Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Lush Ireland

A little windy on the Cliffs of Moher!

October2...continued: We arrived to the Dublin airport about 8:20pm, collected our bags and then tried to figure out where to find the bus to the city center. After about 25 minutes of asking and searching, we found bus 41 and needed to wait 20 minutes until the next one arrived.
The directions to our hotel were terrible. In fact, I had to inquire twice to them to get some that we're mediocre at best. All we knew was we were supposed to take bus 41 to the last stop and they were "a three-minute walk from there."

Well the bus driver was a jerk and when we asked if he stopped at a specific street, he responded with "obviously." Ok then, not off to the best start, and I forgot to mention it was raining. We got on the bus and noticed that there was no bus route sign or anything, so we were a little worried as to how we would know when the last stop was. I was able to ask a woman behind me who showed more manners than the mean driver.

We got off the bus and were left to decide which "three-minute" walk we would choose at this fork in the road, literally. Thankfully we chose correctly and made it to The Abbott Lodge Inn. We booked this place based off of reviews and proximity to the city center.

I can safely say, it's the worst place we've stayed to date. Here is a rundown of our first 30 minutes:
-Walked the four flights to room 126
-Reeked like barf
-Smell confirmed by the still wet trash can in the corner, no joke.
-Got our room changed to the first floor, room 104.  Only room with no Wi-fi...great.
-Windowless, no fan, so musty it was hard to breathe. But it was bigger than the barf room
-Put our bags down. Noticed two boogies stuck to the wall. One was bloody.
-Grin and barred it. I took a shower.
-Water pressure good.
-Blew dry my hair with THEIR hair dryer. Started smoking like crazy. Now the room smelled of smoke and must. No fan or windows to air out.
-Andrew uses the bathroom. Steps on a SLUG! Not joking, a slug on the floor!
-We got in bed at 11:45pm and squinted to see the 13inch mounted box tv; circa 2000.

October3: Woke up to another rainy day. Ventured out to explore the Guinness Brewery. We ended up spending three hours there! One of the coolest tours I've ever been on. It was so modern and well done, just amazing! It's self guided but everything is interactive using huge tvs with motion activated software explaining how they brew their beer. It's really quite hard to explain, I'm hoping some of my photos can do it justice.

Room with talking frames
One of the coolest rooms was filled with about ten talking picture frames. High definition tvs that were 'portraits' of people from different eras talking about Arthur Guinness, the founder. When you stepped in front of them, they came to life in almost 3D likeness. Really clever and super interesting.
They had a taste testing room where they activated all of your senses. Very Willy Wonka like in an all white room. We were given a shot glass of Guinness and then told to walk into the next room without drinking it. This time, an all black room, the guide told us how to taste all the flavors based on the sipping technique. Just really cool!

We then went to the fourth floor, Guinness Acadamy, and learned how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness. After we all poured our own, we entered our name into an iPad and a certificate printed out! Cool! They snapped a group photo and if we entered our email address into the iPad, we were immediately emailed the group photo. Just a great way to use current technology to please your customers, well done!
Andrew pouring.

We then took our beers up to the seventh floor where we enjoyed a 360 degree view of Dublin. We just really enjoyed ourselves and it was one of the few entry fees we paid that we felt we got our money's worth.

We left the brewhouse, walked around a few shops in the city center before we were tired of getting rained on. We went back to our lovely abode to book some things for the coming days which was a relief when we finished! We headed to a local pub for drinks, an appetizer and a dessert! Pretty successful (despite the rain) first full day in Ireland!

October 4: After another lovely night in our wonderful hotel, we woke up refreshed and ready to go. Ha! We walked about thirty minutes to check out Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Saint Patrick is said to have baptized converts to Christianity at a well that once existed in the park just next to the Cathedral. Due to this association, a church has been there since the fifth century. The current cathedral (after a few rebuilds) has been there since the thirteenth century!

The alter at Saint Patrick's Cathedral
It was a really beautiful church. Odd to have been charged an admission price to visit an active cathedral, but I guess they have to get the restoration money from somewhere, and we were glad to contribute! After admiring the stained glass for a while, we left to check out Trinity College; the oldest and most famous university in Ireland.

Being in no rush, we decided to check out Shop Street. A bustling commercial district filled with shops, caf├ęs and street performers. We were luck to catch a local band called ‘Keywest’ and the five members were so talented! We ended up buying a few over cds as well as an original. It was a really nice little break to enjoy some fabulous local Dublin talent!

After the serenade, we made our way over to the college. Now, walking around the college is free, so we did that for a bit and then checked out their gift shop. A famous exhibition was going on to see ‘The Book of Kells,” an elaborately designed gospel created by monks on the Scottish isle of Iona around 800ad. They copied the books, word for word in Latin, of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John from the New Testament. We really didn’t know much about it and we thought nine-Euro a piece to see it seemed a little much so we decided to pass.
In the Long Room (where we weren't supposed to be)

After moseying around the gift shop, we found ourselves walking up some stairs in the shop not knowing what they lead to. We found our selves in the magnificent ‘Long Room’ library. Built between 1712 and 1732, it contains four million titles! It is really beautiful and the sight of some of these old books was just really stunning. It even had the ‘old book’ smell! We made our way down the opposite side stairs thinking it would lead us back to the gift shop. Well, we were actually in the Book of Kells exhibition hall! So confused (and clearly someone wasn’t doing their job if we just mindlessly ended up in the hall for FREE) we took a look around. It was neat to see how the monks created the book, and the book itself was pretty. But I was glad we didn’t pay the eighteen Euro for it. And just like that, we walked out.

I felt a little bad for not paying, but it wasn’t done out of malicious intent, we honestly didn’t know where we were going. If we weren’t allowed to go that way don’t you think someone should have been there? Oh, well. It was a lovely little mistake!

We left the college and headed to the famous Temple Bar district for some lunch in a typical Irish Pub. The streets were lined with them. We kind of just picked one thinking that they really all kind of served the same things. After our late lunch, we decided to just walk around the streets a little more, enjoying our last day in Dublin. Tomorrow we would be hitting the road for a three-day rental car road trip around the beautiful Green Isle.

October 5: And we’re mobile! After a bit of a frustrating morning, the guy at the front desk of our awful hotel did not know what the heck he was talking about when it came to which bus we needed to take. We ended up just taking a taxi for the first time since we have left Korea. Is that nuts?!
Andrew and our sweet ride!
We decided to pick up the rental car at the airport since it seemed like the easiest way. We booked the car through lastminutedeals.com with Enterprise, so it was ready for us when we got there. Renting the car was a lot more than in the states, but I had read that in our travel guide. It has something to do with the insurance the government mandates you to purchase with the rental and it’s pretty steep. But it’s a piece of mind I guess. The first car we inspected actually had a nail in the tire, which I was so happy the enterprise guy caught, so we were given another. The car is an automatic Nissan Micra! I was a little nervous for Andrew as it’s been over a year since he has driven and it’s on the opposite side of the road. But he did a great job with the driving when we were in New Zealand, that I knew he’s do a great job!

And we’re off, shades on, windows down, and our new Irish band cd blasting through the speakers! Our first stop is Galway. A city about two and a half hours west of Dublin and on the west coast. We booked a hotel there, Galway Oyster, for the night to give us a chance to explore. 

Just enjoying the view!
Well, there isn’t a whole lot to do in Galway, so after checking in and getting something to eat, we headed 50km southwest to check out the Cliffs of Moher. WOAH! The lush green, gorgeous Ireland I’m sure you are picturing is exactly what we saw out our windows on the drive to the cliffs. It was like a movie! It’s obvious how Ireland get the name, the Green Isle. We made it to the cliffs via a super narrow country road with no shoulder (I was a nervous wreck) and saw that we had to pay six euro a piece to park! What?! I have to pay to park in this big open lot? Not okay. We turned around in search of another option. Bingo! We saw some people walking down the way and noticed a few cars parked in the side of the road and people walking up a path to the cliffs. So that’s what we did.

After parking the car, we made the trek up the steep hill where we would eventually meet up with the people that paid to park. Same gorgeous view for FREE! The views were breathtaking! There isn’t much more to say other than that. I’ll just include a few photos below and you can see for yourself! We left just before dark to avoid the narrow roads without streetlights. That would have been scary! Great first day of the road trip!

October 6: Today, we woke up, filled our bellies with the complimentary breakfast and hit the road for Cork. Unfortunately, the unusually beautiful weather we had yesterday did stretch itself any further and we woke up to more rain. This kind of puts a damper in our plans of stopping along to way to see sites or just take pictures of the beautiful scenery. The drive was only about two hours, but it rained the entire time. We made one detour through the town of Limerick to see what was there and to get some gas. Pretty much everything was closed because it was Sunday, so we just filled up. And let me tell you, I have no right to complain about gas prices in the US anymore! We still had little more than a quarter tank in this tiny Micra car, and it still cost us $60!!! That is crazy to me! No wonder they all drive itty-bitty cars.

We hit the road again and arrived at our Cork hotel, the Best Western. The hotel is really nice and the town is built within these killer walking hills. We dropped our stuff off and headed into town to get something to eat. We decided not to drive because we knew parking would be a pain so we just walked….in the rain…boo. The walk down wasn’t bad, but when we finished eating, we had to walk the 15 minutes up hill; not fun at all. We took the rest of the rainy afternoon to look up the last few activities we would do to fill our last two days!

Gorgeous grounds around the castle.
October 7: Boo....more rain! Our plan was to head the eight kilometers from Cork, to Blarney, to visit the famous Blarney Stone, the castle it's set in as well as the beautiful gardens. But of course, that's no fun in the rain, so we decided to head there in search of a lunch spot and wait for the rain to let up. A huge tourist attraction set in the tower of the castle in 1446, it is said that anyone who kisses the Blarney Stone endows the kisser with the gift of eloquence; so of course we had to kiss it! 

The rain let up so we headed to the castle. The castle itself is not that impressive, but the beautiful, lush gardens around it are worth the visit. We walked along the tourist friendly path taking pictures of the gorgeous grounds around us and reading all the little 'legend' markers along the way telling us about the  witch the used to live there; kind of fun. After about an hour, we made our way to the castle and to take our turn at kissing the stone. The castle is really nothing to talk about. The steps to get to the stone however, are. Talk about tiny spaces! The stairs were so narrow and the spiral staircase is not for the anyone remotely claustrophobic. It was even smaller than the stairs leading the top of the Notre Dame tower in Paris. 

Andrew kissing the stone!
We made it to the top and prepared to kiss the stone. It's actually quite awkward to tell you the truth. You have to lay on your back, grabbing these two iron posts while this old man that worked there helped to lean uncomfortable far back, like a back bend, as you kiss the stone upside down looking at the gardens quite far down below you. Not a fan of kissing something thousands of people ahead of me have; I got to go right after I watched him sanitize it! Whew! 

After gaining our 'gift of eloquence,' it started raining again so we had to head back.

October 8: Our last full day of this incredible trip! We got in the rental car and drove about an hour and fifteen minutes to the city of Waterford. Know where this is going?! Yes, we were going to tour the Waterford Crystal factory! So exciting! We pulled in, ate a quick lunch and then headed to the store. Stunning of course! A whole factory filled with all different types of beautifully cut crystal just sparkling in the perfectly positioned lighting...love!

We bought out tickets for the tour; a behind the scenes look at the mast craftsmen at work. We got to see how the molded, blew, shaped, cut, and shined the pieces from start to finish. The apprenticeship these men go through last up to ten years!! It is so amazing how they make all those perfect cut lines by hand; pretty incredible. We even got to hold a replica of the NCAA College football championship trophy so that we neat! The tour lasted about an hour and it gave us some great insight to this super skilled trade; it made us look at the pieces in the showroom that much closer and with that much more respect. Having not really bought any souvenirs on this trip, we splurged and bought ourselves a truly gorgeous bowl that was made at and exclusively for this factory store, so that's pretty special.

We left Waterford and headed back to Dublin to return the car and check into our airport hotel. I can't believe this trip is over. This journey really. It all started back in December of 2011 when Andrew and I talked about how much we missed living abroad and how much we wanted to travel Europe. Returning to Korea was again, such an amazing experience in itself but it helped us to ultimately get to our end goal of Europe. Traveling Europe is not cheap compared to Asia, and we knew that. Having that year to just work and save in Korea made all of this possible.

In a matter of fourteen months we traveled and experienced: Korea, Philippines, Hong Kong, Turkey, Italy, France, Austria, Germany, England, Scotland, and Ireland. At the tender age of 27, Andrew and I have had so many travel opportunities that we know we are so blessed to have had. We set a goal, worked for it and accomplished it. I'm so proud, and yet, so excited for all of the goals in our future that we will work for and attain together! Bless Andrew's heart for putting up with me; Lord knows I can be a bit of a high-strung traveler!

Thanks for all the love and prayers and for following our journey! Can't wait to get back to the good 'ole USofA!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Beautiful Scotland

September 27: Today we boarded a four-hour train for London that would take us to Edinburgh and then we would catch an hour-long train to Dundee where my mom’s cousin, Barbara, was going to be picking us up. The train ride was pretty, as much of the view was of vivid green farmland and beginning of autumn trees.

This would be the first time I would meet Barbara and she was just as nice as she could be. She picked us up from the train station and took us to her house where we would be staying for two nights. Her house is in the most picturesque location. Built by her father, this was her childhood home. The backyard garden was beautiful! She took us along the fence line giving us a little history of where the trees and plants came from. The house sits on an acre of well kempt land and it’s just so cozy and peaceful. She cooked us a perfect spaghetti dinner complete with a dessert using the fruit she grows herself. It was such a great first night in Scotland and amazing to meet some relatives I had never met before.

Glamis Castle
September 28: Today, began a little less typical than most of our travel days. We THOUGHT taking a ferry from Edinburgh to Dublin (our last stop of the trip) would be the cheapest and easiest way. We were wrong. After talking with Barbara, she told us that a flight would be the best and most efficient way. So, last night we tried to book it online, however, the website would not take any of our cards for some unknown reason. So Barbara was nice enough to take us to a travel agent first thing in the morning to get the tickets booked. They even had trouble with the site. And to avoid an extra charge using our American credit card, Barbara was sweet enough to put it on her card allowing us to pay her back in cash. Whew!

After that unforeseen travel hiccup, Barbara drove us 15 miles from Dundee to see Glamis (pronounced Glaums) Castle, the childhood home of the Queen Mother. Located at the end of a stunning drive in. A small paved road lined with rolling hills and huge canopy trees. It embodies a castle in every sense on the world. We took a guided tour (no pictures allowed) of some of the staterooms and were given a great history of the 600 year old, still inhabited castle. After the tour we grabbed a small bite to eat at the castle restaurant before beginning our driving tour.

Dundee and the surrounding areas of Scotland are just beautiful. By no means overly populated, the natural beauty is still at the forefront of this place. Barbara drove us along the coastline pointing out little towns and giving us a brief history of each. It was so wonderful because when you travel, you don’t get the chance to see much of the countryside as it’s hard to reach those using public transportation. I’m so glad she took the time to drive us around. I loved the little antidotes of family history she would weave in; all so interesting. I could definitely live here. There is just something some homey about it.  

September 29: Today Barbara drove us to the little town of St. Andrews; home to the university as well as the birthplace of golf. Andrew had been looking forward to this day for quite some time. The town is so charming. And just this year, the university celebrated its 600th birthday! We weren’t aware that the Alfred Dunhill golf tournament was going on on the famous Old Course, so we were not able to walk along it. Instead we had to admire it from afar. We were able to watch a few players play the 18th hole…Andrew was in golf heaven and he’s determined to return in 2015 for the Open that will be played there.

Andrew at St. Andrew's
 After watching some golf, Barbara took us for a stroll around the town and along the pew where we got a beautiful view of the ruins of St. Andrew’s Castle. It was also nice just listening to her insights on buildings and places, as she was a student at St. Andrew’s many years ago. After walking around we grabbed a quick lunch before she drove us to Edinburgh where we would be staying with another cousin of my mother’s, Jamie.

Edinburgh is beautiful. Their house is within walking distance to the city center which is super convenient for us. After chatting for a little while over a pot of tea, Barbara had to return home as she was leaving town the next morning. It was sad to day goodbye to her because it was just so wonderful to spend time with her. Jamie then thought to drive us to the city center and give us a map so we could explore a bit before making our way back to their house. 
Andrew and I with Barbara at St. Andrew's

Walking the main streets of the city was so fun. Everything is just so….well…Scottish! We took in a few sites before making our way back to Jamie’s for dinner. At dinner we sat with Catherine, Jamie’s partner, and Robin, Jamie’s older brother.  It was a delicious home-cooked meal and great conversation. We ended up talking until about 10:45pm. It was just a wonderful day!

September 30th: Jamie went with us to visit Edinburgh Castle. A royal castle built in the 12th century and continued as a royal living place until 1603. It was pretty cold atop that hill, but the view was well worth it. We had such beautiful views of Edinburgh from every angle. The castle has several mini-museums, from military to the crown jewels. We spend a little over two hours walking around listening to our audio guides.

We left the castle and made our way to meet Robin and Jamie’s cousin nephew, Jimmy, who works in a local pub. More distant relatives, yeah! We sat there chatting and eating lunch where I was able to sample Haggis, a Scottish traditional dish.

Edinburgh Castle
After lunch, Robin took us on a bus to go and visit his mother, my grandmother’s sister, Dorothy, in the nursing home. I never in a million years thought I would have the chance to meet all this family, let alone a 99 year-old great aunt. Dorothy does not look 99 at all. There would be moments where the light went off and she knew who I was, in relation to her, but then it would sadly fade away. She mentioned that she thought my grandmother was so witty, which made me laugh as it’s still true today. We stayed there for about 30 minutes before taking a beautiful canal walk back to Jamie’s house.

October 1: Andrew and I headed out for the day and our first stop was The National Museum of Scotland, right in the city center. It’s a wonderful museum with so many aspects. We especially enjoyed the interactive science portion! We spent about two hours just walking around and taking everything in.

"I just want to meet the queen!"
The rest of the day we spent moseying around the famous Royal Mile street and enjoying all the little shops we went in an out of. We also made our way down to the parliament building which is a building of very unique architecture, and then we took some photos of one of the Queens Scottish palaces, Holyrood House. We decided not to pay to go in, but we snapped some photos from the outside.
We walked, and then walked some more before returning to Jamie’s house to throw in a small load of laundry before taking them both out for a ‘thank-you-for-letting-us-stay” dinner. Tomorrow is another ½ of Edinburgh exploration before we fly out later that evening for our final stop; Ireland!

October 2: Today we decided to walk around and explore more of the 'new town' even though it dates back to the 1700s. The architecture was beautiful and we enjoyed the day just killing time before leaving for our flight at 5:00pm. And believe it or not, on our way back to Jamie's house to pack, we ran into Robin walking the streets. He told us if we had 20 minutes to spare, we should join him for a look around the National Portrait Gallery. We walked the two floors as he gave us a brief Scottish history based on the portraits we saw. I just can't believe that we ran into one of only five people we know in this city! Small, small world.

Scotland was such a wonderful place to visit. I felt so blessed to have been able to meet and stay with family members I had never even met. The way they opened up their homes to Andrew and I just show how kindhearted and generous the Scots truly are. We had an absolute fantastic time in Scotland!