Thursday, September 7, 2017

Ireland

After visiting Ireland about a year ago, we said we'd like to return and spend some time enjoying Irish music in the pubs and maybe visiting a few locations we missed the first time around. When United offered a favorable airfare for travel in early September, we decided to go and and invited our good friends Terry & Jeannie to join us. Jean isn't fond of long plane rides, but considered that the 7 hour flight to western Ireland might be tolerable so we were happy to hear they agreed to go.

Day 1
We drove to O'Hare together, arriving a couple of hours before our 6 pm flight. There was enough time to relax in the United club for a while before boarding. We booked exit row seats on both sides of the aisle, and left the middle seats open hoping they would stay that way. Unfortunately the plane was booked full and we each ended up trading the aisle and keeping the middle so we could sit with our spouses. I watched a movie and slept quite a bit so the flight seemed to go by quickly. We landed at Shannon airport Saturday morning and smoothly transitioned through customs and immigration. The 'VW Passat or similar' I rented from Hertz turned out to be an Opel Insignia, but it had plenty of trunk space for our 6 bags plus a couple of backpacks. We loaded it up and headed for the Cliffs of Moher. Weather was good, cloudy and cool but no rain. The hour and a half drive to the cliffs was a good opportunity for me to review my left side driving skills.

The last time we visited the Cliffs of Moher they were completely shrouded in mist and we saw very little of them. We were luckier this time. Although it was windy and cool, the cliffs were nicely on display.  After viewing the cliffs and climbing lots of stairs to see if there were better views, we went into the visitor center to visit the souvenir shop and also sit down for coffee and a snack. Next we got back in the car and drove to our first hotel in Galway. We stayed at the Park House in Galway which is a nice hotel with a hard to find parking lot. Because of the one way streets we had to go a bit out of the way to get to the parking lot, and then I turned into the wrong entrance and we briefly visited a municipal parking garage. Ultimately we got properly parked by the hotel valet, and checked in to our rooms. We went out for dinner at a nearby hotel pub known as 'The Skeff'. The food and drinks were good and we had a nice table by a window. I enjoyed a local Galway beer named the Galway Hooker. Perhaps I enjoyed it too much since when I stood to look out the window, I managed to knock my empty glass to the floor, shattering it.

We were in the mood for some entertainment after dinner and were advised by a local that the best pubs with live music could be found on Quay street so we headed there. We opened our umbrellas against the rain that had started but it was difficult to keep them from inverting in the wind. We did make it to Quay street including stopping in a shop or two on the way. We found a pub with a live musician and went in. Our entertainer was a solo singer/guitarist but he was very talented and made excellent use of a looper pedal to sound like an entire band. In Galway we learned that Jameson and ginger ale is a popular way to enjoy the classic Irish whiskey. Terry and Jeannie mostly made it their go to drink for the trip. We stayed for the music and a couple of rounds of drinks then walked back to our hotel where we had another round in the hotel bar before turning in for the night.

Day 1 Pictures
(click on pictures for a larger view)
Cliffs of Moher
Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

The Skeff

Galway pub entertainer
Day 2
Our rooms at the Park House came with breakfast included so we enjoyed a nice breakfast in the dining room before heading out on our day. I tried the full Irish breakfast which was a protein overload including sausage, bacon, eggs, and black & white pudding.  We checked out after breakfast and drove a short way out of town to have a look at Galway bay. After snapping a few pictures we got back in the car and started the 3.5 hour drive to Dingle.

Along the route to Dingle we came across the Blennerville Windmill. We hadn't heard of the place before but it looked interesting so we stopped. It's a museum of sorts with a film and exhibits about the people who emigrated from this point, followed by a guided tour of the windmill. There was also a building nearby that housed a large model railroad exhibit that reminded me of the one at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry though not as extensive. We were going to have lunch at the windmill restaurant, but it was closed.

We continued on our route to Dingle which took us on a high narrow road through Conor Pass, the highest paved mountain pass in Ireland. We hoped the adventurous drive would yield some awesome vistas, but the mountains were shrouded in mist near the top. On the other hand, perhaps it was good that we could not see how far down it was from the edge of the road.  A short way beyond the pass we got out of the mist enough to get a nice view of Dingle below. We continued on until we reached our destination, the Dingle Benner's Hotel. Our rooms were in the original 300 year old section of the hotel which offered charming ambiance but no elevator.

Part of our agenda for the day included making the drive around the tip of the Dingle peninsula. We headed out along Slea Head Drive, but shortly realized that the weather was too misty and we would see little if we continued, so we put it off until the next day in hopes of clearer skies. After making our way back to the hotel we headed out on foot in search of some dinner. We settled on Paul Geaney's bar, an establishment directly across the street from the hotel. I had another local brew, this time a Tom Crean's brewed in Dingle

Following dinner we were up for some drinks and live music so we walked down the street to An Droichead Beag (which means 'the little bridge') and went in for a round of drinks and some traditional Irish music. After a round or two, which included some Jameson and Gingers, we left and walked across a little bridge to The Courthouse Pub where we had another round and more Irish music. Eventually we made it back to the hotel and settled in for the night.

Day 2 Pictures
Galway girls

Galway Bay

Galway Bay

Galway Bay

Blennerville Windmill

Blennerville Windmill

Windmill tour

Waterfall near Conor Pass

Conor Pass (two way road)
Day 3
Breakfast was included again at the Dingle Inn. After checking out we set out to make the drive around the Slea Head road. Weather was good this time and we made a stop at the Dunbeg stone fort. Dunbeg is one of many stone forts that are found in the Dingle and Kerry area but is one of the worst for preservation. Built near the ocean on the edge of a cliff, years of erosion have resulted in the half of the fort collapsing into the sea. You can visit the remaining half and get an idea of what it once looked like. Also, the ocean cliff location offers some nice views and the sound of the waves crashing on the cliffs below.

After a bathroom stop at a nearby restaurant we continued along Slea Head drive and enjoyed the nice weather and ocean vistas. We stopped at the Slea Head Cross and got out for some pictures, then continued along the narrow road. We passed the sand beach at Clogher Strand but it looked like a narrow steep road to approach it so we passed by without a stop. After the beach the Slea head drive turns inland and continues through farmland until it joins itself again near Dingle.

We headed out of Dingle and toward our next stop in Killarney. After an hour or so drive we arrived at the Arbutus Hotel in Killarney. We parked out front and checked in, then moved the car to the parking lot around back. After a little bit of room shuffling we got settled and then enjoyed the complimentary ginger bread and tea in the lobby.  We went out for a walking tour of downtown Killarney with some souvenir shopping in mind. We also popped in briefly at the chapel connected to the Franciscan Friary nearby.

After shopping and touring we were hungry for dinner so we went to Murphy's Bar, right next to the hotel. I again tried a beer that was locally produced at the Killarney Brewing Company. We stayed at Murphy's and took in some more live Irish music before returning to the hotel for the night. When we got back to the hotel, Janet and I decided to go out for a stroll along the main street in Killarney and doorway listen to some of the other entertainment being offered in the various pubs.

Day 3 Pictures
Dunbeg stone fort ruins
Cliff view


Waves below

Slea Head scenic vista

Cross at Slea Head

Clogher Strand beach
Killarney Arbutus Hotel lobby
Arbutus Hotel room
Franciscan Friary
Friary Chapel
American tourists
Day 4
After another hotel breakfast, we started out on our Kerry sightseeing. We first headed to the Gap of Dunloe. I thought the Gap of Dunloe was something you could drive through but it turns out you can only go so far by car, so we stopped at Kate Kearney's Cottage and viewed the gap from there, followed by a little shopping.  Next we drove back to Killarney and to the Ross Castle. We didn't stay for a tour but we walked around the castle grounds and took pictures. We continued along the clockwise direction of the Ring of Kerry stopping at some of the highlighted viewpoints like Ladies View and Moll's Gap. We started out towards Sneem for lunch but decided it was too far and settled for lunch at P.F. McCarthy's in nearby Kenmare. After lunch we started back towards Bunratty which was our destination for the night. Along the way back we stopped to see the Torc waterfall. We arrived in Bunratty and checked into the Bunratty castle hotel. We had dinner nearby at Durty Nelly's Pub. We didn't stay out late because we had an early departure the next day.

Day 4 Pictures
Kate Kearney's Cottage
Horses near Kate Kearney's
Ross Castle
Windblown Cannoneer
Ladies View
Molls Gap view
Torc Waterfall
Torc Waterfall
Bunratty Castle
Bunratty Castle Hotel
Durty Nelly's
Day 5
We got up early and headed to the airport, arriving before dawn for our 9:15 am flight. It was reassuring to be at the airport with the car returned and plenty of time to spare, however the check in agents had not yet arrived and we had to wait in line for about 45 minutes before we could check in. Once that was done we went to the airline lounge to get something to eat, and relax before boarding. The plane was less crowded for the return flight, so we were each able to take advantage of an empty seat in our row. The early morning departure had us back at O'Hare by noon.



Monday, August 21, 2017

Sun Spotters

We drove down to Nashville the weekend of Aug 19 to see the "Great American Total Eclipse of the Sun".  We stayed at the Gaylord Opryland Resort along with some friends and enjoyed a nice weekend getaway including a bar crawl on Broadway in downtown Nashville.

Of course the purpose and highlight of the trip was the solar eclipse on Aug 21. The sky stayed clear for the important parts of the eclipse, clouding up a little after totality. The total eclipse was as awesome as it was anticipated to be. I hope to do it again in 2024.






Monday, March 27, 2017

Singapore Farewell

Monday was an early riser in order to get checked in and clear security in time for our 6 AM flight. I'm writing this long after the fact so I don't remember the details as well. We had treated ourselves to a business class upgrade on this trip so the flight was very comfortable.  The route was the reverse of the one coming and so included a stop at Hong Kong a few hours after takeoff. At Hong Kong we had to exit the plane, make a loop through security, then head to the boarding gate to re-board the same plane. As we were clearing security I realized I left my souvenir Singapore hat on the plane. I notified the first United agent I encountered and they said they'd call the gate to see if it was turned in by the cleaning crew. Unfortunately when we arrived to the gate I was told it was not found or turned in. I searched for it myself after re-boarding but to no avail.

The rest of the return trip was uneventful until we arrived at the gate in O'Hare. As we were making our way down the aisle to the exit door I realized I didn't have my wallet.  I went back to my seat and began searching the area and discovered it had fallen behind the seat when it was reclined. I could see it but I couldn't reach it. A helpful flight attendant came to my aid and was able to retrieve it for me.

We had a great trip to Singapore and Malaysia with lots of pictures and no real mishaps except for a lost hat. 😡  We both liked the city and would consider returning someday so maybe I'll get a souvenir eventually.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Singapore Day 4

Sunday we enjoyed breakfast at the hotel, then decided to take a look at the hotel pool. When we saw it we were kicking ourselves for not investigating it sooner. The pool is on the 18th floor and is in an open air setting that overlooks the Singapore skyline. There is a bar there and tables that are actually in the pool ( a flat section that is a few inches deep). We wished we had come up the night before.

We stayed around the hotel until checkout time, then made our way back to the airport via Singapore's excellent train system. Changi airport enjoys the reputation as being the #1 airport in the world, and it certainly deserves it. There are many interesting artworks to see as well as many floral exhibits. If you have a long layover, you can even take a free tour of Singapore. We wandered around a bit to make sure we had our bearings for the next day's departure, then checked in to our room at the airport Crowne Plaza hotel. Our flight home was scheduled for 6 am Monday, so we turned in early.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Singapore Days 2 & 3

Friday we woke to heavy rains falling in Kuala Lumpur. We checked out of the hotel and took a taxi to KL Sentral train station. From there we took the KLIA Express train to the airport. We had an 11:20 flight to Singapore but it was delayed by the heavy rain. We got back to Singapore about a half hour late but at least the weather was clear there. We stayed around the hotel until it began to get dark then walked to the Marina Bay area to visit the super tree groves and see the iLight exhibits.

The Supertrees are giant treelike metal structures that are covered by live growing vines and plants. At night they illuminate and glow with shifting colors. They were quite amazing to see.

iLight is an annual free exhibition of outdoor art using light in unusual and creative ways. The exhibits are located along the Marina Bay waterfront promenade and include special projected displays on the outer walls of the Art Science museum and on the Merlion fountain. We walked the entire promenade and enjoyed almost all of the exhibits. Then we walked back to the hotel. It was a more than 23000 steps day. We got back to our hotel room after midnight only to find the main circuit breaker for our room had tripped and our room was without lights or A/C. We called the desk and they sent maintenance to fix the problem.

Saturday we had breakfast at the hotel and took the MRT to Chinatown. We browsed through the crowded streets packed with shops and restaurants and found a few things to buy and take home. We also toured inside a Hindu temple that is located on the edge of Chinatown.  It started to rain so we headed back to the hotel.

Later on after the rain let up we returned to the Gardens by the Bay to visit the Cloud Forest exhibit. The Cloud Forest is an indoor 7 story botanical garden whose centerpiece is the worlds tallest indoor waterfall. It is all built on a mountain shaped structure that you ascend to the top of, then follow a walkway to the bottom. After the Cloud Forest we returned to the super tree grove to see them in daylight. We consider sticking around for an hour and a half to see a laser light show we read about but we were tired and decided to return to the hotel. Tomorrow we will check out of the Marriott and change to a hotel near the airport to facilitate our 6am departure flight Monday morning. Some pictures follow. Note, it's difficult to caption pictures when writing blog posts on my iPad so I'm leaving the pictures uncaptioned until I get back home.

Art & Science Museum

Helix Bridge
Supertree Grove

Supertree Selfie

Supertrees with elevated walkway



Metal Dragonfly Sculpture

Supertree reflections
iLight exhibit
iLight exhibit "Northern Lights"
iLight exhibit made from Evian bottles


iLight Butterflies

iLight Giant Flowers
Illuminated Merlion

Merlion and Singapore Flyer

Chinatown - Year of the Rooster
Chinatown Shopping
Hindu Temple

Temple Entrance

Inside the Cloud Forest
Cloud Forest indoor waterfall

Orchid sculpture

Botanical gardens in the Cloud Forest
View from above
Supertrees in daylight

Dinosaur exhibit

Supertree sunset
Supertrees, Flower Dome (left) and Cloud Forest (right)
Supertree grove
Cloud Forest dome