2016 Vacation Anticipation – Aran Island of Inisheer (Inis Oírr)

AranIslands

Easily visible from large swaths of coastal Galway and Clare Counties, the Aran Is­lands sing their own siren song to thousands of travelers each year who find their deso­late beauty beguiling. Day-trippers shuttle through in a daze of rocky magnificence (that will be us! ) while those who stay longer find places that, in many ways, seem further removed from the Irish mainland than a 45-minute ferry ride or 10-minute flight. Hardy travelers find that low season showcases the islands at their wild, windswept best (that would be fun some time!).

AranIslands_Inisheer Wildflowers.JPG

An extension of the limestone escarpment that forms the Burren in Clare, the islands have shallow topsoil scattered with wild­flowers, grass for grazing and jagged cliffs pounded by surf. Ancient forts such as Dún Aengus on Inishmór and Dún Chonchúir on Inishmaan are some of the oldest archaeo­logical remains in Ireland. A web of stone walls (1600km in all) runs across all three islands. They also have a smattering of early clocháns (drystone bee­hive huts from the early Christian period), resembling stone igloos.

AranIslands_Inisheer Churrachs

Currachs

It is thought that people came to the is­lands to farm, a major challenge given the rocky terrain. Early islanders augmented their soil by hauling seaweed and sand up from the shore. People also fished the sur­rounding waters on long currachs (rowing boats made of a framework of laths covered with tarred canvas), which remain a symbol of the Aran Islands.

AranIslands_Inisheer Ruins

O’Flaherty Castle

Christianity reached the islands remarkably early, and some of the oldest monastic settle­ments were founded by St Enda (Éanna) in the 5th century. Enda appears to have been an Irish chief who converted to Christianity and spent some time studying in Rome be­fore seeking out a suitably remote spot for his monastery. From the 14th century, control of the islands was disputed by two Gaelic families, the O’Briens and the O’Flahertys (my ancestors?!). The Eng­lish took over during the reign of Elizabeth I, and in Cromwell’s times a garrison was sta­tioned here.

AranIslands_Crios

Traditional Crios Belt

As Galway’s importance waned, so did that of the islands, and their isolation meant islanders maintained a traditional lifestyle well into the 20th century. Up to the 1930s, people wore traditional Aran dress: bright red skirts and black shawls for women, baggy woollen trousers and waistcoats with crios (colourful belts) for men. The classic heavy cream-coloured Aran sweater, featur­ing complex patterns, originated and is still hand-knitted on the islands.

AranIslands_Inisheer st. caomhan's church

St. Caomhan’s Cchurch

Inisheer (Inis Oírr, ‘Eastern Island’; pop 200), the smallest island, is easily reached from Gal­way year-round and from Doolin in the sum­mer months (we’ll make a day trip from the latter). It  has a palpable sense of enchant­ment, enhanced by the island’s deep-rooted mythology, its devotion to traditional cul­ture and ethereal landscapes. With only six surnames among the locals, most given names are highly descriptive.  An old castle, ancient churches and a magical spring are just a few of the highlights of Inisheer. Wandering along its shores it’s easy to get the impression that you have the whole world to yourself. (Perfect for vacation, no?!)

* Descriptions are from Lonely Planet and Rough Guide. Images from google images.

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Galway City, Ireland

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Cliffs of Moher & Doolin, County Clare, Ireland

 

2016 Vacation Anticipation – Cliffs of Moher & Doolin, County Clare, Ireland

Cliffs of Moher

Star of a million tourist brochures, the Cliffs of Moher (Aillte an Mothair, or Ailltreacha Mothair) are one of the most popular sights in Ireland, located 10km south of Doolin. The entirely vertical cliffs rise to a height of 203m, their edge falling away abruptly into the constantly churning sea. A series of heads, the dark limestone seems to march in a rigid formation that amazes, no matter how many times you look. The Aran Islands stand etched on the waters of Galway Bay.

Such appeal comes at a price: mobs. This is check-off tourism big time and busloads come and go constantly in summer. Best to arrive outside of the hours of 11am to 3pm. (Sound fun?! This will be an early day adventure, for sure.) There are good rewards if you’re will­ing to walk for 10 minutes.(Can do!) There are over 600 meters of pathways and viewing platforms along the cliff edge that allow the visitor to enjoy a spectacular and healthy cliff walk. The amazing views of the Cliffs, the famous Aran Islands, Kerry mountains, Galway Bay, O’Briens Tower and the thousands of seabirds make the Cliffs a magical place. If you are lucky on your stroll you will hear and see the Cliffs Buskers playing traditional Irish music along the Cliff pathways. Talking telescopes are dotted along the paths as you go.

Obriens Tower

O’Brien’s Tower stands on a headland at the Cliffs of Moher commanding views south towards Hags Head and north towards Doolin. The tower was built in 1835 by local landlord Cornelius O’Brien as a viewing point for the tourists that even then were flocking to the Cliffs. On a clear day the view can extend as far as Loop Head at the southern tip of Clare and beyond to the mountains of Kerry. Look north and you might make out the Twelve Bens in Connemara (also known as the Twelve Pins) beyond Galway Bay. And unless visibility is very poor, you are almost sure to see the three Aran Islands to the west. The Aill Na Searrach wave view point is at O’Brien’s Tower – Aill Na Searrach is the place where the 40ft wave raises its head several times a year. Surfers can be seen surfing the wave from this point.

Hags Head Arch

Forming the southern end of the Cliffs of Moher, Hag’s Head is a dramatic place from which to view the cliffs. There’s a huge sea arch at the tip of Hag’s Head and another arch visible to the north. The old signal tower on the head was erected in case Napoleon tried to attack on the western coast of Ireland. A spectacular walking trail links the head with the cliffs and Liscannor.

The human story and history of the Cliffs of Moher dates back at least two thousand years as the name derives from a 1st Century BC fort that stood where Moher Tower now stands. The old Irish word “Mothar” means ruined fort and it is this that gives the cliffs their name.

Puffins.

The Cliffs of Moher are home to one of the major colonies of cliff nesting seabirds in Ireland. The area was designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) for Birds under the EU Birds Directive in 1986 and as a Refuge for Fauna in 1988. Included within the designated site are the cliffs, the cliff-top maritime grassland and heath, and a 200 metre zone of open water, directly in front of the cliffs to protect part of the birds’ feeding area. There are 20 species of nesting birds, including 9 species of breeding seabirds, and up to 30,000 breeding pairs. Seabirds such as Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Choughs and Kittiwakes can be seen. (Oh, it would be fun to see a Puffin!)

doolin

We’ll visit from Doolin (Dubh Linn – The black pool; pop 250). Doolin lies on the south-western extremity of the Burren and is internationally renowned as a centre of live Irish music, played in its many hugely popular pubs – such as O’Connor’s (in Fisher Street on the way to the harbour), Fitzpatrick’s Bar in the Hotel Doolin and McGann’s and McDermott’s at the northern end. It’s an excellent base for exploring the Cliffs of Moher and a popular departure point for the Aran Islands. Given all its attributes, you might be sur­prised when you realise that Doolin as it’s known barely exists. Rather, you might be forgiven for exclaiming, ‘There’s no there here!’ For Doolin is really three infinitesimal­ly small neighbouring villages. Fisherstreet is right on the water, Doolin itself is about 1km east on the little River Aille, and Road­ford is another 1km east

* Descriptions are from Lonely Planet and Rough Guide. Images from google images.

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The Burren, Ireland

2016 Vacation Anticipation – The Burren

The BurrenThe Burren’s name derives from the Irish word boireann, meaning “stony place” – an apt description for this desolate plateau that occupies the county’s northwest. It’s rocky and windswept – a unique striated limestone landscape that was shaped beneath ancient seas, then forced high and dry by a great geological cataclysm. This is not the green Ireland of postcards. But there are wildflowers in spring, giving the 560-sq-km Burren brilliant, if ephem­eral, colour amid the arid beauty. Its northern and western edges hug the coast road between Ballyvaughanand Doolin, while, to the south and east, the rocks gently slope towards lush green fields. Formed mainly of fissured limestone pavement, pitted by occasional valleys hidden beneath ominous-looking cliffs, the Burren is a thoroughly otherworldly place with barely a sign of life. The starkness of the landscape, crisp white in sunlight, deep grey-brown in rainfall, has a primeval allure and remains utterly fascinating. Few now live within its bounds, but many endured this harsh environment in the past, leaving relics of their inhabitation. Ancient burial practices are reflected in the abundance of Stone Age monuments, while later, Iron Age people built ring forts and circular stone dwellings, many of which remain well preserved.

The Burren-Dolmen

History

Despite its apparent harshness, the Burren supported quite large numbers of people in ancient times, and has more than 2500 historic sites. Chief among them is the 5000-year-old Poulnabrone Dolmen, part of a Neolithic/Bronze Age tomb, and one of Ire­land’s iconic ancient monuments. Around 70 such tombs are in evidence today. Many are wedge-shaped graves, stone boxes tapering both in height and width, and about the size of a large double bed. The dead were placed inside, and the whole structure covered in earth and stones. Gleninsheen, south of Aillwee Caves, is a good example. Ring forts dot the Burren in prodigious numbers. There are almost 500, including Iron Age stone forts such as Cahercommaun near Carron.

The Burren strata

Rock Legends

The geology of the Burren (Boireann is the Irish term for ‘rocky country’) is the result of immense drama and excitement in ancient times that produced the moonlike landscape we see today. Follow the deep rivulets in the stone and you’ll see that the barren Aran Islands just offshore are all part of the same formations. Massive shifts in the earth’s crust some 270 million years ago buckled the edges of Europe and forced the former seabed here above sea level. At the same time the stone sheets were bent and fractured to form the long, deep cracks so characteristic of the Burren today. During numerous ice ages, glaciers scoured the hills, rounding the edges and some­times polishing the rock to a shiny finish, and dumping a thin layer of rock and soil in the cracks. Huge boulders were carried by the ice, incongruous aliens on a sea of flat rock.

 The Burren-rose

Flora & Fauna

Soil may be scarce on the Burren, but the small amount that gathers in the cracks is well drained and rich in nutrients. This, together with the mild Atlantic climate, supports an extraordinary mix of Mediter­ranean, Arctic and alpine plants. Of Ireland’s native wildflowers, 75% are found here, in­cluding 24 species of beautiful orchids, the creamy-white burnet rose, the little starry flowers of mossy saxifrage and the magenta-coloured bloody cranesbill.The Burren is a stronghold of Ireland’s most elusive mammal, the rather shy and weasel-like pine marten. Badgers, foxes and even stoats are common throughout the region. Otters and seals haunt the shores around Bell Harbour, New Quay and Fina­varra Point.

 The Burren-walk

Activities

The Burren is a walker’s paradise. The bi­zarre, beautiful landscape, numerous trails and many ancient sites are best explored on foot. ‘Green roads’ are the old highways of the Burren, crossing hills and valleys to some of the remotest corners of the region. Many of these unpaved ways were built dur­ing the Famine as part of relief work, while some date back possibly thousands of years. They’re now used mostly by hikers and the occasional farmer. Some are signposted. The Burren Way is a 123km network of marked hiking routes throughout the region.

* Descriptions are from Lonely Planet and Rough Guide.

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Ballyvaughan, Ireland

2016 Vacation Anticipation – Ballyvaughan, Ireland

ballyvaughan

From Galway, we’ll head east and south. We’ll pass through Kinvarra, a popular honeypot town on the shores of Galway Bay. We’ll follow the N18 around the shores of Galway Bay, lined with native European Flat Oyster beds, and continue along the N67 towards the Burren which hugs the coast following the route of the Wild Atlantic Way. We might check out New Quay (Ceibh Nua), on the Finavarra Pe­ninsula, apparently a quiet and rather bucolic break from the rocky rigours of the Burren, and the Flaggy Shore, west of New Quay, a particularly fine stretch of coastline where limestone terraces step down to the sea, where we might wading birds and otters.

From Bellharbour there’s an excellent walk that begins behind St Patrick’s church and goes north along Abbey Hill. If you walk 1km down the Ballyvaughan road, look out for a large green farm shed on the right. Follow the path down to the shore to see seals and hundreds of birds. Doesn’t that sound delightful?

Ballyvaughan (population 260) was built in 1829 to assist the fishing industry. The harbour saw the village develop as a major trading centre and, not long afterwards, steamers began to ply between there and Galway, bringing visitors and establishing the tourist trade. It’s an eye-catching village, especially when the sun gleams on its predominantly white and cream houses, and is an ideal base for exploring the Burren. Roads south from Ballyvaughan lead to a wealth of ancient and some medieval sites. Something of a hub for the otherwise dis­persed charms of the Burren, Ballyvaughan (Baile Uí Bheacháin) sits between the hard land of the hills and a quiet leafy corner of Galway Bay. The Burren Smokehouse will tempt you with its smoked salmon and tantalizing range of local artisan gourmet foods.

Just west of the junction is the quay, built in 1829 at a time when boats traded with the Aran Islands and Galway, exporting grain and bacon and bringing in peat – a scarce com­modity in the windswept rocks of Burren. A few metres past the harbour, a signpost­ed track leads to a seashore bird shelter offering good views of the tidal shallows.  Ólólainn PUB (highly recommended in both Lonely Planet and Rough Guide travel guides) is tiny family-run place on the left as you head out to the pier, the place for a timeless moment or two in old-fashioned snugs. Count us in.:)

About 6km south of Ballyvaughan on the Lisdoonvarna road (N67) is a series of severe bends climbing up Corkscrew Hill. The road was built as part of a Great Fam­ine relief scheme in the 1840s. From the top there are spectacular views of the northern Burren and Galway Bay, with Aillwee Moun­tain and the caves on the right, Cappanawal­la Hill on the left, and the partially restored 16th-century Newtown Castle.

ballyvaughan2

* Descriptions are from Lonely Planet and Rough Guide.

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County Clare, Ireland

2016 Vacation Anticipation – County Clare Ireland

County ClarePoulnabrone Dolmen

Clare combines the stunning natural beauty of its long and meandering coastline with unique windswept landscapes and dollops of Irish culture. Rugged nature and the timeless ocean meet on the coun­ty’s coast. The Atlantic relentlessly pounds year-round, erod­ing the rocks into fantastic landscapes, and forming sheer cliffs like those at the iconic Cliffs of Moher and strange little islands like those near Loop Head. There are even stretches of beach where surfers flock to the (chilly) waves. The Burren, an ancient region of tortured stone and alien vistas, stretches down to the coast and right out to the Aran Islands. But if the land is hard, Clare’s soul is not: traditional Irish culture and music flourish. And it’s not just a show for tourists, either. In little villages such as Miltown Mal­bay, Ennistymon, Doolin and Kilfenora you’ll find pubs with year-round sessions of trad music.

Clare-Naughtons

Best Places to Eat

  • Buttermarket Cafe (Kilrush)
  • Linnane’s Lobster Bar (New Quay, near Ballyvaughn)
  • Naughton’s Bar (Kilkee)
  • Vaughan’s Anchor Inn (Liscannor, between Cliffs of Moher & Lahinch)

trad music doolin

FINDING TRADITIONAL MUSIC IN COUNTY CLARE

From atmospheric small pubs in tiny villages where non-instrument-playing patrons are a minority, to rollicking urban boozers in Ennis, Clare is one of Ireland’s best counties for traditional music. Eschewing any modern influences from rock or even polkas (as is heard elsewhere), Clare’s musicians stick resolutely to the jigs and reels of old, often with little vocal accompaniment. Although you can find pubs with trad sessions at least one night a week in almost every town and village, the following are our picks for where to start:

  • Doolin A much-hyped collection of pubs with nightly trad music sessions. However, tourist crowds can erase any sense of intimacy or even enjoyment.
  • Ennis You can bounce from one music-filled pub to another on most nights, especially in the summer. Musicians from around the county come here to show off and there are good venues for serious trad pursuits.
  • Ennistymon A low-key farming village inland from Doolin with a couple of ancient pubs that attract top local talent.
  • Kilfenora Small village with a big musical heritage at Vaughan’s pub.
  • Miltown Malbay This tiny village hosts the annual Willie Clancy Summer School, one of Ireland’s best music festivals. The talented locals can be heard performing throughout the year in several old pubs.

st tola cheese

TOP FIVE CHEESES

  1. Ardrahan – From Kanturk, Co. Cork, with powerful, complex flavours of milk and mustard.
  2. Desmond – Piquant, long-matured, Swiss-style cheese from Co. Cork; also Gabriel, a hard, aromatic and full-bodied Gruyère-like cheese from the same makers.
  3. Durrus – Semi-soft, washed-rind, raw milk cheese from west Cork.
  4. Kilshanny – Type of Gouda, sweet, hard and milky, made in Lahinch, Co. Clare; sometimes flavoured with garlic, cumin or nettles.
  5. St Tola – Fine range of goat’s cheeses from Inagh, Co. Clare.

Champ.JPG

TRADITIONAL DISHES

  • Bacon and cabbage – Shoulder of pork boiled with cabbage.
  • Boxty – Potato pancakes.
  • Carrageen – Edible seaweed, used for a blancmange-like dessert.
  • Champ – Northern Irish version of colcannon, with spring onions.
  • Colcannon – Mashed potato mixed with cabbage and often leeks.
  • Crubeen – Boiled pig’s trotters.
  • Drisheen – Sausage of sheep & beef blood with oatmeal & pepper.
  • Fadge – Northern fried potato bread. Soda bread baked with bicarbonate of soda, buttermilk and flour.

* Descriptions are from Lonely Planet and Rough Guide.

 

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Galway City, Ireland

2016 Vacation Anticipation – Galway City

Galway City

Arty, bohemian Galway is re­nowned for its pleasures. Brightly painted pubs heave with live music, while cafes offer front-row seats for observing street performers, weekend parties run amuck, lovers en­twined and more. Steeped in history, the city nonetheless has a contemporary vibe. Students make up a quarter of its population, and remnants of the medieval town walls lie between shops selling Aran sweaters, handcrafted Claddagh rings and stacks of second-hand and new books. Bridges arch over the salmon-filled River Corrib, and a long promenade leads to the seaside suburb of Salthill, on Galway Bay, the source of the area’s famous oysters. Galway is often referred to as the ‘most Irish’ of Ireland’s cities: it’s the only one where you’re likely to hear Irish spoken in the streets, shops and pubs. Even as it careens into the modern age, it still respects the fabric of its past.

Gothic features, are the best places to get a feel for the medieval city. As the capital of the Gaelic West, Galway draws young people to study at the National University of Ireland at Galway and the Institute of Technology. In the summer holidays, however, its bohemian diversity becomes more overt, as hundreds of English-language students renew the city’s traditional maritime links with the Continent, while dozens of buskers from all over the world sing for their supper. This cosmopolitan atmosphere is reinforced by the setting: Galway is the only coastal city in Ireland that really seems to open up to the sea, and its docks sit cheek by jowl with the compact city centre, as you’re constantly reminded by salty breezes and seagulls. The jewel in the city’s crown, the long, pedestrianized main drag of William, Shop, High and Quay streets, becomes a boisterous, Mediterranean-style promenade during summer, lined with pub and restaurant tables. At its lower, western end, the street narrows to its original medieval dimensions, then flows into Galway Bay along with the thundering River Corrib, providing faraway views of the Burren hills of County Clare.

History

Galway’s Irish name, Gaillimh, originates from the Irish word gaill, meaning ‘outsid­ers’ or ‘foreigners’, and the term resonates throughout the city’s history. From humble beginnings as the tiny fish­ing village Claddagh at the mouth of the River Corrib, it grew into an important town when the Anglo-Normans, under Richard de Burgo (also spelled de Burgh or Burke), captured territory from the local O’Flahertys in 1232. Its fortified walls were built from around 1270. In 1396 Richard II granted a charter transferring power from the de Burgos to 14 merchant families or ‘tribes’ – hence Gal­way’s enduring nickname: City of the Tribes. (Each of the city’s roundabouts is named for one of the tribes.) Galway maintained its independent sta­tus under the ruling merchant families, who were mostly loyal to the English Crown. Its coastal location encouraged a huge trade in wine, spices, fish and salt with Portugal and Spain. Its support of the Crown, however, led to its downfall; the city was besieged by Cromwell in 1651 and fell the following year. Trade with Spain declined and Galway stag­nated for centuries. The early 1900s saw Galway’s revival as tourists returned to the city and student numbers grew. In 1934 the cobbled streets and thatched cabins of Claddagh were tarred and flattened to make way for mod­ern, hygienic buildings, and construction has boomed since. Galway is now the fourth-largest city in the Republic.

SIGHTS TO SEE

Spanish Arch Galway

Spanish Arch – Framing the river east of Wolfe Tone Bridge, the Spanish Arch is thought to be an exten­sion of Galway’s medieval walls. The arch appears to have been designed as a passage­way through which ships entered the city to unload goods, such as wine and brandy from Spain. Today it reverberates to the beat of bongo drums, and the lawns and riverside form a gathering place for locals and visitors on any sunny day.

Hall of the Red Earl – Back in the 13th century when the de Burgo fam­ily ran the show in Galway, Richard – the Red Earl – had a large hall built as a seat of power. Here locals would come looking for favours or to do a little grovelling as a sign of future fealty. After the 14 tribes took over, the hall fell into ruin and was lost. Lost, that is, until 1997 when expansion of the city’s Cus­tom House uncovered its foundations. The Custom House was built on stilts overhead, leaving the old foundations open.

Eyre Square – It’s a welcome open green space with sculptures and path­ways. Its lawns are formally named Kennedy Park in commemoration of JFK’s visit to Gal­way, though you’ll never hear locals refer to it as anything but Eyre Sq. The square’s fourteen fluttering flags each represent one of the Tribes of Galway.

Lynch’s Castle – Strolling down William Street and Shop Street from Eyre Square, you’ll come upon Lynch’s Castle, home of the city’s leading family of the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries, who provided no fewer than 84 mayors of Galway – it’s now a branch of the Allied Irish Bank.

Salmon Weir – Upstream from Salmon Weir Bridge, which crosses the River Corrib just east of Galway Cathedral, the river cascades down the great weir, one of its final descents before reach­ing Galway Bay. The weir controls the water levels above it, and when the salmon are running you can often see shoals of them waiting in the clear waters before rushing upriver to spawn.

Fishery Tower – Wolfe Tone Bridge • Mon–Sat 10am–3pm • Free • T091 564646 One of Galway’s most delightful landmark buildings, the unique Fishery Tower was built in 1852 as a draught netting station. It was used as a lookout point to monitor fish stocks coming up the Corrib River and to spot any illegal fishing.

Collegiate Church of St Nicholas of Myra – Ireland’s largest medieval parish church still in use. Dating from 1320, it has been rebuilt and enlarged over the centu­ries, though much of the original form has been retained. Christopher Columbus reputedly wor­shipped here in 1477.

Galway Cathedral – Lording over the River Corrib, imposing Galway Cathedral was ded­icated by the late Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston in 1965. The cathedral’s unwieldy full name is the Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St Nicholas.Its high, curved arches and central dome have a simple, solid elegance even if the greater whole feels rather sterile.

galway cathedral.JPG

* Descriptions are from Lonely Planet and Rough Guide.

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2016 Vacation Anticipation – Cantabrias, Spain

Cantabrias

The small northern regions of Cantabria and Asturias are a delightful discovery. Green valleys stretch down from snow-topped peaks to beautiful beaches. Locals drink cider and eat fantastic seafood and cheese, and the region’s fascinating history begins with some of the world’s most outstanding cave art.

Spectacular Peaks – Rising majestically only 15km inland, the Picos de Europa mark the greatest, most dramatic heights of the Cordillera Cantábrica, with enough awe-inspiring mountainscapes to make them arguably the finest hill-walking country in Spain. You can ramble past high-level lakes, peer over kilometre-high precipices or traverse the magnificent Garganta del Cares gorge (p494).

Glorious Beaches – Wild, rugged and unspoilt, the hundreds of secluded sandy stretches and mysterious coves that line the 550km-long Cantabrian and Asturian coast are some of Spain’s most beautiful and breathtaking beaches, and when the waves are up, the region’s surf scene comes alive.

Ancient Cave Art – Humanity’s first accomplished art was painted, drawn and engraved on the walls of European caves by Stone Age hunter-gatherers between about 39,000 and 10,000 BC, and reached some of its greatest artistic genius at the World Heritage–listed caves of Altamira (p468), El Castillo (p462) and Covalanas (p464) in Cantabria.

PICTURESQUE TOWNS ALONG THE COAST  

Santillana del Mar – They say this is the town of the three lies, since it is not santi (holy), llana (flat) or del mar (by the sea)! This medieval jewel is in such a perfect state of preservation, with its bright cobbled streets and tanned stone and brick buildings huddling in a muddle of centuries of history, that it seems too good to be true. Surely it’s a film set! Well, no. People still live here, passing their precious houses down from generation to generation. Strict town planning rules were intro­duced back in 1575, and today they include the stipulation that only residents or guests in hotels with garages may bring vehicles into the old heart of town.

Comillas – Sixteen kilometres west from Santillana through verdant countryside, Comillas has a lovely golden beach and a tiny fishing port, but there is more: a pleasant, cobbled old centre, and hilltops crowned by some of the most original buildings in Cantab­ria.

San Vicente de la Barquera – The last town on the Cantabrian coast be­fore you enter Asturias, San Vicente de la Barquera sits handsomely on a point of land between two long inlets, backed by dramatic Picos de Europa mountainscapes. The east­ern inlet, the estuary of the Río Escudo, is spanned by the low-slung, 15th-century Puente de la Maza. San Vicente was one of the Cuatro Villas de la Costa, a federation of four dominant medieval ports that was converted into the province of Cantabria in 1779 (along with Santander, Laredo and Cas­tro Urdiales). The long beaches east of town make San Vicente quite a busy summer spot. (photo below)

Santa B

* Descriptions are taken from Lonely Planet.

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2016 Vacation Anticipation – San Sebastian, Spain

San SebastianVacation anticipation is setting in. Thinking about the deliciousness of San Sebastián, Spain, first stop on our 2016 adventure.

OVERVIEW

It’s said that nothing is impossible. This is wrong. It’s impossible to lay eyes on San Sebastián (Basque: Donostia) and not fall madly in love. This stunning city is cool, svelte and flirtatious by night, charming and well mannered by day. It’s a city that loves to indulge, and with Michelin stars apparently falling from the heavens onto its restaurants and a pintxo culture almost unmatched anywhere else in Spain, San Sebastián fre­quently tops lists of the world’s best places to eat.

But just as good as the food is the sum­mer fun in the sun. For its setting, form and attitude, Playa de la Concha is the equal of any city beach in Europe. Then there’s Playa de Gros (also known as Playa de la Zurriola), with its surfers and sultry beach-goers. As the sun falls on another sweltering sum­mer’s day, you’ll sit back with a drink and an artistic pintxo and realise that, yes, you too are in love with San Sebastián.

San Sebastián has four main centres of action. The lively Parte Vieja (old town) lies across the neck of Monte Urgull, the bay’s eastern headland, and is where the most popular pintxo bars and many of the cheap lodgings are to be found. South of the Parte Vieja is the commercial and shopping dis­trict, the Centro Romántico, its handsome grid of late-19th-century buildings extend­ing from behind Playa de la Concha to the banks of Río Urumea. On the east side of the river is the district of Gros, a pleasant enclave that, with its relaxed ambience and the surfing beach of Playa de Gros, makes a cheerful alternative to the honeypots on the west side of the river. Right at the opposite, western end of the city is Playa de Ondarre­ta (essentially a continuation of Playa de la Concha), a very upmarket district known as a millionaires’ belt on account of its lavish holiday homes.

PinxtosPINTXO BARS HERE WE COME!

Just rolling the word pintxo around your tongue defines the essence of this cheerful, cheeky little slice of Basque cuisine. The perfect pintxo should have exquisite taste, texture and appearance and should be savoured in two elegant bites. The Basque version of a tapa, the pintxo transcends the commonplace by the sheer panache of its culinary campiness. In San Sebastián especially, Basque chefs have refined the pintxo to such an art form that many people would say that there’s simply no other city in Spain that can beat it.

Many pintxos are bedded on small pieces of bread or on tiny half-baguettes, upon which towering creations are constructed and pinned in place by large toothpicks. Some bars specialise in seafood, with much use of marinated anchovies, prawns and strips of squid, all topped with anything from chopped crab to pâté. Others deal in pepper or mushroom del­icacies, or simply offer a mix of everything. And the choice isn’t normally limited to what’s on the bar top in front of you: many of the best pintxos are the hot ones you need to order. These are normally chalked up on a blackboard on the wall somewhere.

Locals tend to just eat one or two of the house specials at each bar before moving on somewhere else. When it comes to ordering, tell the bartender what you want first and never just help yourself to a pintxo off the counter!

* Descriptions are taken from Lonely Planet.

Into the spaciousness life flows

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I’ve been cultivating openness. The more I open, the more space I create. And the more space I create, the more abundantly delicious things flow in. Just today it’s been the positive energy of new ideas and co-creating with amazing leaders, creating a piece of art and writing a letter to a friend, and having the brisk north wind literally carry me back home on my afternoon run. And while the tender heart ache of a friend’s cancer diagnosis and a colleague unexpectedly looking for a new job don’t sound very delicious on the surface, the painful emotional turf reminds me that I am alive, that life simply unfolds and carries us.

It’s all about the people

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Jennifer Paylor and I met in the IBM Coaching Community of Practice some half dozen years ago. What a sweet day when we made our connection! So many amazing things have flowed from our shared aspirations and vision for what’s possible. We captured our vision in a coaching approach we call PALs to support IBM delivery teams, and it has spread through a volunteer corps of inspired leaders at all levels of the organization. The logo below is festive because we are celebrating one year since we kicked-off the first PALS training.

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As if that weren’t enough, Jennifer inspired us to go further. We also applied the concept to an app to help people engage with teammates and clients in ways that take relationships beyond delivery. Recently we were successful applying for a patent with another of our colleagues, Joseph Kozhaya, around the engagement system. We’re excited that IBM’s Watson might one day benefit the world by being a PAL, too!

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