed route. Despite the offer of shorter daily walks, I started out the first morning with certain dreads and fears. We had Mass in the Monastery of Sta Madelena, a ‘start of journey’ photo shoot and then the steep descent into the valley of the Rio Pequeno. The enthusiasm was palpible. However, every down will have an up and the climb out of the valley certainly taxed both my legs and my breathing. The pain, was quickly forgotten walking across the plateau with its farmland and little villages. By the time I got to Barbadelo, I was even prepared to go off route to visit the little church. I purchased my CAMINO SHELL in Mouzos and shopkeeper gave me a lucky Camino wrist band. walking was becoming a rhythm and allowed for an appreciation of the surrounding beauty. Ferreiros at 13km was the designated lunch stop. I decided at this stage that I would like to walk into Portomarin, our destination for the day. Knowing it was nearly 10km away, I took the coach to Vilacha. What a feeling of accomplishment to make it down the very steep path into the Rio Mino valley, cross the bridge and climb the old steps “the staircase” into the town. (15km today)

The coach took us all back to our hotel in Lugo where after a fine dinner I was only fit for bed.

DAY 2

Portomarin to Palais De Rei: I started this stage on the coach, unwilling to start the day with a climb. The coach took me 7km out to Gonza. There was still quite an ascent into Ventas de Naron. A little old blind man sat in the Capela Da Magdalena stamping the Camino passports. I must have made an impression as I was the only pilgrim there at the time to receive a medal. The weather was glorious and the 4km to Ligonde for lunch seemed an easy task.  Its difficult to get going again after a rest, but I felt that another km to Airexe was withing my capabilities. And it was. However not much further on Michael and the white Fiat appeared and I was glad to catch a ride into the canopied plaza of Palas. (12km today)

DAY 3

Palais de Rei to Ribadiso da Baixo: I took the coach this morning to O Coto (the halfway point on our camino). The planned out-door mass was deferred till evening due to the change of weather. So with no need to wait, I proceeded through Leboreiro, Furelos to the lunch meet in Melide. The forests of oak and Eucalyptus saved me from the worst of the weather and a cup of coffee and some chips revived me enough to walk on to Boente. the last place to pick up the caoch before the end. At this stage I was wet and cold and so the coach was a no-brainer. I’m not sure if it was the rain or the tranquility of the forest paths, but today I found myself thinking of the three James in my life – father, brother and hubby- the three of them gone but not forgotten. It was great to have the time and the solitude to consider their different qualities and their effects on my life. Very appropriate reminiscence on the “WAY OF ST JAMES”. (12km today)

DAY 4

Ribadiso de Baixo to O Pedrouza: I could not believe that the noise outside my window this morning was driving rain. As we drove out to our starting point there was snow/sleet around the edges of the fields. There was little admiring scenery today – the main purpose was just to walk. With conditions underfoot slippy, I was delighted to walk alone and keep an eye on the ground. The walking poles were certainly a necessity to day. interestingly some pilgroms with two poles shared with our older walkers in the real spirit of Buen Camino. I never imagined there could be so much rain or that it could be so cold in the North of Spain. The scent of the wet eucalyptus was amazing and the forests did provide some shelter. The terraine was mostly flat – another help on a miserable day. Most pilgrims were availing of the bars and cafes in the little hamlets to change socks, dry our hats or have some warm drink. I was glad to see Fonzie, the driver in Santa Irene. I joined some of our group to have the much advertised Lasagne in the local bar.  Having completed 15km today, I was delighted to take the coach into O Pedrouza. We transferred hotels this evening from Lugo to Santiago. I have never welcomed a shower so much and a chance to get into dry clothes. Accommodation in Santiago was not as good as in Lugo but the food was way better. A bowl of Paella was a welcome end to the day…. then sleep in a room that closely resembled a laundry (15km today)

DAY 5

O Pedrouza to Santiago de Compostela: The only change to the weather this morning was that the rain was joined by strong winds. I decided to start the walk in Labacolla, 10km out from end. I wanted to be part of that “great approach to the shrine”. It was the least interesting walk as most of it was by roads, roundabouts and city streets. We were saturated. We gathered together when we entered the old town so that we could walk as a group into the Plaza Obradoira at the front of the cathedral. It was an awesome feeling – wet and cold and soreness forgotten – we’d made it.  Some cried, we all hugged. Photos were taken. We were glad to follow Michael to the hotel for a shower and change of clothes.  I returned to the Cathedral later in the evening. (14km today)

DAY 6

The highpoint of today was a tour of the Cathedral, seeing the saint’s tomb, ‘hugging’ the saint and attendance at Holy Thursday ceremonies in the Cathedral. We also took time for some retail therapy (an umbrells was top of everyone’s list), a hearty lunch and a small train tour. Luckily the poor quality of the tour was more than adequately compensated for by the laugh we had.

Will I walk the Camino again – probably not. But I am so glad to have had this experience and unique journey. I will remember the many people i met along the route and the stories we shared. I have received my Compostela cerificate having walked further than  I ever dreamed. My scallop shell, the iconic symbol of the Camino, will remind me of the ‘vieira’ painted on trees, paths, walls, tiles pointing the route to Santiago.

I would love to come back to Santiago, a beautiful old town and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Next time I might take a train out to  Finisterre. But for now, the end is the beginning. The goal of el Camino is to start a new camino, a new life journey. .

THE CAMINO PRAYER

Lord we ask you to watch over us on our journey to Santiago de Compostela. Be for us: a companion on our journey, our guide at the crossroads, our strength in tiredness and out stronghold in danger, our light in darkness, be the inspiration for our walking, our shade in the heat, our consolation in dejection, and the power in our intuition. So that we may reach the end of our journey without harm, and return to our homes safely, joyfully and with pleasant memories of great achievement. AMEN – BUEN CAMINO

 

Berlin 2023: Visiting a niece and the Christmas Markets

 

         When my niece moved to Berlin, I had the ideal opportunity to tick another item off my bucket list – Christmas Markets in Germany. Why Berlin? I had recently finished reading Linda Grant’s A Woman in Berlin, a shocking account of the lives of a mostly female population when the Russians took over the city. These victorious invaders were intent on making the women pay for the atrocities the German army had meted out as they advanced across Russia. I was also fascinated by the way the peoples and cities of Eastern Europe recovered from the atrocities of Nazism and Stalin: now I could take the opportunity to see how Berlin had recovered and renewed itself.

My last solo trip had started with flight cancellation so there was some trepidation when I arrived i Dublin Airport to see flights to Munich cancelled due to SNOW. Thankfully, Berlin was still open despite snow!

DAY 1

 

The Park Inn, Alexanderplatz, my home from home during my visit, was ideally situated for all my plans:  meeting my niece, historical highlights and Christmas markets. I always go for the Hop-On/Hop-Off experience to get an idea of a city and to help decide on where I will prioritise. So immediately after check-in and a quick lunch with two Leitrim ladies, I hopped on.

 

The Berlin Wall is a must on a trip to Berlin, so my first stop was the East Side Gallery, where the longest section of wall (almost 3km) was left standing.

 

It is now a unique piece of art painted by 118 artists in 1990. But there are also reminders of the harsh realities of what the wall meant to the population it was built to contain. I spent the afternoon rambling along by the Spree River, admiring the murals.

Of course, I had to have a coffee in Dean & Dave (a coffee shop chain) before returning to the hotel via the Marienkirche Christmas market.

 

I was there just as Santa arrived (by zip-line naturally).

 

I was very impressed however that right in the centre of the market was a lifesize crib with crowds of mams and dads queueing to tell their little ones the Christmas story.

Foregoing dinner, I feasted instead on the local delicacies – Gluhwein and Bratkartoffeln (panfried cripy potatoes, onions and bacon). It was delicious and the tables dotted around are designed to provided opportunity to chat as you eat and drink – a very hospitable way to spend an evening and soak up the atmosphere of the market.

DAY  2

A city tour was included in my itinerary and we boarded the bus with Isabel at 9am. Another visit to the Eastside Gallery, but this time with a more detailed description of life in East Berlin. She also explained the wide boulavardes – mostly a photo opportunity for Stalin to display his military strength.

We stopped for our own photo opp at Checkpoint Charlie.  I didn’t know that there were also a Checkpoint Alpha and Checkpoint Bravo. The adjacent  Checkpoint Charlie Museum was very over/underwhelming – with way too much information presented in too tight an area. Much more interesting was an outdoor area on the corner, almost hidden behind hoarding that detailed the very sad history of the area.

 

I abandoned the tour at Museumsinsel (Museum Island). While our guide dissuaded us from visiting the Berliner Dom, I wanted to see this Cathedral, the largest and most lavish in the city. How fortunate I was to arrive just as  an organist began playing the “largest and most important intact instrument with pneumatic action in the world”. It was wonderful to wander around this amazing building, almost destroyed in 1944, to the strains of organ music.

 

 

I wondered how you would allow this guy to be at the end of your daughter’s tomb????

 

 

 

John and Carmel had advised a visit to the DDR Museum which provided a narrative of the years 1945-1989, “a hands-on experience of history”. It is an interactive view of the years of propaganda, coercion and servility almost as if you were in the shoes of an East German. It is full of original articfacts, as well as installations that allow you to walk through one of the “new” apartments, to sit in an interogation room, to watch children at school, etc. Excellent.

Returning to the hotel, I dropped into the 700 year old St Marienkirche, “un eglise au coeur  de la cité”. The fresco of the Dance of the Dead is a pretty gruesome depiction of how death is the great leveller. I suppose if you lived through the bubonic plague and countless raging wars, death—and a gruesome death, at that—was a visible everyday reality for you  These images served as a reminder of one’s mortality and were intended as an inspiration to lead a pious life. The traces of paint are quite faint now but incredibly still there after almost 600 years.

I had dinner with my niece this evening in Chen Che, a Vietnamese restaurant with both a traditional interior and garden that served the most delicious Vietnamese drinks and dishes. It was great to get the opportunity to hear first hand about life in Berlin: she absolutely loves it. I even got to see her workplace as we strolled to the taxi rank.

DAY 3

 

Today I walked down the famous street, Unter den Linden to the Brandenburg Gate for a photo opp at this iconic site (very close to another iconic site, the Adler Hotel from where Michael Jackson dangled his son). I walked over to the Reichstag (but would have needed to book and get official clearance to visit).

 

 

Back by the Gate to the Holocaust-Denkmal, a memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, 2711 concrete pillars on undulating ground (like an ice rink after the snow and frost). It commemorates the 6 million Jews who were killed during WW2.

My “Hop-On” ticket came in handy today to travel down to Kurfurstendamm to see the Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedachtnis Kirche, a church which was destroyed in the Allied bombing raids of Berlin in 1943 but whose ruins have been maintained as a memorial to the destruction of war. A Hall of Remembrance houses a permanent exhibition of the mosaics and treasures from the old church.

 

 

A new church has been built that is pretty indescribable – follow the link to really understand its beauty and meaning. Google the story of the Stalingrad Madonna – so sad and yet uplifting!

 

I didn’t bother checking out the Ka De We, the Harrods of Berlin, figuring it would be out of my reach. Instead I rambled throught the market and found some lovely hand-crafted decorations.

I also visited the Europa-Center, the oldest shopping centre in Berlin (almost like The Square in Tallaght!) where I had late lunch.

 

Back in the Park Inn, I decided to have a German duck dinner – the red cabbage was to die for, before hitting back to a market for my last Gluhwein. Well my second last!

 

The Park Inn is beside the Fernehturm or TV tower, the tallest building in Berlin. Although everyone had said it was a MUST DO, the viewing platform was closed due to weather conditions while i was there. So I did the next best thing: got my photo beside it from 37 floor (viewing platform) of Park Inn.

 

 

Berlin was great – a return visit in Springtime or Autumn is certainly on the cards.

 

 

 

 

Knit & Stitch HARROGATE 2023

My October outing to Knitting and Stitching Show 2023 in Harrogate (second year) was really enjoyable. I stayed in The Crown Hotel as last year as it’s very close to the exhibition centre.

 

There were many highlights – Fellow feltmakers made for wonderful company, although they had accommodation elsewhere in the town. Just like last year, it was lovely to sample life in an English town for a day or two – the retail therapy was great especially in the Vintage shops – the excitement of rummaging through others cast-offs to find treasures .

Well done to those who chose our restaurants – the fare was delicious and so different. Although not on other’s list, I got to Betty’s for my breakie on the last day – always a treat in Harrogate. Lovely to see the craft of crochet poppies used to decorate the WW1 memorial acrtoss the road from the tea room.

 

I thought the standard of the exhibitions this year was far superior to last year – or maybe they just appalled to me more – the one on Domestic Violence was particularly evocative: touching and emotive messages embroidered on everyday cleaning cloths/dusters.

The Embroidery Guild as usual had a wonderful display of both skill and creativity within their craft. The Quilt exhibition again was a display of their members’ interpretations of many current issues.

This year I intended to be very disciplined about my spending! – I had a list of items I definitely wanted to buy – attachments for my sewing machine, some Wensleydale curly locks and fabric scraps. I certainly bought more than that but was pleased with my ability to say NO.

I was not as happy this year with the range of the workshops this year and certainly planned to limit the number – last year I ran from one to the next with little time to catch my breath. So I chose 2 workshops.

Not my finished product – mine got crushed in the case on return journey!!!

Machine embroidery – with Tyvek: It was the machine embroidery aspect that attracted me to this workshop, unfortunately the emphasis was on tyvek – an iron on fabric which reacts to heat. It was interesting but the limited availability of irons meant long times queueing. I’m not sure I’ll ever use it. I did get to try out machine embroidery but actually learned more from a fellow student than from the facilitator.

 

 

 

Embroidery Techniques: A recently graduated Embroidery student delivered this workshop – embroidering a Luna Moth using 4 basic stitches. The tutor was very well prepared this time but I don’t think she factored in the different skill sets of the group. About halfway through the workshop she admitted that we would not complete the project but she would show us the stitches – stem stitch and backstitch which I already knew but it was great to see how finely she worked; goldwork and Turkish Rug Knot which I’d never heard of. Luckily, we were given a wonderful little manual with which I was able to complete my Moth at home.

I was delighted to report back to FI committee that they do very well on choosing tutors who possess great teaching skills.

 

September in Normandy (4) – The Bayeux Tapestry

Day 5 Normandy trip
St Patrick Banner

 

I spent the morning rambling around the town. I found an old church dedicated to St Patrick, where an old guy with as much English as I had French, was more than interested in telling me about the church’s history, the stained glass windows especially those depicting scenes from the life of Patrick, the banner of St Patrick from the 17th century and the new sculpture of the Saint.

Vieux Bayeux was my next destination. Although there was supposed to be a marked route, I couldn’t find it and just explored myself.

What a pity our Irish towns have lost their “small town feel”. Bayeux has a selections of “Boulangeries”, coffee shops, small draperies, boutiques, curio and craft shops which make it a very typical French town.

 

 

Located behind the Cathedral, I found the Monument des Deportes, a memorial to the Bayeux inhabitants who were deported for being Jewish or members of the resistance and the camps to which they were sent.

The memorial carries a quote from the poet Louis Aragon:

Qu’importe comment s’appelle

Cette claret sur leur pas

Que l’un fut de la chapelle

Et l’autre s’y derobat

Celui qui croyait au ciel

Celui qui m’y croyait pas

(It doesn’t matter what the name is

This clarity on their step

That one was in the chapel

And the other evaded it

He who believed in Heaven he who did not believe in it)

Naturally, with my interest in textiles, the Bayeux Tapestry had to feature in the holiday. The tapestry tells the story of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 in 58 cartoon-strip style scenes. It took 11 years to embroider the 230ft long linen cloth.

The famous tapestry

It is displayed in an old seminary and the accompanying audio guide explains the scenes and the history of William the Conquerer’s life.

 

 

My Bayeux Tapestry

I had explored the idea of actually doing a tapestry class while in Bayeux and found Chantal James, owner of a little craft shop, Broderies Bayeux, a willing and excellent teacher. There were 2 of us in the class and although the teacher and the other student had no English, the language of craft is universal. I came away with “my Bayeux tapestry” and some knowledge of the stitches required to complete.

 

The evening was warm so I strolled back to the hotel along the River  Aure.

After a swim and a read by the pool, I headed for my last supper in Bayeux.

Day 6 Normandy trip

A wonderful holiday comes to an end. After an early morning swim, some last minute shopping and a final stroll through Bayeux, I head for the train station. Travelling during the day is great as it allows you to see so much more than just your planned itinerary. The train stopped in Lisieux – I had planned on visiting here until first day went awry. C’est la vie. Arriving in Paris, Gare de St Lazare, even at rush hour, was easy enough to manoeuvre when I had time. And Charles de Gaulle was also a treat when you have time to look around. Would certainly recommend the trip to a solo traveller!

 

 

 

September in Normandy (3) – Mont St Michel

Day 4 Normandy trip
Mont St Michel

Mont St Michel is one of the most spectacular sights in Normandy, a craggy rock rising out of the sea, topped with ramparts, a town and an abbey.

Charles, our tour guide was fabulous. He had so many interesting stories about the geography, history, place names, social scene, etc. as well as a running commentary on the driving skills of our fellow road users.

 

 

 

He filled us in on the complicated 1000 year history of Mont St Michel guided us through the intricacies of the architecture of the monastery.  We enjoyed walking through all the levels of the town and abbey and although there were lots of steps, Charles paced the climb to suit us all.

 

 

View from the top

 

We were left to our own devices for the descent, with time for something to eat and some retail therapy. As at any UNESCO site nearly everything was overpriced but no complaints as the experience is so worthwhile.

 

 

 

Sep 4th 1976

The hotel pool was most welcoming when I got back to Hotel Luxembourg – before dinner in a nearby restaurant. Coincidently the couple at the next table (from Los Angeles) were celebrating their wedding anniversary, exactly the same as mine. Lovely to share a toast with them.

 

 

 

September in Normandy (2) – A stroll around Bayeux

Day 3 Normandy trip

I did not have breakfast in the hotel this morning, instead I headed for Les Volets Roses, a quaint little restaurant in Vieux Bayeux beside the Cathedral. My photos could not do it justice to this little place so please follow the link.

I was in for a surprise when I crossed the road for Sunday Mass to find it was the feast of St. Fiacre (our Irish St Fiacra), their a hugely loved patron saint of gardeners and horticulturalists. The congregation wholeheartedly practiced a rousing hymn to St Fiacre in preparation for the procession of gardeners with their produce. Joined by the priest and servers outside the cathedral at the end of Mass, they were delighted to chat with an Irish visitor.

Cathedral de Notre Dame

 

 

The Notre Dame Cathedral is visible from almost everywhere in the town and is a most amazing structure. I particularly enjoyed the amazing timeline of Christianity that was displayed around the back of the altar.

 

 

The tourist book advertised “le p’tit train de Bayeux”. However, it had crashed earlier in the season, so now the tourist had to get around “shanks’ mare”. The Musee Memorial de la Bataille de Normandie on the ring road was my first port of call. Although I had prepared for the holiday by reading Major and Mrs Holt’s Battlefield Guide, this museum provided an excellent chronology of the Battle of Normandy.

Bayeux War Cemetery

 

I continued along the ring road to the Bayeux War Cemetery. Containing 4144 graves, 338 of them unidentified, this cemetery was probably more touching than those visited yesterday (if that’s possible) as the headstones carried the names and ages of the dead as well as a comment from families.

 

 

Bayeux Memorial to the Missing

The Bayeux Memorial to the Missing, opposite the cemetery, bears the names of more than 1800 men of the Commonwealth who died in the early stages of the Normandy campaign and have no known grave.

By this stage, I was in need of a ‘cidre’, so headed back into town, crossing Place Charles de Gaulle where de Gaulle gave his famous speech to celebrate the liberation of Bayeux.

After lunch and of course, cider, I searched out the Bayeux Lace exhibition in the Musee d’Art et Histoire Baron Gerard (MAHB). MAHB is a museum within a palace. The prehistoric to the Renaissance exhibitis are spread over 2 floors. I was particularly interested in the Lace exhibition- hand-made bobbin lace was introduced to Bayeux in the 17th century to provide employment and was soon catering to the luxury market.

 

 

 

September in Normandy (1)- The Normandy Beaches

 

The Normandy beaches have been on my bucket list for ages. So this years I decided to make it happen. It was everything I expected and more.

Day 1 Nomandy trip

I made Bayeux my base and how appropriate to be staying than an attic room in the Grand Hotel Luxembourg which had been the HQ of the Gestapo during WW2.

The holiday got off to a rocky start with cancellation of flight. Luckily I was accommodated on a flight in the afternoon to Amsterdam connecting to Paris. A quick dash by taxi meant I caught the last train to Bayeux (by minutes), arriving there after midnight. The brandy that the wonderful hotel receptionist had waiting for me at check-in was certainly welcome.

DAY 2 Tour of the Normandy Beaches

After the hiccups of yesterday, it was great to be collected at the door of the hotel. Carine was our tour guide – and my travelling companions were a family from US based in Brussels and a French girl from Paris. we all knew the basic history of how on June 6th, 1944, Nazi occupied France was invaded by allied troops resulting in the country’s liberation.

Landing at Utah Beach
“Bloody” Omaha Beach
Taking Omaha Beach

The allied landings on the beaches of Normandy– still known by their wartime codenames and the ferocious Battle of Normandy that followed are commemorated through a moving mixture of museums, memorials and cemeteries.

John Steele suspended from the steeple

 

Our next stop was at Ste-Mere-Eglise which owes some of its fame to John Steele, an American paratrooper whose parachute unfortunately entangled in the spire of the church. The church was lovely and Carine’s descriptions of the various windows and their relationship to Landing Day Museum were great.

 

 

 

Across the square we visited the US Airborne and had the experience of sitting in a plane waiting to drop by parachute into Normandy. Social stories about the paratroopers sending their parachutes (silk fabric) home to their girlfriends to use in their trousseau gave some humanity to the horror.

 

 

American Cemetery- 9387 Graves

It’s all so sensitively presented and yet there’s no escaping the losses  of that momentous summer of almost 80 years ago. It as certainly emotional to listen to taps at the lowerning of the flag in the American Cemetery.

 

 

 

La Pointe du Hoc – this ceremonial dagger was erected by the French Gov on the site of a German bunker as a monument to the Rangers who scaled these cliff in an effort to disable the German defenses.

 

 

 

“Bloody” Omaha Beach

As we looked down on groups playing and strolling along a peaceful Omaha beach, Carine painted a stark and horrific picture of the landing on what subsequently was called Bloody Omaha.

The Mourning Parents beside the cross

 

The German Cemetery at La Cambe brought me back to the very touching sculpture of The Grieving Parents in a church in Cologne. La Cambre made us remember that were losses on all sides – there are 21,139 dead in this cemetery including 296 in a mass grave. The groups of black crosses are symbolic and do not mark graves.

 

 

 

Avondale House with Active Retirement Group

May 2023

Avondale House, Co Wicklow

It was great to revisit Avondale with the Active Retirement Group in May. It brought back fond memories of our family trips across the Wicklow Gap, down through Laragh and Rathdrum, passing Avondale and on to Aughrim. On these trips we heard the stories of Charles Stuart Parnell, the nineteenth century Irish nationalist politician, Protestant landowner and leader of the Irish Land League was born at Avondale House in 1846. We also sang the song Avondale, written by the late Dominic Behan in praise of Parnell

Oh have you been to Avondale,

And lingered in its lovely vale,

Where tall trees whisper and know the tale,

Of Avondale’s proud eagle.                                          

Where pride and ancient glory fade,

So was the land where he was laid,

Like Christ was thirty pieces paid,

For Avondale’s proud eagle,

Long years that green and lovely vale,

Has nursed Parnell, her proudest Gael,

And cursed the land that has betrayed,

Fair Avondale’s proud eagle.

Entrance Hall
The Bossi Fireplace in the Drawing Room  
The Dining Room

On this recent trip our group toured Parnell’s family home looking at all its beautiful artefacts and discovering how Avondale became the birthplace of Irish Forestry.

Avondale House from the canopy walk

After lunch, we showed just how active we were as we took the 1.4 km treetop walk through the tree canopy culminating at the spectacular viewing tower. The panoramic view of the Wicklow Mountains, the Vale of Avoca and the Avonmore River was amazing.

Looking over the Wicklow countryside from the tower

To complete this innovative experience, many of the group whizzed down to the base of the tower on a 90m spiral slide. My new knees are still too precious for me to risk them so I returned to base on foot.

 

New Orleans 2023

Following holiday in Louisiana, I’m happy to advise putting New Orleans top of your bucket list. Everyone should visit at least once – I’m so happy I did. Here are some of the reasons why…….

CARNIVAL ATMOSPHERE and MUSIC:

 

We might have missed Mardi Gras but in the French Quarter where we were based, it was party time all the time. New Orleans is renowned for its music, especially jazz, and it was everywhere – on the streets, in the bars, in the parks and courtyards. “Souped up” cars and three wheeled motor bikes added to the sound with rap blaring from huge speakers and revving engines at junctions.

FOOD and DRINK:

Oysters, Alligator and French fries in Creole House Restaurant, Canal Street Bar – no facility to make reservations but welcome to drink cocktails on the street while you wait for a table. If you miss your name being called – you go to the end of the list!!! Fun waitress was really helpful with menu choices.

 

 

 

New Orleans Breakfast

Breakfast on the first morning in the Fleur de Lis – enough to feed an army

 

 

There were dozens of local restaurants with top class food – Cajun and Creole dishes were top of the list – oysters (cooked in so many ways), shrimp (massive), red beans, jambalaya with afters of Bread Pudding , Beignets (sugary doughnuts), Cocktails (Mint Julips recommended but my fave in the city of Katrina was a Hurricane) – didn’t try the po’boys (a type of sandwich), or the gumbo ( a kind of stew) or the crawfish (when told it was a mud bug). Would have to remark too that portion sizes were massive. Everywhere sold “drink to go” often in phallic shaped containers!!!

MUSEUMS, EXHIBITIONS and TOURS:

Naturally we visited the Hurricane Katrina exhibition in the Presbytere – hard to believe it was 17 years ago and there are still reminders of the damage – most prominently the blue tarpaulins that still cover some roofs.

We opted to visit the Whitney Plantation to see their exceptional portrayal of the history and legacy of the enslaved rather than the more famous Oak Alley Plantation with its emphasis on the opulence of the landowners. We did pass Oak Alley and its oak lined avenue was certainly impressive.

 

          

 

Our tour to the Chalmette Battlefield gave us an opportunity to show off our singing skills with a rowdy rendition of the Battle of New Orleans –

 

“In 1814 we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip’
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans
We fired our guns but the British kept a-comin’
There was not as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began a-runnin’
Down the Misiissippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Yeah, they ran through the briers and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn’t go
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn’t catch ’em
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico”

We took a city tour New Orleans and were stunned by the architecture of the city – eclectic is the only word I can find to describe the buildings. We tried to recognise whether it was wrought iron and cast iron. We had our dinner on a balcony one night – a pretty shaky affair!!!

Having watched the film Double Jeopardy, a trip to one of the city’s many cemeteries was a must – St Louis Cemetery #1, spanning an entire city block was where we ‘ended up’. Cemeteries, also known as Cities of the Dead are made up of avenues of elaborately carved mausoleums (also known as oven tombs???? Google the process for a macabre read). Burial above ground is required because of the high water table.

 

Old Man River or the muddy Mississippi dominates the city and of course we took a dinner trip on a paddle steamer. Probably a bit underwhelming, it did give a fine view of the city and the guide had lots of interesting tales about the history and geography. Some of the ravages of Katrina were also more obvious from the water.

 

 

Our second trip on the Mis was a cross-river ferry trip to Algiers, a haven of tranquillity compared to the city where we strolled through streets of fabulous houses and enjoyed a ‘quiet’ meal outside. It was so peaceful walking along the levee.

STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE:

Made famous by the Tennessee William’s play, this trolley no longer exists. It was replaced by the St. Charles Avenue Green Trolley, now the most notable and oldest line. Our streetcar trip was cut short as the St Patrick’s Day Parade route ran alongside the track. It was still an experience to trundle through the business district into uptown.

 

The parade was a bonus- everyone dressed in green and carrying large bags for the goodies that would be thrown into the crowd. We had barely acknowledged our “irishness” with a small green bow; however we soon were covered in beads and badges, and in possession of a collection of toys once our Irish accents were noticed and we became the centre of attention at the corner where we stood.

 

 

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF:

We didn’t realise that there was Tennessee Williams festival planned while we were in New Orleans. We were lucky enough to get tickets for Cat in Le Petit Theatre off Jackson Square. The audience participation was very different from home – the lady beside me contributed “Yeah Momma” whenever she agreed with sentiments from the leading lady. With no bar or toilets in the theatre, the audience had to adjourn to the bar next door at the interval. Worth the visit!

 

I usually read something, fact or fiction, that will give a flavour to my holiday destination and A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole was the recommended pre-New Orleans reading material. What a surprise to find a statue of Ignatius, the hero of the book, quite close to our hotel:

In the shadow under the green visor of the cap, Ignatius Reilly's supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D.H. Holmes Department Store studying the crowds of people for signs of bad taste in dress. (J Kennedy Toole 1981 Pulitzer Prize for fiction)

SWAMPS:

Our bus driver, Butch, gave an amazing commentary on the history of the swamps and piracy in New Orleans as we travelled out to Lafitte (called after a pirate who helped Jackson win the battle of New Orleans). On the airboat trip we managed to see alligators (one right beside the boat so suddenly I didn’t even get a photo) and turtles. The guide’s effort to talk about flora and fauna was continuously disrupted by a pair who were high on something, but the moss covered cypress trees, the various grasses and water plants were exactly what one sees in films and the airboat experience meant the trip was not a complete waste of time.

Would I go back to NOLA? I don’t think so. But I’m so glad to have been there.

 

 

Oak Alley Plantation

 

 

 

 

The Louisiana oak with Spanish moss

 

 

 

Antoine “Fats” Domino @ The Legends Bar, Bourbon Street – All day jazz club. Had breakfast here to live jazz music.

 

 

 

 

 

Travelling down river on the Creole Queen paddle steamer

 

 

 

 

A mansion in the Garden District

 

 

Some locals from the Irish Channel all set for the Patricks Day Parade

 

 

A Hotel Monteleone breakfast – cocktails at the Carousel Bar (revolving as name would suggest) are a must.

 

 

Knitting & Stitching in Harrowgate 2022

A combination of Brexit and Covid conspired to take the annual Knitting and Stitching show out of RDS Ireland. So our group of four Irish knitters and stitchers set out for the November Harrowgate Show.

WEDNESDAY 16th November

Despite the Aer Lingus delay we reached Bradford and commuted firstly to Leeds, arriving before most of the shops opened. An English breakfast in a small coffee shop set us up for the long day ahead. The various Leeds Arcade which were the attraction, didn’t fail to impress us and retail therapy started early in the trip with purchases of socks (by me) and jewelry.

The bus journey to Harrowgate gave us a fine view of the rolling dales of Yorkshire – a surprise for me as I expected the harsh and isolated moors of the Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.

We arrived in the spa town of Harrowgate in the afternoon and found our way to The Crown Hotel.  The hotel was a testament to the history of the town, with a history dating back over 300 years, its enviable location moments from many of Harrogate’s most popular sites and close to the convention centre where the trade exhibition  would take place. The hotel was set with a wide open vista of a selection of impressive Victorian and Georgian crescents. In our initial mooch around the town (we were reserving the serious shopping for Friday) showed  architecture, galleries, antique shops and tea rooms the most famous of which Betty’s Tea Rooms which still has the charm and the delicious pastries of the early 1900’s when it was founded.

Bettys: Famous Yorkshire tearoom reaches its centenary - BBC News

THURSDAY 17th November

My first workshop was scheduled for 10am so after a leisurely breakfast i strolled down to the Convention Centre. It was teeming rain but that mattered little as an indoor day was planned with the following workshops booked.

  1. Vintage Botanical Stitched Fabric Journal with Ami James.
  2. A Christmas Robin – Free motion Embroidery with Helen Moyes
  3. Giraffe Applique for a Cushion Cover with Delphine Brooks

There was of course some ‘compulsory’ shopping in the main hall between workshops and also viewing of the galleries – my favourite was that of the Embroidery Guild with their display of Embroidery across the decades and the Guinness Book of Records longest piece of embroidery.

The World's Longest Embroidery.

Work on this embroidery started in 2003 and in 2009 it measured more than 605 metres, a new Guinness World Record. The embroidery piece was hand worked by 7000 embroiderers from all over the world and contained a plethora of designs, colours and subject matters, including 3D insects, flowers, people’s names, etc. People were free to add to work during the show whatever motif they wanted.

FRIDAY 18th November

Today was dedicated to rummaging in the many Charity and Vintage Shops of Harrowgate from which a selection of jewelry, dressing gowns, dresses and kimonos were added to the craft stash of yesterday, all of us hopeful that we would be within the 10kg that Aer Lingus allowed for carry-on luggage. Right in the middle of the Montpelier Mews, we were delighted to find Jenny’s Tea Shop, a tiny little  for home-made soup and Quiche and sandwiches.

Photo

We all agreed that Harrowgate had still plenty to offer us if we returned for another visit.