Today’s field trip really put the icing on the cake for me.  I have been yearning to have a chance to wander around a cemetery and photograph old headstones and celtic crosses and today my wish came true. Glendalough is an ancient monastic site that was active from the 7th to 12th century. That’s 500 years folks.

St_KevinsHere is a picture of St. Kevin’s Church which was the main place of worship prior to the building of the Cathedral in the 12th century. And here is another view from closer in. The cemetery does not seem to be as old as the monastic buildings as many of the graves date from the 19th century and some further out are even from tSt_Kevins_withcrosshe 20th. One of the challenges today was the flat white sky.

Round_towerThe round tower was a bell tower and landmark to help visitors find the place. Occasionally when marauding Vikings struck it was also used to protect supplies but not, as was earlier thought, the people of the community.

A word about the Celtic cross. We had an archaeologist talk to us early on and express the opinion that the term was a misnomer as the Celtic period in Ireland dated from about 500 BC to 400 AD and the Celts were pagan so had nothing to do with the crosses which generally date from the 8th to 12th century. However, it has also been indicated that the whole idea of the Celtic Cross was to make Christianity less threatening to the pagans by adding a Crosscircle representing the sun to the Christian cross.

In any case, I have a fascination with Celtic crosses and Celtic inspired design and the notion of a brand of Christianity that is closer to nature and less dominated by imperialism. Some of the older “High” crosses date to the 8th century and may have been used by the monastics to mark their boundaries. But just because they were not cast in stone until then does not mean they did not exist until then. There apparently was a renaissance in the 19th and 20th century as the cross was embraced anew and became popular for grave markers.

I now have over 1800 images in my Ireland file so if you have been following along you know that you have seen only the tip of the iceberg so far. Not that they are all worthy of further consideration but there certainly will be more to come once I have time to sit down and work with the images. So look for at least one more posting on Ireland but not before the middle of next week as I have to travel home, recover from jet lag, and celebrate my birthday before I can finish editing my pictures.

Bru na Boinne and Causey Farm

Mounds_KnowthAnother fun and full day. We headed out to Bru Na Boinne this morning. This is a megalithic burial complex which includes New Grange, Knowth and Dowth. The tombs here date to 3300 BC. Our group went to Knowth where there was one large mound surroundekerbstone_Knowth1d with numerous smaller ones. This picture shows two of the smaller ones. Around the large tomb are kerbstones with megalithic art inscribed on them. Each one is different and no one knows what they mean okerbstone_Knowth3r whether they are, in fact, just art. Here are a couple of examples.


After our tour of the megalithic site we traveled on to Causey Farm where we were served a very fresh farm to table lunch that included some of the most delicious tomatoes I have ever tasted, some hard boiled eggs, lettuce, ham, fresh backed soda bread, and of course a potato salad. I think they might call it cold champ. And for desert strawberry jam and clotted cream on a fresh backed scone. Yum.

PoniesNext up we went out to visit the Connemara Ponies who really just wanted to be fed but let us pet them anyway.

Some of our group learned to dance and everyone got to plaJackie_Susany the bodhran, a sort of Irish drum. Here are my friends Jackie and Susan showing off their new skills.


Next we mpiget a friendly pig. One of our group chose to kiss it on the nose. Yuck.




And last but certainly not least we got to see a sheepdog stsheepdogrut his stuff. Hard to believe we have only one more day in Ireland but it should be another good one.

Killarney and Blarney Castle

StMarysIt was another lovely day to be in Ireland today. We had free time in the town of Killarney this morning so I set out to see St. Mary’s Cathedral. It is very impressive with lotsDawn2Dusk of stained glass and ornate mosaics. I was particularly impressed, though, by this modern stained glass
window entitled Dawn to Dusk. At the bottom it says “Why is there anything, instead of nothing?” I’m a little surprised the Catholic hierarchy let that one slip by.

OrganThen I swung back around to the Anglican Church which was nearer our hotel but not yet open when I set out. It was smaller but beautifully decorated inside. I had never before seen a painted pipe organ and this stained glass window was more to my taste than some of the more biblical ones.Window

After checking out a few shops and buying a few souvenirs I was all walked out but still had an hour before the bus was due to leave so I indulged in a horse cart ride through the National Park parts of which were donated to KillarneyNP2the country on stipulation that only foot, bicycle or horse traffic would be allowed. I got one last look at the McGuillycuddy’s reeks, the highest mountain range in Ireland at around 3500 feet.

On the road again we proceeded through county Tipperary, seeing more Blarneyhorses and dairy cattle than sheep now, to County Cork and on to Cork City with a stop at Blarney Castle. Even if the cruise ship had not just dumped thousands of people on the place I would not have stood in line to bend over backward and kiss a rock. It’s a little too late for the gift of gab to do me any good anyway.

The Ring of Kerry

It was another interesting day but not a very good day for photography. We started with a talk from a retired farmer about what it was like growing up in rural Ireland in the 1950s and 60s.  Hard to imagine they did not even have electricity until 1967. And farming was still done with a draft horse and plow.

Next we went to the Muckross house for a guided tour. This is a former manor house much on the same scale as Downton Abbey. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photographs inside and were so rushed to be on schedule that there was no time to compose a picture outside. The owners of the house could not keep up the lifestyle and ended up donating their 11,000 acre estate to the Republic of Ireland for a National Park.

Dingle_BayWe set out on the ring of Kerry which is a scenic drive in and around the Killarney National Park and Iveragh Peninsula. Our guide was intent on getting us to lunch on time so there wasn’t much time to photograph the beautiful scenery. We finally had a photo stop along the Dingle Bay. I’d never seen a rainbow quite like this one projected onto the water. And no, I didn’t find the pot of gold.

We had lunch in a cute little town but again, between time constraints and rain the photography wasn’t much good. We finally had another photo stop at the top of a hill with a wonderful view bKerryut just as we got there the ceiling dropped and the clouds opened up and all we could see was fog and

I tried a few grab shots from the bus but he was going so fast it was hard to get a good shot. if these sheep look blurry its because they were going by at 100kph. Finally, we had oKillarneyNPne last stop at an overlook with a magnificent view of a glacier carved valley.

The town of Killarney is not unlike American cities located near National Parks (or, ahem,a certain theater town some of us know and love), full of touristy shops, cafes, and hotels. I’ll have more free tiHorse_Cartme in town tomorrow but I did get a quick shot of one of the horse drawn carts. It is also possible to walk into the Park which is adjacent to the town. One  thing for sure, if I don’t like the outcome of the upcoming election I’m moving to Killarney.

The Burren and the Cliffs of Mohr

Today marked the midpoint in our tour of Ireland. With seven days behind us and seven days ahead we had perhaps our best weather day so far. I think it is the first day it has not rained even a little bit.  We loaded up the coach this morning for our transfer from Galway to Killarney.

Burren1Along the way we picked up guide, Shane Connolly, who had quite the accent and quite the sense of humor. Some of us thought he might make it as a stand-up comedian in the U.S. One thing about the Irish is they are very savvy about American politics and like to poke fun at both sides in the current election.  But Shane was also very knowledgeable about archeology, natural history and geology and gave us an expert walk through the Burren, a rocky, desolate landscape. He insisted though, that it is of the best land in Ireland for raising cattle because the grass stays fresh in the winter and farmers bring their cattle up here where the limestone covered hills absorb heat from tTombhe sun so stay warmer than the valleys below.

While still in the Burren we stopped (along with 5 other busloads of
people) to see a megalithic tomb called Poulnabrone Dolmen. This site dates to around 3000 B.C. and marks the burial of 33 people. We had lunch at a pub called Vaughn’s where we were served Irish stew with a side of, you guessed it, mashed potatoes. Tea or coffee is served after every meal but I find myself longing for a nice glass of iced tea with lemon.

CliffsAfter lunch we headed out to the Cliffs of Mohr which Patrick tells us is the second most visited site in all of Ireland. The first being the Guinness storehouse in Cork. The crowds are well managed but it does put one in mind of such over loved national parks as Grand Canyon and Yellwostone. I have to say it was quite different from my last visit to the cliffs when it was so foggy you could barely see your hand if front of your face, let alone the cliffs.

And that was the end of our visit to County Clare. The rest of the day was on the road to Killarney where we are now ensconced in the nicest hotel to date with another full day of touristing on the agenda for tomorrow.

Bushmills and the Giant’s Causeway

We said goodbye to Belfast today and I packed up my troubles in my new kit bag. I’m excited to report that I just checked on the status of my lost bag and much to my surprise it looks like it is going to be delivered to me tonight. Assuming of course that they got the message that I’m now in Derry not Belfast!

Bushmills_LogoBut, I digress. Our first stop this morning was at old Bushmills distillery. Here’s a picture of their logo in stained glass. We were not allowed to photograph inside and the outside pictures were a little murky due to the rain. We had a tour of the facility and I got to taste some 12 year old whiskey. Which may have been a mistake because up until now I was pretty sure I didn’t like whiskey. This could make a convert of me but the good news is 12 year old Bushmills is not sold outside Ireland so I won’t be able to develop any new habits once I get home. I suppose at this point I should probably stick to wine anyway.

We had lunch at the Bushmills Inn which you can’t see here. Not a veryrain good day to choose to sit at the front of the bus. The shepherd’s pie was delicious but, and I never thought I would say this, I am getting a little tired of meat and potatoes.

Causeway We went on to the Giant’s Causeway just up the road. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site famous for its unique Geological formations. It was pouring rain as we were having our guided tour but later eased up. I was just a little disgruntled about the numDunluce_Castleber of people swarming the area. Tourists from all over the world just like me.

From the causeway we headed to Derry with one stop for photographs
along the beautiful Irish Coast. In one
direction the ruins of Dunluce castle, in the other some beautiful cliffs.

On to the hotel in DCliffserry and wonder of wonders they had fish on the menu and it wasn’t fried! It was, of course, served with mashed potatoes.


San Antonio Day 2

So yesterday was not a great day for photography because of the flat white skies and occasional light showers. Our outdoor activity consisted of a walk through an historic neighborhood with lots of beautiful homes. Unfortunately, all I can show you are a few architectural details because the whole house pictures just did not turn out well due to the flat light and ugly sky in the background.

Guenther_FiestaThis first picture is from the Guenther House where we ate lunch. Typical of the solid limestone buildings built by the German settlers who flocked into Texas in the mid to late 1800s and one of many listed on the National Register of historical places as the plaque states. But note the San Antonio twist, as the citizens prepare for thArcheseir annual fiesta, homes and businesses are decked out with brightly colored ornaments to celebrate the occasion. I believe the flags on this next home with beautiful arched window served the same purpose.
FlagSteinbeck is often quoted as saying Texas is a state of mind and so it is. They are proud of their state, proud of their history, proud of their flag and proud to tell you how many generations their family has lived in Texas. They love it that much. I can only be proud to tell you I am a fifth generation Vagabond as my ancestors just couldn’t get enough of moving west, though somehow they Petalmanaged to miss Texas altogether.  Maybe that was the problem.

I may have lied just a little
about it not being a great day for photography. It
was a great day
for macro photography wha
t with no wind, no shadows and lots of raindropleavess. So here are a few of my favorites.
RoseI ended my free afternoon at a great modern vibe restaurant with a southwest twist called Acenar. Overlooking the riverwalk I dined on the patio. My entree was duck crepes made with serano peppers and for desert, pineapple flan. So much fun to try new tastes!

Next up Lyndon Johnson and the Texas Hill Country.

More Missions

Door_InezI had a busy day of touristing yesterday and was too tired to process any images so had to make up for lost time this morning. My first stop enroute from Pismo Beach to Santa Barbara was the Santa Inez mission in Solvang. There I found the kind of detail I love in the old missions. Solvang itself is fascinating with a Scandinavian theme but I decided to save that for another day.

I arrived in Santa Barbara too early to check into my hotel so I just kept following the signs to the mission there and soon found myself in the right place. Santa Barbara is said to be the most SB_mission2beautiful of the missions and you can see that this may be true.

I’ve included a closeup of the detail of the architecture to show how intricate it is. They say the padres had only one book on architecture and it featured SB_mission3Roman columns and such. I don’t know if this is true but it does make some sense as this does not look very Spanish.

While looking for the mission I kept seeing signs to the Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens and I still had time to kill so I headed up the hill for my next stop. I was pleased to see a few flowers blooming but overall I have to say I don’t think it was worth the $10.00 price of admission this time of year. Still, how often do you see California poppies blooming in February?Poppy

Today’s adventures will take me to the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, said to be the most beautiful public building in the U.S. Then I will traverse State Street, the main drag of Santa Barbara and after some down time at the motel I will check out the Funk Zone. Should be another great day for photography!

Sea Otters

Sea_Otters3Sorry, I had to take a day off from the blog yesterday. I didn’t have many great pictures anyway because it was either pouring rain or we were inside. But today I had a chance to revisit the Sea Otter haunts in Morro Bay with the big girl camera and long lens. Pretty happy with the results. Here is a mama with her baby riding on her sSea_Otters4tomach. I think this one is about ready to solo.

These two were just coming up from a good romp.



And this next one is having a nice nap.





Here are mama and baby floating side by side.





ButSea_Otters this one is my hands down favorite. Otter love.

I did go back to the elephant seals as well but it was so windy I decided I had enough elephant seal pictures.

Tomorrow I make my way to Santa Barbara so should have some good things to share. Stay tuned.

Elephant Seals

Today was mainly about Elephant Seals. Though we learned something about Whales and Butterflies as well. It was poElephant_Sealuring down rain when we set out but by the time we arrived at our first destination it was clearing up but too muddy for our bird walk. So we proceeded on up the road to a less muddy place where we found few birds but lots of young male elephant seals separating themselves from the herd to avoid confrontation with the alpha males. This one won the prize for cuteness.

Slumber_PartyAfter a delicious lunch and a talk about whales we proceeded to the main elephant seal rookery where we found mamas and baby’s as well as alpha males and wanna be alpha males.  This first shot looks like a slumber party of females without pups.

But of course the babies are cute as can be too so hereElephant_seal_pup is one to prove it. Life is harsh on the beach though and the survival rate is not high. This fellow had been nursing but stopped to take a nap. We learned that the moms do not feed while nursing and lose 450 lbs before leaving the pups to wean. A newborn pup weighs about 75 lbs and grows to 300 lbs before Mom cuts off the milk supply.

Elephant_Seal_fightBut things got pretty exciting on the beach just as we were about to leave. To Alpha males, also known as Beach Master’s got into a fight over territory. It was still going on when we had to head out to our next appointment at the Natural History Museum in Morro Bay. There we saw a video about Humpback whales before proceeding to the Embarcadero for dinner.

As if we hadn’t had a full enough day we headed back to the motel to see a video on Monarch butterfly migrations.  Tomorrow will be another busy day even though our whale watching trip had to be cancelled due to dangerously high surf conditions.