Little Citizens of the World


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Cobh, Ireland

Cobh is pronounced ‘cove’.  It was once known as Queenstown, in honour of Queen Victoria.  It was the last place many Irish left from when they came to America in the 1800’s.  It was also the last stop Titanic made when it set off on it’s maiden voyage.  2,206 people were onboard Titanic when she left the docks.  1,517 would never reach New York.

I was up at 4am to see if I could get my first sight of Ireland.  We were just coming up to the mouth of the harbour and you could clearly see the light at Roches Point.

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When I whispered to the kids that I could see Ireland, they actually jumped up out of bed and ran out onto the balcony with me, they were so excited!  I was so glad they were as excited as me, but also surprised as I figured I’d be trying to drag them out of bed in time to meet customs at the designated 6:40am time slot!

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The village of Cobh coming into view.

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By the time we were through customs, had some breakfast and got our luggage lined up in our room, it was about time that our friends were to be meeting us at the train station, literally right in front of the ship.  We went up onto the top decks and saw the 8:24 train just pulling in, and we could actually see the blue coat of the girls little friend, Sula (Soo-la), sitting in the window!

When they got to the gate, we shouted down to them, and they looked around but didn’t look up at the ship. So we counted to three and altogether yelled “SULA!!” and they saw us!  We all waved like crazy, then hurried down to get our bags and disembark.  It took 15 minutes for someone to come get our luggage, which felt like forever.  The girls were so bulked up with their fleece and down coats, etc that they waited on the balcony.  Finally, we were off the ship and it was hugs all around.  Ahhh, welcome home!

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“You can go to Heaven if you want, I’d rather stay in Bermuda.” ~Mark Twain

Our first, and only, stop on this cruise is to Bermuda.  We’ve never been there before, so we were very excited about it.  I had gone on Google Maps to find out what the terminal looked like, and it was a gorgeous spot for photos of the girls.  I had it all planned out, the walking trail around the town and then back on the ship for late lunch.  The night before we arrived, I got the program for the next day in our door slot and realised I’d been googling Grand Bahama!!

Even though I was a bit disappointed by the difference in port (the port on Grand Bahama is picture perfect), it still was very lovely.  It was a little overcast and there was a tiny breeze, but it was perfect for pants and a tshirt.  I had, however, planned on getting good Christmas pictures while there so, unfortunately, every photo I took has the girls faces front and center.  Really, there wasn’t that much to photograph unless we had taken the bus out of the port area and into the town, so you’re not missing much.

We didn’t do any shore excursions, we just spent a few hours walking around the town.  The port area is pretty small and the Clocktower Mall is really the only place to visit.  We went in there and bought a few little souvenirs, then walked back to the ship along a different path.  It was a nice day out and a cute little port town.

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Map on the wharf

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Walking back to the ship past the Clocktower Mall.  You can still see the line in Sparrows hair from when I dyed it blue, when they went to see DanTDM last month!

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Beautiful Pandanus Palm

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This is the only place I was able to get a photo of the whole ship!

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Ready to sail away.  Goodbye Bermuda!


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March Madness

It’s been crazy around here lately!  We’re getting ready for our cruise back to Ireland, getting our house completely packed up so we can rent it, trying to get a rental in Ireland, and preparing for a feis (an Irish dance competition. pronounced – fesh).

I’m pretty OCD about everything, so I’ve been non stop for the last 3 months.  I’m exhausted!

There was a slight problem, when the cruise consultant noticed the girls passports would expire before the ship left.  I knew it was 2017, but that seemed so far away!  So I had to rush both applications because we were requesting special permission from customs to get off the ship in Ireland, rather than complete the cruise and disembark in another country.  We were approved, that was a huge relief.  The cruise terminal is directly across from the Cobh Heritage Center, and only about 20 minutes from Cork City, where we’ll be staying.  It would have been so stressful (and extremely expensive) if we had to disembark elsewhere and travel across other countries to get back to where we had been only days earlier!

As for our house, I had always planned on using it as a summer rental, fully furnished and ready to go.  After thinking about it and going over and over it, I decided it would be too much to monitor from outside the US.  Although I would have used a property manager, who’s to say things wouldn’t be missed or broken and then what do you do?  Especially when the turnover is weekly.  It was too much for me to think about.  So I’ve decided to rent out on a yearly basis, which will be less money, but a lot easier on my nerves.

Year round rentals are unfurnished, so I’ve been furiously trying to get everything packed back up.  We’ve been here less than a year, and  I can’t believe how much crap I have!  Where did it all come from?  I’ve purchased some industrial shelving for the basement, and lots of storage totes.  In fact, I placed an order for what I thought was a reasonable amount of totes back in January.  Then I placed another order for the same amount.  Then another!  Finally, I went to the store and bought 3 times what I had been ordering.  I think I’ll have enough smaller sized totes, but I’m probably going to need at least 5 or 6 more 50 gallon totes for bedding and towels.  We love pillows in our family, so yeah, we’re gonna need more totes!

We’ve just, in the last few days, not only been accepted for a rental house in Ireland, but it’s in the neighbourhood of my dreams!   I can’t tell you how difficult it is to find something in this area.  Openings are very, very rare.  When I was speaking with the letting agent, he mentioned he had spent summers on Martha’s Vineyard, and when he heard it was my home town, he said he wanted to help me out if he could.  Everyone had been so kind to him when he was there, he wanted to give back.  Serendipity.

Sky and Sparrow, who have been Irish dancing for a few years now, are dancing several times a week this month as we celebrate our Irishness with the insanity that is March Madness.  It’s like St. Patrick’s Day every weekend around here!  Lots of pubs, hotels, etc are having celebrations and what’s an Irish party without Irish dancers!

They also had their final American feis this month.  They did great, there were medals all around and I’m so proud of their hard work.  From now on, they’ll be feisin’ in Ireland!

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Queen Mary II Rant

I didn’t want to go there, I really didn’t, but I need to.  We had taken Queen Mary once before when we went to Ireland the first time.  I didn’t write about how awful it was, because I didn’t want the negativity on my blog.  Unfortunately, as we have now had the experience a second time, I think it needs to be said.

When we went over to Ireland the first time, we left New York on the trans Atlantic crossing to Southampton, UK.  It took 7 days.  On two separate occasions, staff members were not only rude, but condescending to me.  The food choices were so limited, the kids ate dinner rolls almost exclusively for the whole crossing.  Seriously.  One night while they were in the kids club (which they enjoyed immensely) I was actually crying in my room because I hated how they were always saying they were hungry and nothing tasted good.  Oh, and there was hair in the shower drain, not one or two, a lot!  I don’t think the shower had been cleaned.  I wanted to gag.

After that, I swore I’d never take that ship again.  Fast forward to our second trip to Ireland, and we were faced with flying home, overstaying our visa, or taking Queen Mary again.  I don’t fly.  I would never overstay a visa.  Reluctantly, I booked QM II and hoped it was just a bad crossing and this would be better.

WAITING FOR COACH TRANSFER: We were told to meet at Kings Cross Station London, by the arrival gates for our coach transfer to Southampton.  I arrived 2 hours early, because I have anxiety about missing connections, and dragged my kiddos all over that station asking everyone and their mother where the arrival gates were, no one knew.  When I finally found a security guard, he pointed to two silver doors that only opened from the outside.  There was no sign, there were no people waiting, there was nothing there except two solid metal doors between the many shops.  I was in a quiet panic as the meeting time approached and there was still no sign of anyone or anything that said Cunard.  Finally, as I returned to the plain doors for a third time, after running a few more loops through the station, with the kids and 6 bags, hoping to find someone, there was one couple standing there looking slightly out of place.  I asked if they were waiting for a coach by any chance and they were!  Hurrah!  At least I wouldn’t miss it alone.  About 10 minutes after the very strict (according to the email) meeting time, a woman showed up with a Cunard clip board.  We were then led to a cafe to await the coach.  Now, just so you don’t think it was just me being neurotic about the time, the couple waiting with me made several phone calls to Cunard trying to figure out if we were in the right place.  There should have been a sign.  Just a single sheet of paper taped to the door that said Cunard would have been fine.  So not very well planned out.  Seriously, why couldn’t we have all just met in the cafe????

UPON BOARDING:  For some reason, they decided to take fancy photos within 10 feet of walking onboard, thus holding up the line.  I didn’t want photos, I just wanted to get to my room.  I said ‘no, thank you’ to the photography staff and asked if they could tell me what deck I could find our cabin on.  I was abruptly pushed aside by photography staff so they could take photos of the next people in line (money over service).  No one answered my question.  I was actually standing there with tons of staff standing all around being completely ignored.  I went over to the nearest staff member and gave him my room number, he said we were lucky, as our cabin was on deck four, and that this was deck four.  We were not on deck four, we were on deck three.

We found our way to our cabin and I put in my key card.  Red light.  It didn’t work.  Now please keep in mind, I am not wealthy, I don’t have a driver to take me door to door, I don’t have a butler to carry our 6 bags, I don’t have a nanny to keep an eye on the kids, I have me.  So with the key not working, I’m getting a little frazzled.  I see a housekeeper further down the hall and explain my situation.  She doesn’t have a master key and can’t open the door (she turned out to be our housekeeper so I don’t know why her key card wouldn’t work)  I asked if she could please find someone to open the door for us.  She said unfortunately, we would have to go to the main desk and get a new key made up.  This is where I couldn’t take it anymore.  I said there was no way I was dragging all 6 of our bags and my two kids back through the chaos of new passengers boarding to get a new key that should have been working in the first place.  She said she would try to find someone.  15 minutes later, she returned with someone and they opened our door.  Finally.

No one was rude this time around, in fact, everyone was very, very nice.  It was Sky’s birthday and they were able to get a cake done up for her and they sang Happy Birthday that night at dinner.  She truly enjoyed it.  The dining room staff were wonderful.

THE LIDO: The food options were still the same.  I can’t understand it.  Let me give you an example of the one and only salad bar, there’s a bowl of lettuce (not a very big bowl, something you might use for a dinner party of 8 -10 guests) then 3 very small bowls with different sides, say onion, tomatoes and olives and your option of two dressings, vinaigrette, or raspberry vinaigrette.  This is just ridiculous.  Even I barely ate anything on this crossing.  So again, rolls were the main dish.   They do have a small kids menu, and the kids tried to eat the fish fingers but didn’t like them and the same with plain old cheeseburgers, they were gross, like something you’d get at a fast food place.

I did order room service one day when Sky was not well, and it was very good.  The room service menu was small, but far exceeded the Lido, so I ended up ordering lunch in every day.  There were no real options for the kids though.  They ate a lot of apples, french fries and, again, dinner rolls.

We also ordered breakfast in our rooms due to the lido being extremely busy in the morning, limited seating and the kids desire to get to Kids Zone on time.  Every day they got something wrong.  It became almost funny, the kids would ask, ” what did they mess up today?”  It was unacceptable.  I know I sound like a snob, but I’m absolutely not, and I’m telling you, this was so bad!  The kids toast and bagels arrived cold, every time!  Sometimes they brought sugar for my tea, sometimes they didn’t.  Fruit plate?  Yeah right!  Here’s a slice of melon and 3 strawberries.  I ordered orange juice for the kids every morning.  Sometimes it came, sometimes it didn’t.

THE KIDS ZONE:  This is where the kids hang out most of the day.  The ladies there are absolutely amazing!  I can’t say enough good things about them, they are wonderful.  The girls loved going there and were very sad to leave at the end of the week.  Truly, they were the one sliver of sunshine, and I am grateful to them.  Five stars and then some to Kids Zone.

OUR ROOM: There was more excitement when I moved the nightstand to push the two twin beds together the first night.  They ask you before you get on if you prefer two twins or a king, it doesn’t matter.  I had chosen twins, but Sparrow wanted to be closer (Sky was on the fold out couch).  So I moved the nightstand out from between the two beds and pushed Sparrows bed over.  I then tripped over a platform sandal that had been under her bed.  There was also a t-shirt.  I was pretty disgusted that no one had bothered to clean under the bed and kicked them both back under with the toe of my shoe.  I then moved Sparrows nightstand over so I could put the other nightstand (that I had moved from between the beds) beside it.  There was the other sandal.  Gross.  The rooms hadn’t been properly cleaned and checked over.

It wasn’t too long after that Sky dropped a tiny stuffed animal down between the mattress and side of the fold out couch.  When I half folded it up, so I could get the little toy, there were used wads of tissues, used ear plugs, and candy wrappers all underneath.  If I could have tossed the little stuffed toy in the trash, I would have done immediately.  I felt sick to my stomach.

THE HALLWAYS:  They stunk of cigarette smoke and the maids carts fill the entire length of the halls ALL DAY.  If you were a wheelchair user, you’d have to flag a housekeeper down (good luck finding one) and ask them to move each one, and the vacuums so you could get in/out of your hallway and to the lifts.  Depending on where your room is, this could be as many as 6+ carts.

The final straw that sunk the Queen Mary II for us was within 3 days, Sky had a few bumps on her hands that she said itched.  They were tiny and I didn’t think much of it, so said the typical mom thing, “try not to itch them, and they’ll go away.”  They didn’t, and she had a few more show up during the week.  The morning after we arrived home, her arms were covered with rows of tiny bumps that itched terribly.  Two days after arriving home, I had about 20 itchy bumps on my hands and forearms too.  Yes, bed bugs.  This put me over the edge.  I will never, EVER take the Queen Mary II again.  I had to throw away all of my luggage, put all the stuffed animals in a bag in the freezer and hope beyond hope that they hadn’t come with us off the ship.  Luckily, they had not and within a few days, the bumps were gone.

That is my rant on Queen Mary II.  I wish it weren’t like that.  I wish it had been a wonderful experience like we have always had on Holland America, but it was not.  The fact that you pay just as much for a 7 day crossing on Cunard, with no shore days, that you would pay on a 20+ day crossing on Holland America, with many shore days, is just insane.  You are truly paying for a name only.

I was so disgusted with this ship, I didn’t even bother to take pictures.  I was just too put off , I hardly left the room.  The next time we take a cruise, it will be with Holland America, and I’ll take tons of photos so you can see how absolutely amazing their ships are.

Thanks for listening.

You can’t go to Ireland without making a stop at Blarney Castle, it’s just not on.  It’s so incredibly easy to get there from Cork City too, there’s a city bus that takes you right to it in about 25 minutes.  The castle itself is a ruin, there are no artifacts or recreated rooms, it’s basically a shell.  But if you can brave the claustrophobia inducing narrow spiral staircase, that seems to go on for days, the views from the top are outstanding.  This is where the famous Blarney Stone is located.  No, I did not kiss it, germs aren’t my thing.  It’s all in good fun, you say.  Well, it’s the same as kissing all 200+ people wandering around the grounds.  I’m all set.  If you do decide you want to give it a smooch, it’s not for the faint of heart.  I saw grown men looking pretty terrified as they leaned backwards and pulled themselves out into mid air, with nothing but a few bars between them and a straight drop to the ground below.

The entrance fee is very inexpensive and, although there’s a children’s rate, mine were not charged that day, nor was my friends child.   There are 2 small playgrounds, a poison garden, giant trees to climb, acres and acres of running space, waterfalls, trails, and so much more.  It’s a truly magnificent place that I will be visiting again and again.

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Blarney House from the top of the castle

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From the top looking down

The grounds are something out of a fairy tale.  They go on for miles and they are superb!  My Irish friends say, you can go there a hundred times and still find new places.  It’s truly magical.  I can’t possibly post enough photos to do it justice, but if you ever get the chance, go to Blarney Castle, You won’t be disappointed.  http://www.blarneycastle.ie/

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I’m telling you, it’s incredible.

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Willow tunnel

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Careful now!

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This is one tree!

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Trick or Treat!

Halloween was such a blast!  I just love this whole time of year, gearing up for all of the holidays.  We all met up at a friends house and went trick or treating as a group.  What a wonderful night.  When it got dark, we all headed out around the neighbourhood knocking on any door with the front lights on.  I would say about 65% of the neighbourhood had their lights on.  We were out for about a hour and a half before heading back to gather our things to walk back home.  Of course, we trick or treated all the way home, as is the rule.  When we got home, the kids emptied their goodie bags onto the bed to check their haul.  They had tons!  I have to tell you though, I did not recognize a single candy.  Not one.  Europe has it’s own deal when it comes to candy.  They don’t have Hershey’s and the like.  You want m&m’s?  You’re not getting them.  You want a snickers?  Good luck with that.  And besides the differences in candy brands, when it comes to Halloween, they don’t do chocolate.  Nope.  Everything in the girls bags was candy candy.  Gummies and sugar coated lips, gumdrops and little bags of what looked like skittles but weren’t.  There were no “fun sized” butterfingers or kit kats, no reeses cups or milk duds.  Nope.  Nary a one.

It turned out to be a good thing though, because we eat as organic and clean as we can but on Halloween, I always let them go at it.  Well, they had several treats but didn’t like most of them.  They weren’t bothered by it either which was great.  When you’re a kid, Halloween is all about the costume and getting to walk in the street at night!

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Trick or Treat!

Trick or Treat!