Friday, October 17, 2014

Ruins in Ireland

One of the most prevalent things you'll find in Ireland is ruins of castles and churches with a few neolithic ruins mixed in. I think the DH may have had his fill by the time we were done, but we really did love seeing all of the ruins.

We had an amazing tour guide, our friend Liz who is living in Ireland for two years. She knew all the cool places and how to find ones she hadn't been to before.

The Priory of St. John the Baptist
Our first ruins were ones that we just happened upon. The Priory of St. John the Baptist was a hospital founded in the 13th century by the Crutched Friars. There was clearly a chapel there, but also rooms that would have served for taking care of the sick.

One of the advantages of going to this ruin was that we were the only ones there. By going off the beaten path, we weren't seeing any other tourists. Also, since it's not a tourist site, there were no ropes or gates keeping us from going anywhere in the ruins. Common sense (aka my fear of heights) kept me from some of the areas, but we really did have free reign there.

Trim Castle
Our next stop was Trim Castle. This one is a tourist attraction, so it included many other people and a guided tour. It's claim to fame is that Braveheart was filmed here. I found it pretty funny considering the movie is all about Scotland and England. Patrick was most amused at the man selling entrance tickets and asking everyone to put their gum in the trash.

The area includes the mail castle and several other ruins around the castle. They also had a castle tour. The photo above is a view from the back of the castle. Over to the right, you can see the stairs into the castle. We started our tour at those steps. The tour guide told us all about the history of the castle and some interesting tidbits about castle life in the middle ages. We were grateful for modern conveniences like toilets and clean clothes after learning that they would hang the clothes over the place where the human waste was so the ammonia would get rid of the lice on the clothes. We were also reminded that when everyone stinks, you just quit smelling it.

The tour took us to the very top of the castle, so we could enjoy the amazing views of the countryside from there. It really was quite spectacular and we were there on a beautiful day.
 The outer buildings were interesting as well and we enjoyed the stroll around the grounds.

Neolithic Tombs
Our next stop was the neolithic tombs, but we found out that they had already sold all the tickets for the day, so we missed it. We enjoyed the drive though and one of the docents gave us some great tips on other places to look for that afternoon.

St. Mary's Abbey in Duleek
We were told that Duleek Abbey would be a great place to see more Celtic crosses and ruins. The only catch is that it's not called Duleek Abbey. We had a little bit of a time finding it, but it was well worth it once we got there. There was quite a lot of intact ruins, easy to walk and climb around, and there were some teenagers hanging out drinking in the area. One of the things we noticed here and in many places in Ireland is how much littering there is. In a public place like St. Mary's Abbey, we would expect it to be very clean, but that's not the case there. It was actually a little shocking.

We loved the carvings, the headstones, and the bell tower. We also enjoyed talking to the girls that were surprised to meet "real Americans" at the Abbey.
You can see some of the carvings at the bottom of the picture above and in the picture below. Apparently, it's quite rare for carvings to be left out like this. They're often taken in to regular churches or museums to be protected from the elements.

The girls that were surprised to meet "real Americans" were behind the cross above. I didn't get their picture, but they were very entertained by us.
It's difficult to see, but there's even still a bell in the tower. It's near the top right in the tower in the picture.

Monaster Boice
We had to go see the celtic crosses at Monaster Boice. This is where some of the largest ancient celtic crosses are found. They're all in the cemetery of the church. We were pretty impressed.

This gives you an idea of how large the cross is. Patrick is over 6', so it's probably 20' tall at least. It was difficult to tell what all the carvings were because they've worn down in the weather over the centuries.

And this is an example of one of my favorite things. It's a stile. (You go through turn stiles all the time, but this is just a regular stile.) They don't want the cows and sheep going into the cemetery, so there's a wall around it, and this stile so people can climb over the wall to get in. We went over several of these on our trip.

Mellifont Abbey
Our next stop was Mellifont Abbey and it was one of the largest of the ruins we saw. The original church had clearly been quite large. I also found this to be one of the most beautiful ruins. I just loved it.

We had a great time looking around and exploring the area.

Skryne Tower
Our last stop for the night was Skryne Tower since it was getting dark. The views were lovely and we watched the sun set here.
View from the top of the hill by Skryne Tower.

Skryne Tower with the sun setting behind it.

After the sun had set, we headed through a stile to leave and ran into a local gentleman who was also delighted to meet Americans. He was a bit lit and went on and on about every conspiracy theory in America. It was hysterical and rather delightful to hear him go on. He talked about those folks who bombed Iraq as "toting bananas" among others that he thought fit that description. We were entertained for quite some time before we all moved on.

... and that was our second day in Ireland.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Driving on the Left (WRONG) Side of the Road

So, the DH and I spent 12 days in Ireland and I think it was the best vacation I've ever been on. However, the biggest concern I had before we left was that I would be in charge of driving a rental car for the duration of our trip. I tried to imagine what it would be like, but I just couldn't get my head around it.

Once we go the rental car, I was completely on edge, telling myself over and over to stay on the left (stay on the left, stay on the left) over and over. Patrick was tasked with staying alert and making sure I stayed in my lane as well.

What I did not anticipate was how difficult it would be to gauge where I was in relation to the far left side of the car (and the cars parked along that side of the road). There's a reason that the left side of every immigrant's car is scratched up in Ireland. It's also the reason that rental car companies do not let you opt out of insurance coverage. I think it took almost a week before feeling like I really knew how close I was to the parked cars on the left. I don't remember having to learn this when I started driving, but I assume that I did. Maybe everything was so new at that point that I just didn't identify that particular part of the newness.

Our first week was spent in Dublin with only a little driving between our guest house and our friend's house, which was only about three miles. Once we left Dublin, it was real driving every day.

For anyone planning a trip to Ireland or the UK, don't be too afraid of the driving. It's not too difficult to get the hang of it, as long as you keep thinking about it. I also recommend public transportation in the bigger cities. The problem with Ireland is that there aren't great connections to get to smaller towns if you don't have a car. And you have to see the beauty of the countryside. It is not to be missed.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Mac 'n' Cheese

We went to the church potluck today and I took homemade Mac 'n' Cheese. It's an old favorite, so I'm inclined to share it with you. Modified from an old Martha Stewart stand-by.

Macaroni and Cheese

6 tablespoons butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
2 teaspoons kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 cups grated cheese (you can use a variety of cheeses or all sharp cheddar)
1 pound elbow macaroni
½ cup plain bread crumbs

Serves 12.
You can easily divide this recipe in half; use an 8x8 pan if you do.

Heat the oven to 375°. Cook macaroni al dente.

Melt butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Slowly pour milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 5 cups cheese.

Stir cooked macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.

Pour the mixture into a 9x13 pan. Sprinkle remaining 1 cup cheese and scatter bread crumbs over the top. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes; serve.