Friday, August 12, 2022

UK TRIP 2022 – PART XI

 May 19, 2022

Hill of Tara

Our room was HOT during the night. I got up a couple of times to try to reset the air conditioner. However, it didn’t work. So, on our way to breakfast, we asked to have it fixed.

Following breakfast, we returned to our room and got ready for the long drive south to the Hill of Tara. We had promised my best friend, Kathleen Murphy Stewart, we would take some of her ashes there several years before she died in 2020.



Larry was stressed even before we left, concerned about the long drive, crossing the border from Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland, and finding the location. Fortunately, we had Rick Steves’s maps to help a bit for this trip.

We stopped by the concierge desk and asked Philip the best way to get there. Jean and Owen had told us we would need euros for the tolls, so she gave us some. (We only had brought pounds, although we actually used few of them—mostly for our laundry.)

We had charted the route on the Rick Steves map, but it wasn’t nearly detailed enough. Once again, Larry had written the turn-by-turn directions. Philip called it up on Google Maps for us on his computer. He tried to print it out, but his printer didn’t work. He made a few notes for us of milestones to look for. Drogheda was key.

Then we finally hit the road.

The border crossing was a non-event. Just a sign along the road: Welcome to the Republic of Ireland.

As usual, the major motorways were fairly easy to follow, but when we got off those, the route became convoluted.

We followed Larry’s written instructions, but we must have made an error because we realized we were headed in the wrong direction. We pulled into a gas station and asked how to get to the Hill of Tara. Bless the clerk! He called up the turn-by-turn instructions on his phone. Then he walked us out to the road and pointed us in the right direction. He let me take a screen shot of the directions, and we were on our way again.

I fully expected we would see signs as we got close. Instead, we traveled down tiny unmarked lanes.





There were no signs at all. We finally drove through a gate into what looked like a farm yard. The only clue we had that we were in the right place was a tour van. (We couldn’t figure out how it maneuvered the very narrow roads.)

This is a major historic and cultural site and tourist attraction, so one would think there would be large signs pointing the way. Uh…no. We remembered the visitors’ center at New Grange with a wide road and direction signs. We had expected much the same at this place.

After a nearly two-hour drive, we’d found it.

The website said the visitors’ center would open on the 19th, hence our choice of the date. When we got there, however, we discovered it would not open until the 28th. Oh, well…





We followed the path and finally reached the signs on the site describing the location where Kathleen had asked us to spread some of her ashes. Her widower, Bill, had gotten them to us not long before we left home.




It was cold and blustery, but the view was beautiful. Larry just wanted me to drop them at the bottom, but I thought we should take them to the top. I placed them at the foot of the large standing stone, Lia Fáil. (Her widower later told me it was her favorite spot, so I was happy I had chosen the right place.)




As we walked back to the parking area, I picked a couple of the wildflowers from around the site. I also found two feathers and picked them up. I put them into the small envelope where her ashes had been.


We went into the tiny café for a cup of coffee. I had a lemon slice (a piece of lemon cake) and Larry had a chocolate muffin. He ordered ice cream with his. However, the waitress added ice cream and whipped cream to both of them. I gave Larry the whipped cream and about half of my ice cream. I did eat some as the cake was somewhat dry. But the coffee was delicious and warmed us up.



In the gift shop, I found a few items I wanted, including a t-shirt. Larry liked the design, so he got one, too.

Then we set out on the long journey back to Belfast. This time, we had to follow a “diversion” (detour), which bypassed the toll plaza. It took over an hour and a half each way—a total of more than three hours on the road. But we’d known this before we started out.

When we got back to our room, we discovered that nothing had been done about the air conditioning. We tried again to get it to work, but after waiting about half an hour, it was still HOT (nearly 80 degrees Fahrenheit). I called down to the desk and asked them to fix it.

They sent someone up to the room. He tried several times to get the programming to set, but he was as unsuccessful as I had been. He called down, and they said they would send up someone from maintenance.

We took the time to sort out our clothes for our return trip home, reorganize the suitcases, and get everything prepared for our flight.

After waiting for over an hour with no response, Larry went down to the desk to ask them to change our room.

He returned with the keys to the Moselle suite! WOW! This was gorgeous!

Only one night, but the accommodations were fabulous.

We didn’t spend long there, but we could get used to it!
























Friday, August 5, 2022

UK TRIP 2022 – PART X

 May 18, 2022

Coleraine to Belfast

We slept very well in one the most comfortable beds we’d had since we arrived in the UK. It was firm and cozy. We took our time showering and dressing.

Gary had a morning meeting, so we had agreed to eat about ten-thirty. Gary had told his mum he wanted her to make a real Ulster Fry for breakfast. He bragged about how hers was the best, so we were anxious to taste everything.

Once again, Jean had everything under control and refused all offers of help. So, we joined Owen in the snug.

I decided to plug in my computer and call up my Ancestry tree so I could show Gary how it worked when he arrived.

Jean called us to the table and poured tea. Their friend, Harold, often joins them for breakfast. Jean had asked him to join us.

Just as we sat down, Gary arrived.

Soon the table groaned with an amazing variety of foods.




Everything was delicious. Yep, my second cousin (once removed) is a terrific cook!

After breakfast, I showed Gary how the Ancestry tree worked and sent him the login information. He was very interested and said he would add the information for his family.

Gary had to leave, so we returned to the table. Jean brought out a bunch of documents, and I added this information to the tree. Larry photographed the documents themselves. I intended to add them when we got back home.

We took another drive down through the town of Castlerock where they pointed out the location of their guest house, now an apartment block. Then we drove to see the Mussenden Temple and the shore. So many picturesque spots!



When we got back, it was time for us to return to Belfast. We loaded our bags into the car and then exchanged lots of hugs.

Owen told us how to get back to the motorway. The return trip was much easier and faster than the trip there. By now, Larry had figured out how to get from the motorway to the hotel, despite all the one-way streets.

We checked back into the Europa. Once again, we were upgraded to the executive level.

It was dinner time, so we decided to return to the Piano Lounge for a light repast. Have I mentioned I liked this place?

I had the same salad I had ordered before. Larry had a sandwich. Good food again. Such a relaxing spot.

We returned to our room to do some writing and prepare for our long drive to the Hill of Tara the next day.

Friday, July 29, 2022

UK TRIP 2022 – PART IX

 May 16, 2022

Belfast

When we checked in, we were informed that we had been upgraded to the executive level—to a beautiful room on the tenth floor. We had a real king-size bed! [The most comfortable bed we had experienced so far.]

When we had arrived, Philip welcomed us to the “most bombed hotel in the UK.” During “The Troubles,” the Europa was bombed thirty-three times. No damage to the interior, but the front was frequently covered with plywood to conceal shattered windows.

This was a beautiful facility. Without fail, everyone on the staff was kind, pleasant, and most willing to assist us. They were obviously understaffed, but they managed well, including with the large groups we observed coming and going while there.

The breakfast buffet at the Europa was similar to the offerings at the Jury’s Inn in Glasgow.

After breakfast, we went to our room where I wrote some blog posts and washed some underwear.

Later on, we decided to go down to the Piano Lounge for something to eat. I loved this place! Larry ordered an open-face salmon sandwich, and I had a chicken Caesar salad—the best salad I have had in the UK. We enjoyed our meal and took our time eating while appreciating the view out the window.


Back in the room, we packed everything we wouldn’t need in the morning. I continued writing, and Larry looked at Google Maps for directions on how to get to Coleraine, where we would spend the next day and night with my cousin, Jean, and her husband, Owen. Then, he wrote the turn-by-turn directions. He also showed me the map and had me follow the directions so I would know the route since he would be driving.

We watched a little TV until it was time for sleep.

Mary 17, 2022

Belfast to Coleraine

After breakfast, we finished packing and prepared to drive to Coleraine to see Jean and Owen. Jean is my second cousin once removed. [Our great-grandfathers were brothers.] We saw them when we were last in Ireland. Our visit was the highlight of our first trip, so I really looked forward to seeing them again.

Just before our first visit, she had been awarded the MBE (Member of the British Empire), which she proudly showed off to everyone in our group. When we arrived this time, we discovered that it 2017, she had been named the High Sherriff of Londonderry. This is a one-year appointment. My cousin is a bit of a local celebrity!

We followed Larry’s directions, except we missed one turn. We found our way and got back on the route. However, we thought we had driven too far. I decided to call Jean to get more precise directions.

She laughed. “Just keep coming, and I’ll come out and wave to you.”

Sure enough, about two blocks later, we saw her on the porch waving.

We were so glad to get there. Jean and Owen were as much fun as we remembered.

We settled into the “snug,” the cozy sitting room with a great view of the bay, and caught up. And we laughed and laughed. Jean is a hoot, and she kept us in stitches.


After a chat, she showed us to our room—a lovely homey one with its own attached bath. Jean ran a guest house for many years not far away in Castlerock. When they built this house, she designed it much like the guest house with several guest rooms with en suite baths. Our room was lovely with another comfortable queen-size bed.

We gave her a copy of Dominic Drive because I thought she might be interested in our childhood story.

After a while, she suggested we take a tour of the area.

She and Owen showed us the little two-room cottage where her mother and father settled when they left Scotland. No electricity or indoor plumbing, just a bedroom and kitchen. (Jean’s mother was Scottish, and her father was Irish. Jean was born in Scotland, but the family moved to Ireland when she was six.) [This is a painting in Jean’s home of the cottage. It is now just a storage building.]



We saw all the places where the family had lived during her childhood and the schools she’d attended. The weather held as we drove from place to place. In fact, the only time we had any real rain on the whole trip was coming home from dinner with Amanda. The next day in Beith, it drizzled, but we didn’t need our umbrellas.

We drove down to Castlerock. As we took the path to the viewpoint, a light drizzle began. Larry got some photos, and then we headed back to the car.



We drove back to the house. It was raining lightly as we got out of the car, but we just ran into the house between the drops.

We had wanted to take them to dinner, but Jean insisted on cooking so we could spend more time together. She disappeared into the kitchen from time to time, but she didn’t want any help.

Her elder son, Gary, lives nearby, so he was going to join us. I am a friend of her younger son, Stuart, on Facebook. He lives in New Zealand, so Facebook is great for staying in touch.



Stuart Caulfield

Gary isn’t on social media, so I didn’t know much about him. But that was about to change.

Jean and Gary

When he arrived, we introduced ourselves. Owen poured wine for the others and offered me nonalcoholic elderflower tonic water. Delicious.

Finally, our meal was ready. Jean had fixed a lovely salad served with delicious bread, including her homemade Guinness bread. She followed with a stir fry and rice. She is a great cook, with the experience of all her years of cooking for her guests in her guest house.

Gary proved to have his mother’s sense of humor. He kept us laughing, and I liked him a lot. His friend, Monica, arrived while we were eating. She’d been delayed, but she finally made it. I liked her as well.

Gary and Monica

Dinner was delightful with lots of laughter.

We retired to the snug and talked some more. I told them about my Ancestry tree and said I would give them access to add details for their family.

Gary left but said he’d be back in the morning. We continued to chat until after eleven. It stayed light for so long, I didn’t realize how late it was.

We said good-night and went to bed.

Friday, July 22, 2022

UK TRIP 2022 – PART VIII


May 14, 2022

Scotland to Belfast, N. Ireland

We both slept a bit better. After breakfast, we decided to do some laundry since nearly everything was in need of cleaning. After our previous experience with not getting our wash back on time, we decided to go to a self-service launderette and not let our clothes out of our sight.

We Googled the nearest one and discovered the Majestic Launderette. It was over a mile from the hotel, so we loaded our items into one of our wheeled cases. Good choice! It was much easier dragging the case than it would have been to carry the other bag.

We located the place without too much difficulty. The couple who ran it were most helpful. We got change for the machines and for soap. It took over an hour, but in the end, all our clothes were clean.

We went down the street to a cute little restaurant. It was either called N. 1082 or Villa Toscana. I ordered the ham and cheese omelet, and Larry had the open-faced poached egg with salmon. Both were delicious. I ordered a diet coke and Larry a vanilla shake. They had gelato, and it looked wonderful. Larry ordered a scoop of Scotch tablet, and I had Belgian chocolate. Terrific food!

Fortified, we made the trek back to the hotel. We found an easier route on the way back, so, it went a bit faster on the return trip.

We repacked our bags for the next day’s flight and then wrote, answered email, checked in online for our flight, and watched TV. Then to sleep, ready for yet another adventure.

May 15, 2022

After breakfast, we went to the car park to get the car. We had collected the discount ticket from the hotel desk, so we paid the bill using the kiosk. The discount was 50%, so it wasn’t too bad.

After loading our bags into the trunk, we got in. Larry tried to start it. Nothing. He tried again. Same. He did everything he could think of with no success. He got a message that the key fob needed a new battery.

We finally called the rental agency. They said they would send someone right away. When we explained that we had a flight to catch, the lady on the phone said she would make it a priority.

We decided if the assistance hadn’t come in half an hour, we’d drop the key at the desk of the hotel and hire a cab to take us to the airport.

However, the roadside assistance guy came within fifteen minutes. He got behind the wheel—and the car started immediately! He laughed. “Magic fingers.”

We didn’t care what made the difference. The car was running.

Larry asked him how to reach the motorway to get to the airport. Instead of explaining it, he said, “Follow me.” He led the way to the motorway and got on ahead of us going the right direction. He waved as we passed him. We were on our way.

After returning the car, we made our way to the terminal. No hassles this time.

Since we had some time, we decided to eat. It was after one, and every restaurant was packed.

While we waited for a table at Frankie and Benny’s, Larry went to the bar and got us a couple of diet sodas. We had quite a long wait for a table, but we finally got one. I ordered the wedge salad, and Larry got a cheeseburger with fries. The salad was pretty good, except it was LOADED with chopped onions mixed with chopped tomatoes. (I had them leave off the other stuff like olives, but didn’t see onions listed.) I scraped it all off. Still, it wasn’t bad.

After a nice rest, we moved to the waiting area.

Like the last airport, they didn’t post the departure gates until right before the call for the flight. As has been our pattern, our EasyJet flight was delayed for close to an hour after we reached the departure gate. It also boarded with a roll-up stairway, not a jetway. This meant we had to carry our bags onto the plane while climbing a ramp. Larry took his up and then came back for one of my bags. At least, we had reserved seats.

Short, easy flight into Belfast.

We reversed the process of removing our bags via the stairway and walking into the terminal. Then took the long hike to the Hertz car rental desk, only to discover that, although our flight went to the INTERNATIONAL airport, the car was reserved at the Belfast CITY airport! (Cars have been the bane of our existence on this trip.)

The only automatic they had left was a Toyota hybrid—at a premium price. (Like car rental companies throughout the world, the ones there had sold off their fleets during the pandemic. With the shortage of chips, new cars were not available at any price. So, everyone was short of cars to rent.)

We had no choice—again. So, we took the one they had. Since our departure flight would leave from the City Airport, they made the return for there. We hoped it would work.

Once again, the car had no GPS, and we had no wi-fi or Bluetooth. And, of course, the car rental company had no paper maps. We did have our Rick Steves guide book on Ireland, and it had a map. It showed the major routes. So, we were able to get on the motorway into the center of Belfast. The book also had a city map of Belfast. We located the Europa Hotel, BUT with all the one-way streets, we couldn’t figure out how to get there!




Once again, we called the hotel. This time we reached the concierge, Philip [Leckey]. Thank God for him! We told him where we were, and he quickly and efficiently talked us right to the door, where he came out to greet us.

My “sis,” Kathleen, had named her first son Philip. I felt as though she had sent our Philip to us! It felt like a good omen.

He also took care of valet service for us.

[During out stay, he purchased a copy of Book 1 of Larry’s sci-fi series. Before we left, he told us he had enjoyed it. He was a lifesaver during our stay in Belfast!]

It had been a long day, so we got ready and went to bed, glad to be started on the last leg of the trip.


Friday, July 15, 2022

UK TRIP 2022 – PART VII


May 13, 2022

Scotland

We ate breakfast and then got ready to meet Amanda at the Johnstone train station at eleven. The night before, she had emailed the schedule and suggested the train we should take. The ticket process was straightforward and quite easy. Then we located the correct platform.

A train was already there, so we boarded. Two stations down, we got off and walked from the platform to the nearby street where we assumed Amanda would pick us up. We were about five minutes early, so we waited. The weather turned cold and blustery.

At about eleven-ten, Larry walked back to the tracks where he could see the station on the other side. No sight of Amanda.

He came back, and we waited a while longer. The weather grew colder. The wind howled. And the mist increased.

We finally decided to cross over the tracks to the station looking for warmth and possible wi-fi. Success on both counts.

I checked my messages and found one from Amanda. She was running late but would be there shortly. We continued to wait.

I finally decided to ask what kind of a car she drove and ask the color. She responded: yellow. We figured it would be easy to spot. No yellow cars in the lot.

She messaged a few minutes later. There were “diversions” (detours) all over town. She was parking a bit away and was walking over.

At last, we saw her coming across the car park.

She was frustrated, and we felt sorry for her. The entire area around the station was torn up and under construction.

We reached the car and got it. Larry was surprised when a head came over the back seat. Calley, Amanda’s dog, had waited in the car.

She took side roads to get back to town.

At last, we reached the Old Beith Cemetery, just as the wind and drizzle picked up. Amanda went online to the registry to try to locate the family graves. No luck. Only one McAulay listed, and he was not related. Our McAulays were nowhere to be found. Still, we decided to look around. Until we got cold and wet and realized how huge the cemetery was.

We noticed nearly all of the original stones had been standing ones. Many were knocked over, and some were face-down. Others were broken. Many were so worn they were unreadable. But none had the names we were looking for.







We finally decided to get back in the car.

Amanda called the registry and left them a message with the names and dates. We hoped to hear back from them while we were still there.

We drove down the coast to Amanda’s parents’ house in Troon. It was delightful to see them again.

We met their dog, Bracken, a cavalier King Charles spaniel, my brother’s favorite breed. She and Amanda’s dog, Calley, got along well.

We decided to take a walk at the shore before dinner, so we went with Sandra and Eric. Amanda took Calley with her.

We arrived at the beach and left the car. Amanda hadn’t arrived yet. It was cold and overcast, and the wind continued to blow. Eric decided to go back to the car and wait there.

We saw Amanda pull up. She got out with Calley and joined us. She was excited. She had stopped to take a call from the registry. They were sending the burial records we had asked for.

Sure enough, my great-grandfather, great-uncle, great-grandmother, and great-grandfather’s second wife WERE buried in the cemetery. However, there was no marker. We finally got the coordinates for the location. There may have been a marker at some point, but the broken ones were being removed. If no family members were known, they gave no notice. (My great-grandparents’ survivors were all female, so their names changed. And they moved away from Beith.) We believe there probably was a marker at some point, but many in the cemetery were missing. I would love to get a flat marker put in the spot with the names and dates. I’ll look into it.

At least we had some answers. One of the important ones was that my great-grandfather did remarry. I don’t believe my grandmother was ever told. She was living in California at the time, and her sisters probably knew she’d have had a fit. His second wife was considerably younger than he, and he outlived her.

[I have since added all four of them to the Find a Grave site, listing the coordinates we were given.]

We walked the seashore with Christine and Amanda. Bracken trotted along with us while Calley chased her ball. Such energy! Wish I had as much.

It was blowing and blustering with occasional mist. Not enough to break out the umbrellas—even if we’d had them with us. I wore my jacket, but Larry didn’t. He was chilled by the time he got back into the car. He told Eric he should have stayed with him.


Just a short drive back to their house, where we warmed up quickly.

Before long, Christine Pollard and her daughter, Jill, arrived. Christine and Sandra are sisters, and they certainly look alike. Jill and I have been friends on Facebook for a couple of years. It was nice to finally meet in person.

Last to arrive were Nicola and Cameron with their dog, Maisie. She is a puppy with the high energy to prove it. All three dogs were cute.










Christine, Lorna, Sandra, Larry, Eric, (center) Jill, (front) Nicola with Bracken, Amanda, Cameron with Maisie

Sandra had prepared a real Scottish spread. I had never had some of these foods before. Disclaimer: my Scottish grandmother was a terrible cook. She did not season anything. I hated most of what she made. However, Sandra was a great cook, and I enjoyed everything.




We had a great time catching up and comparing memories. Christine not only remembered hearing about my great-grandfather’s second wife, but she said she might have a photo of her. She also has some other items she’ll email.

What a great afternoon. I adore all of them, so we shared many laughs. Amanda is lobbying for a “girls’ trip” to California soon. I’m all for it.

It stayed light until late there, so it was far later than we had realized when we finally left to go back to the hotel. Even though we had return train tickets, Amanda volunteered to drive us all the way because of the mess near the station. We were very tired, but so happy to have seen everyone.