Traveling and Learning

May 5, 2022

Fast forward

I’m always surprised how much I learn when traveling from home for a length of time (more than 4 days). The pandemic has slowed down my opportunity to travel but fortunately, I had the chance during two weeks in April. I boarded a plane on April 5 and returned on the 19th and in total I took 5 flights including round trip to Dublin. It was an amazing adventure in the UK, Ireland, and the Netherlands. Most of the time I was with my son, Nicholas, and part of the time I traveled with Central School, South Berwick’s music teacher Kate Smith and her two daughters. Many friends and colleagues asked me to share my trip so this blogpost gives you the highlights along with some of my favorite photos.

DAY 1, Dublin to Northern Ireland, April 6

I landed in Dublin, after a short night from Boston, at 8am. Nicholas was the official driver and adapted quickly, from the opposite side of the car on the opposite side of the road (of what is familiar to Americans).

We headed north to Belfast. Nicholas visited the Titanic Museum while I toured the city to see the many murals that document the stories of the unrest that has gone on for years between the Catholics and Protestants. My guide, Joe, was very knowledgeable and holds George Mitchell (Maine’s past Senator) in high esteem. I’m sure that many of you know Mitchell served as the US Special Envoy for Northern Ireland (1995–2001), appointed by President Clinton and negotiated the peace treaty. Negotiations took place in a church, since it was viewed ‘safe’, and Joe was sure to point it out. We stopped at the four gates that continue to separate the communities. Each day at 6pm three of the gates are closed and not unlocked until morning. The tall fences that separates the two sides are still in place.

The Peace Mural

The troubles still exist but if Joe was any reflection, life will continue to get better for all. He joked with other tour guides along the almost 2 hour tour. At the last mural I took a photo of Joe and another guide, arms around each other, big smiles. When we returned to the car he said “I’m Catholic and he’s Protestant. Things will be better.” He holds such hope!

After a delicious fish and chip lunch we walked along the harbor and headed north to our Airbnb near the Northern Ireland coast. Our hosts were amazing, Mary Jane and Hugh and daughter Katie. We were in a cottage on their sheep farm in Cloyfin – a beautiful view in all directions with lush green farmland. They invited us for meatballs and pasta supper. Katie was working on her senior sculpture project, a huge welded abstract piece. Needless to say, it was fun and we were grateful to be able to relax in their cozy home after a long day.

Day 2, Northern Ireland, April 7

We woke up in our warm cottage to a sky that looked stormy and by 7am the rain was really coming down. So we packed our rain pants and jackets as I remembered my guide Joe in Belfast saying: “if you don’t like the weather at the moment just wait, because in Ireland we have all four seasons in one day.” (Sounds similar to our Maine saying about the weather). Interestingly, not long after we started, the sun came out and stayed for most of our day on the Causeway Coast.

We could see with our first glimpse of the water that it was very windy. We learned later that the wind was blowing 50 miles per hour. Dunluce Magheracross was a quick stop. We could barely open the car doors and walk the 100 feet to the lookout it was so windy. I thought I saw the car lift off the ground on the way back to it.

We headed east to Dunluce Castle which, due to the high winds was free for visitors. The visitors center was well done (educational info) and filled with about 25 grade K and 1 students and their teachers who said it was their first field trip since the start of the pandemic. The castle was built on the edge of a steep crag in the 16th century. Considering it’s age is well preserved and maintained. As we left the castle area, the children were entering and with every gust of wind the children screeched. What a site and sound!

Looking out from Dunluce Castle

We visited a second castle, Dunseverick, which was very different than Dunluce, with only one wall remaining but the setting incredible. The view and lush green invited us to walk high above the water.

Remains of Dunseverick Castle

Giants Causeway was our next stop. The visitors center was very good with demonstrations of how the volcano formed Giants Causeway. In the 1740s it was an artist who was partially responsible for spreading the word of the amazing place. Susanna Drury spent 3 months painting the rock formation. She made two prints from her paintings and they traveled to spread the work of the “astonishing place”. The octagon shaped rocks are a site to behold. With only a 2 meter tide, the salt water preserves the rocks – deep and dark blackness. Climbing from one to the next rock felt like they were intentionally placed just for our fun. Ahhhh… mother natures gifts! The spot was the only location the entire day where we experienced many visitors. We continued on the trail beyond Giants and found few people. The sweep of the ocean views – simply breathtaking, every step of the way. When we weren’t looking at the ocean, we feasted our eyes on the lush green fields filled with sheep including many new borns.

Giants Causeway

Lunch at The Nook, which used to be a school, close by Giants for delicious seafood chowder made with salmon, mussels, cockles, prawns, haddock and brown bread on the side. Sooooo good!!

Onto Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge which, yes, it is a rope bridge, 100 feet above the water. It leads to the fisherman’s island where in 1803 the report read: 82 fishers, 21 salmon fishers 19 fish carriers (it’s about a mile walk to the bridge from the visitors center). Unfortunately, due to high winds, the bridge was closed. Fortunately, we could see the island and imagine the fisherman at work. Sadly the salmon fishery is all but gone.

Carrick-a-Rede Bridge

Our last stop for the afternoon was at the Dark Hedges. One hundred and fifty Beech trees were planted in 1775 by James Stuart to line the entrance to the family home he built. This has been a filming location for HBO’s series Game of Thrones®, representing Kingsroad. The trees are off shoots from the originals and are intertwined and entangled to create a stunning site. A great way to end an amazing day!

Dark Hedges

DAY 3, heading southwest into Ireland, April 8

We woke to hail beating on the cottage windows. In our first hour of driving we went through rain, sleet, hail and snow and we could see snow on the mountain tops in the distance. Not long afterwards the sun came out for the rest of the day.

We stopped in Derry or Londonderry which is a walled city built in the 1500’s. There are amazing political murals throughout. We walked alongside of the wall, through archways and on top of the wall. We were surprised how wide the wall was in some places – enough for two cars.

Onto county Donegal for a stop at Lough Eske Castle for a lovely “afternoon tea” (at noon). We had delicious golden Irish tea, savory sandwiches, pastries and sweet treats. The castle, sculptures, 2D art including photographs were all spectacular. It was fun to learn the ‘proper way’ to drink tea. By the way it doesn’t include extending your pinky finger.

Lough Eske Castle, afternoon tea

On to the Donegal Craft Village which consists of 8 artists studios and shops. My favorite was The Pear in Paper. Artist Lynn and two young woman were making linoleum prints and letterpress cards. They use a treadle base letterpress that was built in 1872. Lynn is self-taught using books and YouTube videos written and created by Americans. The shop, studio, art and conversation were all delightful!

Our next Airbnb named Lignaul Cottage was a 1/2 mile down a small dirt road. Our view again was a field of sheep and it was very quiet. We had a delicious supper at a local pub.

DAY 4, traveling south near the western coast, April 9

We woke to sunshine and yet again a brief rain shower within an hour. It didn’t last long and the day was a warmer, no wind and lots of sunshine. We started the day with a traditional Irish breakfast at Mrs. B’s in Kellybegs. We opted for the smaller version, called the ‘mini’. Afterwards, a walk along the water to see the giant colorful fishing boats and a stop at a very pretty beach for a short walk on our way west.

Traditional Irish breakfast

Onto Slieve League – amazing cliffs above the sea. All along our 30 minute walk to the top we stopped for pictures and for our eyes to absorb the beauty. The great distances on the steep walk were dizzying. We could see to the very top of the cliffs. It resembled Katahdin’s Knifes Edge. In the visitors center we read many stories and mysteries about Slieve League Cliffs, including this one: In the late 1600’s a young girl, Bridget McGinley, was snatched by an eagle and later dropped and she survived. Her grandchildren remember her showing them the scars on her left chest where the eagle held on with his talons.

On the way down this majestic mountainside (200 feet high), Nicholas walked on a piece of land that jutted out in the water. He was but a speck at the furthest point. This was an important area during WWII, pilots depended on the words made out of rocks on the mountain sides and the lookouts that were installed to worn the pilots that the area was neutral territory.

Slieve League Cliffs

Rockwell Kent lived and painted close by in 1926. When he arrived he asked where the most remote place was to live for 2 years. We learned from a couple of Irish hikers that we were fortunate to be at Slieve League with the weather sunny and no wind. They had tried to visit on several occasions with no luck due to the wind and rain.

We spent the afternoon scooting along narrow roads stopping at a beautiful and remote waterfall, admiring the sea, and watching the young lambs play in the grassy knolls.

Our last stop for the day was at Ardara where they make and sell beautiful tweed clothing, hats, and scarfs. The main weaver works on a 300 year old loom and he’s 85 years old. From start to finish it takes 3 weeks to create a batch of capes. I have such an appreciation for the crafters and the process having done some dabbling w the craft in the past. And all of the items absolutely beautiful!

Beautiful cape, Ardara

DAY 5, Donegal to Sligo, April 10

We drove from Donegal to Sligo with two stops. The first was at Eagle’s Rock in County Leitrim. A short path led us to a gate with a walk over ladder or stile, as it’s called. The stone covered road is in fine condition for a hike over commonage. A commonage is land held in common ownership on which 2 or more landowners or farmers, in this case all over Ireland, have grazing rights.

In the distance to our left Eagle Rock loomed up. It was formed about 12,000 years ago by two small glaciers that dug into the mountain’s horizontally-embedded limestone. It was somewhat magical and eerie at the same time with the wind whistling through the cracks and the angle seemed to shift as we walked along. Even more magical were the hundreds of sheep who were slowly moving along eating the grass. They’re everywhere! Each with a dyed spot of blue or pink, to identify the owners. Even the newborns were marked.

Eagle Rock

All day long it looked like the sky would open up dropping rain but it surprisingly remained grey and damp. We stopped at the church and cemetery in Sligo where William Yeats is buried before heading to hike Benbulbin.

Benbulbin is a flat topped mountain in County Sligo. The mountain loomed up as we hiked a trail that circled near the base. The area is well maintained even w what appeared to be clear cutting taking place. We landed at a BandB with a room that looked up at the amazing mountain. And what a surprise to find Maine products in the bathroom. Our very kind BandB owner Maureen had no idea where she got them.


DAY 6, east to Dublin, April 11

Today we drove from the west side of Ireland in Sligo to the east side, Dublin. It took about 3 hours. Dropped our stuff at the Leixlip Manor, dates from 1700, very cool place.

We drove into Dublin, 25 minutes away. First stop was at EPIC which is home to small eating places and shops with the majority being the home of the Irish Emigration Museum. It is very well done. With passport in hand visitors wind their way through several rooms that include the stories of almost 300 Irish people. It includes the history while intertwining the journeys, education, politics, the arts, and much more.

Afterwards we walked and walked through the city viewing flowers, sculptures, and the Irish people themselves. We stopped at the sculpture of Oscar Wilde, walked the Trinity College campus to see other sculptures. Some of the buildings were very ornate with interesting details.

We met a friends granddaughter who is studying in Dublin and had a pleasant visit over supper. Our walk back to the car was pleasant especially walking over the bridge again with the end of day light for our last full day in Ireland. Back to the manor for a short night.

Day is done, Dublin

DAY 7, Flight to Amsterdam, April 12

I was pretty excited especially when I realized my last trip to Amsterdam was in 1975 when I was traveling during spring break. I was at the university in Copenhagen as an exchange student. We spent the day at the Rijksmuseum, mostly to see the Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. Newly cleaned and hanging behind glass. And, there were others that I really love by Johannes Vemeer, Peter Claesz, Van Gogh.

Afterwards we walked along the canals being careful not to step in front of the many, many people on bicycles. We had supper on the canal as we watched the boats go by peacefully. Beet Dutch meatballs called Bitterballens. Ordered them w beets instead of meat. Mmmmm!

DAY 8, a visit to the tulips, WOWZER!, April 13

This day was a dream day! I am so very fortunate to have this adventure and I am doubly grateful for it! I’ve dreamed about walking through the tulips, grateful this dream came true!

We met Nicholas’ friend Pegah who has lived in Amsterdam for many years at the train station to travel 30 minutes out of Amsterdam to see and walk through the tulip fields. The tulip area we went to is in the town of Hillegrom. We walked 20 minutes from the train station to Ruigrok fields and were glad that a young tulip grower created a place where visitors can actually get up close with the tulips. We learned so much about growing tulips, FOR THE BULBS, while speaking to the owner who was a delight! It makes perfect sense that the tulip farmers are not interested in people walking all over their fields. The place was fun as you can probably tell from the photo.

Singing in the tulips

We continued walking another 15 minutes to the center of town and along the way we passed several more fields of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. The smell was amazing as well. We had a lovely lunch and headed back to Amsterdam.

It was a sunny day so took the afternoon and toured the canals by boat learning the history of the canals. Amsterdam is a beautiful city, easy to get around. Fun to watch the people, bike riders, and enjoy the food and art everywhere.

Amsterdam canals seen from the water

It was a wonderful last day with Nicholas. He has been an amazing guide and traveling buddy. I said so long to Amsterdam.

DAY 9, off to England, April 14

I got on an early morning flight from Amsterdam to London and met Kate and Mikayla Smith at the airport. They flew all night from Boston. We hopped on a bus and headed to Oxford where Kate’s daughter Alaina spent the semester. spending two days in Oxford. Oxford has mostly very old structures, some from the 1100’s, and are well cared for. The blending of the new structures w the old is fabulous.

We enjoyed street artists, the old prison, a short walk along the canal, and visiting a couple of shops. The day ended in a traditional English pub with fish and chips!

DAY 10, Oxford, April 15

A delightful day starting with breakfast and morning prayer at a small and amazingly beautiful Catholic Church. I was reminded that it is “American Good Friday”. Soon after we met up with Mik and Alaina and spent much of the day at the Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum. I found both collections impressive and mind boggling, not to mention the physical spaces of each building, attached but separate.

My favorite part of the Museum of Natural History included a show on biodiversity that combined the art of contemporary artist and environmentalist Kurt Jackson and responses of Oxford researchers. Kurt’s art is from locations across the UK. I loved the way the exhibit articulates the importance of the artists observations. His small studies and large paintings are lovely.

One of Kurt Jackson’s art

Walking into Pitt Rivers was like walking into a huge organized antique shop. It has over 500,000 objects from many parts of the world. Three floors full. I loved looking at the patterns on the fabrics, baskets, pottery, masks, tools, dishware, and weapons. And imagining the people wearing and using and creating them. How the people lived each day with their daily rituals and traditions and the stories they told.

The weather is sunny and 68 degrees, so pleasurable walking and seeing buildings and details on doors, fences, streets, and so much more. The day ended at a local restaurant w a beer, local musician singing and playing guitar and in the next room an art closing. The show included paintings created during the pandemic by a woman who is full of energy and a zest for living fully.

Grateful for this amazing day!

DAY 11, Oxford and London, Saturday, April 16

We started the morning with breakfast at a little cafe with a interesting designed pizza oven with outside tables next to the bazaar in Oxford. We visited the Ashmolean Museum, thrilled to see the Camille Pissarro exhibit. Their collection has many of his and those he painted side by side with Claude Monet and Paul Cezanne. He established a group that included 15 artists who were learning together. Pissarro is considered by many the father of Impressionism but what I saw in the show was a ‘learning from each other’ artists-friends community. There was even one Vincent Van Gogh piece and a few by Georges Seurat. The light, color, texture and depiction of the every day lives of ‘regular people’ – spectacular. And the story behind the story was how Pissarro’s wife held the family together and enriched their lives, artists and their 7 children, all artists. Not enough time to explore the rest of the museum, but the collection is enormous. I am so glad we visited.

We headed to London by bus and did some walking to see Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, London eye, flower beds, birds, sculptures, and tons of people everywhere.

Mik, Kate, Alaina

DAY 12, London, Sunday, April 17

Fortunately our apartment for 2 nights was in a location where a short walk led to interesting locations and small surprises. On my way to see Big Ben I saw people looking through a black iron fence. It was the royal band being inspected for the day. Not exactly like Frank inspecting the troops at MASH 4077. Orderly, precision in a relaxed way.

My next surprise was the open and inviting doors to the Royal Military Chapel. I was greeted at the door by a priest who invited me to stay for the Easter service starting in 30 minutes. I thanked him and asked about listening to the choir who was practicing for the morning service. The church was enormous and beautiful but even more so was the sound of the organ and choir. I listened as the priest gave the guard details about where to seat the royal family members in their arrival.

Walked along admiring the beautiful flowers in the park that extends for blocks in front of Buckingham Palace. Big Ben loomed up in front of me as I came onto Parliament Square with elaborate churches and a small park with several monuments. David Lloyd George’s was dramatic. The sound of a bag piper was warming along with the sunshine and 65 degrees. The massive number of people going every which way was mind boggling! In contrast, on the route back to the apartment I took side streets and was struck at the sight of no one.

My last fun surprise of the morning was the sound of the royal band leaving their inspection area and marching to the palace. Stopped at a cafe for brunch and a chance to wonder where people were going as they zipped by.

A highlight of the trip was attending Hamilton at the beautiful Victoria Palace Theater. The best word that describes the performance for me: STUNNING, in every way!! The set, use of stage, costumes, actors, music. What a performance-wow, wow, wow!

Victoria Palace Theater, Hamilton performance

The day was complete with a meal at Its All Greek to Me. Yum!

DAY 13, Monday, April 18

I said so long to Kate, Alaina, and Mikayla and headed to the airport. Today I traveled from Gatwick airport in London to Dublin, Ireland. I took a Bolt ride (no Uber in England) to Blackfriar train station, three stops to Gatwick, flight to Dublin, and I stayed at one of the airport hotels to be close by for my flight home to Boston the next day.

It’s been an incredible journey-sooooooo grateful for every moment! Sooooo happy to be traveling again. Appreciate Nicholas, Kate, Mikayla, and Alaina! The world where I’ve been is definitely opening up once again. Of my 5 flights I only had to show any Covid documentation once. I’m sad knowing my journey is coming to an end but my memories will continue and I’m happy to be headed towards the states. Travel is special to me, from my first trip out of the US in 1973 with my sister Niki to Greece and Egypt, I knew it was something I’d want to continue. I’m soooo grateful for the many travel opportunities I’ve had and all the learning along the way.

One comment

  1. Argy, thanks so much for this engaging narrative. You brought back MANY memories of my visits to NI and the Republic of Ireland, as well as Oxford, London, and Amsterdam. What a great trip and to make such meaningful memories with your son. Thanks Very Much. Charles

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