Today opens with a couple of luxuries that are new to us on this Journey. We will be traveling for the next 5 days by car, and all of the planning has been done by our Welch friends Huw and Nina. I don’t realize how there is a certain stress that becomes accepted as a part of each day until it is not there. Responsibility for the day-to-day has not been a big thing, but it is a cumulative thing. It is wonderful to have that off of my shoulders for a few days.
That having been said, we dodged a travel “bullet” yesterday. The portion of our trip from Amsterdam to Oslo was largely without details. We had narrowed it to 17 days and we knew that it would include visits to Amsterdam, Brussels, Slovakia, Berlin, and Oslo. However, no travel details or arrangements had been made. I figured that it was about time since we had made the flight arrangements from Edinburgh to Amsterdam a few days earlier. Our plan has always been to utilize trains and night sleeper cars as much as possible. My initial check 2 days ago indicated that the sleeper cars were all taken. Our Dutch friend, Jacobien, forwarded me a link to the office of Netherlands Rail. A 30 minute telephone call with an extraordinarily helpful representative resulted in confirmed train and sleeper car reservations from Brussels Belgium to Bratislava Slovakia and then later overnight travel from Bratislava to Berlin. The beauty of these arrangements is that we can spend the day in one location, board the train that evening and then “magically awake” at the new destination. It is a wonderful way to travel that I fear is dying out. Airports and air travel are expedient but dehumanizing.
Our friendship with Huw and Nina dates to the year 2000, but we did not actually meet them in person until 5 years later. How our friendship began and the saga of our time with them in 2005 is quite remarkable, but I will reserve it for another day.
Our “touristing” began today with a visit to the Viking artifacts held in the 11th Century Waterford stronghold known as Reginald’s Tower. This 54 foot high stone keep was once a key part of Waterford’s defensive perimeter. It and small portions of the city wall are all that remain of the structure initially created by the Vikings. Excavations have unearthed relics dating back a thousand years, including a remarkably intricate gold and silver broach.
Next we visited the production facilities of the Waterford Crystal Company. If it had not been for the interest of my three companions I would have skipped this tour… and it would have been my loss. The tour was spectacular and informative.
Waterford’s roots began here in in 1783. The company closed in 1851, and then reopened in 1947. It continues today with its custom and clear crystal production in the heart of the city it was named after. Waterford creates over 750 tons of crystal pieces annually. It employs artisans who endure apprenticeships of 5 years in one of four skills: Mould making, Glass blowing, sketching, and engraving. More years are required to achieve the status of a Master. In the company’s history only one person achieved that status in all four disciplines. These craftspeople typically remain with the company for well over 30 years.
We witnessed all the stages of the creation of these amazing pieces except for the final step where the pieces undergo acid washing.
Waterford Crystal custom pieces are blown into hand carved wood molds that have a maximum of 6 uses. Standard pieces are blown into cast iron molds that can be used over 60 years.
We watched as the engravers patiently and painstakingly worked the pieces. In the process I developed a real appreciation for the effort and skill required to make Waterford Crystal.
We next visited Cobh Ireland, the final port of call for the RMS Titanic before it proceeded across the Atlantic only to strike an iceberg and sink on April 15, 1912. 123 passengers boarded the Titanic here. The “bones” of the original tender dock remain as a haunting reminder of the fate that awaited those souls. Our visit included accurate recreations of 1st and 3rd class staterooms. Our tickets included the assignment of a passenger identity. Of the four of us, all were “rescued” except Huw. My identity was that of John Kennedy, no relationship to the US President of that name.
The evening concluded at a truly exceptional pub. I don’t think I will tire of the pairing of Guinness and good Irish pub food.
We continue to find the good folks of Ireland to be among the friendliest that we have ever encountered in our travels. Tomorrow we proceed to Blarney Castle, home of the Blarney Stone.
Peace Everyone. Pete