TGIF: You won’t need a pot of gold when visiting Ireland

I am not sure what I like best about Ireland; the kind people, good food, spectacular sights or low prices. The accommodations and restaurants are extremely affordable or down right cheap. I really can’t say enough good things about Ireland. Whether exploring the Wild Atlantic Way, or visiting castles, you’ll find much to explore in Ireland. You can climb the highest peak in Europe at Slieve Leage. Splash in Ireland’s pristine turquoise waters. Along the way, you’ll witness seals and puffins on the scenic shores. You can also enjoy an expedition to a upside down lighthouse and escape to a quiet island. 

Evocative cliffs encapsulate this fairly land island.Tory Island has the distinction of having a resident, King. Besides greeting visitors, I’m not sure what his official duties are. The King of Tory rules over a small and quaint island kingdom. Tory Island lighthouse, a monk’s tower recall local history. There’s a hostel and hotel, grocery store, some shops and a post office within walking distance. Tory Island offers a quiet retreat and a taste of the past.

 
Rathlin Island is a popular destination. You can scale an upside down lighthouse. Catch a bus to the lighthouse and enjoy nature. West Light builders ingeniously came up with a way to avoid clouds that could obscure the light. Watch puffins, skylarks and other birds at the West Light Seabird Center. It’s largest seabird colony in the United Kingdom. Over 250,00 seabirds return to breed on Rathlin Island each year. 

Stop by Dublin and don’t miss Trinity College. It is the oldest university in Ireland. Its stunning architecture transports you to another era and dimension. Venture to the Long Room, one of Europe’s most impressive libraries. Beautiful marble busts adorn the aisles of the library. Star Wars used the library for inspiration. Walk through the pages of history and see the Book of Kells. It is a medieval manuscript of the four Gospels that is considered to be Ireland’s finest treasure. 

Whether you’re a history buff, beach goer, nature lover or lighthouse enthusiastic, Ireland offers a lot for your money as well as fun for everyone.

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TGIF: The stars make no noise at Ireland’s Blackhead Lighthouse

Sunset at Blackhead

Sunset at Blackhead Lighthouse in Ireland.

Hailed as one of the great lighthouses in Ireland, Blackhead Lighthouse is perched high on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Belfast Lough.

I stayed at Blackhead Lighthouse during John Eagle’s Northern Ireland Lighthouse tour. Sitting on the porch one moonlit night, my hearted pulsed with the beam of the lighthouse as it swirled quietly in the darkness.

Warning off perils ahead and nearby, Blackhead Lighthouse faithfully stands guard. While the lighthouse has saved countless lives, it stood watch as the Titanic tragically passed by on its final journey.

My stay at Blackhead Lighthouse was the highlight of the tour. As I stepped into my bedroom, I was delighted to see a self portrait of one of my favorite artists,  Albrecht Durer, hanging on the wall. My room had a fire place and a magnificent view of the ocean.

Almost every room at Blackhead had a fire place including the restroom. Today we consider a fireplace in every room a luxury but in times past it was a necessity as it was the only source of heat.

Sunset at Blackhead

Sunrise at Blackhead Lighthouse.

We stayed at Blackhead three days and two nights. I made the most of my stay. I witnessed a blazing sunrise, glorious sunset and quiet moonlight while sitting on the porch of Blackhead Lighthouse.

Yes, the stars make no noise as the Irish quote goes. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

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http://www.greatlighthouses.com

TGIF: A Perfect Setting for “The Crown”

Queen of peace

“Queen of Peace” the perfect name for a craft at the serene Island of Tory.

Tory Island’s cliffs, mountains and shoreline are like an instant replay of the award-winning drama, The Crown. In the beach episode in Scotland, the Queen Mother escapes to a quiet shoreline to gather her wits. She got some peace of mind and a bargain on a castle. You’ll find bargains and a royal retreat at Tory Island.

Tory Island, Ireland has the distinction of having a resident, King. Besides greeting visitors, I’m not sure what his official duties are. The King of Tory rules over a small and quaint island kingdom. Tory Island has a hostel and hotel, grocery store, some shops and a post office. We spent two enjoyable days on Tory Island during John Eagle’s lighthouse tour.

A sign for the ferry.

A sign for the ferry to Tory Island.

We caught the ferry to Tory Island and checked into the Tory Hotel. The lightkeeper welcomed us. After freshening up, we headed to the Tory Lighthouse. We walked around the lighthouse grounds and posed for group pictures.

Tory island lighthouse.

Tory Island Lighthouse.

Later while the group had dinner, I scouted the nearby sights. I wanted to see and draw a few buildings before sunset. I gave a sketch of a house to one of the locals I met. The people of Tory, like the rest of Ireland, are very friendly.

A sign in Irish dialect.

The past and the present converge at Tory Island.

They are also proud of their Irish heritage and speak an Irish dialect. Tory is home to a colony of prominent artists. The King of Tory is also an artist.

Street sunset

Sunset on the streets of Tory Island.

After sketching, I went with the group on a sunset tour of Tory Island. We saw a spectacular view of the mountains, cliffs and the ocean. It was a wonderful way to close the day.

Sunset view of a cliff.

The sun falls softly on a cliff at Tory Island.

From my hotel room, I had a glimpse of the Tory Lighthouse. Before turning in for the night, I paused for a while and watched the flashing Lighthouse beam against the dark sky.

In the morning, I arose early for a final walk through Tory Island. I was glad I did. I got a close up view of a historic Tower.

Tory Island offers cultural sights and breathtaking views in a peaceful setting. It is ideal for a retreat or a quiet getaway. You’ll get the royal treatment at Tory Island.

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TGIF: Ireland’s Stunning Upside Down Lighthouse

West Rathlin Lighthouse

West Rathlin Lighthouse is built upside down.

The West Lighthouse on Rathlin Island is a marvel of human ingenuity. Unlike most lighthouses, the Keepers had to climb down to the light. The Commissioners of Irish Lights Engineer-in-Chief CW Scott came up with this novel idea. Because the top cliff was often obscured by fog and low clouds, a traditional lighthouse would not do.

Built in 1912 on a somewhat vertical cliff, the project was a huge undertaking. It took almost 4 years to complete. The enormous amount concert used had to be mixed by hand. An inclined railway was built for landing materials.

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http://www.irishlights.ie

2016: A Tale of European Cities

Monument to King Alfonso XII.

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom; it was the age of foolishness….it was the season of light; it was the season of darkness…”

I thought about this Charles Dickens quote from the “Tale of Two Cities” when reflecting on my accomplishments and disappointments in 2016. I started the year complaining on the road with fans from the Orange Bowl. I checked everything but the traffic when planning my road trip. Thanks to that mishap I now look at the traffic on Florida 511 and Florida events when traveling.

A view of Madrid.

A beautiful view of Madrid at Parque de la Montana.

The following month I traveled to London and Madrid. In Madrid, I was spellbound at the monuments at Parque del Retiro. I saw “Guernica” by Picasso at the Museo Reina Sofia. I visited The Museo Nacional del Prado home to paintings by European Masters like Durer, El Greco, Velazquez, Rembrandt, Rubens, etc. My favorite painting were “Las Meninas” by Diego Velazquez and “Adam and Eve” by Albretch Durer.

Museo Nacional del Prado.

Museo Nacional del Prado.

After Madrid I flew to London. In London, we stayed a block away from Buckingham Palace at the Nadler Hotel. We watched the changing of the guards several times.

Changing of the Guards

The gallantry of the Changing of the Guards.

We walked to West Minister and saw the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and worshipped at West Minister Abbey.

Big Ben at London.

Big Ben with a view of the London Eye.

The next day we rode the Tube to Trinity Buoy Wharf where I sketched a lightship and a lighthouse. Somewhere along the way, I went to the Tate Museum and saw the paintings JMW Turner bequeath to the people of London.

Self portrait of Turner.

Self portrait of JMW Turner.

My daughter wanted to stroll down her childhood memory lane so we visited the London Bridge. She was disappointed but satisfied that she had actually seen it.

London Brige

A view of London Bridge.

We ended our stay with a look at the Tower Bridge and The Tower Castle.

The Tower Bridge of London.

The Tower Bridge of London.

A few days after I returned from Europe, I had a kidney stone. The only relief was that I didn’t get sick while traveling overseas. That would have been a bigger pain than the kidney stone.

Sunset at Blackhead Lighthouse.

Sunset at Blackhead Lighthouse, Northern Ireland.

After the kidney stone, I felt a sense of urgency and decided to book a lighthouse trip to Ireland instead of waiting next year. During the summer, I visited The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland where I stayed at Blackhead Lighthouse. I had an oceanfront room with a fireplace for two nights. That alone was worth the cost of the trip. We saw over 24 lighthouses in the course of 8 days. It was an amazing trip.

As I look at my disappointments in 2016, I realize that I wouldn’t have accomplished much without them. I actually better prepare for my trips, drink more water, take advantage of more opportunities and have gratitude for the little things in my life. Without the darkness, we can not relish the light.

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TGIF Travels: How to make a group tour work for you

The Eiffel Towel

We stopped by the Eiffel Tower but I ventured out on my own to visit the Louvre.

I’m not one for following crowds or conforming to popular opinion. So it was with a little consternation that I booked a group tour.

Group tours can be pricey but what’s more costly and disappointing is not getting the experience you personally hoped for. I’ve been on group tours to France and Ireland.

When I traveled in France, I failed to do research and missed seeing some of the sights that I was personally interested in. Here are the lessons I’ve learned on my group tour of Ireland:

Mountain view of Ireland.

A view from Tory Island

 

1. Plan ahead. Before the group tour in Ireland, I voiced my interests and objectives with the tour guide before paying my fee. I’ve learned you have more leverage before a transaction than after.

2. Talk openly. Open communication before a tour is one of the keys to having a successful self group tour. The tour in Ireland was primarily for lighthouse enthusiasts not lighthouse artists like me. So I inquired about how many lighthouses I would be able to draw. The tour guide was not immediately forthcoming. I think he was concerned about promising something he couldn’t deliver because of bad weather. Once I assured him I was aware that weather could alter things he gave me a tentative lists of lighthouses.

 

3. Get support from fellow travelers. I made friends with others on the tour and looked for opportunities to be helpful. It got to the point where the other travelers teased me about getting my sketches started before we approached the lighthouse. And by the end of the tour the driver was sketching lighthouses too!

Painting of Chaine Memorial Lighthouse

We stopped 5 mins at Chaine Lighthouse.

 

4. Express appreciation and be cooperative. Show gratitude for the tour guide’s flexibility. I knew the tour wasn’t all about me so I thanked the tour guide often for accommodating my wishes. The tour guide delivered more than he promised and I kept my word about brief sketches.

5. Be kind but firm when sticking to your agenda. I missed the final dinner but enjoyed the spectacular sunset at Blackhead lighthouse instead. Don’t forget courtesy goes a long way when cross purposes arise. After the final dinner, I stopped sketching and went on the moonlight tour.

I’ve learned the hard way to voice objectives in advance, research the tour as if I am traveling alone, reaffirm my objectives along the way and stick to my personal agenda. But it was well worth the effort and the money spent.

For exciting photos of my Ireland Lighthouse trip, visit http://www.elainemarieartist.com.

 

TGIF Travels: Discovering Ireland

Wild Atlantic Way

I visited Limerick  before exploring the Wild Atlantic Way.

 

 

Limerick, Ireland, gets a bad rap on safety from a few travel books. An Irishman at JFK Airport even told me it was a rough town! I was somewhat anxious when I arrived at Limerick but the George Limerick Hotel front desk clerk allayed my fears. I was happy I didn’t have to don a money belt and watch out for pick pockets like I did in Paris.

 

I felt pretty safe as I walked the city. True—it’s not a quaint Irish town but it still has much to offer. In 2014 it won a Culture award.

King John's Castle

King John’s Castle on the Shannon River.

Every restaurant I dined at had great food, low prices, and good service. Great customer service must be an Irish trait. I grabbed some food for my Ireland Lighthouse road trip at Dunnes and was happy the prices were reasonable there too!

Limerick was a great place to start my trip to Ireland.

I learned about the history of the Irish people at the Hunt Museum’s exhibit “A Terrible Beauty” and the invasion of the Vikings and British at King John’s Castle.

These visits help give me valuable insight into the culture and the history behind the formation of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Downtown Limerick.

Downtown Limerick.

 

Not sure I would recommend Limerick as the only destination for an international trip but it was a wonderful place to stay for two days.

The city is clean, shopping is great, restaurants plentiful and affordable, the locals are kind and there are lots of sights to see. It’s not that far from the Shannon Airport and a great place to stay during a layover or start a visit of Ireland.