In July we paid a quick visit to Scotland, my first visit, but hopefully not my last.

The Caledonian sleeper train took us overnight from London to a small town in western Scotland called Fort William. I found that the stopping, uncoupling of carriages and slant of the tracks during the overnight journey contributed to a very disruptive sleep. I slept about two hours on the train. The entire train we travelled on will be defunct as of 2015 as new carriages will be added to the Caledonian fleet.

We stayed overnight at  Inverlochy Castle Hotel.The castle was a little too isolated for me, but if you like quiet and remote, this place is for you. It boasts hunting and fishing as part of it’s experience.

From there we took a steam train across Spean Bridge, the bridge made famous by the Harry Potter films, to a town called Mallaig on the western coast of Scotland. The highlands were spectacular and made me think of the western coast of Ireland, Connemara, but on a larger scale.

We returned to Edinburgh and explored the beautiful, and lofty, Edinburgh castle, built on a volcanic plug and rising high above the city. Edinburgh was once known as the Athens of the north, but it was said that the city’s stench was so bad you could smell it from miles away. Hence the sewer system that spawned the wearing of platform shoes, no I am not kidding.

The underground tours, locally known as the sewer tour, explains the architecture of the city, the “closes” and the illegal retailers that set up shop beneath the bridge. It was here that we learned of the Burke and Hare murders. The tour was interesting and worth the time and money.

We stayed at the Caledonian Hotel, which was once a railway station.

From walking the Royal Mile to strolling the coast at Mallaig I would definitely return to Scotland.

The citizens will vote yea or nay for Scottish Independence on September 18th. From my talks with the older generation of Scottish people, tax money from Scotland is being funneled into London and tax payers up north don’t see much of a return on their taxes. The younger generation seems indifferent to independence.

I was shocked to learn that Scotland has its own separate currency from the UK. The value is the same as the UK but the look of the notes is different. Remember to use as much of the Scottish currency in Scotland, because it will not be accepted in the UK.


Things to do in Ireland

A friend just emailed me and asked about places to visit in Ireland. So in case there are some of you out there planning to spend Saint Patrick’s Day in Ireland, here are a few suggestions to make the most of your trip:

Dromoland Castle in County Clare (Picture by Loretto Leary)

Dromoland Castle in County Clare (Picture by Loretto Leary)

1. Stay at Dromoland Castle, great golf course and driving distance to the Cliffs of Mohir and Poolnabrone (the most photographed object in Ireland allegedly) as well as the Burren. It is an easy drive from the airport to Dromoland and a lovely way to start your holiday. All these sights are within a half hour to a one hour drive from each other. Unique scenery, as you will see for yourselves.

Connemara in County Galway (Picture by Loretto Leary)

Connemara in County Galway (Picture by Loretto Leary)

2. Maybe after two nights you’ll be rested enough to hit the road and head to Galway, The City of the Tribes. Then head on to Connemara and stay at Renvyle House. The scenery in Connemara is beautiful. This is where JRR Tolkien lived when he wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the scenery inspired him. If you feel fit enough and are not afraid of heights, climb Diamond Hill and visit Kylemore Abbey and Gardens.

Cong in County Mayo (Picture by Loretto Leary)

Cong in County Mayo (Picture by Loretto Leary)

3. In Mayo, that’s an easy drive,  visit the town of Cong where John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara filmed The Quiet Man. The famous Ashford Castle would be a lovely place to stay if Renvyle House feels a bit too remote for you. They are about an hour and a half drive from each other.

4. From there I would drive across to Belfast, be sure to see the Harland and Wolfe dockyard where they built the Titanic, and also the Titanic museum. There are taxi tours that will take you through the areas, Protestant and Catholic that were unsafe during the troubles in

Giant's Causeway in Antrim in Northern Ireland (Picture by Loretto Leary)

Giant’s Causeway in Antrim in Northern Ireland (Picture by Loretto Leary)

Northern Ireland but are now safe again. It is a 1-1 1/2 hour drive from Belfast to the Giant’s Causeway in Antrim, and I would highly recommend it. You’ll never see anything like it again.

5. From Belfast you can get an easy flight to Scotland. But I would suggest either flying back to see Dublin and /or going to Dublin and then flying to Scotland from there. There is a lot to see in Dublin. The Book of Kells in Trinity College, Kilmainham Jail, Newgrange just 30 minutes outside of

Interior of Kilmainham Jail in Dublin (Picture by Loretto Leary)

Interior of Kilmainham Jail in Dublin (Picture by Loretto Leary)

Dublin, and you can stay at the Fitzpatrick hotel. It is just a train ride along the coast and about 20 minutes outside the city.

6. If you have the time my favorite place in Ireland is in County Cork. It is a small town that is nick-named millionaire’s row in the summer, but it’s real name is Glandore, and ten minutes from there is one of the best hidden treasures of Ireland, and not too many people know about it. The Drombeg Stone Circle predates Stonehenge and is in the most scenic spot. Worth a visit if you have the time. Kinsale is a great town to stay

Drombeg Stone Circle in County Cork (Picture by Loretto Leary)

Drombeg Stone Circle in County Cork (Picture by Loretto Leary)

in, and The Trident is a good hotel.

7. You could finish up the vacation back at Dromoland because the flights from Shannon leave fairly early. If you can squeeze in a trip to Killarney in County Kerry and do a horse trap ride into the Gap of Dungloe that’s well worth it too. The Glen Eagle is the place to stay in Killarney.

I can’t not mention my hometown of Portumna in County Galway. Yes, I’ll admit it, I am biased, but this town has so much history and lots to see and do. The Irish Workhouse Center, Portumna Castle, The Portumna forest park, golfing, fishing, horseback riding….need I say more?

Grand Cayman Island

Happy New Year 2014 (Image Source

Happy New Year 2014 (Image Source

I rang in 2014 sitting on a beach in Grand Cayman.

Let me tell you, sitting on a beach at midnight watching fireworks in the distance and listening to the waves washing up on the shore isn’t a bad way to ring in January 1st.

We had a nice time in Grand Cayman. Great sunsets, great food and great company.

But Karma is a funny thing…and payback isn’t so great.

It was a lovely trip, and due to flight cancellations we had to do a few jigs and jogs to get home, and were we ever so glad to be home!

We were told that we would not be able to get home until 5 days after the day we were scheduled to leave the island. We managed to get back via Florida, Georgia and then La Guardia. Then we heard that 2,000 more flights were cancelled 30 minutes after we landed in New York. That’s about 3,700 flights cancelled in total since January 3rd.

The weather here in Connecticut has been bitter cold. Minus 14 Celsius was the high on Tuesday…that’s karma for you! And as I said earlier, payback isn’t so great.

However, we move ahead into the New Year. The decorations are down, the first week of 2014 is officially over. The days are getting longer, and only three months of potentially snowy and bitter cold weather ahead!

I CAN DO THIS! But if I hear George Harrison’s “Here Come’s The Sun,” one more time on the radio, I might have to bang my head against the wall a few times to get rid of the January blues


Glad to be home though!

Happy 2014 to you all. May it be a good year for you in every way.

Shore to Shore: Bridge Textile Arts Project at Shorelines Arts Festival 2013

It really was a sight to behold. I loved how colorful the nets were and the reflections in the waters of the Shannon were reminiscent of the Water Lilies paintings by Claude Monet.

Artist and project director Kate O’Brien did exactly what she set out to do, capture a piece of, “elusive beauty.”

That I Should Rise and You Should Not

DeparturesWhat is it that stirs a person to emigrate? Apart from factors such as financial and oppression, why is it that the “tired, poor, and huddled masses” teem to foreign shores?

Forced emigration isn’t an easy pill to swallow. It isn’t the end of the world either. In my situation I left incrementally, in dribs and drabs, for a vacation, to work for a year, to work every summer while in college, and finally to secure a green card that I won in the Morrison Visa lottery in 1993.

Eventually the notion of “having to leave” transformed into “wanting to leave.”

“Of all the money that ‘ere I spent, I’ve spent it in good company. And of all the harm that ‘ere I’ve done, alas it was to none but me.”

Crossroad of the world (Image source:

Crossroad of the world (Image source:

I missed my family. I missed the Sunday walks in the forest park. I missed the smallness of a small town, and the bigness of a large family. I grew accustomed to a  commuter town with sirens and car horns, with train tracks so close to my house I could hear the lonesome whistle of the diesel train as it passed by every Tuesday at 2am; and over here no one drops in for a cup of tea.

The Irish decorated their homes with flags, figurines of leprechauns, and tea towels with the ingredients for Irish soda bread to help keep Ireland alive. To me it was a reminder that I had left the real thing for something artificial.

“And all I’ve done, for want of wit, to memory now, I can’t recall. So fill for me the parting glass. Goodnight and joy be with you all.”

portumna 1- sm (1)

Portumna, County Galway.

Twenty years later I too have brought bits of Ireland back with me. Sods of turf, cups with shamrocks, statues of Setanta and the Children of Lir, Christmas ornaments with the Claddagh design, ceramic tiles with the numbers 2 and 7 in Celtic design now adorn my mailbox, mementos of my hometown.

“Oh of all the comrades that ‘ere I’ve had, are sorry for my going away. And all the sweet hearts that ‘ere I’ve had, would wish me one more day to stay.”

Though I thought Ireland would stand still in time, it didn’t. Siblings grew older and greyer, and so did I. Nieces and nephews reached the ages where I now respect their opinions, talents, and advice. People died, babies were born, houses were built on a country road and shortened the journey that as a child I thought was a long one.

“And since it falls, unto my lot, that I should rise and you should not. I’ll gently rise and I’ll softly call, goodnight and joy be with you all. Goodnight and joy be with you all.”

Things changed, people changed, and so did I.

The day is fast approaching when I will have lived longer in America than I did in Ireland. That day will be April 4th 2016. I will be 23 years out of Ireland. I left when I was 23. Do I miss Ireland? Yes. Did something stir within me in 1993 and make me rise and emigrate? Yes.

longdistanceEmigration, either forced or voluntary, isn’t the end of the world…we’re all just trying to make a living the best way we can in different parts of the world. Four walls, a roof and a means to make a living; we’re all doing the same thing, only on different soil.

(The lines in italics are from the song The Parting Glass)

Best Blog From The Irish Diaspora Nomination

Blog Awards Ireland 2013 Main Banner Photo via their website

Blog Awards Ireland 2013 Main Banner Photo via their website

I would be very grateful if you could nominate Breise Breise for the Best Blog From the Irish Diaspora award.

All you have to do is click on this link

Scroll down to Best Blog From The Irish Diaspora Award
Add in Blog Name: Breise Breise!

Web Address of Blog:

Which County does the blogger hail from: Galway

Thanks in advance!

California, here I come!

The famous San Francisco fog makes its way over the hills and creeps towards the city.

A creeping avalanche of fog rolls in over the mountains, it is a sight to behold. Climates change by 20 degrees within a 20-30 minute drive: Cold in the morning and at night, but mid 70’s to low 80’s in the day.There’s a very Spanish feel here, and after the 6 hour flight I tell my husband I feel like we are not in the US anymore. But we are, and we are in California.

Alcatraz, The Rock.

First on our list of ‘things to do’ was Alcatraz in San Francisco. Well technically it is off the coast of San Francisco. If you plan on visiting this interesting place, here’s some advice that I wish I had listened to: Wear layers.

Alcatraz is windy, sunny, chilly and balmy all in the space of a few moments, depending on what side of the island you’re standing on, whether you’re in the shadows or whether you are in the sunshine, or whether you are in your prison cell.

The ferry ride is no more than 15 minutes from shore, but if you don’t book your tickets by phone or online at least three to four weeks prior to your visit, those fifteen minutes may as well be a journey to the moon, because you are not getting on that ferry.

It’s hard to imagine that a trip that instilled fear, anger and outrage in so many involuntary residents could bring joyful anticipation to so many voluntary visitors! It is a must see if you are a tourist in San Francisco. And there are a lot of tourists. How many tourists? Last year San Francisco had 11 million visitors.

When we stayed in San Francisco we stayed at the Marriott, only a couple of blocks from Union Square, a shopper’s paradise, but don’t expect bargains. San Francisco is an expensive city to shop in and to live in. The average cost of a 1,500 square foot home is $750,000.00, yes those zeros are correct.

The vintage trolley car ride was also high on our list of things to do. Knobb Hill is the famous street that has hills enough to make you think the cable car is a ship.

Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco

Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf are also part of the city that every tourist should see, and do. The crowd at Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf was big, but there’s enough space for all to walk around comfortably and enjoy the sights.

If you want to see the city in comfort book a bus tour with Tower Tours. If you want to risk life and limb sightseeing, book a two passenger motorcycle. They are yellow, small and they are everywhere. There’s also the Duck Tour, and the open top bus tour. But I can’t imagine sitting on top of a bus on Twin Peaks with the wind whipping viciously, as it did the day we went.

Fog, on the left hand side of the city, is about to obliterate our view of the city within seconds, causing a complete whiteout This view is from Twin Peaks.

Dress accordingly is my best advice. Especially when you visit the Golden Gate Bridge. You’ll thank me for that advice, believe me. In late July it can be cool, chilly even, with that avalance of fog rolling in over the city.

Lynnmar Vineyards

Within an hour and a half’s drive from San Francisco is Sonoma and two hours in the opposite direction is Napa, both worth the drive. Vineyards do wine tastings between 10 and four usually. Napa is polished and manicured, a Disney World of Vineyards; Sonoma is farm like and natural. I preferred the scenery in Sonoma.

Lynnmar Vineyard’s garden in Sonoma

Four vineyards that I would highly recommend are Martin Ray and Lynnmar in Sonoma, and Rombauer and Duckhorn in Napa Valley. There’s more than just vines and grapes at Rombauer and Lynnmar.Their gardens are unbelievably beautiful. So if wine isn’t your thing, go for the gardens, definitely worth seeing. Rombauer has a beautiful vista for you to take in, but by special invitation. Lynnmar lets you meander at your leisure, but both are equally beautiful and relaxing. The sights and aromas will arouse your senses.

Roses at Lynnmar to detect mineral loss from the soil.

Here’s some trivia for you: If you see a rose bush planted at the end of a row of vines, it is not just for aesthetic purposes. If the soil starts to lose the minerals vital for a good grape harvest, the rose bush will start to die before the vines do. Tada!

The rental cottages of Capitola facing Monterey Bay

About an hour away from San Jose is Capitola, a small touristy sea side town on Monterey Bay. Facing the bay are three rows of colorful rental cottages. Across the bay is Carmel, you’ll see Clint Eastwood waving from the beach if you look real hard. Wave back when you do see Clint, I am sure that would make his day.

Palo Alto is also a town worth visiting. It is very pretty and is within walking distance of Stanford University which is a town in and of itself.In San Jose a visit to the recently developed Santana Row is sure to bring joy to the diva’s heart. Expensive shops and restaurants line the well manicured street. A person can shop, eat and go broke all in the space of a few hours. And that’s before you have even paid for parking.

That red bridge, International Orange is the correct name for the color, is The Golden Gate Bridge. Check out that fog.


All Saints Clothing Store, Newbury Street in Boston

We were in Boston for the Wine Expo all weekend long. What a nice city.
Two great restaurants, Limincello’s


Abe and Louie’s
I loved Marleborough street off of Beacon Hill and Newbury Street was a shoppers heaven.
There was a store there called All Saints, apparrel store, and their window display was hundreds of the old fashioned Singer sewing machines, really well done. But slightly confusing, I thought it was a college for clothing designers.

Global Entry Program

Global Entry Kiosk

My husband, son and I drove to JFK yesterday to complete the final step in the application process for The Global Entry System.
Instead of standing in line on average 60 minutes when re-entering the US from international shores we will now spend on average 64 seconds, simply by using a kiosk.

We answered a detailed questionnaire online 6 weeks ago and for $100 each (this covers five years) we use a kiosk computer system that will measure fingerprints, take our pictures and then we enter our flight numbers on screen, you are not required to fill out customs declaration forms for US Entry and there is no mimimum number for flights entering the US. Global Entry is a “trusted travellers” program and expedites entry into the US by using these onsite kiosks.

You can find Global Entry kiosks at the following airports:
  • Boston-Logan International Airport (BOS)
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
  • Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW)
  • Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
  • George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston (IAH)
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  • Honolulu International Airport (HNL)
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York (JFK)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  • McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)
  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
  • Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  • Orlando-Sanford International Airport (SFB)
  • Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
  • San Juan-Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport (SJU)
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport-SeaTac (SEA)

The officer who interviewed me said the GOES program is not well advertised and is only four years old. He also said agreements are in place for other countries, such as Ireland and the UK, to implement GOES as well.
Just in case anyone travels a lot and wants to cut down on wait time at airports; you don’t have to be a US Citizen, but you do need a greencard or be a frequent traveller with no criminal record etc.