One Year

Today, I looked at our family photo calendar and realized that next week I need to turn the page.

So I went ahead and peeked at June, and saw this:

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A year. Next month, it will be a year since we left on our adventure. At exactly this time last year, I was in full-on Brain Spin mode. Planning, thinking, worrying…and wondering. Wondering if we could pull it off. Wondering what the rest of the year had in store for us. Wondering if we would be the same or different when we returned.

I often get asked what we would do differently if we were to do it again. Or if we have any regrets.

I do have one regret.

I regret that I haven’t taken the time to really reflect on our 4 1/2 months abroad. That I allowed life to pull us back in so quickly that I haven’t stopped to think about all we did, about how we grew as individuals and as a family.

It hits me once in awhile. And, it’s a pretty cool realization when it does.

For some reason, it often hits me when we’re doing something completely ordinary. Like the dishes. I’ll look over at Hubs at the sink (yep…he actually likes doing dishes, but do NOT ask him to fold laundry), and I’ll think, “Wow. We did it. We really did it.”

Sometimes I’ll say exactly that out loud. The first few times it happened, Hubs looked at me completely confused, “We did what?”

“We actually went abroad for 4 1/2 months. We did it.”

“Um…yes…I know that. I was there.”

The conversation usually stopped there, and now, it just goes like this:

“Wow. We did it. We really did it.”

He doesn’t even ask, but just automatically responds, “Yes, we went abroad for 4 1/2 months. I get it.”

But I know he really does get it. That he knows there is so much more emotion behind those words. That sometimes it’s like I step outside of myself and think, “Man, we REALLY did it!”

This past weekend, a dear friend and her daughters came to visit us. She asked questions about our time in Europe, and she asked if  we were ready to come home by the end of the trip.

Hubs who, ironically, was doing the dishes, said, “No. Honestly, I think we could still be there. We did great, and we could have still kept going.”

Which led us into a conversation about how well the trip went, how the kids have changed, how traveling was actually pretty easy overall.

It led us into a conversation of reflection.

Maybe we need to do the dishes more often.

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Sweet Brussels

Monday night, Hubs was sitting on the couch and asked me, “Would you go to Brussels again?”

“Well, I had been there before we went, and we all had a great time there, but I’m not sure I would need to go again.”

“No, that’s not what I meant. I’m thinking more about the fact that it’s become a hotbed of terrorism. The arrest of the guy connected to Paris a few days ago. So much coming out of Belgium regarding terrorism. If we were planning the trip again, would you go there?”

This was Monday night. Tuesday morning, I woke up to a WhatsApp message from a friend in London – “Bombing in Brussels. Not sure how I feel about going there this weekend.”

My heart broke.

We left Paris exactly two weeks before the terrorist attacks. We didn’t tell the kids about what had happened until a few weeks later when Missa B saw a soccer team on TV wearing “Pray for Paris” shirts. It just seemed too fresh to tell them right away.

Hubs and I have had so many conversations about what would have happened if we had been in Paris two weeks later. Our general consensus is that our reflections on the trip would be completely different. We would have ended on such a different note that it may have tainted the way we saw the trip. Instead of coming home with all of us saying that we were glad to be home, but we could have stayed longer, we probably would have been desperate to get home. And sad. Even sadder than we already are knowing what happened to the city we enjoyed so much, to the people who were so kind to us, and who made us feel at home in Paris.

And now it’s happened again.

I hate the fact that I don’t find time to write until something so horrible, something so soul-shaking happens. Until Hubs and I both grab our phones AGAIN to figure out how close we were to the bombings. Until the kids are asking if we had been to the airport, and we tell them yes — it’s where we picked up our rental car, and they try to remember what it looks like. And we pray that they keep those pictures in their heads, that they aren’t replaced with the ones of blown out windows and floors filled with ceiling tiles that we, as adults, keep seeing all over the media.

We loved Brussels. We loved the fact that every other store was a chocolate store. That the Mannequin Pis was 3 blocks from our apartment.

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The kids could not get over how small the Mannequin Pis is!

We loved that we came to Brussels during the month the Palace was open to the public. And for free! We looked at the pictures of the Royal Family and talked about what it would be like to be a child living in the Palace. We marveled over the fact that one of the ceilings is made out of beetles. Doesn’t seem very Royal-like.

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We walked from our apartment to the Grand Place and back so many times that we lost count. We researched the different buildings so we could figure out what we were seeing. We took the Metro out to the Atomium (which we never learned to pronounce), and we spent hours at Mini-Europe delighted to see miniature versions of places we visited and excited to glimpse those we knew we would be seeing in the coming months.

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Our biggest fear as we took the Metro? Figuring out how to get home when the machine refused to take our credit card, the ticket booth was closed, and we didn’t have enough change to get through the gate. And, as usual, the kindness of strangers came through for us as a group pooled together their change to make sure we got home safely. Because safely at that time didn’t include walking down Metro tracks in a tunnel filled with smoke and bodies.

Would we go back to Brussels? Monday night, I pretty much said no. Tuesday morning, I had to say yes. We would go back to support the city, the country, and the people. To not let others rule our travels because they want us to live in fear.

We would go back for chocolate, fries, a peeing statue, and the chance to say, “We won’t let you win.”

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Taking Off For 4.5 Months: The Money Thing

One thing many people ask is how we managed this financially. I don’t actually find this question offensive, as some worry, because I get it. It seems unattainable, so how do you actually make it work? Based on the number of people who have asked me this, I thought I’d write about our process.

We started planning about two years prior to our departure. One of our first arguments discussions was over how to set aside the money we needed. I wanted to set up a separate account strictly for the trip. Hubs didn’t want another bank account, preferring that the money just be in our savings account. I manage the daily finances, so I won.

I opened a new savings account, labeled it “Sabbatical,” and started saving. I own a small…ok, very small…it’s just me…consulting firm. It’s not enough to support us. Oh, who am I kidding? It couldn’t support us for even 2 weeks, but it does bring in some money. And, both Hubs and I are Adjunct Faculty at our local university.

But we should be living solely off of Hubs’ main salary. So that’s what we did. I took the university paychecks and any money from my consulting gigs and put it into the sabbatical account. If there was any extra money that came in from bonuses or tax refunds (yeah, right), I put that away too. And I swore that I would not touch it.

And then I looked for a credit card that had no international fees as I knew we could waste a ton of money on fees alone. I highly recommend the Bank of America Travel Rewards card — no annual fee, no international fees, and a great rewards program.

And then I nickel and dimed the heck out of lodging. I actually drove myself a bit crazy trying to find the best deals. I would have 10 webpages open: comparing prices; looking up TripAdvisor reviews; figuring out bedding options; getting into such minutiae that by the time I resurfaced, I would find that I was 200 miles from the original location I was considering. Finally, I gave up and tried to do bookings with the most generous cancellation policies possible so that when I had time, I could do more research and change the bookings. For the record, I never did change them (well, except once in Belgium, and that is fodder for a different post).

Did we set a budget? No, we actually didn’t. We figured out the major things such as flights, rental cars, trains, and lodging, and then we estimated the rest of the costs. We calculated in the fact that certain expenses don’t go away: we would still have a mortgage (although we did amazingly end up with renters for 4 months); still pay car insurance (which we were able to reduce significantly for the time we were gone); and we would be paying for medical insurance as we considered that critical. We came up with a VERY approximate figure of what we needed, and realized we could manage it as long as we stayed close to that number. We knew that if we stuck to a strict budget, we would be continuously stressed out and not enjoying the experience the way we planned. And, honestly, in the back of my mind, I figured I would either ramp up the consulting or go back to part-time work if I needed to when we returned. To me, it was worth it.

The one thing we also decided was that we wouldn’t go crazy on souvenirs. We planned for our pictures to be our most precious souvenirs, and decided we would buy a few things along the way if they really called to us.

One of the things we did worry about, however, was the kids. We assumed they would want 1,000,000 souvenirs, and we weren’t really sure how to manage that. So, we talked through it as a family. The kids had saved a fair amount of money, and they were also given some money for the trip by special family members. We explained to them that their savings would count for the bulk of their souvenir money, and that they would still receive allowance on the trip.

Little did we know what an amazing decision that would be. We gave each kiddo a journal for the trip. At the back of the journal, we had them start a ledger. They put in the amount of their savings accounts in dollars. When we arrived in England, we took the current exchange rate and helped them do the conversion. Each Sunday, we had them add in their allowance. And, when we became desperate, we instituted a 1 Pound (later to become 1 Euro) sleeping bonus for each night they went straight to bed. We continuously reminded them that those sleeping bonuses weekly added up to even more than their allowance. I think I would have paid almost anything for peaceful sleep.

So, what did they subtract from this ledger? I do have to say that once in awhile, they subtracted a Pound or a Euro due to sheer brattiness. I actually, in one of my better parenting moments, tried to take away 50 Euros from Missa B, but Hubs decided I probably just needed to eat and would then be more rational, so he overruled me and doled out a much more reasonable consequence (thank you, Hubs!)

And, the kids subtracted their souvenirs. We agreed to pay for all postcards and additional journals if needed (Missa B filled up three), but informed them that they would be paying for all additional souvenirs. This is a page from J’s journal:

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The “math” lines are to correct for math errors after we went back and did monthly balancing. 

Best decision we ever made. Not ONCE did either kiddo ever beg for a souvenir. They went into stores carefully evaluating their options to figure out how they wanted to spend their money. They never asked us to buy them anything because they knew that wasn’t how it was going to work on this trip. And they made amazing decisions. Missa B decided to collect bookmarks, so she always looked to find special ones at the sights we visited. JJ decided he wanted magnets, and he found amazing ones along the way. They also bought larger souvenirs at special spots, but they were really conscious about their choices, and we were so proud of them.

And SO relieved we were not constantly having to say “No”. We ended up being willing to go into almost any souvenir store they asked to visit because we knew it would be a pleasant experience.

We also agreed we would pay to send souvenirs home. Didn’t budget for that one, but man, we should have! It costs SO much to send things overseas! But, traveling lightly was key for us, and that meant sending souvenirs home.

So, now we’re back. We all have souvenirs we love; we have literally thousands of pictures; and we have tons of happy memories. And soon, we hope to once again have a savings account.

 

Top 15 Things We Learned in Southern France

Once we had finally arrived safely at our B&B in Antibes and had a good night’s sleep, we were ready to spend the next 10 days exploring southern France. In addition to Antibes, we spent time driving the Moyenne Corniche through Nice, stopping in Eze, and oohing and aahing over Monte Carlo. We then spent time a little further north in Avignon before heading down and over to Montpellier (where I lived over 20 years ago), Carcassone and finally Sarlat.

So, what did we learn during this part of our adventure? Here are 15 of our top findings traveling with kids in southern France:

1. Kids find figuring out SIM cards and cell phone plans boring.

Especially when Mom and Dad drag them to 3 different stores. Which takes an entire day since everything closes for a few hours at lunchtime. Orange, however, became the clear winner as they had the coolest games.                                                                                                                              20150804_154212

2. It is HOT in southern France. Really, really HOT.

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If there was water…
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we stopped for it (even though we had water bottles).

 

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This became a common sight at the end of the long, hot days.

3. If you really want to beat the heat, find a friend with a boat.

Fortunately, our B&B owners had a boat, and they took us out on the water for the day, complete with a picnic on a small island. Definitely a highlight of our trip.

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Whether we were on the boat, or swimming in the Mediterranean, we loved it!

4. French highway reststops are fun.

Especially in the summer when there are free “animations.” A man walked up to JJ at the playground and handed him two sunhats, CDs, card games and sunglasses for him and Missa B. Because that’s just what they do there.

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5. Souvenir coins are destined to follow us everywhere we go.

For 2 Euros each, they are actually a great to way to find a small souvenir at every destination. And, they are prolific in France. I am still unpacking them from boxes and pockets 4 months later.

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6. The Pont du Gard is beautiful.

It is as spectacular as I remember it from 20+ years ago. However, it is also now extremely commercialized. Entrance fees, cafés, and souvenir shops were some of the shocking things that greeted my eyes. But we did appreciate the museum which gave us a ton of information on the importance of the aquaduct.

I had never taken advantage of swimming under the Pont du Gard as I didn’t really know about that on past trips. It was an amazing way to beat the 99+ degree heat. Missa B., being the daredevil she has been from the time she was born, took to jumping off the rocks immediately.

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A nice climb led us to this gorgeous viewpoint.
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That woman in the water below Missa B? Yep, that would be Mama Bear.

7. Old friends just get better with time.

Cathy was 16 when I last saw her. She is now a mom of two awesome boys and an English teacher.

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Can you spot the kiddo who didn’t really want to be in the picture?

8. New friends can teach us so much.

Meeting Franck and Isabelle was a delight. And when “grandmère” brought over her homemade soup for us to try and insisted we eat the tomatoes from her garden, we fell in love with her.

The stories we heard of how Isabelle’s parents had to house Nazi soldiers on their property when the troops came into Antibes brought WWII to life for all of us. She thanked us, as Americans, for allowing her family to regain their property.

This was a place we  found hard to leave.

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9. We can do cobblestones!

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Every kid for him(her)self.

10. It’s worth staying up late for views like this.

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Carcassonne, France

11. Clapping on someone’s birthday is universal.

And this girl LOVED having an entire restaurant sing “Joyeux Anniversaire!”

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12. There are substations all over the world.

And Hubs insists on stopping to take pictures of them.

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13. If you can afford the TGV first class, it’s worth it.

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14. Street performers are fun.

Sarlat was full of street performers, and the kids loved going into the pedestrian area at night.

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15. Pillow walls may not be effective.

And Missa B. may not have been exaggerating when she said it was difficult to share a bed with JJ.

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Journey to the French Riviera

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It’s August 3rd, and our plane from Dublin to Nice had a time change. Usually, when that happens, it’s an hour or so, right? Not when you’re flying Ryanair. It is now departing 7 hours later. Meaning we land in Nice at 9:45 pm.

But luck is on our side.

Our car rental is at the airport. So, unlike most of the car rental locations in Europe, it has extended hours and will be open when we arrive. And, our B&B owner lives on site and can accommodate late arrivals. She promptly emails me the code for the gate to the property, tells me she will put the key in the door to our room, and will see us at breakfast on the patio the next morning.

All goes well with the flight…if you ignore the fact that I terrify some poor kid on the tarmac in Dublin.

See, I’m one of those people who observes everyone…all the time. And that includes being curious enough to look at the luggage tags of the people around me. I get it. It’s weird. But sometimes, it pays off.

As we’re walking onto the tarmac, I look at the tag of a girl who is probably about 8 years old, and I am pretty sure I see the word “Deerfield,” but I can’t see the rest of the tag. Deerfield?! I’m FROM Deerfield!

Yes, there is more than one Deerfield in the US. And, I actually don’t even know that this girl is from the United States, but based on the general appearance of her family, I’m going with Americans.

But, I can’t let it go. I have to know if she’s from my hometown. So I oh-so-casually follow her. She speeds up. I speed up. I am leaning down, squinting at her baggage tag. I am ready to pull it off the bag if needed. She heads to the rear door of the plane. I head to the rear door of the plane. My family, who has been trained to follow me, asks me what I am doing considering we are in row 5. I ignore them and basically accost this kid.

“Excuse me.”

She jumps and looks at me.

“Are you from Deerfield?”

I’ve now succeeded in separating her from her parents. “Yes,” she answers timidly.

“Deerfield, ILLINOIS?!” I screech.

“Yes…”

“That is SO cool! So am I!”

She isn’t impressed. I guess when you’re 8, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal to meet some crazy lady on a runway in Dublin, Ireland who claims to be from your hometown.

“I saw your luggage tag, and I couldn’t believe it said ‘Deerfield,’ but then I thought maybe it was a different Deerfield, but I thought it could be the same Deerfield, and that would just be wild, so I wanted to see if it was the same Deerfield, but I couldn’t read the rest of your tag, so I wanted to ask you…”

I am pulled away by JJ who is thoroughly embarrassed, and the poor girl sees her escape and takes it.

I still think it’s cool.

We arrive in Nice, get our bags (because when you fly Ryanair, carry-ons can pretty much be no larger than a pencil), and find the rental car agency. Well, actually after an amazingly long walk which included an entire group of us heading up the wrong ramp to a dead end and having to turn back, we find the rental car agency.

After a long wait, I get to a cool desk where you sit next to the agent, and I start the conversation in French. She responds in French. So far, so good. She can’t find the reservation, and we talk about how the flight changed so maybe it’s showing up as an earlier rental? This is still all in French. She finds it, and we talk about all the possible upgrades, which I politely refuse. 15 minutes into this, it dawns on me that she has not switched to English. It’s been 20 years since I’ve had this extensive of a conversation in French, and it’s working! Even when I can’t come up with a word, I’m explaining it differently in French, and she’s getting it. And NOT SWITCHING to English. This is cool.

The four of us go out to find the car. We’ve been upgraded. It must have been my French.

This is an awesome start to the trip even if it is now 11 pm, and we have no idea how to get to our B&B in Antibes.

As we exit the parking lot, our GPS (from home) isn’t working. No worries — it just needs to find the satellites. We take a turn that, based on a really meager map in the Rick Steves book, appears to take us in the right direction.

We drive. It’s pitch black. We continue driving. The GPS still isn’t working.

We take another turn. Onto a toll road. I am pretty sure we don’t want to be on a toll road.

I tell Hubs to pull off the road so we can get the GPS working. We pull into a dark parking lot and sit there staring at the GPS. We turn it off. We turn it back on. It’s not working. Our phones have Ireland SIM cards and don’t work in France.

No map. No GPS. No phone. We started this journey on Monday. It’s now Tuesday.

The kids, who at this point are beyond exhausted, start to whine. We politely explain that we are lost, and could they please be patient?

Oh, who am I kidding. They whine and fuss, and we yell. It’s not pretty.

And then we start whining and fussing. I feel myself getting a bit frantic. We don’t know where we are, and it’s really dark. 24-hour stores don’t exist in France, so who are we going to ask for directions? We’re going to drive around forever. We’ll sleep in the car. We’ll get mugged. (Don’t ask — that’s the Chicago girl in me rearing her ugly head.)

Hubs suggests that we try the car’s GPS. I tell him, in a voice that is quickly going up an octave, that we didn’t pay for the GPS, so it won’t work; don’t even bother. He looks at me like I am a bit nuts. Actually, come to think of it, he looks at me with the same look I got from the girl on the tarmac. He turns on the GPS. I continue to insist it won’t work.

It works.

We put in the B&B address and start on our way. Just as our own GPS figures out its location. So we have two of them babbling at us — one in French, and one in English. But they both have us headed the same way, so I’m good with that.

At about 12:30 am, we arrive at our B&B. We turn on the AC since it’s still 88 degrees and crawl into bed.

We made it.

Bienvenue en France.

 

 

 

 

#PrayForParis

Since we returned home two weeks ago, I’ve been planning to catch up on blog posts. After Ireland, we went to France, the Netherlands, Belgium, back to France, Switzerland, Italy, and then one last stop in France — Paris. So, my plan was to catch up on everywhere else we went and then finish with Paris.

And now Paris has to come first.

As soon as the news broke yesterday, I received messages and emails stating relief that we were back in the States and asking if I had connected with friends in France.

I wasn’t worried for the physical safety of my friends in France. None live in Paris, and the few who work/live nearby are at an age when they are much more likely to be back home on a Friday night than out in the city.

But I am worried for their mental safety. In some ways, I get it. I remember the shock of 9/11. I lived almost 3,000 miles away, but, like all of us, I couldn’t stay away from the news. I didn’t want to hear or see it, but I felt compelled to understand what was happening. I was in awe of the brilliance it took to coordinate a multi-site simultaneous attack and beyond ticked off to know that if only those behind the attacks had taken their amazing intelligence and put it to good, astounding things could have happened. Exactly the same way I have felt these past two days.

Yesterday and today, I sent messages to friends across France. I have not heard back, but I get it. They are reeling. And even more so because they have experienced this twice in less than a year.

And yes, I have read all those social media posts about not praying for Paris — we need less religion, pray for everyone, Paris is about life…

But I do pray for Paris. For a beautiful city so full of life that we reveled in just over two weeks ago. We all loved Paris, and it was a wonderful way to end our trip.

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When Missa B asked these police officers if she could take a picture with them, they had no way of knowing how their life would change in two short weeks.

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When JJ had Hubs take this picture, he had no idea that if we had been there two short weeks later, he would not have been able to go to the Louvre.

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Had I thought about these possibilities when we were in Paris?

Yes, from time to time, I did.

I actually thought about it before we left in June. Known to only a few people at the time, I wrote three letters before we departed. I wrote one to my mom, one to my in-laws, and one to be posted on my Facebook page. I placed them in a safe and gave a close friend instructions on what to do with them should we not return from our trip.

The letters weren’t morbid in any way. I talked about not feeling sorry for us, about how we were getting to do something we dreamed of, and about how even though our kids didn’t get to fulfill their dreams, they got to do things that some people don’t get to do in their lifetimes.

And now I think about how all those people killed in Paris yesterday probably left behind unfulfilled dreams. They went out to enjoy a Friday evening and never got to come back. My heart rips apart thinking about it, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

As a result of the trip, Missa B and JJ have asked that we keep them up to date on world events, especially in places we visited. Hubs wanted to tell them about the massacre yesterday. I didn’t. I don’t think I’m trying to maintain their innocence — they were exposed to so much information about the World Wars and terrorist attacks as we traveled.

I think I’m just trying to protect them from the shock. From playing through the scenes that have been going through my mind…the what ifs. From wanting to do what both Hubs and I did immediately upon hearing about the attacks…going online and mapping the distance of the attack locations to our hotel, to the places we visited, to the bike route we took. From trying to make sense of why people who were doing the same things we did were suddenly taken from this world.

Last night, Missa B, who doesn’t speak French, crawled into bed and said the words she has said almost every night since we visited France:

“Bonne nuit, Mom; je t’aime.”

And, I responded as I have been doing, but with a much heavier heart, “Bonne nuit, ma petite, je t’aime aussi.”

And then I added, “J’aime Paris.”

“Yeah, Mom. Me too. I really love Paris.”

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Traveling with the Kids in Ireland — Part II

We had a total of almost three weeks in Ireland which was enough to merit multiple posts. I concluded my last Ireland blog post at Limerick where we spent a weekend with strangers (to us) who quickly became friends. From there, we headed out to the glorious Ring of Kerry. I know you’ll be surprised to learn that we took Rick Steves’ advice and started on the road early, heading in the opposite direction from the tour buses.

Which meant that we hit our first beach early — probably around 9 am. It was chilly, and our plan was to stop for 5 minutes. “Don’t get wet,” we warned the kids as we had all our luggage crammed into the back of an extremely small car with no real knowledge of where to find extra clothes if needed. Besides, we figured they would never get into the freezing water that early in the morning.

We were wrong.

It all started innocently enough...
It all started innocently enough…
He makes it look like it wasn't intentional...
He makes it look like it wasn’t intentional…
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She doesn’t even try to fake innocence.

 

What was supposed to be a 10-minute stop turned into an hour, followed by trying to find dry clothes for 2 freezing kiddos, and then convincing them to change in the parking lot as no one would see them as nobody else would go into the water at 9 am (or probably at any hour given the temperature).

Once we had semi-dry kids, we continued on our route. We made multiple stops along the way to hop out and enjoy the view, stop at interesting sites, and eat chocolate.

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A fun, quick stop with delicious samples!
A fun, quick stop at a chocolate factory with delicious samples!

 

The end of our Ring of Kerry route was Dingle, Ireland where we stayed in a youth hostel. I haven’t stayed in youth hostels in over 25 years, so staying at them in Ireland has been a real treat. We had a private room with a double bed and bunk beds, and our own bathroom (that is a change from 25 years ago!)  What surprised me the most is that the majority of the travelers were older — families and couples as opposed to college-aged backpackers. The hostel was clean and quiet…and the price was right.

We loved relaxing in Dingle. The boys got haircuts; we learned the town quickly; and we drove the Dingle Peninsula during our 4-day stay. And, of course, we hit the beaches again.

This time we were prepared.
This time we were prepared.

 

The other main thing we did in Dingle was buy GAA (Gaelic Athletic Assocation) trading cards. Hurling and Gaelic football trading cards. Tons of them. And, I mean tons of them. The kids first saw packages at the local grocery store and wanted to buy them. Then they wanted more. And more. And more. I think we probably went back to the store 6 times so they could purchase cards. They started learning positions, players, counties and which teams were the best. To say it became an obsession is an understatement, but more on that later.

After our relaxing stay in Dingle (other than continuous trips to the grocery store), we set out to Nenagh, this time to meet relatives for the first time. We were graciously welcomed into Myron and Ruth’s home as if we had known each other for years.

1000 welcomes greeted us!
100,000 welcomes greeted us!

Ruth is an amazing cook, and we were thoroughly spoiled during our stay. I also have to say that I am completely jealous of a great idea Ruth implemented when they redid their kitchen. One of Ruth’s least favorite household tasks is emptying the dishwasher. So…she put in two dishwashers. With a family of 5, they usually fill the dishwasher daily. So, they run it, and then just use the dishes from it the next day. Put those dirty dishes into the other dishwasher, and by the end of the day, there is very little to unload from the first. And then just repeat the process! Genius!

While I loved the kitchen, the kids loved having a wonderful attic loft to sleep in and Legos galore. They watched Lego movies their cousins made…little did we know that was the start of an activity that would take them through the next several months. We now have an entire Lego movie series they created during the trip!

I already wrote about the trip we made to the family homestead which was definitely a highlight for all of us. We also spent time getting to know each other at beaches, the Cliffs of Moher, and family dinners which allowed us to meet additional relatives as well. And Myron even bought the kids more trading cards, officially making him a hero in their eyes. JJ sobbed when we left as he wanted more time with everyone. We finally appeased him by telling him that we would see them all again when Luke (the oldest son) attends school in Montana this spring. Now we just have to convince them all to come and visit!IMG_6007    IMG_6012

They don't quite understand the telescope concept.
They don’t quite understand the telescope concept.

After Nenagh, we went to Kinsale where we enjoyed some time by the water. And bought more trading cards, of course. We did some definite power touring by doing a guided walking tour of the town, touring Charles Fort, taking a narrated boat trip, and doing a ghost tour all in one day. Although Hubs and JJ didn’t do the ghost tour, as JJ opted to stay home and pull out a tooth instead. Thankfully, the tooth fairy was ready for him! (Our tooth fairy gives books along with money, but somehow she made it to Ireland book in hand.)

Charles Fort
Charles Fort

 

From Kinsale, it was off to Kilkenny, stopping at Rock of Cashel along the way. We had a truly amazing guide there who kept us entertained for over an hour. Kilkenny was a wonderful stop at a fantastic B&B where we filled our bellies at breakfast and our eyes and minds during the day. And Hubs got to fill his glass at a brewery tour that even the kids enjoyed.

(Although we might have enjoyed it more than they did.)
(Although we might have enjoyed it more than they did.)

And then…Dublin. I have to admit I wasn’t really looking forward to Dublin. Several people had advised us to spend as little time as possible in Dublin as it’s just a big city. Well, we loved it!

The day we arrived, Hubs had to return the rental car, so the kids and I walked to Grafton Street. It hadn’t occurred to me that the kids really had no experience with large pedestrian streets or with street performers. They were absolutely mesmerized. They loved watching the dancers, magicians, and flame throwers. I finally had to drag them off the street with the promise that we could return again with Hubs on a different day.

Then…the highlight of Dublin for the kids…a visit to Croke Park stadium. Remember how the kids have become obsessed with hurling and Gaelic football? When I say obsessed, I mean obsessed.

The Gaelic sports are organized by county, and each county has a unique coat-of-arms. The kids made Hubs print out a map of the Ireland counties and a list of all the coat-of-arms so they could figure out where the teams were from and which teams they were missing. Completely on their own, they mastered the geography of Ireland due to the trading cards. They can tell you every county we went to and where it is on the map (and if their hurling team is any good or not). It’s actually been great fun, with many hours of sorting and organizing and negotiating trades as they carry the cards in their backpacks and work on it while we’re waiting for a table at a restaurant or driving.

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They even bought books for storing the cards.

So now was their chance to see where the major games are played. The tour itself was awesome. We saw the locker rooms which contained a jersey from each team, the private boxes, the posh dining/pint room, all the back areas, and, of course, the field. We learned a ton and then spent a few hours in the museum after the tour.

Huge replicas of hurling sticks.
Huge replicas of hurling sticks.

 

Ready to report on the game.
Ready to report on the game.

 

In the museum, there were interactive exhibits where you could try your hand at the sports. A HUGE hit!
In the museum, there were interactive exhibits where you could try your hand at the sports. A HUGE hit!

 

Add a Viking duck tour, the National Museum, watching the Gaelic football semi-finals at a pub, and a visit to Kilmainham Gaol (jail) to the mix, and you have an extremely successful 3 days in Dublin.

Ireland was the one country on our trip that was new to me. But now that I’ve been there, I’m hooked.