Sunday, September 27, 2020

Where to find the best pottery in Ireland

I love pottery.  I rarely pass up a craft show, potter’s workshop, or artisan’s gallery without adding to my collection. 

So it’s no surprise that I purchased a piece from Louis Mulcahy Pottery in DinglePeninsula in Ireland. What is surprising is that I agreed to the steep shipping charge back to the U.S. for the oversized platter that I chose. But since shipping was almost the same, I added a pair of Mulcahy’s signature red candlesticks, both of which are on display now in my home.

Louis Mulcahy has been potting for more than forty years. After winning first prize for pottery in the National Crafts Competition in 1975, he decided to move his workshop from Dublin to Dingle. He and his wife Lisbeth, a weaver, sold their house and invested their savings in a risky venture because he wanted to produce the best pottery possible.

The last of the big potteries making all pieces exclusively in Ireland, Louis Mulcahy designs and makes each individual piece. For multiples, such as tableware and lamp bases, he designs and tests the prototypes before handing production over to assistants.  Most pieces take two to three weeks from start to finish.

His studio, workshop, and retail shop in Ballyferriter on the Dingle Peninsula produces and stocks an extensive range of exquisite porcelain and fine ceramic giftware and tableware, all made on-site. Approximately 25,000 to 30,000 pieces (200-300 different works) are produced there each year. Using four or five special glazes, his work has gained worldwide recognition for its durability and lively finishing touches. The stoneware and porcelain pieces are dishwasher, microwave, and oven safe.

The pottery business is also home to an Open Room where everyone is welcome to try their hand at throwing a pot free of charge and under the eye of an experienced potter. It’s an educational experience that illustrates the skill and training required to master the craft. Learning to throw pots takes about three years, but it’s a lifetime commitment, says Mulcahy’s son-in-law, who also works as a potter at the studio.

Visitors are welcome to stop and browse and to refresh themselves at the Cafe upstairs, which  serves fresh local food, home-baked cakes, and coffees. After watching a demonstration, shopping for favorite pieces, and observing a guest try the potter’s wheel, we had a delicious lunch at the cafĂ© of tomato soup, ham and cheese panini, and fresh lemonade. 

In an amazing bit of serendipity, we ran into a couple we knew from our Texas town at the shop, and they invited us to visit their Ireland home. If the sunny day wasn’t already glorious, that ensured our “craickin” day was just perfect.

The Visitors Center is open now, and online orders are also accepted.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Why you should "See Rock City"

If the cheesy tourist-trap-style “See Rock City” signs painted on barns along the highway (including at my husband’s family’s wheat farm in Oklahoma) had touted the gardens of Rock City, I might have been tempted to stop and visit sooner.  I like blooming landscapes much better than rocks (which I have plenty of at home in Central Texas). So we bypassed this attraction when driving on Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee many years ago. 

Charming rock bridge at Rock City gardens
 But our curiosity was piqued, and we did stop on a subsequent trip to Chattanooga.  We discovered a surprisingly charming attraction, not the slightest bit overblown.  There’s a reason 425,000 people visit annually, and it’s not to climb over all those boulders.  Opened to the public in 1932, Rock City Gardens is a delightful family attraction that features natural rock formations and views of Chattanooga.

New paths have enhanced Rock City.
Sightseers in the early 1800s were attracted to the naturally-formed avenues of the place they nicknamed Rock City.  Discovered by two missionaries who came to the Lookout Mountain area to minister to Indians in 1823, Rock City didn’t become a major attraction until Frieda Carter developed the large walk-through garden around 1930.

Today, visitors enjoy a peaceful and serene setting that showcases different forms of natural beauty—massive rocks, colorful flowers, cliffs, and waterfalls.  Nature’s handiwork is enhanced by the path Freida forged through the wilderness and among the rock formations with only a string to mark her trail.  Beginning in 1928, she spent four years gathering and preserving more than 400 varieties of indigenous plants in her garden on the family’s private estate.

Waterfalls and other features have been added
to attract visitors.
Attendance at Rock City burgeoned as families took to the highways for road trips.  Without video games or DVD players to divert their attention, children and parents watched the passing scenery—and were intrigued along the way by signs on barns and birdhouses extolling them to “Visit Rock City,” a result of an ingenious advertising campaign conceived by Frieda’s husband Garnet Carter (who also started the Tom Thumb miniature golf chain). 

Beginning in 1936, Carter convinced farmers from Texas to Michigan to paint large white block letters on roofs and sides of barns, inviting travelers to the attraction. Messages such as “To Miss Rock City Would Be a Pity” or “Millions Have Seen Rock City.  Have You?” convinced travelers to stop and explore. 

After reaching a high point in the late 1970s, Rock City declined during the 1980s as interstates pushed old highways—and the painted barns–off the beaten path.  But Rock City has rebounded and is now lovingly embraced by the city of Chattanooga as a major attraction.

The turnaround began when Rock City updated its features to appeal to modern travelers and joined with other nearby attractions in a marketing campaign.  Rock City has rebounded with new trails, garden paths, waterfalls, a climbing wall, and seasonal festivals. 

Spend a delightful time enjoying
the natural beauty of the area.
Original attractions along Enchanted Trail have been faithfully maintained under a new generation of family ownership.  Visitors can still wander down the Grand Corridor, walk through the Needle’s Eye and over Sky Bridge, slither through Fat Man’s Squeeze, and marvel at natural formations like Mushroom Rock and Tortoise Shell Rock.  Balanced Rock, a 1,000-ton boulder is a favorite photo spot, and visitors can see seven states from the Observation Point on a clear day.  Lover’s Leap, the site of a tragic Indian legend, and Goblin’s Underpass are also favorite sites.

Children and adults both enjoy Fairyland Caverns, where rock walls are illuminated with ultraviolet “black light,” highlighting Frieda’s collection of sculpted gnomes in creative vignettes.  Mother Goose Village is a gigantic landscape of storybook characters illustrating many beloved fairy tales. 

Landscaping and architectural additions continue to honor the original plan, so that new areas blend smoothly with the old. Themed music written for the park is subtlety piped along trails, tempo and style matching natural elements and enhancing the experience in an unobtrusive manner. The horticulture staff works year-round tending to the different species of trees and flowers on the 15 acre site, all the while carefully maintaining its natural ambience. The resident herd of white fallow deer are descendents of animals originally located there in the 1930s. 

On a clear day, you can see seven states from the park.
A beautiful 3200 square-foot Group Pavilion that can be fully covered with drop-down sides was added.  The addition of Grand View, a conference and special events center adjacent to the property, has also increased traffic. 

The Fudge Kitchen offers enticements of a different variety. Visitors should allow at least an hour and a half to tour the property, although dawdling is encouraged.

While improvements may catch the public’s attention, natural beauty is still the main reason visitors enjoy trekking through Rock City. 

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Which states have travel restrictions?

InsureMyTrip, which is representative of travel insurance providers, has seen a significant increase in the number of policies purchased for domestic travel. In fact, 50% of policies purchased in June 2020 were for domestic travel compared to 11% in June 2019. 

Still, with the continuing and complex situation surrounding COVID-19, travelers may be uncertain about travel restrictions and safety measures in place for each state.

InsureMyTrip offers a travel guide, correct as of September 1, 2020, for insight on travel safety and restrictions in each state.  Advice on what to expect before and after travelling may be helpful as you plan a trip.

Traveling Safely
If you are planning to travel in the coming months, safety is a top priority. When packing consider the following travel essentials:

        Face Mask
o   Wear this at all times in public spaces
o   If the mask is fabric, be sure to wash this regularly (you can include it in your regular laundry) using regular laundry detergent and ensure it’s at the warmest water setting for the material used to make the mask.
        Hand Sanitizer
o   Apply this before and after touching public surfaces or items, as well as before and after eating or drinking
        Anti-bacterial Wipes
o   Perfect for wiping down door handles, gas pumps, steering wheels and any other hard surfaces you may touch
        Contactless Payment Card
o   Cash is a high-touch item often passed between multiple people
        Non-perishable Food
o   This will minimise food stops and limit exposure to others
o   Non-perishable food also prepares for unexpected restaurant closures
o   Avoid eating and drinking on public transport as you will have to remove your mask
        Prescription Medicine
o   Try to pick this up curbside to avoid unnecessary contact
        Carry-on Luggage
o   If you are flying, opt for carry-on luggage so you can avoid lingering in pickup points waiting for bags to arrive
o   You also have a better sense of who has touched your luggage
        Essential Clothing Only
o   Consider packing light to fit your belongings in a carry-on
o   Be sure to wash your clothing regularly, especially once they have been exposed to the public

States with restrictions for out of state travelers:

Idaho: You are encouraged to quarantine for 14 days if you’re visiting Boise and other cities in Ada County.

New Mexico: All travelers – on arrival - must quarantine for 14 days or for the length of their stay, whichever is shorter.
The following states have both quarantine and testing measures are in place:

Alaska: All non-residents should take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to arrival and provide documentation showing a negative result. If you don’t take a test, a 14-day quarantine will be expected on arrival.

Connecticut:  Passengers must quarantine upon arrival for 14 days and fill in a mandatory form if staying for longer than 24 hours. This is only mandatory from travelers from states with a test positivity rate higher than 10% over a 7-day rolling average.

District of Columbia: Passengers are expected to quarantine for 14 days if they’re traveling from states listed on DC’s government site.

Hawaii: Currently all passengers traveling to Hawaii are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival. From September 1st it’s mandatory for all travelers to fill in the Safe Travels application. The Pre-Travel Testing Program will not begin until October 1st.

Illinois: People entering/returning to Chicago from states with cases of at least 15 daily cases per 100k are required to quarantine for 14 days on arrival.

Kansas: It’s only mandatory to quarantine for 14 days if you’ve travelled from Florida and if you visited Arizona from 17th – 27th July.

Kentucky: Travelers coming from states with at least 15 percent infection rate are asked to quarantine for 14 days. The states government website includes the full list of areas meeting this threshold.

Get tested before traveling to states
that require quarantines.
Maine: All passengers are subject to mandatory 14-day quarantine, unless a negative COVID-19 test is conducted 72 hours prior to arrival. Residents of Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey are allowed to enter without restriction.

Massachusetts: All passengers except those from low risk states, must fill out a health form and quarantine for 14 days or provide negative test within 72 hours. You can find the low risk states on the state government website.

New Hampshire: All travelers are expected to quarantine for 14 days except those from Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

New Jersey: Passengers must quarantine for 14 days if staying in the state for more than 24 hours and coming from one of the states and territories on travel restriction. List can be found on the state’s government website.

New York: Travelers must quarantine for 14 days if staying in the state for more than 24 hours and coming from one of the states and territories on travel restriction.

Ohio: Travelers coming from high risk areas are asked to voluntarily quarantine for 14 days. High risk is defined by states reporting positive testing rates of 15% or higher based on a 7-day rolling average.

Check requirements before starting
a road trip to another state.
Pennsylvania: Travelers from any of the 19 surging states must quarantine for 14 days. The list can be found on the state’s government page.

Rhode Island: Travelers from states where positive tests are higher than 5% are required to self-quarantine for two weeks or provide negative test within 72 hours of arrival.

Vermont: Travelers are expected to quarantine for 14 days unless traveling from New Hampshire, Maine, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, D.C, Virginia and West Virginia. 

Texas is one of many states with no
current restrictions on visitors.
If the state you are interested in is not listed above, there are no current restrictions or measurements in place for out of state travelers. To view the full state travel guide click here

Information courtesy of Sara Boisvert, Senior Digital Marketing Specialist at InsureMyTrip

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Cumberland Falls is highlight of Kentucky park.

Cumberland Falls is called Niagara of the South.
Cumberland Falls State Resort Park in the Daniel BooneNational Forest is Kentucky's most visited state park. No wonder--with 125-foot wide Cumberland Falls as its central attraction and exceptionally nice accommodations, the park is a perfect getaway destination. Gorgeous red and gold color in the fall—a scene rivaling leaf-peeping in the Northeast--add a bonus to the already outstanding landscape. For families and active types, the 688-mile-long  Cumberland River winds through the park providing ample opportunities for whitewater rafting, horseback riding, or hiking.

Fall is a beautiful time to visit  Kentucky.
During our visit, my husband and I walked an easy path to get a better view of the second largest waterfall in North America (often called the Niagara of the South). What an impressive sight--a wide curtain of water roars and crashes 60 feet into a gorge below sending up a misty spray. It’s a stunning view that reminds you how powerful flowing water can be.

On that sunny day, we watched as water streams glistened in the light; and we heard that on a clear night with a full moon, mist rising from the Falls creates a moonbow, the Western Hemisphere's only such phenomenon.

Be sure to check out history of the Du Pont Lodge.
While visiting the park, we enjoyed a buffet lunch at the restaurant at Du Pont Lodge, state-owned facilities. Du Pont grounds are exceptionally well groomed and maintained, more like a resort than a state park (hence the name). During our fall visit, gardeners were planting dozens of pots of yellow mums in the flower beds.

The Cumberland River winds through the Daniel Boone National Forest.
Spreading Cumberland Falls

The Du Pont Lodge is known for its rustic appearance--solid hemlock beams and knotty pine paneling and massive stone fireplaces. Fifty-one rooms offer beautiful views and full amenities including interior corridors. A large observation deck overlooks the Cumberland River winding thru the hills. 

Although it’s one of the state’s most scenic spots it is sometimes overlooked by travelers who are not aware of the beautiful river, falls, and thick forests in the region. Rental cabins are available if you wish to make a road trip this fall.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier