Thursday, June 21, 2007

Celtic Tour 2007, Part II

Cows and cathedrals. What better introduction to Ireland?

Actually, our real introduction was trying to find our hotel in south Dublin. The directions estimated 40 minutes from the airport. It took us almost 3 hours. Maps don't help when only about 1 out of 8 intersections bothers to have a street name attached. Frazzled? Let's just say a pint of Guiness didn't go amiss, once we'd found the place and settled down enough to venture out to a pub.

The next day, though, we were on the road again, heading south. We stopped at the Rock of Cashel, which in ancient days seated the kings of Munster. In later years, ie, around 1100 A.D. (adjust your chronometers--we're on historical time, now) the land was given to the Catholic Church, and a cathedral was built, along with an archbishop's residence and various and sundry other establishments. All picturesque ruins, now. That's the Rock of Cashel, above, taken from the vantage point of a much smaller, ruined abbey in the cow pasture below.

This is one of the very cool things about Ireland--you're driving along, or walking, and you see a ruined stone tower, or abbey, or some such, out in the middle of a pasture, or tucked behind a modern farmhouse. The cattle must be used to tourists tramping through for a closer look; like Bessie, above, they mostly didn't turn a hair.

From Cashel we made our way to the southern coastal town of Kinsale, in County Cork. I've seen some pretty towns, but Kinsale is so adorable you want to pick it up and tuck it in your pocket. It is that cute. We stayed at the San Antonio B&B, the same place my sweetie had spent a night about 6 years ago. The room was comfortable, the food glorious, and conversation with Jimmie, the proprietor, was best of all. Global politics, the euro, the recent Irish elections--fascinating, intelligent, and funny as hell, and besides that, Jimmie cooked the best breakfast we had in Ireland (and second only to Linda and Dave's in Edinburgh). On Jimmie's advice, we walked to the Spaniard Inn that night to hear traditional Irish music. Three musicians in a corner of the pub, the whole place packed. Occasionally, an older person would come sit by the musicians and start to sing, and those moments were magical.

We did some exploring, around Fort Charles and Kinsale Harbour, but mostly we relaxed, enjoying the food, the scenery, and the wonderful warmth of our Irish hosts. We didn't have long--just two days--then we headed back to Dublin International Airport, and home. It felt like time--I was missing my critters, and the easiness of my own house, and my friends. And so Celtic Tour 2007 ended. I hope it won't be long before we can go back.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

It's Kitten Season Again!

This photo totally swiped off Bookseller Chick's blog...what can I say? I'm a cat fanatic, I couldn't resist. Head over there for all kinds of book news--she's awesome!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Now THAT's Grrl Power!

Last Saturday, Rags to Riches became only the 3rd filly (that's a girl horse) in 140 years to win the Belmont Stakes. The Belmont is the third and last leg of the Triple Crown races, and at 1-1/2 miles, it's also the longest. Plenty of horses sputter and fade long before the end. But this tough gal not only hung on, in the final homestretch she turned up the heat, burned up the track, and made horse racing history.
Work that day was crazy--not two minutes to spare for the race. But I caught the replay at home, including the head-to-head battle between Rags to Riches and Curlin (the only colt who could keep up with her) here.
Three Triple Crown races, and this year, three different winners. No single champion to sweep them all. Almost 30 years since the last one, Affirmed, in 1978. Still, in terms of exciting races, all three this year were knockouts. And what a way to end! Just look at the determination in our girl's eye as she holds off Curlin at the wire--she'll be damned if she'll let anybody past her.
Now THAT'S grrl power!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Celtic Tour, 2007

OK, so about that whole Scotland/Ireland thing. My sweetie had a veterinary conference in Edinburgh, and he asked if I’d like to go along. Heck, yeah!

Do you want to sign up for the conference, too? he asked.

What? Go to Scotland to sit in a hotel watching PowerPoint slides with a bunch of dorky veterinarians?* Are you insane?

I mean, um, No, but thanks anyway!

So for 5 days, while the sweetie watched PowerPoint slides, I bummed around Edinburgh. I am in love with Edinburgh. First of all, it’s gorgeous. It’s got tons of dark snaky passageways winding between 16th century buildings just begging to be explored. And the castle. Edinburgh Castle sits atop a massive extinct volcano rising over the city—jaw-droppingly beautiful in daylight, and at night, when it’s lit up against the sky? Seriously…damn.

We stayed at a wonderful little B&B just outside the city, and every morning we were plied with Scottish breakfasts. The full Scottish breakfast, as presented by our hosts Linda and Dave, included porridge, eggs, bacon and sausage and black pudding (you don’t want to know what’s in it, but man it’s good), tomatoes and mushrooms, potato scones, toast, juice, and tea or coffee. I never ordered the whole thing; if I had, I’d have had to lie around like a stuffed crocodile for at least 2 days.

Once the sweetie was released from conference duties, we rented a car and took off for the Highlands. I’ve seen some beautiful places, Oregon—my current abode—being one of them. But I’ve never seen country so beautiful as the Scottish Highlands. Here in the American West, the peaks are higher, the wilderness far more wild. But there was something about the raw light sparking over the water of the lochs, the impossible shades of green, the farmsteads white specks under the looming dark mountains—I can’t describe it well enough, but it swept my heart away.

The sense of history is everywhere. We explored Stirling Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI. Visited the grave of Rob Roy. Stood on the bridge where William Wallace (he of “Braveheart” fame) won a stunning victory against the English, in the cause of Scottish independence. We laid our hands on the stones of Castle Urquhart, ruined and brooding beside a gray Loch Ness. We walked across the battlefield of Culloden—an open, empty moor, dotted with stones carved with the names of the clans slaughtered at the hands of the English in 1746, buried in mass graves under the heather. I’d read the history, but to stand on the moor in the freezing wind, to read The Well of the Dead, Clan MacKenzie, Clan Fraser, Clan MacGillivray, one stone after the next—brought the reality home in a way printed words never can.

We stayed at inns in tiny towns, ate tons of amazing food, ignored the rain and delighted in the sunshine, and met many wonderful, warm, hospitable Scots. Too soon, we found ourselves back in Edinburgh. I wasn’t ready to leave, but only a few days remained on our trip, and Ireland called. More on that, later...

*Some will dispute my assertion that veterinarians are dorks. But if you ever find yourself in Las Vegas in February, or Reno in October, look for the folks carrying conference tote bags and wearing khaki Dockers with either cowboy boots or Birkenstocks. See? Dorky, every last one of ‘em. Just like me. I rest my case.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Tallulah Falls Paperback Contest

I’m giving away five paperback copies of Tallulah Falls in June! If you want a shot at winning one, head on over to the Teensreadtoo website, click on "Contests," and enter your name. Winners will be drawn at the end of the month!