Ho Ho Homicide: Mont Rest & Bellevue, IA

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Mont Rest Bed and Breakfast

Ah, Christmas!  Without question it is my favorite time of the year.  I love the feelings of goodwill, the sense of family, the music, the decorations, going to church, the lights, everything.  I also especially enjoy visiting bed and breakfasts during the holiday season just to see how they ring in the holidays.  So, it is with great pleasure that I bring to you the tale of my 5th annual Christmas B & B review.

For this journey, I would be visiting Iowa’s most luxurious inn, Mont Rest Bed and Breakfast of Bellevue, IA, owned by Christine Zraick.  I had been looking forward to this inn for quite a long time due to its penchant for offering nearly weekly murder mystery events.  When I found out the inn also really enjoys going all out for Christmas, I finally booked the trip.

Mont Rest has a very interesting history.  It was built in 1893 by Seth Luellyn Baker, a wealthy land developer for the price of $6,000.  Nicknamed “The Castle”, Mont Rest soon developed a reputation for illegal high stakes poker games.  His passion for poker would end up biting Baker hard as he once put the deed to Mont Rest up against a doctor for a $6,000 pot.  After the hand, Baker went downstairs and told his wife they had 2 weeks to vacate the property.

Fast forward to 1986, when the property, long since dilapidated and falling to pieces, was purchased by its current owner, Christine Zraick.  She began the long arduous process of refurbishing it back to its Victorian glory and opening it as a country inn.  It soon developed a stellar reputation for its murder mystery parties.

On Dec 24, 1996, the tale of Mont Rest almost came to an end when a devastating fire broke out and gutted the house from top to bottom.  Christine almost threw in the towel, but support from the citizens of Bellevue and her own sense of stewardship compelled her to roll up her sleeves and begin the process of rebuilding Mont Rest in the spring of 1997.

Needless to say, it was a massive success and today Mont Rest stands as Iowa’s most luxurious inn.

I was truly blessed with some unseasonably beautiful weather for my long trek to Bellevue.  When I arrived in town, I was immediately struck by its quaintness.  It is a peaceful town right on the coast of the Mississippi River.

I readily found the inn where my eyes confirmed what the photos had suggested.  This was easily the biggest inn I had ever seen.  The nickname of “The Castle” was well suited as the inn stands alone on top of a large hill and takes up the equivalent of a city block or two and holds an astonishing 13 bedrooms.

As I made the way from my car to the large wraparound porch, I smiled at the visage of Jolly old Saint Nick meeting me on the porch.  The inn was already into the spirit of Christmas as tinsel decorated the porch and decorations were being set up in the front yard.

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The kindly staff warmly welcomed me inside and gave me the nickel tour culminating in a stop at the gift shop which holds a representation of the World’s Fair complete with lights, sound, and animation.

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From there, I was led to Ginny’s Woodlawn View, my base of operations for the next few days.

When I think of B & B rooms, Ginny’s Woodlawn View is what springs to mind.  It has an understated elegance with its soft, blue-green carpet, electric wood fireplace, and Jacuzzi bathtub.  With Christmas on the horizon, it even had a lovely little Christmas tree and a stocking hung by the chimney with care.

From there, I did my normal explorations which took a little longer than normal.  As I said, this mansion is huge.  One could easily get lost in here.  I wandered about the house enjoying the numerous Christmas trees and decorations littered throughout the home.  The inn even has an observation deck on the top of the home which holds a hot tub as well as magnificent views of Bellevue and the Mississippi.

I had very little time to get settled in as I had a heavy night of activities planned.  Within an hour of my arrival, I was already back on the road seeking an early dinner.  I opted for a little good old fashioned comfort food as I stopped at Richman’s Café.

Like the name suggests, it’s a quiet little diner, but it dishes up a mean patty melt and shoestring fries.  Having the cavity filled, I was then off to the nearby town of Dubuque, IA to begin my night’s activities.

As I truly love holiday lighting displays, the staff at Mont Rest told me about Reflections in the Park, an elaborate display showcased at Louis Murphy Park.  This event has been a Christmas tradition for over two decades and I would like to thank the staff at the event for giving me a free pass to experience this tradition.

If you are in or near Dubuque during the holidays, visit Reflections in the Park.  It is a truly beautiful and entrancing display of lights and holiday cheer that will brighten your night both literally and emotionally.

From there, I went to the famed Grand Opera House of Dubuque where I took in a production of It’s a Wonderful Life.  For the first time in years, I attended this play purely as a patron, but was so moved and impressed by the production that I decided to review it anyway.  You can read it here.

After the fabulous show, I returned to Mont Rest when I settled into bed with a bone aching weariness where I instantly succumbed to oblivion.

In the morning, I took a long Jacuzzi bath before heading downstairs to breakfast.  There I met Doug & Pamela and Mark & Holly who would also be joining me for the murder mystery dinner later that night.  Breakfast at Mont Rest is served family style so we all enjoyed dishes of fruit along with a repast of blueberry muffins, cherry turnovers, bacon, hash browns, and 2 kinds of omelets along with some conversation.

Normally I like to schedule a lot of activities to get the full experience of the towns I visit.  This time I decided to put the brakes on.  After breakfast, I simply wrote my play review and organized my photos.  Then I took a very long walk along the riverside where I shared a phone conversation with my best friend and stopped in at Grandpa’s Parlor for a vanilla shake.  From there, I went back to inn, sampled some delicious homemade brownies, and caught a quick nap.

When I regained consciousness, I walked the few blocks to attend worship services at St Joseph’s Catholic Church.  After I got my praise on, I returned to the inn for the mystery.

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St Joseph Catholic Church

I went downstairs to the living room where I once again met Mark and Holly and began sharing conversation.  Shortly later, we were joined by Jim and Elizabeth and by Doug and Pamela a little after that.  As we talked, we were treated to some light hors d’ouevres of canapés, bacon wrapped water chestnuts, crackers, cheese, meats, and veggies.

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Mmm!! Hors d’ouevres.

We would take part in the mystery of Where There’s a Will, There’s Away.  We were assigned characters and told that one of us was a murderer, but that the murderer would be unaware of that fact.  A very intriguing twist on the mystery.

I picked the character of Dr. Benjamin Pike.  He was a very successful doctor who had grown bored with his work.  He had been the personal physician of the wealthy businessman for the past 10 years and was preparing to lead a UNICEF group funded by his friend to teach advanced medical techniques to the locals in South America.  Dr. Pike was connected to two other suspects:  the businessman’s widow, Marion, with whom he had an intense and instant dislike and Nurse Freda Moore with whom he’d had a brief fling.  Freda had taken the break-up quite badly and Pike had fired her hoping to put their relationship in the past by keeping her away.

The inn has costumes for the event and I was dressed in a tuxedo dress shirtt, black dress pants, a black vest, gray cravat, and white dinner jacket.  In my room were waiting my personal dress shoes and socks to complete the illusion.  As I read the dossier, I drew on my theatre background and decided Pike should be an arrogant, sharp tongued jerk, but tempered with a powerful sense of morality.

Once downstairs, we were met by Gloria Gottrocks, the queen of accessorizing, who furthered our outfits.  From Ms Gottrocks, I received a gray fedora, stethoscope, and organ transplant bag.  I don’t want to spoil the mystery, but I will say the key is to use your knowledge of the characters and their relationships to ferret out clues that point to the truth.

But the centerpiece of the event is the dinner.  I’d gladly do this again and again simply for the meal.  Our night began with a dinner salad with a berry vinaigrette dressing and some fluffy, buttery croissant rolls.  During the first course, Officer Ima Fuzz joined us and told us of the death of Arthur and to take our preparation orders.  Amazingly, all of us had ordered the Steak Lilli.

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Officer Ima Fuzz

As we discussed the case, the chef brought out the main course of Steak Lilli, butternut squash, and rice pilaf.  As I began to cut my medium steak, I noted how tender it was.  But after that first bite, I was in heaven.  Hands down, the very best steak I have ever tasted.  During the main course, Officer Fuzz came back with the autopsy report and pieces of evidence found at the scene of the crime and to take orders for dessert.

I opted for Death by Chocolate.  As I savored dessert, Officer Fuzz came back one more time to bring Arthur’s will to his lawyer.  We had the reading of the will, a final discussion, and then Officer Fuzz solved the crime.

It was truly a grand evening.  Once done, I got back into my civvies and shared some conversation with Pamela, Doug, Jim, and Elizabeth before retiring to my room for the evening.

This was the best sleep I had enjoyed in ages.  I rose early to begin writing and went down to breakfast at 9am where I met the usual crowd and we were joined by another couple, Steve & Sheryl.

Today’s meal consisted of fried potatoes (perhaps with some rosemary), a dish of fruit, sausage, and a quiche made of eggs, peppers, and mushrooms.  Again it was another fantastic meal made all the more memorable by great conversation.  Sadly, it all had to come to an end and we had to break up the group to go our separate ways.  This was the best group of people I had met at an inn and I hope to stay in touch and, God willing, I hope our paths cross again.

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Quiche, fried potatoes, sausage.

I had a feeling that this particular outing was going to be something special and my instincts were correct.  Mont Rest Inn is a must see experience and it gets my highest recommendation for a visit. If you want to experience a vintage B & B, then you need to go to Mont Rest. Naomi and Company are wonderful cooks and hostesses.  The inn is comfortable and beautiful.  There’s much to do in the area.  And there is a plethora of dining events to be enjoyed at the inn, though I certainly would recommend your taking part in a murder mystery.  This is an inn that I’m going to make a point of returning to at some point in the future.  They also know how to do Christmas right.

Until the next time, happy travels.

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When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 9: A Rainbow in Ireland

The final day had finally arrived.

I awoke to the first truly dreary day we had experienced in Ireland.  It was grim and rainy outside which worried me a bit because our first stop of the day was a visit to the Cliffs of Moher.

After breakfast, we boarded our trusty bus once more and began the trek to the cliffs.  On the drive we experienced some rain and then, miraculously, the sun began to peek through.  How fitting it was to see a beautiful rainbow appear in the sky in Ireland.  Dad quipped my thoughts when he said, “Let’s go find the pot of gold,” to the amusement of our fellow travelers.

The sun began burning off this mist which made the day look a lot better as we approached the cliffs.  Frankly, I thought the mist enhanced the view of the Cliffs of Moher.  It gave it a mysterious, otherworldly quality as I looked upon this awesome spectacle of nature.

We spent a brief period at the cliffs before heading over to the city of Galway.

Galway is another major city in Ireland and its major street of commerce also happens to be named O’Connell Street just like in Dublin.  We were given a few hours to spend on our own before we would meet up for a mini-walking tour of the city.

I wandered up and down the street as I looked at the various businesses and enjoyed the various buskers.  The most interesting busker was a young lady who played a hurdy-gurdy.  It was truly a haunting sounding instrument.

I wasn’t feeling particularly hungry, but decided to stop off at a café to enjoy one last bowl of seafood chowder as I knew it would be my last opportunity to taste this local delicacy.  After finishing my soup, I returned to our meeting point where Bill gave us a mini-walking tour of the city.

We walked past St Nicholas’ Cathedral, saw the remnants of the oldest building in Ireland (discovered when ground was broke for a new business), saw the King’s Head Pub which is Ireland’s oldest pub and has operated since 1649, and we also saw the Lynch Point.

The Lynch Point is exactly what it sounds like.  Back in the day, condemned prisoners were hung here.  Its most famed story is that a very just judge once ordered his son to be hung at this spot for the murder of a Spanish sailor who had cuckolded the son.  The son was guilty as sin and the judge refused to recuse himself, insisting that justice had to be served.  So honorable was the judge that he dismissed the executioner and personally placed the noose around the son’s neck so that full responsibility for this decision would lay on his shoulders.

After this little walk through history we boarded the bus and made our way to Rathbaun Farm, the final stop of the trip.

Rathbaun Farm is a working farm that has been in the Connolly family for six generations.  We met Vinton Connolly who led us to the kitchen where our group would get a lesson in scone making.

The cook told us we would be eating the scones we were preparing and she gave us our lesson.  Like a true chef, a lot of the prep work was estimation, but my table managed to prepare 8 scones for baking.  I crossed my fingers hoping that they came out edible.

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Ingredients for scones

From the kitchen we went across to the barn where Vinton showed us some of his sheep and lambs and told us about farming in Ireland.

Then he introduced us to Ted, his sheepdog.

Vinton explained that sheepdogs are not trained.  They learn a few voice commands, but herding sheep is an instinct that dogs either have or they don’t.  Dogs that have a lot of energy and can’t sit still probably have the instinct.  As Vinton said, “If a sheepdog is sitting still for ten minutes, it’s probably dead.”

Vinton then gave us a demonstration of Ted’s skills as he let Ted into an enclosed pasture.  Ted bolted right towards the sheep as Vinton gave a few voice commands simply telling Ted where to direct the sheep.  For such hefty animals, sheep can really run.  Ted never made a peep.  He just stared down the sheep and ran them in the direction he wanted them to go.

When the demo ended, we went to the dining room to partake of an Irish tradition:  Sunday dinner.

On Sundays, Irish people have breakfast and then don’t eat again until about 4 or 4:30pm when they have a large family dinner.  The cooks had prepared a hearty Irish stew full of chunks of beef, potatoes, and vegetables.  They also served our scones.

My team’s scones came out pretty well.  Nice and crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside.

When dinner ended, we said our good-byes to Vinton and boarded the bus to return to our hotel.

Officially that was the end of the trip.  I felt the way one should at the end of a vacation like this:  sad to see it end, but ready to get back home.  The next morning would take us to Shannon Airport which is one of the few cities where you go through U.S. customs there so you don’t have to do it back at in the states.  I looked out the window at the flight that would take us back to America and reflected on the many adventures I had and the new friends I had met.

I was so pleased with Globus that I joined their Journeys Club and began planning a trip to England and Paris which I hope to take in either 2018 or early 2019.  But that will be a story for another time.

But you won’t have long to wait for my next adventure.  On December 1, it will be time for my 5th annual Christmas B & B review.  Mont Rest Inn of Bellevue, IA is the site of my visit and it promises to be something special.  We’ll see you then.

When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 8: The Feast of Kings

We had a rather leisurely start to our day as we actually had the first few hours to ourselves.  I decided to take another walk around Killarney.  Specifically, I had wanted to get inside the nearby Church of Ireland to see what it looked like and to get some photos.

Eventually it was back to the bus where we headed to the tiny village of Adare, famed for its thatched cottages.  Again we were given a few hours to explore.  Adare marked the only place where I actually bought an item for myself.  The visitor’s center had a tiny bookstore and I found a book of Irish ghost stories which I bought for myself.

Aside from that I spent the time exploring the small museum inside the visitor’s center, visiting a nearby cathedral and cemetery, walking around the park across the street, and walking along the main street (pretty much the only street) examining the various thatched cottages.  I also bought a small cup of ice cream which was some of the creamiest ice cream I had tasted.

Once our time was up we were off to our final destination of the trip:  Limerick.

We took a little tour of the city and saw St Mary’s Cathedral and King John’s (as in the archenemy of Robin Hood) castle before checking into our last hotel.  We ended up going full circle as we stayed in another Clayton.  The building was actually a unique piece of architecture as it was designed so that every room had a view of the river.

At this point, I needed some time to myself so I ended up going for a walk around the neighborhood.  I stopped at a nearby convenience store where I sampled some chili flavored Doritos.  Ireland appears to be tamer with its spices as these Doritos were actually quite tepid.  After a walk to clear my mind, I went back to the hotel to get ready for the final optional excursion.

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This night found us headed to Knappogue Castle for an authentic medieval banquet.  The performers dress up in authentic period costumes and the evening began with a mead reception in the royal hall.

Mead is fermented apple and honey and it is a very sweet drink.  However, it also tastes very light and tame which disguises the fact that it is a very potent beverage.  Ten minutes after drinking it, I actually felt a buzz coming on.  Our tour director regaled us with a story about a previous tour where an Australian gent drank two jugs of the stuff at the banquet.  He passed out during the dinner and there was real fear that he would have to be taken to the hospital.  The gentleman regained consciousness and managed to get back to the hotel to sleep it off.  According to our tour guide, the gentleman was quite red faced the next morning and his wife didn’t speak to him for the remainder of the tour.

The night’s entertainment was a history of Ireland presented through music, song, and dance.  It was a great performance with a fabulous four course meal consisting of a seasoned tomato and basil soup, homemade bread, salad, chicken, and dessert.  It was a grand night and it seemed to end all too soon.

Once more, it was back to the hotel to ready ourselves for the final day.

When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 7: Sailing into Mystery

Breakfast at the Trident was the only one that differed from the other hotels.  They did have a continental breakfast buffet with some cold cuts where I sampled smoked salmon, another stalwart of Irish menus.  But at this hotel, we were also permitted to order something off of the menu.  So for this breakfast I ordered Eggs Benedict.  Unlike the American version which is served on an English muffin with ham, this was served on toast with bacon.  But delicious no matter what way you slice it.

This day was the quietest that we had for the trip.  After checking out of the oh so wonderful Trident, we hopped on the bus and headed off to Bantry Bay where we were going to take a ferry ride over to Garinish Island.

Bantry Bay is known for its warm waters.  So warm are the waters that it often attracts seals to the outcroppings and we saw a plethora of these magnificent beasts as we slowly sailed over to the island.

Garinish Island was once the private paradise of an extremely wealthy family called Bryce.  It’s known for its lush gardens and opulent pieces of architecture.  Another fun fact was that the Bryce family was very close friends with Agatha Christie, the acclaimed mystery writer.  In fact, the Bryce House still exists on the island and it holds some of the original editions of Christie’s work.

I spent quite a while simply soaking in the beauty of the island as you can see from the below photos.

I did find the Bryce House, but had just missed the only tour I could have taken.  However, my parents did make it on the tour, so I entertained myself by making goofy faces at them whenever they passed by the windows.  Yes, I admit it.  I’m a big kid at heart.

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Bryce House

After a few hours on the island, we returned to the mainland and continued our bus tour along the Ring of Kerry which featured some of the prettiest scenery I think I’ll see this side of heaven.

We ended up stopping at a place called Ladies View which has some stunning views of the Lakes of Killarney.  Once upon a time, the queen of England and her husband had lunch at this spot.  Not only did we take a group photo here, but Mom and Dad bought some paintings from a local artist.

After our brief stop, we continued journeying to our final stop, but were met with a surprise on the road.  As we drove, we suddenly saw a group of people gathered on the left side of the road.  We all craned our necks to see and we saw a car precariously perched on its front after having gone over a cliff!!

Luckily, nobody was hurt.  The driver and passenger were staring forlornly at their car while the Garda (Ireland’s national police force) drove up to see what they could do.  A story in the next day’s Irish Times told the story that the driver had accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake which sent the car over the cliff.

In the afternoon, we reached the town of Killarney where we checked into the Scotts Hotel.  As fabulous as the Trident was, I rather liked the Scotts as I actually had my own alcove and finally had a bit of privacy for writing, though I was unable to make use of that.

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Scotts Hotel

After an hour of rest, we headed out to the corner where we took a jaunting car ride or a horse and buggy ride as we’d call it here.  These rides are famous for the jarveys (drivers) who provide a witty and entertaining stream of talk on the rides.  Ours was similar to Don Rickles.

We rode through the Killarney National Park and made a brief stop at Ross Castle during the drive.

My dad and I fell into conversation with our jarvey who told us about the education system of Ireland when we spotted some children walking home from school.  School in Ireland begins at 9am and ends at 4pm.  All schools have a uniform code and their students dress very elegantly.

As the drive continued, our jarvey asked us where we were going to eat and I mentioned that our tour guide had mentioned a place called The Meadows.  Our jarvey snorted and said it was a tourist trap that overcharged for its food.  Given my years of travel, I seized on the moment as I know the locals always know the best eateries and asked what he would recommend.  He thought for a moment and said there was a place called the Failte right across the street from our hotel.  It was a family run place and served good food at a good value.

So at dinnertime, we went to the Failte and this was my favorite meal of the entire trip.  We were served shepherd’s pie which is a lamb stew served in a mashed potato crust.  This was so good and so warm and filling and I was so glad to try it once.

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The Failte

With full stomachs, Mom went back to the hotel while Dad and I walked about the town.  We ended up stopping in a grocery store as Dad was looking for some aspirin for Mom’s sore feet while I continued my search for Mountain Dew.

I should explain.

For my regular readers, you may remember that on my trips to Japan, I had a positive knack for locating Mountain Dew for my friend, David Sundberg, who is a Dew junkie.  So I decided that any international trip I now take will now include a search for the beverage as a running gag/challenge.  I learned from our jarvey that Mountain Dew is called Poteen in Ireland, so I went to the soft drinks and began looking for Poteen.  But, lo and behold, I found the honest to goodness real thing, though their Mountain Dew had the qualifier of Citrus Blast and I immediately took a picture for Dave as proof of my victory.

Dad found some aspirin so we went back to the hotel and called it a night.

When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 6: A Day Full of Blarney

The next morning found us boarding the bus and heading down the Copper Coast which was just a lovely view and a splendid way to pass the time.

At 10am, we rolled into the port town of Youghal (pronounced Ya All) where we took a little break.  Youghal’s claim to fame is that scenes from the original version of Moby Dick were filmed in and around the town.  A pub of the same name opened up especially for us.  The pub has memorabilia from the film and makes a darn good hot chocolate.  One of the owners of the pub dressed up as the character Queequeg complete with harpoon and gave a little speech about hunting the white whale.

After our brief stop, it was back to the bus and more lovely scenery as we made our way to next stop:  Blarney, home of the Blarney Woolen Mills, Blarney Castle, and the Blarney Stone.

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Blarney Woolen Mills

Blarney Woolen Mills is considered to be the best store in Ireland.  I’ve never been much for shopping as I treat any shopping expedition as more of a surgical strike, but I did spend a brief time browsing around the store and seeing the glassware, music, clothes, and other sundry items.  Then I headed away towards Blarney Castle.

That is to say, I headed towards Blarney Castle right after I made a detour to a local grocery store.  Once again my batteries had exhausted their juice and I was forced to buy some more.  Luckily I found an Energizer pack that gave 2 packs for the price of 1 so I was set for batteries for the remainder of the journey.  As it was lunchtime and I was feeling a bit puckish, I bought a chicken and cheese sandwich and managed to score a bottle of Dr. Pepper as well.

Fueled by the sandwich, I made my way over to Blarney Castle.

I wish I had had more time here because one could spend hours visiting Blarney Castle with its caves, trails, and woodlands.  I got a crash course in the legend of Blarney.  As you may or may not know, the term blarney means clever, flattering, or coaxing talk.  According to legend, Queen Elizabeth I tried to get Cormac Teige McCarthy, Lord of Blarney, to give up his traditional land rights.  As he wasn’t a good speaker, he feared he would lose his lands.  On the way to see the queen, he met an old woman who told him kissing a certain stone at Blarney Castle would give him the gift of eloquence.  McCarthy kissed the stone and was able to keep his lands by flattering the queen and never surrendering his rights.  When Queen Elizabeth I realized Lord McCarthy had snookered her, she is reported to have said, “That’s Blarney!!”

I spend quite a bit of time exploring as much of the land as I could before tackling the climb to the Blarney Stone.  It’s a 130 step climb up a very narrow staircase with uneven stairs.  I sprinted my way to the top and enjoyed the view from the top before turning my attention to the stone.

We had been told that the queue (line) for the Blarney Stone can get quite long, but I was fortunate as there were only 2 people in line when I reached the top.  Or, to be more specific, I would have been fortunate if I had wanted to kiss the stone.  Kissing the Blarney Stone is one of the hundred things you should do before you die, but it is the fourth most unhygienic thing you can do on the planet.

I didn’t have much interest in kissing the stone.  I just wanted to look at it.  However, I did learn that kissing the stone requires a certain level of fitness as you have to lean over backwards and arch your back to reach it.

After watching a few people smooch the stone, I went back down the castle and headed back to the Blarney Woolen Mills where I found my pop at a pub smoking a cigarette.  Apparently Dad had ordered a sandwich, but a thieving bird flew down and started chowing down on it.

Mom had bought a few things from the stone, notably a set of Waterford candlesticks and we sat and shot the breeze with some of our fellow tour group members until it was time to head to the bus and head to our final stop:  Kinsale.

In Kinsale we checked into our hotel, the Trident.

The Trident was, easily, the best hotel of our trip.  It was home to the second best hotel room I had ever stayed in.  Tripling up in this room was a boon for my folks and myself as we were given a near suite.  It had a huge king bed for my parents and a large, comfy sofa bed for me.  There was also a 45 inch Plasma mounted on the wall and a luxurious bathroom with a deep bathtub with a waterfall faucet.  Heck, we even had a private balcony.

Dad didn’t want to leave as he liked this hotel so much.  He was so blown away by the opulence of the room that he had to know the retail price.  He went to the front desk and told me that the room retailed for a stiff 300 Euros a night!!

After settling in, we went back outside where we had a Heritage Town Walk and learned a bit more about Kinsale.

The most interesting thing I learned from our guide was that the Lusitania was sunk off the shores of Kinsale.  Like the Titanic, the Lusitania was supposed to be unsinkable, but a torpedo from a German U-Boat ripped right through it.  Now the ship should have sunk slowly, allowing all of the passengers to reach the lifeboats, but a second explosion inside the Lusitania tore the boat in two and it sank in 18 minutes, killing numerous people.

Germany greatly feared the United Sates getting involved in World War I and knew the sinking of the Lusitania would bring the USA into the conflict due to the American passengers who died.  So they tried to pacify the country with an alternative fact.  Germany claimed that, yes, it was their torpedo that hit the Lusitania, but they were not responsible for the ship sinking as the explosion was caused by smuggled arms onboard being sent to England.

One of the pieces of propaganda Germany put out to foster this idea was a two sided medallion.  One side showed Death selling tickets to the passengers of the Lusitania and the other side showed the sinking of the ship, implying that America was really at fault for the deaths of the passengers.

Whether or not arms were really onboard the Lusitania has been debated to this day, but, regardless, Germany’s gambit failed.  America entered World War I and the course of the war changed.

Shortly after our walk, we headed down to the hotel dining room for dinner.  For myself, this was the best hotel meal I ate during the trip.  I started off by having a local delicacy, seafood chowder.  Ireland’s chowder is one of the few soups that isn’t a puree and is loaded with chunks of fresh seafood.  Delicious!  I followed that up with a plate of lamb and cous cous.

That meal hit the spot and it was back to the room to relax and sleep for another day of adventures.

When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 5: Pardon Me, Boys, is that the Waterford Choo-Choo?

Another day, another adventure.

Today we started things off by taking a ride on the Waterford & Suir Valley Railway.  This 8.5 km train ride on an open car train takes you past the scenic River Suir (pronounced sure) as well as taking you to the land of the faerie folk.  At that stop one is supposed to make a wish.  It was a pleasant jaunt on a somewhat chilly morning.

We bused back to our hotel where we were given whispers (electronic listening devices) in preparation for a walking tour through Waterford.

Our guide for this tour was the affable Derek who was a knowledgeable and entertaining guide, if a bit blue in his language.  Our tour began right outside our hotel as immediately across the street was Reginald’s Tower which houses the Viking treasures of Waterford.  No, we didn’t actually go into the tower.

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Reginald’s Tower

From there it was off to the Medieval Museum.  The museum was actually built around the remains of a castle and held some amazing treasures.  Its rarest treasure was something that had been feared lost forever at one point.  Many moons ago, six priestly garments had been sewn out of solid gold.  It took 20 years to stitch these magnificent garments and they are worth many millions of dollars.  They are kept in glass cases with a special light to maintain them.  Pictures are allowed, but absolutely no flash photography is permitted as it will damage them.

Once we were through in the museum, we were taken to the 1743 Bishop’s Palace to learn a little more about Waterford’s history.  The ruler of this palace had been married to Letitia, the niece of Napoleon Bonaparte.  As such, the palace holds a Napoleon Clock (one of 12 left in existence) and a piano owned and played on by Letitia.

The palace also holds an impressive collection of art and Waterford crystal.  Below you’ll note the pictures of a chandelier and a table filled with crystal glasses and cutlery.  The chandelier is worth 100,000 Euros, but every single item on the table is worth more than the chandelier.  Derek told us how to recognize Waterford crystal and had an anecdote about a Waterford cross he found on Ebay.  He instantly recognized it as being made out of Waterford crystal and bought it for a few Euros, but flipped it for 700 Euros.

The museum also holds the oldest piece of Waterford crystal on the planet.  It is a decanter that was made in the 1780s.

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The oldest piece of Waterford crystal in the world.

At the front of the museum, we meant Sean Egan who is a master glassmaker.  He had worked for The House of Waterford Crystal for 25 years before getting laid off when Ireland’s economy went bust in the early 2000s.  He immediately went across the street to the palace where he was given a place to continue making his beautiful works of art.  Egan’s designs have been sold all over the world.  One of his notable works was a 9/11 memorial he designed featuring the rescue of Father Mychal Judge from the rubble.  Replicas of that work are present in Egan’s shop as well as in The House of Waterford Crystal.

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When the tour ended we had a little break where I dashed off to a local shop to buy batteries for my camera as my recharger had bit the dust the previous night.  After purchasing a pack I had to quickly go back over the ground of the tour and get the photos that I couldn’t take the first time around.

Once getting my pics, I met the rest of the group at the Druids, a pub famed for its Irish Coffee.  Each of us got a free coffee.  Now I don’t drink the stuff, but decided to have this famed local drink and I was wired after drinking it.  The coffee in Ireland tends to be stronger than its American counterpart and I agree with that assessment as the brew certainly seemed to overpower the whiskey in the beverage.

With the break over, we headed over to The House of Waterford Crystal for a tour.  Aside from being famous worldwide, the company also makes the actual prizes for the People’s Choice Awards.  It was a fascinating tour as we watched glass blown, sanded, marked, and etched.  Getting a job in the field is also interesting as one is apprenticed to a master craftsman for five years.  After that time, the apprentice has to make an item in their particular area and, if it passes, he or she gets to study for another 3 years and is then bestowed the title of master craftsman.

When this tour ended, we had the rest of the day to ourselves before embarking on another optional excursion.

We traveled to the village of Dunmore East which is by the Celtic Sea and home to Spinnaker’s, the #1 ranked pub in Ireland.  I spent an evening eating a gourmet beef burger with chips, drinking a Killarney Rutting Red, and listening to the house singer, Skinner, sing a barrage of classic rock numbers.  Our group really began to bond on this outing as well as the bus trip back to the hotel.  On the ride home I entertained our group with an acapella rendition of Jim Croce’s “Operator” which got a rousing ovation.

But it was time for bed as our group would be changing locales again the next day.

When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 4: A Day of Horses, Beer, and Hunger

The new day marked our exit from Dublin.  After breakfast, our group of intrepid travelers boarded the bus and began the drive to our next destination.

I had forgotten the simple pleasure of riding on a bus.  Although we sometimes traveled for a few hours at a clip, the drives never seemed boring with the lovely scenery.  I especially enjoyed driving through the small towns and villages where I soaked in the small town life with the quaint homes, B & Bs, and pubs.

Our first stop that day was the town of Kildare where we stopped at the Irish National Stud farm.  For an institution known for breeding champion racehorses, I was surprised by how few horses the farm actually housed.  Only 8 horses were kept at the farm.  Our tour guide, Chris, was a fount of information about the history of the farm.

It was founded by Colonel William Hall-Walker who was the son of a famous Scottish brewer and was a bit of a ne’er-do-well until his father had the talk with him (shape up or ship out) and he took up a very successful career in breeding horses.  Aside from his love of horses, Hall-Walker also had a keen interest in Japanese culture and astrology.  He often used zodiac signs to determine breeding times and purchases, often to great success.  His love of Japan is reflected in the Stud’s famed Japanese Gardens where we spent a bit of time at the end of the tour.

 

From the Stud, we continued heading south to the town of Kilkenny, where we had a tour of Smithwick’s Experience, the most successful brewery in Ireland.

The brewery actually had an interesting history.  The brewing process used by Smithwick’s was actually inspired by monks.  The water in the region was too hard to be drinkable.  In order to be able to drink the water, the monks brewed the hard water into beer which made it drinkable.  The lime rock in the region was especially suitable to the unique brewing process.

The company was founded by John Smithwick, but the family name was unable to be used for 120 years.  In John Smithwick’s time, Irish laws prevented Roman Catholics from owning land or businesses.  Smithwick’s business partner had to front the business while he ran it quietly behind the scenes.  Once Daniel O’Connell, the Emancipator and personal friend of the Smithwick running the business at the time, got the legislation through that changed the laws, the family name could finally be used for the business.

At the end of the tour, free half pints were given to us to sample.  I tried a blonde ale, but probably should have gone with classic red ale as the blonde was too weak for my taste buds.

 

After the tour, we had a bit of time to tour the region.  Mom and I stopped in a pub where I had a toasted ham, cheese, and onion sandwich with some chips and Dad got temporarily lost.  Luckily, he found his way back in time for us to begin the trek to New Ross.

 

In New Ross, we visited the Dunbrody Famine Ship.  This was one of many boats that helped Irish citizens emigrate to the Americas during the Great Potato Famine.  It was a very informative tour about what life was like on the boats.  There were two classes of passengers:  cabin (first-class) and steerage (everybody else).  Life was hard on the boats as the poor steering class passengers would be crammed into a single bunk and permitted a half hour a day on the upper deck solely to cook.  Cabin passengers had it a bit better as they got private rooms and were able to spend more time on the upper deck.  It’s very possible that the crew had it the best, at least in terms of eating.  The crew was fed extremely well and was the only group to get meat as they needed the strength to sail the ship.  They were also paid well, but wouldn’t get paid until they returned to Ireland for fear that they would jump ship once the boat docked in the Americas.

 

After the tour of the boat, we returned to the boat and drove to our final destination of Waterford and to the Tower Hotel, our home for the next few days.  We got into our rooms and then went to the hotel dining room where I enjoyed a meal of roast lamb and vegetables.  The rest of the evening was left to ourselves as we readied for another day of adventures.

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Tower Hotel