On the Road With Doris & Ez

We're going on a road trip!!!! Could be three weeks could be three years, we'll see. Read below to see where we are now.....

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Robinson's European Invasion - June 2007

After more than a year of traveling the U.S, we headed off to Ireland to visit our daughter and son-in-law who will soon be finishing up a two-year job assignment there. They’ve spent much of their free time traveling across Europe and serving as tour guides for the steady stream of friends and relatives they’ve hosted since they arrived. Home (shown here) is about 20 miles outside Dublin in the caretaker’s cottage of an old walled estate that still comprises over 350 acres. The countryside is beautiful and we enjoyed exploring up and down the lanes that crisscross the estate and where a few thoroughbreds and some surly looking cows still graze. Their house was probably constructed starting in the late 1700s. The stone barn next door is arranged around a central courtyard and is dated 1803. These were just some of the constant reminders of the history in this area. Driving along the narrow hedge-lined roads, it’s not unusual to see a small heap of stone ruins in the middle of a field. The locals call them “castley-bits” and they’re everywhere!

We saw our share of castley-bits as we traveled through the local area and again when we headed out on a four-day driving tour of the Dingle Peninsula on the western coast. County Kildare (where the kids live) is horse country – miles of leafy lanes where you might glimpse an elegant manor house at the end of a narrow road behind high stone walls. The west is more rugged and barren with high, steep cliffs and miles of stone walls. For centuries the residents of this part of Ireland have stacked the rocks that cover the landscape to make walls, huts, and churches. We joked that nobody stacks rocks better than the Irish! But it’s amazing to see the ruins of beehive huts constructed without mortar in the 12th century and before. We saw the stuff of calendar photos - sheep grazing amid the ruins of Norman castles (that's one in the picture), old forts and early Christian abbeys scattered across the landscape.

We visited some charming little west coast towns, staying in B and Bs and sampling the Guinness in the local pubs that are the heart of Irish social life. The pub in Dingle town served a dual purpose - boxes of work boots were arrayed on the shelves of one wall while the ancient bar took up the opposite wall. Most of the local women sat laughing and chatting on benches in a narrow cubicle separated by a door from the rest of the bar. In Doolin, famous for its traditional Irish music, the local musicians sat around a table quaffing Guinness between tunes. While this pub draws lots of visitors, town residents (including the local priest) also crowded the establishment to toss back a pint and enjoy the scene.

Our stay in Ireland also included a trip to Dublin to see Trinity College, the Book of Kells and other landmarks (ie. more pubs). One day we visited Trim Castle (at left) where parts of Braveheart were filmed. (Remember the poor unfortunate who gets tossed out a castle window? That’s Trim!) We’d love to see more of Ireland (maybe someday. . ) but we were looking forward to the second part of our visit – five days in Rome!

Our home base in Rome was an apartment in an old building near Santa Maria Maggiore – one of the more than 900 churches in the Eternal City. It was fascinating to live in a neighborhood, eat in the local restaurants and shop for groceries in the small stores.

In five days we saw many of the major attractions. Our first night in the city we walked to the Trevi Fountain to join the crowds who come to toss a coin and wish for a return visit. It was lovely, but we returned to the apartment tired, with sore, blistered feet! We tried to pace ourselves during the rest of our visit, but that’s not easy to do in Rome.

We visited the Pantheon, the Roman Forum, the Coliseum and the Pallatine Hill. Several times we spent some extra euros for a guided tour of an attraction. Our guides turned out to be informed and personable and we were rewarded with stories and historical facts we would never have learned otherwise. But some of our favorite visits were unexpected - like when we decided on a whim to stop into a church (St Ignatius of Loyola) and were amazed to look up at the beautiful frescoed ceiling and see angels and saints looking down upon us from a cloud- and light-filled heaven. Breath-taking!

We spent a morning at the Vatican with hordes of other visitors struggling to take in the thousands of antiquities and works of art. We walked through hallways lined with Roman statues and priceless paintings, never pausing because there’s just not enough time to see it all. We wandered through the Sistine Chapel, our necks stiff from gazing at Michelangelo’s famous ceiling. And just when you think you can’t possibly absorb any more beauty, we were whisked to St. Peter’s Basilica and there’s Michelangelo’s Pieta`! Too much!

After several days of visiting the glory that was Rome, we were glad for a respite. We’d heard about the opulent lifestyles of the caesars and the popes, but the city of Pompeii provides a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people cut short by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. We took a train through the Italian countryside to Naples and then a second train to Pompeii. The ruins of Pompeii spread over several acres and have been undergoing excavation since the 1700s. Here you can walk down streets past the houses of wealthy merchants and simple craftsmen. There are temples, theatres, small cafes, and commercial buildings. Although most of the ceilings are gone, you can see the remains of frescoes, fountains and floor mosaics that decorated the homes. One of the highlights of our trip!

After a week of recuperating in Orlando, we’ve hit the road again. Stayed tuned for further adventures!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Miami and the Florida Keys - May 2007

After a long drive across the Everglades we arrived at our next destination in south Miami. There were only a few campers in this large park that appears to have been created in a former papaya orchard (at least I think that’s what was hanging from the trees. .). Lots of bird life too – white ibis, blue jays, and even a flock of feral monk parakeets.

But we quickly became fascinated by the trials and tribulations of the pair of red-bellied woodpeckers who had set up housekeeping in the hollow post next to our coach. You can see the female peering out while the male perches on top of their home. Our little couple was constantly bedeviled however by an aggressive group of starlings intent on taking over their nest. The woodpeckers took turns tending to the eggs, but when they both left the nest, a starling took advantage of the situation in an instant. After watching the woodpeckers’ unsuccessful attempts to drive out the competition, Ez came to the rescue! Using a long metal rod with a hook on the end that’s used to pull the awnings into place, he fished down into the post hollow until he finally hooked and dislodged the stubborn (and very annoyed) starling. YAY!! The woodpecker pair quickly re-established residency, although I must say they really didn’t seem very appreciative. That’s OK, we were glad to help.

We headed out to do some sightseeing in fabulous South Beach. Although we certainly felt right at home with all of the other Beautiful People, the glamour of South Beach paled by comparison to all this bird drama. After checking out the art deco architecture and the beach scene, we decided to relax with an alfresco lunch and do some people watching. No Britney or Paris sightings, but we did see a couple of gals on the beach showing their ta-tas to the tourists.

Miami has lots of high-rise condos along the beach, but we prefer the lovely old neighborhoods with expensive homes surrounded by the kind of lush gardens you only see in the tropics. We drove several times through a tunnel of banyan trees that lined a beautiful avenue that curved along the ocean. This mansion is in that area and was originally built in 1916 by Charles Deering who owned International Harvester.

After listening to Jimmy Buffett songs for years, we were anxious to get to the Florida Keys and experience that Margaritaville magic. The Keys truly are among the most beautiful places we’ve visited – from the white sand beaches to the crystal clear turquoise water to the hurricane palms swaying in the breeze. Of course, the breezes were pretty stiff while we were here, so unfortunately we had to pass on the boating and snorkeling we had planned. Instead, we settled for exploring the area and making a couple of visits to Key West.

We both enjoyed the Hemingway House in Key West where Ernest Hemingway lived with Wife Number Two (and met Wife Number Three). The house itself is charming and still home to over 50 six-toed cats, descendants of the original Hemingway pet. Many of the cats over the years have been named for celebrities and are buried in a corner of the garden after they go to the great kitty box in the sky. (Above is the final resting place of Zsa Zsa Gabor.) We did lots of sightseeing in Key West. It was fun to walk the streets that Papa himself walked (and maybe even toss back a few in some of the same bars???).

We were reluctant to leave the Keys, but we have commitments to keep. We worked our way back up the Atlantic side of Florida, stopping at Pompano Beach and Vero Beach. We’re headed to Orlando next and will fly out next week for a two-week visit to Europe with daughter Jennifer and son-in-law Eric. Details to follow. . .

P.S. I know I missed the photo of the alligator on the golf course - instead, here's an iguana on the golf course in Pompano Beach!