Sunday, March 25, 2012

Land of a Thousand Welcomes

And here it is, a little look at John's and my vacation to Ireland in October. But first, a little background into how it all came together.

For those who know me, I've always been an Irish girl at heart, and since I can remember having a dream destination, that destination has been Ireland. I have, of course, lived my life accepting it was little more than a pie-in-the-sky dream. My desire to make it a reality was kicked into overdrive in tandem with my name change. I realized part of the stress I was feeling was over the loss of my readily-identifiable heritage that the name of Egan implied. Several of the people I'd encounter would comment on what a "beautiful Irish name" I had (while also questioning how my English middle name, Elizabeth, got in the mix), and one gentleman even nicknamed me his Galway girl, as a song apparently exists about the dark-haired beauties of Galway, Ireland. (I don't pretend to take credit for the beauty part, but dark-haired is certainly accurate enough.)

It made me sad to think I was losing that. Of course, another third of my heritage is Italian (the third is Danish, if you're curious), so I'm not sad that Riggi points me in that direction. But still, I felt like I was losing a link to a part of my lineage. Total overthinking, I know, but just roll with it.

And so I started researching places to go, things to do, and travel to/within Ireland. Again, if you know me, this became overwhelming in a short amount of time, and I again wrote it off as a pipe dream. Then John and I stumbled across a presentation at AAA on their Ireland vacation packages. Why not go? John had been hinting at a first anniversary gift of paper, in the form of plane tickets, though we never really talked about actual destinations.

We attended the presentation, and I sat there with actual tears pricking my eyes because for the first time ever, I realized we can do this. There were even great discounts and incentives offered for booking by the end of March. We took our planning tools home and thought about it long and hard. Checked departure dates, air lines, and which itineraries fit both financial and vacation-time budgets.

I'm am still pinching myself when I remember we're actually going. For 8 days. And what's exciting and comforting is that we don't have to worry about anything while we're over there. Our group tour package includes in it all of our lodging, meals, activities, and travel. All we need to do is buy lunch or snacks, souveniers, and parse out some Euros for tipping along the way. Add to that, of course, get passports, get some AC adapter converters, and various other vacation to-dos, and we pretty much just need to show up.

Here's a short summary of what we'll be up to on our adventure:

Arrive in Dublin, Ireland

Welcome to Dublin! At 2 p.m. begin a city tour. Visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral and walk the courtyards of Trinity College to its library and world treasure, the 8th century Book of Kells. This evening, join your Travel Director and fellow travelers for a Welcome Dinner with wine.

Dublin / The Midlands / Ballina

Cross midland Ireland and visit Strokestown Park House. This grand 18th-century estate still has its original furnishings. The Famine Museum, designed to commemorate The Great Irish Famine of the 1840s, is located in the former stable yards of the house. Continue on to County Mayo to visit the Shrine at Knock. Finally head to your hotel in the town of Ballina, set on the River Moy.

Ballina / Connemara

Travel to the picturesque town of Westport, then on to Connemara, Ireland’s historic western province, with its whitewashed cottages, mountains and rivers. Visit Kylemore Abbey, a neo-Gothic mansion, occupied since 1920 by Irish Benedictine nuns. This evening, relax at your elegant hotel on Galway Bay.

Connemara / Galway / Cliffs of Moher / Killarney

This morning visit Galway Cathedral before dropping in for refreshments at Rathbaun Farm. Then travel west to the spectacular Cliffs of Moher, rising 700 feet above the pounding Atlantic waves. Later, take the Tarbert Ferry across the Shannon estuary and continue on to Killarney.

Ring of Kerry Excursion

Travel the road that winds around the beautiful Iveragh Peninsula, better known as the Ring of Kerry. Stopping at Torc Waterfall, there is a chance to join a leisurely guided hike. You walk along the lakeshore and past the farmlands of the Muckross Estate. For those who do not want to join the hike, the motorcoach will return you to Killarney. The rest of the day is free.

Killarney / Blarney / Waterford

Stop at Blarney Castle and perhaps kiss the famous stone that bestows the gift of eloquence. There’s time to shop at the Blarney Woolen Mills, then on to Waterford. Visit the House of Waterford Crystal for an interesting visual journey of over 225 years of glassmaking.

Waterford / Dublin

Meet local Jack Burtchaell and hear about a gallery of rogues and rascals, all delivered in an entertaining style by a master storyteller. Then, return to Dublin. Make a stop at the Guinness Storehouse and discover what goes into making a pint of Guinness. Your evening is free.

It all looks so amazing, and I'm grateful for this opportunity. I realize how lucky we are to take this trip, and I fully intend to soak up every second possible and glue those memories in my mind. 2012 is indeed the year of making dreams come true. We've booked and made the dream come true, now we need only to wait a few months to live it. I've never seen a sunrise. Maybe I'll have the chance while we're over there.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

And may the odds... ever in your favor.

John and I met Jeanette and Dianna for breakfast this morning, then we headed to the theater to finally watch The Hunger Games played out on the big screen. Because breakfast didn't take nearly as long as we expected, we got to the theater 2 hours early, and camped out in line on the floor for an hour until then let us in. We were, appropriately, in the crowd watching the movie in theater 12. : ) Awesome.

I won't go into a dissection of the movie versus the book because I'm too lazy, but I will simply say that I did enjoy it, and I think they handled it very well for the most part. I was also correct in thinking I would A) always love the book more and B) be slightly disappointed in a few of the adaptations. I'm looking forward to seeing it again, as I'm sure there was plenty that I missed in my general excitement at the day finally being here. Eagerly anticipating the release of Catching Fire next fall!

Also, as I'm still feeling lazy, I will come back next week sometime to tell you all about our trip to Ireland this October! It'll be a few weeks early, but we're translating paper as first anniversary gift to mean plane tickets, and we're hopping the pond to the land of Blarney and banshees.

Until then...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Happy St. Paddy's day, everyone! Hope you're all feeling a little luckier and enjoying some great food, drink, and company! John and I had lunch at our favorite local Irish watering hole, Dubh Linn Square, and we have a beef stew in the crock for dinner. I made a soda bread earlier this week (but like a loser forgot to add the raisins, so it's a bit naked) as well as two Killian's beer breads. Yummm!

I first want to write and say how excited John and I are for the impending arrival of Baby Branin this August! We were tickled that Jon and Marisa came over to tell us in person Wednesday night. How strange to have entered the phase where many of our friends are married or getting married, and now we are starting to add children to our wolf pack (insert Alan's speech from The Hangover here...). We're thrilled to be Auntie Maureen and Uncle John. : )

Also in baby news, we get to meet little Odin, my cousin's now-two-month-old when we peace out to Vegas for a week this summer. I will never get enough of rubbing it in my Aunt Debbie's face that she's a grandma. haha Looking forward to picking out a fun little gift to bring him.

Currently, we are watching March Madness and John is on the floor soaking up Hammy snuggles. All the windows are open and Hammy's been going from windowsill to windowsill all day enjoying the sights, sounds, and, mostly, the smells. I'm pleased to report that Hammy is feeling better. Two weeks ago he went for his check-up and shots, and they discovered he had a very mild UTI as well as some crystals present in his urine. So a round of antibiotics and a re-check showed the infection was gone, but there were still some crystals. Thankfully, they are very microscopic and even with the UTI, it was caught so early he wasn't even showing any signs of not feeling well. We're glad that treatment for crystals is a simple change in food. Albeit slightly more expensive food, but he's been eating it up (I was worried he'd be like, "Uhm, what is this slop, woman?) with no trouble, and we'll see in 2 months if we've successfully eliminated the crystals.

John and I have some exciting travel plans in the making, but I won't report on that til it's carved in, ahem, stone and booked. We've told a few family and friends of the plans, but will be excited to share it here so everyone can see where we're going and what we'll be doing. So STAY TUNED!

This coming week is spring break at Princeton (John enjoyed his this past week--yay for having him home every night!), and I'm taking some much-overdue vacation time. Most of it is self-maintenance--a few doc appts., etc., and some of it is fun. I'll spend a day with Mom, and John's taking a day off, too, and he even booked us each a massage at the Wellness Center of Bordentown, the owner of which I got to know while I wasn't working. I got Mom a massage there last spring as a birthday gift, and she thoroughly enjoyed it. I've never had a massage, so I'm looking forward to checking it off the list of dreams to make come true in 2012.

Tomorrow the bestie and I are heading to Flemington for afternoon tea at Teaberry's, my latest obsession. Oooh, what kind of tea will I have?! Anxiety! Then it's a short 2-day workweek for me, and Saturday brings the premier of The Hunger Games! John and I are meeting my the other 2/3 of my three musketeers from work for breakfast and we'll then go settle in and watch the movie together. Pictures below from the tee-shirt making party we had to make custom garb to wear to the premier. Then Sunday is brunch at Laurita winery with John, and a return to normalcy.

But spring is coming (free Rita's water ice on the 20, folks!), and with it the promise of Commencement on campus and a quiet, slow, glorious summer. This year, Steve Carrell is speaking at Class Day, and I'm So. Excited. My office coordinates the event each year, and I'm stoked I may actually get a semi-run-in with the man himself. Gonna be awesome.

Also, on a different note, thank you to all who have kept me and my family in your thoughts and prayers lately as my grandmother's health declines. It means so much to have such a strong support system beneath me.

That's all for now. I hope to write again later this week with some updates, and hopefully pictures.

Lots of love.