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European Vacation – Ireland and Northern Ireland

After England, we headed to Ireland. Besides seeing Jessica and Andrew in Paris, Ireland was my favorite country (countries). It was absolutely beautiful and had so much gorgeous nature. I could see myself living there happily. This post will probably have a lot of photos!

Driving in Dublin was crazy, but gem drove exceptionally! I didn’t drive the first day, but I did later. Driving on the right side of the car and left side of the street wasn’t really a big deal, but being forced to park and drive with most of the car on the sidewalk due to the small streets in Dublin was nuts.

gem’s a natural at driving on the wrong side!

First we walked to the Lansdowne Hotel for some dinner, Guinness, and to wait for a show in the basement.

The Irish House Party featured traditional Irish music and dancing. We sat right in the front row. It was easily one of the best evenings of my life. They were amazing.

Here we are with all the performers!

The next day we did some exploring in Northern Ireland. Perfect sign placement.

Our first castle was Carrickfergus Castle, which was super awesome. There sure are a lot of castles in Ireland though! Here’s gem, Antonio, and Anela in front of the castle.

And here’s me, gem, and Anela on top of it!

Anela seemed just a tad excited by the name of this boat!

Pretty close, right?

This castle wall seemed like the perfect place for them to pose.

I have a thing for silhouettes. I thought Anela and gem looked cool here in the window.

gem leans back all cool on top of the castle. She’s just chillin’. No big deal.

After the castle, we drove to Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge, which is 66 feet across and 98 feet above the water. The rope bridge connects the mainland to a little island. It was a bit freaky being on the little rope bridge that high, but most of us made it across without incident. Anela was scared of heights and stayed behind for a while, but eventually someone who worked there walked her across to join us.

Look, we all made it!

I think gem took this photo of me. It was really beautiful on the island.

Of course, I had to do a little yoga. I was still a few feet from the edge; don’t worry.

After our adventures with the rope bridge, we explored the Dunseverick Castle ruins and Dunluce Castle. Both were mostly ruins, and there isn’t a lot to say about them. Afterwards we went to Giant’s Causeway, shown above.

We did some hiking, and gem and Anela rescued a slug from the middle of the path.

This rock reminds me of a dinosaur’s bone. I wonder if anyone else in my group imagined that.

Giant’s Causeway is known for these basalt columns that are naturally formed from volcanic eruption. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Anela, gem, and Antonio hike across the rocks.

Here’s a closer look at the columns. You can see that the number of sides differ.

Watch your step! All three of them are looking down as they walk so they don’t trip.

That face. I don’t know what she was thinking here. 🙂

On the way back to our apartment, we stopped in Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, for pizza at Opera Italian Pizza. Anela has no recollection of this, so I’m glad I have photos! You’ll have to excuse the weird neon lighting.

We got two pizzas, but this is the one that I remember. It might look like Hawaiian, but that’s not pineapple. It’s a ham and peaches pizza, and it was super delicious! This is one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had.

The next day we took a day trip to County Clare in the Mid-West Region. We grabbed McDonald’s for the road before heading out. Driving on the wrong side was fun!

We started with Bunratty Castle! And I hope all these photos are accurate. I might have some mixed up with Craggaunowen. That’s the problem with using my phone as well as my DSLR since my phone’s clock updated but my DSLR’s clock was set to my home timezone. It’s hard to sort out which photos go together.

I read that most castle staircases are narrow and go up clockwise so that defenders coming down the towers would have more space to swing their swords (since most people were using swords in their right hands). Interesting!

Time for a short break from all the walking to sit and look out a window. I think there’s a pretty decent chance than I asked them to sit down and pose for this actually.

The blacksmith fit Anela her new shoe. He was a nice guy, and I bet he really enjoys what he does here.

gem and Anela help the blacksmith! Honestly, we spent a long time with him. He really wanted to show us a lot of things, but it was fun.

gem also met some new feathered friends!

Next was Craggaunowen, a 16-century castle and open-air museum. Here’s gem on the roof of the castle.

gem learned to spin yarn first. It looks like she took this seriously.

I wanted to try as well. I bet I was focusing and concentrating.

And here’s Anela. Is that the face of someone trying their hardest? I think not! I bet she was laughing at herself, but I don’t remember.

This was in the castle courtyard. It was very pretty and green!

This path led to the rest of the open-air museum.

This is some sort of combination of building and underground tunnel.

The site features reconstructions of what life used to be like in Ireland.

Edited to add Anela’s comment: “Also, that looks like we ’bout to drop the hottest album of the year!”

Here’s an actor playing the role of someone who might have lived here in the past. He was nice!

After finishing at Craggaunowen, we explored Aillwee Cave, a cave system that includes an underground river. I don’t have a lot of photos to share since it was dark, but it was fun to go on the tour.

The Cliffs of Moher are quite possibly my favorite place. I don’t mean my favorite stop on our trip. I actually mean my favorite place ever. It was amazing.

Just look how gorgeous these cliffs were.

I spent a bit of time sitting alone. I wish I was close enough to sit and think at the cliffs regularly.

There were even some pretty pink flowers growing along the edge of the cliff.

I believe the little island is the Branaunmore Sea Stack. Atop the cliffs is O’Brien’s Tower.

gem went to explore the tower more closely!

At this point it was getting late and we were getting hungry. In our rush to see as many places as possible, we hadn’t planned enough time to eat. It didn’t help that the sun set much later than we expected and that restaurants seem to close earlier. In our search for a restaurant, we did find some nice cows that checked us out while we checked them out.

Eventually we found a bar with a bartender nice enough to reopen the kitchen to get us some amazing stew. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful day. However, there was one small part of the day left. I had an approximately 170 mile drive back to Dublin – late at night, single lane and unlit highways, wrong side of the road. I was so tired. That was possibly one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Thanks for trusting me to get us back safely guys!

We got back to Dublin much later than we had planned, so we decided to sleep later and spend the day in Dublin rather than driving to County Cork.

We began our day with a meal at O’Neil’s. I had some delicious shepherd’s pie! Afterwards we did some exploring. Here we are at Dublin Castle.

Next up was the Christ Church Cathedral.

We also got to go down into the crypts, which was a museum, but I didn’t take any photos worth sharing here.

Anela and gem pose in front of Peacock Green after we stopped for a treat. They gave us free pastries!

We went on a walking tour of Dublin where we were told that it was good luck to grab the left breast of the statue of Molly Malone. I bet no local believes that and that it’s just something they tell tourists.

Three lovely ladies post for a selfie. Molly Malone wouldn’t duck face.

The tour also took us to Trinity College, but I didn’t take any photos worth showing.

gem touches the tip of the Spire.

We spent the rest of the day walking through the city. We saw some interesting sights and learned some fascinating things. I was intrigued by the story of Father Pat Noise. You can read about it on Wikipedia. The tour guide told us that Irish care more about the story than the truth. Two brothers installed a plaque on O’Connell Bridge commemorating Father Pat Noise – someone who didn’t really exist. It was eventually removed (after two or three years). Another was installed, and when it was planned to be removed, a City Councillor argued against it. It’s still there.

Anela and Antonio look at something in difference while gem looks directly into the camera wondering why I’m taking a photo.

On our final morning, gem made us some breakfast sandwiches before we headed back to the airport for the next leg of our vacation!

Ireland was so amazing and beautiful. I know there are so many places to visit and so much traveling I’d love to do, but I really hope I can return to Ireland and spend a lot more time there. And while I’m hoping, I hope that the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland remains relatively invisible after the UK exits the European Union! Thanks for the memories, Ireland!

European Vacation – England

I visited England about 10 months ago, so it’s about time I talk about it. We flew from Copenhagen to London where security was almost as annoying as it is in the US. The rest of Europe was relatively relaxed, but getting into the UK takes some time. After landing, we took a train where we changed in the train bathroom to prepare for our first stop…

Tea time! We had tea at the Hilton West End. Unfortunately, we had to bring our luggage with us since we were cutting it close, but everything worked out fine.

I had Earl Grey tea and tomato, cucumber, salmon, and ham sandwiches. They were all delicious, and it was a lot of fun.

We took a bus to get to our AirBNB and then explored the city a bit. It was kind of fun to see places with names we recognized from the computer game, Hellgate: London such as Piccadilly Circus and Charring Cross. It was also fun to use the real London Undergrounds. I know it’s not special to those who live there, but I was a tourist and I enjoyed it!

After a quick detour to get photos of each of us in a red telephone box (because how could we not), we stopped at McDonald’s to continue trying McDonald’s in each country.

None of my photos of Big Ben turned out great since it was dark, but it was pretty cool seeing it lit up in the London sky. It’s so iconic. We also walked along the River Thames near the London Eye!

The next day we struggled to figure out the washing machine and then left on our tour of Stratford-upon-Avon, Cotswolds, Bath, and Stonehenge. Cotswolds wasn’t a destination; rather, it’s a lush area of hills and grass through which we drove on our bus tour to the other destinations. First was Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of Shakespeare.  We went on a tour of his first home where the tour impressed upon us just how simple of a life it was during that time. They gave us a snack, and we watched some actors perform a short scene.

Next we visited Bath where the Roman Baths were built. The water wasn’t so pretty now, but at one time, people visited to bathe in the waters. The architecture was cool, but more interesting was some of the classic art – statues, tools, coins, scrolls, and more. The writings were mostly simple lists – debts and, if I recall correctly, a list of suspects from a crime.

Outside the baths was a street performer who set birds all over us. As gem and I had recently played Hatoful Boyfriend, a computer game in which you play as a young woman in a world now run by birds (it’s from Japan, okay?), we were quite excited.

Stonehenge was the last stop on our tour, and likely with good reason. This was the main attraction. It was really awesome seeing such a well-known icon up close. At the same time, and I think this applies to a lot of things, it’s less idyllic in person with huge groups of people wandering around. Of course, you can’t actually get close either.

There was an audio tour you could use while walking along as well. I used it and listened to a large portion of it, but honestly, nothing I learned really stuck with me. If you visit, I think you could safely skip it.

I do, however, remember the audio tour causing me to focus on the rock. What did it say about it? I have absolutely no idea. But I like the photo.

I also really like this photo of Antonio gazing at Stonehenge. What do you think he’s thinking about?

When we got back to London, we needed to go shopping. Anela had torn her jeans and needed a replacement. Irish John and Steve, our tour guides, were really nice. They offered to drop us off last near a store. After making her purchase, we went in search of dinner. We ended at Simply Indian, a delicious Indian restaurant in London. It was super delicious – one of the better meals we had on vacation. I have to be honest though; we had a lot of great food!

Our goal the next day was to see some British guards! Look, gem holds one of the tiny guards on her palm.

I’m getting ahead of myself. First on the agenda was a place Antonio suggested – Borough Market. There was cheese, olive oils, vinegar, honey, sausages, and even brownie samples. I ate a venison burger, more Indian food, a meat pie, and had some tea. After eating, we split up because one of us forgot our phone. I don’t even remember who it was or who went with who at this point. However, I knew how to use the underground to get back and then get where we were going to meet.

We were meeting at the Lush flagship store, across the street from a Uniqlo, about two blocks from where we’d get off the underground. Awesome. Easy enough, right? Not quite. I thought I followed the directions, but it didn’t seem right. As it turns out, a couple blocks in either direction was Lush, each across the street from a Uniqlo. What the heck?! We eventually found the correct Lush, and I had a great chat with a woman working there who’s actually half Greek.

Now it was off to Buckingham Palace and Whitehall for the changing of the guards. Anela really wanted to be able to go up to a guard who can’t respond like in films, but that’s not possible anymore. She did get a photo with this officer though! Who doesn’t like a man in uniform?

I believe this is the four us at Whitehall for the changing of the guards. It was fun!

With our mission complete, we did a little exploring and wandered the streets.

We decided we definitely had to have some fish and chips while in London, so we stopped here at The Clarence for a bite to eat and a beer.

While we were in London, we decided to try to sneak to Hogwarts. We found Platform 9 3/4 and pushed our way through! There was a bit of  line, but I enjoyed chatting and watching others have fun when it was their turn. If the participants are willing, they have each person pose once as if walking through and another jumping. They also have participants focus on the professional cameraman as well as their own. On top of that, they let us take group photos and individuals photos. It was pretty cool!

gem did a little shopping for a wand. So many choices! We didn’t actually purchase a wand, but it was fun to shop. We also met a cosplayer who goes by La Espada de Obi Wan in line. He specializes in Obi-wan and The Doctor. You can find him on Facebook as La Espada de Obi Wan!

After looking at all the goodies in the Harry Potter store, we went in search of the door used as Sherlock’s door in the show. It’s not a show I watch, but I was happy to go too. gem was certainly excited!

Our final major goal was to visit Abbey Road. There was a designated wall on which people could write or draw, which was pretty interesting. There were a decent number of tourists, but it wasn’t packed. I do feel bad for the poor drivers who just want to drive down their street!

This is the best photo I have of us. Yeah, yeah, I know we’re walking the wrong way when compared to the Beatles. We also met a tourist there who loved the Beach Boys. He must have spent at least five minutes talking about how much better the Beach Boys were than the Beatles. He wasn’t mean about it or anything, but he was certainly opinionated. His wife seemed less than amused.

We finished at Abbey Road, and moved on to exploring Soho. We ate our second fish and chips meal of the day and then grabbed some coffee at the Soho Grind, a very pleasant location.

After a good night’s rest, we quickly visited Borough Market again in the morning before heading to the airport. I had a salad, and then we prepared for our flight. Unfortunately, by luggage was overweight, so I had to check it. It wasn’t a problem though, and then we were off to Dublin!

Thanks for the memories, London!