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European Vacation – Part I – Ireland

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I’m going to do three posts. Each post will cover a seperate country, this one for example will be about Ireland. The next two will cover Scotland and Germany. The first part of each post will be a synopsis of our travels, but for the full story, you’ll have to click the “More” link to see the rest of the post. As I get the photos processed and uploaded, I’ll add links to them here as well. The extended post will likely contain a few photos, but the full album will be uploaded to Smugmug. I hope you enjoy reading!

Part I of John & Teri’s European adventure: Ireland

Dates Travelled: November 2nd – November 6th
Countries Visited: England and Ireland
Major Cities Visited: Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Blarney, Galway
Highlights Include: Kissing the Blarney Stone, Irish Pubs, Traditional Irish Songs in Irish Pubs, FOOD, Blarney Castle, Bunratty Castle, The Guinness Factory, Trinity College and the Book of Kells, St. Stephens on the Green, Driving on the LEFT.

Clicking on any photo below will take you to that particular photo on SmugMug. If you’d like to view all the photos from our European adventure, visit: http://johnhurlbut.smugmug.com/

Our journey started out on November 2nd at SeaTac airport. We had a 9 hour flight from SeaTac to Heathrow. Once at Heathrow, we had to transfer airports (a new experience for me) to Gatwick. While in line for security at SeaTac, a lady had said there was a tube route between the two airports . . . there is not! So we took the National Express bus, which is expensive, but runs about every 15 minutes. By 5:45 in the afternoon on the 3rd, we were in Dublin.

Knowing we had a long day of travel, we booked our first night in Ireland at the Dublin Airport Hilton. It was a great place to stay, although a bit away from the airport. It was nice though because within one block, there are two grocery stores, one, Tesco, open 24 hours. We grabbed dinner at the hotel restaurant, and Teri had her first Guinness of the trip. I had a braised rump of lamb that was amazing! So far, we were off to a good start!

The next morning (4th) we got up and went grocery shopping. Now this was my first experience grocery shopping somewhere outside of North America. It was fun wandering up and down the aisles to see what it was they had that we did not. I found a tasty little snack food called “Bacon Pep“. OMG. It’s like bacon flavored pork rinds. I know it sounds absolutely disgusting, but I couldn’t get enough of these tasty little wafers. It’s like God himself (herself?) came down, grabbed up a whole bunch of bacon and said “Today, you will become a tasty snack treat!” and it was so. If you like bacon . . . you’ll love Bacon Pep. But I digress.

We made it back to the airport to pick up our rental car, a Honda Civic. Now I had been paying close attention to the shuttle driver to see what it was like driving on the left side of the road whilst piloting the car from the right. Fortunately the pedals are in the same location, or I would have been really screwed. We got the mirrors and seats adjusted, put our luggage in and headed out. I lost count of how many times Teri reminded me to stay on the left. I did GREAT IMHO. I never once drove on the right in Ireland. (Stay tuned for Scotland) And the roundabouts that everyone complains about were smooth and efficient.

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The plan was to drive to Blarney that day and kiss the stone. Well don’t let anyone tell you how long it takes to get from point A to point B in Ireland. Because it takes longer. Trust me. We really only made one stop that day for lunch. We stopped in Waterford, home of Waterford crystal. We were trying to find a traditional Irish pub when Teri stumbled upon one. T&H Doolans, which just happens to be one of Waterford’s oldest irish pubs. Around for over 300 years! It just amazes me that the pub we were in, there were people drinking there BEFORE we were officially the United States. While there, we met some really cool people. John & Monica were spending a weekend vacation in Waterford and Biddy was a local. At one point, they sang us some traditional Irish songs . . . and John Denver. Good times had by all.

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From there, we headed into Cork and Blarney. We got there just a bit too late to kiss the stone and after asking directions a couple times (see, men CAN do it!) we finally found our Bed and Breakfast. The accomodations were nice and the people running the home were even nicer. Unfortunately, it was not the home in the picture. They had moved and kept the same name, so the accomodations were not what we were expecting. No view of Blarney castle and no free wi-fi! We headed into town for dinner and ended up at the Muskerry Arms. I had lamb again wth carrot soup. I’d never had carrot soup before and it was to die for! Teri had a stew and she said it was really good as well. We tried to stay up for some music, but after the long drive and the yummy dinner, we were pretty spent, so we headed back to the B&B for a good night’s sleep.

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We awoke the next day (5th) bright and early and had a good Irish breakfast before heading down to Blarney Castle. We were probably the 2nd and 3rd people to kiss the stone that day. One of the benefits of travelling in the off-season is there aren’t a bunch of lines to wait in! Kissing the stone is a unique experience. You lie down on your back and reach behind you to grab a couple of rails. Then you arch backwards as you inch down and kiss the stone. Blarney castle itself is no longer intact. The whole center section is gone . . . so the large rooms where there would have been living rooms, etc. are basically all open to the weather now. But it’s still worth going even if it’s just to say you did it. A quick trip to the Blarney Woolen Mills and we were off again to Galway.

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On our way to Galway, we stopped off at Bunratty castle. Now this was so far the coolest castle I’d been in. (Well with the exception of Windsor which is still maintained and used as a residence today) It was a fully intact midieval castle, moat and everything. And surrounding Bunratty is a little midieval village complete with thatch roofs and goats. Really intersting to see how they might have lived back then. After the castle, we had lunch at Blarney Woolen Mills. (They have multiple locations) Then back on the road to Galway. By the time we arrived in Galway, it was too dark to do much other than grab a beer in another pub and get settled in our room. So unfortunately we didn’t see much of Galway other than the Lower Salthill district. We did however get to see Quantum of Solace, the new James Bond flick. When we were in London 9 years ago, we saw a James Bond flick then too, so now it’s kind of tradition.

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We awoke early again the next day (6th) and started the drive to Dublin. This wasn’t so bad because the Motorway ended up being 3 or 4 lanes for half of the trip and the speed limit was 100 – 120 Kph. We were in Dublin shortly after noon. Our first stop was the St. James Gate Brewery (Please note, if you click on the link you’ll have to input your birthday to continue on), home of Guinness. Now I’m not much of a beer drinker, and the few sips I’ve had of Guinness haven’t helped that much either. But after the tour, you’re treated to a pint of Guinness and a 360 degree view of Dublin from the Gravity bar on the 7th floor of the brewery. So I had my VERY first full pint of Guinness ever directly from the source! I probably won’t order one anytime soon, but I did drink the whole thing and it wasn’t horrible. (Teri said it was really yummy, of course it’s her favorite beer though). I did have a Guinness beef stew for lunch that was to die for though.

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After the brewery, we headed to Trinity College to view the Book of Kells and The Long Room in the library. Now, if you want to see something in Dublin, this is not to be missed. The book of Kells is the four gospels of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) that were penned by monks in around 800 AD. Yeah, like 1200 years ago! The calligraphy and illustrations are amazing! There are some really cool exhibits too on how the book was bound and created. After that, we wandered around and made our way to St. Stephens on the Green, a really nice park in central Dublin. From there we wandered over to one of Dublin’s shopping districts on Grafton Street. It was starting to get dark (One of the drawbacks to going to Europe in the off-season is that it’s dark by 5PM) so we decided to head towards the airport to drop off the car and grab a room for the night. Now when we flew into Ireland, I commented that it looked like one big traffic jam. Ahhh foresight. What a marvelous thing! Had I remembered that quote, I probably would have tried to find some other route to the airport than straight through the city. The drive is less than 7 miles and took about an hour and a half. We sat at one stop light for I kid you not, 40 minutes!

We checked in at the Radisson SAS, Dublin Airport hotel and headed out to drop the car off. Literally, it’s about a quarter mile from the car drop to the hotel. As the crow flies. Teri didn’t want to take the shuttle back to the hotel, she instead insisted on walking. So we walked. And walked. And then we guess what? We walked some more. The hotel is secured by 15 miles of chain link fence. Al Quaida couldn’t get to this hotel if they wanted to! We probably walked close to two miles to go 1/4. AND? It was probably 40 degrees out, tops. Oh well, another one to chalk up to adventure! We enjoyed a really nice dinner (Rib Eye for me) at the hotel restaurant, then off to bed for a REALLY early wake up for our trip to Scotland. Click here for Part II – Scotland.

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AUTHOR - John Hurlbut

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