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“At last my love has come along. My lonely days are over and life is like a song.” ~Etta James

Today was a spectacular, picturesque, eye-catching,  breathtaking,   amazing and downright glorious day. The sun was shining and the weather was a flawless Kodak moment for our leisurely cruise down the Rhine Gorge, where there is a castle or winery or a quaint village around every bend in the river. The second but more important event was the marriage celebration of our friends/family Dave and Thierry Natale.

The Rhine Gorge is a popular name for the sixty five km section of the Rhine between Koblenz and Bingen in Germany. The gorge was formed long ago and the river is contained within steep walls, the most famous being the Lorely. The region is known for its ts wines on the south facing slopes. It was an important trade route and many settlements grew up and still remain, including the ruins of castles from the Holy Roman Empire. Our cruise was incredible as the pictures will show.

There is a photo opportunity around every corner.

Of course there were many other sights on the deck of the ship today, as my daughter Becca would say “some things can not be unseen.”

There was a lovely celebration of the wedding of David and Thierry our dear friends and family. It was fun, it was emotional, it was joy. It was all the feels.

“Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.” ~ Lin-Manuel Miranda

Of course we were all decked out in our wedding finery. There could not have been a more beautiful group of wedding guests ever if I do say so myself.

“I love weddings: happy people coming together to celebrate in great clothes.” ~ Brad Goreski

“Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you

The love of all man’s days both past and forever:

Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life.

The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours –

And the songs of every poet past and forever.”

~Universal Love – Rabindranath Tagore

“It’s better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times.” ~ Unknown author

This morning was a day of relaxation and gentle cruising down the Rhine River to our next destination in Cologne Germany. After a leisurely breakfast we headed to the deck of the riverboat to watch a little of the world go by. Despite the chill and the fog it was still beautiful until the rain started.

After lunch we arrived in Cologne, Germany. It is one of the oldest and one of the largest cities in Germany and dates back to Roman times. We took a city tour and passed by the famous Farina Cologne factory. The original Eau de Cologne is a spirit-citrus perfume launched in Cologne in 1709 by Giovanni Maria Farina. There is a central rail station in the city and many historical sites.

We headed on to the Cologne Cathedral. The cathedral has two massive towers which dominate the cities skyline. It is a renowned monument of German Catholicism and Gothic architecture and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1996

After all of the history lessons my brain was in need of an afternoon gin and tonic and then another delicious dinner with good company, good conversation and good wine. This was followed by a fun, frenetic, disco, black light and alcohol party to continue the upcoming wedding celebration for tomorrow!

“I’m having fun. I’m being myself. I’m doing what I love. That’s all that matters.”

~ James Charles

“We take photos as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone.” ~ Katie Thurmes

Today the weather and I seemed to be uncannily in sync. The morning was foggy and rainy and the afternoon was sunny, bright and beautiful.

After our first on board breakfast, we boarded a canal cruise boat in the soaking rain for an informative trip. Although the weather was not cooperative, the trip was informative and of course a lovely photo opportunity. It may be picturesque but I personally do not think I could ever live on a riverboat.

There are times when both bicycle and car look like they are about to topple into the canal. The guides say that they dredge the canals often and find bicycles, cars and the occasional Englishman!

We returned to our ship and after a delicious lunch set sail for Cologne, Germany. Sitting on the deck of the ship with drink, friends and camera was a peaceful and very delightful way to spend the afternoon thanks to good weather and of course, good company.

After a picture perfect afternoon it was finally time for the real fun to begin! Tonight at the “Fascinators and Bow Ties” cocktail hour we began our on board celebration officially for our hosts David and Thierry.

Later we once again wined and dined, this evening in the private and appropriately named wine room.

“The secret to living well and longer is: eat half, walk double, laugh triple and love without measure.”

~ Tibetan Proverb

“My experience in Amsterdam is that cyclists ride where the hell they like and aim in a state of rage at all pedestrians while ringing their bell loudly, the concept of avoiding people being foreign to them.” ~ Terry Pratchett

We woke up after a restless sleep and went to breakfast at a local place. The food was good but the benches were made to encourage you not to linger after eating. We checked out of our hotel and took a cab to drop off our suitcases at the ship as check in was not for a few hours. Being the spontaneous person that Skip is known to be, we made an unplanned, yes not on the excel sheet, trip with our cab driver to see the windmills of Zaanse Schans. Zaanse Schans is a neighborhood in the Dutch town of Zaandam, near Amsterdam. Historic windmills and distinctive green wooden houses were relocated here to recreate the look of an 18th/19th-century village.

It was a charming village and I would have wandered more if the meter on the cab was not running! Our new best friend also known as our cab driver left us in the Jordaan area of Amsterdam so we could have a leisurely stroll back to the ship. There along the narrow canals are hip eateries and pubs and cute boutiques, where again we made no purchases. In Amsterdam, you must be aware and respectful of the bicyclists or you will get hurt!

The sounds, sights and smells of Amsterdam are wonderful, especially from the bakeries. It is a very clean city, though very crowded, but full of life.

We made our way to the ship to be reunited with our friends and to begin the river cruise and celebrate our old friends ( to clarify for Tom Haas I speak of people we have known for some time not of age) and to make new friends.

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.”

~Hans Christian Andersen

“Time is like a river. You cannot touch the same water twice, because the flow that has passed will never pass again. Enjoy every moment in life.” ~ Unknown

Day two in Amsterdam was much better. The sun was shining and after eleven hours of sleep although my body clock was still off (normal for me) we were ready to start the day. After a delicious breakfast at a local cafe we headed to our self guided tour of the Ann Frank house. It was very moving to see where she and her family lived and the horrors of life then.

The Ann Frank House

After the tour Skip and I went off on our own to wander the city. Just to be clear, we walked the city and stopped for lunch at a lovely burger cafe, but we did not shop, at all.

Amsterdam is an interesting city to say the very least.

In the afternoon, we had an unplanned, spontaneous, not Skip like, canal cruise. Sadly, my camera battery went dead forcing me to “live in the moment” although I did try some cell phone views of the canal. It was relaxing and lovely.

In the evening, we had the loveliest and most delicious dinner ever, prepared by a couple named Olaf and Martine at their home. It is a fine dining experience of home cuisine prepared by a chef and his wife in their home. I was slightly off my game in taking pictures of the meal as I was enjoying it more than pondering the photo op. They are a beautiful couple, who are warm and welcoming and talented. There was good wine, great food, the best gluten free pear tart I have ever tasted in my life, good wine and great conversation. I highly recommend Martine’s Table in Amsterdam. You will not be disappointed.

Olaf and Martine

“As with any journey, who you travel with is more important than the destination.”

“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth, it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” ~ John Green, Author of The Fault in Our Stars

We arrived in Amsterdam yesterday quite jet lagged to say the least. The flight was long, the walk through the airport was long and the drive to the hotel was long. But the sunrise over Amsterdam was spectacular.

Sunrise over Amsterdam

We had an hour and a half walking tour with Claudio of “With locals” to get an overview of the city. Jet lag and the beginning of a migraine are my excuse for not remembering much of the detail but the city, even in the bursts of rain was pretty spectacular.

 We had a lovely dinner at CAU Steakhouse with some from our travel group. After dinner we headed to bed for the next eleven hours!

“Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses.” ~ Alphonse Karr

We celebrated Thanksgiving last month and I noticed that many people were putting a lot of “I am thankful” messages on social media.  I think that is awesome and I wish people expressed and demonstrated their “thankfulness” more often, not just once a year.  Sometimes I fall into the same trap of complaining instead of expressing gratitude.  It is often easy to think about the things in life that are missing or painful.  Often, if we appear too “grateful” it feels boastful and people are put off.   I am simply thankful for the multitude of blessings in my life.

This year on Thanksgiving I felt especially thankful.  Here are some of the thoughts my over thinking brain was working on that day.  I woke up early and was grateful I woke up, and grateful that I had a home and a warm bed.  With the help of my husband Skip, who loves me despite my many flaws (for which I am very thankful), we prepared a small feast.  I was thankful that I had the means to purchase and prepare the food and family to share it with. 

I tried to be in the moment and not to focus on who could not be there but at times my thoughts were melancholy that my son and daughter in law and grand-babies could not be here with us. I am grateful that they are healthy and happy and that they love me and I them.  My daughters, Becca and Kristen, were able to celebrate with us and I was grateful for their presence and their help.  My children, daughter-in-law and grandchildren are the best in the universe.  I am incredibly blessed.  My 91-year-old father was able to celebrate with us, as well as my sister-in-law and brother-in-law and some of my wonderful nieces and a nephew.

There are times when the missing of someone hurts and distracts me in the  moment.   To me, my mom was the embodiment of the holidays.  She brought us all together several times a year to celebrate being together with food and warmth.  She taught me how to make her special stuffing and how to cook a turkey. I cook it in her special roasting pan and it comes out perfect every time.  Her cookie baking skills were legendary.  I really miss that she is not here to share the holiday with all of us, but I am also grateful for the memories she helped to create.

“Grief is never something you get over. You don’t wake up one morning and say, ‘I’ve conquered that; now I’m moving on.’ It’s something that walks beside you every day. And if you can learn how to manage it and honor the person that you miss, you can take something that is incredibly sad and have some form of positivity.”     ~Teri Irwin

Sometimes I think people mix up being sad or melancholy with being ungrateful. Although I think those feelings can overlap to me it is not the same. There are times when its a little more difficult to demonstrate thankfulness.  Maybe I need to do a better job of celebrating being thankful in my words and actions.  I think I do a good job but there is always room for improvement.

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it”.  ~William Arthur Ward

So to my family and friends I say, thank you. Thank you for reading my blogs. Thank you for taking the time to check in on me. Thank you for loving me especially on those moments I don’t feel particularly lovable.  Thank you for being you, and for being a part of my life.  Thank you for making me laugh.  Thank you for taking this journey called life and making memories with me.   I am grateful.

“There are good ships and wood ships, ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships, may they always be!” ~ Irish Proverb

Today is the last day of our trip.  Technically we fly back home tomorrow but today is the last day for touring and drinking.  Tomorrow we start the food, fun and alcohol detox.

“I can resist everything except temptation.” 

~ Oscar Wilde

The sun was shining once again as we ate our breakfast and left beautiful Abbyglen Castle in Clifdin. We have been incredibly blessed with good weather in Ireland for which I am very grateful.

We headed to our final tour of the trip, Aughnanure Castle which is a tower house in Galway, Ireland.  To be honest, I think my brain was on overload of historical data or I had reached my mental quota.  The castle was beautiful and the guide was very informative.

Today was a lot of drive time in the van and we were all a little spent after two weeks of travel.  We stopped in Galway for a couple of hours to break up the trip and for lunch.

It was a lovely city, very clean and full of life.  On such a sunny perfect summer day there were lots of people milling about, walking, talking, shopping and feeding the birds by the river.

Three of our group looked particularly fashionable in their Irish Tweed Caps.  Tom, if you remember is of royal descent being king so only wears a crown.

After a few more hours in the non air-conditioned van we were back in Dublin for the night before an early rise and flight tomorrow.

It’s been a wonderful, relaxing and yet tiring trip.  It’s been more than I hoped for and yet everything I hoped for in another way. I’ve tried whisky and confirmed that I really do not like it at all!  We’ve walked and climbed and wined and dined.  We’ve laughed and made more marvelous memories.  It’s time to go home, and that is OK.  Home is a good place to be as well.

“And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed.  That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.”

 ~Pico Iyer

 

May your home always be too small to hold all your friends.

~ Irish Blessing

“Like the warmth of the sun And the light of the day, may the luck of the Irish shine bright on your way.” ~ Irish Blessing

After a rare but much-needed sleep filled night (and a filling breakfast) we were once again on our way.  Our first stop was at an Irish Portal Tomb called a dolmen.  Most date from the early neolithic age and consist of one or two vertical stones supporting a large flat horizontal stone. This one was in a particularly different sparse landscape, called the Burren, which consisted of limestone blocks and crevices formed from eons of water erosion through the limestone. At the entry to the area sat in a strange tent like structure a man playing a wind instrument.

 

We stopped to see the Dunguaire Castle, which is a 16th century tower house in Galway Bay.  Then we saw some homes with traditional thatched roofs.  Thatching is the craft of building a roof with dry vegetation such as straw, reeds etc and laying it so as to shed water away from the inner roof.  It is densely packed and traps air and is used to insulate as well.  There are traditionally 36 layers to make a good thatched roof and it can last over forty years.

Near the castle were some young children playing violins and it was charming and sad at the same time.

It was a long day in the van today over narrow and hilly roads.  We stopped for lunch at the Hungry Monk Cafe  in Cong, a small village which straddles the counties of Mayo and Galway.  It was a lovely spot and is known for where the movie The Quiet Man was filmed. We spent some time after lunch walking through some shops and wandering through the ruins of the Cong Abbey.

 

We drove past the Connemara National Park where the landscape was drastically different from this morning.

We arrived at one of the highlights of the day, a sheep farm!  The farmer did a wonderful demonstration of using his Border Collie to herd some sheep, then he (and some volunteers) sheered a sheep and then fed some baby sheep.  It is hard work on rugged terrain for little money.

 

“The shepherd always tries to persuade the sheep that their interests and his own are the same.”

 ~Stendhal

We arrived at our hotel for the night, Abbyglen Castle in Cliffton Connemara.  Tom was immediately singled out from the group to be our leader  king.

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“Dilly, Dilly.” ~ King Tom Haas

“When Irish eyes are smiling
Sure, ’tis like the morn in Spring
In the lilt of Irish laughter
You can hear the angels sing
When Irish hearts are happy
All the world seems bright and gay
And when Irish eyes are smiling
Sure, they steal your heart away.”

~Bing Crosby,  When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.

 

“Wherever you go and whatever you do, May the luck of the Irish be there with you.” ~ Irish Blessing

It was another bright, beautiful morning filled with sunshine and we headed out on our next adventure and said goodbye to Dingle, perhaps my most favorite town on this trip! Our first “ninja stop” was to visit a memorial to Tom Crean, an Irishman who left home at the age of fifteen to join the Royal Navy.  He was a member of three major expeditions to Antarctica and received the Albert Medal for Lifesaving during one expedition.

 

We stopped for another photo stop in West Kerry, where the landscape was also stunning.  This place is sometimes referred to as the Valley of the Mad.  People would travel there to drink water from some wells to cure mental illness.  It was later found that some of the water contained high levels of lithium which might explain the results.  Again, the views were beautiful especially on the clear sunny day with which we were blessed.

It was a day with more travel time but we soon arrived at the rose garden of Tralee. which is exquisite.  There are so many varieties of roses, yet the scent is not overwhelming.  It was amazing.

 

 

Skip and I took a moment for a photo-op on such a lovely day in such a lovely setting.

 

“My wild Irish Rose, the sweetest flower that grows.
You may search everywhere, but none can compare with my wild Irish Rose.”

~Daniel O’Donnell from My Wild Irish Rose 

We stopped for a delicious lunch in Listowel before taking the Shannon ferry (very civilized and fast) from Kerry to Clare.

 

We arrived at our final tour for the day at the Cliffs of Moher.  They are stunning sea cliffs located in southwestern County Clare.  They are among the most visited tourist sites in Ireland.  From the cliffs, and from atop the tower, visitors can see the Aran Islands in Galaway Bay.   The views from the over 700 feet height on a clear sunny day are dazzling.

 “May the sun shine all day long, everything go right and nothing wrong. May those you love bring love back to you, and may all the wishes you wish come true.”

~ Irish Blessing

Of course every amazing place deserves an “I was there” photo.  (Sorry no photo of Gary and Peggy, as they were off ahead of us as they did not have to stop to catch their breath from the climb).

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