A couple of notes before I get started.
First, my three part blog has now turned into four parts. That’s because I’m so gabby and decided to add in more pictures. Gee, why are Sheryl and Casey not surprised?
Second, European Trains go fast. Much faster than ours in the US. So, taking good pictures out of the train window is next to impossible.
Third, if you try taking a picture out of the window of something far off, I guarantee a bush, tree, telephone pole or something will pop up just as you take the picture.
Fourth, I am notorious for accidentally taking pictures of feet, my cane, a suitcase handle or something absolutely no one cares about.
So, if any of these show up, just ignore them.
Well, not the feet picture above. That’s of Sheryl’s (right) and Casey’s (left) feet. Way back before the trip they both decided to have their toe nails of one foot painted in Ireland colors (Orange, Green and White) and the other in British colors (Red, white and blue). Yes, we were in our friend’s wine bar when they decided this. Any further comment will likely get me in trouble, so I’ll just shut up now. Actually, I’ll be in trouble as soon as they see I’ve posted this picture for the world to see.
A few more general comments:
Every time we travel, things we didn’t expect happen. Cities that are nothing like we expected. History that captivates us. People who treat us as if they’ve know us forever. Food that is amazing.
In Ireland, and England, it was all of these. Before our first trip two years ago, when I thought of Irish food, I thought of boiled potatoes and cabbage. Boring, tasteless. Oh, was I ever wrong! Everywhere we went the food was fantastic, and unique! (Having lived in England I should have known better!)
The people? Unbelievably helpful, friendly and happy. Never once did we run into a grumpy person or fail to have them jump up and help us onto a bus, the train, navigate stairs or offer directions and, almost always, guide us there while bragging about how we will love their city and country. Oh, and ask all about our countries and how they compare. Then, be fascinated that we and Casey, from opposite sides of the world, were good friends and traveling together.
So, what truly makes Ireland and England so special? First and foremost, the people. Second the food and friendly, outstanding service, everywhere. And, finally, the fascinating history and true pride of the people in their country and struggles that have made them who they are: Some of the most wonderful people we have ever met.
Finally, I need to add a special thanks to Casey for all of her help during our trip; especially after we came down with colds that immediately affected our stamina. Without her we would have had to cut our trip even shorter. As I’ve said in previous posts, not only is she a fantastic writing partner, and best friend, she’s also a delightful travel partner and a wonderful part of our lives.
Yeah, yeah. I know. Shut up and get on with the trip.
Day 1 – London
After clearing customs and emigration at Heathrow airport, we rode the Hopper bus to the Sheraton Skyline Hotel where we caught up with Casey. After dumping our luggage in our room we all headed for the pub inside the hotel where we found Tessa, the pub manager and a good friend from our numerous previous stays at the hotel.
Tessa joined us for dinner and while we caught up on two years of events in our lives since we’d last been together, the pub filled up and I couldn’t help but notice a wonderfully friendly feeling spreading through the room. Everyone was laughing, chatting with the table next to them, us included, and just having a good time. I even commented to Tessa that it felt like we were at a party. To which she said, “It’s always like this.”
What a way to start our trip!
Day 2 – The train to Holyhead
Friday and it was up early. While we waited for our ride to arrive we grabbed coffee, tea and croissants from Starbucks in the hotel lobby, then sat back as our van driver fought his way through London’s morning traffic to Euston Train Station on the northwest side of London.
At the station our IrishRail Tour guide met us, settled us into our reserved seats and wished us a wonderful trip.
It’s here that I will tell you that in every village you pass through in England you will find a quaint cathedral, an old cemetery, a castle or two and tons of sheep.
As for the sheep, you will also notice that in each pasture, their arses have been spray painted with a different color; pink, green, blue, red, …. This is so each farmer can tell his sheep from the others should they wander down the road looking for greener pastures.
Since it was early April, it was also birthing season for the sheep. So, each pasture had tons of adorable baby lambs running and hopping all over the place as they tested their new legs and their parent’s patience.
Late Friday afternoon we arrived at our hotel in Dublin, The North Star. Just renovated and modernized and only a short four block walk to O’Connell Street, the main street in Dublin, or the Leffy River, which runs through the middle of Dublin.
Day 3 – Free day in Dublin
Saturday morning, after a fantastic dinner with Sarah the evening before and breakfast at the hotel, we headed to O’Connell Street to board the Hop-on, Hop-off tour bus. On the way was a stop at the IrishRail Tours office to thank Fiona and Peter for putting together our fantastic trip.
Since we had two days to roam Dublin, we stayed on the bus for its almost three hour route. This way we could get to know Dublin, the various areas and where things that we wanted to go back to were.
Arriving back at O’Connell street, we caught another bus and took it to the Dublin Writers Museum where we spent the next three hours roaming through the various displays for what seemed like every famous writer, all of whom came from Ireland or had ties back to Ireland. Mixed in among those displays was the original handwritten manuscript of Bram Stokers Dracula.
Well, it’s now the end of our first day in Dublin and time to eat.
Outside we go, only to find hundreds of our best Irish friends outside the museum and ourselves in the middle of a demonstration for the homeless. We really have no idea if this was pro-homeless or anti-homeless, nor could anyone tell us. They were however, all having a very good time, as they sang and danced their way into the park down the street. (A Side note: The last time we were in Dublin we found ourselves in the middle of a water tax demonstration with 30,000 of our best Irish friends, And, as Sarah put it, Dubliners are always demonstrating against something and it’s usually just a good excuse for a block party.)
In any case, both times they had to be the happiest demonstrators we’ve ever seen and yeah, both times it looked more like a giant block party.
After wading (actually kind of two stepping) our way through the demonstration, we caught a taxi to the Arlington Hotel for dinner in their street side pub. There, we found ourselves in the middle of the happiest birthday party we’ve ever seen. Ah yes, more signing, dancing, shouting and listing to a woman somewhere off in the back with one of those laughs that makes everyone else break out laughing.
Two hours later, our faces and sides hurting from laughing so much and our stomachs wonderfully full, we flagged down a taxi to take us back to our hotel. Two steps inside, we all glanced left, smiled, made a sharp left turn and detoured to the bar where we found a smiling Sarah waiting for us.
“What took you so long?” she asked as she slid four packages of Walkers Scottish Shortbread Cookies in front of Sheryl. “These are to go with your Cappuccino,” she said. She looked at Casey and I, then back at Sheryl and added, “You can share them if you want. That way Casey can have them with her hot chocolate and Bob with his Irish Coffee.”
(The night before, Sheryl had told her about the wonderful shortbread cookies we had had in Scotland and how nice they would go with her cappuccino. And yes, we’re taking Sarah home with us!)
Day 4 – Another free day running around Dublin.
A quick breakfast and we’re off in a taxi to the Book Market in Temple Bar Square; only to find out the market is only on Saturdays and not Sundays. UGH! Okay, back to the Arlington Pub for lunch and to decide where to next. Ah Ha! The Winding Stair Bookshop is just a few doors down! Guess where we’re going?
A short walk down the Quay along the Leffy River and we we’re at the Winding Stair Bookshop where we would spend the next hour and a half and more than a few Euro’s. Can’t ever have too many books on Irish stories and legends.
Finally, Sheryl says “I need to go to the bathroom.” The lady behind the desk says, “There’s a café/coffee shop right next door.” So, off we go, me pushing Sheryl in her wheelchair and Casey saying, “I’ll catch up in a minute.”
In front of the café we’re confronted with several steps to get in. As Sheryl starts to get out of the wheelchair to walk in, two young guys who were sitting inside, jump up, run out and each takes one side of her chair. “I can walk,” Sheryl says. “We got this,” they both say as they pick her and the chair up, carry her in and wheel her to the restroom.
Not only that, they wait for her to finish, wheel her back, carry her down the steps and pass her back to me. “Have a wonderful day,” they tell us. “We take it you’re from the US by your accents,” one says and the other adds “We hope you enjoy our city.” (Yup, where taking them home too!)
Our next stop is staring at us from across the little plaza in front of the cafe. Turning around turns out to be a big mistake because there, in front of us, is a giant gift shop, full of everything Irish. Several large shopping bags later and much lighter wallets from fewer Euro’s and it’s time to head back to the hotel. Once again, Sarah and McGettigans Pub call our names on the way into the lobby, as we order drinks and dinner and tell Sarah all about our day.
Day 5 – Off to Waterford
Well, Sheryl and I are off to Waterford, leaving Casey to roam around Dublin for another day seeing some of the things we saw on our last trip.
First thing out the door and across the river and what does Casey spot? A giant squirrel. Not a real squirrel, but one made of trash glued to the side of a building by some artist. So? You ask. What’s so unusual about that? Well, Casey is fascinated by squirrels, which they don’t have in New Zealand. So, this is obviously some kind of a good luck sign for Casey and she does, in fact, have a fantastic walk around Dublin.
From the squirrel, she walked up Grafton Street, walked around Trinity College, took in the Little Museum of Dublin, walked around St Stephen’s Green, visited Dublin Castle with it’s incredibly moving “Famine exhibition”, then on to Christ Church Cathedral and finally a diversion into Eason Bookshop on the way back to the hotel.
Christ Church Cathedral
“Celebration of Woman” event at the Little Museum of Dublin.
While Casey was walking all over Dublin, we took the train down to Waterford, an ancient Viking City dating back to 914 and Ireland’s oldest city. Sitting just north of Ireland’s southeast coast, it is also the home to the Waterford Crystal Factory.
Our day trip to Waterford consisted of a tour of the Waterford Crystal factory and then a walking tour of the city.
The factory tour turned out to be fascinating, as did out tour of the city with its rich Viking history. I think the pictures will pretty much tell the story of both.
Upon returning to the hotel we all ended up back in the pub for another wonderful dinner with Sarah.
Well, that’s it for part II. Part III will take us on the rest of our Ireland excursions and part IV will cover Alnwick, England and Casey’s quick tour of London.
We’ve also a ton more pictures that I’ll try and post on Facebook as an album.