Where Have We Been?
Not on Views lately, but back for now.
Got home from Dublin, Ireland in May, this year. An anniversary trip set for 2020 came in 2022 instead. Pandemics happen. We had planned on Iceland, Norway and Northern Ireland in celebration of our 40th. We’d visit ancestral beginnings, plus beautiful scenery. Game of Thrones filming sites too. Nordic venues were refunded. Couldn’t get refunds for Northern Ireland; it got rolled over–twice.
We were frustrated, but never gave up. It’s a faith thing with us. Buddhists see obstacles in daily life as opportunities. As COVID waned, we made new plans. We dropped Iceland and Norway, but added the Republic of Ireland. Brendan Vacations filled out a trip with additional stops.
Posts have been few and far between this year, with a collection of short stories dragging on interminably. Mental fatigue often hampers my creative process. Must be karma; my doctor has no explanation (it’s NOT Alzheimer’s). Nichiren, the founder of our Buddhist philosophy, says be the master of your mind–not the other way around. Still working on that. Meanwhile, manuscripts were sent to beta readers before leaving on the trip.
One more problem came up in March; my PSA score went way up. Prostate cancer runs in my family. We drove to Tucson in April, 200 miles from our home in New Mexico. I saw a top urologist on my 75th birthday. Probably cancer he said. Take the trip, and get tests afterward was his advice. We stayed for dinner and a movie. The Lost City was hilarious—a mix of romcom with suspense. An odd birthday.
I got an MRI three days after getting back from Ireland. The scan suggested a high likelihood of cancer, but the tumor hadn’t spread anywhere. A biopsy comes July on Thursday the 7th. Will it confirm malignancy? If so, we expect more frequent driver miles to Tucson. If benign, not sure what’s next. We’re not worried–there’s our Buddhist practice to change this karma. Then there’s the advances in medicine since my father died in the 1950s and my brother’s prostate removal 24 years ago. He’s 92 now.
Enough of that; what about the trip?
We enjoyed our delayed anniversary trip without worries or thoughts about cancer. Smooth flying all the way. We were in Delta One class (international business) on the overnight flight to Dublin. The seats lie flat.
Ireland is a leafy land of green from north to south. Cities with plenty to see–more than what we could do in the ten days we had signed up for. Quaint villages with small shops painted in varied colors between one historic or special attractions or another. A very neat and clean country, with no littering in sight. We chose a tour package that included a chauffeur. More freedom without bus group constraints–PLUS a personal guide
We stayed in plush hotels, had memorable meals and superior service. The experiences were unlike any we had ever had before. We have had some wonderful vacations over the years—this one was the best!
Day one, jet lag and all, we went to University of Dublin’s Trinity College—home to the Book of Kells and 200,000 ancient books in a two-story library. For a modest fee you get entry and headphones keyed to the items on exhibit. We wandered about Dublin for a bit. The nearby St. Stephens Green is an urban park with a pond, walking trail and various birds. We walked Grafton Street—home to international shops (we didn’t go inside; too pricey). But do try the Brooks Hotel if you wish to stay in boutique luxury in center city.
Day two, it was off to Newgrange in County Meath. Stooping and sidewise at times, we walked through a narrow passage into a 5,200 year-old tomb. It’s corbeled stone roof still doesn’t leak after 5,000 years! While we were there, grass atop the Neolithic dome was being trimmed by a remotely controlled mower. The structure is 43,500 square feet. No photos are allowed within, but you can see some on the website. By design, dawn’s light illuminates the back wall sixty feet from the box above the entry—but only on the Winter Solstice.
Here’s what it looks like from the outside. Note the spirals cut in the stone. The wintry light comes in above the corbel, which is five feet from the ground–duck your head to enter.
We moved on, up the Antrim Coast, crossing the gateless border into Northern Ireland. We stopped at the Winterfell (Game of Thrones) archery range to nock and loose a few arrows at more modern targets. We arrived in time for dinner at the Titanic Hotel Belfast at the historic harbor that launched the doomed ship. We spent two nights at this convenient and modern hotel.
Day Three, after a buffet breakfast at the hotel, we toured the spectacularly modern Ulster Museum. Six floors of an eclectic collection ranging of art, natural history, and much more. Do check out the website; you might enjoy visiting. Our feet got tired doing just a part of it. The institution includes a café with hot and packaged food, coffee or tea, etc. It even has a willow version of the Game of Thrones dragons, shown below.
Back to the hotel, where a local guide joined us in a tour around town. We learned more from her about the politics of the city than anything else. After dropping off our guide, our driver had his own perspective that differed from the “expert.” Is it politics or religion that divides the city? Probably a combination of both. Sinn Fein won the 2022 parliamentary election. Remains to be seen how it goes with the UK’s Brexit protocol. The Republic of Ireland remains in the EU and many in the North would prefer that as well.
We finished the day with a self-guided audio tour of the Titanic. The nine-story building covers the design, building and launch of the ship with mockups of the first class cabins and much more. Like the barefoot children who were among the workers at the turn of the 20th century. Belfast was a major shipbuilding port from the late 1800s into the early 20th century.
Day four found us on more visits to Game of Thrones filming locations. The places are known for much more than the series. We stopped first at The Dark Hedges, which served as the Kings Road, along which Arya Stark escaped Kings Landing dressed as a boy. Yes, a cool and drizzly day while at the Dark Hedges.
In truth, the 17th century trees are a little disappointing today—perhaps a little less of them remain. Undoubtedly, the production process for television used replication and CGI to make it appear there were more of them and looking darker than they are. Still, if you’re a GOT fan, how could you not walk the road between them?
While in County Antrim, we detoured to Ballymoney. That’s where my seventh great-grandfather was born about 1688. A blacksmith there and in Maine as well when he emigrated about 1730. A tiny museum located within in Ballymoney’s town hall had nothing on my blacksmith ancestor. Still a pleasant place to stop with lots of brochures and information on other areas.
Next stop–the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We marveled at the unique cylindrical stone slabs of basalt, raised by long ago vulcanism. Northern Ireland delights in regaling visitors with the mostly mythical Finn McCool. He is credited, variously, with:
- Being a giant
- Putting down the slabs to make bridge to Scotland
- Throwing them in anger
- Challenging or being challenged by a fellow giant from Scotland
The well-equipped visitor center explains it all—both McCool and scientifically. You must pre-book your visit; you can do so online (our tour company did this for us). Included is a handheld audio device keyed to stops along a paved path to the slabs. Of course, you will find some nice gifts for sale there. A cafeteria serves packaged food as well. Note: the trail is wheelchair accessible; additionally those in need of such can be transported by small buses to the primary locations.
We managed the long walk unaided, shedding hats and warmer wear as the trek heated us up. If you visit, do step carefully on the stones. Slippery when wet applies–especially near the shore where a slip into the ocean could be quite hazardous.
From there, we backtracked to Ballintoy Harbor. There are ladders from water level that likely varies with the tide and provides tie-ups for boats. Around the corner from the narrow docking area is the rocky coastline that you might easily recognize as the Iron Islands from Game of Thrones. Did Theon Greyjoy get dunked in his baptismal ritual here? Maybe they used a greenscreen pool instead.
Despite air temperatures in the mid sixties, we watched a middle-aged man toweling off after a dip in an undoubtedly colder Atlantic in early May. We compared notes with a visitor from nearby, who needed a break from the available trails. Had we been up to it, which we weren’t, we had no time for a hike along an uneven rocky path in any case.
We had dinner and spent the night at the Salthouse, a three-year-old resort on the northern Atlantic shore in Ballycastle—a very fine new place. The only hotel we actually chose from Brendan’s thick brochure. All good for the occasion.
We will save the remaining days for another post. For now, let’s add some backstory.
We chatted with Irish locals and fellow tourists as well as we passed through exhibits, or paused to shop or take a break. People at ease are open to conversation about life—and sometimes Buddhism. Our driver gave us a history of Irish locales we passed through. In turn, we discussed our lives as Buddhists in America, including my cancer and other health issues.
With age comes various illnesses. I take Eliquis to prevent a stroke from AFIB. I am chanting to end that problem. I haven’t had an episode of irregular heartbeat in twelve months. Like my deceased mother, I also have asthma. Dulera, a puffer keeps that away most of time. A CPAP machine controls sleep apnea. Mastery of the mind for writing is the main thing–after the prostate.
Practicing Nichiren Buddhism doesn’t mean a life without problems; it means they can be overcome or transcended. Chanting doesn’t eliminate the need for medicine or doctors—it helps find the best of both. But a great doctor isn’t enough, one must also be an excellent patient. Our mentor, Daisaku Ikeda, says this in Unlocking the Mysteries of Life and Death:
“Buddhism views illness as an opportunity to attain a higher, nobler state of life. It teaches that, instead of agonizing over a serious disease, or despairing of ever overcoming it, we should use illness as a means to build a strong, compassionate self, which in turn will make it possible for us to be truly victorious. This is what Nichiren meant when he stated, ‘Illness gives rise to the resolve to attain the way.’ “
Cancer is just one more thing; it doesn’t worry us. We will be truly victorious over it—and the mind as well. We must. Here’s what we still hope to get done this year:
- At least ONE book–preferably two
- Views posts in the coming weeks on–
- The US Supreme Court has gone rogue—a legal analysis
- Fathers Day—making the most of memories
- Juneteenth and being Woke—yes, some reflections on political/historical reality
- January 6, 2021—America’s insurrection continued through hearings and more
- Importance of preventive screening—caught early, many cancers are not fatal
- Fresh fiction and snippets of stories to come on Johns Writing too
BTW: If you do decide to fly Delta One and it’s on a wonderful Airbus 330-300, use the head pillow for your bottom and a neck pillow for your head. Or bring a smallish body pillow. The seats aren’t that soft for sleeping on. However, there are amazing controls for adjusting the seatback, footrest, and more. You can move the various components forward/back/up/down.
© John Maberry