Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Last of Our Irish Adventure

The last full day of our Irish adventure had us visiting the crystal workshops at Waterford and the Dunbrody "famine ship" at New Ross before finishing the day back in Dublin.

But before I go on, I want to share one of the curious things we found visiting an "old country:" the number of times we saw something like this:
A completely derelict stone structure in the middle of a patchwork of buildings downtown
It was a sort of reminder that, if you let it go, nature will take over.

There were also a few sights like this, not quite derelict, but having a weathered beauty all the same.

Now. On to Waterford.

I did not realize that the fine crystal from the famous factory is all handmade. I just assumed that there were machines blowing, turning, cutting, blasting. But I was so wrong.
Every single cut in this exquisite bowl was made by hand.
It starts, of course, with molten glass.
The water being sprayed on it turns almost instantly to steam.
And with a person at the other end of the tube,
blowing and spinning that glass in its mould.
Here is an example of a much larger mould made of wood - this would only be used a handful of times. You can see how the glass burned the wood.

It's a bear's head.
Coming out of the mould, the crystal is smooth.

If needed (i.e., for a vase), a separate stem is added to the blown bowl.

None of these men looked nearly as sweaty as one would expect.
After any sharp edges are smoothed and beveled, the artisans mark the cutting patterns onto the surface with a marker, following a blueprint.

This would not give me much to go on, but it means something to the worker.
The magic begins!
Each cut so precise.

Quality inspection is important; Waterford does not sell "seconds."

Not all of the pieces are traditional vases and bowls. Many of their custom, commissioned pieces, are whimsical. And they do keep an in-house copy of every specialty piece they make.

Looks to me like a gigantic hummingbird feeder. Not sure I'd want to meet those hummingbirds.
Artisans also sometimes propose - and create - works of their own inspiration. Like this memorial to 9/11.

I believe this is the in-house duplicate; I can't recall where the other one is now.

I did see, oh, one or two things in the gift shop which I would love to have brought home as a souvenir, but the prices! (Not surprisingly, really, but still.)

675 Euros, or about $975 Canadian
From there, we proceeded to New Ross and toured the Dunbrody Famine Ship, an authentic reproduction of an 1840’s emigrant vessel. It was not a large ship, but it would have packed more than 100 poor souls into bunks belowdecks. Sometimes called "coffin ships" as many as 50% of the people on board would have died before completing the month-long journey from Ireland to the New World.

Our ticket for the guided tour gave each of us a replica of the ticket of an actual passenger.
I was a 36-year-old mother traveling with her children, escaping the potato famine of the mid-1840's.
And here was our home-to-be
I so wanted to ring that bell!
We were a group of 45 or so. Can you imagine it with more than 100?
It was so dark that most of my pictures really didn't turn out that well. But you can see, on the post of the bunks behind the heads in the picture above, that there is a piece of paper. That piece of paper indicated who slept in that bunk. My entire family was in one bunk. I believe that our personal belongings would have been in that bunk as well.

Our tour was animated by characters who would have been aboard the ship. One woman told of the deaths of her husband and newborn.

Following our tour, I was finally feeling well enough to enjoy a good plate of fish & chips!

The fish was perfectly cooked!

From Waterford, we returned to Dublin. The Book of Kells at Trinity Library had not been a part of our formal tour, but we had time to visit it that afternoon before dinner. The library was walking distance from our hotel.

I didn't take very many pictures of the intricately ornamented books, but they really were works of art. After going through a museum that explains the source of many of the books in the library, we were allowed to stroll through a very limited area upstairs.

Old ironwork is so beautiful.
I must admit, my Kindle does not bring nearly the same feeling as this!
Pigments used in illumination (ornamentation)
On the way back to our hotel from Trinity College, we passed this railway arch that had been converted to a building on campus.

I do love, old industrial architecture.

And with that, our tour was done. Not sure where our next trip will be, but I'm looking forward to it!

Monday, June 24, 2013

The stars are aligned.

Glamour horoscope for June 2013
I'm not a horoscope follower. I don't subscribe to daily or weekly bulletins warning me of risks or lucky numbers. I rarely ever read them and, when I do, I usually scoff at how generic they are.

Early in June, however, I happened to glance at the back pages of Glamour magazine and read the horoscope at left.

As it happens, I had been feeling a little malaise at my current job. I enjoyed the work I was doing, but was ready for more responsibility, different challenges.

I had dragged my heels about making a change because I've considered retiring at the same time as Steve does (only about a year and a half away). Why start something new when it will only last such a short time?

And then, coincidentally, I connected with a former colleague who told me about an opportunity that sounded like it was right up my alley: communications and staff-development support at a local university.

So I shot in my resume and was eventually accepted the job offer. Maybe this little fluff article was in the back of my mind. Who knows?

During salary negotiation, I learned that tuition is covered 100% by the university for staff and their immediate dependents. I happen to have three university-aged kids, and another one who will be graduating high school in 2014. Can you say bonus?

The tuition is a taxable benefit, but it's taxed at the student's rate, not mine, so it's a huge deal for us. And even if I decide to take courses myself (maybe it's time to do that Master's degree I've been putting off), it's a great benefit.

And then, last night while I was tidying my side table, I saw a scrap of paper.
Financial opportunity lies ahead.
As I said, I'm not about to start looking for omens and aligning the stars, but in this case, it is quite a coincidence of timing.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Sibbald Family 2012 Review

Okay, so it took me a little longer than usual this year. But I got it done and have ordered a hard copy for our family records.

I'm a big fan of Shutterfly's photo books and other photo gifts.

I've made these annual books since 2009 and find that they are a great way to keep a record of our family's milestones and adventures, as well as copies of some of my favourite pictures. They are relatively easy to make. Also uploading your pictures to Shutterfly is a great way to archive/back up your pictures.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

I've kissed the Blarney Stone.

At one of the gates to the grounds of the Blarney Castle.
Yup. I kissed the Blarney Stone - which legend says will give me the gift of persuasive and charming speech. But, you know, I've kind of always had that, so I'm not sure it was worth bending over backwards for.

(And, no, I didn't get a picture of myself kissing the stone because the line-up to buy the official one was too long and I didn't think to get someone to take a picture for me. But here's one of Steve.)
It's tricky to understand.
Here's a fancy illustration to help you understand the posture.
Ignore the basketball.
The stone is roughly where the lightning bolt is pointing. To reach it, you have to lie on your back across the floor and reach your upper body across the multi-story gap. In modern times, there are wrought-iron grills to prevent your falling to your death. They also have a couple of burly men to help you out. I was also told that the men spritz the stone with disinfectant after each kiss.

It was not fun. But I did it.

I was surprised by how beautiful the grounds are.
I think these are blue poppies! Can you imagine?
I need these.

Another perspective.
I also was not expecting to find that the interior is actually very, very small. Not at all like the castles you see in movies.
One of the main bedrooms. 
The bedrooms were barely big enough for a modern double bed. The windows, of course, were unglazed.
There were two uneven stone staircases, polished by many thousands of footsteps.
Much of the stonework was, of course, covered in lichen and moss.
The Banqueting Hall
You can see where the floor/ceiling would have been. This picture really doesn't show how small the "great hall" was. It might have been just a little larger than our living room, which is about 12' x 18'.

Here's another view of the Banqueting Hall.
View from the top floor.
In the centre of the picture is the fireplace.

This picture of the fireplace (in one of the bedrooms, I believe). You can see the stones that extrude from the wall; these would have supported the wooden floor.

There were, of course, other tourist amenities nearby - restaurants and shops. One of the restaurants had a charming old tinker's caravan on display.

It looks like it would have been very cozy in there!
We continued on to Waterford that afternoon (pictures of that in my next post), but I want to leave you with these two funny little pictures we snapped.
Yah, that looks safe.
Holy crap! How do you lose a unicorn!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Can you where about the thing? Thanks.

So, first this happened.
Clearly, I was not firing on all lightbulbs in the drawer.
At the time, I was editing the website at work and worried that I might make a terrible error. So I packed up and headed home. 

As I got into my car, I thought, "I should be extra careful, since I don't seem to be thinking very clearly." I hadn't even made it out of the parking garage when . . .
The rear-view mirror from the driver's side.
I sideswiped the garage door, leaving me with a handful of this.
The broken pieces of the mirror.
Further proof that I was having a sleep-deprived moment: I actually considered whether we might not be able to glue the pieces back together. Seriously.

But I made it home - driving verrrrrrry carefully - without hurting anyone. I won't even think about using any electrical appliances. 

Boy! Am I ready for the weekend!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ring of Kerry

The skies off the "Ring of Kerry" coast were mesmerizing.
As anticipated, there were many rainy days during our Irish adventure but, as we had planned for it, it really didn't bother us much. Likewise, once I realized that I was fighting motion sickness, I was able to anticipate it and cope with it.

We stayed two nights in Galway, so we could take a day tour of the Ring of Kerry. Here is a map of the (approximate) route we took.

View Ireland Tour 2013 in a larger map

I'm glad I'd found some tricks to battle the nausea before we took on this day. The road was quite twisty and narrow. In fact, buses were only permitted to travel counter-clockwise on this section of highway so that they would never have to squeeze alongside each other at narrow points.
We finally glimpsed some working bogs - areas where the landowners excavated peat for fuel.

And we saw those famously green fields.

Sadly, I do not recall what this shrine was about. You will note the stones set on-end along the wall. It was a style we saw throughout Ireland. I asked the guide about it and she seemed never to have considered the question. I suppose that's just the way it's done.

The weather really just made the views all that much more magical.

More of the yellow gorse bushes that bloomed profusely everywhere.
The forest in the southern coastal areas was blanketed with thick moss.
Suitable for filming a horror movie, I think.
I forgot to include the following sign in my previous post about the unique signs we saw on our trip.
"Ireland's best known view. (Fog permitting.)"
Can't say they aren't honest.

This photo was taken from inside the bus, to show you just how tight a squeeze we often faced.
You can see the seat-back reflected in the window.

That evening, we were in for a real treat. One of the tour's optional excursions was what they called "Be our Guest" - an evening of dining and entertainment at a working farm. "Working" in the sense that they actually have livestock, but they are not modern farms. At least, our's wasn't.
The sky was dramatic as we entered the grounds.
The owner (?) greeted us and gave us a tour of the operations.
This included showing us how a special implement cuts the turf for fuel.
They look a little like square cow patties. Probably not fundamentally a lot different,
though these have been decomposing for eons.
Compare those to the ones we saw earlier in our trip.
These, I'm guessing, were machine cut and then somehow processed.
Possibly to reduce smoke emissions and to improve efficiency.
I couldn't resist taking a picture of this young woman.
She was absolutely charming and thought it a great lark that
the horse dropped a pile of poop as we watched.
I have a "thing" for windows.
Everywhere we looked, the eye was delighted.

The creamery, showing old items.
They showed us how they churn their own butter. I took pictures, but there was very little light and they did not turn out very well.
Yah, definitely a thing for windows. Especially if they include a lace curtain.
All this one is missing is a cat.
The meal, like the majority of the meals on the trip, was exquisite.
A blood sausage canape.
I had tried hotel-buffet blood sausage earlier and found it dry and tasteless. This was neither. The sausage was tender, moist and served on a potato pancake with a dash of crème fraîche. It was really, really good. And the presentation throughout the meal was just as simple and charming.

Bonus: since I was no longer crippled by nausea, I enjoyed every bite!

Peat fire in a cast-iron hearth.
He's holding uilleann pipes (pronounced EE-lin), an Irish form of the bagpipe.
He played, she sang, and they had a grand time, as did we. (I think that's Steve's shoulder in the foreground.) After dinner, we moved to the kitchen, a great room with a massive fireplace. Our entertainers performed some more - and they invited us to share some wit or stories as well. One fellow on our trip did get into the spirit, but I can't remember his tale.

She really had a lovely voice.
With the uilleann pipes, the air is controlled by a bag held under his armpit.
We went home happy and sated, and slept well.

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