Howth and nectar robbers

On my last day in Ireland I decided to ride the Dart train to the end of the line to the small town of Howth.

Howth had the prettiest train station I’d ever seen.

Howth is a fishing town and you could certainly smell it when you walked along the harbour!

I also found these fascinating ruins:

This sign outside of a cafe caught my eye:

I decided to have lunch at The Brass Monkey. I absolutely had to have fish and chips in this fishing town! And they didn’t disappoint–they were the best fish and chips I’ve ever had.

Walking back to the train station I found more bumblebees. When I stopped to watch them I noticed that all the flowers had a tiny hole chewed in them…meaning there were nectar robbers about!

I had read about those bees, who instead of crawling inside of a flower, would chew a hole at the base and suck out the nectar from the hole. I stood and watched for a while and sure enough, a Bombus terrestris queen landed on a flower with a hole and sucked out the nectar from the hole! It was the first time I had ever seen that.

Sometimes they hung upside down to suck out the nectar.

Earlier on my trip I had witnessed the same species of bumblebee crawling inside the flower to get the nectar. I’m not sure whether Bombus terrestris chewed the holes, or if another species did it for them. In any event, it’s interesting that the bees recognize the holes and realize it’s “easier” use them rather than crawling up inside the flower.

After a while I said goodbye to the bees and made my way back to my friend’s apartment. We were both greeted with a double rainbow!

We went into the nearby town of Dalkey and had dinner at the Dalkey Duck.

(Well, I admit we had dessert first at a gelato place up the street…)

We returned to her place and chatted into the night while marvelling at the huge almost-full moon.

It was rather hard to get on the plane the next morning and leave my friend and this beautiful country. I felt like I could have stayed for another week or two, or even three.

But when I walked through our front door I was smothered with hugs and kisses and, “We missed you, Momma!” I immediately knew where home was, and I was glad to be back.

These lovely roses and homemade card greeted me, too.

So farewell, Ireland! I had a grand time. Until we meet again.

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Northern Ireland and super bees

Before my bus tour of Northern Ireland and Game of Thrones filming locations, I had to stop for a coffee.

The donuts looked a bit different from at home: the glaze looked a bit sweeter. Unfortunately I already had breakfast so I didn’t try one.

But I spied Canadian Maple, my favourite!

I couldn’t resist purchasing a mug.

Then I was on my way! Once again the view as I travelled didn’t disappoint.

Our first stop was at Cushendun, at the caves where Melisandre, the Red Witch, gave birth to her shadow baby. We were greeted by a friendly goat.

The inside of the caves were not very big, at least not as big as I expected for filming a whole television scene.

The surroundings were fabulous, as usual.

Our next stop was at the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede. I took a stroll down to the bridge but I didn’t cross it–I’m too afraid of heights! Plus I preferred to spend my time looking for bumblebees.

I managed to save a wee caterpillar from being squashed by pedestrians on the footpath!

It was extremely windy…

…so I didn’t expect to see any bumblebees. But to my surprise, there were quite a few! I was shocked to see so many in the high winds. However, most of them were clinging to blooms for dear life! It was hard to get a clear picture with the flowers blowing all around. From what I could see they were male bumblebees–check out their fuzzy noses!

Then we made our way to Ballintoy Harbour where scenes were shot featuring Theon Greyjoy. We were just in time for a rainbow!

The Giant’s Causeway was next, but we were hit with torrential rain so I didn’t get very good photos.

Last but certainly not least, The Dark Hedges. My photos don’t do them justice. They are absolutely spectacular. I wish we had more time to take a stroll through them, but we only had time for a few photos.

Funny enough they are not dark nor are they hedges! They are a type of birch tree that intertwine with each other, forming a beautiful archway stretching along a lane.

And that was the end of a very packed day! And time to dry out from Giant’s Causeway…

Next: the small town of Howth.

Belfast and a touch of home

I decided to book a two-day tour of Belfast, the Giant’s Causeway, and several filming locations of Game of Thrones. I had to leave quite early to catch the train to Belfast, but I didn’t mind because I was met with a beautiful sunrise.

Connelly Station, where I caught the train, has a splendidly painted piano.

The view from the train was just what I pictured the Irish countryside to be like.

My first day of the tour consisted of a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of Belfast. My first stop was the gigantic Titanic Museum. It’s quite impressive!

Not far from the museum is the studio where Game of Thrones is filmed.

We later passed by the parliament buildings which have a spectacular view.

In a square in the city there is a statue of C.S. Lewis entering a wardrobe, in homage to his tales of Narnia.

After the bus tour I checked into my hotel, the Europa. It’s beside an opera house and across the street from the famous Crown Bar.

Of course I went into the Crown for a pint! I also had a delicious steak and Guinness pie for dinner.

After dinner I took a walk and found Belfast City Hall.

And lo and behold, to my delight, I found a Tim Horton’s! But here it is called a “cafe and bake shop.”

Guess where I’m going for tomorrow’s coffee??

It is rather damp and chilly here in Belfast so I bought myself a sweater.

Tomorrow: Giant’s Causeway and Game of Thrones!

P.S. I have to say I’ve been quite proud of myself on this trip, as I’ve now navigated both Dublin and Belfast alone with only the aid of paper maps…

Greystones and yummy scones

I took the DART train south this time and landed in Greystones. It’s a lovely little town that was recommended to me by the friend I am visiting.

She said, “You have to try the scones at The Baker’s Table. They’re the best!”

I managed to find the blue building she described that was just off the main street.

When you place your order you get a wooden spoon with a number on it to let the waitress know what table you’re at.

My friend was right: the scones were delicious! Complete with fresh raspberry jam.

Afterward I wandered the streets. The flowers outside the shops are such a charming touch! Even the supermarket was spruced-up.

I took a walk along the beach…

…and was greeted by boisterous crows (magpies??).

They tend to look a bit more sinister than the ones we have in Canada.

For lunch I ate a “Buddha Bowl” at The Happy Pear.

Later on my walk back to my friend’s flat I noticed that for a traffic calming measure there is a castle-like structure…

Notice how narrow the street and sidewalk are!!

For dinner I went to a nearby pub, The Druid’s Chair. I met John, Derek, and Frank, three older gentlemen who were locals and regulars at the pub. When I told them I’m from Canada they bought me a pint of Guinness.

Tomorrow: Belfast!

Dublin and buff-tailed bumblebees

Next stop on my Ireland trip was Dublin. I took the DART train into the city and was met with hoards of tourists! I followed the crowd from the train station to see where everyone was going and I ended up on Grafton Street. Lots of fancy, high-end shops. There was one store that featured an old news article or essay on cauliflower:

I stopped to eat lunch at a gourmet burger joint that had Scrabble-letter signs. The waitress told me that unfortunately someone stole the “ED” off this one:

After my burger (complete with coleslaw, pickles, and jalapeños) I went to the Temple Bar district.

It was around 2:00 in the afternoon and coming out from this pub below was the sound of a loud, LOUD sing-a-long. It’s hard to see in the photo but the pub was absolutely packed.

Of course I crossed the Ha’penny Bridge:

On my way to catch the train home I saw the biggest squirrel ever:

Walking home from the train station I saw a queen Bombus terrestris: the buff-tailed bumblebee! I never saw one before, me being from North America and buff-tails mostly call Europe home. I was so excited! I love their brilliant white bums.

I ended the day chilling out on the balcony with Riley, the dog who lives in the flat above us.

Tomorrow: the town of Greystones.

Kilkenny Castle and whimsical umbrellas

On the second day of my Ireland trip we were joined by a dear friend from Germany. We originally met him on a bus tour of Ireland when we were in our 20s and we’ve stayed in touch over the years (thank you, social media!). It was so heartwarming to reunite–he is such a kind and lovely soul.

Anyway, we decided to take a road trip to see Kilkenny Castle.

As usual in Ireland, the landscape was stunning.

Then we walked into town. Nothing says whimsy like two kittens frolicking and umbrellas suspended in the sky…

On our drive back we stopped a few times to take in the scenery.

And there is even a Hollywood in Ireland! (Although the sign is surrounded by grazing sheep…)

Finally we ended our day like true Irish folk: with a pint or two.

Tomorrow’s plan: Dublin!

Dalkey and wee bee lasses

I am visiting a very dear childhood friend of mine who is working in Ireland. She lives near Dalkey, county Wicklow, which is about a 20 minute train ride from Dublin.

Her apartment backs onto the Irish Sea. The view is stunning.

My first day here I walked into Dalkey. Even the street signs are lovely and quaint:

Along the way there were colourful bursts of flowers along the walls. And although it was quite damp and chilly, to my delight the flowers were buzzing with bumblebees. Hearty wee lasses they are! Here is a shot of one about to land:

For those particular flowers the bees need to climb up inside to get the goodies. I watched them for quite a while.

Then came Dalkey. Such a sweet little town, complete with a castle smack in the middle:

Later I took a walk to Killiney Beach. Not your typical sandy shores, but rather rocks and pebbles everywhere of all kinds of colours and sizes.

Tomorrow’s agenda: Kilkenny Castle.

Seven of my favourite books

A couple of good friends of mine asked me to post on social media seven of my most favourite books. I thought, Why not make it a blog post?

Then my second thought was, Only seven books?!

So here are seven books that first came to mind, and that are close to my heart.

1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I love this story. So original, so imaginative, so creative.

2. Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

I love Flavia! She is one of my most favourite fictional characters. The whole Flavia de Luce series is a hoot.

(Hmmm…I sense a pi(e) theme in my book preferences…)

3. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

So beautifully written. So heartbreaking.

4. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

I don’t think I ever cried so much when I finished a book.

5. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

I adore the humour and whimsy. And who doesn’t love Charlie? This book was an inspiration for me to write for kids.

6. Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne

Another book that inspired me to write.

7. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte

Technically I haven’t finished this book yet, but it is so well-written that I feel I must include it in this short list. It is truly an example for me of how to write nonfiction.

The missing homeless man

This week I’ve been in Montreal, Canada, for a work-related conference. One morning I ventured across the street from the conference building to get a coffee at Tim Horton’s. There was a man, standing about ten feet from the entrance to the shop, holding out an empty coffee cup and asking passers-by for money. The man was wearing a blue and black plaid jacket (despite the July heat), a very worn-looking black baseball hat, and a bushy beard that hadn’t experienced any grooming in a while.

When the man asked me if I could “spare some change,” I politely declined and passed by him into the coffee shop. As I opened the door I suddenly thought, I’m going to buy that man a bagel.

So I bought my coffee and a plain bagel smothered in cream cheese. The bagel was wrapped nicely in some paper. I turned to leave the shop and saw through the windows that the man was no longer there. I exited the shop and stood for a moment outside the doors.

The man was nowhere to be seen.

I scanned the surroundings. No luck.

I started walking. He couldn’t have gone far.

But I didn’t see him anywhere.

So I thought, I’ll give this bagel to the first homeless person I see.

I walked and walked. No homeless people. In a downtown city centre. Then I wondered, How is it that I will identify an homeless person? Is it insulting to offer food to someone who happens to not be as nicely dressed and groomed as you are? 

Eventually I had to get back to the conference. In defeat, I slid the bagel into my handbag.

After an afternoon of conferencing I hoped the cream cheese hadn’t gone bad. I looked for homeless people on my walk back to my hotel. There was none.

I guess that’s a good thing? That there was a scarcity of homeless people? But I wondered where that man had gone. What happened to him? Did he get some change? Did he get something to eat? He has no idea that I was at that moment standing in my hotel room with an uneaten bagel in my hand that was meant for him.

The bagel had been sitting in my bag all day. I had been provided snacks and meals at the conference. I wasn’t hungry. So I dropped the bagel with a dejected thunk into my hotel garbage can.

I still haven’t seen that man.

A pang in the heart

So I find myself in Montreal for a work conference. I haven’t been to Montreal in over 20 years. The last time was with a dear friend of mine who, at the time, had ovarian cancer. She since passed away. When I think of Montreal I think of her. My heart both swells and aches.

I arrived a day before the conference started so I made the 40-minute trek from my hotel to one of my late friend’s favourite cafés. I was excited with a tinge of trepidation…would it be the same after 20 years? How would I feel if it had changed in any way?

Lo and behold, it was just as I remembered it.

I don’t think the menu had changed in 20 years, either. I still remembered what I ordered the last time I was there: the Northern Lights sandwich. Olives, peppers, and walnuts, mixed within cream cheese that was a good inch thick.

It was delicious. I soaked up the atmosphere: warm, artsy, and rather whimsical. I was so glad I visited.

On my walk back to the hotel it started to sprinkle. Then a flash of lightning and boom of thunder. I saw the curtain of torrential rain fast approaching from down the street. I could run back to Santropol or I could try to outrun it.

I ran.

Bad choice.

The rain quickly caught up with me and in no time I was soaked. I stood in the shelter of a small entranceway to an apartment to wait out the storm. Then I saw something both rare and heartwarming.

Across the street, a young woman in a flowy, mint-green skirt emerged from an apartment building, and started dancing. In the rain. She danced and danced until her skirt was no longer flowy but drooped. Her friends appeared in the doorway to the apartment, laughing, and they eventually reeled her in.

Maybe that was something my friend and I would have done, had it rained on our last visit together.

Maybe it was my friend’s way of telling me to enjoy my trip, and not to dwell on missing her too much. She wouldn’t want that.

Thank you, Café Santropol.

And thank you, girl in the rain.