Sunday, November 13, 2016

New Zealand - Nov 2016


I played at the 10am Marist remembrance Mass with Carl and several St Linus choir members Saturday morning before leaving for the airport around noon. We got to the airport with time to spare and tried the new United Club near B6. It's bigger and offers a lot of power outlets for charging up all your devices. Our gate was C23 so we had to allow time to get to the C concourse before boarding. The flight to San Francisco actually felt short compared to some of our recent travel. 

After collecting our luggage we took the shuttle to the Waterfront Marriott and checked in to a nice bay view room. We had dinner in the lobby lounge, accompanied by wine and Caipirinhas. On a sour note, the Magikarp in San Francisco bay have apparently been overfished. I was looking forward to catching enough to evolve a Gyarados, but I only saw two the whole time I was there. 😉


We had breakfast in the M Club, then returned to our room to relax until our 4 pm late checkout. Then we moved back to the M Club lounge and hung out there till about 7:30 when we took the shuttle to the airport. We had about an hour to spend in the United club before making our way to the gate for boarding. The flight left on time and was long but uneventful. I was able to sleep enough to be comfortable with our drive on arrival.


We arrived in Auckland Tuesday morning about a half hour earlier than scheduled. We had some concerns about New Zealand customs, having heard they may require doctor's notes for prescription medicines, and have strict control on food imports. But we found it to be no worse than entering Australia. We got through to the arrivals hall and picked up our rental car. Once again we relied on Google's offline maps and Janet's navigation skill to get around without a GPS. We had intended to stop at an airport ATM for some local currency but were about halfway to our first destination when we realized we forgot that part. We stopped to ask at a small cafe in Kopu and were advised that a we would be likely to find a bank ATM with a short detour to the nearby town of Thames. We did indeed find a bank there and after picking up some cash we also went to a nearby McDonalds for some lunch.
Welcome to New Zealand

We continued on to our destination in the small resort town of Hahei. The road across the Coromandel peninsula was curvy and winding through forest covered hills. It was reminiscent of the road to Hana. The logging industry is big in this area and we encountered many logging trucks making their way along the narrow roads with a full load of logs. We found our way to our hotel and checked in. The proprietors were pleasant people and our garden cottage was nice. It was close to Hahei beach, and a very short drive to the Cathedral Cove car park.

Tatahi Lodge Cottage
We relaxed a bit before setting out to see Cathedral Cove. We drove to the car park and found a space close to the walking track entry point. Then we began the walk to Cathedral Cove. Here is where Google directions failed us. The Google Maps Directions claim it is a winding 26 minute walk, but fail to note that the trail winds up and down some difficult hills, and actually takes about 45 minutes. We made it nonetheless and it was entirely worth it. The beach and water and stone features at Cathedral Cove are beautiful. After staying at the beach for a while we started back on the same track. We had perfect weather the whole day. It was sunny and mild. The temperature during our walk to and from the cove was just cool enough to keep us from overheating. Note to self, if we ever go back we'll skip the walk and book a Cathedral Cove scenic cruise.
Cathedral Cove
Cathedral Cove
Cathedral Cove
We were hungry after our hiking and chose to have dinner at a nearby accommodation and restaurant called The Church. Janet had their fish of the day special and I had a steak. The food was mostly good, though my steak (a scotch fillet) was tough and gristly. The pacing of the meal was very slow. Perhaps that's just the New Zealand beach resort way. Janet had a New Zealand Gewurtztraminer that was very good.
"The Church" Restaurant


Wednesday we checked out of our hotel and had breakfast at the Hahei Beach Cafe. I had coffee and some delicious pancakes served with bananas and Janet had scrambled eggs. After breakfast we drove to Hahei Beach and walked out to dip our toes in the Pacific Ocean. Hahei beach is a beautiful beach with soft sand that has a pink cast to it. While there we saw a kayak tour setting out for Cathedral Cove. We left Hahei beach and drove to Hot Water Beach. We arrived too late after low tide to try the traditional spa digging, but we enjoyed a walk on the beach and picked up a few shells to bring home (which we unfortunately forgot in the rental car).
Hahei Beach
Hot Water Beach
We left the Coromandel peninsula along the same winding route we followed in and headed to the Hobbiton movie set tour. We stopped in Matamata at the visitor center that looks like a hobbit house. We got to Hobbiton in time to take the 3:15 tour. We spent two hours guided around the preserved movie set followed by snacks and beer at the Green Dragon.
Green Dragon Inn
We drove from Hobbiton to Tauranga where our next accommodations were. We also had booked a Glowworm Kayak Tour for Wednesday night and needed to be at the hotel for our pick up at 6:30 pm. We arrived just in time for our pickup with just barely enough time to get checked in at the hotel.
Tauranga Trinity Wharf Hotel
Our glowworm tour guide Tom drove us to the site on McLaren lake and set up a table of wine and snacks for us to enjoy while he prepared for the tour. We were the only participants on this evening's tour although we were told there are sometimes more than 20. We were happy to have a personal tour and our guide Tom was a genuinely friendly and laid back guy whose language mannerisms reminded me of Crush the sea turtle. But he was completely knowledgeable about kayaking and glowworms. He guided us on a trip across lake McLaren and allowed us to row at a comfortable pace. As the sky darkened he led us into a narrow canyon where both sides sparkled with tiny blue white glowworm lights that looked like an array of led christmas lights. Tom explained the life cycle of the Arachnocampa Luminosa, and why they were there. It was an incredible experience to be out on a lake in a kayak surrounded by nothing but nature. There wasn't a human sound to be heard. As we left the canyon and rowed back to the lake our dark adjusted eyes could pick out hundreds more glowworm lights in the trees along the shore. We finished up the tour enjoying the moonlit starry sky as Tom packed up the kayaks. Then we were returned to our hotel, getting back around 10 pm.


We started the day with a buffet breakfast in the hotel, then started out on a drive to Taupo to see Huka Falls. The falls are on the Waikato river at a point where it narrows and drops in elevation. It's much like a white water rapids with occasional small drops until it ultimately falls 35 feet at the end. There is a foot bridge over the middle of the falls gorge that offers a great view and selfie spot. There are several walking trails in the area as well and we spent a little time walking on one that followed the river upstream.
Huka Falls
After we left Huka Falls we went to the nearby Craters of the Moon geothermal walk where for a small fee you can walk a laid out track on a geothermal field among large craters, mud pools, and steaming fumaroles. It's a little unnerving to think of the volcanic activity going on around you and probably under your feet.
Craters of the Moon
We left Taupo and headed for Rotorua which has some of the best geothermal sites in the area. We arrived in time to tour the "Thermal Wonderland" at Wai-O-Tapu, and we were suitably impressed. We walked among steaming craters, large colorful pools of bubbling steaming water and bubbling mud pots. After leaving the Thermal Wonderland, we stopped to see what is claimed to be the largest mud pool in the southern hemisphere. We returned to our hotel in Tauranga and had dinner in the hotel restaurant.
"Artist's Palatte"
Mud Pool


After morning breakfast in the hotel restaurant we checked out of the hotel and packed up the car to drive back to Rotorua. We parked in the government gardens and walked around for a bit admiring some of the trees and flowers, statuary, and even a hot spring pool named Rachel. Next we visited the Rotorua museum which occupies a building once used as a bath house where people from all over the world would go to soak in the thermal water as a cure for chronic disorders. The museum has an entire wing devoted to Maori history in New Zealand, and also some art exhibits and a preserved section of the old bath house. After the museum we drove about 3 hours to Auckland, passing through Hamilton on the way. Most of the drive was pleasant but the traffic backed up on the motorway near Auckland. Janet identified a better route on the map and got us to the hotel straightaway. We had dinner in the hotel lobby bar where a guitarist was playing and singing.
Government Gardens
Bath House / Rotorua Museum


Saturday morning we enjoyed a buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant and after a bit we went out for some sightseeing on foot. A short walk from the hotel we visited Auckland's St. Patrick Cathedral. It wasn't very 'cathedral like' by European cathedral standards, but it was a pretty church. We went inside and snapped a few pictures, then moved on since people appeared to be gathering in the narthex for some event, perhaps a wedding.
St. Patrick's Cathedral
Not far from St. Patrick's is the Auckland Sky Tower which we had plans to visit. We walked there and bought tickets to visit the observation deck. It is a swift elevator ride to the top with glass doors that allow you to see out on the way up. We took some pictures of the city panorama and a couple looking down while standing on the glass floor too. There was a cafe restaurant near the top level too but we didn't eat there. When we returned to the bottom we bought a few things in the souvenir shop.
Sky Tower
Glass Floor
The building adjacent to the Sky Tower contained a casino so we went inside and played 20 $NZ on a roulette game but didn't win anything. On our way out there was a street fair of some kind going on with music and food booths set up. One booth had a person making huge bubbles.
Bubble Man
We walked back towards the hotel and stopped in a few shops to do a little more souvenir shopping. We also took a walk along the harbor which was a little nicer looking area than the city streets we were on prior. When we got back to the hotel we repeated the lobby bar dining experience since the food there was pretty good.
Auckland Hilton


Sunday was our travel home day. I had breakfast in the hotel restaurant and then returned to the room to get repacked. At checkout time we collected the car and loaded up to go to the airport. The drive to the airport was only about 30 minutes but surprisingly did not take an expressway route, instead following a zig-zag path along secondary highways. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to return the car and get checked in, then spent some time in the Air New Zealand airport lounge before heading to the gate to board. After the plane left the gate and was taxiing to the runway, the pilot came on and said there was a mechanical problem and we had to return to have it investigated. It took a while for the problem to be corrected and we ended up taking off more than 2 hours late.

We had scheduled a 3 hour connection time in San Francisco but when we landed 2 hours late we knew it would be tight to get through customs and immigration as well as re-check our bags and clear TSA before getting to our next flight. A delay at any step would mean we'd probably miss our flight. Fortunately everything went smoothly and we made it to the gate just as boarding started. It wasn't until then that we had time to check our phones and learned about the New Zealand earthquake that had occurred about 7 hours after we left. We fired off a couple of messages to let people know we were fine then took off for Chicago. The New Zealand trip had been amazing but we were happy to get home.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016



We were looking for a place to travel to this fall for a good price when we saw an airfare to Amsterdam for less than 6 cents a mile. So we booked a long weekend for mid October. We left on Saturday evening on a direct flight that got us into Amsterdam a little after 9 am. The plane was a 767 that has crappy overhead storage, tiny seat back video screens, and no power outlets except in premium cabins. It's only saving grace is that the seats are 2-3-2 so we could sit together comfortably without sharing the row.

Amsterdam airport is huge and it's a long walk from the gate to customs and immigration. We finally made it to the arrivals hall and purchased a 2 day Amsterdam transportation pass that covered train fare to Amsterdam Centraal station and city trams and busses. We rode the train to the city station, then walked about 10-15 minutes to our hotel, arriving at 11 am. Our room wasn't ready for check-in so we hung out in the hotel club lounge until we could get in our room. It took a few hours and we finally got our room a little after 2 pm.

We were feeling jetlagged and decided to take time for a short nap. In the meantime we made reservations for a 6 pm canal cruise with Those Dam Boat Guys. Around 4 pm we started out for a casual walk around Amsterdam city center meandering the streets between the canals and window shopping. At 6 we met up with the representative for our boat tour and were guided with the rest of the customers to the tour vessel.

Most of the canal cruises are on large glass topped boats with 50 passengers or more. "Those Dam Boat Guys" offers an intimate cruise on an open boat with a maximum of 10 passengers. You are invited to bring wine and snacks on board and to introduce yourself to your fellow passengers. Blankets are available to fend off the night chill. The guide is friendly and knowledgeable, although his frank use of language could raise an eyebrow. We totally enjoyed our tour which even extended beyond the chartered 90 minutes.

After our canal cruise we walked back to our hotel hoping to have dinner but the hotel restaurant was closed. There are a lot of restaurants in the area so we walked around and finally settled on a small place called London Bridge Pub where we sat outside under heat lamps and enjoyed some wine and dinner.


We got up in time for breakfast in the hotel lounge which consisted of croissants, scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage plus the usual European spread of deli meats and cheeses. After breakfast we relaxed in the room for a while then headed out for some sightseeing. We hopped on the tram near the hotel with our transporation cards and rode to the Museumplein. The Museumplein is a large grassy open space bordered by 3 museums and a concert hall. We took some pictures of the Rijksmuseum and the I Amsterdam sign. Then we bought tickets to the Van Gogh museum and toured inside. 

After we left the museum we walked to Vondel Park and strolled around for while enjoying the pleasant weather we were gifted with. When we left the park we boarded the tram again and rode back to the hotel neighborhood. We went looking for a shop we had seen the day before that sold souvenir figurines. We found the shop and bought a cat figurine to bring home. We were hungry so we stopped at the Van Zuylen cafe near one of the canals and had wine and cheese. Finally we made our way back to the hotel in time for the evening snacks and drinks in the club lounge.


We set our alarms for an early wake up in order to allow plenty of time to get to the hotel for our 11 am flight home. We walked the 0.4 miles to the train station. We bought return tickets to the airport and caught the next train at 7:25. There was a slight delay on the return trip caused by a breakdown of another train, but I think we made it to the airport by a little after 8. We checked in for our flight and cleared security, then went to the airport lounge to wait until boarding time. We didn't stay at the lounge long since it was such a long walk to the gate and we also wanted to find some bottled water to take on the plane. The flight home was bumpy a few times but otherwise we were comfortable and able to catch some sleep as well.

We found Amsterdam to be a pleasant charming city. The tall narrow buildings have a lot of character with many of them tilted from years of subsidence so that they look like they're tipsy. I believe we will be happy to return if the opportunity arises.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Sydney 2016

As part of our annual quest for at least 50,000 PQM on United Airlines, we planned a trip to Sydney Australia this year. We originally scheduled it in April, but cancelled that trip due to some health concerns. The airline allowed us credit on our airfare, and the Shangri-La in Sydney also allowed us credit for our pre-paid reservation there. We ended up using the airfare credit for a trip to New Zealand which is coming up soon, and scheduled a new trip to Sydney in September, so here we are.


We left home Saturday and arrived in San Francisco for a stopover before our Sunday night flight to Sydney.  Thanks to the valuable discount provided by Jennifer and Paul, we stayed at the San Francisco Waterfront Marriott which is one of our favorite hotels. We had a newly remodeled room on a high floor with a bay view. We enjoyed dinner and drinks in the lobby restaurant and bar where the bartender makes an excellent Caipirinha. An unexpected bonus was that the hotel's proximity to the bay meant there were a plethora of water type Pokémon hanging out there. I caught at least 50 Magikarp. That puts me halfway to evolving a Gyarados! :)


The breakfast buffet was pretty good. We were allowed a 4pm late checkout from the hotel so we could relax in comfort before heading to the airport for the 14 hour flight to Sydney. The San Francisco weather was unseasonably warm so after checkout we sat in the outdoor lounge area for a while and watched planes land and take off. About 5pm we boarded the shuttle to the airport and checked in for our 11pm flight. We had dinner from Klein's Deli in the E concourse, then went to the United Club in the International terminal to hang out until boarding time.

Our seats for the flight were in the bulkhead row 16 on a 787 which has lots of leg room. We initially booked them with an empty seat between us in hope of having some extra room to spread out during the flight, but the middle seat ended up being assigned so Janet gave up her aisle to the lucky standby passenger and took the middle next to me. We have the same seats on the return trip so if we lose the space again I'll take a turn in the middle.

The flight to Sydney is grueling. You eat dinner, then watch a movie, then try to sleep a while, then watch another movie, sleep a little more, etc. It seems to take forever but eventually you arrive and are thankful to get off the plane.


Passport control at SYD is new since our last visit. Now they have kiosks that read your passport and present you with some entry questions. The kiosk gives you a ticket and you advance to an automated gate with a camera. You put your kiosk ticket in the slot by the gate, it takes your picture, and if all is well the gate opens and you are allowed in to the baggage claim area. Once you have your bags you choose between the "Nothing to Declare" or "Declare" exits. Australia is fussy about what foods you bring in and since we had some packaged nuts and granola bars we chose the Declare path rather than risk the trouble of being stopped without declaring it. The lines for declaring were disorganized and slow but we eventually made it through.

We decided not to rent a car for this trip and instead booked an airport transfer from the hotel. We were met in the arrival hall by the driver who guided us to the car and drove us to the hotel. It was nice to not worry about dealing with the morning traffic and finding the hotel. We have a Horizon Club room at the Shangri-La and they are very good about allowing early check in for guests arriving on early morning overseas flights. We had breakfast in the Horizon lounge while they finished readying our room and shortly after breakfast we were allowed access.

It's tempting to crash on the bed as soon as you arrive but in our experience it's best to stay awake as long as possible the day you arrive to adjust yourself to the time change. We stayed up and took a walk around Circular Quay and to the Opera House shopping concourse where we picked up a couple of souvenirs. On the way back we walked through the Rocks area and finally back to the hotel. At 6pm we headed to the Horizon club for drinks and canapés which served as our dinner. We were back in our room by 7:30 and finally allowed ourselves to crash.


We woke up early and had breakfast in the Horizon club, then relaxed in the room most of the morning. We had been undecided about which day to go to wine country and since Wednesday's weather was looking the best compared to the rest of the week, we made a late decision to go today. We took a taxi to the downtown Sydney Hertz location only to find they had no cars available. The nearby Budget and Thrifty locations had the same result. We did finally get a car from a company called 'No Birds'.  I have no idea where the name comes from. We had no in car GPS, but with Google's offline maps feature and Janet's excellent guidance we were able to make our way out of Sydney and to the Hunter Valley.

Our first stop was Ernest Hill Winery, where we have gone on most if not every previous trip to Sydney. They have a couple of wines that have become our favorite, and we usually try a few from their tasting menu. After buying some wine to carry home we drove around wine country a bit in search of somewhere to grab a late lunch, finally stopping at The Goldfish.

After eating we started on the 2 hour drive back to Sydney. It was late in the day and dark by the time we got back to town, but again Janet guided me flawlessly to the hotel. We arrived back in time for evening drinks in the lounge.


We woke up a little later today and again relaxed in the room for a while after breakfast. We needed to return the rental car by 1pm so we left the hotel around 11:30. It was a little tricky finding a gas station to fill up at, and some construction detours on George Street made it even trickier. We did get the car gassed up and returned on time. Our plan for the afternoon was to have a late lunch at Doyle's restaurant in Watson's Bay. We walked the 2.1 km from No Birds to Circular Quay where we arrived just in time to get on the 1:40 pm ferry which got us to Watson's Bay just in time for our 2 pm lunch reservation. Doyle's is famous for their fish & chips prepared from your choice of several fresh caught varieties of fish. We both had that and shared a nice bottle of South Australian riesling.

We caught the 3:45 ferry back to Sydney and leisurely completed the uphill walk back to the hotel, stopping in a few shops along the way. We arrived back with plenty of time to freshen up for evening drinks and snacks.


Today we slept in the latest we have all week. We are just about on Australian time now.  Too bad we go back to Chicago tomorrow.  Today was windy and cool. We went out for a walk in The Rocks and needed a light jacket. We shopped a little bit and then stopped for lunch at the Munich Brauhaus, a Bavarian beer garden style restaurant not far from the hotel. There was a live band dressed in lederhosen but the music was contemporary. I had a roast pork sandwich and Janet had some fish & chips that couldn't compare to yesterday's at Doyle's. We both had steins of beer. Overall it was a nice experience. We got back to the hotel in time to catch the end of tea time in the lounge, and then stayed there until the evening drink service began. Tonight we have to pack and tomorrow we leave for the airport at 8 AM. We'll be back in Chicago Saturday.


We got up early to do some final packing and go to breakfast when it opened at 6:30. After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and used the hotel's car service to return to Sydney airport with plenty of time before our 10:30 flight home. I'd like to say that the travel home was uneventful, but we experienced a 2 hour delay leaving Sydney due to an aircraft mechanical issue. The flight itself was typical (long and exhausting) once we did take off. We had our bags checked through all the way to Chicago, and while we knew we would have to claim them in San Francisco before clearing customs, we expected we could re-check them and go to the gate for our connection without leaving the airside of the airport. But SFO's baggage re-check facility was not functioning and we had to go to the check in counter outside of security to re-check our luggage and then go through security again. Fortunately we allowed enough time between our scheduled arrival and our connection to Chicago, so we made it home pretty much on time.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Last Day

Today we had our last day of visiting Ireland. We walked from our hotel into Dublin and all around town. We visited Trinity College and saw the Book of Kells and the Old Library. Then we took a walk down Dame street to Dublin Castle. The castle in Dublin is mainly a rectangular arrangement of administrative looking buildings except for a drum tower and gothic chapel. It was a bit of a letdown after some of the castles we've already seen.

We continued our walk to St Patrick Cathedral and went inside for a look. It is a very old cathedral, the original on that site having been built in the 10th century.

After St Patrick's, we walked back to the Liffey river and took a river sightseeing cruise. The guide pointed out many interesting sights along the river and gave a lot of history as well.

We were hungry when we finished the boat tour so we took a walk through the Temple Bar area looking for a good place to eat. We peeked into a couple of bar/cafes including the original Temple Bar, but they all were full so we ended up choosing McDonalds. At least the McDonalds was in a cool neighborhood.

After eating we walked back to the hotel. We walked over 20,000 steps today. According to my Steps app, we've walked nearly 41 miles in the past 7 days, and driven almost 950 miles. We've seen a lot and had mostly good weather.

We have a lot of repacking to do and an early checkout tomorrow for our return flight. This will be the last blog post of the trip. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Historic Ships and Ancient Tombs

We checked out of our Belfast hotel today and drove to the Titanic Belfast exhibit in Belfast's Titanic Quarter. This is where the Titanic was built. The exhibit is a multi-level multimedia presentation and museum about the Titanic's construction and ultimate demise. In addition to the exhibit our tickets allowed us to tour on board the SS Nomadic which is the last surviving White Star Line vessel. 

When our tour was finished we began our drive to Dublin. Along the way we stopped at the Newgrange monument which is an Irish Passage Tomb that dates back 5000 years, making it older than the Giza Pyramids. We arrived late afternoon but were lucky to get 3 tickets on the last tour of the day. A bus takes you to the grounds where you can walk around the entire structure, and ultimately go inside the passage to the inner chamber. A knowledgeable guide explained it all and showed us how on the morning of the winter solstice the sun's light enters and illuminates the inner chamber.

When our tour was ended we got back in the car and drove to Dublin. Tomorrow we'll take in some Dublin sights.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Giant Steps

Today we were startled awake around 6:15 by the fire alarm. I poked my head into the hallway and saw several others doing the same. Janet called the front desk and was told it was a false alarm. Today there was a notice on the front desk apologizing for the incident. We all managed to get back to sleep and slept in later than any day so far.

We had time for breakfast and then started for the Giant's Causeway at the northern tip of Ireland. Our GPS unit frequently loses signal and then reboots, usually just as we are approaching a critical turn decision, so we've abandoned it in favor of Janet's navigating skills and we're doing just fine that way.

The Giants Causeway is a geological curiosity consisting of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns formed by volcanic and geological activity. But mostly it is a fun place for kids to climb all over the rocks and hop from stone to stone like hopscotch. Ethan did his share of climbing and exploring in search of the perfect photograph. He's pretty sure he got it. It's a long walk from the visitor center to the stones but it is mostly downhill. The walk back was equally long but uphill. When we got back we did a little souvenir shopping and had a late lunch in the visitor center snack bar.

After leaving we drove to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge but found it temporarily closed due to crowds when we arrived. So we drove to a nearby overlook where we could park and take pictures, We returned after a while but due to the lateness of the day and anticipated length of the experience decided to save the rope bridge for another trip to Ireland.

We made it back to the hotel in time to still have dinner at the hotel restaurant. We had a sunny warm day again today. I hope this keeps up. Tomorrow we plan to visit the Titanic Exhibition. 

Musings On Travel Abroad

Some things about international travel that I've learned or remembered during the past 5 days in Ireland: 
  • Driving on the left was not hard to adjust to. I've already had some previous experience with it.
  • Shifting a 6 speed manual transmission with my left hand presented a whole new learning curve.
  • Black and white pudding is not what it sounds like.
  • Washcloths have 4 fingers and a thumb.
  • Your first floor room is on the second floor.
  • 30 is hot, 20 is nice, 10 is cool, 0 is ice.
  • Roundabouts are cool.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Falls Falls Falls and Flowers

We woke up to another sunny day with mild temperatures. After breakfast and checkout we set out to tour Wicklow Mountains National Park. Our first target was the Glenmacnass Waterfall. The GPS couldn't find it as a Point of Interest, so we used maps and old fashioned navigating skills to make our way there. The drive there was scenic, and there was no mistaking the falls when we got to them. Rather than a traditional waterfall, the Glenmacnass falls are more of a gradual slope in the local geography where the Glenmacnass river cascades into the valley below. While photographing the falls I climbed a short slope on the mountain side of the road to get the perfect composition of Ethan with the valley behind him. After getting the shot, I started back down but picked up too much speed and ended up falling when I got to the road. Ethan helped me gather some of my scattered belongings and I got up with a skinned elbow and knee, plus some sore muscles. I'm sticking to flat ground the rest of the trip.

We left Glenmacnass and continued on the same road to Sally Gap which I thought might offer a high panorama of the area, but it was disappointing compared to some of the views we had at other points along the way. From Sally Gap we found our way to the Powerscourt Waterfall which is the highest waterfall in Ireland. It is impressive and you can get close enough to enjoy a little waterfall mist.

We left the waterfall to find the Powerscourt Estate and Gardens. We spent a lot of time walking around the acres of landscaped gardens, fountains, and sculptures and included a visit to the Japanese Garden and the Pets' Cemetery. After the gardens we had lunch outdoors on the terrace of the Powerscourt Mansion. We also had time for some shopping at the gift shop inside.

The Powerscourt Estate was the last of our planned activities today so we headed out on the 2½ hour drive to Belfast where we had dinner in the hotel restaurant. Tomorrow's weather is also looking OK so we will follow our plan to visit the Giant's Causeway.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Gray Stone and More Gray Stone

We slept a little later today. I think we are adjusting to the time change. We had enough time for breakfast and then checked out of the hotel. However, we left our car in the hotel parking lot and went out touring Kilkenny on foot. Our first stop was Kilkenny Castle which was just a short walk across the bridge from our hotel. The castle was impressive particularly for the huge grassy grounds stretching out south of the castle. We toured inside and it reminded me in some ways of Versailles.

When we finished the tour we found an ATM to replenish our Euros and took a walk along High street toward St. Canice's Cathedral. We detoured from our route to also visit St. Mary's to see the stained glass windows there. From St. Mary's we continued our walk to St Canice's Cathederal and Round Tower. We toured inside St. Canice's which has some nice stained glass of it's own. Then Ethan and I climbed the 7 stacked ladders inside the 30 meter Round Tower. The top affords a nice panoramic view of Kilkenny. We waved and snapped pictures of Janet who photographed us from below. The trip down was much easier but still an effort.

We walked back to the hotel to collect the car but decided to grab lunch at the hotel restaurant first. After lunch we drove to the abbey ruins at Jerpoint Abbey. It was interesting to walk among the crumbling walls and imagine how it looked when it was whole.

We left Jerpoint with the NeverLost set for our hotel in a valley of the Wicklow Mountains. It was about an hour and a half drive. The GPS took us on a route that was scenic if sometimes confusing. The hotel has a restaurant, but we chose to eat at Casey's Bar and Bistro that occupys the same building.

The weather has been mostly good today. We didn't have Monday's sun, and it rained while we were inside Kilkenny Castle and on part of our drive, but it was only cloudy and mildly cool anytime we were outside. Tomorrow we will look for a couple of waterfalls and some other sights in the Wicklow Mountains National Park.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sunny Skies and Stone Circles

Weather was much improved today. We woke up to blue skies and sunshine that stayed with us all day. We had a buffet breakfast at the hotel, then checked out and departed for the Cahergal Stone Fort which was not far from the hotel. The fort is a large stone circle maybe 20 feet high with an inner circle about 6 feet high. Stone steps are built into the wall that allow you to climb to the top. Ethan seemed to enjoy walking around on the upper edge. I went up for a look but that was enough for me.  Not far from the fort are the ruins of the Ballycarbery Castle. These are also open for exploring and climbing. Ethan did plenty of both.

After leaving the ancient architecture we stopped for a brief look at the Daniel O'Connell church in Cahersiveen, then continued on our Ring of Kerry tour. We made a detour off the main Ring route to visit a beach at Ballinskellig where Janet seized the opportunity to get her feet wet in the Atlantic Ocean.

Leaving the beach we continued around the Ring and enjoyed many awesome vistas as we circled the mountainsides. We took another detour to visit yet another stone fort where Ethan again demonstrated his skill scaling sheer stone walls.

We did a little shopping and had a late lunch at a nice bakery/cafe in Sneem. Continuing on we entered Killarney National Park and enjoyed awesome views from Moll's Gap and Ladies View. We also saw the Torc Waterfall whose torrential surge was likely bolstered by yesterday's rain. We finished our touring at the Muckross House and Gardens and although we arrived too late to tour inside the house, we were able to walk around the grounds and gardens all we wanted.

We got to our hotel in Kilkenny too late for dinner in the hotel restaurant so we had sandwiches from a near by fast food restaurant called Abra Kebabra. Our hotel is right across the river from Kilkenny Castle although our room has a nice view of a parking lot. Tomorrow we tour the castle and other Kilkenny area sights. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Misty Morning

We met Kevin, Karen, and Ethan in the parking lot at O'Hare and they accompanied us to the terminal. After checking bags and saying goodbyes, we passed smoothly through TSA and headed to the United Club to wait for boarding time. Unfortunately some of the United Clubs at O'Hare are under construction, resulting in the remaining clubs being overfull. We couldn't find a seat in either of 2 different clubs. Eventually we snagged some at a table, but didn't stay long before returning to the gate for boarding.

We had good seats for the flight to Ireland, and I was able sleep enough to handle the driving we had planned on arrival. Ethan dozed a little before dinner was served, but I don't think he slept much after that. The flight seemed to go by quickly (for me at least) and we arrived at Shannon a little after 7 am. We got through passport control quickly, then collected our bags and the rental car and headed to the Cliffs Of Moher.

There had been a misty rain all morning, and when we arrived at the Cliffs, we found them mostly shrouded in mist and fog. But we enjoyed what we could see and also the visitor center where Ethan found a new hat.

We left the Cliffs and headed to Bunratty Castle where you can tour the restored castle and village buildings. We went down into the dungeon, and all the way to the top of the corner tower for a nice view of the surrounding area.

Because of the continued rain and mist, we decided to skip the Dingle peninsula and headed directly to the Ring of Kerry and our hotel for the evening. Our hotel room is nice and has a bonus view of a cow pasture with cows 4 feet from the bedroom window. We had a nice dinner in the hotel restaurant and everyone is exhausted from the long day of travel and sightseeing. Ethan managed to nap occasionally in the car but even he is ready for an early night.

Tomorrow we circle the Ring of Kerry and head to our next stop in Kilkenny.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Katelyn's Graduation Trip Day 7

Today was a busy day. The weather was sunny and mild. After breakfast we walked to the Empire State Building. We rode all the way to the 102nd floor observation deck, with a stop at the outdoor observation deck on the 86th floor. The skies were clear and we had a great view of New York.
Empire State Building

Windy at the top

Nice view on a clear day

Next we cabbed to Battery Park and rode the Ferry to Liberty Island. We got some good pictures and Katelyn agreed to do the traditional pose. We also were able to ascend to the pedestal level of the statue with nice views of New York harbor.
Ferry ride to Liberty Island

Famous Lady

Famous pose

We took the ferry back to Battery Park and walked to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum site in lower Manhattan. The memorial is a peaceful tribute to the lives lost that day. The museum is a somber reminder of the horror and loss experienced that day.
9/11 Memorial

9/11 Memorial

9/11 Museum

When we completed our visit to the museum we caught a cab to St. Patrick's Cathedral in Midtown Manhattan. We arrived before the published closing time, but were not permitted inside due to a graduation event being held there. We walked over to the nearby Rockefeller Center and saw the famous Atlas statue.
St. Patricks


We had dinner at a Chipotle not far from Rockefeller Center, and then walked to the NYC Carlo's Bakery. It was packed with people but we waited our turn and bought some delicious cupcakes and brownies to bring back to the hotel for our late night dessert.
Carlo's Bakery

Busy place

This is the last entry. Tomorrow we have to pack up and go home.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Katelyn's Graduation Trip Day 6

It rained today so we stayed in and just enjoyed a relaxing day in the hotel. We had a late lunch at the hotel restaurant, then returned to the room to get ready for our evening Broadway show. The rain stopped so we walked down Broadway to the theater. We had great seats and enjoyed the performance of Wicked immensely. The theater was full and everyone gave the cast a well deserved standing ovation. We did a little souvenir shopping on the walk back and stopped for a post show dessert in the hotel lobby.

Ready for the show

Lobby decorations

Yummy post-show dessert

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Katelyn's Graduation Trip Day 5

Janet and Katelyn wanted Nutella crepes for breakfast and we were literally right next to the Reading Terminal Market, so I walked over and got them. I myself opted for a more traditional breakfast in the hotel. After checkout, we went to Independence Park and signed up for a Ride The Ducks tour. We got on the next tour leaving and had a fun ride around Philadelphia with an entertaining guide. The ducks are amphibious and take you for a short ride on the Delaware river as well. After the Ducks tour we packed into the car for the drive to New York.

Ride the Ducks

We dropped off the car in New York and checked in to our hotel which has a view of Times Square. We went out exploring and walked to Central Park where we took a pleasant carriage ride through the park. It was a nice way to enjoy the park and see more than if we walked. After the carriage ride we walked to Rockefeller Center and had dinner at an outdoor restaurant in Rockefeller Plaza. After dinner we returned to the hotel and had dessert in a lobby restaurant.
Times Square view from hotel
Central Park carriage ride
Rockefeller Plaza outdoor restaurant

Monday, June 6, 2016

Katelyn's Graduation Trip Day 4


Today we started with breakfast in the Concierge Club of the hotel, then took a cab to the Independence Visitor Center to check in for a Segway tour. After a brief but adequate training session, we headed out on Segways for a 2 hour tour of Philadelphia's old city. Kate rode like she's been doing it all her life. After riding all morning we were ready to do some touring on foot. First we visited the Liberty Bell. Then we walked to the Love sculpture in Dilworth Park. Next we went to the Reading Terminal Market for lunch. One of the oldest public markets, the Reading Terminal Market is in what once was the terminal for the Reading Railroad. Does Reading Railroad sound familiar? I'll give you a hint: Reading, Pennsylvania, B&O, and Short Line. Inside, Katelyn found a vendor of genuine French crepes, so we had our lunch there. Katelyn enjoyed a Nutella and banana crepe. After lunch it was time for our guided tour of Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was created and signed. Our tour guide was both informative and entertaining and it made for an interesting tour. We passed a number of Indego bike sharing racks during our walking today, and after we completed our Independence Hall tour we decided to rent a couple of the bikes and ride to see the "Rocky" statue near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The three mile ride was fun, but included a few hills that in 85 degree sun wore out an old out-of-shape guy like me. So we checked our bikes back in at the Indego station near the Museum and after taking the obligatory "Rocky" pose photo in front of the statue, we took a cab back to the hotel.

Liberty Bell
Segway savvy
Say, can you tell me where to find
the Reading Terminal Market?
Declaration signing room
Independence Hall