June 28th, 2014


Anniversary Weekend

We had a lovely anniversary weekend in Ohio last weekend.

On Friday, we drove up to Cleveland in time for dinner with our Roadfood friend Jeff Sanders. We had dinner at Sokolowski's University Inn, with lots of chat and stories of our Ireland trip. We left to go to Jeni's in Chagrin Falls just before they closed. It was after midnight when we finally left Jeff to go to our hotel.

Saturday, June 20:

For brunch, we went to Slyman's Deli in Cleveland, where we split a wonderful piled-high corned beef sandwich.
Slyman's Deli

We drove on to Lakeside, Ohio, on the banks of Lake Erie. Lakeside is a Chautauqua community, an offshoot of the original in Chautauqua, New York. The Chautauquas were Methodist summer camps founded on the principles of religion, education, arts, and recreation. Most of them have now closed, but Lakeside is one of the few still around. (My overall impression was that Lakeside was like a small resort town whose population has a disproportionately large fraction of PBS viewers.)

Lakeside charges an admission fee for the community, and uses those fees to pay for concerts and lectures and so forth. We had some trouble at the gate. We'd bought tickets as soon as they went on sale in April and had them held at Will Call, but apparently it was so early that their ticket-filing systems were not yet running smoothly. But the woman who dealt with my problem was very gracious and kind, and we eventually got a temporary pass to go to the central ticket office and get our tickets reprinted.

Lakeside was full of small-town charm. People were friendly and happy to talk, and the weather was beautiful.
Lakeside, Ohio

We checked in at our B&B, then strolled around. We stopped at the little Lakeside Museum, where we ended up in a lengthy pleasant conversation with the curator, more about the history of the museum itself than the history of Lakeside.

We strolled down to the Lakeside Hotel, where there was a classic car show going on. The nice thing about classic cars is the clear joy folks have in a spotlessly maintained old car.

We ate dinner at the Lakeside Hotel. I had baked walleye, Lori had the roast beef, we shared a dessert of white cake with mascarpone and raspberry jam. The best thing we had was my pomegranate splash, a nonalcoholic cocktail.

In the evening, we saw Natalie MacMaster and her husband Donnell Leahy in concert. It was a great show; they're both very skilled fiddle players. The cutest moment of the show was when they brought out their two oldest children (aged 8 and 6) to play fiddle themselves, and then another two children (5 and 3) to all join in step dancing. (They have another two children even younger. By my math, she's spent about half the time since the oldest's conception pregnant.)
Lakeside, Ohio

After the concert, we strolled down to the Patio restaurant to get ice cream before returning to our B&B.

Sunday, June 22:

We had a pretty good breakfast at the B&B, and enjoyed some time sitting on the porch chatting with the hosts.

We attended church services at Hoover Auditorium. The best part of the services was the gathering of children for their service - they got a very big parade of children singing together.

Lori then resumed shopping through Lakeside's cute little shops. She saw one painting of flowers that really caught her fancy.

We ate lunch at the Patio; I had the special of chicken and noodles served over mashed potatoes.

We played miniature golf, and I managed to get two holes-in-one.

We walked back to the art shop to consider the painting again, and we spotted a beautiful necklace showing the moon over a lake. I went in and bought it for Lori. The saleslady offered to gift wrap it for me, but I declined; a present should stay in the wrapping longer than it takes to wrap it.

We drove down to a different B&B for the night, the Victorian Tudor Inn in Belleveue, Ohio. It was a quirky Victorian place with a great many knickknacks, but the proprietor was very friendly and hospitable. (But the bathroom in our suite was enormous and extra lovely.) Lori feigned surprise that I had ordered the Romance Package, with roses and chocolates in the room, and a bottle of wine for us.

We ate supper with Jeff again at the Jolly Roger in Port Clinton. It was a feast of fried fish, not necessarily the romantic dinner that we'd originally planned. But it was good to see him on his drive back to Chicago.


After breakfast, we ambled across northern Ohio. We stopped for lunch at Miss Molly's Tea Room in Medina - it was an interesting cultural study, because although it offered fancy teas and scones, the lunch items that I ended up choosing were chicken divan and strawberry pretzel salad - dressed-up versions of items you might find at a Midwest potluck.
Tea Room in Medina, Oh

We arrived at Pat and Lisa's far in advance of the time we scheduled, so far that Lori insisted we drive around the neighborhood for a while to kill time.

We ate a long dinner with Pat and Lisa at Thyme Squared. It was splendid to chat at length with them.

Afterwards, Pat and Lisa indulged me by playing ROFL with us. I'd just acquired this party game a week ago and hadn't had a chance to play. Pat and Lisa vastly outscored the two of us, but I look forward to playing again.

It rained hard as we were in the restaurant with Pat and Lisa, but we managed to avoid the rain as we drove home until we were near Pittsburgh. We were glad that the rain had waited until then instead of hitting us in Lakeside.

London and Ireland Trip, October 8: Killarney National Park and Ballyseede Castle

This was Rockcrest House, our B&B in Kenmare.
Rockcrest House

After leaving the B&B, we stopped in Kenmare for a bit of shopping and a visit to the KenmareLace and Design Centre, upstairs from the little town museum. Kenmare had been a great center for lacemaking, because in the 19th century Poor Clare nuns taught poor local girls to make lace as a way of making a little money. They had some fabulously intricate pieces on display, and a docent on hand who told us about the women who made them. We bought a marvelous delicate lace brooch for my mother, because she has tatted lace herself, and another for Lori just because it was beautiful. In a fit of optimism, Lori bought a kit that will enable her to make a small piece of the same lace. So far, she hasn’t started.

They didn’t allow pictures, but I recommend going to http://www.kenmarelace.ie and gawking at the pictures there.

I was finished before Lori was, so I took a few pictures of Kenmare.

This small round bridge is called Cromwell Bridge. The obvious conclusion is that it’s named for Oliver Cromwell, who brutally rampaged across Ireland during his time as Lord Protector of England. But the name was in used for a hundred years before he came along.
Cromwell Bridge

We drove off towards Killarney National Park, along the inland edge of the Ring of Kerry scenic route. Once again the roads were narrow and twisty, with steep drop-offs and no shoulders. Once or twice we went through a short tunnel that was barely wider than the car.
Ring of Kerry Ring of Kerry
Ring of Kerry
Ring of Kerry

Another panorama from the Ring of Kerry:

One of the most famous sights in Killarney National Park is called Ladies’ View, so named because Queen Victoria’s handmaidens were delighted by the view on a visit here. Lori was pretty delighted with it too.
Killarney National Park
Ladies View

A panorama from Ladies’ View.
Ladies View Panorama

Ladies View

Just down the hill from Ladies’ View was this medieval ruin:
Castle Near Ladies View

Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park Killarney National Park

Our planned stop in Killarney National Park was Muckross House, for another tour of a fine estate. But first, we ate lunch at the Garden Restaurant at Muckross. This is not any sort of obscure local eatery; this is clearly impersonal food for tourists. But it was very tasty. Lori had the chicken and vegetables, I had the shepherd’s pie, and we shared a dessert of plum sponge.
Chicken and vegetables, Muckross House Cafe Shepherd's Pie, Muckross House Cafe
Muckross House Cafe

Muckross House

Muckross House Muckross House

Lori was keen on taking a jaunting car ride ever since we had read about it in tour books. (Tourist level: so very touristy.) Finding a jaunting car ride was easy; the process appears to be to stand near Muckross House and not aggressively reject the possibility of a ride. Using this process, we ended up on a ride to Torc Falls drawn by an old codger with a habit of repeating everything twice. “Three hundred sixty-five windows in the house,” he’d say. “Three hundred sixty-five windows.” But he carries some history of his own there - he’s been driving a jaunting car for decades, and his son is now driving a jaunting car of his own.
Muckross House
Lough Leane, Killarney National Park
Stream near Torc Falls Stream near Torc Falls
Near Torc Falls
Jaunting Car Driver

Muckross House was a grand house. Multiple gorgeous rooms were decorated in a variety of period styles. I think some furnishings we saw dated back to the 17th century, but I am not sure of this. The detail I remember most is that the family had hardly any social contact with the (non-noble) locals; their only social life came when they visited England or someone from England visited them. It seems a dismal lonely lifestyle - especially for the children. This was a theme we heard repeated in every grand house or castle we toured.

No pictures because they didn’t allow pictures, but we have some lovely pictures of the gardens.
Muckross House Gardens Muckross House Gardens

On the other side of the parking lot from Muckross House is Muckross Traditional Farms, a collection of farms still being run as they were in 1930 or so, when horses provided most of the power and carrying water was a major part of daily life. I was particularly eager to tour these farms because I had read they are staffed by old farmers who can talk about the way things were back then. Unfortunately, we learned when we got there that during October, they are only open on weekends.

We stopped by Ross Castle on our way out of Killarney National Park, but the last tour was over.
Ross Castle
Ducks near Ross Castle
Ross Castle

We have a great many pictures of Ross Castle and Lough Leane under gloomy grey skies. These are some of our favorites:
Lough Leane Lough Leane
Lough Leane Lough Leane

Our destination that night was Ballyseede Castle. There’s a story in how we found Ballyseede. We were both eager to spend the night in a castle in our Ireland stay, and we mentioned that to a travel agent we were trying to work with. She immediately recommended Ballyseede, because it was so affordable. Now, I tend to be very thrifty or even stingy. But my castle stays are rare enough that I don’t want to choose a castle just because it’s cheap. But we could not persuade this travel agent that we had other priorities in our castle selection. That and chronic non-responsiveness led us to abandon that travel agent and arrange our trip entirely on our own. But we had her recommendation and other recommendations that Ballyseede was a good value in a castle stay, so we decided to spend one night there.
Ballyseede Castle Hotel

Our room was pretty, but bland compared the enthusiastic luxury of Lawcus Farm.
Ballyseede Castle Hotel

We ate in Ballyseede’s pub instead of the restaurant because I was having an attack of thrift. The woodwork in the pub was beautiful.

My steak and Guinness pie was excellent, with a very crisp puff pastry crust.
Steak and Guinness Pie

Lori had a nice but not particularly Irish pasta with tomato and spinach sauce and a very rich Bailey’s coffee.
Pasta with Tomato and spinach sauce
Bailey's Coffee

One of the special features of the pub is the dog Einstein, who spends much of his time there. Einstein has a special trick: he has several stones that he considers his. He will carry them in his mouth, drop them at your feet, and implore you to toss them for him to fetch.

As we were finishing our meal, we overheard the manager offering a tour of the castle to another couple, and we inserted ourselves into the tour. He told some ghost stories, for which Lori will give a more sympathetic retelling than I. My clearest memory is that of Hilda, the last family resident of the Castle; as with the residents of Muckross House, she did not socialize with the locals, so the highlight of her day was when the postman arrived. The story is that she’s sometimes seen in her window, waiting for the postman to arrive.

Lori: The tour of Ballyseede gave information on the history of the castle, its present uses, and the ghost stories surrounding it. My memories have dimmed, but I’ll do my best.

The castle’s date of origin is uncertain. The history we heard dates back to 1584, when the land was granted to Robert Blennerhassett, after the defeat of the previous owners, the Fitzgeralds, the Earls of Desmond. The rent for the castle was to be a single red rose from the garden, to be presented on Midsummer’s Day each year. The descendants of Robert Blennerhassett occupied the castle until 1966. Hilda was the last of the family to live there, and it’s said her spirit makes itself known on March 24 each year, which was her birthday. It is also said, as Ralph commented above, that her spirit can be seen in the window of her bedroom, looking for the mailman or visitors who rarely came. There are some watermarks under said window that are said to spell out “R I P.” It may be a bit of wishful thinking to say that - we could see where they get the idea, but the letters (such as they are) are far from sharp and clear.

There is also a romantic tale that a woman in white roams the halls at night, carrying the single red rose used to pay rent. We didn’t see her, but she makes a great story.

The castle now does weddings in a banquet hall in the oldest part of the castle, and it is in this room the ghost stories were told. A woman on Trip Advisor claimed she could’t sleep because the stories were so scary. The stories were pretty tame…I’d hate to think of what happened to her after she saw “The Sixth Sense,” a ghost movie that had me looking over my shoulder for at least three weeks.

The guide did have some ghost photos. They aren’t available online, so you’ll have to take my word for it - they were creepy. One was a photo of several Irish ladies at a wedding a few years ago. They’d posed on the staircase with their arms around each other. What was creepy was that a skeletal hand showed up draped on one lady on the end’s shoulder…looks like the ghost wanted to join in the fun. The other was of the pet cemetery (yes, they have one for the castle dogs and horses). There was a ghostly image of a dog’s face in spectral blue that was certainly creepy. I have no idea how likely or unlikely it is that these were photoshopped.

I can say that I do believe in ghosts, I do think something’s probably there, and that we had no encounters of our own that night. We did enjoy Ballyseede, and would recommend it to anyone visiting Ireland who would like the castle experience for a modest price. The decor was lovely, and I enjoyed wandering around taking it all in.

For more information, here’s the castle website. http://ballyseedecastle.com/history.php

Ballyseede Castle
Wedding Cake nook, Ballyseede CastleHotel
Ballyseede Castle