Thursday, September 18, 2014

mother's day in france and ireland

one final update from this past year, and then i promise i have more recent news for you all!!

after three weeks in turkey and greece with some fantastic friends, i made my way back to paris at the beginning of may to intercept my final two visitors – my mom and aunt!! we had planned a sort of dual-purpose mother’s day trip, splitting my final two weeks in europe between france and ireland. it worked out perfectly, because i needed to get back to dublin for my flight home anyway, and they both had dreamed for years of visiting ireland. but first, we had to get the bags i had left in excideuil, and of course i had to show them around paris!

we rented a little airbnb apartment near the gare du nord in paris, and used it as a home base for a whirlwind two days in the city of lights. in order to hit the ground running and beat the jet lag, i pretty much dragged them all over the city on their first day. they were total troopers, humouring me as i offered sight after sight, in an effort to keep them awake until a reasonable hour. we finally hit the wall around 4pm at the musée d’orsay, and we headed back for a light dinner and early bedtime. we even saw the eiffel tower twinkling in the distance from our apartment window. :) the next day was our only full day in the city, and we made it seriously full. i like to walk when i travel, so we covered a good bit of ground – shopping in montmartre, strolling along the champs elysees, treating ourselves to a nice dinner near the arc de triomphe, and then ending with a trip up to the middle level of the eiffel tower. if you’re going to visit paris for only a day or two, that’s the way to do it! see the sights, get a taste for the local neighborhood flair, and soak up the atmosphere. a wonderful visit!
in order to get back down to excideuil with all our belongings, we decided to forgo the train and just rent a car. thanks to the mobility inherent in controlling your own methods of transportation, we even got to make a pitstop at versailles on the way south! i had already visited a few times, but neither my mom nor my aunt had ever seen it. we kind of breezed through the palace (it was majorly crowded, and difficult to enjoy) and then took the little palace train out to marie antoinette’s hamlet. back when the palace was still a royal residence, the then-queen had a little faux village constructed on the grounds, so she could go play peasant whenever the fancy struck her. it makes sense when you think that this was the woman who, upon hearing that the people of her country had no bread to eat, responded with “let them eat cake!”… still, though, the hamlet was so beautiful and charming and cool. definitely my favourite part of versailles. despite the pouring rain as we were leaving, and my inability to determine the proper route to take in the car, we finally got on the road to excideuil after lunch.

it was so strange to be back in my little village with my family. after the hustle and bustle of paris, it was such a relaxing few days, despite all of the tasks i needed to accomplish before leaving. it was great to see my friends again, and i was happy to have a chance to say goodbye to everyone officially, but my favourite part was getting to show my mom and aunt the area. we took advantage of having the rental car to go a bit further afield, checking out the chateau de hautefort and a few antique shops in the area. thanks to the generosity of one of my colleagues, we got to stay in a beautiful guest house just outside of town, and we were invited to eat with the family two of the three nights we were there. heaaaven! i never got over how kind and generous everyone was in excideuil – it’s one of the best aspects of living in the countryside. i was sad to leave, but the next step was so enticing that i couldn’t help but be excited as well!

on mother’s day, we loaded up the car for a relatively short drive to bordeaux, returned the rental car at the airport and finally made our way to dublin! it was so great to be able to accompany my mom and aunt to such a meaningful place. the first few days of our trip were spent in the city, exploring and shopping and just generally enjoying the atmosphere. we ate at several excellent pubs (including a touristy one in temple bar, but i love it anyway), saw the sights, and i tried to give them a sense for why i love ireland so much. truly, though, you have to get out of the city to really understand… so the second half of our trip was a four day tour of the country! we rented a car (with only a few hiccups to start the adventure) and headed west. our first stop was the true homeland – county mayo, where my maternal great-great-grandmother, delia, was born. after several more children were born, the family emigrated to the united states in the 1860s. my mom has done so much research over the years, delving into records of births, baptisms, marriages, immigration, deaths… you name it. all her work paid off, though, when we finally arrived in the teeny parish of islandeady and got to browse the church’s documents. we found the original, handwritten record of delia’s baptism, signed by her parents, william and anne. we enjoyed a stroll through the parish cemetery and a lovely night in a b&b nearby. the next day, we hopped back in the car for the drive down through country galway to county clare. we stopped to check out the cliffs of moher, which were soon covered in the thickest white fog i have ever seen, and then made our way to ennis. one of the best moments of our trip for me was getting to introduce my mom and aunt to my dear friend shane’s parents. they only live half an hour from ennis, so they kindly agreed to make the drive in for a few pints with us in town! it was so fun to spend time together, chatting away in a cheery local pub.

the following day was simultaneously the best and most stressful day of our trip, in my opinion. we made the drive down to blarney castle without a hitch, and enjoyed a marvelous afternoon exploring the gardens, visiting the castle, and even kissing that stone. which, in actuality, is part of the wall just under the battlements, requiring you to lean backwards and several feet down to reach it. thank goodness for the guy who holds you while you make the effort! we left blarney in time to head into cork for a late lunch and a walk around town. the stress came later, when we decided to get as much driving as possible out of the way that evening, in order to lessen the road time back to dublin the following day. we made it all the way from cork to waterford, hoping to find a nice b&b to stay in for our last country evening. waterford proved to be too urban, so we ventured past the city and towards the coast… not wanting to settle for something just because it was there, we kept driving until it was nearly dark. we were starting to get a little nervous, because eventually there was nothing around us… so we stopped to ask two ladies out walking, and they pointed us down the road to the haven hotel. and truly, it lived up to its name. one of the most beautiful country manor homes i’ve seen, and the staff was absolutely delightful. we arrived just around 9pm, and they happily offered to feed us a full meal. the whole building was splendidly decorated, and our room was so charming… we couldn’t have asked for better. we passed our final night on the road in high spirits, praising the irish luck that brought us to such a fabulous spot.

the last few days in ireland were spent winding down – my mom and aunt from their two week trip, and me from my 9 month one! we drove back up to dublin, stopping in a few villages along the way, and ended up at the airport hotel. the following morning, we drove into the city, returned the car, and spent the day visiting the guinness storehouse and having one last pub dinner. it was a great way for me to officially say goodbye to europe – one last pint! i did get one bonus day with my friend shane, after seeing mom and aunt sandy off to the airport. we spent the day just hanging out and enjoying the company. it was a nice bookend to my trip, because shane was the one who picked me up at the airport back in september, and he also came with me as i left. he truly is a precious friend! it was hard to leave such an amazing year behind... and that finally wraps up the blog posts! if you want to see pictures from our trip together, you can check out the album here. :)

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