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Sunday, December 30, 2007


I wish you all the happiest and healthiest of New Years. May you each enjoy 2008 in all ways possible. Carpe Diem!

This month's issue is a long one as I try to move on through Ireland and Scotland. It was such a great trip that even with all I'm writing, I'm touching only the highlights. So please take your time and come back often. By clicking on the photos, you can enlarge them.

Thank you also for using TATravel Agency. One of the benefits of this search engine is that you can design your own flights rather than take the "packages" offered by other search engines. It gives you the opportunity to travel when you want to travel, and anything that makes us able to do it OUR way makes the trip more pleasureable.


Today our local guide for a second tour of London/Derry and its environs added another level to the story of the Troubles. Our coach drives us out into the countryside, to places just becoming “suburban” because it used to be too dangerous to venture into these “training areas.” This is a day devoted to history.

Carolyn is Catholic, and she tells us “the troubles” were originally a civil rights issue—exactly as Ronan had said in London/Derry. No voting rights for people who owned no property. Hence, poor Catholics and Protestants took to the streets emulating Martin Luther King’s methods of non-violent protest. Some trouble makers at the back of the march started a riot, and things quickly spiraled out of control. The government blamed the Catholics, and the press ate it up! Remember McLuhan’s “the medium is the massage.”

Carolyn grew up in a five bedroom house in the bogside—Catholic side—living with five other families, each family having one bedroom and all families sharing bathroom and kitchen facilities.

Carolyn’s grandfather’s boss, however, was a Protestant who owned several houses (and had several votes). He offered one house to Carolyn’s grandfather. Carolyn’s father took the mortgage, and for two years the family lived happily—until the Troubles began in 1969. The violence became so “normal” that as teenagers, she and her girlfriends went to whatever civil riots were going on in order to meet boys. Most people did not like the extremist groups on either side, but young men flexing their muscles flocked to join—another way of perpetuating the ongoing violence.

Most people, she explained, were simply looking for their Civil Rights—one man, one vote.

Today Carolyn’s teenage sons are offered a better life, and that is all they ever asked for. She pointed out the recently removed border guards (some as recently as July) and the calmness—though tentative—that is almost palpable.

We drove up to areas in the countryside just being developed for housing. It was too dangerous to build there only a short time ago as the countryside was training grounds for the different groups. But we did visit Grianan Ailligh, a large stone walled fort with a commanding view of Loughs Foyle and Swilly. It was the royal citadel of the O’Neills from the 5th to 12th centuries. The fort was probably built around the time of Christ, and there is an ancient burial ground that dates back to 3000 BC. Do I have to say this was impressive????!!

The peace is so fragile. Both Carolyn and Ronan voiced concern about Halloween, and the weekend before we arrived there was a raucous demonstration in Guildhall that ended with about $2000 worth of media equipment damage. The video ended up on YouTube, and the mayor made a statement about how they were sending out the wrong message to the world and to would-be tourists, a big source of revenue for this struggling country that would love to catch the tail of the Celtic Tiger.

This was a very touching day. I thought back to yesterday and two events in a pub. 1. I took a photo of Aggie and Owen at the bar. The young Irishman they were talking to was decidedly annoyed. In Northern Ireland, you don’t just take pictures. There’s that nagging feeling that your identity will be turned over to authorities. 2. I met an elderly gentleman in the pub and Rob got to talking to him. When we left, Rob shook his hand and said how nice it was to meet him. He said we all want the same things in life—to live it a little better. And then Rob agreed, squeezed his hand, and the man started to cry.


Sometimes good ole MotherNature really goes out of her way to WOW you, and that’s exactly what she does at Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. Take your pick at the explanation of this unbelievable phenomenon.

(briefly) Once upon a time, a giant, Finn McCool, falls in love with a woman across the sea. He throws stones to create a causeway and goes to see her. Her husband, Benandonner, an even bigger giant, finds out. Finn, who is no dummy, scurries back across the causeway. His wife hides him in their baby giant’s cradle--cap, pacifier and all. Meanwhile, the irate husband follows Finn over the causeway and demands his whereabouts from Finn’s wife. But when he sees the cradle and the size of the baby within, he decides that Finn might be more than he wishes to tackle, and he makes a hasty exit. He wants to assure that Finn does not come after him (and his wife), so as he crosses, he destroys the causeway, and what we view today is all that is left.
(also briefly) Geophysically, 60 million years ago as the continental plates moved apart, lava flowed into the cracks. As there was no volcanic activity for a long while, the lava cooled slowly. About 15.000 years ago after the ice age, the Causeway was exposed. As it continued to cool, the surface dried evenly in columns, like drying mud. There are approximately 40,000 columns, most five or six sided though some are four, seven or even eight sided.

Whichever version you choose, Giant’s causeway is a sight to behold. From the 1700s it was widely known as the eighth wonder of the world. Nature was surely working her marvels here in Northern Ireland.


We went to Belfast today. Here’s a city we’ve read about for many years. While Rob and I lived in Greenwood Lake, it was from Belfast that children—Catholic and Protestant—were brought over for a summer holiday. We learned how difficult it was for these poor, war-traumatized children to sleep. It was too quiet without the nightly fighting.

Belfast is still a segregated city, but it is making its own kind of progress. The barriers separating the Catholics and Protestants are, thankfully, gone. There are 24,000 students at the bustling University. Our local guide, born and living in Belfast her entire life, does not seem anxious to talk about the political situation as our London/Derry guides did. Rather, Hilda points out Belfast’s accomplishments and the new directions the city is taking. But, she adds, everything takes time. We’d like to take Ronan’s advice and re-visit in ten years. Hopefully improvement will continue and peace and cooler heads will prevail.

It is time to leave Ireland for the next leg of our journey, Scotland. This is an exciting and anticipated transition. We take a ferry across the Irish Sea to Scotland. Randomly, several of our friends are frisked by customs officers—they stood in for the rest of us.

The coach boards the ship, we offload and make our way to the comfortable lounges to settle in for the two hour journey. I’d taken Dramamine because I was fearful that the Irish Sea would be rough, but the crossing is exceedingly smooth.

Scotland from the get-go is different from Ireland. We drive through Ayreshire, stopping to see Alisa Craig and Robert Burns’ home. Harry reads aloud to us: “My luv is like a red, red rose….” “Little Mousie” and bits of “Tam O’Shanter.” The mood on the coach shifts seamlessly as we enter a new country and culture. Then it is on to Glasgow.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


We spend two nights in Glasgow. This gives us time to tour and time to wander. One certainly complements the other.

Our tour includes a stop at St. Mungo’s Cathedral, an extraordinarily interesting place. It’s beautiful, St. Mungo is buried here, and it is the only remaining medieval cathedral on the Scottish mainland to survive the Reformation unscathed. Knox left quite a bit of damage in his wake. Once St. Mungo’s was a Catholic Cathedral, but now it is part of the High Kirk of Scotland. Its history is as fascinating as its Gothic architecture.

We also get a chance to visit the Burrell Collection, a marvelous museum left to the city by Sir William Burrell, made rich through ship building. Three thousand pieces of the eight thousand piece collection are displayed at any one time, and admission is free. Rob and I spend our time viewing the magnificent tapestry collection. Room after room of tapestry. Outstanding even if you’ve viewed the Met’s Unicorn Tapestries!

The highlight of the day, however, is our Robert Burns dinner. We drive out beyond Edinburgh and view a statue honoring one of Scotland’s greatest heroes, Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots, who fought to free Scotland from English rule. We are greeted by a kilt-clad Scottish piper who musically escorts us to the inn where we dine in true Scottish fashion. We are introduced, once and for all, to haggis, the favored dish of Robert Burns and all true Scotsmen. Burns wrote the famous poem “Ode to the Haggis,” and we are entertained with a rendition by our host before haggis is served to us with all the appropriate pomp and circumstance. Rob loves it, and finds a compatriot in our friend Aggie. I taste it. Actually not so bad. BTW, haggis in a variety of forms is served at breakfast and at other dinners we have. (Michael, remember Boy Scout Camp Ranachqua and the visiting Scottish Boy Scout Troop?)

Also this evening we are treated to Scottish piping—quite different from the Irish pipes—and to Scottish Dancing, including the famous Sword Dance which dates back to 1573.

It’s another delightful and entertaining day and evening, and we are just beginning to get a feeling for this country.


The only way I can describe Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence is to say I spent the entire book hungry!!! So hungry that I booked us into the Petite Auberge in San Francisco next May based on the reviews that claim it is like an authentic French Inn with a wonderful French breakfast and wine and hors d’oeuvres in the afternoon. But more on that in 2008. This charming book doesn’t make me want to close up shop here and move, but it does transport me to a lovely earthy world where life can be hard but where the fundamental joys of life are good company, good food, good wine, and pride in one’s craft. Say goodbye to the rushed pace of hours and days, and say hello to the passing of seasons and all that entails. Hard to imagine, and it took Mayle and his wife some time adjusting—about a year.

Mayle and his wife moved from England hoping to enjoy the temperate climate of Provence. Despite their faulty French, they struggled with the local tradespeople. These craftsmen renovated their home—bringing it into the present time, for instance, by installing a central heating system, a necessity once the Mistral winds blowing in from Siberia bitterly assaulted them! Some temperate climate! At every turn they met unique characters and gradually learned to accept a very different way and very Provencal way of approaching life.

Mayle also learned that their new home would become the stopping place of many friends, and many mere acquaintances from England. In fact, at Easter, August, and Christmas they became hosts to a variety of freeloaders.

In the course of the year, Mayle learned to hunt truffles, find ways to avoid outrageous taxes on goods and services, learn that beautiful pieces of carved stone can sit for months before enough labor to move the monstrously heavy work can be assembled at the same time, discover that distributing Christmas tips can be a challenging enterprise, and that the finest food and wine imaginable as well as life's real pleasures can be found little more than a stone’s throw from home.

The Mayles, rather than seeking to adjust life in Provence to them, worked to adjust themselves to life in Provence, and the resulting story is a delight to read. BTW, they still live there!


There’s a mystical relationship between New England and the holiday season—snow blanketing the region and smoke curling from chimneys. One pictures the Little Women’s March family in Massachusetts or Barbara Stanwyck in the movie Christmas in Connecticut. In Vermont we drive through the little towns where the houses are surrounded in snow, the lamp posts are wrapped in lighted garland, and the architecture is reminiscent of the 18th century.

In Dorset, Vermont, the place to be is the Dorset Inn, established in 1796 and the oldest continuously operating inn in the state. Dinner at the Dorset Inn is a special treat. The Inn’s owner and chef, Sissy Hicks, has been there for 23 years. Comfort food is the Inn’s trademark—but gloriously, imaginatively, wholesomely and deliciously prepared.

Her own cookbook, Flavors from the Heart and Jane and Michael Stern’s Comfort Food from the Dorset Inn (in which we searched at the Northshire Bookstore for our delightful dishes) certainly make tantalizing reading.

Before I even get to the menu, picture this: Snow covered lawns in the town of Dorset Vermont, a place of white New England colonials, many salt boxed, on quiet, winding streets. The corner lamp post is wrapped in garland, the sign hanging from it announcing the Dorset Inn established in 1796.

Enter the Inn’s welcoming atmosphere. Holiday decorations abound, and each room exudes welcoming, fire-warmed comforts. At the time of our visit there are photographic displays in the different rooms as well as pottery by a local craftsman.

Dine in one of the several dining rooms. We are four. Rob begins with a Squash and Apple Soup that is out of this world. Robyn tries the Turkey Chili, Neal opts for Herb-crusted Fried Calamari with Mediterranean Salsa, and I choose P.E.I. Mussels in a White Wine Garlic and Leek Broth served with Rupert Rising Garlic Toast. If silence at a table means the guests are enjoying their meal, you could have heard a pin drop at ours.

Would our entrees measure up? Absolutely. I choose Misty Knoll Turkey Croquettes served with mashed potatoes, gravy, peas and cranberry sauce. Wonderful. Robyn chooses Baked Eggplant “Crepes” stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese baked in tomato-basil sauce and fresh mozzarella. She first has to adjust her thinking to accept that these “crepes” aren’t really crepes, but then she settles down to the satisfying goodness of her dish. Rob selects sautéed calves liver served with mashed potatoes, caramelized onions and vegetables. Our waitress asks how he would like it—suggests medium—and Rob claims he has never had liver so tender or good. Neal’s choice is the grilled swordfish served with artichoke and red onion. Everything is delicious.

Unfortunately we have no room for the tantalizing desserts, but when we settle our check, our waitress brings us a small Dorset Inn bag containing four scones—to sweeten our breakfast, she says. And they do. Tasty and wonderful.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Talk about a highly recommended author! June and Carol have been telling me about Carl Hiaasen’s ironic sense of humor for years, and finally I’ve read this thoroughly outrageous, original, and entertaining author. I picked up Native Tongue at our library’s book sale. I bought another novel by him as well, and I will get to it asap (but my list is sooooooo long already). In the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vt., I noticed that he has edited 2007's The Best American Mystery Stories. I bet they’re pips!

Native Tongue is one heck of a crime novel! Our detective, Joe Winder, is a burned out former cop born and raised in Florida who gets pulled kicking and screaming into trying to solve the mystery of the missing last-of-their-species mango voles from a wildlife park whose owner wants to out-Disney Disney. What happens to him as he meets aged, rich environmentalists, New York crime figures, swamp-inhabiting hermits, several hot women, and two of the most unusual crooks one can imagine kept me wanting to find the time to keep reading.

I admit that at first I thought I was reading a silly, nonsensical tale, but then I got hooked by Hiaasen’s bait just as Joe hooks fish at his favorite, soon to be demolished, spot in Florida. Hiassen is happily a Floridian, and he is apparently against the uncontrolled growth that ruined much of what makes Florida unique, but he is not a lecturer, and while the message is clear, it is also painlessly administered.

Haissen is a masterful story teller, and I was never sure what was coming next—murder, theft, sabotage, or fun. Native Tongue is exactly the kind of book you’d like to take along on a vacation. It’s a great read, not at all taxing. The only thing you have to be careful about is drawing attention to yourself as you laugh out loud!


First, the government reports that the normal wait time of 4-6 weeks is back for Passports. It’s still a good time to make sure you have yours done well in advance of a trip.

Have you signed up for ? This is a great site to check the fluctuating airfares and to compare fares from different airports in your area. Not only does George Hobica scout regular fares, but also he scouts the deals that may be offered for only a few hours or a few days at a time. It’s definitely worth checking out.