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.