It’s always great to start a New Year with travel plans – and who better to get us on the road than Ms Travel herself, RenaMcAllan. RTA Kildare will take to the road in 2020 for a day trip to Foynes, in Co Limerick.
Places are booking fast so get you name down!!!!! Phone Rena 086 8252164
Leaving Naas at 8am and collecting in Newbridge about 8.30, our bus will hit for stop 1 just outside Birdhill – the renowned Matt the Thresher for morning coffee and maybe a scone or a biscuit!
Then on to Foynes where there’s a wide range of exhibitions – Flying Boat Museum, The Aviation Museum, The Irish Coffee Experience (I’m sure there’ll be a few sampled!!!), the Maureen O’Hara exhibition and a chance for lunch in O’Regans Restaurant. There has to be something to suit everyone’s fancy – I’m particularly looking forward to the story of the Colleen Bawn and the Ghost ships!!! and an Irish Coffee of course.
We return home through Limerick city, taking in St John’s Castle with its new interactive touring facility.
We’ll be well ready for a two-course Dinner after that back in Matt’s in Birdhill before hitting for home. ETA about 9 o’clockish!!!!
We might even raise a song or two on the trip!!!
All this for €60 (RTA are sponsoring the bus – Thanks Madam Treasurer and our generous committee!) so fee covers entry to all attractions, morning coffee, dinner and tips. Money will be collected as you board the bus in the morning.
Another great Kildare Retired Teachers trip – my first one abroad – and it lived up to all expectations.
Even the Ryanair delay in Dublin airport followed by a “mirror of Naas bypass” between Treviso and Trieste couldn’t dampen the spirits of the Kildare retirees. Following check-in in Ljubljana’s City Hotel, we took off in packs to find late dinners. It’s quite a small city so we had the geography of the place almost before bed.
We started with a walking tour of the city with Yuri our Slovenian guide, taking in the highlights, the many bridges that cross the Ljubljanica River- the Dragon bridge,
the Triple Bridge, the Cobblers’ Bridge, the Fountain of the Three Rivers outside the Mestna Hisa (Town Hall) and finishing with a cable car ride to Ljubljana Castle which dominates the skyline of the city.
The group broke up then for an afternoon of leisure. Leisure my eye!!!! Our crowd found a lovely place in the Market Square for lunch before dashing off to the Urban Train (a little electric train that took us around the city again to see some of the morning’s missed sights – Plecnik’s (the architect of Ljubljana) House, the Tivoli Gardens, some theatres and churches.
The river is the landmark for everything in the city and so a group of us took a river ride. It was amazing to see the embankment and hear the many interesting stories of the past. Plecnik designed most of the city with great thought – the willows along the banks were sown as swings for the youngsters to launch themselves into the water as well as to mimic the women who came down to the river’s edge to wash clothes; a cage hung from beside the Cobblers’ Bridge to dunk cheating bakers; Emperor Franz Josef paid for the Dragon bridge so that his Eagle emblems could be displayed, instead the Mayor had 4 copper dragons, the symbols of Slovenia, sneaked in.
( Forgot my camera today – if any of you travellers have any offerings sent to me, please. B)
What a lovely surprise this morning – clear blue skies although a storm had been forecast!!! An early start (really hearty buffet breakfast in hotel) as we headed off to the Postonja Caves, reputedly, Europe’s most spectacular caves, 12 miles of chambers and tunnels. Luckily, it can be viewed from a subterranean railway that swerves through the stalactites like a fairground ride with passengers ducking at times to avoid overhanging rocks. One could exit the train for an hour’s walk through some of the chambers; however a few of us decided to carry on by train and relax with ice cream by the Pivka river.
We had time for a little retail therapy before boarding the bus for the Adriatic coastal town of Piran. A free shuttle service was available to take us into the centre of the town where there was a market square (Tartinijev trg after the local born violinist and composer Tartini – another famous Slovenian I had never heard of) and lovely restaurants along the sea front for a well-earned lunch. Piran was quite a wealthy little town, its wealth based on the salt produced here. Now it is more a fishing or seaside village.
Vinekoper in Koper was our next port of call. This celler owns most of the vineyards in Slovenia and specialises in a wide range of wines. My favourites, Refosk was available to “taste” and purchase. There’ll be a few of us checking out O’Brien’s and Aldi and Lidl for Slovenian wines after this!
Our crowd went down the town tonight for dinner – lovely restaurant beside the river where suckling pig (my choice) and veal were served with roast potatoes (unavailable last night!!!) and veg.
The mountains beckoned today – another early start and another glorious morning as we headed first for Lake Bojin, the largest lake in Slovinia. The cable car ride to Mount Vogel gave us spectacular views of the lakes and rivers.
Sitting out in the wooden chalet type restaurant brought the story of Heidi or the Sound of Music to mind. Vogel is a ski resort and there was still some snow with many Alpine flowers peeping through to add to the picture card effect.
Back to the bus for our trip to Lake Bled with its fairy tale scenery – an island church in the middle of the lake which can only be reached by traditional canopied rowing boats, and a castle located on a sheer cliff overlooking the lake and Tito’s palace at the boat jetty (now a hotel).
It was well-worth the effort of climbing the 99 steps to the Church of the Assumption to ring the Wishing Bell inside. The climb to the Castle was more demanding with its uneven surface and extremely steep incline. But there were many helping hands and almost all the crew made it to the courtyard, many making it to the ramparts!!! A fit bunch of retirees!
Lunch by the lake shore before hitting back to Ljubljana was well earned.
We may have wondered why an umbrella hung in every room in the hotel – today we wondered no more – the rain was bucketing down from early morning. Luckily today we were left to our own devices and many chose indoor activities – shopping, galleries, museums. The Emporium (a Kildare Village lookalike including prices) was a favourite but City Park ( in the Blanchardstown vein) was only a taxi ride away. The weather cleared somewhat in the afternoon allowing for some more outdoor sightseeing.
Rena ( and helpers) sussed out a local restaurant Sokol (The Eagle) for our group tonight – lovely meal followed by a sing song – not only are the Kildare Retirees fit – there are some great singers among them. Brilliant way to end the holiday!
A great few days – lots of laughs and stories – however “what happens on tour stays on tour” is a good motto for a blog and there were many funny incidents that will not be recounted here. Our guide Yuri was excellent. The hotel was clean and friendly and located centrally which is a big plus. Food was good but different – Slovenians don’t seem to eat at night and many places were closed by eleven. Everyone noted the cleanliness of the city and the good manners of its residents. Those who visited the churches were impressed with the devotion of young and old, the participation in the services and the most beautiful music/singing. Slovenian wine was excellent and very cheap. The city centre is “car-free” and that certainly lends to the calmness. Small electric bus/cars are available free, originally designed for the elderly but now used by anyone. Otherwise you cycle or walk.
Well done Rena – where are you going to bring us next year???
Sas Malumby, driver par excellence for Kildare Retired Teachers’ trips, collected us promptly at designated meeting spots and with luggage stowed on bus, we hit off for the (reportedly) sunny South East!
The Waterside Restaurant in Graiguenamanagh on the banks of the Barrow was our first port of call for refreshments. The Brennan brothers had worked with the owner some years ago and the positive results were very obvious.
A tour of Duiske Abbey followed. The abbey originated in the 13th century and is probably the finest f the Cistercians monasteries in Ireland. It is now the parish church of Graiguenamanagh.
I was particularly fascinated by the Tidy Towns Committee project “Clerical Whispers” to place 12 life-size granite sculptures of cistercian monks in various locations around the town. Each monk characterises a monastic activity – this lad is a weaver!
Peter Cushen, the current owner of Cushendale Mills which has been in his family for generations presented a very interesting demonstration of the workings of the mill. I decided to give the hill to the mill a miss and retired to the Waterside and wait for lunch.
Next stop – New Ross and the Dunbrody Famine ship. I had been there a number of years ago but there’s been a revamp of the whole exhibition with a renewed emphasis on emigration linked to the present day! Well worth the visit!
The Tower Hotel Waterford was our final destination. Rena had done her homework well as this is a very centrally located hotel, friendly staff and lovely food. A deck of card was produced after dinner by some of the Bridge enthusiasts.
Day 2: Trip around the city
The South East was anything but sunny on Tuesday but undeterred we hit out for our tour of the city after breakfast. As retired teachers, we are acutely aware that acronyms are everything in education today and we added some to our store as we heard about the OSIP (????), John Roberts who designed both the Catholic and Protestant Cathedrals; we were also told about some historical fallacies- poor young John Condon who sadly died at 18 but whose records mistakenly show him as 14, thereby the youngest casualty of WW1 (a somewhat cynical reason for some politicians to junket to his grave in Europe once a year!) Of course Meaghar and the tricolour were talked about, as were Strongbow and Aoife and Edmund Rice.
No trip to Waterford would be complete without a visit to the Glass factory and that’s where we finished our morning.
After lunch we had three excellent guides in Reginald’s Tower, the Bishop’s Palace and the Museum of Treasures. Many of us are planning a return trip to spend more time at these sites – really interesting. Shopping, walking, resting, swimming followed before we sat down to dinner in the Tower. A group then took off to Tramore, a seaside by night visit – what a crazy crowd!!!
Day 3: Greenway trip
Some of us had our first taste of the Waterford delicacy, Blaa, with breakfast (think I’ll stick to Dublin coddle!!!!) before checking out and boarding the bus for the short trip to Kilmeadon Station to experience “the magic of rails’ golden age” and view the stunning Deise greenway on a narrow gauge railway. We were able to look through the fence as we passed Mount Congreve and view the gardens that had been on our initial itinerary. Curraghmore, the historic home of the Marquis of Waterford was substituted at the last minute.
AND was that a treat – situated just outside Portlaw, Curraghmore is the largest private demesne in the country and residence to the 9th Marquis. I don’t know what strings Rena pulled to allow us a guided tour of this private house and the shellhouse “folly”. But it was certainly one of the highlights of the trip for me.
A welcome tea and sandwiches break was organised en route to Dungarvan at the workhouse in Kilmacthomas before travelling onto O’Mahony’s pub at Durrow. The Greenway Man, Garvan Cummins, gave us a short history of the Ballyvoyle Viaduct and tunnel before the “walkers” set off to experience them first hand. A small group remained to further sample the atmosphere in O’Mahony’s – an extended stay due to a puncture.
The adventures of those who walked, especially the magnificent 7 who were stranded for over an hour on the roadside above the Copper Coast might be recounted at a later date. Suffice to say, it was a pretty cold and hungry group that arrived in Dungarvan for the evening meal.
However, all’s well that ends well and there was copious praise for Rena as our “Minister for Tourism and Transport” on the way home. This was my second tour with her and she certainly leaves no stone unturned in the organising of trips. My name is down for next year already!!!!!
Early morning pick-up at the Cinema in Naas (other stops had been made along the way!) for the trip to Magherafelt. Great to see so many faces from the past both INTO and teaching colleagues. Sas, the driver, seemingly a regular driver of the retired teachers of Kildare kept us amused with odd stories of where we passed through. He had some great stories of trips to Jonesboro in the days of the border (which naturally brought up Brexit discussions! It was strange to be stopping for breakfast at 9.30 but after the early start the Carrickdale Hotel was a pleasant break – tea and gorgeous scones. Back on the bus promptly at 10.15 – promptness I believe is a feature of teacher outings!
Just after noon and right on time we arrived at Laurel Villa, an award winning guesthouse and a reported haven for Seamus Heaney fans owned by the Kielt family.
Eugene’s welcome included halting the traffic for us to cross the road where his wife, Gerardine ushered us into her dining room. There we were treated to home-made soup and wheaten bread (we all came away with the recipe) and tea/coffee with a choice of apple tart or pavlova (the pavlova was a replica of my mother’s in appearance and taste and that’s a true compliment!). To say that this is a centre for Heaney fans does not do justice to the memorabilia that is around the house, not to mention the private collection of books and leaflets and information that Eugene can show and talk about.
Eugene joined us on the bus then for a trip around Heaney country, highlighting many of the people and places that featured in his work, including the poet’s birthplace at Mossbawn and his final resting place in Bellaghy Graveyard.
The Hillhead Road links Knockloughrim and Toomebridge. It is not a speeding dual carriageway, just an ordinary rural link road of no great consequence. It was here, in February 1953, that two of Heaney’s younger brothers, 3½-year-old Christopher and an older sibling, walked from Mossbawn with a letter to post. Something distracted Christopher and he darted into the road. The driver could do nothing.
Eugene tapped on his smartphone and instantly the bus was filled with that familiar voice, rich and mellow, reading his own memory of that awful day when he was called home from boarding school in Derry for the return of Christopher’s body to Mossbawn Farm.
“Next morning I went up into the room.
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,
Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four foot box, a foot for every year.”
Eugene left us to self-guide our way around an amazing exhibition on Heaney and his work when we arrived at the Seamus Heaney Home Place in Bellaghy. We had plenty of time to view the artifacts, listen to commentaries and view videos (and even have a peek in the shop) before the signal came to return to the bus for the final leg of the journey into Derry. Sas demonstrated his driving skills as he reversed down the narrow Butcher Street in Derry to drop us right outside the Maldron Hotel. Check-in was speedy – an envelope for each of us, up to the room for a quick tidy up and down for dinner at 7.30. Lovely food, friendly service and lots of chatting about past and present, and of course the odd glass of vino!
2 – TOUR OF DERRY
Hands across the Walls; Sculpture celebrating peace in Derry!
What an excellent choice of hotels with views of the walls and Bogside from many of the rooms.
Leisurely breakfast before meeting with guide to walk the walls. He looked quite energetic (and later reports confirmed that he was indeed and fast mover with little patience for dawdling!) However even those less abled could take the walls at their own pace.
Plenty of information plaques along the way
People chose where to get their own lunches, some took time for retail therapy before hitting off on bus tour of Derry with Martin McCrossan.
And boy! did Martin know and love “his” Derry. Some of the crowd had asked about Martin McGuinness’s grave and so even though it was not on the agenda, that was our first port of call. Flowers still fresh, it was hard to comprehend that had we travelled a week earlier the funeral may nor have allowed a tour of Derry at all. The Bloody Sunday grave was adjacent.
Sas’ skills at manoeuvring the narrow street were award winning – although we had an encounter with police and ambulance services all worked out.
The “Walking Tour of the Bogside” was so interesting and oftentimes touching!
Like the story of the old guy who used to sit opposite this corner day after day, in all weathers – he was the father of this girl, one of the first children to be killed during The Troubles.
Many of the Murals represents marches, the hunger strikers, etc. There are modern murals also that celebrate PEACE and people who stand for Peace. The FREE DERRY CORNER is repainted regularly to celebrate even the different seasons, so it may not always be white!
DAY 3- HOME VIA KAVANAGH COUNTRY
After breakfast we had a free morning to catch up on some missed sights or to shop before boarding the bus for Monaghan and home.
Sas had returned to Tipperary the night before to pick up a crowd going to Wales and our new driver was a quieter guy. However there were many on the bus who knew the countryside and so the journey was peppered with tales of their childhoods and happening at various locations.
We were ready for eating when we pulled into the Shirley Arms in Carrickmacross for Lunch accompanied by the usual vino! Isn’t it great to be driven around????
Back to the bus for the drive to Monaghan and the Patrick Kavanagh Centre. The Centre is located in Inniskeen and was set up to commemorate the poet Patrick Kavanagh who is regarded as one of the foremost Irish poets of the 20th century.
He was born in Mucker townland Inniskeen. (You can imagine some of the rhyming slang his friend Brendan Behan attached to that!!!!) We listened to some lovely stories from the guide about the exhibition – not only did she know her stuff, she knew how to entertain. Two of our own gave a rendition of “Raglan Road” before we went out to see the grave.
The guide was excellent – after all our travels and info gathering, he was still able to hold our interest as we drove through the narrow roads of Kavanagh country.
“The bicycles went by in twos and threes,
There’s a dance in Billy Brennan’s barn tonight.”
(from Inishkeen Road by P Kavanagh)
(photo of Billy Brennan’s Barn!!)
Lots of sleeping as we headed back to Naas (and Newbridge). What a great tour, due entirely to the excellence of Rena McAllen, the organiser – she had accounted for everything – I’m a definite for next trip!!!