Leaving Glendalough we wound our way through the Wicklow mountains to the Hollywood Inn, where we were introduced to the Hurling Finals and learned a few Irish turns of phrase not mentioned in guide books.
Ravenous from hiking about, I dug into fish and home-cut chips, fascinated by the muscular men on the field balancing a tiny ball on short clubs while running, hitting the ball and being hit by it, all with no protective gear, but plenty of blood and bandages. The excitement rivaled a Superbowl party and Hollywood Inn was more than I hoped for with an uneven stone floor, heavy dark wood , a stone courtyard, tasty fresh food and superb service. Our first day in the Irish countryside was a success, now we had a real drive.
Bolstered by a hamburger he described as “very lean”, Jim drove us on narrow back roads to Kinsale, a quaint harbor town in County Cork, where we stayed at the Actons Hotel overlooking the harbor.
Our TomTom was set to avoid toll roads, which made each trip a bit longer and more scenic than motorways. We had no trouble finding “toilets”, a convenient petrol station in many towns we passed through.
Billy, our bartender in the lounge at Actons, patiently explained how children in Ireland begin their first day of school with a lunch box, a backpack, and a hurling stick. An older gentleman at the bar put us through a course of Irish dialect in a descriptive telling of a helicopter ride over County Tipperary that his daughter gifted him with on a recent birthday. They both asked what we liked most about Ireland thus far. I said I loved the water everywhere, especially the streams flowing down mountains and bubbling over rocks. The old man said, “Ahhh, that’s the piss!”, then laughed open-mouthed as did we. I told him I also like the potatoes, they were better than at home. He said, “Ahhh, yes the new potatoes are in, but don’t eat the chickens!”. Billy told us of growing up in Kinsale and said he would like to visit the Wicklow Mountains someday. Huge sprays of Asiatic lilies and eucalyptus graced tables throughout the hotel while small bouquets of hydrangea and roses adorned each stall in the lobby bathroom. Our room was modern and bright with clean lines and a warm breeze blew through a tall unscreened, tilted window. Sailboats rocked in the moonlit harbor. We slept deeply.
After our first day of venturing we had a true appreciation for a full Irish breakfast, which consisted of an array of juices, fruit, pastry, cereal, breads, cheeses and smoked salmon. We ordered eggs and sausage and the plate unnecessarily came with white and black pudding and a grilled tomato. Each day seemed as though it may be the one to try the pudding, but I never did chance it, afraid my stomach might upset our plans. We walked around Kinsale’s colorful streets while our breakfast settled before taking off for Blarney Castle.
Blarney Castle was THE castle of our trip and we took our time exploring all the nooks and scary crannies. Stone stairs spiraled up to the stone with a rope on one side to hold on to. As we ascended the walls grew closer and the old man in front of us stopped in fear, the opposite of my typical run through it reaction. Voices filtered up from the stairs and signaled a group coming up behind us. I felt trapped already, barely able to breathe. I jumped back down two stairs and yelled to my husband that I’d see him when he came down. My discovery of the family room, murder-hole above the castle’s main entry and arrow shaft views throughout the castle rooms thrilled me more than if I kissed a stone that through my camera zoom looked wet. Ugh. But, do not let claustrophobic me deter you.
Manicured grounds, gardens and a long carriage house were lush with vintage blooms and beside the castle stood a poison garden planted with castor beans, foxglove and other nefarious, yet pretty, flowers and plants. We rested and took in the groups of people who dotted the expansive lawn before we perused the gift shop and purchased a watercolour that I would carry on the plane to insure its safe arrival home. Our breakfast worn off, we headed back to Kinsale and away from tour bus crowds in search of a late lunch and a pint.
Walking a mile to a mile and a half 4 times a week for 6 weeks prior to our Irish holiday deflated my middle and I lost five pounds, which to me means I can eat potatoes and bread (as long as I keep walking). You hear wild rumors as you get closer to 40, but I had to experience gaining weight while subsisting on salads and water to accept that my squirrel-like metabolism is dead along with my desire to buy a swimsuit. It all works out, though, because the rumor about fading endurance is also true. Just a few weeks of a walking routine increased my stamina and made Ireland more enjoyable than I imagined. I was even able to imitate running to catch our connection at O’Hare.
We spent our first evening in Blessington, a tiny town with a lone little terrier scouting main street just south of Dublin. On the winding gravel road back to our lodgings we got out of the car to peek at Blessington Lake.
The next morning we started off for Wicklow National Park and found ourselves stopping often to explore.
A park with a fast flowing stream over mossy rocks and a stone bridge called to us, as did a cemetery with Celtic crosses raised high. The faeries moved a bit too quickly for my eyes, but I swear I heard their giggles just beyond the bubbling gurgle of water.
Between my walking routine and Ireland’s vistas, I shed not only fat, but a bit of cynicism. Dreams coming true take chinks out of a calloused soul.
Walking does not build much muscle and muscle burns fat, so when I stop moving, my metabolism does, too. Motivation is plentiful on vacation, but hard to find on a snowy frigid days, which is when I discovered that truth. Almost a decade ago Ireland renewed a walking culture to combat the country’s growing obesity rate along with national dietary standards. It is not difficult to persuade an Irishman or woman to go for a stroll and GMO-free counties offer up food that reminded us what food used to taste like. My theory is that we do not eat as much when it is flavourful because we are more easily sated.
In the hills of Wicklow National Park I stumbled on loose rock and stepped in a deep uninhabited hole, highlighting the need for a walking stick. Mountain rescue teams are stationed in every area for good reason.
We were off to find St. Kevin’s monastic ruins in Glendalough and mistakenly walked up a steep road to find St. Kevin’s Parish where we lit candles for loved ones in heaven. There were lovely engraved garden sculptures on the grounds and I suspect my husband knew I would stop at the craft fair on our way back down as I was excited for any opportunity to visit with locals.
On the way up, I stopped to rest and take in the gardens at St. Kevin’s welcome center. It was all meant to be, I am sure. Just down the road we found the ruins of St. Kevin’s 6th century monastery. Raided for centuries by the Vikings, most of the standing ruins date to the 11th and 12th centuries. A man in a kilt and hose played Uillean pipes, whcih lent a melancholia to the scene, but a little girl yelling at the top of her lungs, “Rapunzel, let down your golden hair!” brushed it away. A spiritual place, the sun broke through the thick cloud cover just as I offered up my gratitude.
My husband was usually ahead of me because I am quite the gawker. Also quite the talker and writer, I have many a story to tell you about Ireland, so I will break our adventure into a few posts. Sláinte! (Good Health!)
With over 1,500 pieces, ArtPrize 2011 lured me in for another look. This time I took my husband who is quite evolved for a Michigan outdoorsman, although not appreciative of the more abstract art forms, the pieces that you cannot exactly say what it is because it is something different to each viewer. So I plied him with a tasty lunch and a microbrew before we looked and then topped off our outing with one for the road at an Irish pub in Downtown Grand Rapids. Included in this post are a few more photos of some of the pieces we admired.
Now that the top ten have been chosen by voters throughout the community the art critics are complaining about some of the “amateurish” pieces and the entire voting process. How could common folk who have not been formally trained possibly know which are the best pieces? ArtPrize is advertised as a social experiment designed to promote connections between artists and the community (common folk) and inspire creative conversations. What I observed was families with children and classes of schoolchildren viewing the art downtown. Many of the people dressed in jeans and t-shirts and the price to get in to view the art was zilch. ArtPrize made art accessible, which is what most deserves an award. Kudos to Rick DeVos, the founder of ArtPrize, for his response to the critics’ assertion that ArtPrize lacks credibility in the art community, “I just want to see crazy crap all over Grand Rapids, and I think we’ve achieved that,” DeVos said. “The goal is not to find better art through voting. It’s not better art through democracy. The prize and the voting are really just mechanisms. It comes back to building a creative culture in West Michigan.”
ArtPrize is an annual arts festival and social experiment showcasing 1,582 artists in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The monetary awards are the largest in the world and the competition is decided solely on the general public’s electronic vote. The goal is for the community to explore new ideas and form relationships with the artists. I often think that the DeVos family just has too much damn money, yet am grateful for their philanthropy in my home, which is considered one of the most depressed states in the country.
I developed a taste for art in my 20’s. In my 30’s I began to step out of my impressionist comfort zone. In my 40’s I seek to find the vision of the artist, to understand the intended meaning of the work and incorporate it with my interpretation of a piece or performance. With this approach I have discovered the emotional facet of art, finding joy and haunting sadness in unexpected pieces that I was previously unready for. Including a friend in artistic excursions, I am gifted with a contrasting view that leaves me appreciative of what I gain from being open to other’s visions. Besides, I always laugh in the company of dear friends and there is no greater joy than that.