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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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.

 

 

 

 

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.

From Trump to North Korea and Everything In Between

In our everyday life, we are a family that dines together the majority of the time. It definitely gets tricky with the kids’ sports schedules, but if we aren’t all sitting down together, it’s sports, not work, that is getting in the way. It’s a priority we have set for our family, and we do our best to make family meals happen.

So I thought we had pretty solid family conversations at the dinner table.

I was wrong.

Let me set the scene. It’s August, and we’re in Bruges, Belgium. It’s been a bit rainy, and we decide to try a fondue restaurant for dinner. Stepping inside, it’s intimate and comfortable. You would almost swear you were in Switzerland except that the fondue comes with all you can eat fries.

Before we order, I say to Hubs, “Did you see the newspaper headline about how Trump is doing?” He replies, and suddenly Missa B jumps in.

“Who is Trump?”
We give a basic explanation.

“Do you like him?”

We respond.

“Why don’t you like him? What does he do that you don’t like?”

So, we go a bit into some of the comments Trump has made (at that point), and who he has offended.

“So who do you like? And why do you like them?”

What started as general questions turned into, I kid you not, a 2-hour conversation about the American political system, the current candidates, previous candidates, what issues divide Americans, and I can’t even remember the rest. It then somehow evolved into an explanation of fascism…and racism…and the political situation in North Korea…and the war in Syria…and refugees….

JJ didn’t say a word for two hours, but it was obvious he was listening, taking it all in, and trying to process. As for Hubs and me, we were pretty much exhausted by the end of the conversation. But, we figured it was a good conversation, so it was worth it.

And then it started up again the next morning.

“So, is it good for the Democrats if Trump does well? Will that help the Democratic Party? How do you think he’ll do?”

And, over two months later, it hasn’t stopped. Except that we visited the D-Day beaches in between, so now Hitler, more information about fascism, and the Nazi party has been thrown into the mix. Even JJ became fully engaged and starting asking lots of questions as well.

I find that sometimes, I just want to sit down to dinner and talk about the weather. And it does happen once in awhile. But, more often than not, the conversations seems to be about past and current world events. We’ll get a break for about a week or so, and suddenly Missa B will, out of the blue, say something like (and these are her words), “Trump is continuing to gain more and more followers. He must be saying something that people like. What makes people want to support him? What is he saying that people want to hear?”

I look at her and have to remind myself that she just turned 10.

That particular question she posed yesterday about what Trump is saying led to a conversation about how politicians phrase messages in general. Which led to questions about whether politicians lie. Which led to a conversation about whether it is ok to lie to get into office.

JJ (age 7) told us adamantly that it is not ok to lie. “And, if I decide to run for President,” he informed us, “I will not lie. And people will look into my eyes and know I am telling the truth so they will decide to vote for me.”

Missa B waffled a bit. “If everyone is lying, then how can you win if you don’t lie? You might have to lie because everyone else is lying as well.”

Seeing the perfect “over-the-top Mom message” moment, I seized it: “You are going to face times in your life when people want you to do something because everyone else is doing it. That’s when you really listen to your heart.” Somehow I went from there to lecturing talking about getting into a car with someone who had a few drinks and having it be the last day of your life. Yea, I know — I tend to go the dramatic route. Subtlety has never been my speciality.
At which point, Missa B said, “Mom. Your whole point makes no sense. You are talking about kids in high school. They can’t drink because they aren’t 21, remember?!”

Right, she’s only 10. She has no clue what is ahead of her.

Or maybe, based on the past 4 months of conversations, she does.

And maybe I need to brush up on politics and world events so I can keep up with her.

Traveling With Kids in Europe — The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

 

As we planned this trip, people constantly told me we were crazy.

I heard things like “How do you plan all that?” Or, “Can you really take the kids out of school that long?”

But honestly, those aren’t the questions I asked myself.

My questions were more along the lines of: “Can I really be with the kids 24/7 for that long?”

Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids. A lot. But I am not one of those people who does the Mom thing naturally. And I admit that I get jealous of my amazing friends who do. I look at Facebook and see the posts of the elaborate cakes they made for birthday parties, but I breathe a sigh of relief when my son decides he wants donuts from the grocery store for “something different”. Although, if I attempted to make some of the things I would love to try on Pinterest, he would get “something different” indeed.

Bottom line is – I’m realistic. I wasn’t harboring any fantasies that we were going to jet off to Europe and glide through countries acting like the Cleavers from Leave It to Beaver. So I headed into this with a practical, albeit slightly skeptical, eye. Now, 3.5 months into the adventure, I’m learning that traveling this long with kids has some pretty trying moments, and it has absolutely wonderful moments as well.

To read my full account of what’s it been like traveling with kids in Europe, check out my guest post on Jo’s blog.

Traveling in Ireland with the Kids — Part I

Ireland was one of the places I was most looking forward to on this trip. It’s the only country I hadn’t been to on our itinerary, and everyone who has been to Ireland has raved about it.

I wasn’t disappointed.

We arrived at Dublin airport, picked up our car, and headed out to find the hostel we were staying at next to Newgrange, an Irish passage tomb dating back to 3200 BC. Our plan was to visit Newgrange the next morning, so we picked a place to stay as close as possible.

On the way to Newgrange, we got completely lost. This should have been our first clue as to what it is like trying to find places in Ireland. The GPS took us all over the place…except to the hostel. We finally saw signs to the Newgrange site which of course did not correspond to the GPS but ultimately got us where we needed to be.

The hostel was great — it appears to have recently changed over so it is not officially listed as a hostel from what we could tell, but the spaces definitely scream hostel. The room was fine, and it was nice to have large lounges to work in later in the evening.

Also, one of the things we had been warned about was to get to the Newgrange site early because you can only visit the sites (Knowth and Newgrange) by tour, and they fill up for the day. So seeing a sign at the hostel/hotel desk saying to come by in the morning to tell them what time you would like a tour was a HUGE bonus! We immediately headed out to dinner and for Hubs to get his first pint in Guinness country.

One happy man.
One happy man.

The next morning, on the way to breakfast, I stopped by the desk, and they called over to Newgrange and booked us a 10:30 am tour. We packed our bags into the car and then walked literally 4 minutes to the site — best lodging location ever!

We got on the shuttle busses to explore Knowth with a wonderful guide who was passionate about the history of these ancient mounds. We all enjoyed listening to her stories, and the kids even enjoyed a brief underground excursion.

Hubs went in as well -- so much for that pair of pants!
Hubs went in as well resulting in some very muddy pants.

From Knowth, we went back to the visitor’s center to catch the next shuttle to Newgrange which was outstanding. The site is known for how light enters through an opening or “roof box” on the winter solstice. You can actually enter a lottery to come on the winter solstice and the few days around it — only 50 people total are selected! The guide simulates the winter solstice, which is good for us since we won’t be back here then, even if we did win the lottery, and it is pretty spectacular.

This is the entrance to Newgrange. The stones have some of the finest Neolithic art in Europe.
This is the entrance to Newgrange. The stones have some of the finest Neolithic art in Europe. You might just notice in later photos that my earrings look remarkably similar to this art…

After a surprisingly good lunch at the site’s cafeteria, we started off on our supposedly 2 hour, 45 minute drive to Limerick. I won’t go into details of our attempts to locate the home we were staying at as that will show up in a special blog post in about a week, but let it suffice to say it was an adventure. I was later told that directions in Ireland go something like this:

“Go straight past Tom’s house…he doesn’t live there anymore; he died last year you know…and then turn right after the 3rd tree. Not the one that was hit by lightning a few years back, but the one next to it. Then go past the pub and the green house — that’s where Ruth lives, although her daughter doesn’t live there anymore because she just got married — nice man, that Ross — and you’ll see our house just after the blue one with the brand new gate. The old owners didn’t care about the gate, so we’re really glad the new ones do!”

Notice the lack of street names and/or numbers? Yep, that’s about it. Makes a GPS really helpful.

We did eventually make it to Declan and Sarah’s house. They are wonderful friends of my in-laws who offered to house us for the weekend. And what a weekend it was! They have a home full of kids — 6 of their own (although 2 were away in the States) and then a few others added in along the way. At one point, we had 4 different nationalities enjoying dinner.

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Just part of the posse…
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Declan taught Missa B all about gaelic football and hurling. The start of an obsession…

One day during the weekend, we went out touring the area. We started with Craggaunowen, a park where you can explore the traditions and dwellings of the Crannog people who lived over 1000 years ago. It was a pretty quick visit, but we learned quite a bit, and the site itself had a nice walking path that we all enjoyed.

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A traditional hut.
Some of us got a lift walking through the grounds.
Some of us got a lift walking through the grounds.

Afterwards, we visited Bunratty Castle and Folk Park — the castle itself was built in the 1400’s, and the folk park recreates 19th century Ireland. The castle closes before the rest of the park, so you have to be sure to get there on time…which we did. However, it turns out that an air show on Friday gave free passes to Bunratty all weekend, so the place was packed.

As we walked up to the castle, we couldn’t find the entrance. We walked around the side and saw a few people going up some stairs into a small door. I realized this was the back entrance and made the family head back the other direction. There we found a door that opened into a courtyard. We opened it, only to have an employee on the other side tell us that the castle was closed.

“But it doesn’t close for an hour!” I protested.

“Yes, but that line will take at least an hour,” she told me as she slammed the door shut. So much for the friendliness of the Irish.

As the kids realized what had happened, their faces dropped. So, I promptly led the family back to the back entrance where we climbed some wooden steps with about 4 other people. This led us into a narrow hallway and then to a small, spiral staircase. So, we started climbing. Only problem was that this was actually the exit, so there were a lot of people coming down, and it was definitely not a staircase made for 2-way traffic. A few times Hubs asked if we should turn back, but I wasn’t going to let the kids miss the castle, so we persevered. Finally, after climbing multiple flights and smashing ourselves against walls to allow the law-abiding tourists pass, we entered into a large hall. I have to say it felt extremely freeing. We had made it!

We tried to look nonchalant as if we had entered the room the correct way. Suddenly, I saw the woman who had slammed the door on me running toward the back way we had entered. I grabbed Hubs and the kids so she wouldn’t see us. She ran past us on a mission to close down the secret entrance. So, we continued on our way. We ended up only missing one small section as there was no way to get there from where we entered, but other than that, we got to see Bunratty Castle!

Ah...to be royalty!
Ah…to be royalty!

After our wonderful weekend in Limerick and the surrounding areas, we headed out to drive the Ring of Kerry. We had decided to spend the night in Kenmare so we could get an early start driving the Ring of Kerry the following morning. I mean, if Rick Steves says that’s the way to avoid the crowds, you do it, right?

So we drove from Limerick to Kenmare, going through Killarney National Park. We made a stop at Muckross House for lunch, a wander through the gardens, and a tour through the house itself. JJ asked a lot of questions of the volunteers in each room, and one was so pleased with his curiosity that she even brought him over to show him the secret portable loo! Nothing thrills a 7-year-old boy more than toilet talk.

Another quick stop at Torc Waterfall before continuing on to our B&B on the water in Kenmare. We settled into the B&B, went into town for dinner, and then came back to get a good night’s sleep before our long drive the next day.

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If there is a tree, they’ll climb it. This is on the way to Torc Waterfall.
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Definitely worth a stop.

Since Ireland was so full of fun, it’s worth a few posts. More coming soon!