Amsterdam and Switzerland


Our recent European tour started off in Amsterdam.  I absolutely loved Amsterdam.  Any city that has approximately 600,000 bicycles is probably going to rank high with me.

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The highlight was probably the canal boat tour which was a great way to see the city.


We met our friends James and Diana there and had a great time.



Then we were off to Geneva, Switzerland where we had a great time hanging with Cinda, Danny, and company.  Thanks for the great hospitality!


Here is all of us on the longest bench in Europe


Giant games of chess and great architecture

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We climbed to the top of the cathedral for some spectacular views.

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Lots of great food and wine of course

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It was sad to leave, but we were off to Lausanne, Switzerland next.  More great cathedrals and stunning architecture.

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Catch up

We have been getting back to our “normal” Irish lives lately with no guests in town.  Mostly sticking closer to town and enjoying our time here.  Last weekend we rode our bikes to Cobh for a blues music festival.  We took the ferry over.


There was a pretty great band out in the gazebo.




We had a very nice dinner there after the music and then had a nice ride home with a great sunset on the harbor.


This weekend we started off by going to the Cork City Football game.  It was a close game and we ended up winning 2-1.  Near the end of the game our goalie saved a penalty kick which was about to happen in this photo.  It was great!


Saturday we got up and headed the round about way (~35mi) for Kinsale on our bikes


It was a nice day and we picked a pretty scenic route including Roberts Cove.



At the next beach a guy just gave us two tall boys because we were on our bikes.  He had a case of them and was very persistent.  We enjoyed them at the end of the ride.


We stayed the night in Kinsale, watched the all Ireland hurling replay final, and a Tottenham Hotspur game, had a great dinner and called it an early night.  This morning we wandered around town and took some arty photos then rode the 16 miles back to Cork.

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All in all, the perfect weekend…

Sugarloaf and the Beara Peninsula

This past weekend Emily and I took off with some folks from work to the Beara Peninsula for a hike on Sugarloaf mountain, or Gabhal Mhór, meaning “big fork”.  Somewhere on the hike Emily proclaimed the Beara her favourite peninsula.





It was a great hike, and most of us made it to the top for a group shot


There were spectacular views, we had great weather, and of course, lots of sheep.



We then stayed the night at Katie’s parents house which was absolutely stunning



The place is in a small secluded bay with mostly calm water and again we had great weather on Sunday.DSC_0134

There was lots to do and some of the activities included kayaking, paddle boarding, rock climbing, watching hurling, guitar playing, badmitten, knitting, book reading…



A big thanks to Katie and her parents for letting us stay there and experience such a great place!


Tracy and Ramona Come to Ireland

The Beach Bar outside of Sligo.
View of the sunrise from The Beach Bar

Cemetery on Boa island

The Silver Strand




A collection of pictures from the Slieve League area









Prehistoric artifact in Glencolumbkille.


A beach in Donegal


Glenveagh National Park

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Beach in Dunfanaghy


Inside the main passage tomb in Carrowmore


Castle in Kinvarra


The Burren area

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The Cliffs of Moher

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Cable car to Dursey island


An Ireland post is not complete with out a picture of a sheep.



Summer wraps up with big adventures!

For those of you who have not been keeping score, in the past 4 months we’ve had 19 visitors pass through and visited three other countries (Italy, Spain, Scotland), in addition to traveling all around Ireland with great friends and family.  It has been busy, but really such a blast.  I am ready for our six weeks of down time before round 2 starts off in mid-October.

We capped off the summer of fun with a trip to Donegal with our wonderful friends, Tracy and Ramona.  Here is a picture from the the Shannon airport.


We rushed them into the car and drove three hours to a pub 30 mins outside of Sligo, called the Beach Bar.  It was dark by the time we got there, but the beer was cold.  We woke up to a beautiful beach view and a full Irish breakfast (eggs, sausage, bacon, beans, grilled tomato, sauteed mushrooms, and all you can eat toast).  We got a walk in on the beach, then spent the day exploring Fermanagh (the land of Ramona’s grandfather). We found some good Irish weather (rainy and sunny all at once), and an Irish traffic jam.


We visited Castle Caldwell then went out to Boa Island and explored a cemetery and had a picnic near the ferry to Lusty Beg Island.  I took a selfie with a cool stone man at the cemetery.


After a visit to a stone circle, we were off to our destination in Donegal, Glencolumbkille.  We stayed two nights at Roarty’s Bar.  We filled the time with beautiful beach walks, a hike at the Slieve League cliffs, and perhaps a few pints and games of Quirkle.  There is an Irish folk music school in town, so there was wonderful traditional music both nights at Roarty’s.  Ramona might have even gotten her dance on.

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Next, we drove up the coast and east across the heart of Donegal to Rathmullen.  Bret and my favorite Irish craft Brewery, Kinnegar, is in Rathmullen.  We were hoping to visit the brewery and sample some of their goods, but we missed the visiting days and hours.  We stayed a really lovely B and B, the Glenalla Lodge.  It was in the middle of nowhere scenic Irish farmland, but the hosts were lovely and the full Irish breakfast was enormous and delicious.

The next day, we took the scenic route back toward Glenveagh National Park and had a hike out to the Astaleen waterfall in the Derryveagh mountains and visited the lovely Glenveagh Castle.

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That night, we stayed at the Lagoon outside of Kilmacrenan.  It was an interesting place…  a loud, swearing drunk caused a bit of a scene and we chatted up with a family of Americans who were celebrating Dad’s birthday.  Not our favorite spot, but it was a place to stay with good food, cheap red wine, and eventually a warm shower.

At the suggestion of our new American friends, we ventured north to Dunfanaghy before we started the long haul south.  It was a cute town with a lovely harbor and a spectacular beach.

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We stopped at a really neat megolithic cemetery outside of Sligo called Carrowmore.  There are close to 50 tombs at the site that are almost 5000 years old, with a large central passage tomb that all the others are directed towards.  Luckily, the site was saved from becoming a dump in the late 1980s by some concerned citizens and it is now a historic site with a visitor’s center and everything.

Our stop for the evening was Fallon’s b&b in Kinvarra.  This was my second trip to Kinvarra, no room at the strange Rowen’s this time though.  Fallon’s was a nice substitute though and the breakfast was yummy.  Kinvarra is a cute town with a well kept castle.  We explored the castle the following morning, then headed on towards the Burren.

After we visited the only bean to bar chocolate factory in the Burren area, we had a nice hike in the windy, cloudy weather and managed to avoid more than a sprinkle.  The Burren is a small area (250 sq km) of Karst landscape (made up mostly of carbonate rocks, limestone and dolomite).  The area was a tropical reef 350 million years ago and now supports a grassland with an incredible diversity of plants and animals.  Over 70% of Ireland 900 native plant species can be found in this small area!  In addition, the area has a long history of human settlement and there are still many megolithic structures, celtic high crosses, stone forts, and an early 13th century monastery.  Wow, it was pretty incredible.

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The day was just getting started, however!  Next stop was the Cliffs of Moher (the Cliffs of Insanity from the Princess Bride).  I forgot to bring my camera, but I am sure Bret will add some great photos!  We had a nice time walking the cliffs, but we couldn’t avoid the rain this go around and the wind was very strong.  The cliff are pretty awe-inspiring.  From there, we hit the road back to Cork City for a few days in the home town.

Bret had to head back to work the next morning, but the rest of us took it easy for the next two days.  We did a little exploring and forest walking and perhaps some shopping.  Friday night we watched a hurling match in the rain at the local St. Finbarr’s Gaelic Sports Club.

By the weekend, we were ready to hit the road again.  We drove out to the Beara peninsula.  First stop, a little shopping at the woolen mills in Glengariff.  Then we checked in at the hostel, The Hungry Hill Lodge, and found a delicious lunch in Castletownbere at the Copper Kettle.  In the afternoon, we took a cable car over to Dursey island off the tip of the peninsula. Dursey island is currently inhabited by only 6 full-time residents, although the summer population is a bit larger.  It was once home to a much larger population. 300 people were massacred there in 1603 after the English defeat of the Irish in Kinsale, along with many more from the Beara penisula as they fled to Leitrim. The cable car that connects the island to the mainland over the Dursey sound can apparently hold six people, 2 heifers, or 4 sheep.  We had a beautiful sun-shiney day hike up to the Signal tower.  The dwarf gorse was in full bloom and the sheep were pretty friendly.

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We also had beautiful views of the Iveragh peninsula in the distance.


We loved the Hungry Hill Lodge.  The host, Owen, was an incredibly friendly Brit and the hostel had great facilities.

The next day, we were not quite as lucky with the weather, but we found another lovely hike on the Beara.  We had spotted the Mare’s Tail waterfall from the main road and hoped to get to it, but the road was cut off by private land that we were unsure about crossing on one side and very cliffy landscape on the other.  The Mare’s Tail, may or may not be Ireland’s tallest waterfall according to local sources.  It’s other claim to fame was being dyed red for a scene in the vampire movie Byzantium.  Although we did not make it to the Mare’s Tail, we did find another pretty spectacular waterfall and got drench in the rain in the process.

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The rest of the day found us slowly making our way back to Cork City, with only a few delays for views and sheep traffic.


and yes, that is a two-way road.

It was very sad to part ways with Ramona and Tracy the next day, but we had another excellent adventure to add to the list (we visited them when they lived in Ethiopia and worked as Peace Corp volunteers)!

And, my sweet husband cheered me up a surprise bouquet of flowers.




Paps of Danu

We had a great opportunity to go hiking with Bret’s coworkers once again on Tuesday evening.  One of Bret’s coworkers, Dana, is leaving Cork later this week, so in her honor, we went to the Paps of Danu (almost Dana).  They are a pair of breast-shaped hills near Killarney.  Yes, breast-shaped hills are a thing!


The east peak is slightly taller than the western peak, which we climbed.   There are large rock cairns at the top of each peak (the nipples).  The cairns are thought to be prehistoric graves and the two peaks combined with a stone circle to northeast of the peaks are an ancient site for rituals and festivals to the mother goddess, Anu or Danu.

We left after work and there were 12 of us to shuffle to the mountain, but were ready to start climbing by 6:30pm or so.

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We could not have picked a better evening for a hike with a view.

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From the top we could see all the way to Killarney and Dingle bay to the northwest and Kenmare to the southwest.  It was quite chilly at the top, however.  We ate a quick bite, while a few more intrepid climbers hiked over to the eastern peak.  Then we stumbled back down the mountain in the waning light, with sheep escorts.


Thanks to all our fellow hikers for a really lovely evening, especially Chris for driving and leading us!

Ballymaloe, The Old Head of Kinsale and a visit from the O’Hanlons

Back in Cork after our wonderful trip to Scotland, we had more fun things planned.  First up, a trip to the shore southeast of Cork city and to Ballymaloe House for a very special dinner.

After Bret got home from work, we drove to Ballycotton to catch the ocean view.  We had a nice walk through the small town and got to see the Irish lifeboat volunteers (Irish all volunteer staffed coast guard) heading out for a drill.


From there we went to Ballymaloe, an Irish manor house that has been converted into a restaurant, hotel, cooking school, and sculpture garden. We arrived ahead of our reservation so that we could explore some of the 400 acres of beautiful countryside. DSC_0408 DSC_0449

We especially liked the sculpture garden and hay field.  Bret was inspired to take an artsy self portrait.


Emily was more inclined to take a selfie posing like the art.


We didn’t get a picture of Bret’s favorite sculpture, but Emily liked the jacks in the haystack.


Dinner was incredible! We had a five course meal that included mostly locally sourced produce, fish, and meats (they still raise their own pigs!).  We are so thankful to Bret’s Mom and Stepdad for finding this place. As a wedding gift, they scoped it out for us and gave us money to eat there.  It was an extra bonus to be able to share such a special experience with Emily’s folks as well.  We liked the food so much that we went to the oldest bookstore in Cork to buy their cookbook which was another gift from Bret’s Mom and Stepdad.  Thanks!!!

We sent Bret off to work again the next morning, and Emily and her folks headed down to Kinsale for the day.  We had a nice morning exploring Charles Fort and the old town area…   there may have been some shopping involved as well.  Kinsale is the sister city of Emily’s hometown, Newport, RI.


Bret took the afternoon off though and joined us for the main event of the day, golfing at the Old Head of Kinsale.

The Old Head of Kinsale is a relatively new golf course and it did not make the top 100, but it sure is beautiful.  DSC_0525 DSC_0464 DSC_0481 DSC_0485 DSC_0507 DSC_0430 DSC_0437 DSC_0444

We were the last group of the day and it felt like we had the whole course to ourselves.  We finished up just as the sun was setting.  It was a whole lot of fun, although we all had some ups and downs in our game.  Emily had to get in another pose with a dog statue.


We had another fantastic meal in the clubhouse before heading back to Cork.  Thanks again to Emily’s Mom and Dad for another great day golfing.

The next day we were joined in our adventures by Emily’s cousin, Cinda and her family.  We spent the first evening at a hurling match, which we all enjoyed.  Cinda’s sons, Moe and Q, even got some hurleys afterwards so they can practice back in Geneva.  The following day, we said goodbye to Emily’s parents after brunch.  While Bret rested up, Emily and the O’Hanlons explored Cork a bit.  We went to the Gaol (Jail) and a children’s science museum.  Then we had a feast prepared by Cinda’s husband, Danny, back at home and celebrated Cinda and Danny’s wedding anniversary.


Emily and the O’Hanlons went to Kinsale the next day.  The fort was especially fun with the energy of young boys!

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We also went for a harbor boat tour.  It was fun to see the town and the fort from the sea for the first time!

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That evening, we celebrated Cinda’s birthday at one of our favorite spots in Cork, Electric.

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Monday morning, we left Bret to tend to work (and a significantly quieter house) and Emily joined the O’Hanlons for a few days of their family vacation to Kenmare, Ireland.  We stayed at the home of a family friend of Cinda’s and it was spectacular.  The view from the back porch:

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Rainbows abounded.  While in Kenmare, we had many adventures including some hiking, some archery, kayaking, and swimming in the bay.  It was a ton of fun!

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It was such a great way to wrap up three solid weeks of non-stop adventure!   Now we are home, recovering and resting up for the last visitors of the summer season. Our good friends Tracy and Ramona arrive in just a few days and more adventures are on the horizon!  We’ll be heading to the northwest corner of Ireland and exploring Donegal.

Scotland (part II)

We left grey Aberdeen and drove to Dornach on a grey day.  We stopped for a walk around Huntly late in the morning.  There was a cute farmers market and a castle to explore there.  Then we continued on to Elgin for lunch and a rainy stroll to the “castle,” which was really just a pile of rocks at the top of the hill.  We also stopped at Johnston’s of Elgin cashmere store, but we couldn’t find any bargains, so we kept on to Dornach.  We arrived late in the afternoon, ready to get out of the car for a couple of days.  We stayed at the home of a friend of my parent’s from Newport.  Her house is adorable!


It was a really cozy place to settle into and within walking distance of the town centre and the golf course (Dornoch is not actually that big).  We were treated to a nice marching pipe band on our first evening.  Unfortunately, we missed the dancers and we only got to see the rain kilts instead of the dress kilts because the rain was coming down pretty good.

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We had a nice dinner and got to bed so we could be well rested for golf the following day.  We played at the Royal Dornoch.  While the Royal Dornoch golf club was officially established in 1877, they claim that folks have been playing golf there since 1616…  just about 400 years!  It is considered a pretty excellent golf course still today.  Bret and I were a little nervous that all the greatness of this course would be wasted on our lack of skill or experience playing golf, but we really had a great time.


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Not only did we have great company in my parents and Tom, the caddy, but we had a beautiful sunny day to boot!  Of course the wind shifted half way through the course and we did have to hit upwind for all but 4 holes.

After golf, we rushed a pint with Tom, then ran to our dinner reservation.  What a great day.

The next day, we were off again.  A long day in the car following the Caledonian canal to get to Glasgow.  Our first stop was Loch Ness.  We did not get a sighting of the monster, but the lake itself is very impressive.

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We stopped for a little hike in Invermoriston.


Afterwards, we stopped in Fort William for lunch.  Emily happened to ask about highland cows at the tourist information stop and they led us to one of the most impressive views of the trip in the Ben Nevis valley.


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We got a pretty good look at the highland cows with the binoculars, but without zoom on our phone the pictures didn’t turn out so great.


So that you can see what they look like, here is a picture we didn’t take.


Luckily for us all, Bret promised Emily that she could have one someday, so you will all get a look at one up close (someday, that is).

We broke from the canal after Fort William and headed across some dramatic mountains to get to loch Lomond.

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Nothing much to report on Glasgow.  We had a nice Italian dinner and a walk along the river front the following morning before our flight out.  It seemed like the town was having a major hangover following the Commonwealth games, so a lot of it wasn’t even open.

We were very sad to leave, but had more adventures to attend to in Cork… but that is another post.


Scotland (Part I)

Bret caught up with Emily and her folks for a long weekend trip through Scotland. First stop: Perth. We stayed at a nice hotel overlooking the South Inch park. They were set up to host a horse show in the park but we didn’t stay long enough to partake. We did have a nice walk after dinner to the river Tay.


We didn’t spend much time there in the morning, because we wanted to maximize our day in Stonehaven and Dunnottar Castle. Emily’s great Grandmother and Grandfather (her Mom’s Dad’s parents) hailed from Stonehaven. She grew up hearing stories about visits to Stonehaven from her great Uncle.  We arrived at the harbor and were careful not to drive off into the ocean.


Then we drove up to the castle!


You may recognize this castle from the 1990 Mel Gibson film, Hamlet.



The site of Dunnottar Catle had religious significance to the Picts prior to the arrival of St. Ninian and Catholicism in the 5th Century.  It is thought that the original chapel was founded by St. Ninian at that time.  The standing ruins were built in the 15th and 16th centuries, although there are many references to a castle at Dunnottar prior to then.  The castle was built by William Keith and his descendent who held the castle as the seat of Earl Marischal until the Jacobite rebellion in 1715.  It had been falling apart since then, until restoration began in 1925.  It is probably most famous for its role in hiding the Scottish Crown Jewels from Oliver Cromwell.





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It was pretty cool!

Next up,  we headed back into Stonehaven for fish and chips.  Emily ran across an article some time last year that announced that the winner of the best fish and chip shop in the UK in 2013 was in Stonehaven, so we had to seek it out.  The Bay fish and chip shop definitely lived up to the billing. We wandered along the beach and through town a little more before hitting the road to Aberdeen for dinner with the extended family.


These are Emily’s second cousins once removed (i.e. her Mom’s Grandfather’s Sister’s grandchildren) and their spouses.  It was so fun to have dinner with family that Emily has not seen since she was two years old or so and still feel like old friends.


Aberdeen was an interesting city…  very grey.  Almost every building is constructed with a grey granite that looks like concrete blocks.  We did not have too much time to explore, but we did get a couple nice walks in.  We also tried our luck at a nice looking pub and met a friendly local, but he turned out to be a Denver Broncos fan.  As always, it would have been nice to have some more time to explore, but we had new places to head on to and explore, so we were off the next morning for Dornach.  We’ll fill you in on that in our next post 🙂