Thursday, March 19, 2015

Return Home

By 6:30 a.m. we had checked out of the hotel. Once we had lugged our bags down the full flight of stairs from the lobby to the street, it took only a few minutes to reach the bus stop across from the Ballsbridge Hotel a little farther down Pembroke Road. During the next fifteen minutes while we waited for the bus to arrive, we were joined by at least twenty other people carrying duffel bags and trailing luggage, all headed for the airport.

Dublin's Samuel Beckett Bridge
(photo from
En route, we drove through a district known as the Docklands, which seems to be Dublin’s equivalent of the Banks development in Cincinnati: an area once blighted by deteriorating piers and seedy warehouses, but now home to splashy new office buildings and entertainment venues. Even through the morning’s heavy fog, we could see many striking examples of contemporary architecture. We crossed the River Liffey by way of a particularly beautiful bridge, which caught our eye because the suspension cables stretched diagonally from a single, asymmetrical support. A second look revealed that the bridge was constructed in the shape of an Irish harp—what a simply elegant and eminently apt solution to a prosaic engineering problem! From a Google search, we learned that the bridge was completed in 2009 and is named for playwright Samuel Beckett. How can you not love a country that so honors its literary and musical heritage?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


St. Stephen's Green
Rather than taking advantage of his last opportunity for a full Irish breakfast, Michael opted for the French toast with berries and yogurt; Nancy went with the continental breakfast. Good choices, both. All the baked goods served at the Pembroke are made in house, so there is a nice variety of breads, rolls, and cakes at the breakfast buffet—and always a plate of fresh cookies at the reception desk. A cookie jar next to the Keurig coffee maker in the lounge gets replenished frequently, too, so it’s probably a good thing that we’ll be here only one more night.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

L'Houmeau, then back to Dublin for St Patrick's Day

Patricia outside her garden wall in l'Houmeau
Another bright, glorious day! Phillip had to get Sinclair to the university early again this morning, but was able to come back and share breakfast with us. Sinclair does not yet have a driver’s license but is working on it, and hopes to obtain one by June. The whole licensing process is convoluted and seems to take a long time to complete—like everything else in France!

Monday, March 16, 2015

La Rochelle and the Chateau de la Roche Courbon

The garden door chez
Phillip and Patricia
Phillip, who is a business professor at the University of La Rochelle, does not have classes on Monday and thus was free to spend most of the day with us—after he took Sinclair to campus for his first class at 8:30, and attended a faculty meeting. While he was gone, the rest of us enjoyed a leisurely continental breakfast. After that, Michael and Nancy started their Monday-morning laundry while Patricia finished putting together a tarte aux pommes (apple tart) to be served at lunchtime.

At this point, we would like to make it clear that although we offered to help Patricia prepare meals and clean up afterward, she would accept no assistance, explaining that it was easier for her to work alone in her culinary atelier than to direct people who didn’t know where anything was and weren’t familiar with her methods. We understood completely—and we certainly didn’t want to hinder her ability to continue producing such marvelous meals.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

La Rochelle: A Sweet Sunday

The hand-embroidered monogram on this
curtain is only one of many graceful artistic
touches Patricia has added to their home
Phillip and Patricia have graciously given us the use of their own bedroom during our stay, explaining that since Astrid and Geoffrey are spending the weekend in Astrid’s old room, the only other option for us would have been Lauren’s room, which, in her absence, has been taken over by her cat—and they didn’t want to subject us to any unwelcome feline companionship. Although we do like cats, we don’t like trying to sleep with them (our own Puck gets shut in the basement every night before we go to bed), so we deeply appreciate Phil and Patricia’s sacrifice on our behalf. So, having rested well in their bed—which combines the antique charm of our first bed at Belleek Castle with the width and comfort of our second—we woke to a beautiful Sabbath morning. Downstairs we found an equally beautiful table set with a continental breakfast: fresh croissants, pains au chocolate, a brioche with butter and homemade jams, and bowls of hot chocolate to dunk everything in. And, as a polite concession to the peculiar habits of her American family, Patricia also had provided a carafe of orange juice.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Detours: The Flight to France, and the Drive from Nantes to La Rochelle

Michael and his brother chez Phillip
Today there would be no sightseeing. After ordering omelets in the Pembroke’s breakfast room, we went back upstairs to completely repack, putting only what we would need for the next three nights into our smaller bags, and everything else in our bigger ones. The big bags we checked with the clerk at the hotel; the others were going with us on the plane to France. More than twenty years after our last visit to their home, we were going to see Michael’s brother Phillip and his family in La Rochelle.

Friday, March 13, 2015

County Meath and Dublin: To the Stone Age and Back

We bought a copy of this print by Honor Hales
depicting the seasons at Newgrange
When we looked out our window first thing this morning, the fields across the road that stretched nearly as far as we could see were white with frost. Since our car was completely frosted over, too, and nobody had a window scraper, Bridie’s husband Paul offered to move it into the sunshine for us while we ate breakfast.  A while later, when we were ready to check out, we discovered that we could not pay for our room by credit card, so Paul offered to show Michael how to get to the nearest ATM. It was out of service, so as they drove on to the next one, almost eight kilometers away, Paul shared a bit of the Lynches’ story. Paul had grown up in a farmhouse near those fields across the road. His father had managed the estate for the landowner, but Paul took a different path and became a carpenter. Bridie had been a legal secretary, but due to age restrictions she had been forced to retire before she was ready to quit working. To keep her busy, they decided to open a B&B. Paul built the house (including the kitchen cabinets and all the handsome wood furnishings we had admired in our room) and they welcomed their first guests last year. But Bridie and Paul soon discovered that running a B&B keeps one very busy—too busy, as it turns out. Because they want more time for themselves, and more time at their vacation home in Portugal, they have decided to sell Burtonstown House. Too bad, because the Lynches are the most gracious hosts we have had on the entire trip. (If you’re interested in buying a beautifully built Irish guesthouse, we can put you in touch with them. To see photos, click here.)