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…….



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.


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!!!


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.


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.




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)


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.


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

Four Days in Iceland

This trip has been on the bucket list since 2010 when the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull deferred not only my plans but the travel plans of millions of Europeans.

So it was great to set off at last for Reykjavik. Current crisis of staffing in Dublin airport and the ensuing queues at Departure however almost scuppered the plan again!!!!!!

The famous Blue Lagoon was our first port of call. The bright blue milky waters appear a bit surreal set in a wasteland of lava. But the magic of lazing for 2 hours in the steaming waters, treating ourselves to a silica facial mask and followed by  Icelandic beer would have to be experienced. We emerged feeling (if not looking) 10 years younger.

Feeling good after an hour in Blue Lagoon

Day 2 started with a bus tour of Reykjavic. Lena our guide was a softspoken lady who gave us “just the right amount” of information. Reykjavic is not a big city and initially looks so modern (like our financial centre). Many of the older buildings are hidden between the large glass structures of today. The Perlan, on a hill just outside the city centre provided a panoramic view of the city and also showed us the importance of outdoor activitiy is to the residents. There are walking and cycling tracks all round the hill.

From there we hit down to the bay to see another important aspect of life here- the sea. The Solfár or Sun Voyager is a large steel sculpture which although somewhat similar to a Viking ship has no connection at all. Jón Gunner Árnason vision for this work was to represent “a dream of hope, progress and freedom”.

Nearby, is a another tribute to freedom, Hofoi House, where Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan signed the treaty in 1986 that ended the Cold War.

The Harpa, Reykjavik’s Concert Hall is also situated on the bay. It is a massive glass structure that reflects life around it. It’s lit up at night in a rainbow of colours. (Electricity and hot water are very cheap commodities here.)

Our last port of call was the Tjornin, or ‘pond’ as Lena called it – maybe meaning it as ‘lake’. We walked through City Hall, passing some statues of ladies who featured strongly in Iceland’s history.

The Unknown Bureaucrat

Free to roam for the afternoon, we feasted on FRESH fish and chips (delicious) visited the Flea Market and finished up in FlyOver Iceland Experience – a fantastic experience: a digital story about trolls and the geological history of Iceland before the wildest simulated ride over the stunning Icelandic landscape – I could certainly repeat it, keeping eyes open more often, second time around!!!


Geysir Hot Springs – the original Geysir which gave the name to all hot springs around the world, is now inactive but is well represented by a newer blow hole, Strokkur, which treats visitors to an eruption  every 7 minutes or so. We were treated to three quick eruptions (“wow” factor especially after some travelling companions’ criticisms). We almost missed Littl Geysir. a slushy, bubbling mud pool by the path.

Litli Geysir

Gullfoss Waterfall- this water fall is supposed to be spectacular at any time of the year but especially during the Spring melt. And it certainly was. A Dam had been planned for this river but a feisty lady, Sigridur Tómasdottir, campaigned very successfully to prevent it.

Gullfoss Falls

Last stop of the day was in Pingvellir National Park. If we’d been here a week earlier some of the roads would have been closed.


We were left to our own devices today. Some of the group took bus tours but we decided to stroll around the city. We visited the amazing Settlement Exhibition which comprised of the in-situ remains of a large Viking-age longhouse – I’m still in mourning for Wood Quay.

We found an amazing crafty shop and watched the proprietor needle felting.

We did a return visit to the Hallgrimskirkja. We aborted the plan to climb to the tower in favour of listening to the organist rehearsing for a concert. Such a treat.

Our trip to see the Northern Lights had been deferred till the last night. However, despite hours watching the northern sky, the clouds never cleared. I guess that means I’ll have to take another trip towards the Arctic circle or else just look at the Tromso photos!

After 2 hours sleep, we hit to the airport for the homeward journey.


Johnstown Castle

A postcard of Johnstown Castle “wishing you were here” was probably sent annually, in the days that sending postcards was in vogue, when we holidayed in Cahore as kids. It was a kind of iconic pic. But I had never been there. So during my sojourn in Wexford this year I decided to remedy that. The museum of life in Wexford in the 1700s and 1800s was fascinating, the famine, the workhouses, forced emigration of women to South Africa, and also the models of houses within my ‘historical’ era showing twin tubs, prams and go-cars, statues on mantlepiece, etc.

Best of all was being able to walk the 5km around the lakes and see a different aspect of the iconic castle.

The Doll’s House, Rathaspeck

Actually thought I had posted this and then realised it was on another platforms!!!!! Would you call that a broadening of media knowledge or just confusion!

Any way, at long last I got to stay in the Doll’s House, Rathaspeck where the Lamberts spent some time between their return from Australia and move to Fairfield House in Dublin.
Every visit to Wexford town as children entailed a trip out to Rathaspeck and stories of the Lamberts life there- dreams of fairy princesses, adventures to the manor House, naughty children, games, neighbours,…all conjuring up wonderful images of a life long ago.
And so a stay there was on my bucket list, and ticking it off was everything I thought it would be and more. My words would be inadequate to describe the wonder, the joy, the nostalgia. Even the dozens of photos cannot recreate the aura of the house.