Sunday, January 30, 2011

Silent Valley

Yesterday we took a little trip to Silent Valley which is at the foot of the Mourne Mountains. It is about an hour drive south from Belfast. We saw some more of the beauty of Northern Ireland.
The Silent Valley is a water reservoir which was built to gather water from the mountains to supply water for most of County Down and a large part of Belfast.
The project began in 1923 and took 30 years of work to complete. They built Mourne wall around the Mourne catchment area starting in 1904. The wall stands 8 feet high and is 3 feet wide and is 22 miles long and connects the summits of 15 mountains. Looking up at the wall reminded me a bit of "The Lord of Rings" movies.
The Mourne Mountains are made mostly of granite with little natural minerals which doesn't provide opportunities for many plants to grow. It supports plants such as heather and grasses that can live in acidic conditions. This is a definite difference from the Cascades but it was a beauty none the less.
The reservoir grounds are open to the public and have many walking trails, parks, lakes, and ponds.
There is also a tea room where we stopped to warm up with tea, hot chocolate, and coffee. The perfect ending to a beautiful day.

Avery and Cam's Birthday

Since the day of her birth, which happens to be her daddy's also, these two have gone out for breakfast to celebrate their special day. This year it was more of a challenge to find something open at 7AM. The Irish tend to start their days later. So, Cam and Avery ended up at a McDonalds. It didn't matter, they loved their breakfast sandwiches.
Avery had a Hello Kitty birthday party with five of her new friends from school. Unfortunately, she had been sick the week before so she was in "recovery" mode. They had a great time playing games, eating cake, and opening presents but by 6 pm that evening Avery was asleep on the couch. So much fun and not enough energy.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pubs: A culture in themselves

I want to try and capture my thoughts and memories of the pubs here in Ireland while they are still fresh. It has been a new experience for me. I am just not really "pub" material but I couldn't come to Ireland and not experience it. So, for Cam's birthday, I got a babysitter for the kiddos and Cam and I took a bus downtown. We started at Fibber Mcgees because a friend had told us the music was great. Unfortunately, the musicians were taking a break so we headed through that pub into Robinson's Saloon and ended up at Robinson's Bistro located upstairs. It's a bit like Alice in Wonderland, the pubs seem to intersect with one another taking you from one to the other. After we ate a good dinner we came back downstairs where there was standing room only and decided to head to Kellys Cellars. Kellys is "one" of the oldest pubs in town. As you walk in you feel like you've walked back in time. It's a good 'ole fashioned Irish pub with a blazing coal fire, good Guinness (Cam claims, I wouldn't know), good wine, and a friendly crowd. Cam and I obviously stand out the minute we talk and so it wasn't long before we were meeting new people who were asking us what we were doing in Belfast. We meet a table full of boistrious fellows who easily joked with one another and bantered in the 'ole Irish way. It was easy to see why so many are drawn to the pub life. Here is a place were we were easily accepted and the "regulars" were eager and geniune in their interest of including us into the conversation. As Cam and I got up to take our leave the "regulars" shook our hands and one of the "older" gentlemen gave me a kiss on the cheek with an encouragement that we should quickly return. I am sure I won't make it a habbit and probably won't return but it was a very enlightening cultural experience for me. I don't know why but I felt like it was a bit like trying out a new church for the first time.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Enniskillen Castle and Balleek

On Tuesday, the last day of our holiday break, we took a hour and half drive to Enniskillen where we explored a 600 year old castle. In the 17th century is became an English garrison fort and was a military barrack until the mid 20th century. In one of the museums in this castle there was a little bit about the history of Belleek pottery. We didn't realize that Belleek was only a 20 minute drive down the rode. So, we piled back into the car after thoroughly exploring the castle and went to find Ireland's fine Belleek pottery factory.
The home of the Belleek Pottery Factory. They give daily tours and have the most amazing gift shop.
We took the tour through the factory and saw the craftsmen at work. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take pictures at the work stations but we did capture a few pictures of the kids "at work" as they dipped pieces of pottery into a glaze...
....and smashed pieces that were rejected.
Gabe decided right then and there that this was the place he would work when he grows up.

Here are a couple of Belleek pieces that I couldn't pass up.