Monday, January 30, 2017

The Long Journey Home (to Ireland)

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Steven tries to get home to Ireland every couple of years to see his family, but I haven't been since 1999. With three little kids at home, it was easier for his family to come see us in the States. Still, it had been a while since I had seen them, so it was time to plan a trip for both of us.

At the beginning stages of planning our trip to Ireland we threw in a side trip to Norway. We figured, hey, we're close enough, we might as well, right? Then we starting re-thinking that because it would require clothes and outerwear for very cold weather. And what's the one thing RVers avoid like the plague? Yeah, winter. Scratch Norway.

So then we decided the north of Ireland would be better. Steven's brother and sister-in-law, Philip and Jackie, own a vacay home there. But then, just a few weeks before our trip we started re-thinking that, too. Cold, dreary, windy. Yeah. Scratch the north of Ireland.

Now what? Our plane tickets were long ago purchased, so we already knew we'd be in Europe for a month, all we had to do was fill in the travel gaps and figure out where we wanted to go while we were there. After a few discussions, we finally decided that in addition to a couple of weeks in Dublin, we would also plan a five-day trip to London and a week-long stay in Paris.

For the first time since we started traveling, we prepared Scoopy for a month-long winter storage. It sure was sad to leave her behind, but we knew she would be well-cared for at the ranch.

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Scoopy was all, like “Where are you guys going??”

We flew out of Abilene to Dallas, then on to Philadelphia and finally into Dublin. No matter how you slice it, this is an 18-to-22 hour ordeal and, to be honest, something I wasn't looking forward to. Jetlag can be really difficult to overcome traveling east. Neither one of us slept on the plane, which turned out to be a good thing. We arrived in Dublin early on January 26th and after visiting with Steven's parents for a few hours, we napped for just a couple of hours in the early afternoon. By evening we were very tired and managed to sleep through the night and wake well-rested. From then on, we had no problems with jetlag. I was surprised we adjusted so easily, but happy for it!

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St. Peter’s Crescent – Steven’s childhood home and where his parents still live. 

Our first week in Dublin was jam-packed with goings-on. Nightly dinners with Steven's parents are always a treat. His dad is a fabulous cook and we were completely spoiled with wonderful dishes. The family gathering at Deidre and Maurice's home was great fun, but it probably would have been wise to build in a recovery day afterward.

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Christ Church in Dublin from the upstairs of a double decker bus.

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The Liffey River as seen from the Ha’penny Bridge.

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We had lunch at the fabulous Merchants Arch Pub in Dublin.

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A good pint, a glass of wine and a big bowl of Irish stew. What else could you want?

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We’re getting the band back together!! Steven is surrounded by brother Philip, sister Deirdre and his dad.

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The two boys and their mammy.

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Family shenanigans. It’s not easy to corral this gang, but we managed for a second or two.

Rather than waste a day recovering, we booked an early train trip to Northern Ireland to visit Belfast Titanic, a permanent exhibit built on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard in the city's Titanic Quarter where the RMS Titanic was built. On the trip north I commented to Steven that I don't think I've ever seen a day as grey as this one. Everything was the same color, the sky, the ground, the buildings. The only thing that popped were the green fields, a welcomed sight for my tired eyeballs.

The Titanic exhibit was wonderful. It is self-guided, so you get out of it what you put into it. If you blow through it, you won't learn much, but we took our time and read the stories and the history and felt it was well worth a visit. Other than Titanic, what really surprised us was Belfast itself. For years, during the Northern Ireland conflict (or, The Troubles, as this time is known locally) Belfast was at the center of a violent 30-year political struggle. Because of this, in all my travels in Europe during the 70s and 80s, Belfast was never on my radar, nor Steven's. So it was kind of amazing to us to go there and see a bustling and vibrant city. Belfast turned out to be one of those Bucket List items you add and check off on the same day. :)

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The impressive entrance to the Titanic exhibit.

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Lots of fascinating multimedia and photos got us up and personal to the Titanic experience.

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Talking holograms and deep sea treasures!

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The front of the museum is made to resemble the front of the Titanic, or is it an iceberg?

We spent a week with Steven's parents before heading to Gorey in north County Wexford to visit his best friend and former bandmate Kieran and his beautiful family, wife Aileen and young daughter Layla. Kieran was Steven's best man at our wedding years ago, as he was at theirs in 2011. Both Kieran and Aileen are musicians, and we spent one afternoon shooting music videos and the evening at a jam session in a local pub. They are both incredibly talented and it was loads of fun to hang out with them.

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Kieran, Aileen and the amazing Layla!

After another night in Dublin, we took a bus to Philip and Jackie's home in Navan. There we spent a couple of days with them and their amazing daughters Sophie and Lauren. On a rare warm and sunny Sunday afternoon, we drove to the small town of Trim, home to the famous Trim Castle. The local hotel is also home to a yummy carvery lunch, which is where we started before touring the castle. I love a good carvery and like to joke about the carrots and potatoes prepared six ways. And it's not like you get a choice, you get them all. The Irish take their root and tuber veggies very seriously.

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Lauren and Sophie at our carvery lunch.

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Parts of the movie Braveheart were shot at Trim Castle.

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Sophie and Lauren are severely punished while Philip and Steven celebrate with the black stuff!

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Jackie and Philip at Trim Castle.

I know some of you who have met Steven recognize his Irish accent, but in Ireland he might as well be American. Yet, once around family, he falls back into it quite easily. I do the same with my family in Texas and between the two of us, I have always had the more prominent accent. 

We had a great stay in Dublin, but there is more to come!

Next Up: London!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Wrapping up 2016 & Happy New Year!

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I didn't intend to stop blogging at the end of our Amazon stint and over the holidays, but it sure turned out that way. Let's catch up!

On Friday, December 2nd at the end of our 10-hour shift, we were gathering our things from our locker and noticed folks looking at their phones checking their Email and gathering to chat. Before we even got out the front door, we found out that HR had sent an Email to CamperForce folks asking if any of us would be interested in Early Release. Leaving early typically results in the loss of our bonus ($1 per hour worked) at the end of the season. But this time, HR was making it known that those who chose Early Release would receive the bonus. It seems they over-hired this year. It took us all of about a nano-second to say OH, HELL YES!

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The final Fitbit stats totaling all our steps during our Amazon experience.

By 10:45 am on Sunday, we were done, along with about 70 others. While we were excited to get on the road, we had a couple of things pending (like packages we were expecting and a doctor's appointment for me) before we could leave. We also wanted to say a proper goodbye to the people we met and spent time with. On Wednesday, December 7th, we left Campbellsville and drove all the way to Tom Sawyer Campground in West Memphis, AR, on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi.

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Scoopy at Tom Sawyer RV Park on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi River.

We caught up with Jodee & Bill Gravel and while the boys headed into Memphis to catch a movie, Jodee and I went on the hunt for a 6" springform pan. We have both recently purchased an Instant Pot, and for Steven's upcoming birthday, we were going to make him a cheesecake. We also cooked a few other dishes, and had both pots cooking away. We named them Thelma and Louise. :) 

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Jodee drinking Irish Whiskey and directing me in the making of the cheesecake.

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Tipanic and Tessa get acquainted!

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Thelma and Louise looking spiffy along the banks of the Mississippi River.

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Delicious birthday cheesecake made with the incredible Instant Pot!

We had mostly gorgeous weather and it was a great place to relax and unwind from our long days at Amazon.

While Jodee and Bill (with Tessa & Louise) took off for New Orleans, Steven and I headed to Maumelle, just outside Little Rock. We spent another few days along the river, relaxing, before finally heading to Live Oak Ranch.

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Spectacular sunrise at Maumelle Park in Arkansas.

It was great to be back to the ranch with my family. Steven and I had managed to shop for and wrap the majority of our gifts before we got there, so we jumped right in and got the tree and decorations up in the great room in anticipation of Zac and Tara's arrival. Zoe, as always, was unable to join us as she works in retail and was unable to take time off.

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Lots of fun time with family at the Ranch in Texas!

We had a lovely Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner, but after that, things went downhill fast as nearly everyone got sick. And by sick, I mean really, really sick. On the afternoon of New Year's Eve, I took both of my parents to the Emergency Room, where my Dad was diagnosed with pneumonia and my Mom with bronchitis. Dad was hospitalized for two days before being send home to recuperate. I stayed in town to be with them, but also to recover myself, as Steven seemed to have escaped infection and he wanted to keep it that way.

Recovery is ongoing, but the bulk of it all took up the first two or three weeks of the New Year with doctor's appointments and lots of rest. Fortunately, we are all on the mend. Dad is regaining his energy and Mom and I are still getting rid of our annoying coughs.

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Linda and her Mom in Abilene making a delicious halibut meal.

After a few days on antibiotics, Steven allowed me to return to Scoopy. We got busy and did the big purge that we do every year to get rid of things we don't need. This year, the Vita-Mix got put in storage, as did a few pots and dishes. Somehow, I keep buying these things and end up storing them.

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In the middle of our yearly purge!

Now, Scoopy has been winterized, I think for the first time ever. The slides are in, her fridge is empty and all power has been turned off. For the next month, Steven and I will be traveling in Europe. As I type these words, I'm sitting in the Starbucks near Steven's childhood home outside of Dublin, soaking up the free Wifi in order to bring you this blog. It is my intention to keep up with posts and share our travels with you, so thanks for following along! 

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We are in Dublin! This is the closest we’ve come to fish and chips (haven’t eaten them yet).

NEXT UP: Our adventures in the Emerald Isle.