Family Trip To Europe

 

     At the Inn, we have several copies of the book,  ‘An American Woman Abroad’ by Victoria Carroll based on a travel journal kept by Anna McCleary (wife of Dr. Aretus McCleary-owners of the Inn property from 1925 til their deaths).  Reading the diary and all the little details of their trip was eye-opening, a moment in time (1923) and really inspirational. I wanted to be sure to record as much as possible about my own trip to that part of the world.

    
     Digging Up Roots
     
     Our pilgrimage to unearth our matriarchal roots with an epic, once in a lifetime, savor every moment Mom and daughters trip to England, Wales and Ireland was life-changing for all of us. The trip didn’t come easily as my sister, Ilene (a seasoned traveler) concocted this plan years ago and dragged the rest of us along, mostly unwillingly.   
Our 77-year-old mom was dealing with stifling guilt that this trip would be way too frivolous considering there’s a horrific war going on in Europe and a worldwide pandemic still wreaking havoc on the earth. Plus, she was battling several health issues that she knew would put a damper on the daily navigating required when one travels. My sister, Katie was also struggling to mentally prepare for this trip due to her fear of flying, plus, her husband said he had a bad feeling about this trip (gee, thanks Dave!)  And,  I was also full of dread, leaving the busy schedule and demand of the Inn and because of the complicated allergy syndrome I’ve had for several years, knowing full well I would not be enjoying afternoon tea, fish and chips, or frankly anything at local establishments.  
So, my husband surprised us by paying for all the plane tickets (no turning back after that!) and Ilene pre-paid for our first stop of the trip – a sweet little London rental apartment.  We were hesitantly compelled to plan, pack and then go…
 
     A Brief History
 
     An interesting thing happens to the mind when one travels to ancestor’s countries of origin. The daunting realization that the decisions made by every ancestor in one’s lineage has resulted in the birth of each of us and extensively defines who we are! Our ancestor’s  choices led to values and traditions, various hometowns and stomping grounds, love stories and heartbreaks, meetings and marriages, all kinds of forks in the road and twists of fate. Then multiply all of this exponentially into a perfect storm of madness to create every human individual who ever existed. Oh my! 
When one meets the cousins who live halfway across the world, this realization packs a wee wallop!  Hence, we all began really thinking about how our family lines ended up in the middle of the United States?
 
     Our Matriarchal Line
 
     My mom, Margie, was born in Hampstead, England, a war baby – the direct result of a chance meeting at a pub between an English nurse and an Irish Catholic American G.I. stationed near London. They got pregnant, got married, and then the war ended, forcing my grandfather to be shipped back to the U.S., leaving his new wife and baby behind with the promise that it would be arranged for them to follow soon after. In February 1946 my mom and grandmother boarded the Queen Mary with lots of other new brides and babies, and sailed to New York and then boarded a train to Kansas City‘s Union Station. Neither would return to England until my mom did on this trip at the age of 77! A couple of side notes —there were more than 60,000 English war brides and thousands of war babies who immigrated to America in the few years after the war ended. My mom has gotten to know a woman in Excelsior Springs, who is the same age, was on the same ship with nearly an identical story! A cool coincidence. 
 
     The Patriarchal Line
 
     My mom‘s G.I. dad‘s Catholic grandfather emigrated from Ireland in 1870 and most likely rolled in his grave when his grandson wooed and then married a posh English girl. His family was Irish-Catholic to the core and they, like many Irish citizens to this day, have an 800-year-old grudge against the English and the oppression suffered under British rule. The Great Famine of the 1840’s in Ireland killed around 1 million citizens. The situation through most of the 1800’s and into the 1900’s was desperate for most of the country, and between 1820 and 1930, 4.5 million Irish men, women and children immigrated to America – including my great, great grandfather from Cloonfad, Ireland to Kansas City, Kansas where he became a fireman. 
In Ireland, it became a right of passage for many young Irish adults to be sent to America during this time to find work and then send money back home to their families. Think of the impact this had on the culture and social structure of both the USA and Ireland! At least 1 in 10 Americans have some Irish blood. And many of them travel to Ireland to dig up roots just like we did! On a sidenote – the Irish think this transgenerational longing for the ‘Old  Country’ is rather bizarre and overly sentimental; but, they tolerate it because 9 million tourists visit yearly and their economy is solid because of it. The Irish really should be proud of their Republic, truly, because despite attempts to rid them of their native law, language, religion, culture and land, the Republic of Ireland persevered and there is now a strong movement to pass on these things to the younger generations.  
 
     Cousins and Cloonfad
 
     The pilgrimage was made even more meaningful because of the human connections we made with our intriguing European cousins, all leading such interesting lives:
The English Cox cousins – composers, musicians, professors, chemists,  financiers, and even a stand-up comic in the mix- are all related to the Royal Family (we are 10th cousins, once removed or something along those lines!).  Alison composed for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee’s beacon-lighting ceremonies and has been bestowed the Order of the British Empire!  Our sweet, well-spoken and charming cousin, Sophia arranged for us all to meet over French food and wine in London.  She then announced she wouldn’t be drinking wine because she’s expecting her first baby who would be named Frances, after my mom’s Mum! 
     Brilliant English authors and cousins-in-law, Nuala Calvi and Duncan Barrett, who have written such excellent books about the world wars, including ‘GI Brides’ (they even included my mom’s name in their acknowledgment section) – had met my mom years before at a War Brides reunion when they were researching for their book and had coincidentally discovered Nuala and my mom had mutual cousins. Another coincidental discovery in this meeting was that Nuala’s grandmother was also a War Bride- making her a War grandbaby just like me and my sisters! (two of their books are linked below).
We took them up on their invitation to spend Nuala’s birthday with them at their home in Sussex.  They fed us delicious vegan food and led us on a walking tour of their neighborhood featuring a 900-year-old church and cemetery and 200-year-old windmills on a high point of their vast English countryside. It was as beautiful as one imagines! Their 6-year old son, Leo gave us a tutorial on the windmills and a bonus train tutorial all in his endearing English accent!
     In Ireland, our Glynn cousins are spread across the country and we were thrilled to locate Glynn’s Bar in Dunmore, Ireland and meet the descendants now running the pub that has been in the family since 1888.  We had to have a Guinness there, of course! And, the Dublin Glynn cousins were so welcoming and kind and offered to take us anywhere we wanted to go- so, we visited Trinity College, Irish Sea lookout points, St. Stephen’s Green Park and the incredible Guinness Storehouse! 
We also asked to find a place playing Celtic music but no luck with that as most places play rock ‘n’ roll (boring!).
   And, in Cloonfad, (following very primitive directions that read:  turn left at the church and follow the narrow road with many right angled bends about 3 miles to a T-junction and then it is the small building with a tin roof on the right hand side of the road.) we found the Irish family’s 1860 homestead in which 7 brothers lived, one dying as a baby, 3 immigrating to Kansas City and 3 remaining in Ireland. We stood on the dirt, touched the stones, and walked inside the primitive structure that is still standing soundly. We took photos and video, we took sod and peat moss and little stones from the doorway. (Those things are now in a terrarium). 
   We talked to the now owners who told us the trees surrounding the property are all now protected forest land.  The emotions we felt there were intense and surreal. There must’ve been a lot of sorrow there with the baby dying, the three brothers leaving and the others struggling to survive. The experience was incredible! 
   Meeting the cousins added an emotional tie to our mom’s birthplace and family origins on the English side and our grandfather’s ancestors and their hardships and perseverance on the Irish side. Learning about and seeing in person the similarities amongst us was revelatory and invaluable!
 
     Observations and Differences 
 
     I thought I’d share our own European observations we made along the way. These are highly subjective, of course, and, like in Anna’s diary, they represent a moment in time:
 
1. The preference in all three countries is for citizens and visitors to be more environmentally conscientious. There are fewer restrooms, trash cans, disposable containers, paper goods, large vehicles (although there are lots of huge public transit buses), fewer automatic vehicles because most people still drive stick shifts (which saves on gas), fewer towels and linens and no place we stayed had washcloths (we couldn’t figure that one out!?).  Also-toilets, sinks, tubs and appliances in general, are smaller. The refrigerators and washing machines were dorm-sized and no place had clothes dryers. Also, the appliances we did have,  we had trouble figuring out and had to Google how to work them. lol. All of them! (clothesline and clasps linked below and you can even find disposable washcloths on Amazon.)
 
2.  The electrical outlets are all different from what we have in the U.S. We had no idea that we would need adapters for our hairstyling appliances and our phones. Luckily, we had a store close by in London that sold phone cord adapters -but we did without an adapter for the hairstyling equipment we brought along so, we just wore hats. lol.  The entire trip. (adapter linked below.)
 
3.  It was neat to see so many people riding bicycles all over the place-roads, sidewalks, highways, busy streets, narrow pathways, etc. Several times we saw people on bikes stopped at red lights right smack in front of large buses a couple of feet behind them. We couldn’t help but think one mistake by either would result in dead cyclists. Also, people drive fast and close together and there are lots of hurried stops and weaving and punching the gas. And roads are incredibly narrow in the smaller towns. Panic attacks were had by all of us! We saw no one get pulled over and very few police officers. It’s a bit different in the U.S. for sure!
 
4.  We had a couple of fiascos on public transit. The worst being on a train from London to a planned stop in Hassocks (where friend Duncan Barrett was going to pick us up); however, because there had been delays it was announced the train would skip that stop. This was said matter-of-factly over an intercom but we were not able to understand what was said. We asked the other riders to explain and one kind gentleman told us we needed to get off at the next stop and then board the train going the opposite direction to get back to our needed stop. In the middle of this confusion, the train stopped and only one of us, Katie (bless her heart) managed to get off. The doors closed and the train rolled away as the rest of us were still on it and Katie, looking horrified, was left behind! Fortunately, Ilene‘s Internet was working enough to get ahold of Duncan and Katie to make a plan that we would all me where Katie was left at Hayward’s Heath.  An hour later we were all together again with Katie crying and needing a stiff drink and lovely, polite, kind hearted Duncan quietly stating, “Oh dear” when he saw the state Katie was in. We had a good laugh later and Katie called her husband who exclaimed, “See, I told you something bad was going to happen!” Luckily, this was the worst thing that happened our whole trip!
 
5.  The London taxi drivers were professional and polite, but not talkative. They all took credit cards. On the other hand, the Irish taxi drivers were all friendly, talkative and funny (some should’ve been stand-up comics)  but only some took cards and the rest required Euro. One of them, we figured out later, wasn’t actually driving a registered taxi and he overcharged us despite warning us to not let our guards down in Ireland and despite his undying wit and raunchy humor. He made us let our guards down himself by making us giggle but he knew exactly what he was doing!
 
6.  In London, we had 9 or 10 people approach us during the five days we were there asking for money. One wholesome-looking young woman wearing a Russian babushka on her head and handing out flowers, tried to reach into my mom‘s purse when she saw her cash. My tough sister, Katie was ready to take her down and we discovered the innocent-looking woman didn’t hesitate to curse her out. lol.
 
7.  Tipping is a bit of a mystery. We are big tippers in our family -my mom the former waitress throws out 20’s like she grows them in a garden; however, most people we tipped seemed shocked by how much we left them because apparently ‘service fees’ are already included in most bills.  Also, taxes are included in advertised prices which was a pleasant surprise. None of us felt like things were expensive -almost everything we saw in stores, gift shops, restaurants, etc. were very reasonable. Even with the dollar to pound and dollar to euro differences. So, tipping was not a hardship for us and we were happy to do it.
 
8.  We saw lots of red double-decker buses and red phone booths in London.
In Dublin, these are mostly green! 
 
9.  We noticed especially in London, that when someone approaches another person they automatically greet them. For example, the kind  gentleman who helped us solve our train stop problem in which Katie got left behind asked one of the employees when we got off the train, (to be sure he had given us the right info), “Yes, hello sir, good afternoon, may I ask you-is the train arriving next stopping in Sussex?”  The employee answered, “Yes, hello, it is.” It was a lovely exchange in a stressful situation.  No wonder many Europeans find Americans rude!  lol.
 
10.  There is a 30-40% chance of daily rain in this part of the world and we weren’t there to get a suntan so we really needed rain gear!  The weather we experienced in May in all three countries was cool, crisp, and fresh, with some warm sun and some cool rain most days. The weather can change quickly and most people carry rain gear and umbrellas with them. We drove an hour to get to the Cliffs of Moher only to arrive to bitter cold, foggy and rainy weather and spent a small fortune at the gift shop buying sweatshirts, hats and gloves just to tolerate the walk up to see the castle, sea and cliffs. However, 30 minutes later the fog lifted, the sun came out and the temperature jumped up about 30° and what seem to be an utter disappointment turned into a glorious excursion!  (rainjacket with travel bag linked below and Amazon has a large selection of waterproof shoes!)
 
11.  It was reassuring to know we were going to countries were English is the primary language. However, we had to ask a lot of people in all three countries to repeat themselves often. In England, the accents were refined and genteel. We giggled when passing construction workers in London, hearing them use the words ‘grand’ and ‘glorious’ in those very elegant-sounding accents. It’s hard to look tough when you sound like an aristocrat! Two words we heard often in England were ‘Cheers!’  and ‘posh’ and nearly everyone called us ‘Love’ which we, of course, loved. In Wales we heard a small amount of Welsh on the train coming in; however, every sign was written in Welsh along with English and we discovered about a quarter of Welsh citizens can speak it. In Ireland, many signs are in both English and Gaelic and we heard people speaking Gaelic here and there and discovered citizens actually call it ‘Irish’ not Gaelic! Irish is spoken more prevalently in the western coastal areas, -so when we were in  Kinvarra we found it a real treat to hear and see older men drinking beer and speaking the Celtic language in a boisterous, and unrestrained fashion. In Ireland and Wales the accents are so gorgeous and melodic.  We did notice the Irish brogue especially, is fast and can be very difficult to understand in a back-and-forth conversation. (i.e. listening and speaking to our Irish cousins). There were phrases, expressions, grammatical structure, slang, inside jokes, historical sarcasm, unique pronunciations, and other idiosyncrasies of the accent and language culture that we weren’t accustomed to hearing; but, goodness it was lovely to listen to! 
 
12.  At times, the layered history, and Old World gorgeousness and charm just overwhelmed us.  So many things blew our minds! The 1,000+ year narrative of Westminster Abbey and the centuries-old churches and cemeteries amongst just regular neighborhood homes, and London isn’t just a regular downtown area and big city of old stuctures-it’s block after block after block of the most architecturally beautiful centuries-old buildings! Doors and windows are interesting and colorful. There are plants and flowers everywhere and because the climate allows there are palm trees all over the place! Ireland was so green and lush with castles, rugged coast lines, thriving plants, and ancient stone fences containing shiny, healthy-looking sheep and cattle on just about every private plot of land. People are walking and biking and enjoying! However, one expects to see more trees, though -but because of the excessive farming and industrialization brought on by occupation most of Ireland’s forests were destroyed.  Ireland went from 80% forest cover to under 2% over the centuries. Ireland has a plan to plant 440 million more trees in the next two decades. At our Irish family’s homestead, the now-owners explained, like I mentioned previously, that all the land around the property is newly protected forest land. That was so neat to see and hear! 
           
13.  All 3 countries we spent time in were incredible; however, we all wished we had spent more time in Wales. From the moment we stepped off the train in Bangor, til we boarded a ferry to Dublin the next day, we were hopelessly enchanted.  The Welsh pub, the lovely and helpful taxi driver, the AirBNB cottage and the working farm surrounded by sheep, cattle and seashore off in distance were so charming and we savored and loved every minute we spent there.  
 
     Helpful Tips
 
1.  Ask friends/family/acquaintances for advice and recommendations pertaining to the places you’re going. Long-time guests of the Inn, Kevin (an Irish guy) and Calli (his fiancé and a true lover of Ireland) gave us all kinds of info.  I made sure we followed Calli’s advice nearly to a ‘T’ and was so thankful we did!
2.  Take an old-school map of each country or area so you can get a visual lay of the land. (link below).
3.  Watch YouTube videos of walking tours or overviews of the areas you want to see.  Everything will seem more familiar and feel more comfortable!
4.  Take a travel journal or keep notes in your phone because little details will be easily forgotten.  Especially if you’re over 50!  And, make a habit of keeping tickets, receipts, brochures, menus, etc. to keep in a scrapbook or momento box. (links below).
5.  Call your bank ahead of time to let them know you’ll be out of your country and using your bank cards. My bank warned me that using my card was risky but none of us had any trouble, thankfully.
6.  Take care of any health issues ahead of time. My mom was dealing with several that worsened in the first couple of days we were there but her doctors office said there was no way they could send a prescription to a pharmacy in London. We were told by locals that we could try an urgent care but her situation might be triaged into a non-urgent category. She spent a lot of the vacation feeling pretty miserable. to top it off, her sodium bottomed out when she got back home and she had to spend several days in the hospital in dire condition. (She’s since recovered!)
7.  Bring along a neck pillow for the long plane ride. They helped tremendously. A couple of times I had to sit on mine because the seat was so uncomfortable! And bring snacks lol. (pillow link below).
8.  We decided to take a direct flight from Chicago to London. However I would personally recommend having a layover to break up the flight time a little bit and to save money and because airports are neat places to people watch and soak up the culture of the area! Also, we preferred the long day flight over the long overnight flight. 
9.  Travel as lightly as possible because you do not want to be lugging huge suitcases from place to place. (Which I did since I brought a lot of my own food due to allergies.)  Rick Steves claims he only travels with his carry-on backpack- the largest he can possibly have legally as a carry-on. And we all wish we had heeded his advice.  Also, his shows on PBS and his books are ridiculously helpful! (link below).
10.  Bring an umbrella, rain gear, and waterproof shoes. You will need them!
11.  Bring clothesline rope and clothespins or clips to hang clothes after you wash them -none of the rentals had dryers.
12.  As soon as you are able, get currency out of an ATM with your bank card. This was especially helpful in Ireland, as some taxis only accepted Euro.  It’s also incredibly helpful to have cash for smaller purchases and for tipping.
13.  Have someone in charge of the major details. For our group this was Ilene, a travel savant we nicknamed the Sherpa guide who planned most of the itinerary, most of the modes of transportation, made sure we all had our passports, meds, vaccination cards, neck pillows, etc.  She made sure we registered for our flights ahead of time and scheduled us for Covid testing- all the necessary nuisances. Everyone needs an Ilene in their family! 
14.  It’s a good idea to research some of the history of the countries you’re visiting before you go. We heard humorous, but sarcastic remarks from Irish citizens about invasions (Ireland has been invaded and occupied 9 times over the centuries) and the strong dislike of Great Britain all throughout our trip to Ireland.  I later did some research and learned things I had never heard before, but would’ve been helpful to know ahead of time. The Great Famine, Queen Victoria, Brexit, Northern Ireland, the European Union, etc. – all complicated things to absorb, but important to familiarize yourselves with, as they are sensitive topics- but commonplace discussions. 
15.  Try to pre-purchase as many tickets to sites as possible. Due to Covid, many places were still requiring this and we found ourselves scrambling to get on Wi-Fi at the last second to purchase entrance tickets. On a funny sidenote, at the Guinness Storehouse, we couldn’t get on the Wi-Fi to purchase tickets so our Irish cousin was able to sweet-talk one of the employees into letting us up to the front desk to buy tickets because we were Americans from Kansas and we didn’t know what we were doing. It worked. lol. And, by the way, all Europeans know Kansas, but not many seem to know what or where the heck Missouri is! (Thanks Dorothy and Toto!)
16.  We were able to ask locals for advice, tips, and help as needed and most were quick to offer assistance. We noticed in London especially, there wasn’t a lot of eye contact or interaction; however, when we attempted to engage people most were warm, helpful and friendly.
17.  Electric tea kettles were in all the rentals we stayed in and came in handy for a cheap meal of boiled eggs. Also we really enjoyed having tea together using the kettle. It oxygenates and boils the water just right.  If tea is not provided be sure to buy some. Ireland’s most common black tea is Barry’s and it’s so good!  And everyone uses French Presses for coffee which makes it extra delicious! (kettle link below).
18.  Look for an Airbnb or place to stay that’s close to a store. We found ourselves needing things nearly daily.
19.  Renting an automatic car in the U.S. is common; however, most Europeans can drive a stick shift and manual cars are much cheaper to rent. It cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars to rent an automatic ‘midsize’ SUV (which was small to us) for just three days; however, if we hadn’t we wouldn’t have been able to locate our Irish ancestors homestead or see the quaint little towns in the middle of Ireland!
20.  Take lots of pics and try to include your family in as many as possible. Those will be more meaningful than the ones of just the sites. You can delete the bad ones later.
21. And, lastly, be ready to have your life enriched, your soul nourished, and your mind blown!  Traveling will do that to you if you let it…

 

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Electrical Adapter for Europe
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GI Brides Book
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Map of Ireland
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Rain Jacket for Travel
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Rick Stevens Great Britain
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Scrapbook Refill Pages
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Tea Kettle Electric Mueller
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Travel Backpack Carryon
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Travel Diary
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Travel Neck Pillow
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Walkers Shortbread Cookies
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