The Plane Truth

A friend forwarded an article to me this week about one of my favorite travel destinations. My heart sank.  It seems trivial at first read, but for the first time in my life I realized we experienced a place that will no longer be part of the travel world for the foreseeable future.  It was a painfully short read.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-23447511

The plane trees along Canal Du Midi

The plane trees along Canal Du Midi

The Canal Du Midi in Southern France is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a favorite with boaters around the world.  The engineering genius of connecting the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, the spectacular beauty of tree-lined canals, locks, tow-paths and villages will be markedly changed when all 42,000 trees that line the bank are destroyed.

Biking through the vineyards along the Canal

Biking through the vineyards along the Canal

I went back into my photo archives to find pictures that capture the incredibly beauty of the place, but it’s difficult. We have a few photos and memories of piloting our hire boat through the canal, the chaos of “all hands on deck” to man the locks, the emotional moment of watching endless shooting stars stream overhead and the magic of dining topside beneath the plane trees at Carcassonne.   Will people still ride bikes along the tow-paths and through the neighboring vineyards?  Will they still stop at the tiny village bakeries to shop and pick up the morning croissants? Will local wineries fare well without boaters tying up along the canals and wandering up for an afternoon tasting and a few bottles of the local vintage?

Enjoying a local vintage...topside on Canal Du Midi

Enjoying a local vintage…topside on Canal Du Midi

Lock keepers managed to find hidden stashes of apple tarts and home made wines to share

Lock keepers managed to find hidden stashes of apple tarts and home made wines to share

So many bridges and locks...

So many bridges and locks…

Moored at Carcassonne

Moored at Carcassonne

Boating under the canopy.

Boating under the canopy.

In 50 years or so, it may return to its former glory, but the knowledge that I’ll probably never see it again nor will my children…is heartbreaking.

Friends and family for a topside dinner

Friends and family enjoying a topside dinner

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The Land of Heart’s Desire: The Yeats Trail

Despite the heroic efforts of  my 11th grade English teacher, I am a literary simpleton.  I  like poetry that rhymes and I routinely confuse Yeats with Keats.  Tragic, really.  My father, far more cultured and literate than I, mentioned an interest in a Yeats tour of Ireland as part of our mini “Gathering 2013.”

With a little Irish luck and a lot of Google maps,  I discovered Coole Park, home of Yeats’ literary patron Lady Gregory  and Yeats’ summer home are next to our ancestral family land in Gort, Ireland. A logical and convenient place to start our tour.   I like to imagine my great-grandfather and Yeats crossing paths in the woods, accompanied by other literary geniuses (George Bernard Shaw, JM Synge and Sean O’Casey) that spent time at Lady Gregory’s home.

Thor Ballylee, Yeats' summer home

Thoor Ballylee, Yeats’ summer home
The tower at Thor Ballylee

The tower at Thoor Ballylee

Yeats’ bought his home in Gort, renovated it and called it Thoor Ballylee, a nod to his passion and interest in local lore and culture.  The bucolic, riverside setting  provided Yeats with an inspirational retreat from the world.  Yeats once said: “To leave here is to leave beauty behind.”   He penned The Tower  and The Winding Stairs and Other Poems while living at Thoor Ballylee.

Coole Park House, home of Lady Gregory

Coole Park House, home of Lady Gregory

Coole Park, a short distance away from Thoor Ballylee, was a hub for the Irish Literary Revival. Yeats often wandered the grounds with Lady Gregory and fellow writers, seeking peace, solitude and inspiration.  It was the setting for many of his poems including The Wild Swans at Coole” and “In the Seven Woods.”   In the garden, an ancient tree bears the signatures of notable visitors to Coole Park.  It’s easy to imagine the writers gathered under its branches, casually adding their mark for posterity.

Into the Seven Woods

Into the Seven Woods

Although the house was demolished in 1941, you can still wander the sheltered wooded paths and along the lake to count the “nine and fifty swans.”

Connemara cottage

Connemara cottage

Along the R345 road

Along the R345 road

Our trail led us from Gort further west to  Connemara.  Yeats visited here often and spent his honeymoon in Renvyle.  A few wrong turns off the highway through Connemara, I’m overwhelmed by the scenery and stop to take a picture. I immediately regret only booking 2 days in this beautiful place.  It is a land of peat smoke, unspoiled majesty and melancholy beauty. It is the “Ireland of Ireland.”  We continue the road less traveled to the sea and spend our time imagining a summer spent in a Connemara cottage.

Lough Gill

Lough Gill

Although Yeats was born in Dublin and spent time in London, it was the mountains, lakes and lore of Sligo that inspired him to write some of his most memorable verse, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”

“…arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,  And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:  Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,  And live alone in the bee-loud glade…”

We drove a circular route around Lough Gill to Dooney Rock of  fiddler fame to the boat launch that ferries visitors out to the Isle in summer.  From a distance, it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to “arise and go” live on the tiny island, but Yeats often wrote about the familiar landscapes of home when he was far away and homesick.

Heading west, the majestic and magical Knocknarea, with it’s stunning cairn over the burial tomb of Maeve, Queen of Connaught, inspired Yeats to write “The Land of Heart’s Desire” and “The Hosting of the Sidhe.”  Add a rock to her 40 foot high cairn for good luck, take one away at your peril.

Ben Bulben

Ben Bulben

Sadly, the lovely Lissadell House was closed, due to an ongoing legal dispute, so we ended our Yeats trail where the man himself rests, Drumcliff.  Yeats died in France and told his long-suffering and exquisitly tolerant wife, Georgie Hyde-Lees “If I die bury me up there [at Roquebrune] and then in a year’s time when the newspapers have forgotten me, dig me up and plant me in Sligo.”  Although it took far longer than one year, Yeats was eventually buried according to his wishes under the shadow of Ben Bulben in the busy Drumcliff cemetery.

Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman, pass by!

Things to Know

Thoor Ballylee was severely damaged by floods in 2009 and has yet to reopen.  Visitors can walk the grounds and peek through the windows.  It’s worth stopping by, if only to absorb the atmosphere of the place.

Coole Park was an unexpected surprise.  Despite the fact no house remains, the grounds and gardens are lovely.  The tea room and small museum are worth your time. Check dates and times before you go.

The Tortoise and Hare Go Traveling

When our kids were little, really little, we traveled at a pretty slow pace.  If you’ve  traveled with a Little Person, you understand that everything takes longer than expected. You have to wrestle with car seats, nap time, bed time, hunger pangs, little legs and shorter attention spans.  Now that we occasionally travel without the kids, something is quite apparent.  The Mister and I suffer from TSI…Travel Style Incompatibility.

PicMonkey Collage

My  sweet husband is the Energizer Bunny of travel.  He is the only person I know who completed the entire British Museum collection in 90 minutes.  I am the Cecil Turtle of travel.  It takes me 90 minutes to work through one gallery at the V & A. We are officially the Tortoise and Hare of worldwide travel.

The Mister’s idea of a perfect day in a new city is 12 hours of sightseeing completed by lunch, which leaves enough time for 12 additional hours of sightseeing before dinner.  Twenty-four hours worth of activities squeezed into 8 hours.  With time for a walk before bed.  Rinse, lather, repeat.  My perfect day in a new city is a leisurely mix of wandering, sightseeing and multiple stops for food and photography.  His preferable breakfast is a banana in his backpack and a to-go coffee, mine involves a neighborhood cafe, endless cups of coffee and a lot of people-watching.   How do you plan happy travel for a box-checker and a “loose agenda, this-looks-cool-let’s-go-do-that-instead-after-a-coffee” person?

The Mister and Me

The Mister and Me

We’re trying to figure it out.  He is certainly wiser than he once was and knows it’s better to wake me up with a “Look!   I brought you coffee!” instead of  “Hey!  It’s already 7 o’clock! How much time do you need to get ready to go?”   I’ve learned not to plan sitting-on-the-beach vacations or endless afternoons poking through ancient, overgrown cemeteries.  It’s about compromise and learning from each other.  I think we can do that. How do you balance two different personalities while traveling?  Tell me your secrets!

Things to Know

*No feelings were harmed during the writing of this post.