One of my favorite things about visiting new places is the scent. Elba Island smells like basil and jasmine. Downtown Vicenza is espresso and brioche. Salzburg is wood smoke and coffee. Istanbul is pipe smoke and spices. Yes, there’s some stench, too, but I prefer to focus upon the good. Based on this fact, it’s probably not surprising that one of the destinations topping my to-do list in France was Fragonard Parfumeur. I’ll be totally up front and tell you that the kids hated it. Eddie wound up taking them out to play near the giant tree out front before we made it halfway. I, on the other hand, had a great time and actually learned so much about fragrance.
I have a love/hate relationship with the map you can access on the seatback TV screen during international flights. It is nice to track your progress, but on eight, ten, twelve (or more)-hour flights, it becomes maddening. Really? We haven’t crossed the entire Atlantic Ocean yet?? As I watched us close in on Italy last May, I began seeing Ljubljana just east. I’ll admit that I had no idea how to pronounce it (Loob-lee-yahn-yuh is pretty close) and I really didn’t know where it was. Fast forward a few days. I looked over the Army MWR calendar and saw a scheduled trip to (you guessed it) Ljubljana, Slovenia. I booked all four of us because…why not? Continue reading
Sometimes travel can be a series of crapshoots. As we found out during our trip to Skerries, all the great reviews in the world can still net you some cruddy experiences. County Clare Ireland was nothing but fabulous from start to finish, I am happy to say. Through a series of Google searches, I found that many Irish venues offered Easter weekend events for families. The two-day Craggaunowen and Bunratty Folk Park ticket sounded perfect, so we searched for nearby lodging. Another search brought me to Cahergal Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast. The reviews were great, Google Maps showed me it was close to both venues, and their website mentioned that they offered horseback riding (a major draw for my 6-year-old).
To fully appreciate how good this part of the trip was, you have to know that (1) I typically hate bed & breakfast lodgings and (2) high-end department stores are my thing, not working farms. We landed in Dublin early on a Saturday morning, moved our suitcases into a Citroen Berlingo (the horror at first), then shot off west to the farm.
Cahergal Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast
Owned by Michael and Noreen McInerney, Cahergal is a 100-acre working horse, sheep, and cattle farm located in the heart of Newmarket-on-Fergus. They literally don’t have an address. We used Google Maps to get close, then followed signs to the tree-lined drive. Noreen greeted us with brown scones coated with creamy butter and jam, as well as a pot of hot tea. Our room was roomy and comfortable; the bathroom shower was consistently hot with decent pressure. When showing us the room, Noreen mentioned that the master bed was a queen. Honestly, it was closer to the size of our king at home. Little Harper co-sleeps with us most of the time, so we had plenty of room for 2 1/2 in the big bed. Zoey’s twin bed was termed a cot but it was also extremely comfortable. Honestly, though, the farm itself was the star of the show. Even in early April, the grass was emerald green and dotted with beds of yellow daffodils. Just driving onto the property, we heard cows moo-ing. It was just quintessentially Ireland.
Being spring, baby animals were a fixture at Cahergal. Michael was so kind to let us bring both girls out to the barns. It was almost comical how unprepared I was. I literally walked into a barn stall with over-the-knee boots and a leopard coat. I promise that I’m not usually that…I know there’s some derogatory term to describe that. I was timid; we brought two boisterous girls into a stall with five delicate newborn sheep. Michael, on the other hand, took one look at Zoey and started filling her arms with warm, wooly lamb. As I watched her fumble, I went into total panic mode. Not Michael. He started folding that baby up into her arms and told me loudly “No worrying. Take pictures.” Next up was the side of the barn with pregnant cows moo-ing for their breakfast. Michael handed Zoey a pitchfork (inciting fear in my heart) and showed her how to rake silage toward the eager mouths of five hungry post-partum cows, two pregnant cows, and one really eager new bull. Even when she nearly poked the pitchfork into a soft nose, Michael was totally cool.
On another day, one of Noreen and Michael’s adult sons took all the guests on a trek though the fields. The sheep and cows wanted to keep their space…especially from the eager 6-year-old, yet this was so much fun. Noreen took pity on me and gave me her boots to wear through the field so I wouldn’t sully my poor choice of packed footwear. It was just such a great experience. None of us were ready to go on a real horseback ride but Zoey was allowed to take a short escorted ride on one of the farm’s horses. Again, Noreen’s son kindly took her on this “ride,” which absolutely thrilled her.
And after all this, I’ve neglected to talk about the “breakfast” part of bed and breakfast. I’m by no means a vegetarian but bacon and sausage and ham and eggs…not my speed. I figured “when in Ireland…” and just decided to eat what Noreen cooked. (She did provide a wide array of cereals and breads, too.) My traditional Irish breakfast included a fried egg, two slices of bacon (what we called country ham back in Missouri), two sausage links, white and black pudding, and toast. I tried it all. That Noreen…she’s a great cook. Admittedly, I was most drawn to her pumpkin seed brown soda bread but…BUT…I actually liked all of it. The black pudding (made of congealed blood) was a little too much for me to wrap my head around. I did taste it but left it at that. The white pudding was awesome. I wound up eating an Irish breakfast each morning that we were there, then found that no one’s breakfast compared to Noreen’s after we left.
Cahergal was such a great experience, I felt it was worthy of an entire post. Check back for more on our trip to County Clare Ireland. And if you want to make reservations with Noreen and Michael, make sure you visit their site: cahergal.com.
So…Skerries Ireland. Haven’t heard of it? Neither had I. We were looking for one more place to visit before flying back to Italy, read about the Skerries Windmills, and decided that was as good a place as any. Skerries is a seaside village just outside of Dublin. We had a rental car and drove it in about half an hour, but I have heard it’s quite easy to get public transportation from Dublin to the Skerries station.
Things to do in Skerries Ireland
After a week in Ireland, this was one of our favorite attractions. Traveling with two very small kids, we were constantly in search of spots that were appealing to adults but kid-friendly. I thought this was an iffy pick; turns out it was perfect. Although I didn’t see any signs of active flour milling, the self-guided tour (€12 for a family) allows you to see the fully-functional mill. Once we made it through the various rooms in the millhouse, the reception person came through and turned on the wheel, allowing us to re-visit the mill’s rooms to see everything in action. Once exiting the mill, visitors are allowed to walk the fields to see the small and large windmills.
After freezing outdoors, it was a real treat to come back to the millhouse for warm drinks at the Watermill Cafe. Although we only chose a pot of tea for ourselves and hot cocoa for our 6-year-old, the cafe served really delicious-looking scones, pastries, and sandwiches. And they do have a liquor license, so Irish coffees are ready to go in seconds.
Especially with a small market outside, there were plenty of opportunities to shop at Skerries Mills. The gift shop had oodles of made-in-Ireland items like pottery, woolens, jewelry, and flour (duh…it’s a flour mill). The market in the courtyard seems to be new. There were very few vendors that Saturday morning but I have a feeling it’s growing based upon the fact that their ramping up their social media efforts.
I love a good castle in ruins. My kids, however, prefer the fully-restored variety. For this reason, we figured Ardgillan Castle was a good bet. As it turned out, they weren’t giving tours of the actual castle that day. We still managed to make the best out of the visit. The tea room is the spot where the tours begin. Since it was lunchtime and tours were out, we decided to grab lunch there. The sitting-rooms-turned-dining-rooms were pretty. The period decor was busy enough to keep the kids entertained–nothing was drab or boring. They had highchairs, too, which was a major bonus. Sans tour, we headed back out to see the grounds. Early spring is probably not the best time to view the walled gardens. There were plenty of blooming flowerbeds but the gardens appeared to be geared toward mid-summer-bloomers. The view of the sea was breathtaking. Perhaps the real winner here, though, was the huge play area. The playground was divided into an area for little ones and an area for big kids. It was perfect for letting the kids run out some energy.
The biggest “bust” of the day was our Bed & Breakfast. Despite its great reviews, it was terrible. The bedroom looked clean enough but the rest of the house was nasty. It was so bad, we paid half a night’s stay to get out of there and booked a room at Maldron Dublin Airport. Maldron was a little overpriced but it’s a 5 minute shuttle to Terminal 2 at the airport. Most importantly, the Maldron was clean.
As a whole, I wouldn’t skip someplace like the Cliffs of Moher or Rock of Cashel for Skerries, but if time permits and you have little ones, Skerries might be worth your time. Especially in the summer months when sea breezes don’t lead to frigid windchills, you could easily spend the day beachcombing.
If you’re traveling to Ireland–especially if you are traveling with kids–check back in the coming days. I will have some other can’t-miss attractions, places, and pubs to discuss. Visit me over on my Facebook page if you have questions or just feel like discussing Skerries Ireland.
I came over to Italy with every intention of documenting our time living in Europe. So far we’ve extensively traveled and have settled into life here, but I haven’t taken any time to document anything. Well, I have obnoxiously photo spammed my Facebook friends with travel shots. The funny thing is that in picking and choosing the “good” photos, I inadvertently led everyone to believe that life as an expat is easy, sophisticated, and perfect. I’m laughing out loud as I type that. You should see my house right now…perfect. Yeah. That’s it. (No, I won’t post a picture of that right now.)
Earlier in the week, I read an article on mpix.com’s blog about Jill Marzion and her Project 365 photo challenge. (Read more about it via the links.) Anyway, I thought it might be fun to participate in the challenge, making my focus something related to the life of an expat in Italy. Some days may feature a jealousy-inducing shot of a day trip to Venice, but I expect most days will offer a glimpse into something that’s mundane here but new and different for the average American. I’ll predominantly post over on my Instagram page. I thought I would kick off my Project 365 with a dedicated blog entry.
So for today, I introduce you to the abomination that is plugging in a dual current electrical device. For the uninitiated, what you’re seeing is a 220v wall plug/light switch combo, a dual-current Chi flat iron in Bubbly Blue (it’s very snazzy), and two converters to make it all work. The whole of Europe operates on 220v, yet nearly every country has a different plug configuration. It’s So. Much. Fun. (Sarcasm)
If you’ve seen The Wizard of Oz, you probably well know the scene where Dorothy walks out of her sepia-tone Kansas farmhouse and witnesses the technicolor vibrancy of Oz. It’s completely unlike anything she’s ever seen and she’s overwhelmed with awe. This was Venice for me last weekend. Truth be told, I’ve never had much interest in Italy, let alone Venice. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m missing the romance gene, so gondola rides with my sweetheart…I gag even writing it. Stepping out of the Venezia San Lucia train station, though, was akin to Dorothy stepping into Oz. The color, the architecture, the buzz of watercraft and people, the surreal blue sky…words just can’t describe it.
Focused so much on getting a map, Eddie was literally head-down, walking with determination and purpose to the ticket and information kiosk. The saying “you can’t see the forest for the trees” was applicable here. “Eddie. EDDIE. You’re missing it. Look.” He nor the girls felt the same way I did, but once we got that damn map, he was ready to see what was in front of him.
Because Venice is an easy day trip from Vicenza–our home base for the next three years–we didn’t bother planning the day. Our goal was to make it to the Piazza San Marco simply because that was as good a goal as any. For future trips, we’ll read up on the history and plan a bit just to know what we’re seeing. In hindsight, it was very relaxing to just see the city organically, to navigate the tiny alleyways and just genuinely feel surprised by what we encountered around each corner. Sometimes, it was a major tourist destination (the Rialto bridge in the second photo below), other times it was just a really cool square or bridge. Still other times, it was a great little pastry place or cafe.
In terms of the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square), it was grander than anything I had imagined. It was hard to choose one focal point. It’s busy and full of kamikaze pigeons (seriously, they’ll flap you in the face totally without provocation), but it’s simply amazing. To think that these buildings have been standing since the late 1400s and 1500s (the youngest being 400 years old), is simply…at the risk of overusing the phrase…awe-inspiring.
With just an hour until our return train trip, we chose to take a ferry back to the station. This was a great way to see Venice from the water. Truly the highlight of my time on the water was watching the gondoliers blow air kisses at Harper. They were completely and utterly stoic–focused, even–until they passed our ferry. At that point, the whole gondola could’ve sunk. Screw the paid passengers, there’s an adorable baby on that ferry. Italians love kids and they seem to really, really adore Harper.
I won’t lie: getting there was much harder than I’d imagined. There are three Venezia (Venice) train stops (if you ever plan to go, it’s Venezia S. Lucia that you want). Also, on the way back to Vicenza, your train will be the Venezia to Verona line (nowhere will it say Vicenza). Venice can also be expensive. Take plenty of Euros or be prepared to find an ATM. We didn’t find many and none of the Italians we encountered could understand “ATM.” Luckily there were some no-fee types just over the Rialto bridge. There’s too much to adequately see in a day, but luckily, we have all the time we need.