Epic European Cycle

2015-06-19 : Ring of Kerry
We did the Ring of Kerry tour today. It is the premier tour of the Killarney area. It was pretty nice, but I think Brent and I have been spoiled by amazing scenery in the Rockies, and in Newfoundland, that maybe make this one pale a little bit. It was certainly nice, but it didn't knock my socks off.

What did knock my socks off was the shepherd who demonstrated his Border Collies for us. It is one of the stops on the Ring of Kerry tour, and it was just absolutely amazing. He had two Border Collies and six sheep for the demo. He showed us how, using the dogs, he could easily direct the sheep in any direction, and separate the desired number of sheep from the bunch. It was fascinating to learn that he gives each dog completely different commands for various movements, so your dogs are commanded separately... the dogs do not respond to commands intended for the other dogs. Also, for longer distances, there are companion whistle calls (he has a specialized whistle) that correspond to each verbal command.
Technology is a wonderful thing... when it works properly. I have been relying heavily on certain web sites, particularly for finding and booking accommodation and travel. Brent and I decided that we would probably do Ring of Kerry today and then head up to Sligo tomorrow, and when we got up this morning, the sky and forecast agreed with that plan. The problem was, though, I couldn't figure out how to get us up to Sligo on the bus. Irish Rail's web site was working fine, and I could see that, for E70/ea (I think), we could go to Sligo by way of Dublin (crossing the country twice), leaving around 9:30 and arriving around 6PM. I'd used the Voyage Planner of Bus √Čireann a few times to research possible bus trips. This morning, the Voyage Planner was having none of me. Every time I tried to search out a voyage I got the message "your search could not be saved internally". Damned web site bug. I tried several times. Waited an hour and tried again. Got Brent to try. Just no love at all. I figured that, since the bus wouldn't have to cross the country twice, it might be faster, and I was pretty certain it would be considerably cheaper, but without studying and deciphering individual bus routes and schedules, we couldn't figure out a route. We thought we'd stop by the bus station on our way to our tour this morning, but it turned out we didn't have time. We thought we'd stop by the bus station right after our tour this afternoon, but we were a little late getting back to town and the bus station would be closed. When I finally got onto internet again, the Bus √Čireann Voyage Planner was working properly again and I successfully booked our voyage (which did, indeed, save us some money... but not time).
One of the points of interest on our tour today was the "Silent Valley". Our guide talked about how all the people in the valley died (or left) during the famine, even though they were very close to the ocean. They didn't fish because their landlord owned the fishing rights and being caught with a fish there would result in being sent to Australia. So people starved to death instead. Brutal. I can't find any information online about this, other than this Famine in Kerry page.

2015-06-20 : Bus to Sligo
We've used trains a few times since arriving in Europe, and they've been pretty positive experiences. Today was our first time on a bus of any duration, and it was, as one would expect, a little more "eventful" than a train ride. I don't know what it is with busses... but they're always interesting. I particularly enjoyed the couple who came on with their brood of feral "five under ten" children. Their accent was so thick that I was sure they were speaking Gaelic at first, but eventually I realized they were speaking English. Dad was clearly in charge of the kids... all of the pleas for attention were directed at him. Then, once they departed, we got the old fella who sat up at the front of the bus... when he was finally able to sit. He couldn't maneuver into his seat... he kept doing a funny bob up and down thing. Finally another passenger went up to help him. Apparently his pants were pretty much off by the time he sat down (Brent could see... I couldn't). A few minutes later, I'm sure I could smell poop on the bus, but thankfully it cleared up. Ah, bus travel. You gotta love it.
All over Ireland you see small parcels of land divided by stone fences. Our bus driver on the Ring of Kerry yesterday said that when the Celts arrived here, they found the land full of rocks... everywhere. So, in clearing the land, they used the rocks to construct the stone fences. They make really neat little pastures everywhere.

2015-06-21 : Day in Sligo
Today was a cold, rainy and windy day. A perfect day to take a day off. And, by "a day off", I mean, three hours on the computer planning and booking our travel and accommodation up until we reach Glasgow, then a bus out to Strandhill and a walk on the cold, windy and rainy beach, then bus back to Sligo to watch San Andreas, then back to the hostel to peck at the computer again for a while. San Andreas was everything I dreamed it would be... the gaping holes in the physics of... well... EVERYTHING in the film were brilliant and have given Brent and I lots to discuss as we rip it apart.

2015-06-22 : To Derry
Pretty low key day today. Had a walk around Sligo, took the bus to Derry, had a preview walk around the Derry city walls. Watched Fast and the Furious 7 with a couple of German students. Looking forward to the guided tour of the walls tomorrow, and more walking and exploring.
I wrote new lyrics today for Kingston Trio's "MTA". Their lyrics.

My lyrics:

Well let me tell you of a story
Of a wife named Rhonda
A tale to strike your heart with fear
Brent said I'll get a sandwich
You go find some hummous
And I'll meet you right back here

Well, did she ever return?
No, she never returned
And her fate is still unlearned
She will search forever
Through the shelves of Tesco
She's the wife who never returned

Rhonda searched up this aisle
And she looked down that aisle
Searching the confections and foods
But the hummous was hidden
In a separate room
Beyond the paper goods


Husband Brent is a man
Of infinite patience
He followed his mother's view
"If I'm not there in five minutes
Just wait longer"
But he pondered dialing 1-1-2


Now citizens of Sligo
Don't you think it's just crazy
How your Tesco store is layed out
You will never find some hummous
In the refrigerated aisles
You'll just endlessly search about


2015-06-23 : Day in Derry
"Ooooooh, Derry is a walled city," I said. "I like walled cities," I said. "Let's go spend a day in Derry and have a look around. It will be neat!" I said. I had no idea that Derry was so pivotal in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement, and I had no idea of everything that went on here. Today, I was enlightened. We went on the Martin McCrossan walking tour, which took us around the 1.5km of city walls and discovered the walls and some history of Derry. Then, we went to the Free Derry Museum, and went on on their walking tour of Bogside.

The part of Derry on the west side of the Foyle is called the City Side. It is mostly Catholic. The part on the east side is called Waterside and it is about 50/50 Catholic and Protestant. There is one tiny neighborhood, called Fountain Estate, on the City Side, which is Protestant. It is surrounded by a fence, and residents feel that they are still under seige. Aside from that, the city seems to have moved on rather well from everything its been through, and Bogside, aside from all the murals and monuments, is just a normal neighborhood now, rather than the site of "recreational rioting", and Bloody Sunday.

There were some things going on in Northern Ireland in the late 60's and early 70's that most people, even citizens of the UK outside of Northern Ireland, didn't know about. Two of the things that contributed to the "troubles" were the lack of a "one man one vote" system, and the internment practices. Of course, in the UK, they have a "one man one vote" system, so people assumed it was the same in Northern Ireland, but it wasn't. Instead, voting was restricted to property owners. A property owner could have a maximum of six votes. The wealthy, who owned multiple properties (mainly Protestant) could vote up to six times. In the Catholic population, it was common to have multi-generational homes, and/or multi-family homes, with several adults in them, but only one person - the property owner - could vote. The march which became Bloody Sunday was a peaceful protest against internment. Soldiers fired on, and killed, several unarmed people, but then claimed that they were carrying guns and/or bombs when they were shot. The first inquiry into the incident blamed the victims for it. A second inquiry, the Saville report, was released in 2010. The report found that all of those shot were unarmed, and that the killings were both "unjustified and unjustifiable." Today, Brent and I walked Bogside, and stood in the places of Bloody Sunday, including the two "bottlenecks" where fleeing people were shot. It was really powerful. Our host at the Free Derry museum's younger brother was killed in Bloody Sunday. Our Free Derry walking tour guide had spent time as a political prisoner.
Bloody Sunday
Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.
From Brent: Derry was good. We walked the city walls and learned some of the history of the place. In some ways it was a bit scary because the history here is very recent history. I remember watching the riots on the news and seeing the tanks in the streets. Everything seems quite calm and civil now except for a neighbourhood of about 200 houses called The Fountain. They have the remains of a "peace fence" around the area and a monument that proclams 'After 300 years of siege, Still No Surrender.' I wonder if anybody told them that their side won 300 years ago. The city they live in is what victory looks like.

2015-06-24 : Bus to Clones
Today we finally did what we came to Ireland for - visited Clones (the town that Brent's grandfather was from).

The story, as I understand it, is that grandfather won a couple of pubs in Clones in a poker game. The pubs were called Carrons and The Bursted Sofa. Carrons hasn't existed for a long time, but The Bursted Sofa existed until just a few years ago. When Doug and Susan (Brent's sibs) were here 25 years ago, they visited that one. Apparently the lease holders stopped paying rent when Brent's dad died, but Brent's mom still technically holds the titles to the properties.

Clones is a border town, just south of Northern Ireland in the county of Monaghan. We came yesterday by bus. Clones is a withering little town. It's very pleasant to look at, and has some great buildings, but it also has a large meat processing plant (probably the town's main employer) which puts an ungodly stench over the whole place. There are "for sale" and "for rent" signs everywhere.

When we got off the bus, we walked up the hill toward town center, and immediately, Brent spotted a property that he thought was The Bursted Sofa. A lady came out of the beauty salon next door and confirmed that The Bursted Sofa had been next door. It was closed up and had "The Stag's Head Bar Lounge" on the window. We're not sure if it was the Stag's Head before or after the Bursted Sofa. Up the same street was our B&B, the Cuil Darach (pronounced cool darrah). Our "tour guide" (the beauty salon lady) pointed it out, and also told us that we should go find George Knight who lives around the corner as he's somewhat of a historian for the town. We stopped up at the Cuil Darach and dropped off our luggage and then went to explore. The Cuil Darach is right on the Diamond (a name given to the town centre of a lot of towns in Ireland), and so is the Church of Ireland. We walked down another road heading out from the Diamond and ended up finding the stinky ABP meat processing plant, and the Wee Abby and its graveyard. Then, back at the Diamond, we talked to another lady who pointed out the exact house for George Knight, so we went a knockin'. He came out and talked for a couple of minutes. He had never heard of the Stephens family in Clones (not surprising since Brent thinks his grandfather was the last member of the family to leave about 100 years ago). He told us what building Carrons had been in. He speculated that granddad was probably Presbyterian (which Brent suspected as well) and told us where to find the Presbyterian church and advised that the Presbyterian cemetary is 1-2 miles out of town. We went back down to Carrons, which is now a house, and which we'd walked past before, then down to the Presbyterian church in the opposite direction. In the town office next door, a man told Brent better directions for the Presbyterian cemetary (directly opposite ABP... d'oh!), so we walked back down there, and then over to the Famine and Workhouse Cemetary. No Stephenses anywhere.

There's a geneaology center in town, which wasn't open today, but will be open tomorrow, so Brent's next thought was to knock off for the day and then go there tomorrow. I wanted to go past the library in hopes of finding some WiFi (Cuil Darach doesn't have any), and maybe some town history information. So, we headed down there, and I got some WiFi and with help from the resident historian, Brent found some town death records, including who he thinks was his great-grandfather, and then a geneology web site that had census records for 1901 and 1911 which included some records for Stephenses (and through which we discovered, the Stephenses belonged to the Church of Ireland).

The Cuil Darach is a really nice place. There are three portions to the establishment - a bar, a lounge, and the B&B. They're all beautiful, full of lovely old dark-brown things, and spotless. Not a speck of dust on anything, in spite of the large number of old dark-brown things. The proprietor is a great old no-nonsense fella. Loved him, but not quite as much as I loved his Blue Cheese and Bacon Burger.

2015-06-25 : Bus to Belfast
Our main stop for today was the Cassandra Hand Centre where we had a nice long chat with Josephine, who runs the centre. The historian, Mary, wasn't there, but she took what information we had and said she'd get Mary to get back to us. Josephine also dispelled a myth that I had developed in my head. The stench over Clones, thankfully, isn't from the meat packing plant, nor is it a permanent fixture of the town. It is here now only because of the farmers spreading slurry for fertilization. Thank goodness!

Josephine also told us that Clones is trying to reinvent itself as a sporting destination for tourism, which is really great. There's more hope for Clones than I thought!
We have been away, now, for eight weeks, going where we want and doing what we want when we want. Tomorrow we'll be journeying over to Glasgow to meet up with Dawn for a whirlwind tour of Scotland, and then two days later we'll meet up with Beth for a whirlwind tour of England, and then two days later we'll meet up with Laura and Gabi to ride the Danube Cycle Trail from Donaueschingen to Budapest where we'll meet up with Michelle for a whirlwind tour of Budapest. Altogether, our time with friends will be about eight weeks. I'm excited and a little trepidatious.

2015-06-26 : Journey to Glasgow
I thought the journey from Belfast to Glasgow would be long and wretched, but it turned out to be pretty fast and straight-forward. I thought we would bus to the ferry, then ferry, then bus to the next town, then train to Glasgow. It was easier than that. We did taxi to the ferry, then ferry, then bus direct to Glasgow from ferry terminal. Good thing. Brent has been fighting something off for a couple days, and is succumbing, and now I feel like I'm coming down with something. We're holed up in our guest house with Lemsip (Neo Citron) and the TV. Hopefully we're all better by the time Dawn arrives tomorrow.

2015-06-27 : Glasgow to Callander with Dawn
We met up with Dawn today. It's the first time I've seen her in about 8 years. How exciting! I'm so happy she decided to join us in Scotland! She arrived in Edinburgh via Chicago this morning. Brent and I had stayed in Glasgow. Dawn was going to come pick us up and we were headed for Callander, but when I looked at it, I realized that it was probably easier for everyone if we met up in Stirling, so we took the train from Glasgow, and Dawn drove from Edinburgh, and we met in Stirling, went to the Stirling Castle, and then drove on to Callander.
Brent and I have been "rationing" our castle visits to one "paid" castle per country. When we went to Stirling Castle with Dawn, though, we discussed getting a "pass" to visit multiple castles. We ended up buying the "three days out of five" pass for L30/ea, which lets us visit as many castles as we want, on three days out of the five days starting from when you buy the pass. We'll be storming the castles! Woo hoo!

2015-06-28 : Scenic Train to Mallaig with Dawn
Our hotel last night included breakfast. When we checked in, we told the guy that we'd be leaving too early to have breakfast. He asked what time we'd be leaving, and if we'd like him to pack us some bag lunches that we could take along in the morning. It was REALLY sweet! He offered to make us ham and cheese sandwiches. When we opened up the lunches we discovered... a ham sandwich... and a cheese sandwich... each. Funny!!
We took the scenic (steam) train from Fort William to Mallaig today. It was something I wanted to do again. I'd done it 7.5 years ago when I was here, but the weather was yucky and I had a back injury so I didn't get as much out of it as I could have. After researching and booking, though, I realized that I remembered it wrong... when I was here, I didn't get to Mallaig. I went round-trip from Glasgow to Oban. So, the trip from Fort William to Mallaig was completely new to me, which was really cool!

When we got to Mallaig, we had time to do the "Circular Walk", which takes you up onto the hill behind the town, then down along the waterfront back to the town. The forecast for today was rainy all day, but it was actually really nice and only rained a little!
After the train ride, we decided that since we're really close to Loch Ness, we'd drive over and have a look. The nearest town on the Loch to us was Fort Augustus so we drove there. Dawn got us a great free walking map which pointed out the best viewing point for Loch Ness, so we walked down there, got some pics, and then headed back to town for dinner.

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