Volcanic ash travel woes...beautiful northwest Ireland...Jim's deals of the day
DONEGAL, Ireland - What a mess.
Aviation officials over here are saying the airport chaos in Europe is worse than it was after the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S., and that's saying something.
I'm booked on a flight out of Belfast to London Heathrow on Sunday morning. So far, so good. Ryanair has cancelled all flights until Monday, but luckily I'm on BMI. BMI's website, at last check, said they hoped to be up and running Saturday some time. And it sounds like Air Canada flights and flights to North America in general are getting out of Ireland and the U.K.; I'm guessing by flying around the ash in a way that other flights simply can't manage. (Hey, if they need my flight to go through, say, the Canary Islands with a stop along the way I could probably handle the disappointment.)
The ash from the volcano in Iceland seems worse in northern and central Europe than in the U.K. and Ireland, but it's still bad enough in these parts to be causing lots of headaches.
A woman at the front desk of the Solis Lough Eske, an old castle turned into a hotel where I'm staying outside the town of Donegal, said they've had a few folks ask to extend their rooms because they can't get out of Dodge. At lunch in the town of Ardara, at a sleepy seafood spot called Nancy's with incredible fish soup/chowder, the owner's son said he had hoped to fly to his home in London on Thursday but his flight was cancelled. Ditto for Friday. And maybe Saturday.
"My boss is giving me grief but what can I do," he said. "I can swim, but not that far."
The Irish television station RTE was showing a video clip today of a couple members of the Harlem Globetrotters, who apparently are stuck in Dublin. Not a bad place to be stuck in, but still a drag.
It sounds like the worst of it could be over by Sunday, but we'll find out. I might have to spend another night in Belfast, which would be far from the end of the world.
Stay tuned to weather reports and check thestar.com for more details. You also can go to thestar.com/travel to find airport flight and arrival information at Pearson.
Meanwhile, you gotta feel for poor Iceland. The economy collapses, now there's volcanic ash and flooding and likely more tourists staying away.
Ireland has had its troubles on the economic front, as well. You can see mile upon mile of new highways and other projects funded by the EU, so there's obviously been some pretty good news in the country in the past few years. Taxi drivers in Dublin say it's been slow, however. And there seem to be some pretty good hotel deals, so it's a very good time to visit the Emerald Isle (actually, it's kind of brownish-emerald right now given a harsh winter and very little spring rain), but we'll let it go.
A tour guide in Dublin joked the other day that for a while the joke in town was: "What's the difference between Iceland and Ireland? One letter and six months."
Let's hope not.
A TURN FOR THE BETTER
Sometimes in travel you just gotta go with your instincts. I was at a great hotel, the Ashford Castle in County Mayo, the other day and a marketing person who works there admonished me for asking questions about the place and the history instead of just getting out and exploring. Well, I happen to think it's an important for a journalist to know details; who built what and when, what the style of architecture might be, who the gargoyles on the side of a medieval building might be modelled after; but that's just me.
Anyway, I'm plenty open to simply going where the road takes me; or where a road I suddenly choose will take me. I do it quite often, and I did it on my from Cong to Donegal.
I was having a coffee not far from Yeats burial ground (I don't care much about dead poets, or living ones to tell you the truth) and spotted a little smudge on the left side of the main called Mullaghmore. There was no mention in the tour book I had but something about it said, "visit me." I almost opted to drive straight on to Donegal and check in early at my hotel near Lough Eske, but I looked over to my left and spotted some homes on a hillside and a brief stretch of beach. So I took a turn and drove down a narrow road toward...an incredibly beautiful beach.
It looked to be about two miles long; a big, sweeping curve heading up towards the mountains/hills made famous by Yeats. I counted three people on the sand in brilliant sunshine and temperatures around 14 degrees, albeit with a stiff wind. There was a tiny "town," mostly just a hotel and a pub or two. I thought again about turning around but decided to drive on past the businesses. It was, in a word, glorious; green fields with rock walls, sheep, a vast expanse of surging blue sea heading up towards the cliffs of Slieve League and a horse rubbing its neck on a bbarbed wire fence. Then, suddenly, a decent-sized castle looming on the top of a green hill.
I counted two cars and four walkers on a looping road that was perhaps two miles long. Incredible. How there's not a huge resort and a golf course on this peninsula is beyond me, especially when the nearby resort town of Rossnowlagh has a huge, new hotel and a lovely inn at the top of a bluff called Smuggler's Creek, where the views of the Rossnowlagh beach are just perfect.
Drove from there up to Solis Lough Eske hotel. It's an old castle that fell into disrepair and has been fully modernized. The public areas and bars feel very castle-like and are quite nice. But the rest of the place is super-modern. All the modern conveniences, but perhaps not the place if you want something that feels old world-ish.
Anyway, it seems fairly crowded and there was a fine if expensive meal in the main restaurant, with excellent sweet potato and parsnip soup and a fine duck breast with roasted root vegetables. There's a nice spa and the lake, Lough Eske, is only a five-minute walk away.
Driving today to Donegal town, then up to Slieve League. Saturday it's the Giant's Causeway and into Belfast, then home on Sunday - volcanic ash permitting.
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