this bird can sing.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Ireland 2014, Part Three

We woke up on September 21st planning to eat breakfast at our hotel, but we learned that they offered a continental breakfast for a higher price than we were willing to pay. Instead we walked down the street to an O'Briens and had bagel sandwiches for less money.

After breakfast, we headed back to the hotel and checked out. We caught the Air Coach back to the airport to pick up our rental car. Our car was pretty banged up, and as we later discovered, had only one working headlight. So we took our sad car and headed northwest toward County Donegal.

The plan was to go to Newgrange on the way up there. We stopped and learned that all of the tours were booked for a couple hours. While I was really hoping to do the tour, we had a long drive in front of us, so we opted to just check out the Visitors Center and walk around a bit instead. There was some nice scenery outside, and we even caught a glimpse of Newgrange.

There were some people canoeing down this river. It was a lovely day outside and it was such a nice place to walk around.

See Newgrange in the center?
Before heading out, we signed up for a sweepstakes to win tickets to be present in Newgrange on the winter solstice. I don't think we won. 

We continued northwest until reaching Monaghan. We stopped here and walked around in search of lunch. The big GAA final between Donegal and Kerry (my family's two counties of origin) was on, so everyone was pretty preoccupied with that. The only real restaurant we found was a pricier looking place with big meals. Instead we popped into a Chinese takeaway and ordered szechuan chicken. We took our lunch outside and sat on some steps to eat. It was spicy!

We stopped into Tesco before moving on, and bought some snacks. We also picked up an umbrella. We couldn't find our mini umbrella when we were leaving our house, so we thought we'd just pick one up when we arrived. However, the weather was so warm and beautiful all week in England that we hadn't had need of one until the rainy deluge the night we arrived in Ireland.

Moving on with our biscuits and Tayto, we continued on northwest. We discovered at some point that our route to Donegal took us through Northern Ireland. We were somewhat surprised that there was no border check, and it was somewhat difficult to even tell where the border was on either side. We drove up through County Tyrone and attempted to stop at a Visitors Center when we saw a sign for one, but we couldn't actually find it. We parked nonetheless and looked around a bit in Omagh. (I later read that this was the location of a deadly car bombing during the Troubles).

After walking around for a bit, we continued on toward Letterkenny. This was around the time we discovered that only one headlight worked, so we were hoping to get in before dark if possible.

We arrived in Letterkenny and found Gallagher's Hotel. The guys worked on parking the car while Karen and I checked into our rooms. We walked out into the night to find dinner. Donegal had lost the GAA final earlier in the afternoon, but we saw a lot of people still wearing their gear. There were also green and gold Donegal flags and banners hanging everywhere.

We found a place called Brewery Bar and Restaurant with a selection of craft beers. I couldn't pass up the salt & chili squid as an appetizer (squid is one of my favorite foods) so we split the Guinness beef pie for our main dish.

It was a nice low key dinner, which we enjoyed after the hustle and bustle of Dublin. We headed back to the hotel bar for a nightcap before bed. We looked up ideas for what to do the next day over our drinks.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Ireland 2014, Part Two

We were awoken by a phone call around 7:45am on September 20th from the front desk letting us know that my cousin Karen and her husband Jim were downstairs. I had talked with them before going to bed and knew their plane was scheduled to land around 7, but thought it would take them a bit longer to get through customs and onto the shuttle. But Karen's friend was piloting their plane and he got them into Dublin even earlier than expected. So they put their bags in our room, we got dressed, and we walked out into Dublin.

We walked through St. Stephen's Green and found an Insomnia (an Irish coffee shop) and sat down to coffee and pastries. Jim wanted to go to the Guinness Storehouse, and we thought it would be best to head there when they opened to beat the crowds. We debated various transit options, but ended up deciding on a cab. It was pretty reasonable for all 4 of us, and definitely beat walking all the way up there.

We bought tickets using the wifi in the cab on the way there, and arrived just prior to opening time. We walked around to St. James's Gate and then waited just a few minutes until opening.

Although we had done the tour before, it was actually quite a bit different than when we were there two years ago. The bottom was the same, and we again saw the 9,000 year contract signed by Arthur Guinness.

But they had redone a lot on some of the upper levels, so it was interesting to go through a slightly different tour.

We were again able to beat the crowds by going early, and were able to enjoy the views from the top in the Gravity Bar.

We sat and enjoyed our pints of Guinness, and as we sat, the bar began to fill up. So we definitely got there at the right time.

After a trip to the Guinness store, we took a cab back down to the Temple Bar area. Our next stop was going to be Dublin Castle, but we decided to eat lunch first. We walked around Temple Bar looking for restaurants serving lunch.

We found a restaurant called The Shack; the girls ordered the full Irish breakfast and the guys ordered bangers and mash. After eating, we popped into Gallagher's Boxty, which is where we planned to eat dinner. We made reservations and walked back to Dublin Castle. 

Last time, they had not been offering full tours due to the staterooms being in use. So this time we got tickets to do the tour of the medieval portion, as well as the staterooms.

It was interesting to learn about the harp being both the national symbol of Ireland, as well as the symbol for Guinness (the two collaborated to ensure that the harp doesn't face the same direction in the two).

I'm really interested in the history of medieval Ireland/Dublin, but it was also interesting to hear about more recent history and the formation of the Irish Free State.

Following the conclusion of the tour, we were pretty exhausted (particularly Karen and Jim, as they had been traveling all night). We walked back to the hotel to take naps. I laid down and pretty quickly realized that I wasn't going to be able to fall asleep. So I browsed the internet in the lobby (I wasn't getting wifi in the room) and called my mom. 

After a couple hours rest, it was time to meet for dinner. We took a cab back down to Temple Bar, as we were running short on time. We met my cousin Karla and her husband Jimmy at Gallagher's Boxty for dinner. We all ordered boxty and then probably confused some fellow diners by taking photos in front of the restaurant.

We walked to The Temple Bar and had a round of drinks. It was pretty crowded and loud, but a fun touristy destination. After a round, we decided to move on, but everything looked pretty crowded. We ended up going up to the top floor of Oliver St. John Gogarty's, where there was traditional Irish music being played. We listened to the live music and had some more drinks. 

Karla and Jimmy left, as they had to get back to their hotel, which wasn't in Dublin. The rest of us stuck around for a bit and then walked back to the hotel.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Ireland 2014, Part One

We woke up bright and early on September 19th, around 5:30am. We got everything together and headed toward London Gatwick. We returned our rental car and made it to the terminal. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed. The board kept saying that the gate would be announced at a certain time, and then the time would come, and it would be pushed back. Hubby picked up the English version of Airborne for me while I sat with our luggage.

Finally a gate was announced and we made our way down there. We had heard horror stories about Ryanair and were worried about our carry on luggage being scrutinized, but no one batted an eye. Our flight finally left around 11:00am, and was only about one hour to Dublin.

The Ryanair plane was large and packed. They board from the front and the rear. It's great for budget travel, and an hour on the plane was fine. But it's not really meant for comfort.

We landed around noon and hopped right on the Air Coach bus. The bus will take you into downtown Dublin, which is far preferable to driving. It dropped us right near our hotel, which was about a block off St. Stephen's Green. The room was up about a thousand flights of stairs, and was the size of a matchbook, but we were fine with it due to its convenient location.

View from our room.
We checked in early and then headed out to explore. We were starving, having not eaten a proper meal yet, so we found a pub right off St. Stephen's Green called Sinnott's Bar. I again confused a server by ordering "diet soda" and we scarfed down some lunch.

After lunch, we walked around the area and did some window shopping. On the way to Trinity College, we passed the Molly Malone statue.

We arrived at Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. We skipped this last time, so we wanted to check it out this time. The exhibit is really interesting, and we learned about Irish history and the people who transcribed the Book of Kells. You can't take photos in the actual exhibit, but we did get to see pages from the Book of Kells and the Book of Armagh.

We proceeded to the long room at Trinity's library to view an exhibit on display about Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf.

I walked around reading about the exhibit and also just gawking at the beautiful library. This is a must see spot for any bibliophile.

There are a number of busts of literary figures, and you can also view Brian Boru's harp, which is the national symbol of Ireland.

The artwork displayed depicting Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf was really colorful and cool as well.

 At some point, we learned that this evening happened to be Culture Night in Dublin, so there were events going on all over the place. As we walked out of Trinity's library, we saw a line wrapping all over the place to enter (you could view the same exhibit for free a part of the events). Glad we had just paid the admission fee and didn't have to stand in a long line, we looked at the event options for the evening. It was starting to rain at this point, and of course we didn't bring an umbrella.

We ended up walking by Dublina, an exhibit on medieval Dublin that we missed last time, but the line to get in was massive as well. Not wanting to spend the entire evening in line, in the pouring rain, we decided to check out St. Patrick's Cathedral.

They were doing tours of the cathedral. We saw the outside of St. Patrick's and Christchurch on our last trip, but we were interested in seeing the interiors as well.

We connected up with a tour group and got started walking around the cathedral.

The church is really beautiful and dates from about the 1200s. 

Jonathan Swift was the dean of the cathedral and is buried there, so we learned about his life as well.

At St. Patrick's, you can light a candle and write in the prayer book. I lit a candle and wrote in the book in the memory of my Dad and my Uncle Jack. I knew they would like that and that they were there with me in some way.

We walked the short distance down to Christchurch Cathedral after our tour. There was some sort of street fair with food trucks going on outside, but we decided to look inside first. We walked around the cathedral. I didn't find it to be quite as pretty at St. Patrick's, but they did have an organ player.

We were also able to walk down into the crypts and look around, so that was cool.

We were hungry, and it was wet and crowded, so we walked back out into the night and stopped at the little street fair. We ended up getting an order of chicken pad thai to share. It was hot and good, although it was too wet to really sit anywhere to eat it. It perhaps wasn't the most mobile food we could have ordered, but it was tasty.

We thought it would be fun to check out The Brazen Head pub, which is the oldest pub in Ireland, established in 1198. We walked down there and found a table in the music room. It looked like they were getting ready to play music, although we sat there for some time, and they never started.

 We sat in the warm pub, out of the rain, and ordered pints, my first in Ireland on this particular trip. We shared a traditional fish cake with Irish bread. As we sat, we became more sore (my Fitbit told me that I finished the day at about 11 miles). Although we really should have just taken a cab back to our hotel, we decided to walk back, which was not a short distance.

We trudged up the flights of stairs and right into bed.

Friday, October 3, 2014

England 2014, Part Four

For our last full day in England, we knew we wanted to do another day in London. Plus, I had arranged to meet up with my cousin Phil who lives in London. And so, on September 18th, we got up and headed toward the Guildford train station. We decided to drive this time instead of taking the bus, because we didn't want to have to worry about getting back too late. Also parking for the day is about the same cost as two bus tickets.

We parked in the station car park and ended up having about a half hour to kill before our train into London. We headed to the coffee shop in the station, Costa. I believe this is a bit like English Starbucks. I got a latte and we shared biscotti.

After our train was moved to a different platform, and the crowd meandered over, we were able to get on board. We arrived at Waterloo and hopped on the Underground like old pros. We headed up to Westminster Abbey first.


You can't take pictures inside the Abbey itself, but it was breathtaking. I was slightly skeptical because of the steep admission fee (about £38 for both of us), but if you come all the way to London, it's a must see. The architecture and the history are indescribable.

There is an audio tour that takes you around the Abbey. So many historical, amazing figures rest here. Kings and queens, including Elizabeth I and Mary I (buried together). Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. William III and Mary II (of William and Mary fame). Mary Queen of Scots. It was difficult to comprehend that these people were actually right there.

Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin are there. In Poet's Corner, there is a who's who of literary figures: Chaucer, Dickens, Browning, Tennyson, Kipling, among others. Handel is also buried here.

After exploring the main part of the Abbey, we moved on to the cloisters and chapter house. You can take photos in these areas.

When you walk toward the chapter house, you pass a door with a sign claiming that it is Britain's oldest door.

The chapter house isn't quite as ornate as what you see inside the Abbey, but it's sunny, light-filled, and beautiful nonetheless.

After we finished up at Westminster Abbey, we took the tube over to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. There isn't really a close tube station to here, but we got off at one and walked the rest of the way. Because they had a play going on that afternoon, we were able to tour the exhibition only.

Front of the Globe Theatre.
There was a lot of information about the history of this spot, and the theatres that have stood there.

I liked reading about frost fairs that would take place when the Thames freezes in the winter. I also liked seeing all the costumes on display, as well as musical instruments that have been an integral part of the plays.

We were about the only people in the entire exhibit, so we walked around, read the displays, and took it all in at our own leisure. 

We enjoyed the view of the Thames outside the theatre before moving on to our next destination.

Next we walked over to the Borough Market which is nearby. My cousin had recommended it, both as a place where her husband worked (as their accountant) and as the place where Bridget Jones's Diary was filmed. Her apartment is right down there in the movie.

The market is a really fun place to explore, with all kinds of stalls of various foods. We walked around and looked at everything. We probably would have bought a lot more, except that we had a flight to Ireland the next morning. We ended up sharing a duck confit sandwich.

We took the tube to Covent Garden after finishing up at Borough Market. We ended up meeting my cousin Phil in this area. He took us down to the Porterhouse, which is an Irish-based craft beer bar. We ordered drinks and chatted for several hours.

Phil had to run to a work gig after that, so we explored a few souvenir shops in the area. We also sat outside and ordered a late dinner at a restaurant called The Sussex.

After eating, we debated how to get my boarding pass printed (mine had an error on it and needed to be reprinted). We were messaging Wendy to ask her how to do this when, all of a sudden, we looked up and noticed an internet cafe across the street. It seemed fated. So we printed out my boarding pass and took the tube back to Waterloo. On the train back to the Guildford, the guy behind me was hacking up a lung the whole way home. Convinced I had now contracted some sort of deadly illness, we made our way back to Wendy's house. We had to get up very early to make it to the airport and to Ireland.

We were sad that our time in the UK had come to a close, but we really enjoyed everything. I knew that there was going to be a lot of wonderful history to see, but I don't think I fully understood how awe-inspiring it was all going to be. English history and literature are my favorites, and I feel that I barely brushed the surface of this wonderful place. I hope to go back before long and see so much more.