Reflections and images from my travels

Archive for June, 2019

Dublin- The End of Days!

We awoke to our last full day in Ireland. Tomorrow we would be flying home! How quickly the time passes. We slept in again but this time longer and got going by noon! This was never occur once we get home.

My final name is…………..(drums rolling please) Michael D. Higgins, the current President of Ireland.

We had a very open plan today. Just walk freely and see where we end up. We had a few last minute gifts Anna had to pick up and we had to get that whiskey flight in and finally find that bottle of Dingle Gin to bring home.

As we walked closer to the center of town we decided to visit Trinity College, the premier learning institution in Ireland. What a great choice it turned out to be. It was like a small city within a city. Beautiful old architecture and so much history. We decided to pony up and pay to get a guided tour from a just graduated student “looking to make some money before he started his masters”. He was wearing the actual student robes of Trinity College that are currently optional for students to wear (apparently no one wears them).

It included a tour of the Book of Kells. Fascinating. The Exhibition displays the Book of Kells, a 9th century manuscript that documents the four Gospels of the life of Jesus Christ. The Book of Kells is Ireland’s greatest cultural treasure and the world’s most famous medieval manuscript..

The history behind it’s origins on the Isle of Iona and it’s transfer to Dublin and the Trinity College for safekeeping enthralled us. No photography was allowed in the chambers where the books were housed (sorry, you will have to visit yourselves). The writing was ornate on vellum with colourful pigments and in a Gaelic form of Latin.

The Exhibition also featured access to the Long Room, one of the world’s most beautiful libraries, that houses 200,000 of Trinity College’s oldest books. We were awestruck again. It was massive and with the books arranged from the floor with the largest and heaviest to the ceiling smallest and lightest. The effect was both solemn (quiet like a church) and awe inspiring. This is a must see if you are in Dublin!

Next we were off to the Museum of Irish Whiskey. A proper museum! We had hoped, and our hopes were realized, that we could order a whiskey flight. We had four different types of Irish Whiskey all different in character. Anna and I both agreed the Powers whiskey was the best of the lot.

We then went along Grafton Street and area and got some of Anna’s shopping done. I was tempted by a very nice jacket but decided against it. Anna felt I made a very dire mistake.

A final walk around the Temple Bar district with an actual walk through the Temple Bar and we walked back to our hotel for an early night. We found a Tesco on the way back and went in and…..found Dingle Gin on sale. Ah, the gods were smiling down on us.

We had to get up very early for our flight tomorrow morning and pack tonight so we decided we had completed our Ireland holiday.

Until next time……….

Back in Dublin!

Yet another “sleep in” day this Monday morning! We were hoping for better weather after our drenching last night. We got going by 10 AM and decided to walk into city center, but first, our latte and scone/chocolate croissant. Ah……….!

My name today is George Salmon- a former Provost at Trinity College.

We walked over to the tourist center across from Trinity College and found our location to get on to our hop on “hop off bus” (the official one, thank you). This is a great way to quickly view all of the sites in a city. We did not have the same issues with being accosted like we were in Belfast. We went directly to one guide and the other simply accepted it.

I really did not expect to take many pictures from the bus, but I had a camera and the weather was actually summer-like today (go figure, mind you I did pack my rain jacket) so I did.

We travelled through the center of town including the Cathedral District, The Liberties, Phoenix Park, the North Side, along the River Liffey, the refurbished Dockside and back along Pearse Street.

We completed the full tour and then stayed on for the first part and then got off to explore St. Patrick Cathedral. This beautiful Cathedral was refurbished with money from Arthur Guinness. For this, he got his own statue on the front side of the Cathedral. The inside was full of history, old tombs and remembrances to those Irish fighters who died in numerous conflicts. The stained glass panels were numerous and spectacular. Hours whittled away as we explored.

We got back on the bus and looked forward to stop #15, the Jameson Distillery Tour. We had planned to do this on our first day in Dublin, but, as you recall we fell asleep that afternoon. No such mistake would be made today! The distillery is located on Bow Street but this is only for tourists tours. This distillery shut down when the “Big Three” distillery houses amalgamated their operations with the resurgence of Irish whiskey making. They have a huge production facility elsewhere in Ireland. This old distillery had so much character and the tour itself was one of the best we had ever been on. Our guide was very entertaining and we are sure he is a professional actor in his other job.

Our tour included a tasting of three whiskies- a Scotch whiskey single malt, a triple distilled Irish whiskey and an American whiskey. The triple distillation makes for a very smooth spirit which Anna preferred. I myself still preferred the Scotch whiskey? We then proceeded to the shop and are proud owners of an engraved jigger, a bottle of the Jameson Distiller’s Edition and a certificate proclaiming us as official whiskey tasters!

We walked around Grafton Street and the Temple Bar Area where we had a nice lunch. We soaked in as much of the Dublin spirit (and spirits) as we could.

We stayed in the central area as we had booked a historical ghost tour later that evening. First we had a pint at The Oak where several patrons were waiting to go to a performance of Gladys Knight at the historic Olympia Theatre which was just a few doors down.

At 8 PM, Mark, our ghost tour guide arrived. He was very informative and we really enjoyed the ghoulish tales he wove for us as we walked around old Dublin town. We even found out that Handel’s Messiah was first performed in Dublin. There were stories of Molly Malone, the “Hellfire Club” and the untimely demise of Darkey Kelly (who still lives on as a ghost at St. Audoen’s Church and as a local pub).

The evening’s weather was very warm, clear and calm (not the Ireland we had come to know). We were treated to a beautiful evening as the tour’s gruesome tales came to an end.

Belfast to Dublin

We must have been tired! What a great sleep in this fine Sunday morning. We really took our time as I processed pictures and Anna took a shower and re-organized her purse. We finally got going by 11:30 AM and checked out. We re-connected with Midge at the infamous car park and dropped off our luggage and then went down to Cafe Nero for a really nice latte and scone/onion and cheese twist. We then proceeded to the car park from hell and could not figure out how to get to the exiting pay station. We had to pay manually because our hotel gave us a deal on the rate. We found a way out to the ground level but ended up back at Cafe Nero. It was like we were in the Bermuda Triangle! We then decided to just drive the car down to level one and I would walk out to the pay station office. As I walked down the ramp the attendant said you really should use the entrance walkway. No s*** Einstein! I paid and used the pedestrian walkway instead of just walking up the ramp to please him.

Oops….almost forgot, my name today is George Best. If you like soccer (oops… football) you will recognize it.

We were finally on our way. The exit from our hotel to the M1 was surprisingly quick compared to our arrival in Belfast.

We filled up the car with gas just outside Belfast as the driver Dublin was only 90 minutes. As I pulled away from the gas station I noted a check engine light lit up on the dashboard. It was not flashing so we drove on hoping Midge would not let us down. She didn’t!

We arrived uneventfully at the Dublin Airport but did have a little fun finding the rental car park. We eventually found it and we got a transfer to Terminal 2 and could not for the life of us find a ground transportation kiosk. We walked over to Terminal 1 and found one and lucky us the next bus leaving to City Center was in 5 minutes.

We arrived at our Dublin Hotel- the Pearce Street Maldron and checked in. It was straight down to the bar for a red/pale ale for Anna and a Bulmers Cider for me.

There are no real photos as this was a transfer day. Here is one. I am always ahead of Anna in drinking on holidays!

We enjoyed an early dinner-home made pasta at a great little Italian restaurant again calling our name with it’s siren call- and we got properly soaked again walking back to our hotel again forgetting our rain jackets. The only cure were two Irish coffees stat! We settled in for a quiet and early night. We would be exploring Dublin tomorrow proper!

Giants Causeway Coastal Tour

We had to get up early today for a change for our tour. Thankfully, the pick up point was within 5 minutes of our hotel. It was raining again and steadily.

My name today is Finn McCool- a gentle giant from Irish folklore.

We walked over and there were at least 3 identical white tour coaches without signage. Signs would help! We grabbed take away coffee and light pastries and eventually found the right coach. Anna has booked the tour and it was a Game of Thrones themed tour (no, we did not have to dress up). A lot of scenes in the TV series were shot along the Causeway.

Derek was our tour guide/tour coach driver was and was very gregarious. The coastline was very atmospheric in the rain adding to the mood. Our first stop involved a plaque to Paddy the Pigeon (code named U2- no kidding) the most successful non-human spy in WWII. We also saw steps used in the Game of Thrones series that Ariana Stark climbed up after almost being assassinated in the TV series. Cool!

Our next stop was at the Cushendun Caves where another critical scene of the TV series was shot, Season 8. I have still not watched it! What was more fascinating was that the cave contained a private driveway leading to a residence gated at the end of the cave. Best residence entryway ever!

We proceeded through lush countryside fields and panoramic views until we reached the Dark Hedges- Bregagh Road. Hundreds of years ago a wealthy estate owner planted over 180 birch trees that have overgrown the leading lane to the house creating a moody atmosphere. It would have been great for a photograph, but, there were too many tourists on the lane to create that perfect shot. I took a few side lane photos which I was happy with. Still, it was worth seeing.

The Causeway was next. It was very busy in the car park and it took us awhile to get back unloaded. This was not going to be an intimate experience. Drizzle continued to plaque us, but, at least this time I brought my rain jacket. One does eventually learn.

We picked up our audio guides and walked along the Causeway. The basalt columns were not as impressive as their counterparts at the other end of this lava flow on Staffa Island in Scotland. It was a nice walk and I can back a different way- the Shepard’s Steps- which afforded a panoramic final view of the Causeway. The weather did make for a dreary mood but lunch was soon to follow at the Fullerton Arms Restaurant and Pub. Finally, a steak and Guinness pie and Anna had the Goujons. We bonded with an Englishwoman who was on a week holiday in Ireland. She, like Anna, had a bit of trepidation about crossing the upcoming rope bridge.

Before the Rope Bridge, we had a stop at the very picturesque Ballintoy Harbour that is often used as a backdrop for Game of Thrones. A nice walk down a windy road to a lovely view.

It was off to the Rope Bridge which was very close to the harbour. We could have walked there. The Rope Bridge was spectacular and the scenery was even better than the Causeway. Anna was able to do it! I have picture proof. Looking down crossing the bridge one really appreciated how high you were really up from the shore.

We then had a relaxing ride back to Belfast which took about 90 minutes. We arrived back at about 7 PM. Time for another good dinner and an ale to celebrate the end of a nice tour.

Belfast Day 1

Perhaps it was the parking lot debacle or fatigue from driving, but, we slept in and had a very relaxed morning. There did not seem to be any reason to rush. So unlike regular life. We were on holidays by the way.

My name today was Van the Man, in honour of an Irish treasure.

Our plans were very open today. We went to a local patisserie for a flat white and light breakfast.

We were walking over to our hop on hop off bus stop and were immediately swooped down on by two separate bus operators hawking their respective tours. It was the first and only time we felt pressured in Ireland. The two operators were arguing about why their tour was better than the other’s. An Irish woman standing beside us piped in and admonished both for their behaviour and then apologized to us on behalf of the country!

We picked up our tickets at the tourist center and walked over to the first stop. The tour was quite extensive and very informative. We really enjoyed the commentary regarding the “troubles” and the political chasm that still exists in this country. However, it was clear that peace was the goal and reality of the current situation. The tour lasted almost 2 hours. We did tour the “wall” with murals that spoke to the conflict and need for peace here and other parts of the world.

We stayed on the bus the entire way and then a bit and got off at the amazing Titanic Museum. The museum has 4 edges that exactly (and I do mean exactly) match the dimensions of the front hull of the actual Titanic. Amazing architecture.

The tour was very well set up and self guided. The amount of information provided was very comprehensive. Anna particularly enjoyed the “ride” halfway through the tour. The tour was solemn when one reflected on the lives lost and the disappointment of Belfast with the sinking after the pride of building such an engineering marvel. We got lost in the displays and by the time we finished it was after 6 PM! We noted as we exited that it was raining heavily and we had missed our last bus pick up so would have to walk back to city center. I am so happy I left my rain jacket back at the hotel again!

We got soaked very quickly as we walked back. We escaped the rain in the Odyssey Center and were surprised to find a Canadian themed sports bar called “The Rockies”. Of course, we had to stop for a pint.

We walked on and Anna found at least three Game of Thrones stained glass panels to photograph. She also got a picture of me soaked on the pedestrian bridge as we walked back to city center.

We quickly looked for a warm pub and found one in Henry’s. The bar was very cool- contemporary traditional Irish- with live music and a healthy selection of ales and spirits. We had a nice meal and then returned to our own own lounge for a nightcap. A nice end to a good day!

Kilkenny to Belfast

We had a good sleep in that next morning. It was another travel day. We were going to make our way to Belfast but wanted to get some shopping done in Kilkenny prior to leaving. The Design Center we spotted the day prior seemed to be the best place to do this.

My name today was Sean O hEathirn.

We had a quick latte and scone/croissant at the local coffee shop and started to walk towards the Design Center. A market was set up on the street so we stopped in. Anna found some unique bog and resin jewellery to purchase. The bog wood was over 8000 years old!

The Design Center proved to be a jackpot for gifts. Stephen got all of his gift shopping done including another sweater and Irish cookbooks for himself. Anna found a fetching scarf that she proceeded to wear immediately and some small gifts as well.

We loaded up “Midge” and we were on our way! We were sad to leave Kilkenny. However, the big city beckoned.

The drive took 3 hours and not many photos were taken. In the Midlands we had planned to stop at a gin school in Tinure but only arrived to find out they were open Friday to do this. Foiled!

We drove on to Dundalk which appeared to be more economically challenged. Anna bemused the fact we could not easily find a pub serving food in that town. She was on a mission to find one and we eventually did. They served a great burger and home fries that hit the spot. A bit of ale smoothed the passage.

We got into Belfast earlier than expected and found our hotel easily and centrally placed. We told them we had a car when we checked in and needed to park it for a few days. No problem. We were given a map which appeared to be drawn by a child and told it was close by. The adventure began! We followed the map but clearly places and streets were not drawn to scale (bad assumption on our part) and we eventually parked in a lot that was not the designated one after we could not find the right lot. I decided to get out of the car and search on foot. It took awhile before I finally found the correct lot, backtracked to the parked car and drove our car to it’s rightful destination. We joked it took us about the same time to park the car at a nearby lot as it did to drive into Belfast from the outskirts!

To calm our nerves, we proceeded directly to the hotel lounge and I asked for a Dingle Gin G and T. What! They did not have any. The humanity!! The bartender offered a local alternative called Jawbox Gin (which I continued to call Jawbone for the rest of the evening much to the amusement of the locals).

We then walked over to Victoria Square in order for me to purchase an accessory for my iPhone that would make downloading photos from my SD card quicker. Success! We continued to walk around and grew progressively hungrier until we found a really nice Italian restaurant. Many of the other restaurants were booked and we would have to wait. The pasta and Chianti were fantastic. The food in Ireland was really very good.

We walked back to the hotel for a nightcap and then settled into our very comfortable bed with pillows a plenty!

Waterford and Kilkenny Castle

The room in Kilkenny was very quiet and dark. Perfect for catching up on sleep. We were routinely getting up by 9 AM!

My name today is William Penrose. Google it- it will make sense for today.

This morning it was just a quick latte and scone as we were off to do some touring, and possibly shopping, at the Waterford Crystal facility.

It was a pleasant drive of about 50 kilometres. We again arrived just in time as the next tour was just starting in 10 minutes.

The tour was actually very educational as you had a very knowledgeable guide and went through the different stages of production of crystal. You actually observed the craftsmen and crafts women as they created the crystal pieces. From beechwood casting to glassblowing to polishing to marking and engraving- it was all fascinating. Some pieces took up to 4 months to finish. We were also impressed with the number of commissions and trophies they completed on a regular basis.

Of course after the tour, you exited in the massive retail area. You were surrounded by beauty! We were looking for a very specific set of coloured whiskey glasses Anna had spotted on the Canadian website but we found out these were not produced locally. We eventually spied a beautiful set of 6 glasses that had our name on it. There were all different styles and just the perfect size. Purchase made and shipped.

I remember my mother always talking about Waterford Crystal when she was alive. She had spent her formative years in England after the war and I came to appreciate why she so loved it.

We then did a small walking tour in the Cathedral area of Waterford. The cathedral was being renovated externally, but, the inside was available for a visit. What history! This was the Cathedral that Strongbow and Aefie were married in! The marriage that changed Ireland forever. Amazing!

We were going to do a whiskey tour but found out the particular distillery we wanted to tour was over 90 minutes away! We decided to drive back to Kilkenny for a late lunch and to tour the Kilkenny Castle. We had no idea where it was:

The drive back seemed quicker than going. We found a great little and finally had our traditional Irish lamb stew with a pint.

We had to find the castle so we stepped out of the pub ready for an adventure and as we looked up the street we exclaimed……oh, there it is less than 1 block away!

The castle tour was well worthwhile. The castle itself and the grounds were breathtaking. The Butler family had sold the castle to the town for 50 Euros in order to develop the property as a tourist destination for all to enjoy. We were glad they did!

The opulence of the rooms and grandeur of the halls. We were particularly fascinated with the Blue Bedroom and the Picture Room which had the most ornate ceiling I had ever seen hand painted by a single art historian! There was also an international design competition underway and all through the castle the design finalists were displayed. It made for a fascinating contrast of old and new.

The surrounding grounds and rose garden were glorious. The aroma from the roses was intoxicating as Anna could attest to.

After the touring the grounds, we crossed the street to briefly tour the Ireland Design Center. A Mecca for all artists across Europe. Many of the shops were just closing but the main shop was open and had the most beautiful gifts. We were definitely coming back the next morning!

It was time for an early dinner and we decided to have our meal at the Left Bank. All of the pubs in Ireland were gorgeous and very amenable to eating, entertaining and for consuming the “spirits”. The pubs were often broken into different sections that were connected but definitely separate in their personalities. A quiet area, an outdoor garden section for the sport fans with widescreen TV’s. We loved it!

The meal hit the spot and the G and T’s were devine with our favourite combination of Dingle gin and Fever Tree Elderflower tonic. We also enjoyed the best Irish Coffees we had yet tasted in Ireland.

We retired to our room. Anna’s suitcase was in chaos and I needed to catch up on blogging. I was having some technical issues with getting pictures from my camera to the phone!!

After awhile, we decided to have a nightcap at our own very nice hotel pub and closed out the night with our bar band. I know, it’s a tough life!

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