Reflections and images from my travels

Archive for the ‘General’ Category

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.

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!

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!

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!

Killarney to Kilkenny

We awoke refreshed after another long sleep in Killarney. Murphy’s Guesthouse was surprisingly quiet compared to the street front bar which was loud and raucous. The Guesthouse is built up from the street level and set back from it which contributes to it’s quietness. The only thing is we left a slight break in the curtains and a bright beam of light coming through that break blinded me as I opened my eyes that morning.

Our road trip was to begin today but first breakfast. We had a nice, basic breakfast at the bar of our hotel which also served as the breakfast location for our Guesthouse. Just coffee, no G and T’s that morning. Anna would be taking most of the photos today as I had forgot to charge the camera last night. I did take a few photos with the iPhone which are included with this post.

We (should I say, I) decided to walk to where our rental car was parked for simplicity. There were a lot of one way streets in Killarney and it was easier just to leave town by walking to the car park.

It was about a 10 minute walk and we finally found our little red 5 door car- a Seat Ibiza- that we named “Midge”. This was in honour of the small biting insects that clearly liked Anna as she showed me her multiple itchy bites that morning.

It took us awhile to figure out how to get the rear hatch open but Anna finally figured it out. We packed up and were on our way. There is always some trepidation driving on the opposite side of the road especially with a manual transmission but I accommodated rather quickly.

Anna brought along “Stella”- our faithful Garmin automobile GPS- but, quickly determined she did not bring any maps so the device was of no use to us. We used my phone with data roaming which worked perfectly. We missed one of our first turns out of town and ended up going through the lovely road I had descended on my bike a few days prior on the east of Killarney tour.

We eventually connected with the main highway but then Google maps took us on some lovely countryside lanes which was great. Very little traffic and single track roads but very scenic. The only problem was it was so rural at some point we lost cellphone coverage so we had to guess a section prior to arriving in Blarney. Thankfully, when we picked up signal we had come the right way!

Our goal was to kiss the Blarney Stone (as if I don’t already have the gift of the gab). We did not know what to expect when we arrived. It was a well organized and developed tourist attraction. The parking was cheap and once we got in we found out the garden grounds surrounding the castle were huge!

A few tour buses were pulling in so we quickly went up to the Blarney Castle and got in line. Signs warned us it would take 60 minutes from our point in line to get up to the stone which was situated up at the top of the castle tower. I asked Anna if she really wanted to wait that long and she emphatically said yes! It was 100 steps to get to the top and the line moved slowly. We were get entertained by information plaques that explained the history of the castle. The very narrow, circular staircase to get to the top was the highlight of the climb. When you reached the top you were rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding grounds. Breathtaking!

It is a bit of a maneuver to actually kiss the stone. You lie on your back and then grab 2 metal bars on either side in back of you, slide towards the stone and then extend your neck back and ouch your face forward to plant one on the stone. We both did it. Mission accomplished and it took 60 minutes. They take pictures of you kissing the stone which you can purchase for a rather exorbitant price. Thankfully, they allowed you to take your own pictures of the blessed event.

After descending and exiting the castle we took a tour of the poison garden (a selection of plants with noxious and deadly properties), walked around the grounds and then Anna got an Irish Coffee in a “to go” cup and we quickly dispensed with the best crisps we have ever tasted (Shamrock and Sour Cream flavoured). Yum!

The walk around the extensive garden grounds was the highlight for us. So beautifully managed and representing different themes and micro-climates. Our favourite was the “Fern Forest”. We also passed by the Blarney House.

It was almost 4:30 PM by the time we finished up so we got back in “Midge” and drove onwards to Cork. It was a large city relative to the smaller centres we had stayed in to date. I survived the lethal one way streets but did go into the wrong lane once at a red light! We then parked by the city fire station and decided to walk to find a restaurant to have an early dinner at.

The section of the city we were in was lovely and very conducive to walking. We found a very quiet, narrow “lane” restaurant called Elbow Lane which had a smokehouse and it’s own microbrewery in the back. Perfect. The beer was fantastic and the ribs were delicious.

We had not really planned to spend much time in Cork, but, were happy we had stopped in. Each town/city in Ireland really deserved several days in order to appreciate their respective essences.

Midge then took us the rest of the way to Kilkenny. I made my second mistake driving today by going through a red light at a confusing intersection in town but thankfully there was no cross traffic! We arrived quite late at our hotel at about 9:30 PM but, of course, that left enough time to hit the bar at the Hibernian Hotel Kilkenny! Before hitting the bar, we had to park Midge. The hotel receptionist said there was a great deal on a nearby parkade just up the street for 3 day rate that was better than a 2 day rate. We found the car parkade easily and spoke to the attendant who confirmed this. Wonderful. We then proceeded to park the car and sat looking at the gate which refused to open. We were on CCTV and the attendant must of thought we were thick because he came out to insert a master card to let us in. I had neglected to look right for the card entry machine because no one of good sense drives on the left had side of the road. Fine. We figured, fine, just park the car and get to the bar- our natural habitat. We exited the vehicle with our luggage but had to park on Level 3. We looked around and saw a nearby door and proceeded towards it. Obviously, it would lead us to a stairwell. I tried to push it open but it was locked. There was a button on the right side of the door protected by a plastic cover and with an odd sign (they sort of looked like ……….stylized ……flames) below it. I begged Anna, no, we do not understand what that sign means and maybe this is not the way out. She swiped my hand away and looked at me with disdain. “I know all” she trumpeted. She lifted the plastic cover and proceeded to push the button with extreme prejudice and with a maniacal laughter. Promptly, the blaring fire alarm started wailing. Another couple in a vehicle parking their car at the same time looked at us suspiciously and locked their doors.

We were so embarrassed. We then walked down the ramp and as we were leaving the car park we could see the attendant feverishly working an electrical panel trying to get the alarm to cease. There was a crowd of locals gathered on the street who came to see what All of the commotion was all about. I am sure there has not been this much excitement in Kilkenny since the Middle Ages! We felt so bad for the attendant.

To be honest, that’s not how it went down at all! Anna was not sure about the button and actually pointed out the stylized flames to me (it was Greek to me at that point), but, I encouraged her to lift the plastic cover and push the button the bling it was an after hours door release. She unfortunately followed my advice! Writer’s license………!

We went back to the hotel bar where a great duo was playing Irish music and steadily increased their playing volume as there was this annoying alarm from outside drowning them out! Once Anna sat down and had an ale she recalled the event and had a deep, dirt belly laugh that must of gone on for 5 minutes! It was all very therapeutic l. We closed down the bar at about 10:45 PM. The local Kilkenny draught was excellent!

Even though the day had not been that active, we were still tired and fell into a deep slumber.

Kenmare Loop A- the Beara Peninsula

Anna definitely did not feel right last night. She had just ordered soup for her meal but after one bite bailed. I ended finishing up her meal in addition to mine. We crashed early!!

The room was very quite and conducive to a good sleep which we had. In total, I think we slept 11 hours.

My name today is Com O’Leary. He is a local dentist in Kenmare. We are obviously getting lazy with choosing the names!

Anna did not bike today instead choosing to take her time after breakfast to pack and then go into town to tour the sights.

I, on the other hand, was going to get my last cycle in. The tour company was going to pick us up at the B&B by 4 PM so I got on my way by 10 AM. I was going to cycle the Beara Peninsula.

The weather looked sunny but of course this could change on a dime. The way out was undulating but then a left hand turn started me up Healy Pass. It was a good climb but very quiet with no other cyclists. I took a few pictures at the top of the pass and then enjoyed another long and very fast descent.

I was amused by road signs in chalk before every bend warning me to “slow down” and ‘dangerous turn ahead”!

There was a pub at the end of the descent called the Smokey Pickle Cafe.

I got a picture of it and though it said it was open but it looked abandoned. I was on a mission to get back to Kenmare so I did not linger. The tour then took me onto quiet country lanes with grass strips in the middle looking appropriate for wheeled carts! There were overhanging trees and bushes enveloping me as I rode. Fantastic! As I rode on I noted a small bridge to the left and stopped for some pictures of a lovely small lake.

This section was so beautiful and relaxing I really settled into the ride becoming one with the bike and just appreciated being here. Life was good, I felt strong and I opened my mouth to roar my approval and……a bug flew into my mouth. I chocked, coughed and sputtered for awhile until I got my composure back! Once again, don’t be too proud.

After awhile, I took a side road to Tuosist which was amazing as well. Tree enveloped roads with open areas affording lovely views of the sea. I again achieved a high level of relaxation when a large bee struck me in the upper lip. It hurt. Thankfully I was able to soldier on.

I was making great time and feeling strong when I reconnected with the main road back to Kenmare. This was the last stretch of cycling I would do in Ireland. I was surprised by how trouble free it had been. All felt good. I would simply power in to Kenmare way ahead of schedule. You know….life has a way of correcting your optimism. As I was riding, literally 4 km out of town I suddenly heard a loud pop like a gunshot. The rear tire exploded. Thankfully I was on a flat stretch and the bike remained stable. I thought, no problem, a quick repair and I would be on my way. I pulled out the repair kit provided by the tour company but noted a piece was missing to attach the CO2 canister. Oh well, I guess I would be walking the rest of the way! I was just happy I was not 30 km out!

I walked into town and thankfully the first shop I laid eyes on was a bike repair shop. The fellow inside was very helpful after I finally got him to understand I wanted a rear bike tire repair and not a tube. He promised to get it done while I went for a latte and light lunch at a cafe next door.

After lunch I went back to the bike shop and, as promised, the bike was ready to go. He had to replace the tire and showed me the major tire cut. I could not have repaired it “in the field” even if I had wanted to.

I returned to the B&B and re-packed getting the bike ready for pick up when Anna showed up. Good timing. She stayed at the B&B while I went into town to finally do a small tour and get some photographs of the town before we departed. This included the stone circle, the local church and Cromwell’s Bridge.

When I got back to the B&B, Fiona our driver, was waiting. We had a pleasant drive back to Killarney and registered for our rental car and then Fiona dropped us off at Murphy’s Guesthouse.

We had a nice pub meal and then a final walk around town. We stopped in at the Scott’s Hotel pub for 2 G and T’s to celebrate the end of the bike tour. We had a good chuckle when Anna asked the bartender for our second G and T requesting “Jingle Gin” (instead of our favourite Dingle Gin). Afterwards we decided we should cap off the night with an Irish Coffee and stopped in at the swanky Killarney Park Hotel. It is a five star hotel and had a very nice but sparsely populated bar (no wonder, the room rates were $350 Euros and up!). After the Irish coffees, we suddenly came to the realization we had not had an Irish whiskey so I ordered a 12 year old Power’s whiskey and Anna had the 12 year old Redbreast whiskey. What a great way to top off out bike tour.

Except it wasn’t. On the way back to our guesthouse, we stopped in for a Murphy’s Dingle Sea Salt ice cream ( OK, I did). We joined in a rendition of “Stand by Me” with a boisterous group of American tourists queued up waiting for the tasty treat.

Tomorrow we were off to Cork and Waterford with me driving, hopefully, on the left side of the road in a manual rental vehicle. Fiona has told us on our drive into Killarney that the one way roads in Cork were “lethal”!! My confidence was waning. How would we do?

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