Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Ultimate Ireland Road Trip - Southern half

We had an amazing holiday in Ireland and I've had so many people ask me for our itinerary.  So here is the breakdown of our trip for those looking to experience one of their own!

The background:  we have a US fitted Honda Odyssey minivan and there were 4 adults, two 5 year olds, and a one year old on our trip.

The food:  I'll give you the info on where we ate as I talk through the itinerary.  We booked B&B's with breakfast intentionally, took our own peanut butter, jelly, nutella, and bread for our daily lunch to reduce down our eating out budget, and ate out for dinner of the evenings.

On 22 July, we set off in the evening to try and miss traffic on the M40 and the M1.  We drove to Holyhead, Wales and stayed at Witchingham B&B which was right near the port and let us check in later in the evening.  They had a self serve breakfast and was a very comfortable place to be for the quick night we had.  The only thing we would have changed was to try and leave a bit earlier because the drive through Wales was amazing and we only caught a bit as it was late when we arrived.  But the sunset along the north coast was fab.

The morning of 23 July, we set off early to grab the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin.  We had booked in advance through Irish Ferries as they had a sale this past spring and we saved 25% by waiting on the sale.  We were onboard the ship Epsilon and let me give you this tidbit of advice.  When you park your car and everyone goes inside, it feels like you HAVE to sit at these tables and chairs in the restaurant or the lounge.  However, if you go up one deck, there's a little room just off the stairs that is full of reclining seats.  It's much more comfortable, they have a television, and is right by the toilets.  People think this place is something you have to pay extra for because it almost feels like it should be, but it's a little gem we found and made the 3.5 hour trip sane for us and the kids!

Once landing in Dublin, we drove off into the sunset (or the midday rain?) and headed directly across the country to Lisdoonvarna where we checked into the Cannville B&B for the night (approx 3hrs 10 min).  It was really out in the middle of nowhere but a close drive to the cute village area of Lisdoonvarna or a 10 minute drive from Doolin.  We went to dinner in Doolin at Fitzpatrick's Pub where they have live Irish music and Doolin beer (delish).  The B&B was quaint but nice.  We had an absolutely amazing sunset and because we were in the middle of nowhere, we had great pictures of the countryside.  The B&B had 3 breakfast options including full Irish breakfast, yogurt and fruit, or pancakes.  Most of us had the Irish breakfast and everything we had was lovely!

On 24 July we awoke to a lot of rain and fog and were pretty bummed as we intended to head straight to the Cliffs of Moher.  We had purchased our tickets in advance to receive the online discount and they are not tied to a day so I highly recommend this!  The whole drive there (15 minutes max), we were praying for the fog to lift but as we parked it was not looking good.  We went into the visitors center to look around and, within 15 minutes the ceiling was lifting and we were starting to see some blue in the sky.  We hiked up the cliffs and enjoyed a beautiful morning there.  I highly recommend getting there early as the crowds get a little crazy midday (this is part of the reason we drove in the afternoons, along with giving my kids a chance to nap as we drove).

After a few hours at the cliff, we made our daily sandwiches and got in the car to head south.  We drove about 3 hours, 10 min to the Dingle Peninsula, specifically to Inch Beach.  We stayed in a dorm style room (6 bunk beds and the baby cot) at a place called The Strand (no ensuite toilets for this place but it wasn't bad for one night).  For the money, it was great!  The location was perfect with gorgeous views of the beach.  We spent the afternoon/evening on the beach with the kids freezing in the water.  That night we had dinner in the hotel restaurant as they give a 10% discount to those staying.  Decent food, good beer, what's not to like.  And we didn't have to go anywhere else!

The morning of the 25th we awoke and had another Irish breakfast at The Strand (included) along with some continental options that were also good.  Our friends traveling with us did a morning surf lesson and the boys spent the morning on the beach.  We got a late checkout so everyone could get cleaned up before we got in the car again.  This was really a good option because our drive this day was only about 45 minutes to get down to Killarney for our next adventure.

Because it was a short drive (although Justin's favorite due to the scenery and winding roads), we arrived in Killarney before we could check into our next B&B.  So this time, we headed straight to the Ring of Kerry and into the national forest.  We went to the Torc Waterfall where we could climb on the rocks and see the beauty of the falls and the forest.  The walk to the falls is short and not treacherous so you can really just park and run up for a quick look or go for a long hike, whichever you're up for.  We didn't do the long hike but instead took time to just throw rocks in the water and climb the rocks.  From the waterfall, we headed back toward Killkenny, stopping at Muckross Abbey.  It was so cool (this may have been my favorite part).  The abbey is in ruins but you can still go to the different levels and check out all the staircases and rooms.  From the abbey, we headed to our B&B in Killarney, Countess House.  This was probably our favorite traditional B&B as the rooms were nice, breakfast was great, and the host was lovely.  It's also walking distance from town so we could just walk in to dinner where we enjoyed awesome food at Mac's of Main Street.   Killarney is pretty touristy but it also has a pretty cool vibe.  We enjoyed our time there both in the national park and in the town.

Yet another great breakfast on the 26th at Countess House and we set off on our way.  We started by heading to Ross Castle which was about 5 minutes away in Killarney.  The castle is cool from the outside but to go inside you have to sign up for a guided tour.  We chose not to take the tour based on timing and price and the fact that we were about to see a few other castles over coming days.  So we looked  to Kilkenny, by way of Cork.  It took us less than 90 minutes to get to the Blarney Castle in Cork and again, the drive was beautiful.  We got onto the castle grounds right away and found that we  probably could have spent the whole day there exploring the castle and gardens.  We did enjoy our time kissing the Blarney stone and exploring the gardens and then loaded up the car to continue on to Kilkenny for the night.

It took us right about 2 hours to arrive at Fanad House, our lodging for the night in Kilkenny.  It was located directly across from the Kilkenny Castle grounds and easy walking distance to the High st area.  However, by the time we got there, most things in the center of town were closed and we ate a bit of a random place called Ripley's Steak House.  It was good for families and the food was good for what we needed, especially given that we were all pretty ravenous by the time we got there.  We tried another place first and they made it quite clear they did not welcome our large family there so Ripley's was perfect for us.  Plus, it was right on Butterslip Lane which is something we wanted to see anyway.  We headed back to the B&B for the night and had a restful sleep in a very comfortable place (a close second to Countess).

The following morning (27 July) we, once again, enjoyed an Irish breakfast, but other options were available and quite delicious.  We set off into Kilkenny to see the castle and a short walk around the town but this was probably our least favorite place to visit.  The castle is cool but it has been restored back to what they think it was so it feels more like Windsor castle instead of a castle like Blarney and Ross (i.e. more in a finished state than looking like a ruin).  We finished our time in Kilkenny with our homemade lunches, loaded up the car, and set off for our final destination...Dublin.

We arrived in Dublin around 2pm and met up with our AirBnB guy, Paul.  Our flat was called Whiskey Corner and was literally in the old Jameson Distillery.  It.was.awesome.  The guy was a great host and got us set up in the flat and with parking quickly.  The place is right in the Smithfield area with a grocery store, pharmacy, and all kinds of restaurants.  It was walking distance to everything we wanted to see in Dublin and also very close to public transit.  But, it was far enough from Temple Bar and those areas that it wasn't too noisy at night with the windows open.

Our friends and Justin were interested in the Jameson Master Class they give at the distillery so they signed up and went straight away to the 4pm class.  After 1.5 hours of learning how whiskey was made and tasting the differences, we were all ready for dinner.  We headed out to a place called My Meat Wagon which I HIGHLY recommend.  Lots of, well, meat!!  AND an old school NES with Duck Hunt and Super Mario to play while you hang out.  Great food, good beer, and a relaxed atmosphere.  We were so stuffed after dinner that we headed back and crashed at the flat.

The morning of 28 July, we started the morning off with, no, not an Irish breakfast, but some quick food and coffee from a nice little cafe called Third Space.  We had booked tickets for the Guiness Storehouse tour well in advance to make sure we got the time we wanted as early and advanced bookings online provide some decent discounts.  We walked from the flat to Guiness and started our tour promptly at 10am.  It took us about an hour and a half to get through and we ended with the obligatory beer in the Gravity Bar with gorgeous views of the city.

It was a little late for lunch and the troops were restless so for the same price we would have paid for public transit, we cabbed it to Temple Bar.  Quick, uneventful lunch at a place I can't even remember the name of, and we strolled around the Temple Bar area and took pictures on the Ha'penny bridge.  At this point, half our crew (i.e. the kid half and a grown up), headed back to the flat for nap time.  The other half walked to Trinity College to check out the Book of Kells and their amazing library!  We all met back up for dinner at The Brazen Head, the oldest pub in Ireland!

The week had taken its toll on us and the kids and we were not resting well.  We intended on putzing about of the morning but instead, we took the morning of 29 July to relax, have breakfast, pack up, and clean up in the flat.  Our ferry was to leave at 2:45pm and we had to be there early to get checked in and loaded onboard.  We at lunch at a little shop near the flat called Christophe's which had nice little salads and sandwiches.  It was time to head to the ferry and get onboard.  Thankfully, we were on the same ship again and knew to go straight to the reclining chairs.  We settled in for the 3.5 hour trip and had our last set of PB&Js.

Arriving back in Wales around 6pm, we set off for the 4.5 hour drive home.  We, thankfully, didn't have much traffic and, other than the screaming baby in our car, it was a fairly uneventful ride.  We arrived home at 10:30pm.

As you can see, this itinerary was perfect for us but the route and lodging options could really work for anyone!  What you choose to do at the different locations could be tailored to your desires and groups intentions!  If you're coming from a country other than the UK, it's easy enough to fly directly into Dublin, rent a car, and take off from there!  Remember that they drive on the left side of the road in Ireland, roads are narrow (our minivan is HUGE there), and knowing the road signs, speeds in km, and how to tackle roundabouts is vital...but it's completely doable and actually a great part of the trip!

Mileage
Home to Holyhead: 270 miles
Dublin port to Cliffs of Moher:  162 miles
Cliffs of Moher to Inch Beach:  127 miles
Inch Beach to Killarney: 26 miles
Killarney to Blarney Castle:  47 miles
Blarney Castle to Kilkenny:  100 miles
Kilkenny to Dublin: 80 miles
Holyhead to Home: 270 miles
Miles in and around each location:  30 miles

Total Ireland Transit Miles: 572
Total Miles: 1112

Monday, April 27, 2015

Get your passports ready!

I cannot even begin to tell you how long I have waited to write this blog post.  The last 8 months have been a true test of our trust in our marriage, in our family, and in our God.  This is quite an in-depth story but I promise to keep it as short as possible.  But here it is, the BLUF...the Morgans are moving to London!  Yes, you read that correctly, we are heading across the pond for a few years!

It all began last summer when we knew something was changing.  Our contentment with where we were was wavering and we prayed frivolously for what that meant or looked like.  Justin spent time in Uganda in August (2014) and when he came home, we started to feel a call elsewhere, Uganda being one possibility.  Soon after, I caught wind of a job opportunity for me in London.  All the while, Justin had been feeling a tug on his heart to go get his PhD.  All these things, all these different directions, where in the world were we going to go?  So we did the only thing we could do...we started praying and pushing on doors.  We knew that some doors would ultimately close and others would be opened and we decided we would just walk through whatever opened for us.

In September, we began talking to some friends in Uganda about a possible move there, Justin began applying for PhD programs, and I waited patiently (not really) for the London job to open up for me to apply.  In the meantime, we both continued in our jobs.  At that time, I was certain that Uganda was the right place for our family.  I traveled as usual for work, found out we were going to have a baby, and the boys continued in school.  Come January, I had the opportunity to go back to Uganda for a visit and to see more of what it would look like for us to be there.  It was such an amazing trip and yet there was something in me that wasn't certain our family was ready for that at this point in time.  We had had some set backs with our little man and I was very fearful of what taking him back to Uganda indefinitely would do to his little self.  A short time after I came home, we still didn't feel clear on Uganda, the job req still wasn't open, and Justin had heard from zero schools, one way or the other.  And I was pretty done (not to mention 20 weeks pregnant).  So we decided to fast.

It was a crazy, difficult, amazing week but by the end of it, we definitely had some clarity.  In that time we heard back from schools Justin had applied to, I got an interview for the job, and we felt a peace about Uganda.  By Friday we knew that London was our first choice and UW Madison was our second choice (Justin had received his acceptance letter earlier in the week).  They were both amazing choices and we were happy with both options but the rest was up to me getting the job in London.

There are so many more details in the weeds of this story and if you want to have coffee or a Skype date sometime, I'd love to share them!!  Suffice to say, I have received a job offer for the job in London and our family will be moving in August to live in the UK for the next 3-5 years!!

It is scary and exciting and the timing seems nutso!  This summer we will have a baby, sell our house, move to the UK, start a new job, so.many.new.things!!  We are not naive that we have a tough transition ahead of us but we're so excited for the adventure and the opportunity for our family!  Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we move into this new phase and stay tuned for the craziness that is moving your family of five across the world! 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Visiting the village...by guest blogger, Kayla Cervenka

I promised you a guest post and here it is!!  I love the idea of sharing our thoughts and fears with each other and adore this woman and her heart.  She has been in Uganda for about two weeks now and will be staying for about 4 and a half months doing an internship with Sole Hope.  This post is from the day we did resettlement and it was quite an experience!  Can't wait for you to enjoy it from her perspective...

It was my first time ever visiting a village in Uganda. I was really excited for this new experience but also a little unsure as people kept telling me it would be a long trip there.  I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. All I knew was that I was so excited that these children who had been living at the Outreach house were finally able to be resettled with their families! These children who came to Sole Hope, severely affected by jiggers, are now jigger free and full of hope! It is a beautiful transformation to see and it is why resettlement is such an exciting part of what Sole Hope does.

We loaded up the van and headed out towards the village.  There were 21 adults and children, and three babies in the van so it was quite a tight fit. I‘ve come to realize that this is quite typical for Uganda, so I just went along with it as a tiny one-month-old baby slept in my lap.

Eventually we went from pavement to red dirt roads and the ride got a little bumpier. We headed into Kamuli and along the way we dropped some people off while others hopped into the car. I was quite confused as random people kept coming in the car and at one point there were 25 of us all crammed into the van. Once again, I didn’t ask questions but just went along with it because hey, this is normal (I think)! As we headed further into the different villages children would wave and yell “Muzungu!” There was lots of smiling and waving out the van window and we passed the children. When it came time to drop off a few of the kids being resettled, we would pull over to the side and they would hop out. Before the children could even get out of the van there was already a crowd of children from the village gathered together outside our van. They would all just stare at us, eyes wide full of wonder. Many of them would wave and smile, occasionally saying something in Lusoga. It’s funny to me. There is often a language barrier, which can be hard, but I find it so beautiful that people can still radiate joy and love to one another without even a single word.  There was so much staring, smiling and giggling between one another as we passed through the villages. My mouth hurt from smiling so much but my heart was filled with so much joy!

We kept on bouncing along the bumpy red dirt roads, dropping children off along the way to their respective villages.  As we dropped of one of the children for resettlement, I got out of the van and there was a little girl staring at me. Her beautiful brown eyes looked interested yet terrified at the same time. I held my hand out and smiled, reassuring her that I wasn’t going to hurt her. As I slowly walked towards her she sprinted in the other direction and hid behind her mom. She was scared of me. I was foreign to her. She had never seen a white person. I was slightly in shock. What would it be like to never have seen someone that looked so differently than yourself? I realized it must have been like looking at a monster of some sort. Her mom reassured her that I was okay and with the help of her mother, the little girl slowly walked towards me, still looking quite unsure. I kept smiling
with my arm outstretched reassuring her that it was okay, even though she could not understand a word I was saying. She finally grabbed my hand and timidly said hello in Lusoga as she bowed down.  Bowing is a sign of respect around here, and as she knelt to the ground I stopped down beside her. As we knelt there, hand in hand, I couldn’t help but become flooded with emotion. This precious little girl has never seen a world beyond what she already knows. Her village, her people, only her own skin color. But here we were, from seemingly two different worlds, hand in hand, kneeling on the red dirt together speaking our own languages.  Yet even still, there was such a beautiful connection between us in that moment.

I loved my first experience of visiting the villages. It was all new to me and I loved getting to soak it all in. From seeing children return to their families, to experiencing a little girl’s courage overcome her fear, to simply being packed into a van with 25 people, it was an experience I will never forget.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Treasuring all these things

I promise you that it's coming.  I know you're dying to hear all the things I've promised to share.  My friends here and I have really tried to spend the last few days/evenings just being here together.  I had wonderful dinners with Sharon (our babies home director) that was much needed "us" time we haven't had since we hung out in Kampala before I left last time.  The whole Collie clan came over to share dinner with us last night and it reminded me so vividly of the full guest house we had during our adoption.  And the interns, I can't even begin to tell you how amazing these women are.  So grateful to have gotten to share this short piece of life with them.

Kayla, one of the interns, really is going to do a guest blog post for me about her first village experience the day we did resettlements for Sole Hope.  But I promise you, the time we've been spending in the moment has been so valuable that it had to be delayed for a day or two.

I also know there are many of you who have asked and wondered how our visit to our son's village went.  It was amazing.  I feel overjoyed with the experience.  And I do have things to share...some things.  Because even though this was my trip and my experience, it is still apart of our son's story.  And as you know, I am very cautious about sharing his story as it is not mine to share.

I won't get to the highlights now.  Maybe I'll write on the plane ride home (I can't believe I leave in less than 12 hours)!  But I came across this gem this morning while reading and this is exactly where I am with this story and these experiences.

Regardless of how you feel about the Bible, there are many lessons that can be learned.  I am taking a lesson from Mary this morning.  We don't hear much directly from Mary and I wonder if she realized she was just the protector of her son's story.  Entrusted with the pieces of the puzzle but not the one to put them together.  She knew he had to tell it in his own time, when he was ready.  In Luke 2, we see the story of Jesus' birth and specifically, in Luke 2:15, the shepherds had just been told about it by the angels, so they "hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby..."  The shepherds went about telling the world what they'd seen but Mary's response was different.  In vs 19 it says, "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."

Oh I can relate to that.  So many tidbits of information that I have received these two weeks, expanding on my son's story.  So many treasures I want to share with him.  And yet, if I share my experiences with you in whole, I have nothing left that is his.

Take heart, I promise to share some.  I do have some hilarious conversations with the infamous village chairman who we encountered for the first time whilst in court 16 months ago.  And other tidbits that are mine to share.  But for today, for now, this big story I will treasure up all these things and ponder them in my heart.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Our family's village

I’m not sure why but man am I nervous today.  Restless sleep last night and longing to touch base with Justin this morning for reassurance.  I did have an awesome quiet time and reading what my peeps from bible study are reading back at home.  Miss you guys!

The reality is, it’s not like anything bad can happen today.  If anything, I am further paving the way to a future relationship between my Jonah and his biological family.  It’s kind of ironic.  One of the hesitations I had about domestic adoption was the horror stories I’ve heard of bio family interaction and we were concerned that if we adopted multiple times it would impact all our children, bio and adopted.  And yet here we are, reaching deep into the villages of Uganda to extend a hand, to love, to open a connection.  Oh, did I mention that, while not previously planned, my friend made it happen with little effort for me to go to Jonah's village and eat with his family?  Yeah, crazy!

Today, I will meet two of Jonah’s biological brothers for the first time.  I have seen their pictures and we have communicated through the babies home of their school status but that is the extent.  I met Jonah’s bio father twice, once in court, and once at the embassy appointment but with the language barrier, we did not communicate much.  Not to mention, at that place and time, I was so focused on getting Jonah home that I was less concerned with where we went in the future.

But here we are, in the future.  You know me, if I have a question, I will research it into the ground.  A little before we left and a ton since weve been home, I have been researching adoptees and when/how they figure out who they are.  So many people think that our child should feel so lucky that we brought him out of an orphanage and to America and wow how could he feel anything but grateful.  But that is very errant thinking.  Yes, Jonah is blessed to have a family who loves him.  We are just as blessed to have him as our child and to be Jack’s brother.  But the reality is, there’s a whole family that was left behind.  A whole family who looks like him, who spoke his language, who, despite being in a rough situation, still loves him.  (**If you’re in an adoption circle, please don’t read this and judge us and ask us why our child did not get resettled.  I do not owe you my son’s story, but I can assure you we exhausted every option before pursuing his IA. **)  It was not an option for Jonah to be in that or any of his other extended families homes, but that does not mean they will not always share a connection.  And from what I've read, that is a huge struggle for adoptees…connection.  Connection to people who look like you, to people who talk like you, to people who understand your culture and knowing where you came from.  How many Americans do all this research on ancestry?  Shoot, we have like 3 television shows about it!!  But we just expect our adoptees to be ok without knowing and in addition tell them they should feel grateful. 

Enough soapbox.  We are doing what we can about it.  I will not give you the specifics of how our family is working with the biological family but our primary focus are Jonah’s older brothers that were not put in the same position he was in and thus remain in the home.  And today, I get to meet them in person!!  Today I get to look into one teenagers eyes that looks strikingly similar to my little boy.  I cannot promise I will not cry.  For us adoption is more than just our son but he story, his family, his blood.  That means his brother, while he may be my son, is my family.  I want Jonah to know his homeland, his culture, his people.  I love it so much, I want him to have that opportunity as well.  He will choose what his relationship with his biological family looks like but we will give him every chance to know them and have consistent interaction as he desires and we will walk through those decisions with him as he grows and gets to a place to be able to make them.

SO, I’m going out of order a little bit because yesterday we, the two Sole Hope interns (who have been gracious enough to let this old woman hang out with them for the last week) and I, went to a village to do resettlement of the children who have been at the Sole Hope outreach house healing from their significant jigger removal.  I wanted to tell you about it but I’ve asked one of the interns to give you her experience because 1) she’s awesome and has a huge heart for helping people, 2) she’s from Illinois so she has to be great, 3) this was her first time in any village so she will give you more of that perspective while I love, and 4) she is a very artistic, creative, beautiful person and I can’t wait to see her post!  Her name is Kayla so stand by for pure awesomeness.  Then I will come back and let you know how the visit went!


Thursday is my last full day here and we will be doing the weekly jigger removal clinic.  Friday afternoon my friend Brian will be picking me up to runs some errands in Kampala and take me to the airport!  I can’t believe how fast the time goes.  Obviously I’m ready to see my boys but I am at such peace here.  Love to all of you!