Thursday, April 09, 2020

Preparing For A New Future

Here's my take on the Covid-19 outbreak – on how it affects us today, and how it will affect us tomorrow – and every day after that. Maybe I'm missing something, maybe I'm just too much of a realist – let me know what you think.

So – right now, April 9, 2020. some of us are self-quarantined. Depending on where you live, you may be too. And that's the first problem – IT ALL DEPENDS ON WHERE YOU LIVE AND WHO YOUR LEADERS ARE. Some cities/states/countries are merely giving 'suggestions', while others have much stricter guidelines about who can go where. And this is the first problem. The surest, quickest way to end this pandemic is for EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE to isolate at home. But of course that's almost impossible. We still want to be able to buy groceries. We still need (now more than ever!) medical professionals. We still need police, and someone to fix the toilet if it stops up, and someone to keep the electricity flowing and the internet up. God forbid we lose the internet! So – what do we do?

For now, STAY HOME! Yes, I'm going to keep typing that over and over. STAY HOME. And the reason I think that's so important is that the more people who stay home, the more people will avoid infection. Gosh – that sounds pretty simple, right?

The problem is that we humans are social beings. Eventually 99% of us will just get bored enough, or lazy enough, or desperate enough, and we'll start returning to our old habits. But before that even happens, some public official is going to have to make a decision on when to end the quarantine. Someone is going to have to pick a date and say that THIS date is when we go back to work, THIS date is when the kids go back to school. But the pandemic won't be over just because someone sets a date.

In addition to being social beings, most people need to go to work. They need that paycheck. They have a mortgage or rent. The kids need new shoes. The car needs a tune-up. Almost as important as our need to be social is the need to restart the economy. When people work they pay taxes. Those taxes pay for roads and sewers and countless other services most of us never think about. Those taxes fund schools and help the needy. We need for people to have money to spend and we need places for them to spend it.

And it's not just about our city/state/country- the economy is a global concern for all of us. Once businesses and factories reopen, how many small mom and pop businesses will stayed closed? How many jobs will be lost? Where will those people who used to work at the small gift shop or the local diner get a job? How will they pay their bills? Reopening businesses won't solve everything, but we have to start somewhere.we also have to have a plan for how to help those who find themselves without a job, perhaps for the first time in their lives. Through no fault of their own.

So, for very practical reasons, at some point someone is going to have to make the call to reopen the world. I'm sure there are graphs and charts and spreadsheets already being formulated to decide exactly when this will happen. Not for when it will be SAFE, but when it will be minimally harmful. Because the virus isn't going to stop. This is just the first wave. Like every tsunami, there will continue to be waves for some time to come. The virus will continue to spread and hotspots will continue to pop up for quite some time. In order to keep the economy from collapsing, someone is going to have to decide what number of deaths is acceptable. Someone is going to have to make that decision because the more we mingle the more people will die. Reopening the country, sending people back to work and kids back to school will come at a cost. The cost is in human lives.

For now, STAY HOME! In my opinion, we need for three things to happen before we can even think about returning to a 'normal' life. Those three things are:
  1. Early detection
  2. Prompt and effective treatment
  3. An effective vaccine – given to a large enough percentage of the worldwide population to be effective

All of these things will take time. There will be lots of trials and lots of errors, Drugs that we hoped would work, drugs that might work on a small group will probably be found to be less effective than originally hoped. Although I'm a big believer in vaccines in general, I probably won't be lining up for the first COVID-19 vaccine, knowing that it'll probably still be a work in progress.

Regarding early detection, today's Washington Post interviewed Washington state governor Jay Inslee, who's state is among the hardest hit. In the article Inslee stressed that MORE tests will be needed in the future. He stressed that 'As corona virus cases recede in the coming months, if anything, more testing will be required. That’s because when people reassemble, it will be urgent to jump on cases in which people again show symptoms, and test them, to avoid a second wave.'

And, much like the vaccines we already have – those for measles and mumps, polio and the flu, we'll never achieve a 100% immunization rate. Some are unable to take a vaccine, and some are unwilling. The thing is, if enough of us take any given vaccine, the majority help to protect the minority. As long as enough of us are vaccinated. We've seen in recent years how much real damage can be done when anti-vaxxers become a larger and larger percentage – diseases reappear. Right now we don't have a vaccine for COVID-19, so our best bet is to STAY HOME. To avoid contact with anyone and everyone. Seriously. And yes, that means you, even if you don't feel sick. Even if you haven't been exposed (as far as you know). And even when things start to go back to 'normal'.

I think this will be a very long, slow, painful process. I don't expect an effective vaccine for at least a year. And understand that it's not just the creation of an effective vaccine, but the actual vaccination of enough people to make it work!

For now STAY HOME for the foreseeable future, and, if you can, even after businesses and schools reopen. Getting lazy, or bored - or just falling back into old habits - and easing up on our current restrictions will only cause us to backslide. Oh, and wash your hands!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020


Every time I tell someone about a cruise we've taken, I'm always quick to add "But we're not really cruisers". What does that even mean? What was it about describing myself as a "cruiser" did I find so offensive?  I guess part of it was a generational thing, associating people who cruised with people who old. As in older than me.  I guess that was a part of it, but I think I was mostly dismissive of "cruisers" as lazy people who went from rum punch by the pool to rum punch on a beach that looks just like the beach from yesterday.   Since I'm definitely not a beach person, and the very idea of lounging around on vacation is something I've never understood, cruising around the Caribbean - which is what I defined as cruising - just isn't for me.

Probably because there's no island-hopping involved, I always wanted to take a transatlantic cruise, inspired by Saturday afternoons watching Deborah Kerr and Gary Grant in "An Affair To Remember". For years my dream vacation involved taking the Concorde to London, then returning to the states via a cruise-liner. Sailing into New York Harbor. Past the Statue of Liberty.  Then the Concorde was no more, and that dream went back to sleep.

Years later, while living Italy, I realized we might be able to cruise to the states instead of flying. Somehow the stars aligned and Art found a cruise leaving Rome at the end of November, bound for Florida! We booked the cruise less than six weeks before sailing, and paid about $700 per person for the two week cruise. At that point, we'd been living in Italy while fighting a weak dollar, and hadn't been able to travel within Europe as we'd planned. This cruise made multiple stops along the way, and over the years we've seen places we'd never have seen otherwise. We've seen Marseille and Villefranche, Palma di Majorca, Malaga and Tenerife. We've now spent time in Barcelona and Lisbon, and love returning to Cartegena and Cadiz.

So my point, as stated in the title, is that we cruise based on destination, and I prefer destinations that have some history and substance to them, not just miles of finely-grated rocks. My other two criteria are price and timing. 

Years ago we decided to take an Alaska cruise-tour, to get the most out the experience. We loved the scenery, and I guess for many of our port cities they're not easy to get to, so the ship definitely gave us a unique perspective, but all in all it wasn't a big hit with either of us. Which was kind of surprising since I've read on more than one travel site/blog/forum from people who've taken multiple cruises to Alaska.

Another year, again with Art playing around on the computer, he found a last-minute deal for a Baltic cruise, starting and ending in Copenhagen. The downside of booking a last minute cruise at a great price is that finding last-minute airfare at a reasonable price can be very, very challenging. Also booking private excursions can be tricky. We use the forums on, and joining the party just weeks before departure can mean that you have 20, 30, maybe more pages of posts to read through to find out who's organizing private tours. We always go with independent tours versus the cruiseline's excursion - the savings are significant. And that Baltic cruise was absolutely amazing. We were in port almost every day, and saw places I never dreamed I'd see.

For many years we've had enough frequent flyer miles to fly to Europe, then take a transatlantic cruise from Rome back to Florida. I've paid as little as $525, and as much as $1100 per person for the two week cruise. The fall re-positioning cruises used to leave later, at the end of November, even into December, but I think the powers-that-be realized they could make more money by returning the ships to the Caribbean earlier.  Now, all of the Baltic and Mediterranean cruise ships leave Europe by early November. We need to take a cruise that leaves later rather than earlier, to make sure we're able to get some of the new olive oil to take back home, and we usually depart during the first week of November.

I've known for quite some time that we won't be taking a transatlantic cruise home in 2020. The itineraries are very, very light, with more sea days than port days - and you have to realize that for a 14 day cruise, the entire second week will be spent at sea. Seven long sea days - perfect for those "cruisers" who like to lounge by the pool, read trash and sip rum punch, but again, not my cup of tea. So - the price and the ports during that first week are very, very important. We took our most recent cruise because it offered a unique overnight at a port, something we've only experienced once before, in St Petersburg, Russia. The stop for our most recent cruise was Lisbon. Had it only been a one-day stop I doubt we would have paid the price, but two full days meant that we could get a little better feel for a new city. If we never return, we have nice memories, and to be honest, we liked Lisbon enough to merit a return visit, but who knows if we'll ever get there. At least we had a taste of Lisbon.

Knowing we wouldn't cruise home, I planned the rest of our trip, and started looking at frequent flyer itineraries for our flight home. I haven't booked any of our flights to or within Europe because it's too early, but I have put a deposit down on a small-group tour in Ireland to explore the northwest part of Ireland. Art always does the driving, and he loves driving, but maybe not so much in Ireland, so he's really very excited to let someone else take care of the narrow roads and conflicting GPS directions. Based on the ending date of our Ireland tours, I could then book our rental car for Italy, and confirm our dates in Umbria with our landlords.

And then, somehow, we decided to book a cruise through the Panama Canal! I don't even remember how it came up. Neither of us have much interest in Central American countries, but the engineering marvel of the canal itself seemed worth a closer look, so we jumped. We decided it made more sense to fly to California to begin the cruise so that we'd end up in Florida. We'll arrive without jet lag and will just have a 5 hour drive home, which is a lot better than arriving in Florida and facing a six hour flight home - which means at least nine hours in travel time.

That cruise is coming up in February. We're only doing one private excursion, in Costa Rica, and for the rest of the ports we'll just wander into town and take a look around.

And now the really weird part. I sat down at my desk the other day to finalize the purchase of November flights with frequent flyer miles. I'd called the airlines to have the reservation split so that we could each use our own miles, and it was the last day the tickets would be held. My email page is my home screen, and when it opened I saw an offer from a travel company we used when we cruised to Alaska. I honestly thought I'd unsubscribed from their email list because all of the offers were really high dollar cruises, and since I knew we'd never take another Alaska cruise, I didn't see any reason to keep receiving the offers. Apparently I hadn't unsubscribed, because here was a new offer, and as I read it, I called out to Art.

He was sitting in his recliner, on the other side of the bookcase that divides our Florida room, watching television. I spoke rather loudly, because I really, really wanted him to hear what I was about to say, but first I had to announce it:  "You're never going to believe what I'm about to tell you", I said to him. "What does that mean?"  "It means you're not going to believe me when I tell you that I just got an offer for a cruise and I want to book it right now. Seriously."   "Did you hear me?"  

And I proceeded to tell him about the offer, which included not only airfare but also one pre- and two post-cruise hotels.  And it ended up in London. And it made two stops in France, and one in Dorset. The two Irish towns almost don't matter since we'll have more time there in August, but more is better, right? And the first stop was Halifax, Nova Scotia, and when would we ever go there, if not on this cruise? The most amazing part of the cruise isn't even that it leaves from my favorite city in the whole world, but that I would be on a ship that was cruising out of New York Harbor. That we would cruise right past the Statue of Liberty! I may have to put curlers in my hair and a scarf around my head to recreate a Deborah Kerr moment - even though we'll be cruising out instead of in to New York Harbor.  Did I mention cruising past the Statue of Liberty?  Wow!

I don't think I've ever reacted so quickly, so positively and so definitively in my life. Within 10 minutes of reading the email I'd picked up the phone and given my credit card number. We're taking another transatlantic cruise! (When I tried to call back 45 minutes later it took me multiple times to get the phone to ring, then I was number 35 in the queue. And the cruise sold out that same day, but I have no idea how many cabins they had to sell. Anyway, I'm glad I booked when I did.)

So while I still don't call myself a "cruiser", I will call myself a destination cruiser. It seems weird to me, because I consider myself a 'slow traveler' who likes to stay in one place for long periods. Visiting different cities for a few hours at a time is the very opposite of my 'usual' way of travel, but I guess I have to stop being so judgmental and snobby. We're all a series of contradictions and differences. Cruising can offer great value for money, and for those of us lucky enough to be retired, it's a great way of extending a vacation. And in a year when I thought I'd have zero cruises, I now have two. I'm very happy!

Saturday, November 30, 2019

2019 Vacation Costs

This years vacation can be divided into several segments:

  • Short visit with our granddaughters in Washington DC
  • 5 night stay in Edinburgh
  • 11 week stay in Umbria
  • Overnight ferry and 3 nights in Barcelona
  • 15 night transatlantic cruise back to Tampa

Our stay in DC was relatively cheap thanks to vouchers from Southwest Air covering the entire cost of our one-way flight TPA-DCA, and free accommodations with my son's family. We did pay to rent a car for our time there, then drove to Philadelphia for our next flight.

The flight to Scotland was covered by FF miles, so that was a savings right off the bat. Our five night stay at an Air B&B was perfectly located, but certainly not cheap. The Royal Tattoo and the Edinburgh Festival were both in full swing, so we were more than happy to pay for our incredible location just steps off the Royal Mile. We bought tickets to the Royal Tatoo, took a half-day walking tour of the city, and took a full day bus tour to the Highlands – I couldn't be in Scotland and not see some of its gorgeous scenery.

We flew from Edinburgh to Rome (via London) using British Airways. Due to our luggage, a budget carrier wouldn't work for us. Our car rental for 78 day through AutoEurope was $800 cheaper than last year, which was a huge savings. We rented an apartment for 3 months at €450/month, plus utilities. We ate out more this year for several reasons: first of all, the apartment kitchen is tiny, really tiny, and cooking is a challenge. It can be done, but it's not as much fun. Additionally with the deli right downstairs we bought many simple meals to either eat cold (sliced meats and cheeses with fruit), or heartier dishes we heated up in our toaster oven. We took several day trips during out 11 weeks, but no overnight trips.

We returned our rental car in Civitavecchia and took an overnight ferry from Rome to Barcelona, then spent 3 nights in Barcelona just wandering and exploring. (I was coughing throughout most of this phase)

Our transatlantic cruise stopped in ports 6 of our first seven days, followed by seven long days at sea. We didn't spend much money in the ports, and didn't take any organized excursions. When we arrived in Tampa we just took an Uber home.

To track our expenses I start a spreadsheet early on, and have several categories to track costs. At the end I add up all our prepaid costs like car rental, apartment deposit and cruise payments. I then add in the actual cost of all the cash withdrawals we made, and all the credit card charges, making sure to deduct any recurring charges that aren't related to the vacation. After figuring out how much money (euro) I started out with, and how much euro I still have left, I now know the complete cost of our vacation.

To track vacation funds available I use a separate bank account, and I add in the regular budget items like food and gas for the time we'll be gone. I put our cable into a seasonal mode, and reduce our car insurance coverage, which saves a little money as well.

This year I kept track of how much we spent for gas – we often pay cash for gas if the station in unattended, so it's never quite as simple as looking on the credit card statement. I should have computed the mileage as well, but I don't remember it now. Something else to add to the list for next year. For the eleven weeks, driving a diesel Jeep Renegade, our gasoline cost approximately $550.

Here are some of our costs:

  • Edinburgh Air B&B - $814
  • Royal Tatoo - $167
  • Walking tour and bus tour - $300
  • flight EDI-FCO - $439
  • Car Rental - $1482
  • Apartment - $1485
  • Utilities - $220
  • Diesel fuel - $550
  • Overnight Ferry - $175
  • Barcelona Air B&B - $284
  • Transatlantic cruise - $2350
  • -tips - $500

Included in our expenses were numerous gifts – Christmas and birthday – but that's fairly typical, so I don't deduct those costs. This year I bought one ceramic bowl and three inexpensive posters to frame – I guess I should add the cost of framing into my final tally as well.

Our total cost for our 106 day adventure came out to about $138 per day – for both of us, so $69 per person, per day. I guess the days of Europe on $5/day are long gone. The important thing is we stayed in comfortable, convenient locations, and even more importantly, we ate to our heart's content. We enjoyed local treats and simple, seasonal food, often paying only €20 for an incredible meal. Yes, we splurged on a few high-end dinners, but honestly, one of Marco's pizzas followed by gelato from Stefania and I'm a happy camper!

Monday, September 02, 2019

Packing For A Long Journey

This year's travels will be for 106 days, and include very hot weather, weather that might be cold and wet, and two weeks without a washing machine. Even though we've been doing this for a while, it's still a challenge to pack just enough without over-packing. Art's a bit more of a fashionista (o?) than I am, and I end up being the meanie who says “no, you can't take that shirt, you already have six”. Additionally I bring nothing that needs to be ironed. In the states it's easy because dryers are 'normal', and for most of our clothes a spin in the dryer will make clothes at least presentable, even if the creases aren't crisply ironed. While I'm not a slob, and I want to look nice, my basic attitude is that a) I'll never see most of the people I encounter on vacation again, and b) no one really cares if I wear the same 4 shirts over and over again.

I'm not going to bore you with a list of how many short-sleeved shirts, long-sleeved shirts, sweaters and pants I brought, but what I will tell you is that so far there are a few things I haven't even worn, and one thing I kind of wish I'd brought. (A pashima)

We knew our apartment didn't have a washing machine, but I also knew that most of our tee shirts are quick-dry, and that I could wash them out in the sink and hang them on the rack on our patio. What I didn't know was that the local laundromat (not that common in Italy, at least in our area until a few years ago) had machines that automatically add the detergent and fabric softener – no need to lug bottles of either every time we do laundry. Too bad I didn't find that out before I bought both on our first day of shopping!

Every other day I rinse out the tee shirts we walk in, my sports bra, and whatever else might need a quick refresh. Luckily for me I've always loved hanging clothes outside to dry, so I haven't been bothered by this at all. And although I hadn't planned to use the dryer at the laundromat, once I found out that fabric softener is added automatically is made sense to throw them in the dryer for a least one cycle - €1/9 minutes – and everything looks great! Art hasn't even used the iron once!

Once the weather turns cooler laundry might get more challenging, or at least the drying time might have to increase. The biggest challenge will be on our 2 week transatlantic cruise home, but if we arrive home with every single piece dirty, who cares? I usually throw everything into the washer once we're home anyway, just to be sure.

Last year we brought waaaay too many clothes, and I think we've been much more successful this year. If you see pictures of me wearing the same shirt, now you know the reason why.

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Kindness of Friends, Old and New

Since we moved back to the states in 2010 we've been able to spend several months in Italy every year, mostly due to the kindness of a dear friend. She had a 2 story, 3 bedroom, 2 bath house that she generously shared with us whenever we visited, and it became our Umbrian home. Last winter things changed for all of us when she moved to a smaller place, and so began our search for a suitable replacement for this year.

We always want to stay as long as possible, and for us that's 90 days. Because we'll be taking a transatlantic cruise back to the states with stops in several European ports, our time in Italy will be slightly less than 90 days – we'll be here for 11 weeks total.

I knew that finding something that met all our needs and our budget would be challenging, and as soon as the new year began I started my search. I sent out inquiries to everyone we've ever met who had a connection in Umbria. I did Google searches using every buzzword, both in Italian and English, that I could think of. I found an app that let me contact owners directly rather than going through third-party sites like VRBO and HomeAway.

Here's the challenge: We needed a vacation apartment, one that would have everything we needed, like dishes and towels and sheets. A vacation apartment is usually cheaper than just a room, and of course allows you the ability to cook if you want, or at least have a fridge and a place for snacks. Most vacation apartments rent by the week, and because we wanted to stay 11 weeks, the cost was still going to be staggering. If an owner can rent an apartment for $500 per week, they certainly have no reason to rent it out for less than $2000 per month, right?

When writing to owners I used an idea I've seen on HGTV – I wrote a personal letter, telling them our story, telling them that we'd lived in San Venanzo, that we loved the area, that we wanted to spend as much time there as possible, and that we were searching for an apartment for a 3 month stay at an affordable price.

We were more than happy to pay for the full three months, August, September and October, even though we wouldn't arrive until the middle of August. I spelled out our wishlist: one bedroom, fully equipped kitchen, washing machine and decent internet. I have to admit that I was shocked by how many places didn't even bother to respond, but I kept searching.

When I found L'Alberata, I loved the location and the price, but wasn't sure the 'internet in public spaces' would work for us. I knew Art would want to watch baseball, and that we'd sometimes want to stream a movie or a U.S. television show. Over the course of our email conversation, Elena said she'd try to find a solution, and she did! She added a router to our apartment which has worked perfectly, and that was that.

Although the apartment didn't have a washing machine, the owners would take care of the sheets and towels, so all we'd have to worry about were our own clothes. I knew I could wash some out in the sink, and there's a laundromat just down the street, and so far it's worked out well. Doing laundry on a Sunday at lunch time might be why.

We loved (and still love) the location of the apartment. The monthly rate is within our budget, even though we have to pay for our utilities separately. Air conditioning and heating are pretty straightforward - €1/hour. We've only used the AC for our first night here, and the charge was/is €4 – we can see the meter right here in the apartment.

For the electricity and water we're not sure yet. We've run the fan during the night, and often during the day if we're here. Obviously we're not using a lot of water since we don't have a washing machine, and since we're drinking water we buy from a local machine for 5 cents per 1.5 liters. Still, I'm curious to see how much the utilities will run.

It's shocking to realize that September is almost here! We'd sent our first month's rent to hold the apartment, but now it's time to pay the rent for September. I texted Elena to ask how she wanted to handle the payment. Should we bring it downstairs, or would she prepare a receipt, including the utilities?

Imagine my surprise when Elena told me that we wouldn't have to pay for the utilities for the 18 days we've been here in August since we'd paid rent for the full month! Additionally she offered to tell me what those charges would have been, just so I can get an idea for next month. She really does think of everything!

So, once again, the kindness of friends both old and new has allowed us to be here in Umbria, the place that feels more like home than anywhere else. Umbria is called the green heart of Italy. To us, it's OUR heart.

Sunday, December 23, 2018


We moved to Florida in 2015 to avoid the harsh winters in Kentucky. Now we have to figure out how to avoid the hot and humid summers here, and travel is always the answer. The summer of 2018 was one of our more ambitious vacations, due to the fact that we're only allowed to be in (European) Schengen countries for no longer than 90 out of 180 days. We'd never been to Ireland before, and because it's not part of the Schengen agreement, time there wouldn't shorten our stay in Italy.

For our stay in Ireland, we limited our vacation to the Republic of Ireland, and didn't venture into Northern Ireland (a part of Great Britain) at all. I started by using Rick Steves' recommendations, adjusting and generally adding days to his way-too-fast itinerary. I added an extra day onto our first stay, in Dublin, just to allow us to recover from jet lag.

Wanting to see a good chunk of Ireland in a limited amount of time does not lend itself to slow travel. This trip was definitely NOT slow travel, but because we thought this would be our one and only trip to Ireland, we decided to do it. It's much more tiring, and much more expensive than basing yourself in an apartment for a week, or two, or more. In Ireland, small as it is, things always take longer to get to than you'd think. Roads can be quite narrow, and no one was in a hurry to get anywhere. Our itinerary broke down to 4 nights in Dublin, 3 nights in Kilkenny, 2 nights each in Kinsale, Kenmare and Dingle, 4 nights in Galway and one final night at the Dublin Airport Holiday Inn.

We rented an apartment in Dublin, where accommodations are expensive. This was a relatively budget stay, and allowed us to eat breakfast at 'home', as well as keep cold water and ice in the frig– which turned out to be a real blessing. The location was perfect – one block off the main drag, just around the corner from the airport shuttle bus stop, and within easy walking distance of sights, shops and restaurants. The apartment was secure and quiet, but certainly nothing special. The rental agents were slow to respond to our calls/texts – we arrived during a heatwave and wanted a fan, but luckily we had no major issues. It was clean, and as long as you're not expecting something grand, I'd recommend it.

As you might imagine, most of our time in Dublin was spent walking, wandering and enjoying. We did take an organized tour to visit the Newgrange passage tomb and Hill of Tara, just north of Dublin, and a walking tour given by Trinity College. We saw the Book of Kells –  the page is turned every day, so it's just luck what you'll see.

On our last morning in Dublin we took the airport shuttle bus back to the airport where we picked up our rental car and headed south. We visited Glendalough, enjoying wandering through the ruins, learning about the round stone towers that are unique to Ireland, and taking the first of many, many pictures of Celtic cross headstones. We spent the first of three nights in Kilkenny, at Butler Court, probably our favorite town, and favorite accommodation. The owners, John and Yvonne, had truly thought of everything – after he unloaded our luggage, John even offered to park the car for us – an offer we were happy to accept.

One of the reasons I extended our stays in each of our five locations was because we used our drive time from place to place to stop and see sights along the way, so we usually didn't arrive where we'd spend the night until later in the afternoon. We didn't want to feel as if we were simply spending the night in a town, and in addition to seeing the 'must-see' sights, we also wanted time to wander and explore and to get a feel for each of the places. Kilkenny was large enough to have lots to see and do, yet was small enough to be walkable. It was someplace I think I could live, which is always the standard I use.

While staying in Kilkenny we took an organized walking tour, visited the castle, and drove to The Rock of Cashel. We'd been told to arrive at The Rock early, not just to beat the crowds, but also to avoid the high winds that are common. Because Ireland was experiencing a heatwave, arriving earlier rather than later was also a good idea for us, but certainly not the norm. We also visited Jerpoint Abbey from our base in Kilkenny.

On our way to our next stop in Kinsale we stopped by the Jameson Distillery, and were both surprised to discover that Irish whiskey is much more like bourbon than scotch, meaning that we both enjoyed the visit – and the tastings – much more than we expected. We did not visit the town of Waterford, but if you're interested in the town – or it's wares – this would be a nice day trip.

Kinsale itself was a charming seaside town with colorful buildings, a nice farmer's market, and a large abandoned fort outside of town. Our hosts at the B&B recommended a place where we could drop off our laundry and pick it up the next day. On our way out to the fort we dropped off our dirty laundry, hiked out to the the other side of the bay and had great views of Kinsale from Fort Charles.

We stopped at Timoleague Friary and Drombeg Stone Circle and the Beara Peninsula on our way to Kenmare. I'd wanted to stop in Cobh to see the Titanic Museum, but the information I found online regarding parking seemed more discouraging than inviting, so we skipped it. Kenmare was the one town we really didn't see – we spent all day driving and sightseeing, and we arrived late in the afternoon. We did walk into town for dinner, but the entire next day was spent on our big splurge – a personal, guided tour of the Ring of Kerry. This allowed Art to take a break from driving and to just enjoy the scenery. We both enjoyed it immensely – especially the running commentary from our guide, Patrick.

After Kenmare we headed to Dingle, stopping at Inch Beach along the way. The scenery was stunning along our drive, and we stopped quite frequently. At first glance I thought I wouldn't like Dingle, but I found it quite charming after wandering around. We spent an entire day exploring Slea Head Drive. Even though the skies were overcast we were glad we missed the fog that rolled in the day after our drive – we saw NOTHING on our way out of town as we headed towards Galway.

We took the Shannon Ferry to cut our drive time from Dingle to Galway, knowing we wanted to drive through The Burren, and also make a stop at Aillwee Caves. I love caves, but was very disappointed in this one. I guess when you come from the land of Mammoth Cave, smaller caves have to be something really special to compete, and this one wasn't anything special at all. If you have kids, or have never been to a cave, this might be worth a stop, but otherwise, don't bother.

We booked four nights in Galway knowing that it would be our northernmost stop, but also knowing that we wanted ta full day to explore Connemara. In the end, I could've stayed here another day. The drive back through the Burren on our way to the Cliffs of Moher took all of one day, another day we simply wandered the town, stopping along the way for something to eat or drink and we took a river cruise – nothing special to see, really, but it was pleasant and relaxing, and nice to be off our feet for a while. The one full day we'd plan for our drive to Connemara was not enough time. We didn't get to see anything more of Kylemore Abbey than the outside. It looks more castle than convent to me, so I'd love to see the inside, and it seems from the website that you could spend the whole day here. We left Galway and drove to Cong Abbey – where we were surprised to see a statue of John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara! - then we drove to Westport, but only walked around for a short bit. It was crammed with tourists and lots of cute little shops, but it seemed more Disney than charming. We based this day on a suggested drive in the Rick Steves guidebook. The drive was beautiful, and I can't imagine spending less time at any of our stops, so one full day just wasn't enough.

It's not a long drive from Galway to Dublin's airport, but I didn't want to have to get up super early on the day of our flight to England, so we spent our last night at the Dublin Airport Holiday Inn. On the way we stopped at the Irish Nation Stud – that's what they call it – for some reason they don't add “farm” to the title! We had a tour of the farm, where in contrast to what we're used to in Kentucky, thoroughbreds there are bred and trained in a variety of styles – jumpers, cross-country and race course. The young man who led the tour had just returned from a visit to Keeneland Racetrack in Lexington Kentucky, and he knew all the Derby winners and horses of note within the United States. I certainly know nothing about thoroughbred horses in other countries!

After leaving the National Stud it was a short drive to the Holiday Inn. We dropped off our luggage the returned our rental car, taking the hotel's shuttle back to our room. Our 19 nights in Ireland weren't long enough – if I could I think I'd add another day onto every stop but Dublin, which would be 24 nights in all. It's still a lot of moving, but there could also be a day where you simply took the day off, which was something we didn't feel we could do – too much to see, especially considering the beautiful weather we had. We didn't use our umbrellas once in Ireland, and other than a light sweater for me in the early morning/evening, we never needed our jackets. We know how rare beautiful weather, at least for an extended amount of time, is for Ireland, and we felt pretty lucky!

As always, our photos are on Flickr - Click on the link in the right hand column.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Oops, I Did It Again!

Back in the '70s and '80's, I had wall art that was probably like everyone else's - a beautiful landscape over the sofa, a nice floral on the wall, some pleasing, generic something-or-other's flanking the bed. You know what I mean - the sort of stuff they sell at BB&B, or Target, or Michaels. It's pretty, but it doesn't really mean anything, doesn't have a personal connection.

And then I started to travel. Back in the day when we still used film in cameras, I quickly learned to added a few hundred dollars to the budget for the developing and framing that followed every vacation. Sometimes I'd buy posters, or even postcards that I found interesting. Once, following in the footsteps of my son, I ripped a concert poster off a wall in Prague to bring home as a souvenir. I bought ceramic plates to hang on the wall rather than to eat from, and took every photo with the thought that this could be the one!

Now, every single thing that hangs on my walls or sits on my shelves, has a story, has meaning, and brings back memories of the place, the occasion, and the people. Anyone who's seen our house knows that the walls are pretty full, and I promised myself I wouldn't buy anymore art on this trip, but I've failed miserably.

At first I started small.  I bought postcards and greeting cards with beautiful scenes, thinking that I could frame them, or not - if I didn't, I hadn't spent a lot of money, but at least I had the option, and at least the picture was small. But then my collection grew. A couple of prints from Ireland. A few more from England. A tea towel from Sussex to hang on the kitchen door. A charming scene of Innsbruck, bought directly from the artist. And now, quite a few more from Italy.

I bought a print from the same man we bought an original from last year, 'just in case'. I found a charming scene, already framed!, from a local artist who'd set up a temporary exposition in a nearby town. And today, while visiting a tiny little village here in Umbria we walked past an exhibition of paintings that were absolutely breathtaking. The artist, a small man named Rolando, welcomed us into his studio. A speech impediment made conversation difficult, but what he's unable to express in words he's more than made up for with his artwork. (And later he'd gift me a book of poems he's written!) How could I NOT buy one of his pictures?

Deciding on just one, and a small one at that, was difficult, but in the end we choose one that depicts the town we were in, Ferentillo, and the two towers that watch over it. I really wanted the large one with the field of poppies in the foreground, and the one with sunflowers - and I LOVED the one with the simple vase of flowers, but unfortunately not only are my walls full, I also had to consider my suitcases for the trip home.

The best part about these purchases is that in the end, I don't feel guilty at all - I know once I get home I'll remember exactly where we were, exactly what the artist told me about his work, and I'll instantly be transported back to that moment in Ireland, England, Austria or Italy.

Ferentillo - If you see it, you'll love it.

Rolando Lucidi