Michael J. Quinlan

Remembering “The Master” Michael J. Quinlan

Death approaches.  Be dignified.

It was August, but an unseasonably chilly wind nipped at the ankles.  Dark, threatening clouds darted across the sky and before it was all over, cold raindrops splashed down on the crowd gathered around the grave.

Michael J. Quinlan

Michael Quinlan

I first met Michael J. Quinlan at Shannon Airport in Co. Clare, Ireland.

My group and I arrived from the States, bleary-eyed and sleep deprived, but happy to be in Ireland.  It was my first group tour and I was anxious for everything to run smoothly.  Much of that depended on the tour bus driver.  And that driver was Michael J. Quinlan. 

I spotted him immediately as we exited the baggage claim area.  He held a placard with my name on it.  “You must be Deirdre,” his blue eyes twinkled as I approached.  “And you must be Michael,” I replied, immediately charmed.

I had no idea that at that moment I had met one of the most interesting, educated, fascinating and yes, charming individuals I would ever have the pleasure to know.

The Shanachie

Over the next five years, Michael carted my groups all over Ireland.  He was so much more than a driver and guide.  He shared stories of his teaching career that spanned more than 30 years.  He always referred to himself as a teacher – never once did he mention that he was actually principal of the local school.  I only found that out much later. 

Michael explaining architecture

He was a masterful shanachie – a storyteller.  Whether a ‘story’ (joke), folklore or a legend – Michael could spin a yarn that kept his audience rapt.  He had farmed land and milked cows. He showed us the village in Co. Cork where his grandparents had lived.  He shared tales of his volunteer experiences teaching the people of Belize how to grow potatoes. 

Michael loved to sing.  And loved getting others to sing as well.  As we traversed the winding backroads of Ireland, he would find any opportunity to break into song. “Come on now, Deirdre,” he’d say.  “Let’s have a song!” My feeble protests were no match for Michael’s enthusiasm.  Even I, who couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, sang my heart out!  I am pretty sure that he might even have gone out of his way as we were driving through Co. Kerry, to detour through the town of Castlemaine – just so he could share this familiar song with his guests:

There was a wild colonial boy

Jack Duggan was his name.

He was born and raised in Ireland

In a place called Castlemaine


Michael once asked me if I spoke Irish.  “Sadly, no,” I replied.  My mother, who completed her entire education in Irish, told me my pronunciation was awful so I never pursued it.  Michael encouraged me.  He gave me book titles, tips on how to learn the grammar and assured me that I was quite capable of learning to speak it.  He pushed me to try and then patiently corrected my horrid pronunciation. 

A Renaissance Man

As my groups traversed Ireland with Michael at the wheel, we learned snippets of his life.  He was always more interested in talking to and about his visitors, but occasionally he would share some of his own stories as well.  We learned that he had a lovely wife, Anne and six grown children scattered all over the world.  After he “retired” from the primary school in Bruff, he earned a degree in Archeology and loved working on site excavations throughout Ireland. Like all Irish, he passionately followed hurling and was thrilled to watch his grandson play. 

No site in Ireland was too remote for Michael to find or visit.  No matter where my guests asked to go, he would always figure out a way to get us there. On time.  And be waiting for us upon our return.

Michael the teacher

The consummate teacher

We often wondered what he did during all the “down” time of driving us around. Some drivers get coffee or chat with other drivers.  Maybe polish the fenders.

Not Michael.

He read.  Avidly.  He always had three or four books with him on a trip and he would spend his free time devouring them. 

 He also wrote.  Every single day.  For years, he had kept a journal.  Once I asked him what he wrote about.  Thinking – presumptuously – it was probably accounts of his travels with tourists, he said, “Today is my daughter’s birthday.  So I’m writing about her.”  Poetry, songs, anecdotes, stories, memories, Michael kept journals for more than twenty-five years. He joked that they would probably make a great bonfire – but I highly doubt that anyone will be burning them. 

This year, when I rang to make my coach/driver arrangements for my tour group, the young woman quietly told me that Michael was not available to drive.  My concerned queries were, as is so typical of the Irish, answered very vaguely.  “Oh, he isn’t well.”  “No, we’re not sure when he’ll be driving again.” “Yes, actually it is a bit serious.”

Michael explaining stone circles

Michael explaining stone circles

Too Late

I had planned to ring him when my guests left Ireland.

I was one day too late. 

Sadly, Michael J. Quinlan slipped into a coma and died on August 4, 2018.

I could not leave Ireland without going to the funeral.  Despite going alone and knowing no one there, I felt compelled. Michael brought such joy and laughter to my groups of visitors; I had to represent them.    

St. Patrick’s Church in Loch Gur is a tiny, wooden, country church and yard that stands next to the Honey Fitz Theatre at a crossroads in Co. Limerick.  The entire parish turned out to help it seemed, with men in neon yellow safety vests, directing traffic into adjoining fields that local farmers had opened to allow parking.  Ladies stood in groups, chatting quietly. Guests waited patiently in the queue to sign the guestbook before filing into the church.  Surprisingly, there were lots of young people.  Former students, I guessed.

As is the tradition, the casket was already at the front of the church, having been brought there from the home the evening before to remain in the church overnight. I was early, but nearly every seat was already filled.  I paused in the back for a few minutes, then walked up the aisle to pay my respects to the family. 

On top of the casket was a photograph of Michael, all decked out in cycling gear and grinning out from under his bike helmet.  It was perfect.

I introduced myself to Anne.  At first, she looked puzzled, as of course, she did not know me.  But when I explained that Michael had been our driver for so many trips, her face broke into a great smile, she hugged me and said excitedly to her children, “Dad was their driver for their tours!”  By then I couldn’t hold back tears anymore, but I was so glad I’d come.  

As the time approached for the Mass to begin, the church was bursting at the seams.  The ushers found me a seat much nearer to the front than I wanted, but in the end, I was happy to be able to see and hear Michael’s children and grandchildren speak and sing as we celebrated his life. The songs and prayers were in both English and Irish. 

I learned so much more about this amazing man that day. The choir, which he founded and led at St. Patrick’s aptly dubbed him “The Master.”  I discovered that he had been guiding tourists for more than 30 years.  I realized that he was the driving force behind having his beloved Lough Gur established and developed as a World Class Heritage Center. He had personally trained all the guides. 

His friend, Fr. Liam Holmes, said that Michael’s accomplishments were so great that he fitted two lifetimes into his 80 years.  He spoke of Michael’s writing and the pages of words he would produce every day.  However, on the day that Michael learned about the aggressive cancer that was attacking his body, he wrote only four words: 

Death approaches. Be dignified. 

Sword fight

Sword (cane) fight

At the conclusion of the Mass, the men took their turns under the casket, shouldering Michael’s mortal remains on the final journey to the tiny churchyard outside.  As the large extended family surrounded the grave, scores of mourners braved the unseasonable wind and stood back a bit, making room.  Everyone joined in praying the Rosary and the graveside prayers. Songs followed.  The family members tossed the traditional handfuls of sod into the grave.  The raindrops fell.  It was, as they say, a fitting send-off.


Oh! I long to see that churchyard

By Lough Gur’s romantic shore,

Where the shamrock and the ivy ever grow;

Where the wild dove and the raven like protecting spirits soar

O’er the green graves of silent Teampall Nua.

The Jarveys – Touring Ireland the Old Fashioned Way

Jarveys are prominent in many parts of Ireland.  On our recent Emerald Essence Tour, we traveled up to the Gap of Dunloe, Co. Kerry in one. 

What on earth, you ask, is a jarvey?

Driver or car(t)?

Originally, the jarvey was the name given to a hackney driver. 

In modern terms, the title jarvey refers not only to the driver but also to a variety of vehicles drawn by a single – or less frequently, a pair – of horses. 

Although the jarveys provide tours in many parts of Ireland, they are most commonly associated with Killarney, in Co. Kerry where they ply their trade up and down the streets taking happy tourists out to see the sights.  Today, the “car” might be one of three main types of vehicles that carry from two to eight people.

A jarvey passes through the gardens of Muckross House, Killarney

The original jaunting car was a two to four passenger open vehicle.  They call it an outside car because the passengers sit facing out over the wheels with their backs to each other.  If you ever saw the movie The Quiet Man, the jaunting car was the vehicle used in the courting scenes. 

“No patty-fingers if you please.  The proprieties at all times.  Hold on to your hats.”  (The Quiet Man)

The driver sits in the front, with his back to the passengers.  The name jaunting car comes from going out for a jaunt or a ride.  

An inside car was considered more genteel as the riders sat facing each other.  While it is still an open car, the passengers might have a rug or blanket to cover their knees.  The driver may sit in the front, or stand in the back with the passengers.  Since we traveled in this type of car, we were quite cozy! (That’s me in the back)

Brian pauses at the Gap of Dunloe, and poses while we take photos!

The third type is a covered vehicle to protect the occupants from the weather.  The drivers outfit these with oilcloth (or, nowadays, plastic) “curtains” that can be rolled down to keep out the rain and mist. 

Covered jarvey with plastic “curtains” to protect from rain.

The Irish Cob

The typical horse used to draw a jarvey is the Irish Cob.  This is a strong, stocky, draught breed with a high trotting step and is well suited to hackney work.  Characterized by long, flowing hair around the ankles (feathering) and a long mane, these horses possess a willing and docile disposition.  The Irish Horse Society, which recognizes the breed, accepts all colours except Albino.

Our Irish Cob, Brian waiting to go!

A variety of tours

There are numerous routes for the Jarveys in Killarney.  They will collect you at your hotel and take you for a ride to Muckross House or Ross Castle, two very popular sights in the town.  Or you can combine a ride to the Castle with a boat ride on the lake, offering spectacular views of the surrounding Macgillycuddy’s Reeks.

 We chose to take the ride into the Gap of Dunloe.  It lasts about an hour and follows the narrow, winding road that passes through the Reeks into the Gap.  While we trotted along, our jarvey chatted away, sharing stories, tales, and lots of information about the region.  He told us all about Brian, our Irish Cob, who was quite happy to deliver us up, but even happier when we turned and headed home.  Brian clearly knew the way and the brightness of his step told us that he knew it was nearly the end of the day. 

Pausing on the bridge as the lakes flow into rivers.

As we arrived in the heart of the Gap, the early evening clouds settled in and deposited a light mist that created a magical atmosphere amid the rocky crags and lakes. The light mist quickly became a heavy mist, then a steady, if light, rain. However, it did not dampen our enthusiasm one bit.  We had a thoroughly enjoyable ride through the stunningly beautiful scenery. 

Mist adds to the atmosphere at the Gap of Dunloe

Lots of choices in jarveys

Killarney has both companies that specialize in jarvey tours and many individual jarvey drivers who will collect you at various locations throughout the town.  Prices are slightly negotiable with individual drivers, although most are about €10 – €12 per person for approximately 40 minutes.  The Gap of Dunloe tour is €15 per person.  The combined jarvey and boat tour is an all-day event and costs considerably more.  If you are staying in Killarney, consult with your hotel for guidance on booking a tour.

Jarveys of every size and colour await tourists in Killarney

Whatever way you take your tour, the jarvey is a fun and entertaining way to experience the breathtaking scenery of Co. Kerry. 

Old glass Christmas ornaments

O, Christmas Tree: The Stories You Can Tell

My favourite part of holiday decorating is The Christmas Tree.

No matter what other decorating may or may not get done, the Christmas tree is a must.

So recently, when a bereaved friend mentioned that she still cannot bear to put up the tree at Christmas, it struck me as particularly sad.  Even in my darkest Christmases, (and many of us have had them) when it has been a struggle to do anything else, the tree – a real tree – is the one bright light for me.

And that got me thinking about the Christmas tree.

Every Ornament tells a story

Mercury glass balls for the Christmas tree

Faded, with colour chipping, the glass ornaments of my childhood fill me with joy

Decorating the tree is re-visiting the story of my life.  In recent years, I’ve combined my (rather extensive) ornament collection with my mom’s. Putting her decorations on the tree keeps her with us at Christmas. The pretty glass balls date from my childhood.  Mercury-type glass, some are chipping, but no matter.  I love the way they reflect and amplify the lights of the tree.  And the colourful “glass” garland that gracefully drapes the boughs was, and still is, a must.

Old and new for the Christmas tree

Old and New: My little pilgrim ornament alongside my mom’s mercury-glass balls.

Through the years I’ve made and collected lots of tree ornaments. It is what I always look for when I travel.  This year I’ve had the good fortune to add a few.  New are the hand-made Icelandic horse created by a local artisan in Reykjavik and the porcelain bauble from Mt. St. Michel in Normandy.  France had too many beautiful places and I was so taken with Monet’s home that I had to add a glass ornament from Giverny as well.

Commemorative Christmas ornaments

Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee and an Icelandic horse

Christmas Tree Ornaments from France

Mt. St. Michel, Normandy, France

Each decoration has some special significance:  the 2016 White House Ornament commemorates this year’s visit to the White House.  The little pilgrim is a special gift from a friend the year I first completed the Camino de Santiago.  I acquired The Queen’s Jubilee Ornament on my last trip to London.

White House 2016

White House 2016 Commemorative Ornament

Bought or Handmade?

I love handmade ornaments as well.  I dedicated an entire Pinterest board to them!  Each year I try to make one (or a few!) to add to the collection:  cross stitch, embroidery, Hardanger, or just something cute and crafty.

Embroidered Christmas Ornament

Embroidered Cube

Cross Stitch Christmas tree ornament

Cross Stitched teddies

Hardanger Christmas tree ornament

A Hardanger poinsettia

I’m not sure exactly when I began collecting ornaments, but I know that I have been doing it for a long time.  Opening the boxes and taking out the delicate, tissue-paper-wrapped treasures, time is erased and recollections of people and places flood the memory.  Seeing each is like re-acquainting with an old friend.  I carefully unfold the tissue, gently turn the item in my hand and reflect on the circumstances – the story – around the acquisition of that one. Where were we?  Who was there?  What was the story?

Handmade Christmas tree ornament

Holiday Pinwheel – 2016

Christmas tree angel

Christmas Angel – 2016

Few Christmas moments give as much pleasure as the late night eggnog, sitting in the darkened living room, contemplating the lighted Christmas tree.  Amid all the bustle and clamour of the Christmas season, the Tree provides me the greatest comfort and joy.

Merry Christmas to all and to quote one of my favourite authors, “God bless us, every one!”

What holiday tradition do you like the best?  Tell us about it in the comments.  Merry Christmas!

Christmas at the White House

Nobody gets in to see the wizard.  Nobody.  No how.

That’s how it feels trying to get into a post 9-11 White House.

White House East Door

There is considerable ‘hoop jumping’ involved.  However, if you can get past the procedural challenges, the reward is worth it.  Especially at Christmas time.

Yesterday, after literally months of planning, we were able to do just that.  Beyond clearing two security checkpoints, we were able to walk virtually unimpeded up to the East Wing entrance where we were greeted by a giant red bow-topped “package” leading up to the doors

Red Garland White House

Garlands everywhere!

Garlands of every colour and style graced the doorways throughout the House.  Balls, baubles, leaves, fruit, ribbons, bows and raffia!  Whatever you can imagine – in every color!  Simply gorgeous!

White House Pups

Down the hallway to the East Landing giant furry replicas of the First Dogs, Bo and Sunny greet visitors.  Volunteers are standing by to take guests’ photos in front of the dogs – normally I don’t like to be in the pictures, but who could resist these two cuties?

East Wing Colonnade

Draped from the ceiling along the colonnade, thousands of sparkling crystals danced among the ribbons.  It is such a simple decoration –  lengths of ribbon hanging in streamers – but it created a dazzling effect.

White House Christmas

The real White House Pups

It was at this point, while looking up and admiring all the ribbons, that I heard a commotion behind me.  I spun around just in time to see the two Portuguese Water Dogs, Bo and Sunny, come trotting by with a handler no doubt on the way to an event.  I managed to snap a quick photo – not the best, but certainly a keeper!   After having just stood next to the giant ones, the real Bo and Sunny were surprisingly small!

Christmas, and more!

Even though the point of our visit was to see the White House dressed up for Christmas, seeing the portraits of past Presidents and First Ladies was quite a thrill.

White House First Lady


White House Library


decorations detail


Christmas decor


East Room Window Wreath

Entering the East Room is breathtaking!  Decorated in traditional colors of red, gold, burgundy and silver, it also contained a nearly life-size crèche prominently placed between the fireplaces in the center of the room.  Here, again, volunteers were conveniently waiting to take photos for all who ask.

White House Christmas

White House Gingerbread



Nutcracker in East Room

The tour is self-guided and so during the course of our visit, our group had become intermingled with a group from Gettysburg, PA who were dressed in Civil War Period costumes.  Their presence added a certain mystique to the White House, as if transporting it back in time.  I admit that I tried to photograph them whenever I could!

Christmas White House

Gettysburg Ladies at White House

Red Room Christmas

Very limited photography

As you can imagine, security is very strict.  While photos are allowed, they can only be with a camera phone or a small camera without a detachable lens.  I took mine with my phone which was kind of disappointing.  However, it is only recently that photography is allowed inside at all, so no complaints!

Red Room Bow


Green Room Fireplace


White House Foyer


White House Foyer

For more information

All tour requests must go through the office of a Congressman and may be made 3 months to 21 days in advance of your visit.  The Secret Service is very strict about what is allowed inside so it is important to follow the instructions.  Everyone goes through a security check before being allowed to tour.  Complete instructions are available here.

Do you have a favourite place to visit during the Christmas Holidays?  Tell us about it in the comments!


views from The Quay House

The Quay House – Clifden’s Historic B&B

I’ve just returned from nearly three weeks in Ireland.  While there, I happily revisited one of my very favourite Boutique Hotels:  The Quay House (pronounced: The Key House for North Americans).

flowers at The Quay House

The front garden is filled with colourful flowers

Historic and charming

The Quay House, located on Beach Road, right on the harbor in Clifden, Co. Galway is over 200 years old. Originally built as the Harbourmaster’s House, it also has served ( at various times) as a monastery, a convent and a private home.  You’ll notice niches in the wall where statues might once have stood.  

harbour views at The Quay House

Most rooms feature harbour views

Today, right in the heart of Connemara, hosts Julia and Paddy Foyle offer an exceptional accommodation experience.  Clifden, the capital of Connemara,  is a beehive of activity.  It boasts great food, plenty of traditional music, a variety of pubs and a range of festivals, fairs and events.  Furthermore, Clifden is a great hub from which to explore Connemara and The Quay House is the perfect accommodation.

awards at The Quay House

The front garden features numerous awards

Art, Antiques and Hospitality

They say first impressions are important.  The Quay House makes a great one – as you pull up to the door, the front garden is a waterfall of colourful, cascading flowers.  Adorning the front wall are years’ worth of award plaques – all well-deserved, in my opinion.  On fine days, you might find the front door ajar, as if waiting for friends to arrive, not strangers.

cherub at The Quay House

Grinning cherub greet you at the door

The first thing that strikes you as you step inside is the elegant winding staircase.  I always imagine myself gliding gracefully down in a floor-length evening gown (a la Scarlett O’Hara). Windows surround the stairs and provide a natural showcase for decoration and art.  At the bottom a cherub, perched atop the newel post, grins impishly – I love him!  The staircase gets plenty of use.  Due to the age of the house, there is no elevator.  But Paddy (and sometimes son, Toby) is always available to help with suitcases to upper levels. There are about 6 rooms on the ground floor as well.

double at The Quay House

Double room…

Fireplace at The Quay House

…with fireplace

Unique, with views

Each of the 15 rooms en suite at the Quay House is unique – individually decorated and styled with antique furniture, mirrors and appointments.  Nearly all of them overlook Clifden Harbour.  I loved the last room I had – it was huge by European standards!   Painted clouds covered the ceiling and floor-to-ceiling double glass doors opened onto small balconies that overlooked the harbour.  Three little stairs down to our bathroom that featured a huge tub, shower and my personal favourite, the towel warmer.

bathroom at The Quay House

three steps down to the bath

antiques in The Quay House

even the bath is furnished with charming antiques

During this visit, I stayed in the Bamboo Room, so called due to the theme of bamboo dominating the decor.  Big, round windows like giant portholes looked out to the harbour. – For privacy, venetian blinds covered them.   And just outside the windows, more riotous color flowed from pots and flowerboxes.

Bamboo at The Quay House

The Bamboo Room

windows at The Quay House

Porthole windows

The common rooms are very homey and give a real feeling of being lived in.  Be sure to take some time to examine the antiques and animal statues.  You can “hang out” in the lounge on overstuffed couches reading, writing or just relaxing.  Wi-Fi is available throughout.

sitting room at The Quay House

Very comfortable sitting rooms

wifi at The Quay House

There is wifi throughout

The Quay House does not offer dinner, but within a 7-minute walk into downtown Clifden, the choices are nearly boundless.  Restaurants include seafood houses, steak, lamb and pub grub. And there’s trad music nearly every night of the week in summer.

The Quay House Breakfast is a treat

Breakfast at The Quay House

The Breakfast Room

Breakfast is another matter entirely.  It is an event.  The breakfast room is a wonder; a completely glassed-in tropical greenhouse-type affair, with plants and shrubs abounding.  The tables, decked out in matching floral motif cloths are laid with lovely ware and cloth napkins.  There is a self-serve cereal, fruit, juice and yogurt bar.

garden at The Quay House

The feeling of a tropical paradise

Immediately after sitting down, the attentive staff or sometimes Julia, herself, offers tea and coffee and take full Irish breakfast orders.  Hot porridge, toast, eggs (nearly any variety), bacon, sausage, tomatoes and black pudding appear in short order.  Everything prepared just to your liking.  You certainly will not begin your day hungry here!  You can choose as little or as much as you wish!

fountain at The Quay House

The fountain in the courtyard

One of my favourite features of the hotel is the charming fountain in the ground floor courtyard.  Follow the sound of falling water down the hallway and you’ll come to the pretty little tiered fountain surrounded by stone walls and various plants and flowers.  On one stay, I had a room right next to the fountain.  I loved the calming sound of the falling water just outside my door.  Paddy told me that they turn it off at night so as not to disturb guests.

The Quay House is a very popular Clifden hotel so be sure to reserve your spot early.  For more information and to make reservations, visit the website:  www.thequayhouse.com

Do you have a favourite hotel in Connemara?  Have you stayed at The Quay House?  Let us know in the comments below!

Icelandic Viking ship

Iceland: Visiting the Viking World

Iceland was totally off my radar. 

Yes, I’d seen some of my Facebook friends post some pictures and I’d heard a few rumblings about “Iceland is cool”.  And of course, because I cross the Atlantic so often, I’d seen that Icelandair advertisement about “#stopover”. 

But I didn’t really know very much about Iceland. 


map of Iceland

Where to start? 

We packed so much into a long weekend, but there is so much more to see and do. Despite being a small island with a population of around 330,000, Iceland has a long and rich history.

Visiting in high summer, the first thing I noticed was that during our overnight flight, there was no ‘night’.  Departing from the east coast of the U.S., it was nearly dark when we took off, but we quickly caught up to the sun and before dropping down below the heavy cloud cover to Keflavik airport, the sun was blazing in the window of the plane. 

While only a tiny island portion of Iceland actually lies inside the Arctic Circle, the country is far enough north that around the summer solstice, it never gets completely dark.  Remarkably, we sat at an outdoor café sipping a beer at 11:30 at night – no lights on.  So cool.

Viking Ship Icelander


First Stop Iceland: Viking World

Upon landing in Reykjavik, our guide said out first stop was breakfast.  That sounded great since our flight, unexpectedly to me at least, didn’t serve any food.  He said we were going to “Viking World”.  For some reason, probably in my hungry and sleep-deprived state, that struck me as seriously funny. 

Viking World Museum

Viking World Museum

Despite the ‘unique’ name, the museum was really quite informative.  I learned some history of the Vikings, their arrival to Iceland from Norway and their raids on Ireland (about which I already knew a bit).  You can board the model of the Viking ship, Icelander, which is ideally suspended with the bow facing out over the harbor.  As you gaze out through the massive glass window, it’s easy to imagine sailing off towards the sea to fish, raid and pillage.   

Over the bow of Icelander

The bow of Icelander looks out to the Atlantic

The ship is an exact replica of an actual Viking ship, built in 1996 to scale and with similar methods and materials.  She is a seaworthy vessel; she crossed the Atlantic to New York in 2000 for the millennial celebrations.  

Viking clothing on display

Typical Viking clothing you can don for a photo

Notwithstanding the fact that no self-respecting Viking ever wore a helmet with horns, there are multiple plastic horned helmets available for picture taking.  There is even a gift shop, where you can buy your own! 

plastic viking helnet

Everyone needs a plastic, horned, Viking helmet.

Viking World is open early and makes a great ‘first-stop’ in Iceland.  They provide a traditional Icelandic breakfast of cereals, bread, cheese meat and yogurt.  And, after a trans-Atlantic flight, much needed coffee and tea. 

typical viking clothing

For more information on visiting Viking World go to their website here.

Guédelon walls

Guédelon – A 13th Century Castle in the 21st Century

Castles are fun! 

Just like lots of little girls, I loved imagining I was a princess with a castle.  While I often dreamed up my own castles, I had the distinct benefit of having seen both real castles and castle ruins during my childhood visits to Ireland.  So it was easy for me to imagine what my castle would look like.  And while I certainly enjoyed the ‘pretty dress and tiara’ part of princesshood, a shortage of knights in shining armor was no deterrent –  I could slay the dragons just as well, if needed.  Racing across imaginary ramparts and tearing up and down circular staircases was no problem. 

So for me, a trip to Guédelon was really fun! 

Guédelon castle

Guédelon tower

In Burgundy, a castle nearly hidden in the forest

 Tucked in the French countryside between the villages of Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye and Saint-Amand-en-Puisaye, Guédelon is about a 2-hour drive south from Paris.

Guédelon carpentry

Castle and tower from the carpentry shop

Started in 1996, the idea was to build a 21st century medieval castle using only 13th century construction techniques.  The site was selected for its abundance of stone, sand and lumber – there was no need to transport supplies.  For the mill, there is an available water supply.  No machines, power tools or gasoline engines are used by the 40 or so craftsmen who are involved in the construction.

Guédelon building

Building walls using blocks and mud mortar

It is nothing short of a marvel!  A small “town” has sprung up around the castle itself – not homes, but rather buildings for the craftsmen and stalls/sheds to care for the animals.  Draught horses pull the wagons, sheep provide wool to make linens and thread, ducks and geese meander about.

Guédelon horses

Horses and carts for moving goods

Guédelon sheep

Sheep raised for wool

There is a carpentry shop, stone-cutting, the mill and a kiln for making blocks/bricks/tiles.  Natural dyes provide the colors for paint and wool – and all of it is created onsite and by hand. 

Guédelon spinning

Wool spun to make cloth

Guédelon paints and dyes

Natural dyes made by hand

The project pays for itself by charging admission to the nearly 300,000 visitors, many of whom are school children, who come every year to see the progress.  There is a modern café which serves hot and cold food and a very nice gift shop.  They all contribute to the maintenance of the project which is expected to be completed by about 2030. 

Cuédelon chapel

Painted walls inside the finished chapel

Work and Learn

Groups can schedule a “hands-on” opportunity to carve sandstone or to speak with craftsmen as they work. There are no set demonstration times for the various skills used in the construction of the castle, but rather visitors can watch and ask questions as the craftsmen go about their regular work.  Individuals who want to help with the project can take courses and spend 3-7 days working on the site.  There is an apprentice program for young people and even courses for professional training in heritage skills. 

Guédelon basket weaver

A weaver making a colorful basket

Guédelon stairway

Completed chapel tower

While there, I heard a group of visitors commenting on how much had been completed since their last visit.  I think it would be great fun to return to see the progress. 

Tourist Spot and Much More

But Guédelon is much more than simply a tourist attraction.  The work done there provides important historical, archeological and sociological insight.  The attention to detail for the windows, stairs, and arches demands serious research and intense architectural scrutiny.  The knowledge gained helps architects in both archeological excavation and building renovation/restoration. It’s an on-going history lesson! 

Guédelon castle keep

Interior of the Castle

Guédelon is open daily at 10 am from March until November.  If you’re looking for something unusual and fascinating I highly recommend a visit.  Especially if you love history and architecture.  Or maybe you just want to race across the ramparts and prepare to slay that rapidly approaching dragon…

For more information, visit the Guédelon website:   http://www.guedelon.fr/en/

covered bridge

Covered Bridges – The Jericho Bridge

“We crossed the river by a wooden bridge, roofed and covered on all sides, and nearly a mile in length. It was profoundly dark, perplexed with great beams crossing and recrossing it at every possible angle . . . and I held my head down to save my head from the rafters above . . . and said to myself this cannot be reality.”

Charles Dickens, American Notes, 1842

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved covered bridges. Whenever I see one, I want to stop and just look at it.  And maybe cross it, in a car or on foot, if possible.  I have no idea why I am so enamored of them because they are basically all the same; frequently red, usually on a smallish, country road, flowing over a largish river.  There is just something about them that fascinates me. 

Covered Bridge

Little Gunpowder Falls


While covered bridges have gained nearly iconic status in the United States, you can actually find them all over the world. Bulgaria, Romania, Canada, France, The United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, China and Vietnam all boast a form of covered bridge.

Most American covered bridges date from the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Once, as many as 12,000 were in use but by the 1950’s, that number had dwindled to less than 1500.  Today, 26 states have about 815 covered bridges still in use. Pennsylvania has the most at 213. 

The Jericho Bridge

The newly painted Jericho Bridge

Although they can be constructed of a variety of materials, the typical American covered bridge is a one-lane, wooden truss bridge, completely enclosed on the sides and covered with a peaked roof. 


There is lots of speculation as to why they were originally covered. 

Some say it was because cattle were afraid to cross a bridge when they realized there was flowing water underneath. 

A second theory is that while truss bridges are strong and sturdy, they are not very pretty.  So by covering in the trusses, the bridge became more attractive. 

Another idea is that the covered bridge provided shelter for travelers during inclement weather.  Would they go out of their way to find a covered bridge if it were going to rain?   Why not just go home?

wooden truss covered bridges

Refurbished interior – wooden truss bridge

The most likely reason that the bridges were covered is not nearly so romantic.  The exposed wood of the bridge was very susceptible to damage by weather.  Sun, rain, snow and ice all caused the bridges to fail much faster.  The cover protected the bridge from the elements thus adding years to their life. Some estimates say that covering the bridge extended its life tenfold.

covered bridges

The newly renovated bridge is nearly ready for traffic.



Today most of the covered bridges in the US are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Many are no longer in daily use but still stand alongside a more modern river crossing, a monument to bygone days and early engineering. 

In the 1990’s, as a result of Robert James Waller’s novel  The Bridges of Madison County, there was a renewed interest in visiting covered bridges.  Later, the oscar-nominated movie of the same name used some of the actual bridges named in the novel during filming in Madison County, Iowa.

The National Society for the Preservation of Covered Bridges, founded in1950, is instrumental in recording and preserving the history of these beautiful bridges. On their website, they have carefully documented the $2 million renovation currently underway on The Jericho Bridge, built in 1865, which I visited yesterday.  

The Jericho Covered Bridge

A quiet bridge on a country road


Although it is still closed and quiet – the renovation project will be completed in Spring, 2016 – I was very happy to sit for a few minutes on a fallen tree and imagine the sound of cars rolling along the wooden planks. And with no sound but the chirping birds and running water, it was easy to imagine back a little farther to the sound of hoof beats echoing through the bridge as horse-drawn buggies clip-clopped along. 

Stay tuned – there are lots more covered bridges around. 

Do you have a favorite photo of a covered bridge?  Please share it in the comments below. 


Romance on the Way

Romance on the Way: Love on the Camino

There are as many reasons why people flock to the Camino de Santiago as there are pilgrims along the Way.  Some, like me, feel ‘called’ to make the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in the northwest corner of Galicia, Spain.  Others go in thanksgiving, in supplication, in penance or just because it is there and they feel the need to walk.  

Everyone who makes the Way to Santiago is changed by the experience.  Some even find love.

This month, in honor of St. Valentine, my friend and fellow blogger Laurie Ferris, whose blog is The Camino Provides,  is collecting stories about  romance on the Camino de Santiago.  If you have a story of romance to share, please be sure to contact her! 



Calling all Camino Couples! You know who you are.  Perhaps you met on the Camino and fell in love. Maybe you were newlyweds who walked the Camino for a honeymoon. Or an established couple who wanted to mix things up and test your relationship. Perhaps you walked alone and came to the conclusion that someone back home is your true love.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so they say.

I wonder how many marriage proposals happened as a result of the Camino. It seems the Camino works in mysterious ways.  Is it something in the water or the Spanish wine?  I think there’s something in the air.

Love is in the Air

For the month of February, I’ll feature a few Camino love stories.  I certainly respect the premise of what happens on the Camino stays on the Camino.  However, love is a splendid thing that should be celebrated. Has the Camino provided you with more than just a long walk? If you have a Camino love story to share,  email me or use the form below. Photos and video links welcome.

Share the Camino love! ♥

February 2, 2016,   Laurie Ferris

Thoughts of Spring flowers

Photo Fridays – Thoughts of Spring

After a week spent digging in mountains of snow, I couldn’t resist thoughts of spring.  

Today’s Photo Friday is a series of flowers images taken near home here in Maryland and in Ireland on various trips.  

Pink roses

Stunning pink roses

These beautiful old roses produced the most wonderful scent.  They were blooming all over trellises at the Strawberry Cottage, Cahir, Co. Tipperary. 

Hydraengas - one of my favourites

Hydrangeas – one of my favourites

Few blooms are as strikingly beautiful as hydrangeas.  I found these in the Walled Gardens at Kylemore Abbey, Co. Galway. 

Wild roses

Wild roses in the Burren

This delicate wild rose blooms between the craggy rocks in the Burren, Co. Clare’s famous limestone rock formation.

multicoloured lilies

Multicoloured lilies

These tiny lilies were found in the formal gardens at Dromoland Castle in Co. Clare. They reminded me of little butterflies.  

bearded iris

Violet bearded iris

I adore the brilliant colouring of these bearded iris.  They were also in the Walled Gardens at Kylemore Abbey.

dinner plate dahlias

Red Dahlias

This bright red dahlia was nearly a foot in diameter.  The red was just astonishing.  Growing at Iniscullen at Garinish Island, Co. Cork.  

late summer sunflowers

Late summer sunflowers

Just a mile from my home was a field – acres and acres of beautiful sunflowers.  

Next week is February 1 – spring can’t be far behind!