Driving the Wild Atlantic Way and Family

After a late breakfast, we took the kids out on the rowboat for a tour around the lake. It was fun (mainly because Adam did the rowing and I just got to sit back and enjoy the picturesque view). After that, we headed off on the Wild Atlantic Way route North to Donegal. The WAW route is a stretch of gorgeous road that begins in Southern Ireland and goes all the way over to Giant’s Causeway, along the rugged and, well, wild coast. So much gorgeous countryside! Oh, and lots of sheep ☺️🐑

Once in Donegal Town, we made the split-second decision to tour Donegal Castle, which was a fun segue for all. The castle was built in 1474 by the O’Donnell clan. It was so neat to see the relatively in-tact remains of a castle that old and see how people used to live (especially people with a family last name!). O’Donnell is the last name of my Nana’s sister, who married into the O’Donnell family.

After that, we were on our way up “home.” My lovely cousin, Máire Ann, had a delicious dinner waiting for us, and it was a fun evening catching up with family. We headed right up to visit Nana’s sister, Noreen, who lives right next door. To say that I was happy to see her is an understatement.

Tomorrow: family, the beach, and who knows


The Motherland, Castles, and Sheep

We landed at 0740 in Shannon and immediately searched out breakfast for the kids (and me… who am I kidding? I was way hangry). It’s been a very, very long 24+ hours with minimal sleep. After a bit of a mini-debacle with the rental car, we were on our way! Adam only almost killed us once while adjusting to driving on the left side of the road.

We decided to head to Galway for a little stretch of the legs (and of course Ed Sheeran’s “Galway Girl” was stuck in my head the entire time). We came upon a really neat 13th century church – and one that Christopher Columbus actually prayed at. We then decided on an impromptu visit to the Knock Shrine in… Knock. It was my Nana’s favorite shrine, and I always remember her Knock Holy Water Font in her house by the front door (made of Connemara marble, of course). It was something else for sure.

We finally arrived at our hotel for the evening in Ballymote, Sligo. What a fun, neat find. It’s a 16th century property, a 19th century re-designed Georgian Manor House on a lake, and features not one but TWO castle ruins – one of which happens to be a Knights Templar Castle. The kids enjoyed exploring and going on a walk, we saw some sheep (out of the 1500+ that call this 1,000 acre property home), and decided we are going to attempt to go for a row on the lake in the morning before we leave.

We finished up with an amazing four course dinner with some other couples while our kids fell asleep in the parlour on the couch after their (considerate) dinner of pasta and ice cream (every kid’s dream). As I am not a fan of seafood, the chef was kind enough to make me a starter of roasted duck leg confit, a pickled watermelon and mint salad, short ribs done two ways (braised and croquette with fried potatoes, and a delicious dessert of raspberry sorbet with dark chocolate. 🤤🤤🤤 Adam said the seafood was pretty good. We highly recommend this place and can’t wait to come back!

My family has a long history in Ireland. That’s why I refer to it as the Motherland. Both of my grandparents on my mom’s side were born in Ireland – Nana in Co. Donegal (Craugheyboyle) and PopPop in Co. Tyrone (Strabane). Most of their family still lives there and this visit is mostly going to be time spent in Gaoth Dobhair (Geeedore) and Knockastollar in Donegal with my amazing family.

Tomorrow: family!

… so it’s been a while & I ‘m off to Ireland!

It’s been a while since my last post. There hasn’t been much going on except work, baseball, softball, and life…. but little travel.

Last week, my sister-in-law got married up in Keuka Lake (Penn Yan) in New York. For those unfamiliar, it’s in the Finger Lakes region… which means lots of wine 🤗😋🍷 it was a great weekend, and I really enjoyed the area up there – it was beautiful!

And so now we’re off to Ireland for 8 days to visit family and generally just relax. There are no crazy itineraries planned, no 8-10 miles of walking to do, and no museums to see. We’re headed to Donegal where my nana was born, and where her side of the family still lives. It’s beautiful, and the people are wonderful. Makes sense, because nana was both.

We’ve got a few segues planned. We’ll be stopping in Galway and Sligo on the way up, staying at Temple House for an evening. The property has the remains of a Knights Templar castle on it, and tons of sheep roaming around, so it should make for fun for the kids. Who am I kidding… sheep and history? I’m pretty pumped, too. 🐑🐑🐑🏰

While we’re up in Donegal, we’ll be taking a trip to Giant’s Causeway, which is in N. Ireland, and a 3-ish hour drive from my family. On the way back, we’re stopping at Dunluce Castle and Londonderry-Derry on the border, and then onward to Malin Head a for an overnight at a B&B (that also happens to be a working sheep farm!!! 🐑🐑🐑). We’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights as Malin Head is the northernmost point in Ireland and notorious for them. Then, back for a few more days of enjoying family before we head back down to Shannon.

Since we are flying out on Will’s birthday (his 6th!), we figured we’d spend the night before we leave at the Bunratty Castle Hotel and do a medieval banquet dinner for him. The kid is pumped to actually be encouraged to eat with his hands and to watch “real knights!” Oh, to be a kiddo again. ☺️

So, keep your eyes open for more posts and pictures. It’s sure to be a fun-filled 8 daysfor us!

Travel and Reading

When I travel, or am planning a trip, I like to read.  A lot.  I like to read in general, but when I plan a trip, I like to read about where I’m going.  Non-fiction, fiction, historical novels, biographies, and the general history of the place I’ll be visiting.  It gives me a sense of knowing where I’m going, and a familiarity once I’m there.  Knowing the history of a place is amazing – how and when it was founded, and by whom, the general politics and every day life, and interesting little quirks and tidbits.

For example, when I traveled to Italy for the first time in 2016, I read a bunch of books on Ancient Rome – Cicero, in particular.  It gave me a good feel of that Late Republican era, right before Caesar was murdered and Augustus became the first emperor.  I read Robert Harris’ books: Imperium, Conspirata, and Dictator.  They’re fabulously written, by the way, and give a good insight from a historical novel perspective of the great Roman orator himself, and the conspiracy behind Caesar’s murder in 44 BCE.  I also read his Pompeii (twice), which was a really interesting read on the events leading up to the famed eruption of 79 CE from the perspective of the overseer of the aqueduct.  It’s another historical novel, and in it the overseer of the aqueduct is the one who discovers that something big is about to happen thanks to a disruption in the flow of water in the aqueducts.  Once I got to Pompeii last year, I really was able to have a better picture of how water was actually brought to the city, and was able to re-create a lot of the story of Pompeii in my mind while there.

I also read Rome and Jerusalem by Martin Goodman, and SPQR, the quintessential read by Mary Beard for any ancient Roman history enthusiast, which gave some good historical perspective.  I moved on to some historical fiction on the Etruscan civilization thanks to some free Amazon Prime reads by Elisabeth Storrs – The Wedding Shroud, Call to Juno, and The Golden Dice.  These books led me to do a little digging on the Etruscan civilization, which in turn was really cool when I happened to chance upon an Etruscan tomb in the Val d’Orica and was able to grasp a lot of the significance behind it.

After returning, I went on to read a ton more on Italy (and decided to go back to school for a second master’s in Classical Mediterranean History, but that’s another story for another day).  Some of my favorites include: Dark Athena, which is primarily set in the US, but has origins in southern Italy; Beneath a Scarlet Sky, which is a novel based on true events during World War II; The Monster of Florence, which tells of the serial killings that took place in and around Florence during the 1980’s and was absolutely fascinating; The Mistress of the Vatican, which tells the story of Olimpia Miadalchini, the secret female pope; and most recently, Gomorrah, which is a personal look by author Roberto Saviano into the secret organized crime world of Naples and Campania — it was one I read in two days.

Preparing for my upcoming trip to Barcelona and the Baleric Islands in Spain this summer, I’ve been doing a little research on some books set in or about Barcelona and Catalonia.  I know some of the basics – they’re currently going through a fight for independence from Spain and recently had a vote, which resulted in the Catalonian leader being removed from government.  I want to know more.  I want to know the history behind this movement.  And so, I’ll read.  On my list, I’ve got The Man of my Life, which was reviewed to give a good insight into current Catalan politics and the independence movement.  I’ve also got The Color of a Dog Running Away, which is reviewed as being an “unforgettable historical thriller” set in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona.  Of course, I’ve got my Rick Steves’ Pocket Guide to Barcelona to page through, and I’ll see which of the other books on this list by The Culture Trip pique my interest.

Reading in itself is a passport to the world.  It’s something I’ve always loved, and I’ve found a new appreciation for it as a travel aide.  Have you read to prep for a trip, or because of a trip?  If so, what?  I’d love to hear in the comments.

Adventure: 40 Winks with the Sphinx at the Penn Museum

Those who know me know that I’m a major history lover. Last August, I stumbled upon the Penn Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology in Philly. I was there for work and checked it out after my meetings wrapped up. It. Was. Awesome. I couldn’t wait to come back. A few weeks later, after signing up for the email list and following on Facebook, I saw the post about their children’s program “40 Winks with the Sphinx.” For those who don’t know, the Penn Museum contains the 3rd largest Sphinx in the world, built c. 1938 BCE. Think about that a second…I’ll wait. Crazy, right? So, knowing my now 7-year old, Ella, likes adventures and art, I signed her up as a present for her 7th birthday, which was earlier this month. She was psyched (So was I ). Sleeping over in a museum, in the Egypt Gallery, next to an almost 4,000-year old Sphinx? My inner history geek was squealing.

Fast forward to last night. After the sometimes-hair-raising drive in to Philly, we unpacked our sleeping bags and flashlights, and as we still had 2.5 hours to kill, we decided to walk around the University of Pennsylvania campus. It’s pretty neat – lots of old buildings.

We made our way back to the museum and received our briefing on what to expect, and our scavenger hunt list. The next stop found us winding our way through the Egypt Gallery looking at mummies, statuary, and various artifacts spanning the 3,000 or so years of this awesome civilization. We moved on to the China and Japan Gallery and saw some of the most beautiful Buddha statuary that I’ve seen anywhere.

We then made our way to a short term exhibit, “Cultures in the Crossfire: Iraq and Syria.” This exhibit was utterly heartbreaking, showing the immense destruction by Isis in Syria and Iraq at sites like Nimrud, Ur, Aleppo, and Palmyra. There were video stations showing before and after shots of the sites, interviews with locals whose lives have forever been changed, and various recovered artifacts, like an 18th-century deerskin Torah, clay cuneiform tablets telling the epic of Gilgamesh, jewelry, and even 19th-century children’s dolls. The historian in me cringed at the history that was destroyed and lost forever. My heart broke seeing the men, women, and children who lost everything and fear for their lives on a daily basis.

Afterwards, we walked into the Israel & Canaanite Gallery, where we learned about the way ancient Israelites dwelled and how they worshipped. It was pretty cool to put together knowledge I had learned from reading the Bible, and seeing that culture represented. There were also some pretty neat artifacts from the ancient seafarers – the Phoenicians.

We moved onto Ancient Rome, which of course, is my forte and my passion. I was so excited to tell Ella about the different artifacts, mosaics, coinage, and history from Ancient Rome. The Penn Museum is fortunate to have a great example of damnatio memoriae, or condemnation of memory. Specifically, they’ve got a damnatio memoriae stela of the Emperor Domitian (81-96 CE). Very little of Domitian’s claims to fame remain on the stela, with only four words being partially legible. We saw some coinage from Augustus, which was particularly exciting for me because I’ve been working on a paper for my second master’s degree on Augustus and how he built his public image and ideology through coinage, poetry, statuary, etc. You bet I snapped up some pictures to incorporate into my paper. 😉 We learned about the Etruscans, which was the society, along with the Latins, that predated the Romans in Italy before they in the were ultimately absorbed by the Romans following their defeat in the Etruscan-Roman wars in 264 BCE. 🏺⚱️📿

We hit up the Greece Gallery, but Ella wasn’t really feeling it, so we quickly moved on to the Africa Gallery. Here we had the opportunity to make a version of a Mbira, or African finger piano. These instruments were used by various tribes across the continent of Africa to speak and communicate with ancestors. Ella said the Africa Gallery was her favorite, because she enjoyed how the different tribes communicated with their ancestors through dance and music. She also enjoyed the different masks and was excited to be able to identify different animals represented on the masks.

Later on we played a version of “What in the World,” and Ella was picked as one of the contestants, where she correctly identified a fan from Central America used to help build cooking fires.

We did a scavenger hunt by flashlight afterwards. Walking through the museum in the dark was admittedly creepy – particularly walking through Ancient Egypt with the mummies! No, I wasn’t scared – YOU were scared. 😱⚰️

Finally we made our way back to our sleeping bags (on a very hard floor…) around midnight, in full view of the Sphinx. Needless to say, we crashed hard. Once we woke up, we had a quick breakfast, hit up the gift shop, and headed out.

It was so much fun, and I’m excited to bring my little one, Will, when he turns 7 (minimum age for the sleepover is 6, maximum is 12, chaperone required; however, I think 6 is a bit young to really have the attention span needed for this particular museum). As a bonus, Ella gets free admission through the end of the summer! We’ll definitely be back for another visit. Interested? You can find out more on the program here, but they sell out quickly, and are only held in the winter/spring months due to a lack of a/c in all of the galleries. The museum is undergoing a massive reno, so that may change in the future. We highly recommend!