Once upon a time, there was a little girl who fell in love with fairy tales. She spent many an hour daydreaming of being a princess and living in a castle. Well the little girl grew up, but her love of fairy tales and fascination with castles remained. Seeing the castles was one of the things I was most interested in while in Ireland. There is no shortage of them to discover.
One of the things that struck me about the castles was that they just kind of appeared when you got close to them. You couldn’t see them from a distance – you would think given their size they would dominate the landscape but they really just melded into it. We were actually on our way to one and we drove right past without seeing it – when we realized we went too far we turned around and driving back exclaimed “It’s right there, how in the world did we miss it!” For me this just added to their allure.
Kilkenny Castle was the first one we toured. It had been painstakingly restored to its original grandeur. Walking throughout it there were photographs and descriptions showing the work that went into restoring it. I’m so glad the time and money was put into this. It would be such a shame for these places to go into complete disrepair, eventually to be lost forever. I enjoyed seeing the décor and furnishings as they would have been when it was occupied over eight centuries ago.
Lismore Castle was the grandest we visited. Much to our surprise this is still a private residence. Can you even imagine? Architecturally it is beautiful and quintessentially what you would expect a castle to look like. Although you aren’t able to go inside you are permitted to walk the grounds and gardens, which are impressive on their own. There is a charming area decorated as a fairy glen for children, sculptures throughout including two sections of the Berlin Wall, herb, vegetable, and perennial gardens, as well as beautiful trees and flowering shrubs.
I fell in love with Ballyscaggartmore Towers. This is the fairy tale castle me, the princess, dreamed of living in. While not a complete castle, the structures here capture the imagination. It’s nestled in a “fairy” wood sprinkled throughout with remnants of days long gone by.
Lough Eske in Donegal is a castle that has been converted into a five star hotel. We had the privilege of spending one night here. We just missed hobnobbing with actual royalty, Prince Charles was staying there the week before. It was wonderful! This does make you feel a touch like a princess. Not far from the castle is a wooded walk along a picturesque lake. It is so relaxing to be in such a decadent atmosphere.
Bunratty Castle is fun. You can wind your way up narrow staircases to see rooms throughout the castle reminiscent of the 15th and 16th centuries. I was happy we got to explore it when it wasn’t crowded because navigating through the narrow passages in a crowd would have been awful. It is part of a folk park that recreates the experience of a working 19th century village. You are able to get a sense of the class structure and see how things were done such as milling, printing, baking, and pottery. We also participated in a medieval dinner at the castle complete with traditional music and storytelling. It was a very entertaining experience.
It was great exploring the real deal – for now this princess will need to go back to daydreaming. Perhaps even some story telling inspired by another era.
A month ago I had the pleasure of touring across the Emerald Isle. It was a glorious week – I wish it had been longer! Knowing Ireland’s propensity for rain – I had prepared and brought all kinds of rain gear with me. It was never needed – the weather was spectacularly beautiful for the entire trip. Perhaps some of the “Luck ‘o the Irish” was with us where the weather was concerned – it was a bright blue sky vacation.
One of the first things people say about Ireland is how green it is. It definitely lived up to that expectation. I didn’t realize quite how rugged it would be and I wasn’t expecting to see so many mountains. Before I got there I was envisioning rolling hills and farmlands and there is plenty of that, but so much more!
The Wicklow Mountains are breathtaking. In this region we visited the Powerscourt Estate and Gardens and Waterfall as well as Glendalough. Arriving at Powerscourt early, there was a slight wait until it opened. A bus of Japanese tourists arrived at about the same time. While wandering around taking in the beautiful mountain views, one of the Japanese women began to sing. She had a beautiful voice and although I have no idea what she was saying it was like an homage to the mountains and seemed such a fitting and respectful way to start the day. At the estate, every vantage point, nook, and cranny held amazing views. All shades of vibrant greens were present, sprinkled throughout with the reds, pinks, oranges, and yellows of the rhododendrons throughout the paths. The waterfall drapes itself down the side of the mountains flowing into a rocky riverbed. Travelling further down the mountains you reach the ancient monastic site of Glendalough. Walking through here you feel nestled in a serene valley, surrounded by mountains where a river runs into a quiet lake. I really just could not get enough of the beauty surrounding me.
One of the stops that truly captured my imagination was Ballyscaggartmore Towers. As a lover of fairy tales and folklore – I felt like I walked into a storybook here. You follow along wooded trails where trees and rocks are lushly green and moss covered. Wild rhododendrons provide pops of color along the way. Then suddenly you come across beautiful guard towers on either side of a bridge crossing a river. I half expected to see trolls coming up over the sides asking for the tolls to cross. Further along the trails you come across the beautiful remains of a castle entrance – the castle itself was never completed. I kept waiting for a fairy to appear – my mind was overflowing with thoughts of fantastic creatures and kings and queens.
The Ring of Kerry does not disappoint, from mountains to ocean views and everything in between. This area gives you a sense of the country’s ruggedness as you wind your way through mountains and valleys on narrow roads. Almost every view along the way is picture worthy. There really is something for everyone – lakes, rivers, stone circles, ruins, waterfalls, peat harvesting; you name it, you will likely see it along this route. One of the highlights for me was our stop at one of the beaches. I really got a kick out of putting my toes in the water on the opposite side of the Atlantic. Sometimes it really is just the little things.
The Cliffs of Mohr – WOW – this is a wonderfully magnificent site. We spent the better part of a day wandering around the cliffs just trying to take it all in. I think the only thing that got us to leave was hunger setting in. You are high up there! I braved the inner trail to walk along the cliffs but didn’t really venture too close to the edge. At times it can feel a little disconcerting as you are walking along. The sides of the cliffs were interspersed with wildflowers cascading down in a blanket of pink, purple, and white. There is a breeding site for puffins along one side and I was hoping to get a glimpse of them. No such luck – I could hear them, but I could not see them. This was a wonder to see and we were so blessed to have such a beautiful day to spend there.
The Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery was like nothing I had ever seen before. Over rolling grassy hills stood dozens of chamber tombs, ring forts, cairns, and passage graves dating back to 4600-3900 BC. This was a site that brought some of the folklore of the region to life. I felt like I had taken a step back in time. You could see another large cairn up on one of the mountains surrounding the site in the distance. I felt the mystique of the site as I wandered from grave to grave.
Mother Nature has certainly out done herself in Ireland. There is so much natural beauty here. It was glorious to be able to relax, bask in the sun, breath in the air, and be surrounded by splendid sites. It recharges the batteries and offers a fresh perspective. It just piqued my interest more and I hope to some day return and explore even more areas. There is so much I still want to see and do here!
In 2013, while visiting family up at the Lake House, I came across an advertisement for Mosaïcultures Internationales® at the Montreal Botanical Gardens. It looked interesting and my cousin Heather and I decided to take a day trip to go see it. I had no idea what to expect, but I generally enjoy gardening and had never been to the gardens in Montreal, so I was eager to check it out.
The theme of the event was “Land of Hope.” Its focus was on the interrelationship between humans and the environment they live in. All exhibits were created from natural materials, such as various florals, mosses, stones, grasses, and wood. Some of the displays were more thought-provoking while others were quite whimsical. I was truly amazed at the beauty and intricacy of the exhibits.
As we walked in, we first encountered some smaller exhibits. A row of ring-tail lemurs, a castle, and a figure performing a folk dance were just a few. Then we got our first glimpse of one of the larger exhibits, “The Man Who Planted Trees.” I was blown away. The scene was inspired by a French fable and presented a figure of a shepherd with his flock of sheep, kneeling and planting a tree. It was magnificent. As we continued our walk through they just kept getting better and better.
Of the large displays, my favorite was titled “A True Story” which depicted a girl in China who feel in love with red crown cranes as a child and as an adult worked in a reserve where she cared for them. One day trying to save an injured crane she slipped into the swamp – the bird survived but the young woman did not. In honor of her, the story was made into a song titled “A True Story.”
My second favorite was “Mother Earth,” this consisted of the bust of a goddess surrounded by animals, plants, and a waterfall falling from her outstretched hand. It was absolutely extraordinary!
From the ducks, to the pandas, to the tree full of birds the entire exhibition far exceeded my expectations. I’ve included a slide show but the pictures don’t do the displays justice. If you are ever able to see this event in person – it is a must see.
Prior to this visit, I had never heard of Mosaïcultures Internationales®. It is a competitive event, held every three years. Professional horticulturalists from around the world are represented. The exhibits must adhere to the theme and must integrate some aspect of the culture from the countries they are representing. The event will be held in Antalya, Turkey in 2016 with a theme of “Flowers and Children.” I wish I could go and see it.
Plans are being discussed for Mosaïcultures Internationales® of Montreal to exhibit in Gatineau, Quebec as part of the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation in 2017. Funding issues are being addressed that may hamper the scale of the planned exhibition. I for one hope they are able to move forward with it, as I would love to make the trip to see it.
If you are interested in more information on Mosaïcultures Internationales® visit http://www.mosaiculture.ca/en/.
In 2013 I took a two-week vacation to France with two friends, Carolyn and Sarah. The first leg of the trip we spent in Bayeux in the Normandy area of France. It didn't take me long to fall in love with this charming city. It is a blend of history and architectural styles from many different centuries; wandering around you never knew what you might see around the next corner or in it's many nooks and crannies. One morning, for example, I went out for a walk to the botanical garden. While wandering through the gardens I came upon an amazing tree. It was a 150-year-old weeping beech that was designated a natural monument in 1932. The canopy of the tree was massive and you could walk underneath it's old gnarled branches. Oh the stories I bet this tree could tell!
By a happy accident we were visiting during the anniversary of D-Day. We didn't plan the visit for this event, but I was thrilled we just happened to choose this time to go. Bayeux was the first city to be liberated. The entire time we were there the city was playing music from the forties through the streets; there were men dressed in military uniforms (some current and some from back in the day); and there were military jeeps, motorcycles, and tanks from that period being driven around. It felt as though we were reliving a small bit of history. We spent a day touring some of the beaches of Normandy: Arromanches, the German Battery, Omaha Beach, and Pointe du Hoc. It was a living history lesson. It takes on a whole new meaning when you see these places up close and personal, it becomes very real. To see the beaches and the cliffs that were scaled, the impacts of the shells and damage done to the land and structures, as well as the extent of the areas involved really hits home. These places are beautiful but will be forever scarred and filled with the ghosts of that era.
As we were planning the trip and sketching out an itinerary, Carolyn's wish was to visit Cherbourg. One of her favorite movies is Parapluies de Cherbourg and she wanted to see the city it was filmed in. While walking through Bayeux one evening we happened past a poster advertising the 50th anniversary of the movie and it was being commemorated with walking tours of the sites highlighted in the film - another happy accident! Cherbourg is a coastal city in northern France. One of the things that struck me as so odd and out of the ordinary was that there were palm trees - this wasn't something I ever expected to see in Northern France. The site that I found the most memorable was the Basilique Sainte Trinte, it was beautiful inside and out and had charming seaside touches (the font for holy water was a seashell). It was a completely different experience and I'm so glad we worked this into our plans.
We took two additional day trips while staying in Bayeux, we visited Rouen and Mont Saint Michel. Rouen is another city filled with beautiful architecture and rich history. The sites throughout that most intrigued me were those related to Joan of Arc, from the tower in which she was imprisoned to the church built in her honor on the location where she was burned at the stake. It was another instance of historical stories merging with reality. Mont Saint Michel is an utterly unique experience. It is a walled city that at high tide is an island and at low tide is surrounded by sandy plains. At the very top of the island is a medieval monastery. There is a winding road you can walk up to the abbey lined with shops and restaurants on either side. There are also stairs along the wall you can climb to get up or down as well. You get a sense that time has forgotten this place as you wander around - it looks very much like it did when built centuries ago. It is a truly spectacular site.
Our first destination in Italy was an old walled Etruscan town, Orvieto. It sits high above the Umbrian plains and offers beautiful views of the countryside surrounding it. This was another stop that made you feel as though you travelled back in time; not much has changed here from ancient times. The roads are narrow, stone, and there is very little vehicle traffic. One of the most beautiful buildings here is the cathedral.
From Orvieto we made a day trip to Rome. This far exceeded my expectations. The scale of the ancient buildings is massive. It is hard to imagine how these buildings were created and so elaborately sculpted and decorated. There are runes and sculpture everywhere you look. There were statues and columns lying in the street gutters - it's as if there is just too much to even know where to put it. In Rome we stuck to the traditional tourist sites, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Colosseum, and the Roman Forum. I probably spent the day with my jaw dropped open, it was just amazing to see. While in Rome we also visited Vatican City and ventured into the Vatican. There was actually a funeral taking place in a section of the Vatican when we were there. It felt so odd to me to be wandering around inside with that happening. It felt so disrespectful, we didn't spend much time there.
Our next destination was Siena, in Tuscany. We wandered around the piazza Il Campo and I was fascinated by the fact they ran horse races there in the summer. The city is very picturesque. The Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia were the buildings that were most memorable for me here.
Our last destination in Italy was the Cinque Terre area on the Italian Rivieria. This region consists of five villages; Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The land of the these villages is all terraced and you are able to walk trails (Azure Trail) along the coastline from one village to the next. The views along the coast are beautiful. As you hike between villages you are traversing through gardens and vineyards; I think you need to be half Billy goat to live here. We only had time to hike one of the trails - I wish we could have done them all. We spent a day on the beach while here. The beaches, particularly where sand meets water, are more pebbles than sand and is a bit hard on the feet.
All in all Italy was fabulous and I would love to get back and spend so much more time here.
I love to travel. For me it is an escape, sometimes a reawakening, often enlightening and inspiring. I hope you enjoy the stories of "my adventures." If I inspire you to have some of your own - all the better. Bon voyage!
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