Category Archives: Europe UK Ireland 2006

Day 49 – Wednesday, 7th June, 2006

We did not have any meal last night. Russ had plenty to drink when he surfaced in time to take his tablets and go back to sleep. I had plenty to drink before I went to bed at 8:30 pm.

This morning I woke up at 5:30am to the wonderful sound of kookaburras laughing, and birds atwitter. I have missed that whilst we have been away.

And so, we come to the end of our European Adventure. We now have to choose the best from the 3759 photos we have taken, and put them into a presentation album. We have decided to break them into two groups – one for the European section on the boat, and the other from the two coach tours of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those we travelled with for helping to make the experiences very happy ones. Also to those who left messages for us on the noticeboard – even if I do write more entries than War and Peace!

Day 48 – Tuesday, 6th June, 2006

We landed at Sydney International Airport ten minutes early. We had already completed our Immigration cards for Customs, and Russ had declared his wooden coat of arms that had been purchased in Scotland. I had nothing to declare – or so I thought.

As I waltzed through the Customs gate I was requested to step to the side so that they could perform a random check on my luggage. This caused a bit of a problem (remember the lost keys) as Russ had the keys with him in the other section of Customs. I explained all this to Gail, the Customs Officer, and she escorted me over to Russ to obtain the keys. Mum and Dad had breezed through behind me and were highly amused. As was Russ when he joined them and I was still going through the whole process.

Gail explained that medicine had to be declared (none of the other three knew this either) and I ended up apologising. Thank heavens we had all got letters from the doctor before we left Australia which outlined our medications.

Gail was very thorough. She went through my suitcase and back pack, admired the enamel bluebell ear-rings I had bought in Austria, laughed at some of the other souvenirs, and finally passed me through.

We then headed to the Qantas shuttle area and made our farewells to Mum and Dad.

It was very cold, and had been raining in Sydney. It was not until Russ and I had taken a taxi to the Domestic Terminal and put our luggage through with Virgin that we realised that Melbourne Airport had been closed due to fog.

My ears were crackling by this time, and I did not look forward to the last leg of our journey. However, we boarded our plane without incident, landed in sunshine at Townsville airport, collected our luggage from the baggage carousel, and walked outside to find Brett.

Amanda had agreed to come with him in our Honda so that he could pick us up on his Learner Plates. He does not sit for his license until next week. Thank-you, Amanda.

Once we reached home we had to remake our acquaintance with Solly who has grown during our absence. Snow was quite pleased to see us also, and when Soot finally came in from the cattery, he also allowed us to pat him.

Unpacking proper can be left until tomorrow and a good night’s sleep, although I did immediately put a load in the washing machine. There are lots more where that one came from.

Russ went straight to bed, and Brett and I listened to him snore while we caught up on each other’s news. He has classes at Lifeline tonight, although he is on break from TAFE while he awaits the arrival of his Blue Card.

He has organised to stay with friends so that neither Russ nor I need stay awake to pick him up at 9:30 pm. We will catch him tomorrow.

Day 47 – Monday, 5th June, 2006

We were not particularly looking forward to our stay at the Excelsior after the last time. However, Mum and I (still feeling poorly) went to the reception desk and proffered our reservation coupon. This time we specifically made sure to request non-smoking. The young lady said she would try to oblige us. I then insisted that we had to have non-smoking. I think she could see I meant it, and that I would complain if we didn’t get it because she upgraded us to the Peninsula Tower of the hotel and put both of us on a non-smoking floor.

We thanked her very much and again shouldered back packs and advanced to the lifts. In this section of the hotel you require your room key card to activate the lift above the Lobby level – keeping in mind that the Lobby is actually on the 5th floor, and there are shops and restaurants to street level below that.

We arranged to meet mum and dad at 8:00am the next morning to go down to breakfast, and then retired to our respective rooms. Russ and I unpacked and prepared for the next day, as we had to check out by 1:00 pm. Our flight home tomorrow is much earlier than our original flight to London, so we will not need the extra night’s accommodation.

We ordered a very light meal from Room Service and then collapsed into bed. I could not see any of us making the effort the next day to do the shopping that I had left for Singapore, so while Russ showered I investigated what was available on the Internet. I found a site that sells saris, and will be quite happy to buy off them when I get home.

I also took the opportunity to check out the Chico’s website that Connie had spoken to me about. This company sells from the internet and has a range of clothes specifically made for travel that can be rolled up without crushing. I liked what I saw there, as well, and will be still doing retail therapy when we get home.

Russ and I woke with the alarm the next morning, and dragged ourselves out of bed. When we were ready to go down to breakfast, we gave Mum and Dad’s room a call. It was just as well. Mum had not wound her watch, and Dad had not bothered to set his alarm, so that we actually woke them up. Half an hour later we all went down to the bedlam in Coleman’s Café, and had some breakfast. It was decided that we would all take the opportunity of going back to bed as soon as we had finished – which we did.

We checked out of our room just prior to 1:00 pm, and had sat down comfortable in the lounge area with our luggage. Russ then asked if I had the coupon for the bus shuttle back to the airport, and pandemonium broke loose.

I requested that I be allowed to go back to our room to check the bin, and they graciously provided me with a new key card. I did not find anything, so sat down to check all the pockets of my back pack. Still found nothing!

Russ then requested he be allowed to go back to check our room, and when he returned he had the stub with him. I had forgotten that it was attached to a sheet of paper, and had only been searching for the small stub.

Then Dad realised that when he had put his old toiletry bag into the bin, he had also left behind his letter from the doctor which provided a list of his prescription medicines. He requested a new key card, and returned to their room to get it.

Mum had spent most of this time reclining on the lounge seat trying to get ready to face the next part of our journey. She had managed to eat something for breakfast, and said she felt marginally better than yesterday.

Russ went down to the other section of the lounge where he could plug in the computer and recharge the battery. I decided that we could all do with a nice cold drink and went across to the bar.

Shock and horror – 2 diet cokes and 2 lemonades cost me $30.30 Singaporean. We all made sure that we even drank the melted ice cubes before we let the glasses leave our possessions. Mum and I then went for a walk around the lower levels. Most of these shops appear to be focused at the Singaporean people, and definitely not for tourists, but it was exercise.

Finally, the clock rolled around to 5:00pm and we went down to the entrance to await the shuttle.

The shuttle dropped us off in front of the Singapore Airlines door this time, and we went through the process of check-in once again. James in London had done us proud and we got an exit row, with Mum and Dad sitting behind us.

It was most unusual but we actually had a boarding gate posted already, so we headed off to the very end of the terminal in E section, and put all our luggage together. Mum and Dad were quite happy to sit with the luggage whilst Russ and I returned to the shopping area for the last two souvenirs.

It was as we were returning to Mum and Dad that Russ glanced at the Departure Board and discovered that our boarding gate had been changed. We now had to go to the other end of the terminal in F section.

Mum hates travelators and insists on walking the whole way. Each section of travelator is about 100 metres long, and there were five of them in the E section, and 4 of them in the F section. As I was trying to organise a ride for Mum from one section to the other, Russ called me to say that they had placed the luggage onto two trolleys, and were waiting for us. Needless to say, mum insisted on walking the rest of the way to the new boarding gate.

We always made a point of mentioning that Immigration is a serious business just before we go through that section of a country. Mum has got very touchy/feely as she has gotten older and ended up joking with the young Immigration policeman. She was requested for her passport, and as she was about to hand it across she realised she actually had Dad’s passport. Being Mum, she apologised and said she had her husband’s passport, to which he replied, “You bought him with you?”

As these things do she quickly quipped something else and then lightly punched him on the arm. Talk about instant mortification! (She is a red head, you remember.) They were all still laughing (herself included) when she got around to taking a seat in the departure lounge.

By the time the announcement was made for boarding, Russ had convinced Mum and Dad to use one of the few advantages of being old, and they boarded the plane first with the families and other older people.

We left on time at 8:40 pm and had a great flight home with Singapore Airlines. Once we had boarded I set my clock at Australian time – 10:40 pm – and we went through the usual rituals, before settling down to sleep.

Day 46 – Sunday, 4th June, 2006

When we boarded the plane I put my watch onto Singapore time – 1:30am Sunday morning. We were due to land at Changi Airport at 3:00 pm that afternoon.

The crew of Singapore Airlines are lovely. We would all fly with them again. You are greeted as you arrive, and as the plane taxis out to the runway, the crew provides you with a hot towel. It is magnificent!

Shortly after take off they come around with the head sets, sock and toothbrush sets, and the menus for the flight, and you already have on your seat the little pillow and the flight blanket.

The meals are terrific, and the quality of them also needs to be mentioned. Then you settle yourself down (it’s about 2:30 – 3:00 in the morning, Singapore time, by this time) and go to sleep. If you get up during the night the crew is on hand to offer you either water or fruit juice.

When the lights are again turned on you get another hot towel. Man, it’s good! And then they bring around your breakfast. It is immaterial that the actual time in Singapore is about 11:00 am. You have an opportunity to put your shoes back on and to tidy yourself before the actual landing.

Day 45 – Saturday, 3rd June, 2006

Morning arrived far too early and we went down to breakfast with the rest of the group for the last time. Everyone was in high spirits – sad that our journey together was coming to an end, but very glad to be going home, or at least nearing the end of their holiday. Mum was feeling poorly, but Dad was better.

We all boarded the bus on time, and Dudley and Margaret were there to wave us goodbye. Danny was to be our driver to the end, and Ian had returned from the Glasgow airport as there was such a large group of us to leave at the one time. He said he had plenty of time to get back to the airport to catch his plane as he had already booked his luggage through to London.

The airport had a well stocked Bootes (Food and Pharmacy) and I bought some ear plugs. I knew that with the end of my cold I would be sadly in need of them by the time I got home. I also found some more Fishermans’ Friends for Russ, and extra tissues. My plan is to keep blowing my nose during ascent and descent to see if that will help alleviate any distress of the ear-drums.

After a short wait in the main part of the lounge our gate was posted and we were able to move to the lounge there. Mum took the opportunity of lying down on the seats, and I caught the first half of the second quarter of the Collingwood – Brisbane Lions game before the internet time limit was reached. Collingwood was in front at this stage, and it sounded like a tough contest. Charmain had supposedly just been reported for a clash with Rocca.

Mum was still no better but trying to put a brave face on it as we had such a long way to go, and she was determined that our plans would not be changed.

We had an orderly move to the plane and were shortly taking off from Glasgow airport. Russ and I had an exit row and we found ourselves chatting with an extra British Airways staff member, Paula Hayward, who had been on standby at Glasgow, and was now returning to London on this flight. The time passed in a pleasant exchange of ideas, and Russ told her about the website because she had friends visiting from Australia for several weeks.

The landing was very rough, and the plane swerved markedly to the side as it hit the runway. I thought we may have been in danger of tipping over. Russ said Paula’s face was a treat, and he did not think the arrival was anywhere near textbook. The gentleman sitting beside me commented that he often commutes to London from Glasgow on this flight, and it was his opinion that the apprentice pilots were allowed to try their hand at landing.

We made our way in the tunnel from the domestic terminal to the International terminal after collecting our luggage, went through Customs and Immigration, and organised our next leg of the journey. James, from Singapore Airlines Departure section, was very helpful. He added a note to our files for the next leg to tell the staff that we could be separated into two groups of two, and noted that with Russ’ height it was recommended that he be given an exit aisle if and when possible. Thank-you, James.

We had several hours to wait before we would have a gate number posted, and took the opportunity for Mum to try and get some more rest. She finally resorted to lying on the floor in an effort to get some sleep. Russ checked the internet for me and found out that Collingwood won the match – Go, Pies!!

Finally, we were able to head to the departure gate and onto the plane at 6:30 pm. It had been a long day already, and would be longer by the time we finished. Mum and dad ended up sitting behind a very rude young lady who insisted on pushing back her seat as far as it would go. This meant that Mum could not move her legs, and it was a major undertaking to get out of her seat. Dad requested that something be done, but was told she was perfectly within her rights to do this. As the plane was not full, we cannot understand why either they, or she, were not moved to another area. It was a long night.

Day 44 – Friday, 2nd June, 2006

Breakfast at the Radisson was no great improvement over the meal from last night. The service was very slow and the people did not put themselves out of their way to be cheerful or helpful.

Dad is very shaky this morning, and Mum has organised with Ian and Danny to be dropped off near a chemist during part of our morning tour of Belfast sites. Dad is to remain resting in their room until we make our way back to the hotel for a comfort stop about 11:00 am.

Rosemary was our guide for the tour of the city, Danny did the driving, but Ian remained at the hotel. During one of the photo stops Mum went to the chemist and got her supplies. When we got back to the hotel Dad was slightly improved, and Mum dosed him up before we all assembled at the lawn area to have our photos taken – again, and again, and again – until Rosemary, Danny and Ian had run out of cameras to use. (Apparently the photographer who was supposed to do the group photo shoot at Kilarney failed to arrive).

We then boarded the coach to make our way to the docks. We were due to appear at 11:45 am for a 12:15 pm departure. However, like the other time, the boat was running behind time and would be 20 minutes late.

Russ and I took the opportunity of taking our Dramamine tablet before the crossing, and went to purchase a can of coke and something to eat whilst we were waiting.

Once the coach was loaded we made our way upstairs to the lounge area and I spent my time catching up with entries over the last few days of the diary. Dad was looking much more chipper by this time, but Mum was making sure he didn’t rush his fence posts and be back where he had started.

It was a short two hour drive from Stanraer where the ferry docked (it was the ferry that had first started the Bass Strait crossing and had not been able to work in all weather, so was sent across here) to Glasgow. The scenery along the coastline was very pretty and more photos were taken during the journey.

We finally arrived at our last destination of the tour about 5:23 pm. Everyone is taking the coach to the airport in the morning at 8:00 am except for Lori and Sherry who leave at some disgustingly early hour of the morning like 6:30am.

At dinner Russ toasted Ian and Danny on behalf of the occupants of the coach, and many a photo was taken, many an address was exchanged, and many a tear was shed by the time dinner was finished. It is with pleasure I remark here that Dad ate a full meal with no side effects.

Day 43 – Thursday, 1st June, 2006

As expected, I had a great night’s sleep and woke up feeling half way human, even if I sounded worse. Russ is now miserable! Dad is very fragile this morning, but will continue to soldier on.

Today we make our way from Sligo into Northern Ireland. Along the way we visited the Belleek Pottery Factory and were given a guided tour of the facility. Belleek is renowned for its exquisite cream coloured Parian china. This was very interesting as we saw the craftspeople at work at their stations. Some draw the object that they hope will be approved for creation. The next in line is the making of the moulds. After this they cast the objects and send them for firing.

Once the object has been through the first firing they undergo a quality inspection to make sure there are no flaws. Any flawed object is destroyed as the factory has a policy of no seconds. If approved by the quality people the objects are then sent to the artists who highlight and paint the raised sections of the object. Once this has dried they are then fired again. This brings to life the painting as well as imprinting the artist’s initials and the company watermark on the bottom of each object.

After this the articles are ready to be placed in the shop for people to buy. The majority of the articles are actually exported to America, and the rest of them are distributed amongst the other countries of the world.

Finally, we came to the obligatory shop, but only the work of the Belleek Pottery and its sister companies is on sale here. Even so, many a person bought more luggage than they had previously had onto the coach.

We lunched at Derry (Londonderry – the name changed to Londonderry by the English when they settled people in the area to overwhelm the rebellious Irish inhabitants) and were taken on a guided tour of the city walls, – yes, despite the bombings it is still standing in a circle around the old town centre – St Columb’s Cathedral and the Guildhall (city council building) by a local guide.

As it happens, our guide was Ronan – his Dad is Irish, his Mum is Tibetan, and he is a Buddhist who also happens to teach at the local university in political science – and it was Ronan who gave the tour of Derry to mum and Dad eight years ago. He insists that he has less hair and more weight now than he did in those days.

Whatever, he was most informative and very entertaining along the way. He left us at the city hall and directed us where we could find some lunch before re-boarding the coach for the next part of our journey.

We passed Dunluce Castle, a romantic ruin clinging to the cliff top. Ian told the story of the last owner of the castle, who enquired of his staff why dinner had not been served. He was informed that they no longer had a cook or a kitchen to cook anything in because it had fallen into the sea at the bottom of the cliffs at some time during the afternoon.

We finally arrived at the Giant’s Causeway, composed of thousands of strangely symmetrical basalt columns jutting out to sea. This area has only just recently featured on Getaway in Australia.

A story about the legendary giant who built the Causeway has been told for generations.

The giant was Finn MacCool. This is the anglicized version of his Irish name Finn mac Cumail. Although he is now part of the Causeway creation myth, Finn features as the leader of a band of warriors called the Fianna in Irish stories that may date as far back as the third century A.D.

Legend tells of Finn MacCool wanting to do battle with a rival giant in Scotland known as Benandonner. The two giants had never met, so Finn built enormous stepping-stones across the sea so that the Scottish giant could cross to Ireland to face the challenge. The story takes a humorous twist when Finn, seeing the great bulk of Benandonner approaching, flees home in fear and asks his wife, Oonagh, to hide him. Oonagh is said to have disguised Finn as a baby, and put him in a huge cradle. When Benandonner saw the size of the “infant”, he assumed the father must be gigantic indeed, and fled home in terror, ripping up the Causeway in case he was followed.

This is the reason, the tale concludes, that the Giant’s Causeway exists in north Antrim, with similar columns at Fingal’s Cave on the Scottish island of Staffa to the north – the two surviving ends of the Causeway built by Finn MacCool.

As part of the variation on the theme of the story, it is also suggested that the Isle of Man was created by Finn having thrown a large rock of earth at Benandonner, and badly missing the Scottish giant.

Ian told us we could walk down to the causeway as it was just around the corner down below. Being wiser after seven weeks touring, we declined to walk the distance, a decision that proved wise when we spoke with the others who did walk down.

We waited for the bus to take us down – believe it or not, there is only one bus making the journey up and down throughout the entire day, hundreds of tourists and it has a limit of 26 people. This explains why Russ and I were denied entrance back on the bus with the rest of the Globus contingent, and why we were late leaving the Giant’s Causeway. It was a beautiful day with a cool breeze blowing, and Russ and I both had cameras whose batteries were running very low. We did manage to get our photos.

We then continued along the Antrim coast road until we came to Belfast. Ian commented that it had changed dramatically in the years since the cease fire. There is now a stability and vibrancy that was sadly lacking in former uncertain times.

However, the politicians are in danger of having there standing renounced if they cannot come to some decision on the future in the next few months. Mind you, these people have been elected for almost two years, and nothing has been achieved as yet, but they are collecting salaries around the £200,000 mark. The longest all these people have managed to stay and talk in the same room with each other has been 14 minutes.

Importantly, the people are adjusting to the social changes that have been implemented by the government during the transition period and want it to stay this way. The government has made it mandatory for industry to employ half catholic and half protestant work forces, and half of the work force has to be female. The population is reaping the benefits of an extended period of peace.

Even the schools are now integrated, and the children play sports in mixed groups so are learning new ways to interact with people who were previously hated.

We finally arrived fairly late at the Radisson SAS (Skandinavian Air Services) in Belfast. Russ chose to have dinner delivered by room service tonight, but Mum, Dad and I went down to the restaurant. Dad was very hungry. However, he needed to leave the table shortly after he started his salad. Mum and I finished our meal, which we did not enjoy very much, and then went upstairs to check on the men folk.

Day 42 – Wednesday, 31st May, 2006

Today is a fairly long journey, and we do not have a lot of time for stops. The weather is absolutely beautiful – sunny with a cool breeze. Today, I feel really miserable, and I think Russ is about one day behind me in symptoms. Mum is on about the same wavelength as I am.

We stopped for morning tea at the Cliffs of Moher. These are accessed along a steep path, and the view was worth a visit. However, I do think that both the Australian Bight and the Great Ocean Road is more spectacular.

We then went via the Limestone plateau of the Burren along to Galway Bay. Now, this section is amazing. How they manage to farm anything in this region is fascinating. One Englishman (name forgotten) during the time of displacement of the Irish by the English, told the king to send all the Irish to this area as there is not enough water to drown in, not enough trees to hang on, and not enough ground to grow a thing. The photos of this area are worth a second look.

Galway is very definitely a tourist town. It was quaint but not our cup of tea. This is the town of the Lynch Stone, commemorating the day Mayor James Lynch Fitzstephen hanged his own son for murder. This area has been featured in the movie “The Quiet Man”.

Finally we came to Knock, which is a village that attracts millions of pilgrims annually from all over the world. The Apparition at Knock took place in 1879. This visitation took place in the evening and only lasted for three hours or so, and no words were spoken.

“On the evening of Thursday, 21 August 1879, two women from the small village of Knock, Mary McLoughlin and Mary Beirne, were walking near the local church when they noticed luminous figures at the gable end. As they got closer they realized there were three moving figures and that one of them looked like the Blessed Virgin.

They surmised that the others were St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist, and as it got darker Mary Beirne went off to alert her family, and so, soon other neighbours joined them in the pouring rain. As the crowd gathered they could also see an altar, with a young lamb on it, in front of a cross, while one boy saw angels over the altar, but they heard no sounds and no verbal message was given.

The apparition lasted for several hours, and was witnessed independently, as a globe of light, by a farmer who lived about a half mile away.

The happening at Knock was thoroughly investigated and it was proved that it could not have been produced by luminous paint or a “magic lantern.” A commission of enquiry was set up by the aged Archbishop of Tuam, Dr. McHale, but although it considered the witnesses reliable and trustworthy, the Archbishop made no definitive statement for or against the apparition.

However, over time Knock gradually gained official support from the Church, culminating in the Papal visit of 1979. The symbolism of the lamb, cross and altar has been seen as pointing to the sacrificial death of Christ and the Mass, and yet these were behind Mary in the apparition at Knock, suggesting that the focus was on her and her role as a mediator.”

The church has since erected statues and an altar, as apparently seen in the vision, at the end of the church, and built a structure around it. This allows people who do not wish to attend Mass, but who wish to see something of the apparition, to visit and/or pray in an area separate from the church building proper.

We then got back on the bus and headed for our overnight stay at Sligo. We had managed to find a pharmacy and get some cold and flu tablets, and some expectorant, but I was now thoroughly miserable. Ian, our tour director, was most kind. He suggested that we order our tea as room service, and facilitated this for us.

Hopefully, tomorrow I will be a bit better, but I am afraid that Russ will then feel truly miserable. Mum said she was fine to go down for tea. It turned out that Dad has an upset stomach and he did not make it through the meal. Once again, Ian was of great assistance to Mum in getting things settled.

Day 41 – Tuesday, 30th May, 2006

Today is a big day of sightseeing. We actually don’t move much forward on the map, but take a 100 mile drive around the Ring of Kerry before going on to Limerick. The weather is beautiful. Admittedly there is a bit of a breeze, but we get a good look at the scenery, a fact which was repeatedly emphasised throughout the day. Most of the tours of this area are accompanied by lots of misty rain and very poor visibility. The photos are superb.

This area of Ireland was the hardest hit when the potato famine struck in the early 1800’s. Many of the farmers had to simply walk away from their tiny patches of land in order to find food and work for their families. Thousands of people left the country at this time on what was termed as Death Ships because 3 out of 4 people died whilst on their voyage to the new land – be it USA, Canada or Australia.

We went past the ruins of one village which was decimated in this fashion. No-one has re-built on this land and so the bare stone walls are left in the fields to be slowly covered and eroded by nature over time. Potatoes now come from Scotland.

This trip drives around the south western tip of Ireland. We had many an opportunity to take photos which are spectacular. We also stopped for a photo shoot at the Lakes of Killarney. We returned to Killarney in time for lunch and a short respite from travel, before we again boarded the coach to continue our trip to Limerick.

We had some time to freshen up at the Clarion Hotel before all but one couple again boarded the coach and we went off to make our acquaintance with Medieval Ireland at Bunratty Castle.

We made our way through the sample village in the grounds of the Castle and took plenty of photos. These small cottages have been set up as they would have appeared in the Middle Ages, with the peat fires and four poster beds (thatched roofs) and small windows and doors.

Then we wandered up to the castle to be welcomed by the staff in medieval costumes and invited to enter for the night’s entertainment and meal. We were given a glass (clay, hand made mug) of mead, which is a mixture of wine and honey. It will never replace Irish coffee as a traditional drink.

We were entertained to singing, and a madrigal, by the costumed staff, plus music played by a violinist and harpist, while we were encouraged to view the period furniture and structure of the greeting hall of the castle. We were able to look through the Perspex at the Castle chapel, the castle kitchen and the solar room, and then invited to go down a level (small winding staircase with a metal rail (I’m not sure the rail was there during the period the castle itself was fully inhabited) and enter the Banquet Hall.

They introduced us to the honorary Earl and Countess of Bunratty for the night, who just happened to be Dudley and Heather from Hervey Bay, and a couple on our tour. They were presented with their crowns and they were asked to lead the way for the rest of us.

All the staff descended with us and we were seated at the long trestle tables and benches. It was explained to us that the wooden board in front of each person was their plate for the evening. We also had a knife and a finger bowl.

The first part of the meal was a broth – heavy on the pepper and herbs – and we drank it from the bowls. Then we were served pork spare ribs (interrupted by the claiming of a prisoner from the crowd who was summarily sent to the dungeons. This was commuted to singing for his supper by the mercy of the Earl and his good lady, which meant he ended up singing Happy Birthday to the person celebrating his birthday today.)

The bones were placed into a wooden bowl specifically for this purpose, and then fed to the prisoners when the meal had concluded. The main course was chicken and vegetables, and then dessert was a small individual cheesecake.

During the interval between these courses Lady Colleen was invited to raise a toast to the Earl and Countess. This had been organised by Colleen earlier who had readied the Australian contingent on our coach. She did the original Aussie, Aussie, Aussie to which there was an amazing response of Oi, Oi, Oi. This included the Americans with us who asked if anyone could join in the reply. We were quite surprised at the number of Australians who were on the other coaches present.

Once the meal had been completed we were entertained to more singing and tom-foolery by the staff. The singing was very good, and their traditional rendition of Danny Boy was lovely to hear.

After this was over the Earl and his Countess were presented with a scroll commemorating the occasion, they were de-crowned, and we were invited to leave the Banquet Hall for the Lower Assembly area where we were served tea and coffee. In the meantime, the staff took a break and made ready for the late show.

Once back at the Hotel we went off to bed and waited for the next development of the bug. At the moment we have a sore throat and a dry cough. It is not pleasant.

Day 40 – Monday, 29th May, 2006

This morning we left on time and made our way to the Irish National Stud at Kildare. Russ and I had no interest in seeing the horses (the weather was bitterly cold and overcast) so we took the opportunity to see the Japanese Gardens laid out in another part of the Stud farm. This is truly beautiful, and tells a story of life as you wander through the various by-ways – the hills of learning, the tunnel of enlightenment etc.

We took lots of photos and then retired to the obligatory shop for scones with jam and a cup of tea. The souvenir shop did not open until 10:00am, and was very expensive in comparison to prices for the same thing at other places.

We then left the stud farm and continued on our way to the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle. Coincidentally, this is also the place to find the largest Blarney Woollen Mills complex, where you can purchase Waterford crystal, Aran sweaters, cashmere shawls and heaps more.

Russ wanted to go up the stairs to kiss the stone – I didn’t think my back would handle lying down on a stone slab, – employee holding legs to weight you in place whilst you leaned back over a drop (amazing spectacle), and kissed the stone. They take your photo in this ridiculous position and then charge you €10 (Euros – Republic of Ireland is part of the European Union) to see yourself. This is after you have paid €8 per person to get into the grounds of the Castle itself.

However, Russ enjoyed the experience, did not pay for the photo of himself, and I got to take lots more photos of the surrounds which were beautiful. If you were out of the wind it actually felt warm.

Because it took so long to do this first I thought that Russ and I would have to go without lunch. The line of waiting was very long, the soup was very hot, and time was at a premium. We made it with two minutes to spare.

We then made our way through very pretty countryside and finally arrived in Killarney where we stayed at the Riverside Hotel on Muckross Road. Quite a few of us had signed to go where Ian had organised for a couple of Irish singers to entertain us at a local pub. They were not up to the standard of the singers at Jury’s Cabaret, but sang more traditional folk songs and it was good.

Dinner was put back to accommodate this visit, so we went straight to the dining room when we got back to the hotel. The rooms are very good, clean and spacey, and it is the luck of the draw whether you get a big or little bathroom.