Tullamore Dew Barrels, The Grand Canal, Tullamore Co Offaly Ireland

Tullamore Dew
The barrels are empty and the doors are closed – it’s a rainy afternoon in Tullamore, Co Offaly, Ireland.

It’s a small world, right?

We were at the Byron Bay Bluesfest (Back to the Roots) recently. On the Saturday, we walked into the Delta tent to hear the delightful celtic accent and the cheeky, cackling laughter of Irish Mythen, a singer-songwriter born and raised in County Wexford and now based in Canada’s tiny Prince Edward Island.

She was talking about her mother’s hometown of Tullamore in County Offaly in the middle of Ireland. I looked at my husband – yes, we’ve been there!

We were on our way to Dublin (The Guinness Storehouse), zig-zagging across the country from the Connemara (Glimpses of Galway), stopping at sites from the Michelin Guide that took my fancy along the way (Ireland).

On the day in question, we had spent the morning at the ruins of a centuries-old monastery (Clonmacnoise) and a lived-in castle (Birr Castle), and we were looking for the home of the world-famous Irish whiskey, Tullamore Dew, to round out the afternoon. Unfortunately, the distillery was closed – renovations or holidays; I can’t remember why – leaving us rather downcast.

Not as downcast as Mythen with her “Tullamore Blues”, mind you, but we did have to go back to the drawing board and the guide book! A quick check of the maps and the guide, and we pointed the car north again, driving to another maker of Irish whiskey, Locke’s Distillery in Kilbeggan, Co. Westmeath.

I’m sure it tasted just as good!

Locke

Locke’s Distillery Crystal
As well as producing world-class whiskey, Ireland is known for its crystal (eg.: Waterford). It is only fitting then that awards for excellence and commemorative glasses be made from local blown and carved lead glass.

Old Distillery Machinery, Kilbeggan Distillery, County Westmeath, Ireland

Old Distillery Machinery
The licence to distill whiskey here dates to 1757; the pot still distillery and machinery is over 250 years old. A self-guided tour takes visitors along heavy wooden walkways through the dark buildings and old machinery.

Steam Engine parts, Kilbeggan Distillery, County Westmeath, Ireland

Steam Engine
Power to the distillery used to come exclusively from an old water wheel; the steam engine was put into place in the 1880s for the occasions when water levels were too low, or the water wheel needed repair.

Old Distillery Machinery, Kilbeggan Distillery, County Westmeath, Ireland

Old Distillery Machinery

Drive Shaft, Kilbeggan Distillery, County Westmeath, Ireland

Drive Shaft
This old drive shaft turned all the machinery in the distillery. Until the 1880s when the steam engine was installed, the water wheel was its sole source of power.

Old Distillery Machinery, Kilbeggan Distillery, County Westmeath, Ireland

Old Distillery Machinery

The Surrounds of Kilbeggan Distillery, County Westmeath, Ireland

The Distillery Surrounds
Water – both as an ingredient, as a source of power- is essential to whiskey production. The Kilbeggan Distillery sits near the River Brosna and draws water from there.

Old Pot Still, Kilbeggan Distillery, County Westmeath, Ireland

Old Pot Still
Traditional Irish whiskey from Kilbeggan was made by the slow and costly single-pot still method.

Old Pot Still, Kilbeggan Distillery, County Westmeath, Ireland

Copper Pot Still
The copper stills were filled with barley mash and fires – originally fuelled by local turf, and later by imported coal – were lit underneath.

Old Pot Still, Kilbeggan Distillery, County Westmeath, Ireland

Copper Pot Still
Alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water, so with steady heat the alcohol condensed.

Outdoor view, Kilbeggan Distillery, County Westmeath, Ireland

Barrels
Although most Kilbeggan Whiskey is now produced at the Cooley Distillery in County Louth, there were plenty of barrels on site here.

 Old Wooden Staircase, Kilbeggan Distillery, County Westmeath, Ireland

Customs and Excise “Office”
By Irish law, every distillery must have a permanent “office” for when the Revenue Officer choses to visit.

Brewery workers outside old, dark buildings, , Kilbeggan Distillery, County Westmeath, Ireland

From the Inside
New buildings are set back from the old originals; workers are scattered around the site.

New Distillery Machinery, Kilbeggan Distillery, County Westmeath, Ireland

New Distillery Machinery
Cooley bought Kilbeggan and the associated brands in 1988 and installed a new copper pot still in 2007 to mark the 250th anniversary of the Old Kilbeggan Distillery.

Kilbeggan Casks, Kilbeggan Distillery, County Westmeath, Ireland

Kilbeggan Casks
All Irish whiskey must mature for a minimum of 3 years and 1 day, although many whiskies are much older. The oak casks are bought from US bourbon producers like Jack Daniels (A Shot of Jack).

Spirits Receiver Room, Kilbeggan Distillery, County Westmeath, Ireland

Spirits Receiver Room

Connemara Whiskey ad, Kilbeggan Distillery, County Westmeath, Ireland

The Gift Shop

Kilbeggan Delivery Van, Kilbeggan Distillery, County Westmeath, Ireland

Kilbeggan Delivery Van

Police Officer on a Kilbeggan street, County Westmeath, Ireland

Police Officer
The police were outside on the road when we returned to our car with the samples we had bought. What a good thing we hadn’t participated in a “tasting” while still on site!

A man polishing pewter goblets, Mullingar Bronze and Pewter, Co. Westmeath, Ireland

Polishing Pewter
If you are going to drink Irish whiskey, perhaps you need a traditional utensil to put it in: the next morning we continued north to Mullingar to visit the Bronze and Pewter Works.

Polished Pewter Goblets, Mullingar Bronze and Pewter, Co. Westmeath, Ireland

Polished Pewter Goblets

A man polishing pewter goblets, Mullingar Bronze and Pewter, Co. Westmeath, Ireland

Polishing Pewter
The pile of shavings left behind shows how much of the pewter gets wasted; I’m not sure if it can be re-used.

Packing Pewter

Packing Pewter
Paddy Collins revived the traditional craft of pewter making here in 1974, and his son Peter now runs the business. They ship product all over the world, keeping the small staff busy.

Polished Pewter Cups, Mullingar Bronze and Pewter, Co. Westmeath, Ireland

Traditional Celtic Design
The old designs and old methods are used – although modern pewter is entirely lead-free.

text: slainte - good health

Naturally we had to pick up a few pewter pieces to go with our Irish whiskey…

That will chase the blues away! 😉

Sláinte!

To your very good health!

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Photos:  04-05July2012

Waterfall on the Little Duck River, Old Stone Fort, TN

Falls on the Little Duck River
The prehistoric Native-American ceremonial mound site in Manchester Tennessee, erroneously called “Old Stone Fort” by early European settlers, is almost completely surrounded by beautiful waterways – which probably contributed to its selection as a sacred site. (18May2015)

Tennessee is in the middle of “The South”; Middle Tennessee is – as you’d expect – in the middle of the state; and the area south of Nashville is – more or less – “the middle” of the middle.

weathered wooden barn, Middle Tennessee

Middle Tennessee Barn
Whether the barns are weathered and worn …
Rutherford County  (14June2013)

Red painted wooden barn, Middle Tennessee

Northfork Barn
… or trim and freshly painted, they are beautifully shaped.
Bedford County  (14June2013)

Middle Tennessee is known for its farms, beautiful horses, rolling green landscape, and bluegrass-country music. Although it is defined by the serpentine curves of the Tennessee River, it is its tributary, the Duck River that we see daily when we visit. We have family that was transplanted – many years ago- to Bedford County, just south of Nashville, so we usually include a paddle on a portion of the 457 km long Duck in our stay.

Paddling on the Duck River Never let it be said that Southerners don

Paddling on the Duck River
Never let it be said that Southerners don’t have a sense of humour: when we go canoeing, our grandson wears a tee shirt with “Paddle faster! I hear banjos.” written on the back. The movie Deliverance was actually filmed in northeastern Georgia, but the countryside is similar.
iPhone6+Snapseed (16May2015)

Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) in grass, Tennessee

Eastern Gray Squirrel – Sciurus Carolinensis
The expansive housing estates, with their large properties surrounded by trees, make for plenty of back-yard wildlife. (19May2015)

Northern Cardinal Cardinalis , Tennessee

“Redbird”
The Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is a non-migratory year-round Tennessee resident. (21May2015)

House Finch and Golden Finch on a bird feeder, Tennessee

House Finch and Golden Finch
With the the right kind of seed, red house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) and American goldfinches (Spinus tristis) are easily attracted to backyard feeders. (21May2015)

I try to do something new and different on each visit, which is not hard because it is an area rich in natural beauty (see: Woods and Waterfalls). It is known for it’s southern country ways: huge cream magnolias and magnificent white colonial homes, fine horses and low-slung barns, “dry counties” and Tennessee bourbon (q.v.: A Shot of Jack).

Presidents have live there (see: A Mixed Legacy) and there are countless Civil War battlefields and graveyards in the immediate vicinity. The scars haven’t all healed, and the stories are still fresh in people’s collective consciousness.

One of the sites we visited on our most recent trip was the Carter House just outside of FranklinWilliamson County. A guided tour of this State Historic Site is more a story-telling history-lesson than house tour. Most of the house itself – built by Fountain Branch Carter in 1830 for his wife Polly and their twelve children (nine of whom reached adulthood) – is not actually open to visitors. Instead, the guide relates the story of the house and the family, before bringing Civil War history vividly to life as he narrates his account of the Battle of Franklin, one of the most costly defeats for the Confederate States Army.

Before daybreak, November 30, 1864, Union Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox co-opted the house and turned the parlour into his command centre. The Carter family, with their slaves and various neighbours, took refuge in the basement while the battle raged all around. The Carters’ middle son Tod, who had been serving as an aide to Confederate Brig. Gen. Thomas Benton Smith, was wounded in the battle. He was, however, rescued from the battlefields, and died, two days later, in his childhood home.

The Carter House, Franklin Tennessee

The Carter House
Deceptively small from the front, the double-story house with basement and various outbuildings, is actually quite large. Over a thousand bullet holes from the Battle of Franklin are still visible in the outer walls. (15May2015)

Carter House Kitchen, Franklin Tennessee

Carter House Kitchen

Civil War Gun - Carter House, Franklin Tennessee

Civil War Gun – Carter House – Franklin, Tennessee

The Sam Davis Home, built in 1810 in nearby Smyrna, Rutherford County, was the upper middle class home of the Davis family. Sam, the eldest child, was attending the Western Military Academy in Nashville when the Civil War started in 1861. By 1863, he was a “Coleman Scout”, a scout and courier for the Confederate Army.

On November 20, 1863, he was captured by the Federal Army with Union battle plans in his possession.  The conventions of war were that “scouts” wore army uniforms; a suspect who was seized while in disguise was designated a “spy” and could be executed. Sam Davis’ uniform was incomplete, and he refused to divulge who had given him the plans, reputedly saying: “If I had a thousand lives to live, I would give them all rather than betray a friend or my country.” So,  he was hanged on November 27, 1863 aged 21, to be remembered as the “Boy Hero of the Confederacy”. 

Classroom Memorabilia display: Sam Davis Museum, Tennessee

Classroom Memorabilia – Sam Davis Museum (20May2015)

Portrait: Guide Lee Lankford, Sam Davis House, Tennessee

Guide Lee Lankford
After we have watched the Audio-Visual story of Sam Davis and visited the museum, our guide escorts us into the house itself.

Dining-room with piano, Sam Davis House, Tennessee

Dining-Room : Parlour
The rooms are dark, but well-appointed.

Visitors on the front stairs, Sam Davis House, Tennessee

On the Stairs
Two sets of stairs lead to the upper story.

Porcelain Wash Stand, Sam Davis House, Tennessee

Wash Stand

Upstairs Girls

Upstairs Room
All the girls in the family shared a room –

Cotton knitting and tatting in a basket, Sam Davis House, Tennessee

Cotton Handiwork
– separated from their brothers’ room by Grandma.

Man

The Original Keys
Lee carries the large keys that open the house and outbuildings.

Kitchen, Sam Davis House, Tennessee

Kitchen

Musicians on the Porch of the Sam Davis House, Tennessee

Musicians on the Porch
Locals gather in the shade of the porch to fiddle bluegrass sounds.

The area is also rich with Native American history.

In Coffee County, there is a stunningly beautiful peninsula formed where the Little Duck and Big Duck rivers almost meet, then spread apart for a while, and then meet to become the Duck. During the Middle Woodland Period, some 1,500-2,000 years ago, Pre-Columbian Native Americans built a perimeter wall of stone and earthwork around a 50 acre (0.20 sq km) mound. Archaeological evidence suggests the walls were built in stages between 30-550 AD, and that the area was used continuously for about 500 years. By the time European settlers arrived in the area, the mound had been abandoned for many years and it’s purpose had been forgotten. The new arrivals assumed it was a fort, hence the name: Old Stone Fort. Now, however, it is believed to have been a sacred ceremonial gathering site. At the narrow neck between the two rivers, there are parallel mound walls which orient to within one degree of the summer solstice sunrise.

Over the past two thousand years, the walls have settled and rounded, and it is hard to imagine how the area once looked. But, the 2 km (1 1/4 mile) walk around the wall, through the green forest, with the waters far below the hill on all sides, is magical.

Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park Museum entrance, Tennessee

Museum
Nestled into the hillside, the Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park Museum gives insight into the construction of the ceremonial mound and into its re-excavation. (18May2015)

Stone Raptor Pipe, Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park, Tennessee

Stone Raptor Pipe
The artefacts in the museum are amazing for their detailed and beautiful design. The design of this pipe is very reminiscent of West Coast Native American art.

Adena Effigy Pipe, Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park, Tennessee

Adena Effigy Pipe
Tubular pipes were common in the Adena culture. This one is in the shape of a Indian man of the time.

Old man and young man on a park bench, Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park, Tennessee

In the 50 Acre Woods
Under the management of the Tennessee State Parks, the woods are surrounded by beautiful waters and criss-crossed with trails, making them attractive for days out.

Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene Carolina), Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park, Tennessee

Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene Carolina)
A box turtle tries to hide in the leaf little at the edge of the Little Duck River.

Big Falls on Duck River

Big Falls – Duck River
Rough paths lead down from the Wall Trail to the river’s edge…

Big Falls, Duck River, Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park, Tennessee

Big Falls – Duck River
… where each waterfall is more beautiful than the last.

We heard a lot of stories, learned a lot of history, and explored a lot of wonderful, green, countryside.

Text: Happy Rambles, Ursula :-)It left me looking forward to our next visit!

Till then

Happy Rambles!

Pictures: 14June2013 and 15-20May2015

Tourist junk in Bai Tu Long Bay, Vietnam

Bái Tử Long Bay
A Dragon’s Pearl junk at rest in Vườn Quốc Gia Bái Tử Long (Bai Tu Long National Park), North Vietnam.

<<Knock, knock, knock!>> “The cooking class is starting upstairs,” said one of the boat’s crew through a closed cabin door downstairs.

“I guess the optional cooking class is not so ‘optional’!” I whispered to my husband, laughing.

We were already standing in the dining room of our purpose-built traditional Chinese junk, waiting. I was keen to watch and participate in the preparation of our afternoon Vietnamese spring rolls. Plus, I’d forgotten how low temperatures can be in North Vietnam in February, and had no warm clothing in my bag, so I couldn’t stay outside on the upper deck admiring the foggy winter scenery.

We were cruising through the waters between the port city of Halong and protected Bai Tu Long Bay, after being picked up in Hanoi very early that morning (see: Yen Duc Rice Fields). I had visited Halong Bay on a two-day trip with my daughter some eight years before, and had always wanted to revisit with my husband.

The area, which includes over 1600 mostly uninhabited islands and islets, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994 for its spectacular seascape of limestone karst pillars and its biological interest. Although all activities in the region are under strict regulation to minimise environmental impacts, the increase in tourism along with ongoing marine transport, fisheries, and daily activities of the local people, create a continued tension and challenge.

The region has become increasingly popular and, as a consequence, crowded, so visitors are often steered to Lan Ha Bay, at the south end, or towards the adjoining Bai Tu Long Bay, just north – even though tour operators tend to refer to all of these as “Halong”.

View over Halong Bay from Bo Hon Island, Vietnam

Bồ Hòn Island
Bồ Hòn Island (Soap-Berry Tree Island) is part of a beautiful chain of islands on Hạ Long Bay. Famous for its view over the World Heritage site waters and for its magnificent caves, it was already a busy and popular stop for visitors eight years ago when I was there. According to local operators, the area is much more crowded today, with as many as 500 boats moored in Halong waters overnight. (Photo: 12January2008)

Tenders and boats on Hon Gai Harbour, Halong City Vietnam

Hon Gai International Harbour
That was then; this is now.
Our boat leaves from a completely different harbour, and I miss the hustle and bustle of the commercial docks I’d set off from in 2008 – and that I had already excitedly told my husband about. The afternoon haze bounces off the waters of this quieter harbour as we wait in drizzly winter weather for our tender to collect us.

Green matting leads down concrete steps to our Tender, Hon Gai International Harbour, Halong

Our Tender Awaits
Green matting is laid out to keep us from slipping as we make our way down the steep concrete steps to our tender.

Limestone Karst islets from a boat window, Bái Tử Long Bay Vietnam

Bái Tử Long Bay
Limestone karst islets pass by us as we settle into our cabin.

Fresh ingredients for spring rolls, dining room, Dragon

Ingredients for Spring Rolls
In the teak- and oak-lined dining-room, the fresh and colourful ingredients for the spring rolls we’ve been promised are set out and waiting.

A Vietnamese chef and a staff member, Dragon

Our Chef and Our Translator
Soon we are joined by the boat’s chef who talks us through the ingredients and process in making the filling for spring rolls.

Gloved hands cracking an egg into spring roll mix, Dragon

Breaking Eggs
Eggs help bind the filling mixture.

Gloved hand sprinkling fish sauce into spring roll mix, Dragon

Adding Flavour
A sprinkle of salt completes the ingredients.

Gloved hands Mixing Spring Rolls, Dragon

Mixing Spring Rolls
The filling is evenly mixed …

Gloved hands filling Spring Rolls, Dragon

Filling Spring Rolls
… before being spooned into the rice paper and rolled up into neat parcels.

A Vietnamese chef and a staff member, Dragon

Making Sauce
The chef mixes the dipping sauce before setting us to work filling and folding our own rolls.

A Vietnamese chef deep frying spring rolls, Dragon

Chef in the Galley
We follow the chef into the galley to watch as spring rolls are fried up…

Deep frying spring rolls, Dragon

Frying Spring Rolls
… for our afternoon snack.

Ship

Ship’s Helmsman and Mate
Up in the wheelhouse, the helmsman and mate are happy to take their eyes off the ‘road’ and flash smiles for the camera.

Lounges on the Boat Deck, Dragon

On the Boat Deck
Passengers brave the cold as our boat continues into the karst cliffs rising all around us.

Double kayak and tourist boats on Bái Tử Long Bay Vietnam

Boats on Bai Tu Long Bay
Our boat anchors, and we have the opportunity to climb into kayaks and paddle around Cap La Island.

Double kayaks and tourist boats on Bái Tử Long Bay Vietnam

Kayaking at Cap La Island
The paddling warms me up. I am shocked by how dirty the water is with rubbish and slime-slick; between that and the cold air- and water-temperatures, I am surprised that some of our companions choose to go swimming.

Sun Lowering on Bai Tu Long Bay, Vietnam

Sun Lowering on Bai Tu Long Bay
The sun lowers in the winter sky, the waters go quiet, …

Orange skies, Bai Tu Long Evening, Vietnam

Bai Tu Long Evening
… and the world goes still.

Lovebirds carved from turnips, Dragon

“Lovebirds”
Back in the dining room, the chef shows off his food-decorating skills: a pair of lovebirds carved from turnips wish us good luck and happiness. (iPhone6)

Cruising, cooking class, and kayaking: it was a full day, really.

Top it off with plenty of fresh, tasty food and good drink and company, and you have a satisfying feast.

Text: Safe Sailing

Dreaming of lovebirds and rocked by gentle waves, we drifted off to sleep…

‘Till next time,

Happy Sailing!

Pictures: 20February2016

Kim Churchill, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Kim Churchill
Australian folk, rock, and blues singer, songwriter, and musician Kim Churchill plays guitar, blues harp (harmonica), stomp box, drums, lapsteel and tambourine – sometimes all at once!

This year marked the 27th annual Byron Bay Bluesfest – that celebration of Blues and Roots music held every Easter in the sub-tropical Autumn on Australia’s East Coast.

I love it!

Now, I know I’ve said that before (Back to the Roots), but what else can you say about a collection of top-notch artists that ranges from acoustic solo performers and one-man bands through to big bands, and from street buskers to international big names?

Regardless of the size of the ensemble, we were treated to a long-weekend of fabulous music. Unlike performances in more formal venues, cameras are allowed: in the performance tents my cameras and I had reasonable (not great – oh, how I often wished for a press pass!) visual access to the musicians we were enjoying.

Join me for a glimpse of some of the people we were entertained by.

Kim Churchill, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Kim Churchill
Barefoot and down-to-earth, the Australian surf-enthusiast and one-man band Kim Churchill engaged easily with his audience, telling self-depreciating stories with gentle humour, and creating an entrancing sound described by one music critic as “psychedelic whale music, ocean-side blues …”

Grizzlee Train, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Grizzlee Train
Winners of the 2015 Byron Bluesfest Busking Competition, young Australian friends Brandon Dodd and Josh Dufficy have moved from the busking tent to sharing the stage with many big names in Australian blues and rock music, and backing Australian country singer-songwriter Kasey Chambers.

Eugene Hideaway Bridges, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges
Playing classic blues with undertones of soul, funk, rock and gospel, Bridges performed with the help of a small group of backing musicians.

Kasey Chambers, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Kasey Chambers
Unbilled performers and unexpected musical combinations are one of the great joys of music festivals. “Hideaway” Bridges was joined on stage by Australian country singer-songwriter Kasey Chambers.

Tedeschi Trucks Band, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Tedeschi Trucks Band
Bands don’t come much bigger than the bold, brassy, Grammy-Award-winning Tedeschi Trucks Band.

Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks
Susan Tedeschi, recognised for her original song-writing, her singing voice: a powerhouse blend of Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin, her blues-rock guitar playing, and her commanding stage presence, and husband Derek Trucks, formerly of The Allman Brothers Band, and called by Rolling Stone the 16th top (out of 100) guitarist of all time, are the drivers of this completely absorbing stage act.

The National, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

The National
It was a full-on lights, back-screen and sound experience: American indie rock band The National, from Cincinnati, Ohio, were a hit with the younger audience members.

Tweedy, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Tweedy
With a soft-rock sound that reminded me of early British pop, Tweedy is an American father and son rock band composed of Jeff Tweedy, from the group Wilco, and his son, Spencer.

Graham Nash, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Graham Nash
We older audience-members remember the early pop-tunes of the Hollies, and the later folk-rock songs from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

Graham Nash and Shane Fontayne, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Graham Nash and Shane Fontayne
Graham Nash was joined by English rock guitarist Mick Barakan “Shane Fontayne” to deliver old favourites and new releases.

Jackson Browne, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Jackson Browne
Another “old favourite”, Clyde Jackson Browne – American singer, songwriter and musician – performed his well-know songs, many of which were originally performed by other people, and newer songs from his recent studio album.

Jackson Browne, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Jackson Browne
An inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriter Hall of Fame, Jackson Browne has sold over 18 million copies of his 19 albums.

Melissa Etheridge, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Melissa Etheridge
Another house-hold name to those of us of a “certain age”, the Grammy-award-winning American rock singer-songwriter and guitarist Melissa Etheridge was in great form.

Melissa Etheridge, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Melissa Etheridge
Her powerful, well-crafted lyrics were carried effortlessly by her husky, ranging, voice.

St Paul and the Broken Bones, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

St Paul and the Broken Bones
The sleeper-success of the festival would have to have been the brassy, big-band soul-sounds of St Paul and the Broken Bones from Birmingham, Alabama.

Paul Janeway, St Paul and the Broken Bones,

Paul Janeway
St Paul and the Broken Bones’ vocalist Paul Janeway grew up in a strict religious household and trained to be a preacher before finding his voice in his own music.

Evening light over the Grounds of Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Night Falls over the Grounds
Getting caught up in music, it is easy to forget what time of day (or night) it is – but hunger brings me out regularly in search of the varied food on offer.

Rick Vito with Mick Fleetwood Blues Band, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Rick Vito with Mick Fleetwood Blues Band
They don’t get much bigger (or taller) than Michael John Kells “Mick” Fleetwood. I saw him in the mid-seventies with Fleetwood Mac, the British-American rock band he co-founded. The stage at Bluesfest was filled with his drum kit; I had to watch carefully to get glimpses of him through the cymbals.

Rick Vito, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Rick Vito
American guitarist and singer Rick Vito replaced Lindsey Buckingham as lead guitar in Fleetwood Mac from 1987.

Rick Vito, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Rick Vito
With a long history of playing with Bob Seger and numerous others, Vito had no problem commanding attention on the stage.

Mick Fleetwood, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Mick Fleetwood
Why do we get so excited by “famous people”? It was a buzz listening to Mick address the crowd while roadies re-arranged the drum kits on stage.

Mick Fleetwood Blues Band with Rick Vito, Byron Bay Bluesfest 2016

Mick Fleetwood Blues Band with Rick Vito
The second drum kit arrangement had a much more intimate and accessible feel – it was wonderful to watch the master at work.

Text: Let

And there was so much more …

… watch this space!

Whether its made by solo performers or big bands, by new kids or old hands, is there anything better than great music?

I think not.

Let’s dance!

Pictures: Photos: 24-27March2016

Garðskagi Lighthouse under a black, starry sky with a trace of green aurora, Iceland

Garðskagi Lighthouse
Garður, a small village on the Reykjanes Peninsula in southwest Iceland, is a popular day-time stop for bird-watchers and picnickers. At night, busloads of tourists arrive from nearby Reykjavík in the hope of seeing the Aurora Borealis.

When travelling in search of natural phenomena, luck is everything.

My husband and I visited Iceland last March for a three-day visit. We were already going to be in England during the northern winter, so when I saw the package “deals” to see the Northern Lights and to go Whale Watching on the North Atlantic, I couldn’t resist.

Of course, whales can be elusive creatures and the Aurora Borealis is not always visible – even in Iceland in winter. Even so, our tickets had to be booked well in advance, and we could only hope for favourable conditions.

As luck would have it, the Northern Lights were the best they had been in years the day before our arrival. The night we were booked to see them, the sky clouded over and it rained, meaning that all tours were cancelled.

On our last day in the country, we crossed our fingers extra-hard for good weather; for while our tour tickets would be honoured for months, our flights were not changeable, and we couldn’t just hang around!

Conditions were far from perfect, but we enjoyed an interesting – if rather long – day anyway. We walked down to Reykjavík Harbour mid-morning so we could see exactly where our whale-watching boat would leave from – and judge how much time we could spend at the nearby Saga Museum before our sailing.

Boat on the Reykjavík dry-Docks

Boat on the Docks
Old Reykjavík Harbour is an eclectic mix of relatively modern architecture and maritime heritage.

Wooden boat in Reykjavík dry-dock, Iceland

Boat in Drydock
The weathered boats offer up interesting colours and textures.

Running horse sculpture outside the Reykjavík Saga Museum, Iceland

The Saga Museum
A stunning sculpture of a running horse is installed outside the building on Reykjavík’s Old Harbour that has been the home of the Saga Museum since 2014. We are glad to get inside, out of the rain.

Mannequins display of Papar: The First Inhabitants, Saga Museum,

Papar: The First Inhabitants
Iceland’s first residents were papar or “fathers”, believed to be hermit Celtic monks, looking for uninhabited places to contemplate their Christian faith.
The Saga Museum features 17 displays of this type depicting key moments in Icelandic lore and history. The mannequins were very lifelike, and through the displays (some of which are quite gruesome), we learned more about Iceland’s past than we ever thought we’d need to know!

Mannequins display of Ingólfur Arnarson and Hallveig Fróðadóttir, Saga Museum

Ingólfur Arnarson and Hallveig Fróðadóttir
The Norse word saga (pl. sögur) means: “what is said, statement” or “story, tale, history”.
The received lore is that Iceland’s first permanent Norse settlers – arriving in 874 – were Ingólfur Arnarson and his wife Hallveig Fróðadóttir. Ingólfur had been forced to leave Norway after reputedly murdering his brother. His step brother, Hjörleifr Hróðmarsson, sailed with them to Iceland – but Hjörleifr was subsequently murdered by his own Irish slaves in retaliation for his mistreatment of them.
The other accepted legend is that when Iceland was first sighted, Ingólfur threw his high-seat pillars (a sign of his being a chieftain) overboard, and decreed that they would all settle wherever the gods chose for the pillars to wash ashore. The wooden pillars, carved with the family name and emblem, and with representations of the gods, were found in the bay which they named Reykjavík.
The stories in the Saga Museum are indeed sögur!

Mannequins display of Melkorka Mýrkjartansdóttir and Ólafur Pá r, Saga Museum, Reykjavík

Melkorka Mýrkjartansdóttir and Ólafur Pá
Many of the women in Iceland’s early days were of Celtic origin, captured and enslaved by the Viking men. According to legend, Melkorka Mýrkjartansdóttir, who was later found to be the daughter of an Irish king, was taken into slavery when she was fifteen and purchased by Höskuldur Dala-Kollsson.
Melkorka had a son, Ólafur Pá, of whom Höskuldur was very fond, and who grew up to be a good and generous person.

Mannequins display of Úlfljótur and his foster-brother Grímur Geitskór, Saga Museum, Reykjavík

Úlfljótur and Grímur Geitskór
Around 927 AD, the Icelandic chieftains decided to base their legal system on foreign prototypes. Úlfljótur, a farmer with legal experience, was sent to Norway to study their system of laws, while his foster brother, Grímur Geitskór toured Iceland in search of the most appropriate place for the new parliament. In 930, the Alþingi (Althing), or general assembly, met for the first time in what is now Thingvellir National Park.

Mannequins display of Þorbjörg lítilvölva the Little Prophetess, Saga Museum, Reykjavík

Þorbjörg lítilvölva: the Little Prophetess
The ancient Vikings, who believed in the old gods or Æsir, distinguished between völvur, or “seers”, who could predict the future, and witches or sorceresses, who sought to change it. Þorbjörg lítilvölva is described in detail in the Saga of Eric the Red.

Boats on the old Reykjavík Dock, Iceland

Boats on the Docks
After a delicious and uniquely Icelandic lunch at the café at the Saga Museum, we worked our way to the tourist boats…

Whale-watchers in red and yellow foul-weather suits, Reykjavík, Iceland

Whale Watchers
… where the tourists are already in their foul-weather suits.

The Docks Reykjavík, Iceland

The Docks
The whale-watching boats leave from the old Reykjavík docks, …

The Harbour, Reykjavík, Iceland

Reykjavík Harbour
… which have been refurbished for pleasure boats.

North Buoy Marker, Reykjavík, Iceland

North Buoy Marker
Our boat leaves harbour, and heads north …

Snow-capped mountains around the Greenland Sea, Iceland

The Greenland Sea
… into the Greenland Sea.

Northern Fulmar (Fulmars glacialis), Greenland Sea, Iceland

Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus Glacialis)
In the Greenland Sea, we come across seabirds, …

Watching for Whales Greenland Sea, Iceland

Watching for Whales
… while the guides keep a lookout for whales. They find some in the distance, and get excited, but – I don’t want to rain on their parade – we get them closer and clearer (and warmer) at home during the annual migrations.

Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus), Greenland Sea, Iceland

Northern Gannet (Morus Bassanus)
We find more sea birds…

), Greenland Sea, Iceland

Northern Gannet (Morus Bassanus)
… as they dive in and out of the waters and fly off.

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax Carbo), Greenland Sea, Iceland

Great Cormorants (Phalacrocorax Carbo)
A ‘gulp’ of cormorants are startled by our approach…

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax Carbo), Greenland Sea, Iceland

Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax Carbo)
… and fly off.

We don’t usually eat hot dogs, but we got off the whale-watching boat cold, hungry and a little disappointed at the lack of cetaceans. So, when we came across the little food-stall housing Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur” (“the best hot dog in town”), which we had heard was “the best hot dog stand in Europe”, we had to join the queue and try one of “Europe’s top 10 local flavours…”

We weren’t disappointed, and the snack fortified us for the long wait until our trip into the night later, in search of the Northern Lights.

Flösin Café and Garðskagi Folk Museum, Iceland

Flösin Café and Garðskagi Folk Museum
The night was almost pitch-black as we piled out of our parked busses and, like moths, head towards the only lights.

Garðskagi Folk Museum

Garðskagi Folk Museum
The small municipal museum in Garður prides itself on its collection of working Guðni Ingimundarson engines.

Flösin Café Bar at night, Garður Iceland

Flösin Café Bar
In view of the freezing-cold night air, we were more interested in getting hot drinks at the little bar upstairs…

Looking for the Northern Lights, Garður Iceland

Looking for the Lights
… before heading outdoors onto the balcony in search of lights. The Aurora Borealis was subtle: most of the time, it could only be seen through the camera lens. It was almost invisible to the naked eye.

Garðskagi Lighthouse with Northern Lights, Garður Iceland

Garðskagi Lighthouse
There two lighthouses at Garður; the only one lit against the night sky was the newer, taller (28.6 m) one – built in 1944.

Sun rise over Keflavik International Airport terminal, Iceland.

Keflavik International Airport
Morning came only a few hours later, and soon we were back at the airport, watching the sun rise over the terminal. (iPhone)

Sculpture: The Jet Nest by Magnús Tómasson Keflavik international Airport Iceland

The Jet Nest
In the cold morning light, we enjoyed another sculpture (see: Reykjavík): this one called The Jet Nest, by Magnús Tómasson. It shows a jet wing breaking out of an egg like a baby bird, and sits on a pile of  Icelandic volcanic rock. (iPhone)

Text: "The breeze of your movements still stirs the air though you have gone." Nína Tryggvadóttir , Keflavik Airport Iceland

“Breeze”
Nína Tryggvadóttir (1913 – 1968) was one of Iceland’s most important abstract expressionist artists. She farewells us with her poetic words at the airport…

“The breeze of your movements still stirs the air though you have gone.”

Text: Happy Travels

What a lovely thought – and especially fitting in a country where weather has a personality all its own.

Until next time –

Happy Travels!

Pictures: 19-20March2015

  • Kevin Dowie - April 28, 2016 - 12:22 pm

    Interesting to read your comments about the Aurora Borealis… “was subtle: most of the time, it could only be seen through the camera lens”.
    Read an interesting article recently which pointed out that most published aurora images are really misleading due to the greater light sensitivity of modern camera sensors compared to human vision.
    Combined with the tendency to over-process images to give a “pleasing” highly colour saturated result, means that people can feel a bit under-whelmed when they see the real thing.
    Thanks for sharing another of your adventures with us!ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - April 28, 2016 - 8:05 pm

      Hi Kevin,
      I’m always pleased to have your visits.
      The Aurora was, indeed, underwhelming until I noticed the back of someone’s camera, and so started taking and reviewing my own pictures.
      In light of your comments, I went back to Lightroom to check if I had added saturation at post-production; I adjusted exposure, contrast, and clarity – but added no more saturation than usual.
      Cheers, UrsulaReplyCancel