A Day in the White Mountains

Having spent a good amount of time in the White Mountains of New Hampshire growing up, I enjoy returning to the area whenever I get a chance.  While many people opt for the shopping mecca of North Conway, I prefer to visit the “quiet side” of the mountains in the area around Franconia Notch.

No proper day trip can start without a great breakfast, and I found mine at Janie’s Uncommon Cafe this week.  I’ve visited Janie’s in the past, and while they have an extensive breakfast menu – including many unique Bennies – I always end up with the French toast.  They make their French toast using tea bread, yielding a richer and denser consistency.  The summer special is the triple berry variety; just what I needed to fuel up before a fun day in northern New Hampshire!

If you know anything about New England, you know L.L. Bean is synonymous with New England (and Maine in particular).  There are two L.L. Bean outlet stores just off of I-93, one in Manchester and one in Concord.  Yes, definitely stop at both because the selections are different!  From Concord it is an easy drive about 20 miles north to Tilton and the Tanger Outlet Center.  This outlet mall is oddly designed, and I find it best to park on one side and then move my car to the other side.  All of the usual suspects are here, plus it is right across the street from the Tilt’n Diner, in case you’re in the mood for food too.

Indian Head Trail
Indian Head Trail

From Tilton, my next stop was the small trailhead parking lot along Route 3 in Lincoln.  I’m not a fan of long hikes, but I enjoy shorter hikes (2-3 hours) to vistas, overlooks, and waterfalls.  Mount Pemigewasset was one I hadn’t before tackled, and at just under 2 miles to the summit ledges (via the Indian Head Trail; the Mount Pemigewasset Trail leaves from the Flume parking area), it offered a decent “bang for the buck” afternoon hike (2 of my other favorite shorter hikes are Mt. Willard in Crawford Notch and Lonesome Lake in Franconia Notch).  The trail starts easily enough, passing through a meadow and under I-93.  It follows a brook for about half of the hike, before climbing more steeply through the remaining mile or so to the top.  The trail was muddy in places, and required a little scrambling over and around rocks, but the view at the top was well worth the effort.  From the ledges, you can see southward to the southern Whites and the Lakes Region.  Obstructed views toward the north showcase Mt. Liberty and Mt. Lafayette.  The hike down was easier than the hike up, but careful footing proved necessary going down some of the steeper parts.

Top of Mt. Pemigewasset
Top of Mt. Pemigewasset

After getting back to the car, I drove up the Kancamagus Highway as far as Kancamagus Pass and stopped at the viewpoints on both sides of the pass.  Puffy white clouds dotted an otherwise blue sky, making a perfect backdrop for the mountains.  Heading back into town, I passed through the village of Lincoln before making it to my favorite dinner spot: The Woodstock Inn Station and Brewery.  This is a great place to unwind after a day in the mountains.  With an outdoor patio surrounded by flowers, and excellent food and staff, it’s an easy place to relax.  The menu features pub style food, and I opted for a BBQ pork pizza with a Woodchuck cider.

After dinner, I headed up through Franconia Notch to my last stop for the day, Echo Lake. This is one of my all-time favorite places to kayak.  Before I bought my own kayak several years ago, I rented them here to paddle around the lake.  Now I bring my own and use the small boat launch at the beach on the south end of the lake as my starting point.  The winds were blustery and it was a bit chilly, so I knew it would be a quick trip around the lake. Fortunately, the winds were coming from the north, so although it took some effort to paddle to the north side beach, the paddle back required very little effort.  There is some sort of construction going on at the north end, so I wasn’t able to pull my kayak up to the beach, but other times I have pulled my kayak up and gone for a swim here.  Cannon Mountain looms over the west side of the lake, and from the north end, you can see down through the notch.  It was a perfect way to end my day in the White Mountains!

Echo Lake - Franconia Notch State Park
Echo Lake – Franconia Notch State Park

Ireland 2015: Day 15 – Dublin to Boston

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Dublin Airport

2,317 kilometers (1,439 miles) driven, 1,849 pictures taken, 15 days of traveling, and 1 happy-to-be-home traveler.

Today was the real “going home” day.  I tried valiantly to give up my seat again this morning, but they told me I couldn’t because I had already done it once.  So I resigned myself to getting on the plane and coming home.  The feeling of wanting to be home wasn’t as strong today, and I found myself missing Ireland before I even left.  I can guarantee that I will be back.

I can’t say there was any one part of Ireland I loved more than any other part.  The woman sitting next to me on the plane asked what it was about Ireland that makes me want to go back, and it’s not something that can be put into words.  I told her it was more of a feeling than something specific.  The people, the culture, the landscapes, all of that, but also it’s a sense of place in being there.  I’m not planning my return trip quite yet, but I know it will happen.

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Beara Peninsula

Throughout my trip, I had a keen sense of all of the things that were different from home.  Not necessarily bad, just different.  Driving on the left is a big one.  Having done it a few times now, it’s not a big deal, just different.  A lot of other more subtle things stand out as well, such as calling the restrooms the “toilets”, eating black pudding for breakfast (no, I didn’t try it!), and having signage in Irish and English.  Obviously we do things differently in the U.S. too, and I felt like I was more conscious of these differences on my return home this time.

It would be difficult to name all of my favorites from this trip, but here are some of them:

Best breakfast: Dingle Skellig Hotel

Best casual meal: Ham and Cheese Toastie at the Brehon Bar in Killarney

Best dinner: Trattoria Magnetti in Galway

Best dessert: Strawberry Pavlova at Fishy Fishy Cafe in Kinsale

Best scone: Ballinalacken Castle Hotel

Best soft serve ice cream: Muckross House in Killarney

Best hard serve ice cream: Kenmare Ice Cream

Best day: Day 6: Kinsale to Killarney

Best attraction(s): Kilmainham Gaol and Glendalough

Best music: Kyteler’s Inn (Kilkenny) and Kitty O Se’s (Kinsale)

Best castle: Ballinalacken Castle

Best hotel: Pembroke Hotel in Kilkenny

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“Your feet will take you where your heart is.” ~Irish Proverb

Ireland 2015: Day 14 – Galway to Dublin

The “going home day”.  I’ll admit I’ve been thinking about home for several days now, wanting to be in familiar surroundings, but at the same time not wanting vacation to end.  I woke up this morning to sun in Ireland, and felt a little sad to be leaving.  It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for two weeks.  Things I did on my first couple of days feel like a distant memory already.  But I’m also very ready to be home.  I repacked my suitcase last night, which was no small feat.  Zipping it closed this morning was a small miracle!

Athenry Abbey
Athenry Abbey

I knew I had an extra hour or so built into my drive, so I made the detour off the motorway to Athenry.  If you’re familiar with the song, “The Fields of Athenry“, it was one of the things that drew me to the town.  My first stop was at the Athenry Castle.  It has been restored much more than many others I had visited, and it only took a few minutes to see the whole thing.  I indulged the nice woman at the desk by watching the 20 minute video, much of which was actually photos of other castles.  I walked around the town for a few minutes (including through one of the original medieval arches) and then got back on the motorway to Dublin Airport.  I have to say, after two weeks of driving in Ireland, I’ve gotten pretty used to it.

When I checked in for my flight, I asked if there were any seats available closer to the front.  Row 41 doesn’t sound very appealing!  She said the flight was actually oversold.  That’s all it took for my ears to perk up… I love playing the travel game!  “Any chance you’ll be looking for volunteers to give up their seats?” I asked.  She quickly made a phone call, I was directed to another desk to leave my suitcase, and then I was given a voucher for a snack and a request to return 1.5 hours later to see if they needed me.  €600, a free night in a hotel (with my luggage!), and a voucher for dinner was all it took to convince me to fly tomorrow morning instead!  I was in luck and was soon on my way to the Carlton hotel.  A quick minute to freshen up, and I hopped on a bus into the city!

Oliver St. John Gogarty, Temple Bar
Oliver St. John Gogarty, Temple Bar

Not being a lover of cities, I was primarily interested in a drink and some music.  I headed straight to Temple Bar and Oliver St. John Gogartys Pub.  Yes, it is touristy, but the music was awesome and the people were a lively bunch.  Two older gentlemen we’re playing a mix of Irish and contemporary “sing along” songs and the crowd was into it.  (Think “Brown-eyed Girl” type songs.)  Coincidentally, they also played “The Fields of Athenry” while I was there!

I walked around the city for a little while before coming back to the hotel.  Imagine my surprise when I asked what my dinner voucher entitled me to in the hotel restaurant and was told I would be enjoying a 3-course meal.  An enjoyable second last night in Ireland!

Ireland 2015: Day 13 – Connemara

Well, the weather miraculously cleared up for one last day in Ireland. My plan today was to visit Connemara, an area west of Galway known for it’s more rugged beauty. Connemara is also one of the areas of Ireland which retains the Irish language; all road signs are in Irish only. I set off relatively early from Galway along the coastal route and stopped first at the Spiddal Craft Village. The village is several individual vendors set up in little shops around a small common area. I didn’t end up buying anything, but it was fun to browse the jewelry, artwork, and other local handcrafts.

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Continuing from Spiddal, my route followed closely along the water as the scenery turned to more rugged rocky outcroppings dotting the coastline. Small cottages and homes are perched on the rocks, some beautifully situated right near the water’s edge. It reminded me a bit of the southern coast of Nova Scotia. I stopped in Roundstone, with its quaint harbor sheltering a few boats and the mountains of the Twelve Bens providing a perfect backdrop. I had what will likely be my last scone in Ireland at a small cafe along the main road here.

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My route continued along the coast to the Sky Drive, which begins in Clifden. The road travels high above the cliffs and overlooks Clifden Bay. It wasn’t nearly as harrowing as some of the other routes I traveled last week, but it was every bit as beautiful. My last stop in Connemara was at Kylemore Abbey, just outside of Letterfrack. I had seen pictures of the castle before I left home, and knew it was a “must see” on my trip. It definitely delivered. The castle, gardens, and chapel themselves (which are open for touring) pale in comparison to the photogenic castle nestled in the hills of western Ireland. Mitchell Henry, a wealthy doctor from London, built the castle in 1871. He and his wife lived there for only 4 years before she died during a trip to Egypt. They are both interred in a small mausoleum on the grounds. A group of Benedictine nuns from Belgium eventually purchased the castle in 1920 and turned it into an abbey.

After leaving Kylemore, I made my way back to Galway for dinner and a show – “Trad on the Prom” – at my hotel. The music and dancing was a great way to spend my last night in Ireland!

Ireland 2015: Day 12 – Doolin to Galway

Here are the things I miss about home today: sleeping in my own bed, knowing where everything is when I need it, buying, cooking, and eating my own food, and driving my own car on the right-hand side of the road.  And here are the things I love about Ireland: the people, the history, the incredibly picturesque landscapes, and the music.  I’m heading home in two days, and part of me wants to leave now and part of me wants to stay here (or at least take Ireland home with me!).  There are some vacations where I want to soak everything in because I don’t know that I’ll ever be back (the Cotswolds is a recent example of that).  There are other places I’ve traveled to where I absolutely know I will be back (I had that feeling on my first visit to Turks and Caicos and returned a year later).  Ireland definitely falls into the latter category: I will definitely be back.

New Quay, County Clare
New Quay, County Clare

Today I made the drive from Doolin to Galway.  I spent some time working on my TripAdvisor reviews this morning and poking around the shops in Doolin before I got on the road.  It was foggy and drizzly (again), so I didn’t stop much.  I wanted to see Poulnabrone dolmen in the Burren and enjoy the coastal route.  The Poulnabrone dolmen dates to the Neolithic period and more than 20 adults and children have been determined to be buried there.  After that I stayed on the main road until a roadsign Lillanlla’s homemade ice cream shop attracted my attention.  It was noontime and what’s better for lunch than ice cream?  I followed the narrow road 5 km and enjoyed yet another creamy and delicious Irish ice cream cone.

Once I made it to Galway, it was obvious I wasn’t in the countryside anymore.  Galway is the fourth largest city in Ireland.  After checking into my hotel (thankfully on the outskirts of town), I took the local bus into the city center.  Have I mentioned I hate cities?  I wandered around the jam-packed pedestrian area, past leprechaun -filled souvenir shops for about an hour.  Then I sought out Taaffes Bar, where I knew they had early trad music sessions.  I enjoyed a half pint of Bulmer’s while listening to a group of musicians playing fiddles, accordions, guitars, and more.  By then I was ready for dinner but I was surrounded by touristy-looking pubs.  I wandered for a while before I stumbled upon Trattoria Magnetti.  I’m glad I did!  I had a delicious beef and pork ravioli with a marsala and mascarpone sauce.  Yum!  I made it back to my hotel in time to “watch the sun go down by Galway Bay”.

Galway Bay
Galway Bay

Ireland 2015: Day 11 – Dingle to Doolin

Today I visited my ancestral hometown of Cahersherkin in County Clare, near Ennistymon.  I wish I could say I met some long-lost distant cousins, but that didn’t happen.  I did visit two cemeteries where Shannons and Finucanes are buried (both family names).  In fact, Cahersherkin is more like an area, not an actual town.

The crossroads in Cahersherkin, County Clare
The crossroads in Cahersherkin, County Clare

I asked a gentleman walking on the road if I was going in the right direction and he pointed down the street and told me it was at the crossroads.  The crossroads were two single lane roads through the local farmland.  I didn’t feel any strong pull telling me that this was home, but it was very neat to see.  I kept thinking that my ancestors could have helped to build the stone walls and buildings I was driving by.

My day didn’t start in Ennistymon though.  It started with some broken clouds in Dingle as I took the Conor Pass over the mountains to the north side of the peninsula.  I was able to squeeze in a visit to Fermoyle Beach before the showers set in.  I drove north for a while until I stopped in Ballylongford to visit the ruins of Carrigafoyle Castle and Lislaughtin Abbey.  It continues to amaze me that these structures are still standing and that you can just walk in and wander around.  The castle has 5 stories and you can climb the spiral stairs almost to the top.  When I was there, I had the place completely to myself.

Carrigafoyle Castle - Ballylongford
Carrigafoyle Castle – Ballylongford

I then took the ferry across the Shannon River from Tarbert to Kilrush and continued my journey to Ennistymon.  After that stop, I visited what is probably the number one tourist attraction in Ireland: the Cliffs of Moher.  The cliffs soar almost 400 feet above the crashing Atlantic waves.  They are beautiful, but I was not alone at all for that visit!

I continued on to Doolin and my hotel for the night, the Ballinalacken Castle Country House.  If that doesn’t sound like me, you’re right.  I’m not really a “stay in a guest house next to a castle” type of person.  (You might remember from my England trip that I’m also not a “stay in an old manor house” type of person.)  The room is lovely, but not my style at all!  I knew from my research that there was a silver lining to staying here though… a tour of the castle before dinner!  We climbed up the hill to the castle, and there was a beautiful white horse just laying in front of the castle.  Picture perfect!  We proceeded to climb all the way up to the tippity top of the castle.  When I say tippity top, I literally mean balanced on a small ledge with a short wall to hold onto for stability.  You can see the Cliffs of Moher off in the distance.  It was incredible!  My day ended with a delicious dinner in the hotel restaurant.

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Ballinalacken Country House Hotel

Ireland 2015: Day 10 – The Dingle Peninsula

“When life gives you lemons….”  Once again, I woke up to cloudy skies and the threat of rain.  I determined to make the best of what is becoming a common theme the last few days.  I set off from Killarney after breakfast heading toward the Dingle Peninsula.  Known as another lesser-visited area, the Dingle Peninsula is the northernmost of the southwest peninsulas heading up the west coast of Ireland.  It wasn’t long before I hit Inch Beach.  I was determined to put my feet in this side of the Atlantic Ocean, and this seemed like as good a place as any to do it.  You might expect the Irish waters to be cold, but compared to Massachusetts, it wasn’t shocking.  I met a gentleman walking his dog on the beach and he said this weather is not what summer in Ireland is typically like.

Dingle Peninsula
Dingle Peninsula

After Inch Beach, my next stop was the seaside town of Dingle.  I am staying in Dingle tonight, and my first thought was to pass through and explore later.  But I decided I was ready for a snack and sought out a scone and hot chocolate at a little cafe named Pie.  Afterwards, I walked around the town and bought a few gifts and souvenirs in the local shops.  I’m not typically a souvenir type of person; rather I like to find something unique that will remind me of my vacation.  This time, I found a piece of driftwood inscribed with a quote at a small sea glass shop and a “Dingle Rain” scented candle.  I’ve also been on the lookout for a small oval metal plaque common in Ireland which says “céad míle fáilte” on it.  It means “a hundred thousand welcomes” and it’s a feeling I’ve had everywhere I’ve gone in Ireland.

Slea Head Drive
Slea Head Drive

I set out for the Slea Head Drive after my stop. Slea Head is another iconic driving route around the tip of the Dingle Peninsula.  Sadly, the weather was deteriorating.  Instead of beautiful cloud-dappled skies, I ended up with moody, mist-laden mountain tops and foggy coastline pictures.  It was every bit as wild and scenic as Ireland can be.  The wind was literally so strong in places that I had to brace myself to stand against it.  My hood proved useless, and I gave up on trying to keep my camera lens dry.  I stopped to visit the Dunbeg Fort and the Gallarus Oratory along the way.  The fort sits high on a promontory jutting out into the sea, but the winds were howling and I didn’t stay long.  The oratory was built around the 7th or 8th century as an early Christian church.  You can also visit Gallarus Castle right down the path, but the castle is closed to the public.

Gallarus Oratory
Gallarus Oratory

By that time, I was tired and drenched from being out in the rain all day. I checked into my hotel and spent some time relaxing and editing pictures before going out for pizza.  Once again, the cheese on the pizza was incredible!  I was hoping to find some music tonight, but most sessions don’t start until 9:30 or 10:00.  Instead, I walked along the waterfront by the harbor and then called it a night.