Traveling with Friends

TRAVEL IS NIGH AND I am definitely filled with excitement! I’ve completely ignored my travel-blogging lately … well, there have been tiny bits peppering my blogs of late, but not much else. Oopsie!

Just so you are aware, I will be at the mercy of internet availability during my travels, so blogging posts may be sporadic—I’ll try my best to adhere to a schedule, but it will completely depend on availability. I do have hotspots for my computer whilst traveling in Ireland and the UK, but I’ll need to figure out how to use them again (it’s been waaaay too long—hope I can remember passwords …) and I’m sure I’ll have to “feed” them before they can be used.

In the past—beginning with our maiden voyage in 2007 (or was it 2008??), I’ve traveled with my daughter for two and a half months; I’ve traveled with her and friends for a week, then just with the friends (stationed over in Germany) for another week … then on my own; I’ve traveled alone for 3-6 weeks; taken trains and buses; rented a car. Each time has been fun; each time has been a learning experience.

This time around, I’ll be traveling with my daughter’s mother-in-law. Sandy and I have hit it off well since our childrens’ nuptial tying of the knot—but we have never spent more than a couple days together, so this will be a delightful experience in patience, understanding and sharing close quarters (the car, dorm-room style sleeping arrangements with 4-8 other roommates—complete strangers—that sometimes turn into lifelong friends, short and long tours cooped up in a van together …et cetera). It’s a matter of give and take for both of us. I think we are adult enough for this trip to be wonderful for both of us. Everyone has their own personal quirks that must be taken into consideration. If you are not able to be flexible, traveling with friends may not be for you.

We will be visiting my new (and old) internet friends that live in Wales, London (and surrounding areas), and Yorkshire area. I love being able to meet my internet connections—at least one face-to-face enriches the relationship. I will be showing Sandy around places I’ve seen (and have fallen in love with) and we’ll experience other places together for the first time. And we will do tons of walking. Literally tons … my habit of “park-it-and-walk” still applies for as long as I am able to walk. We’ll stay at hostels as often as we can—I’m sure there will be a few B&Bs and hotels when hostels are booked. We’ll do mini-tours around the “big cities” via the Hop-On/Hop-Off buses, more mini-tours with some of the tour companies that take jaunts out into the nearby country-side … and perhaps take the car out to look at the lovely countryside, ruins and other little towns. As I’ve just mentioned, I prefer the “drive to a location and park it till we move on” philosophy—walking is such a wonderful way to observe and soak in the beauty of the cities and towns. But sometimes, to see special spots and places far afield, cars are required. (Usually, I find cars are way too fast for sightseeing, but with a car, I can pull over or turn around if I see something that interests me—unlike various forms of public transport!) We will have our week-long tour (with the Celtic Invasion Vacation group, a annual tour organised  by Marc Gunn) up on Isle of Skye in Scotland about a month into our journey. Then we’re back to poking around and working our way back to Dublin for our journey home. There will be two ferry rides—I love these. Allows for a re-boot.

There will be at least one ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee) for us to attend in Dublin at the Jameson Distillery (insert a very happy, smiley face). The date has yet to be set … I really need to get on that soon. Yes, there is more planning to do before we set sail. All in all, I’m looking forward to a laid-back, delightful tour of Ireland and the UK.

So, until next week (after my first book signing of the year—and just before the next one), I wish you all a beautiful, blessed Friday and weekend. Toodles!

 

Celtic Invasion Vacation (CIV): Northern Wales-Part One

THIS WAS A FUN TIME FOR ME–exhausting, but super fun and very memorable! I’d not miss any of it–I’d do it all over again…even the ‘vertical’ portions.

Every year, Marc Gunn puts together a trip to one of the seven Celtic Nations. He’s been doing this for quite a few years. In past years, he has taken adventurers to various parts of Ireland, Scotland (I’m so sorry I missed this!), and France to take in both modern and ancient sights. Since Marc is a Celtic musician (born on St. Paddy’s Day), he always includes personal house concerts, both with his playing and singing and with invited musicians bringing in their instruments and voices to play for us in the evenings. In addition, when possible he seeks out Celtic music in local pubs for his Invaders to enjoy whilst feasting and downing a pint.

The troupe of Invaders is usually on the small side (6-14 people, including Marc), which allows for a fair amount of leeway when proceeding through his very loose itinerary. If something doesn’t strike a fancy with the majority, perhaps another venue is more appealing…and so, itinerary might be changed. Going with the flow. I like that. So does everyone else.

This year, I drove up from Holyhead (spent the night in Llanfairfetchan–I even know how to say it right–before proceeding), and (after a few wrong turns–remember, no fine-tuned GPS yet in the UK), turned in my car and met up with the Invaders at the Bewely Hotel very near the Manchester Airport the night before the actual tour began. Since we had to wait for the last two to arrive (the morning our group was to head out),

Trekking in Manchester UK

The six of us trekking back to the train station in Manchester

the rest of us (was there really only six of us?) took the train down into Manchester and,

Manchester UK

A glimpse of Manchester, on the way back to the train station.

ill-prepared for the rain that fell, we ignored the rain and did some walking around, sightseeing, made a few strategic purchases and had our

Dinner in Manchester UK

Drying out, enjoying a lovely Italian dinner

dinner (which allowed for us to dry out our sopping pants and jackets a wee bit–it’s only water, right?)…

After picking up our last two Invaders and retrieving the van, we headed out, traversing back down the way I’d traveled, down into Wales–actually, pretty close to where I spent the night when I first came over on the ferry. I could have checked with Marc about the details before I made reservations for accommodations and my car rental to save on the extra travel and expenses…but I did have fun with the group the night before we headed out, so I’m happy with how it went.

Marc usually rents a cottage of some sort for his Invaders and uses it at ‘base camp’, coming back at the end of each day to relax, have dinner (did I mention Marc is an excellent cook and prepares most of the breakfasts and dinners that we had at the cottage for us?) and, at least two or three (or maybe four) nights enjoy our own little personal house concert, whether Marc or one of the guest musician.

This was a delightful little cottage in Bryngwran, with an open floor plan–the front patio had a BBQ and picnic table,

Room at Watermill Cottage

My room, Marc’s bed on left, mine in right.

Patio at Watermill Cottage

Looking through the skylight down to the patio

Watermill Cottage

The partially hidden watermill at our cottage

Patio at Watermill Cottage

Delightful location for a meal…used the BBQ (not seen) for our dinner

the front entry lead into a large kitchen flowing into a dining and living room area, with an en suite bedroom (for two) stashed off on the side from the entry, plus a bathroom. Upstairs had a loft with two beds and two bedrooms (one was en suite), each accommodating two, which was perfect for us. (Sshhh–don’t tell anyone…Marc and I shared a room. Giggle…he was a perfect gentleman–he offered to sleep on the couch, but I said no way, and offered the second twin bed–no reason for him to sleep on the couch where there was a perfectly good, empty bed. Like I said, he was a perfect gentleman.) There was a washer off of the kitchen area…and solar drying (clothesline) on the beautifully landscaped garden patio…I should have done my laundry when we first arrived to allow time for items to dry (but we had off and on rain and couldn’t see things actually drying with the weather we were having), instead, I chose to wait till I left the Invaders and settled into the hostel before doing laundry.

Day One, Saturday, included the scenic drive through the countryside and along the coast from Manchester Airport down to the cottage. (I won’t mention who left their drivers license back in the states…teehee…two of us with licenses did some of the driving.) Our first adventure took us into Conwy (pronounced Conwee) to see their beautiful castle. From atop the turrets I could see the walls encapsulating

Overview of Conwy Castle

High atop one of the turrets, a shot into the castle grounds

Conwy Castle Grounds

From the turrets, looking into the castle grounds

Conwy City from Castle

View of Conwy from the Castle

the entire town. It was breathtaking to see the little hamlet with the great protective ‘arms’ wrapped around it. After touring the castle, we were free to wander the town for several hours before meeting back up. I ended up making my first purchases (a tea towel with wild flower of Wales printed on it, plus some tea and scones) in a little shop, then stumbled upon a local art exhibition, with some very nice works: photography needlework scenery, penwork…all lovely. I ended up with a few items: a bag with an owl (of course, since I’m such an owl fanatic) and a small water colour and/or pen drawn dragon for my daughter…and a bookmark, which I’ll use as a prize/giveaway one of these days. Definitely a town to revisit…

From there, we worked our way to our cottage where everyone claimed their bed/room, unpacked and Marc and one other brave soul went out to shop for our food supplies. I think Marc entertained us with music, but we were all so tired, I honestly don’t remember. Our poor last two CIVers

Marc Gunn, Personal Concert

Marc played many of his tunes for us over the course of the week.

were working on well over 24 hours of travel by the time we all headed to our respective beds…

Day Two and Three (Sunday and Monday) were a blur of activities. For a few days, I failed to note all of the places we visited–I was having entirely too much fun to take the time…I’ve looked at dates on photos and my posts on Facebook to figure out what we did…and I’m still not sure I’ve got it right–lol–think I’ve missed one or two castles and towns…oops–I’ll include them in next weeks blog.

Cemetry Grounds on Church Island

Picturesque shot of cemetery

Snowdon Mountain

A view of Snowdon Mountain

Church Island at Low Tide

Church on the little island between Menai and Britannia Bridges surrounded by Menai Strait (in a portion called The Swellies because of dangerous whirlpools)

WWII Bunker

Cute little seaside town had a bunker nestled into a hillside.

Seaside View

Nearing the end of our guided tour, resting in a seaside village

In the midst of a sheep pasture, the view is breathtaking, the history told intriguing.

In the midst of a sheep pasture, the view is breathtaking, the history told intriguing.

Gates and Turnstyles

Lots of livestock to keep contained, so plenty of gates and turnstyles to get through. Note the detail of ironwork.

The Henge Burial Chamber, Wales

Our guide, Willym explained the lore, facts and some of the traditions behind the burial mounds.

A House Concert

Jonny Dyer and Vicki Shaw graciously played for us.

Deep in Snowdonia NP, Wales

A pristine lake (Llyn y Dywarchen) is our reward after a short climb.

Jonny Dyer and Vicki Swan Concert

Together, these two harmonized to make fantastic music for us, well past the time they planned to quit. Amazing duo!

We made quite a few stops (photo ops and ooohs and aaahs) on this first day of real exploring of Wales. We wound through the gorgeous, mountainous Snowdonia National Park. Outside of Scotland, it has the tallest peak in the UK…and the views are breathtaking, to say the least (and Day Three held even closer inspection of this magnificent region). The SavNat provided (TomTom) was not working well, so Kevin, the one person that had a smart phone with GPS was giving directions from the middle of the van. There was plenty to see. We ended our day with a bit of music by our fearless leader, Marc Gunn. Wonderful.

Day Three (Monday) was filled with cultural and natural history, with our guide, Willym. In addition to more beautiful sights in Snowdonia, there were hills to climb, gates to go through, and more climbing…all while we heard about the history of the area. Not the dry stuff with someone spouting off facts that fall on deaf ears. Our guide led us out to fields to explore cairns (burial mounds), up trails, into dales, across brooks. (I’d say I easily logged an average of five miles each day.) Delightful. I’m not a history buff, but definitely enjoyed taking in all I heard and saw. That night, we were privileged to hear the harmony of two wonderful musicians: Vicki Shaw and Jonny Dyer. They were fantastic! (I’ll tried to attach a clip.)

Day Four (Tuesday) was ridiculously fun…and exhausting. It started with a mead tasting in Llanberis. It was deliriously

Meadery Owner

The owner of Snowdon Honey Farm and Winery, is wearing one of my book wristbands

Mead Tasting

We tasted many very different (and delicious meads…

fun and took more time than planned. Many of us went away with arms full of goodies (I for one was trying to figure out how my purchases would make it back home unscathed…(they did make it intact, thank you very much…)

We were to meet a storyteller “near” the National Slate Museum and had to rush across the river to get there. Well, we took a few wrong turns (no biggie–it really was a beautiful area), Marc called our storyteller and he gave us directions for us to follow. We traveled a well worn trail up into the hills, passed a hospital (for the slate company back in the day–part of the museum, and beautifully preserved), continued to walk up, and up…down…and up. I think there was more verticality to this walk than I’ve ever seen, and my knee (and very out of shape muscles) protested. I was the ‘weak link’ in our party of eight and I finally got to the point, when they were unsure whether they needed to go up further or turn down, following the river, that I stopped. I begged them to check and see which way we needed to go before I took another step. They were sweet enough to oblige me and forged ahead, down the hill. Yup, the right choice. I slowly followed. And was rewarded with the most beautiful little encampment I’ve ever seen. A little village of quaint, and quite unique buildings.

Thatched Lodge

Here, we are resting from our weary jaunt, but soon, we would settle into the lodge for a wonderfully told story.

Sod-Roofed Cottage

So many of these little cottages are a delight to the eye and mind.

Our Storyteller and Marc

The village in the background as Marc and the Storyteller chat

Carpentry Features with Reflections

The rustic, yet intricate carpentry details were fabulous. Our CIVers (including your truly) are in the reflection of the window.

Storyteller at Cae Mabon

In the large thatched lodge, our storyteller spins his yarn…

Thatched roofs, a Hobbit home, rammed earth building…all nestled amongst beautiful trees, next to a babbling stream. My fatigue melted away. And our storyteller was superb. Well worth the trek.

After our trekking, storytelling and a bit more sightseeing was done and we were munching on snacks in Llanberis, looking back up into the area we’d been traversing, well…I videoed Marc’s reactions, but his comments are not repeatable in this G-rated blog. (I’ve tried to upload another video I did showing the distance we traveled, but it hasn’t worked so far.) All I can say is…

Far Above National Slate Museum

…looking across the river into the town of Llanberis (photo taken from somewhere above and to the north of the Slate Museum Hospital)

Oh! My! Goodness!

I’ll continue with the last half of our trip next week…until then,

Slainté and peace be with you on this fine day.

 

Looks Like Rain…

I’M ENJOYING THIS WEIRDLY WARM weather here on the Central Coast of California. Thursday’s high was 89.1, down about 74.5 (78 inside still, but coming down slowly) as I wrote this. Tomorrow (Friday) will cool a little more (80-ish), and even more over the weekend–almost back to the “normal”, but not quite…then it goes back up again. But, this doesn’t mean I’ll not be happy when cooler weather (aka: our ‘normal’ summer) comes, though…with this drought, I’m not really sure if it will arrive..

Though it’s too far out to see what weather I will have in store in Ireland, it’s 51-58 (F) and rain most days through the 11th (last day it shows). That will be a nice change after a week of off-and-on very hot weather. Unless there’s a drastic change in weather, I’m sure I’ve gotta make sure I pack a few long sleeve shirts and a sweater 😉 plus my umbrella and maybe my rain slicker. (Probably won’t get much use out of the capris I just purchased, but I’ll take them, just in case.) The coolness and wetness will not hamper my travels at all. I’ll revel in it. The only thing it might effect is the amount of photographs I can get without damaging my camera. I may resort to iPhone or point ‘n shoot to protect my good camera, but I *will* get my shots in.

I’ve got my route roughly figured out: Dublin to Galway, then follow the coast to Sligo (I will be visiting a Facebook friend–John is growing a labrynth and I’m anxious to see how it’s progressing) to somewhere along the north coast of Ireland or N Ireland to Dublin–haven’t decided exactly where yet (I’ll stick with the coast route all the way back to Dublin). Dublin to Holyhead, Wales (via ferry, as foot passenger) to Manchester, England–meet up with the Celtic Invasion Vacation group (headed by a capable Marc Gunn, Celtic Musician-tour organizer and guide Extraordinaire) to visit many points in Wales, then back to Manchester (say farewell to the group and hire another car to travel to Edinburgh (a favorite), Scotland and the northern coast (want to check out the Gunn Clan’s castle and history center), then to the outskirts of London to visit a friend, Natalie and her family (I’ve been invited to stay in their guest room). They will give me the ‘grand tour’ of London and surrounding areas, I believe. I may spend another day in a hostel in downtown London to hopefully meet up with a writer friend, Vickie Johnstone (she writes in several genre–childrens and thriller). Then it’s back to Holyhead. Holyhead to Dublin (foot passenger again on the ferry) with day trips to Cork and other areas in the southern portion–and of course lots of travel around one of my favorite cities, Dublin before I am forced to catch my return flight home.

Whew! And yet, six weeks is not enough time to thoroughly enjoy myself. Next time, I may look into sticking to one place for six weeks (or more) and use the time as a writing retreat–but I’ll still make sure I get some tromping around in the countryside to take photographs. A must. I just love the ruins, the history of the country.

And I cannot forget the people. All along the way, I plan on cultivating friendships wherever possible. These (Ireland and Scotland specifically) are countries I have fallen in love with and wish to connect on a more personal level.

Right now, I’m working on hostel room (or couchsurfing–I’m fine with this too and it keeps the cost down) reservations, but not concerned (I’ve got the important ones–first, last and a few nights in between–all taken care of). There shouldn’t be too much problem booking. Most of the time, all I have to do is book the next hostel when I check in at the current one.

I can *almost* count on my fingers how many days before my travels begin. I’ll be doing a little bit of fine tuning in these last few weeks–making sure I have all the electronic accessories I need (oh, my–it gets worse every time I travel!)–I’m taking my GPS this time since I won’t have a ‘nagivator’ to assist me. I love my GPS. I just purchased a new suitcase (the old one had a wonky wheel that made a horrendous noise) but plan only to fill my smaller suitcase and stuff it inside for the trip over (hope it fits in my cars). The larger one will be for “overflow” of gifts and purchases for myself. I’m not going to get caught trying to cram all my goodies into the small suit case like I’ve done before. The smaller one is small enough to use as a carry on, so if I am limited to one suitcase as checked baggage, I’m set. My backpack then becomes my ‘personal’ item, which will include my purse and camera equipment and GPS.

I’m nearly set. Wheeee.