Ireland: Browns Mills, Kinsale, and Beyond (July 29 to Sept 29, 2015)

After 3 weeks in Dublin, Ireland, Elie, Scotland, and Paris, France with my Texas and Illinois peeps (see previous post), I flew back to Ireland for a planned 2-month stay with my Irish friend Martin. Martin and I have been friends since meeting 5+ years ago while camping in Death Valley National Park, California. After many years in San Francisco, he recently moved back home to Browns Mills, Ireland.

Browns Mills is a small farming community just outside of the well known town of Kinsale in County Cork [about 180 miles (286 km) southwest of Dublin]. Farmers in the area, and throughout Ireland, primarily grow barley, the majority of which is grown for livestock feed and bedding, with a small percentage of it grown for whiskey production, if the quality meets the makers’ high standards. Kinsale is a historic port and fishing town (population 2,257) located on the coast at the mouth of the River Bandon. The streets of this charming town are lined with colorful shops and delicious local cafes and restaurants. While it’s a highly visited town, it didn’t feel touristy, I think because there are no American chain stores (yeah!). It’s also known as the gastronomic capital of the Republic of Ireland.

Beside growing barley on his own 10-acre plot, Martin works as a contract farmer, meaning he’s hired to harvest, mow, and bale other farmers’ fields using his big toys (aka combine harvester, tractors, bale handler, etc). He is also the proprietor of Motofeirme, a service helping non-Europeans find, purchase, insure and store their own motorbikes for travel around Europe and beyond ( or Given his busy life, especially during the summer harvest, I came to Browns Mills to visit and to help him with Motofeirme.

So, what did I do for 2 months in Browns Mills, Ireland? Explore southern Ireland and learn a lot about farming and motorcycles, of course!

Upon arriving in Kinsale from the Cork Airport, I was treated to a very friendly welcome by Martin’s mom, Eileen, who is an adorable, exuberant person with a lovely warm smile and laugh. Martin sent her to pick me up from the bus stop since he was busy harvesting. In fact, I didn’t see him until my second day there and even then, only for a few hours over the next few days. Thankfully, Phil (England), my predecessor, was there to greet me and show me around. I settled into my private room in the 4-bed bunkhouse at Martin’s place then took a few days to transition from having just been in bustling Paris to being surrounded by farmlands for as far as the eye could see, hearing cows mooing in neighboring fields, and seeing tractors and giant harvesters, including Martin’s, drive down the narrow farm roads. It was nice to slow down and smell the barley.

Phil, who’d been helping Martin with Motofeirme since April, showed me the ropes during his last week there before heading home to the Neitherlands. Basically I would be the Motofeirme greeter, meeting and assisting bikers arriving to Martin’s place to pick-up or drop-off their motorbikes before/after their European travels, tend to the bunkhouse, and perform other odd jobs as needed. It was great meeting the bikers, mostly from Australia, Canada, and the US. It was especially amusing greeting those who were seeing their motorbikes in person for the first time, having purchased their bike through Martin, who they hadn’t previously met, via photos, phone calls, and emails. The sigh of relief that the motorbike they pre-paid for prior to boarding the plane to Ireland was there and in the promised condition was definitely perceptible. Some of the bikers I met stayed in Kinsale, but most stayed in the bunkhouse, some for a few nights and some for a week or more while they readied their motorbikes and gear for the upcoming road trip or unwound before returning home after many weeks or months of being on the road. Hearing about their travel plans and stories from the road was definitely a huge perk of the job.

When there were no bikers picking up or dropping off their motorbikes, I helped plant, harvest, and bag veggies for Horizon Farms, a local farm run by Martin’s friends, Colum and Liz, that supplies many of the area restaurants and markets. I really enjoyed learning about growing and harvesting veggies including leeks, onions, cauliflower, lettuces, spinach, and various types of kale and broccoli. I have a new appreciation for the amount of hard work it takes to bring gorgeous veggies from the farm to the table. And I was able to bring home bags of the veggies I helped harvest (all by hand) – a huge perk for a veggie lover like me! Working and chatting with the Horizon crew (Colum, Liz,  Nollaig, Philip, and Matt) made me feel like a local and definitely added to my Irish experience.

In between exploring Kinsale and Cork, hanging out with Martin, working for Motofeirme and Horizon Farms, I also got to hang with some of my friends from San Diego, California, whom I hadn’t seen in over 6 months! I spent 4 days with Anaika, Ron, and their girls, Zeia and Auni, during their stay on an organic cattle farm near Bray in County Wicklow (about 12 miles south of Dublin). Then I hung out with Jody, Randy, Kristin, Thad, Karin, Ryan, and Helen for 4 days during their trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. Then, Paul Kim came to visit me for 10 days during which we went on a 6-day road trip to explore southwestern Ireland, including the Cliffs of Moher, Dingle Peninsula, Iveragh Peninsula (aka Ring of Kerry), Gap of Dunloe, and Kilarney National Park. We had a great time exploring the spectacular scenery in our tiny rental car with a left-handed stick shift driving on the left side of many very narrow roads. Our road trip mantra:  to the left, to the left.

Living in and exploring Ireland for 2 months was a fantastic experience. It was great to learn more about Ireland’s rich history though visiting early monastic sites, forts, cemeteries, churches, castles, tombs, etc., talking with locals, and exploring the amazing scenery which included rolling pastureland and native shrub/grassland, oak/pine forests, limestone outcrops, and coastal mountains and cliffs. The experience was made much more special by the people I shared it with including my local friends, Martin and the Horizon crew, my Motofeirme friends, and my friends visiting from California. Thank you all for being part of a memorable visit.

Here are a few pictures. Click the link to see the full photo album: 


In the Motofeirme bike barn.
Getting a ride on the harvester.
At the pub with Martin.
Planting veggies with Philip, Matt, and Colum (driving).
Having a cone wih Anaika, Auni, and Zeia at Powerscourt Gardens.
With Ryan, Kristin, Helen, Thad, Jody, Randy, and Karin in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Exploring a 7th/8th century oratory with Paul.
Lovely day at the harbor.

UK/Europe: Ireland, Scotland, and France (July 7 to 29, 2015)

After exploring and trekking in South America for about 5 months (see previous posts for Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador), it was time to move on. I had an unforgettable experience in South America and definitely plan to return to explore the beautiful landscapes and cultures of the countries I didn’t get to visit, and revisit some of my favorite areas and new friends.

From Latacunga, Ecuador, I took a day bus to Guayaquil (Ecuador) where I caught a 14-hour flight to Dublin, Ireland, to join Steve and his mom, Glenda (Texas) and his brother, Jim, and friend, Sam (Illinois) on their 3-week vacation in Ireland, Scotland, and France. Steve, Glenda, and Jim had been planning this vacation for several years so I felt very lucky to be able to join them.

So, what did we do for 6 days in Dublin, Ireland? Explore the city and it’s pubs of course!

Dublin, the capitol of the Republic of Ireland, is a large bustling city (population 527,612) which, due to its accessibility, has a small city appeal. We stayed in a great apartment close to all the action. We spent most of our time exploring the city but also visited the small coastal village of Howth, about a 30 minute train ride northeast of Dublin. We had a great time walking around and checking out the sights, which of course, included the pubs where we chatted with the locals. Per Lonely Planet, “Dubliners at their ease are the greatest hosts of all, a charismatic bunch whose soul and sociability are so compelling and infectious that you mightn’t ever want to leave.” It’s so true! We were amazed time and time again by the genuine friendliness of the people we met on the street, on the train or bus, at restaurants, and at the pub.

From Dublin, we flew to Edinburgh, Scotland and stayed in Elie, about an hour north of Edinburgh and more importantly to Steve, Jim, and Sam, about 30 minutes from the town of St Andrews, the “home of golf” and the location of the 2015 Open Championship.

What did we do for 7 days in Elie, Scotland? Explore the beautiful Scottish coastline and immerse ourselves in golf of course!

We stayed in a beautiful house with a front patio overlooking the beach. Elie is a quaint, charming coastal village (population 940) whose resident population swells in the summer with tourists enjoying the beaches, watersports, and golf courses. We explored the idyllic coastal towns between Elie and St Andrews. While much larger than Elie, St. Andrews (population 16,680) is also charming. Per Wikipedia, “St Andrews is known worldwide as the “home of golf” in part because the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, founded in 1754, exercises legislative authority over the game worldwide (except in the United States and Mexico), and also because the famous links course is the most frequent venue for The Open Championship, the oldest of golf’s four major championships.” The day before the start of The Open, we toured the famous golf course and got to see several famous players (i.e.,Tom Watson and John Daly) on their practice rounds. I don’t watch or play golf, but even I couldn’t resist getting caught up in the excitement of walking on such a historic course and seeing some famous players. Steve, Jim, and Sam were like kids in a candy store walking on the course and even more so as they watched their favorite players battle it out on Day 1 of The Open from the sidelines of the historic course. While I didn’t go with them to The Open, I kept up on the golfer’s scores while relaxing at the house. That’s how infectious the vibe of The Open was!

Besides being the home of golf, St Andrews is home to the beautiful University of St Andrews, the third oldest university in the English-speaking world and the oldest in Scotland, founded in 1413. Notable alumni include England’s Prince William and Princess Kate. We also explored Edinburgh, Scotland’s capitol, for a day, walking around the large (population 492,680) but very accessible city and visiting the Edinburgh Castle (12th century). It’s a beautiful historic city which explains why Edinburgh’s Old Town and New Town together are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And while in Scotland, we had to try the national dish, haggis, “a savoury pudding containing sheep’s heart, liver and lungs minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach though now often in an artificial casing instead.” It was….interesting. We had a great time walking around and checking out the sights of coastal Scotland, which of course, included the pubs where we chatted with the locals. Like the Irish, the Scots we met on the street, on the bus, at restaurants, and at the pub were genuinely friendly and fun to chat with.

From Scotland, Jim and Sam returned home, Glenda went to London, England for a few days before returning home, and Steve and I went to Paris, France.

What did we do for 9 days in Paris, France? Explore the well-known sights of the city and indulge in fabulous wine and food of course!

Paris is the amazing, vivacious city I always imagined it would be. This capitol city is large (population 2,241,346) and bustling but accessible and filled with history, and of course romance. We stayed in a lovely apartment close to Canal Saint Martin and Republique Square, an area with numerous cafes, patisseries, small markets, and shops. We spent the days visiting some of Paris’ famous sights including the Notre Dame Cathedral (12th century), the Saint-Chapelle (13th century), Louvre Museum (1792), Père Lachaise Cemetery (1804), Arc de Triomphe (1836), and Basilica of Sacre-Coeur (1914). It was very cool to finally visit these places I’ve only seen pictures of. We also had the good fortune of hanging out with Steve’s friend, Eddie, and some of Eddie’s friends, all French. It was cool to hang out at their favorite spots and feel like a local. Along with hanging with the locals, we also adopted the local  lifestyle and picnicked along the Canal Saint Martin and the Seine. It was surreal to drink wine on the banks of the Seine while watching the daylight fading behind the Eiffel Tower. In addition to the good wine, cheese, bread, and fresh veggies that made up our picnics, we also enjoyed delicious wine and food at some fantastic restaurants, and, oh yeah, more than a few macaroons from the local patisseries. Holy crap, it’s no wonder Paris is a gastronomic capitol!

Exploring Dublin, Ireland, Elie and St. Andrews, Scotland, and Paris, France was a fantastic experience made much more special since I got to share the experience with Steve, Glenda, Jim, and Sam. Thank you all for letting me share your vacation and thank you Steve for a wonderful time in Paris.

Here are a few pictures. Click the link to see the full photo album:


In Dublin, Ireland enjoying a beer with Glenda, Steve, Sam, and Jim before a tour of the Jameson whiskey distillery.
In Scotland touring the Edinburgh Castle with Jim, Glenda, and Sam.
In St. Andrews, Scotland walking the historic golf course before The Open.


In Paris enjoying wine with Steve on the banks of the Seine.
In Paris at the Louvre museum.