Enchanted by Ireland 4

After leaving The Burren, we spent the next day at Bunratty Castle. Now this place was very cool - not castle ruins but a fully intact 15th century castle that was restored in the 1950s.

After lunch at next door Durty Nelly (total tourist trap but not bad), we walked around the castle grounds. There they recreated a medieval village so it was fun to drop by the blacksmith, stables, pig pen, etc. There was even a fairy village - so magical!

We then toured the castle itself and that was well worth the price of admission! The [narrow!] spiral staircases in the stone turrets really transported me to a different time and out on the top ramparts I could survey "my" territory for kms around.

We left Bunratty for afternoon tea at the Savoy in Limerick. The walls were lined with bookshelves so it felt very much like tea in an old library - very charming! Of course I had Guinness with my tea because Ireland!

In the evening we returned to Bunratty Castle for a medieval banquet. We were greeted by harpists, madrigal singers, and mead. Then dinner was right up my alley as there were no utensils! We had soup, ribs, and capon while being serenaded by more singers in period costume. It felt straight out of Game of Thrones!

This marked the end of our time in County Clare but what magical time it was - we must definitely return sometime and tarry longer.


Enchanted by Ireland 3

After our amazing day at the Cliffs of Moher, we took the following day to visit a nearby island, Inis Oírr. In contrast to the previous day's crisp, sunny weather, this day was cold, gray, and drizzly. Visiting a small island in such gray, drizzly weather reminded me of Cairnholm in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. This wasn't the first fantastic literary or film reference that Ireland conjured up for me and it wouldn't be the last.

The ferry we took to the island was called - and I'm not making this up - The Happy Hooker. Upon our arrival we stopped at a (the?) pub for a pint and some biscuitcake to ensure that that we were adequately fortified to walk around the [tiny] island.

Toward one end of the island, the landscape was quite barren, full of smooth rocks with crevasses and rivulets carved out by eons of wind and waves. This landscape seemed almost alien. Still, in a few spots, some green managed to take hold because, after all, Inis Oírr is still in Ireland and that means green!

We happened upon a touching memorial for fisherman who had been lost to sea before walking back to the other end of the island where we explored the ruins of O'Brien Castle. These ruins would have been very fitting for a scene from Highlander but, fortunately, we didn't encounter any immortals intent on decapitating us.

The following morning we went for a run up into The Burren. It was supposed to be a long, steady out-and-back run but, due to the extraordinary picturesqueness of the area it turned into an intervals workout because I had to keep stopping to take pictures and then run quickly to catch up with my running partners!

Only five days into our Ireland trip and we were already hopelessly smitten by this beautiful country!


Enchanted by Ireland 2

A year ago, Katie and I had a magical trip to Ireland. I began blogging about it but never finished. At long last, here is more of the story!

After leaving Galway, we based the next segment of our trip in County Clare, renting a little cottage in Fanore. The cottage was really charming (using peat instead of logs for the fireplace!) and was situated just at the edge of The Burren, which featured very striking landscapes!

We had dinner the first night at a nearby pub, O'Donohue's, where we had more fish n' chips, more beef 'n Guinness stew, and more . . . Guinness! A lovely twilight stroll back to the cottage took us past many pastures full of cattle who were surprisingly scared of us.

The next day was certainly a highlight of the trip. We spent the first half of the day hiking 18.5 km along the Cliffs of Moher. The grass at the tops of the cliffs was so vibrantly green, it was easy to see why Ireland is called "the Emerald Isle." By contrast, the sides of the cliffs that fell so sharply down to the sea were stark gray rock but just as striking to see.

Some of the trails we hiked were quite precarious - very near the edge with a dropoff of hundreds of meters and/or requiring that we leap over open gaps in the path. This was made all the more difficult by very blustery winds that threatened to blow us off the trail. Still, the weather was generally pretty good and the entire hike was so beautiful that we found ourselves stopping every few steps to take pictures.

A neat feature of the Cliffs of Moher is the visitors center, which is essentially an eco-friendly hobbit hole built into the ground! It is accessible by car so, even if you aren't as into hiking as we are, it is well worth a visit.

That afternoon we took a boat along Ireland's west coast to see . . . the Cliffs of Moher! It was really cool to see from below what we had spent the day seeing from above. From this vantage it was easy to recognize them as the Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride. The boat also brought us close to the Branaunmore sea stack that features prominently in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

That night we dined at Monk's in nearby Ballyvaughan (Excellent seafood!) and slept very, very soundly.


Eurotrip with the Bambino

Last week we returned from a week-long trip to Switzerland and Italy - with baby in tow - and it was quite an adventure!

We began our trip with two days in Lausanne. My IMD MBA Class of 2008 was celebrating our 10-year reunion, which means I've now been blogging for more than 10 years too! The reunion was fantastic with well organized activities - social, professional, and educational - and the weather was idyllic for enjoying the beautiful locale outside of the scheduled events.

~40% of our class (plus families) showed up and it was wonderful to see so many dear friends at the site of the "crucible" where our strong bonds were forged. For the first time, though, the joy of our reunion was tempered by those who could not be there. Our class suffered its first loss this year as a classmate died suddenly and several classmates could not attend the reunion due to treatments for cancer or other afflictions. They were dearly missed and it was a reminder to us all of the fragility of life and the need to prioritize the things that really matter.

The reunion continued for four days but we departed after two in order to visit relatives in Italy. We flew to Napoli, rented a car, and drove to Lucera, the small Pugliese town where my relatives live. When we stopped along the highway to pick up a couple of bottles of water for the road, we were pleased to discover that the gas station was offering extremely fresh mozzarella and locals were coming from kilometers around to purchase some. The father-son team who ran the station prepared a couple of sandwiches for us with that fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, and freshly baked bread - not bad for gas station food and definitely #onlyinitalia!

Our three days in Lucera were joyful. We hadn't seen these relatives since our wedding seven years ago so this reunion was long overdue. Additionally, it was a particular joy to introduce them to the next generation of our family since it had been nearly half a century since the arrival of the most recent addition on their side. Our Italian relatives have always been incredibly welcoming of us but, with a bambino now upping the ante, they went into full-on doting mode! Our kiddo was a little off of his usual schedule but there was no shortage of family members lining up for a turn to hold him and settle him down.

We spent some time touring around Lucera - walking around the castle, visiting local churches, and taking pictures at the house where my father was born - but, frankly, most of our time in Lucera was spent eating. I, of course, wouldn't have it any other way! It was a short trip but certainly enough to keep the relationship going between our side of the family and theirs.

I don't know if our son will identify with the Italian side of his family as I have or if he will ever learn Italian; that will be his choice. I am pleased, though, that he spent some days feeling the Italian love and being surrounded by the beautiful, undulating language - not to mention the amazing food - such that the culture will always be at least a small part of him.

We had two full days of travel to return to the States - one day back to Geneva and then the next day back to NC. I'm really, really glad we did this trip, though. It is easy to be intimidated by the prospect of international travel with a little one but we have many friends who, to borrow a popular tag line, just do it. We have been inspired by them (And certainly we have been beneficiaries of their advice!) and now we are pleased to have moved down the experience curve ourselves a bit, hopefully laying the foundations for more adventures in the future! Bon voyage and buon viaggio!!!