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.)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Jerpoint, Kilkenney, and Carlow

Jerpoint Abbey
This morning it was raining again—the kind of rain that threatens to continue all day. We shared breakfast with another middle-aged couple from the U.S. When we asked where they were from, they said, “California and Texas,” but never made it quite clear if one of them was from one state and one from the other, or if they had recently moved from one to the other, or if they had residences in both, or whatever. Anyway, they were retired and had, like us, been traveling around Ireland for about three weeks, although they had spent a couple of months on the continent before coming here. Unlike us, they had been traveling around Ireland without a car, because, they said, they were afraid to try driving on the left side of the road.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cahir, Cashel, and Waterford

Cahir Castle
Breakfast at the Shandon Bell B&B was served in a beautiful solarium with a flower-filled deck overlooking the River Lee. Unfortunately, today it was raining so hard we had no desire to even open the door to the deck, let alone eat there, but it would have been a beautiful experience on a different day. While we were at breakfast, the window in our room upstairs unfortunately blew open, allowing rain into the hiking boots Michael had left standing underneath. We had to ask for an extra towel to dry them off and then use a hair dryer on the inside before he could put them on.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

County Cork: Blarney, Boole, and the best ceol agus craic yet

This morning we drove away from the dramatic mountains of Counties Clare and Kerry and into the more gently rolling hills of County Cork. Here the green terrain is closer to what we envisioned as “Ireland” before we came, although there aren’t as many stone walls here as in the north, and more modern buildings make the countryside seems less rustic and more prosperous than it did in County Mayo.
In the gardens outside Blarney Castle

Monday, March 9, 2015

County Kerry: Muckross and the Ring of Kerry

The car park at the end of the rainbow in Killarney
Nancy approached the shower this morning with some trepidation, because it was the first time we had encountered one of those energy-saving, heat-on-demand things so beloved of European tourist accommodations. That is, it was the first time we had encountered one of these contraptions on this trip; Nancy had had some memorably uncomfortable experiences with them during her travels abroad in the 1970s. Today, however, she was relieved to find that heat-on-demand shower technology apparently has improved in the past four decades. Once the power was turned on, all she had to do was figure out how to set a desirable temperature in Celsius, then press a button, and voilá! Consistent, pleasantly hot water!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Tralee, the Dingle Peninsula, and Killarney

Slea Head
Today we continued our tradition of finding an LDS community to connect and worship with. In Tralee, as in Sligo, when the GPS told us that we had arrived at our destination, we still weren't quite sure where we would find the group because, as in Sligo, the congregation met in rented storefront space with only a small sign in the window indicating that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints met inside. In this case, there was not much storefront—only a door that opened onto some stairs leading to the first floor, where the congregation was gathered. Though we had checked the Tralee Branch’s meeting times at, we were disappointed to discover that sacrament meeting had begun an hour earlier than listed, so we missed all but the last few minutes of the final talk.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

County Clare: The Cliffs of Moher and Bunratty Castle

O'Brien's Tower
Martin, our ex-military B&B host, accomplished an amazing feat this morning: he not only prepared two perfect omelets for our breakfast, but elicited a compliment acknowledging their perfection from Nancy, who is notoriously particular about the way eggs should be cooked. Bravo, Martin!

This is how hard the wind was blowing
The winds that howled outside all night and were still slamming rain against the windows indicated that we’d best put on as many layers as we could before we ventured out. As we mentioned earlier, the voyage to the Aran Islands that we had hoped to take this morning had been ruled out, not only because of today’s weather but also because other recent storms had left the channel in need of dredging. So instead of going to the ferry landing in Doolin, we got back on the WAW and headed toward the Cliffs of Moher.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Doolin Banjo

Dubhlinn House Bed & Breakfast
By 5 pm tonight we were on the road, and though overcast, it was still light enough to enjoy the rugged scenery on another stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way, which took us around the Burren and along the southern edge of Galway Bay to the coastal town of Doolin. From here, we had hoped to take a ferry out to the Aran Islands tomorrow morning, but because the weather had been so rough, no seaman was going to risk his own life taking a boatload of tourists across the choppy sound.

County Galway: Spiddal

Among the places Niamh O’Leary mentioned when we asked her to recommend things to do in Ireland that might not be on the average tourist’s radar was the Ceardlann Craft Center in Spiddal, a coastal village about twenty kilometers west of Galway. “It’s never crowded, so you can have great conversations with the artisans themselves,” Niamh had explained. “And it’s a good spot for some less-chintzy souvenirs.” Realizing that this would be her last opportunity to go to the craft center because we were leaving Galway for good this evening, Nancy decided to go to Spiddal this morning. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Galway: Salthill

Looking across the Corrib from Claddagh Quay, where hundreds of seagulls like to gather
Every evening, one of the maids at the Radisson Blu lets herself into our room, leaving two bottles of water (sparkling for Michael, still for Nancy), a couple of chocolates, and a little slip of paper with the next day’s weather forecast. Last night, the forecast called for clouds and wind but no rain, so Nancy decided that today was the day to take the long walk from the point where the River Corrib meets Galway Bay, around the Claddagh Quay, through South Park, and west along the Promenade above the sandy beach at Salthill to Blackrock—a total distance of about seven kilometers.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Galway: NUIG, and the sad tale of the first "lynching"

This morning Nancy decided to explore a different area of Galway, so she headed north, away from the old, narrow, pedestrian streets, and into a (relatively) more modern section. Here she found a store called TK Maxx (why they’ve changed the middle initial is a mystery—unless it was simply a typographical error that persisted), where she bought a pair of thermal tights (since the search for a pair of reasonably priced thermal underwear had been unsuccessful) and looked for a simple, reasonably priced belt (to help keep a pair of slightly-too-long pants from dragging through rain puddles). She continued walking more or less north until she got to the intersection of two main highways, which was graced by a couple of big shopping centers and movie multiplex. At that point, since the area looked like Galway’s version of the Fields-Ertel/Mason-Montgomery Road region in Cincinnati, she decided to turn around and head back into more picturesque territory.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Galway: More exploration of the city

This morning Nancy ate a partially “full Irish breakfast”: juice, grapefruit, eggs, sausage, broiled tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, bread and marmalade. In order to be completely “full,” she also would have had to consume a slice of bacon (of the type that we would call “Canadian”), a patty of hash-brown potatoes, baked beans, black-and-white pudding (don’t ask), a bowl of cereal, and a cup of coffee or tea. From the hotel’s extensive breakfast buffet, she also picked up an apple, some cheese, an extra roll, and some sliced peppers and cucumbers to save for lunch.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Galway: Gael-force wind

Snow on the roof below our hotel window
Cincinnatians like to tell visitors that if they don’t like the weather, “just wait a few minutes.” While this is not too much of an exaggeration—it seems there is a day every spring when we need the heat on in the morning but must switch to air conditioning by mid-afternoon—it is an exaggeration. However, it is no exaggeration to state that today in Galway we saw snow, sleet, rain, hail, and brilliant sunshine, all within one thirty-minute period—and similar thirty-minute cycles ran continuously throughout most of the day, driven by the tremendous wind.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

County Mayo: Country Life

After a great night's rest in a bed more compatible with our sleeping habits, we got up and headed down to breakfast in the Belleek Castle dining room. After three weeks in Ireland, Michael has decided that a "full Irish" breakfast is too much for him, despite having grown up with farm breakfasts in Idaho. This morning, both of us opted for an omelet and toast.

Today we decided to attend church services with the small LDS branch in Sligo. We were not the only American family present. In turns out that a BYU art professor on sabbatical had recently arrived, bringing along not only his wife and three of his children, but a daughter-in-law, her parents, and two of her siblings. That contingent alone doubled the size of the congregation, and the rented store-front space was barely large enough for the two dozen in attendance at testimony meeting today.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Connemara: Kylemore Abbey and Belleek Castle

Kylemore Abbey
Even though we left Clifden in daylight this morning, any views we might have had of the sea and the mountains were limited by heavy clouds and mist. We had hoped to do some hiking in the hills of Connemara National Park, but having had to keep the windshield wipers on all the way there, we decided that we might as well skip the hike and go on to Kylemore Abbey.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Galway and Clifden

Galway Cathedral
This morning Michael got up, went swimming, ate breakfast, and went to work as usual, leaving Nancy to get up and eat breakfast at her leisure. However, she couldn’t dawdle too long. Because we would be leaving Galway this evening to spend the weekend driving around Connemara and County Mayo, Nancy had to repack and check all our luggage with the hotel porter before going out to explore the city.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Galway: Nancy arrives

After a couple of weeks pretty much alone in the house with Puck, spending much of her time alternating between shoveling snow outside and vacuuming cat hair inside, Nancy was excited to get on her way to Ireland this morning.

Lough Atalia, as seen from our hotel window
Temperatures in Cincinnati—and all across the eastern U.S.—were still way below freezing when she left home, but fortunately for her, the day’s snow and ice storms stayed farther south and did not cause her any transportation delays. On her flight from CVG to JFK, she enjoyed talking with her seatmate, who was beginning a journey to India to visit her ailing father. They found many points of common interest, from the anxieties of caring long-distance for aging parents, to the joys and woes of raising teenagers, to the differences between planning an Indian wedding and planning an American-Mormon one. About halfway through their two-hour conversation, they discovered an unexpected intersection in their lives: the Indian woman had attended California State University at Fullerton—the school Nancy and her high school friends used to refer to as “ATS” (Across the Street).

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Galway: The working man's routine

I am settling into a routine: the routine of a working man in Galway. It is amazing how quickly I have begun to feel like I belong, or at least like I am part of the daily life of the citythough I must admit that living in a hotel and eating in restaurants is really not part of the daily life of the city. But working here has become a routine for me.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Limerick and Galway: Food for the soul

Trad musicians at Taaffes
Having visited a small LDS congregation last Sunday in Mullingar, I decided to try another one this weekend, this time in Limerick. I suspected that Limerick would be larger, but when Google Maps told me that I had arrived at my destination, I was surprised to see that it was a real LDS chapel. The congregation for sacrament meeting was more than double the size of Mullingar, and there were more than twenty people in the Sunday School class I attended. Because it was larger and because it was Limerick, where I am sure many more visitors show up than in Mullingar, I was greeted warmly but not treated as a special guest. That was fine with me.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

County Clare: The Burren and Ennis

I realized that this would be the last chance I had to explore the Galway open-air market that takes place every Saturday morning. So despite the rain, I bundled up and headed in the general direction. I knew by now that when the Irish say, “starts at 8:00,” what they really mean is that people start thinking about it at 8:00, maybe leave their house and then get there when they get there and set up. Because I still had a fairly full day ahead of me, I left the hotel about 8:00.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Galway: Restaurant dining

Now that the newness of the first week has passed and the reality of being a working man in Galway rather than a tourist has settled in, the only thing that changes from day to day is where I have dinner. The pool has become a habit, the bus has become a habit, the hotel elevators have become a habit, and the hotel breakfast buffet has become a habit. The one good thing about the breakfast buffet having become a habit is that I no longer feel compelled to eat a full breakfast, i.e. eggs, bacon, hash browns, and some sort of bread. I am perfectly content to have a bowl of bran flakes. My one weakness, though, is the chocolate croissants. I have one every day. Just one. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Galway: In which the laundry gets done, and Michael saves a party of Frenchmen from disaster

Wash day.  I cannot think of anything that I would rather do less than sit in a laundromat in Galway. Now mind you, I don’t mind doing laundry—I do it all the time at home. But I’d rather not have to do it while I’m in Ireland, thank you. I am avoiding most other quotidian tasks, like grocery shopping, shoveling snow, vacuuming, dusting, and doing the dishes. I’m not sure when I would fit all that in right now, anyway. Basically, each day I get up and do physical therapy exercises for my sciatic pain, go to the pool, eat breakfast, ride the bus to work, work, ride the bus back from work, go to dinner, catch up on email and videochat with Nancy, then go to bed.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Mullingar and the road back to Galway

The sun came out this morning and gave me hope that it would be a glorious day. Breakfast in the appropriately named sun room was good—not great, but good. When I struck up a conversation with the one other couple in the room, I discovered that they were from Salt Lake City; they had been living in Germany for the past seven years and now were getting in a trip to Ireland before they returned home. And yes, they were Mormon, too. They wondered if I knew whether there was an LDS church in the area. Since I had planned to attend and had done my homework, I could tell them where and when, so after breakfast they followed me on the forty-minute drive to Mullingar.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Midlands and Slieve Bloom

My Nissan Micra parked in the city of Birr
I have been preparing for this day since I first landed in Ireland:  today I am going to take to the road. More specifically, to the wrong side of the road.

For last year’s trip to New Zealand, I had planned our itinerary carefully so that Nancy and I would not have do any driving, hoping to avoid any unnecessary personal tension as well as conflicts with others—or between ourselves.  That was the right decision for that trip: we were able to travel around New Zealand’s North Island with the much-appreciated service of our personal chauffeur, my sister DeEtte, and all over the South Island on buses and planes.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Galway: Jeans Friday

I finally started to feel like I was leading and contributing at work today. Being a gap filler, I have a good sense now of what they need me to do. No one thought to tell me that the Galway office has jeans Fridays—but I won’t forget next week. And every Friday, the team has a “time out” mid-morning at the canteen with biscuits and cakes. It was a nice way to build comradery.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Galway: A few observations

Only a few short observations about today.

Parents—often both mother and father—walk their children to school. And generally the children stay with them and do not run ahead to be with their friends or classmates. It’s cute to see a dad sporting a pink backpack for his daughter.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Galway: The swim of things

Radisson Pool
With a better night’s rest under my belt, I decided to see if I could get back into a morning-swim-before-work routine. The Galway Radisson has an 18-meter pool and it is clean, so my only excuse for not using it would be non-commitment.

When I was checking the pool specs online before coming, I noticed that the hotel had a mandatory policy that all swimmers must wear caps—which I thought a little strange, but not a demand that I couldn’t comply with. Even though I have been swimming for years, though, I have never used a cap, so I stopped at Dick’s the day before I left Cincinnati and bought one. [Editor’s note: Anyone who saw the haircut Michael had given himself just before he left home would seriously doubt that anything falling off that head could even get trapped in a pool filter, let alone clog it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Galway: Getting to work

Today was my first day “on the job,” so to speak.

I decided that in order to have the full Irish experience, I needed to take public transportation, as I always did when I traveled to Boston. I think traveling like the locals helps me have a better connection with the city.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Aer Lingus to Dublin and Bus Eireann to Galway

KLM flight 662 landed in Amsterdam about 1:00 pm Dutch time. The airport looked and felt like it had been built in the sixties:  pretty stark, with no aesthetically pleasing elements that I could ascertain. I knew I was definitely in modern Europe when, within a short time span, I heard announcements for flights to Bucharest, Warsaw, Zagreb, and Kiev.

I found myself paying pretty close attention to the people boarding my Air Lingus flight to Dublin—not because of security concerns, but because I realized that I was going to be living among and working with these people, not just visiting their country as a tourist.  Even though I would be there for only a short time, the distinction seemed an important one to me. The most striking thing I noticed about my traveling companions was that they looked Irish. It wasn’t their hair color or height. It wasn’t their accent, because I really couldn’t hear many people talking. But though indefinable, there was something definitely Irish-looking about them—most of them, anyway.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

On the way to Ireland

So Michael and Nancy have started another adventure.

But first, a little background.

During his last five years at Fidelity, Michael’s Boston-based team worked with a group based in Galway, Ireland. He always enjoyed the working relationships he had with the Ireland team, and he thinks that they liked him because he wasn’t as uptight as the Boston folks.

Last fall, one of the Galway-based Fidelity VPs contacted him and asked if she could arrange a call to discuss a possible consulting project. Sure, he thought, thinking she meant that he would be consulting remotely, since that was mostly how he had worked with them in the past. But during the conference call, when they said they would like Michael to come to Galway, he had to ask if they were serious. After they assured him that they were, he asked how long they had in mind.  Two months, they replied. After taking several deep breaths to slow down his racing heart, he said that he would have to think about it—which he did for 2.5 seconds—and told them it sounded fine.