Tag Archives: tour

Another Castle and a Few More Pubs

Today we had Dublin Castle on our agenda. It is kind of amazing that a castle lies in city center and you don’t really even see it. It’s not a towering one like Blarney, but it impresses nonetheless. We did a fairly quick tour of it as we did not pay to enter the “fancy” part. We did, however, get to go in the Royal Chapel, as well as the garden. It was a warm, sunny day, so many people were out enjoying the midday sun along with us. We lunched at The Stag’s Head, an historic pub I had read about in my guidebook. It was really cool inside (check out the stained glass windows), and our waitress was very friendly (she attempted to serve Jackson his dad’s Guinness). 🙂

This evening we had a literary pub crawl tour with our students. Basically, you walk from pub to pub, as well as places like Trinity College and St. Andrew’s Church, to hear tales of famous authors (e.g., Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde) who frequented the area. The two guides are actors and go in and out of character. It was entertaining and informative, but we gave the kids a pass and I’m sure glad we did as they would have found it incredibly boring (especially with the 20-minute stops for people to get their pints). I ducked out with my folks a bit early to get everyone settled into bed as we have a 4:30am bus to catch to the airport for our flight to Edinburgh. (Also the reason why this post is short!). More from Scotland…

New heights in Eireann

photo 3Today we had a “phenomenal tour,” as Sean Finnegan would say. He, and our bus driver Frank, did a fine job motoring us over the Irish countryside. We set out for the Cliffs of Moher, spectacular 700 foot high walls above the Atlantic. This was not scheduled on our tour as it is weather dependent. Although the skies were a bit gray, the visibility was good enough to take in excellent views, as the photos clearly show. We hiked up like “real Irish people” rather than going on the sidewalk from the parking lot. We were on more of a cow path, complete with nice Irish cows.

The views once we arrived to the top were spectacular and made me feel very small. We did not lay on our bellies and look over, though some around us did. Sean clearly warned us about the danger of doing so. We also saw a huge sea cave that was in Harry Potter 7, Part 1. The cliffs themselves were also featured in The Princess Bride (“The Cliffs of Insanity”). Pretty cool.

We ventured on for a lunch stop next to the Bunratty Castle. (We saw LOTS of castles today, many of which looked a bit “broken down,” as our nieces stated.) It was a nice stop with good food (all of which is very excellent here, though a bit heavy…lots of potatoes, which we learned today are mostly imported from Cypress and Spain as the farm ground here is too valuable to waste on potatoes!).

Dungeon w/ prisoner @ Blarney Castle
Dungeon w/ prisoner @ Blarney Castle

We departed for County Cork, specifically the Blarney Castle. Reed and I visited three years ago, so we knew what to expect. You climb many, many stairs up a narrow, winding stone staircase to the top of this mid-15th century castle. Then you wait in line to lay on your back, grab two iron bars, lean your head back, and kiss the stone in the wall. The Irish believe this process gives one the gift of gab or eloquence. We all kissed it so we will see what happens! (Abbie already has the gift, so she said perhaps it will work in reverse for her!)

We separated from our California group as they were staying in Cork for the night. We headed back to Dublin on the 7:20 train from Cork via Mallow and Limerick. Then we went by bus to Trinity….it was good to be “home,” which is also my folks’ home for the next few days until we head to Scotland. Our students are a bit weary and may be taking the day off from their placements tomorrow, which I approved of. It was a very busy weekend…we saw a lot of this small, green island, and feel much better acquainted with her (called Eireann in Gaelic, my namesake).

Aran Island Expedition

Sunday we spent a day on the largest of the three Aran Islands off the coast of Galway. I was too tired once we finally settled back into our hotel last night to blog, and this morning we head out soon, so this will be a bit brief (though there are lots of pictures to share!).

We took a bus about 20 miles to the ferry port, and then we rode the ferry about 45 minutes to the island of Inishmor. It is a lovely little island, about 8 miles long and 2 miles wide. Our guide was local and full of wit…lots of zingers. 🙂 I could imagine him and Uncle Jeff in some sort of battle of one-liners!

Dun Aonnghus
Dun Aonnghus

We visited a few sites on the island, including a 2500 year old fort, Dun Aengus. This was probably the highlight, as it is perched atop a 300 foot cliff on the edge of the sea. If you google it, you will see pictures of people laying on their bellies with their heads over the edge looking down. Yes, some in our party did this as well. It was quite a hike up the rocky path to get to the fort, but it was well worth it.

We lunched on sandwiches, soup, wraps, and fudge at a nearby cafe and enjoyed the sunshine. We reboarded the minibus and went to the Seven Churches, a monastic settlement dating back to the 8th century with the remains of some 11th century Celtic crosses there too. Only two of the churches are in tact, and it is still used as an active cemetery with new headstones mixed in with the old ones.

We had a little time for refreshments before getting back on the ferry and heading to Galway. The kids, Reed, and some students passed the time playing “slappy hands” and “zip bong”…extreme silliness! It was a nicely paced, though long, day. Sean Finnegan was with us but he let the local guides have the spotlight. Tony stayed behind to take one of our students to the doctor as she has been dealing with a rash on her hands (diagnosed as hand, foot, & mouth so we all are taking precautions to keep healthy while helping her recover).

We got the kids fed and settled in for some gaming time, and the four of us went out for dinner. The busy Shop Street was less crowded, though still fairly lively for a Sunday night. We ate at The King’s Head, an historic pub we had learned about the day before on our walking tour. Mom had her first mushy peas and fish & chips, so she is adapting well to the local fare! Oh yeah, we snuck in some gelato too, but don’t tell the kids. 🙂 Onto Cork and the Blarney Stone today before returning to Dublin…we will go by the Cliffs of Moher if the weather is good, so fingers are crossed!

Galway Getaway

This morning we departed Dublin by train for the roughly two-hour journey west to the seaside town of Galway. About 60,000 full-time residents live here, but it swells on weekends when many come for a getaway. We found that to be true this weekend, especially with the arts’ festival in town. The gentle rocking of the cross-country train was quite pleasant…we felt rather European. 🙂

We settled into our lovely hotel and got lunch prior to departing for waking tour #2 by Sean Finnegan. He is a wonderful, knowledgeable man, but boy has he got the gift of gab (I wonder how many times he has kissed the Blarney Stone and been touched with its eloquence?)! The kids stayed behind in the hotel, which was a good thing as it grew rather long (again). Still, I really enjoyed learning about this once fishing village with quite a trade route to Spain. It is even rumored that Christopher Columbus was inspired to sail west to the Americas by experiences he had in Galway!

We had a group dinner scheduled at Monroe’s, a famous Galway pub (there sure seem to be a lot of famous pubs in this land). We have joined up with a student group from Fullerton, CA, so we are quite a spectacle going around, all 30 of us! Reed stayed on longer with the students to listen to traditional Irish music…I returned to our hotel with the kids and my folks. We have a ferry to catch to the Aran Islands in the morning, so we are looking forward to another new adventure, this time on the sea.

Fun (& Educational) Friday

Reed headed out fairly early this morning to meet the students for class and coffee. They also visited Kilmainham Gaol, a prison that holds tales of “some of the most heroic and tragic events in Ireland’s emergence as a modern nation from the 1780s to the 1920s” (from the Dublin Pocket Guide). They shared lunch before meeting the rest of us at the Guinness Storehouse for our afternoon tour. It was quite interesting to learn about the history, agriculture, chemistry, and marketing of the famous beverage. I guess it was a fairly educational experience, as well as a refreshing one as we enjoyed our “free” pint (or glass of soda) at the end of the tour in the “Gravity Bar” with 360 degree views of Dublin.

Then Reed and Jackson walked back to Trinity while my folks, Abbie, and I hopped on the bus to see a few more sites of Dublin, including the docklands. I really liked the Samuel Beckett (harp-shaped) bridge (again!), the U2 graffiti wall (where U2 wrote much of their early music and where fans now go to paint murals portraying their songs), and bronze statues depicting people suffering from the famine and their subsequent emigration process to the USA, Canada, & Australia (among others). We also had some time for a little souvenir shopping, one of Abbie’s favorite activities. 🙂

We headed back to my folks’ hotel for a bit, and then we met the guys at a neighborhood pub for dinner. Afterward, we reshuffled our suitcases in preparation for our weekend excursion to Galway, on Ireland’s west coast. We are looking forward to the getaway!

Special Guests

Today I woke early and headed to the airport to fetch my parents. They arrived on time and had a fairy easy journey from Iowa (via Chicago). They commented on how it takes about the same amount of time to fly to Dublin as it does to drive to Indianapolis (which my dad had just done for our nephew’s AAU basketball tournament), and it is a whole lot easier than flying to South Africa! Perspective can be a helpful tool!

We stowed their luggage at their Trinity City Hotel as their room wasn’t yet ready (it was only about 9:30) and we headed to our apartment. The kids and Reed were glad to see them, and we visited for awhile over morning beverages. Then my folks, Abbie, and I headed out to catch the big green “hop on/hop off” bus tour. I thought it might be a nice way for them to get oriented to Dublin without too much exertion.

We hopped off at Merrion Square and visited Oscar Wilde’s statue, something I had been wanting to do. We hopped back on the next bus and got lucky with witty live commentary. So, rather than hopping off again, we rode most of the rest of the route before meeting Jackson and Reed for lunch. We heard a bit of history, a pinch of humor, and skosh of sarcasm while winding through Dublin. It is a very interesting city with lots of character…there are a few sites I’d like to go back to and hop off to visit.

We lunched again at The Duke and enjoyed sandwiches, soup, and chips (aka fries). My dad had his first (half) pint of Guinness,which I think he enjoyed. We get to tour the Guinness storehouse tomorrow, so it will be fun to learn more about the Guinness family and their legendary black liquid. Then I got my folks settled into their posh hotel room so they could relax and freshen up before Riverdance.

Speaking of which, it was amazing! The dancers and musicians are so incredibly talented, and to see Riverdance in Dublin is beyond compare, in my opinion. The finesse and coordination exhibited is hard to put into words…truly spectacular. The show grew a little long for the kids, and my folks were pretty tired by the end after their super long day, but it was a delightful evening. The students enjoyed it too, and they were headed home after a full day. Here’s hoping everyone – all 10 of us – sleeps well!

Walking tour & welcome meal

Our Monday morning started in a leisurely fashion which was good, as 3/4 of us had trouble falling asleep (Reed did not). The kids and I had lunch in as Reed met his students and Tony for a Book of Kells tour at 11:30 (the rest of us will see it when my folks arrive). When they were done, they came by the apartment and got a quick tour…we want them to feel welcome here (they’ve designated themselves as our other four adopted children, at least for three weeks). 🙂

We all departed to meet up with Tony and our tour guide for the afternoon, Sean Finnegan. (A highlight for me was getting to meet Tracy Dicks, the London-based AIFS staffer who set up both this and the Cape Town program!) Sean is a lovely older gentleman who knows a lot about Dublin. As he works for the tourism office, he promised to tell us no lies while on the tour…he had quite a wit about him and often tried to stump us with questions about his city. 🙂 Our 60-90 minute walking tour ended up being about 150 minutes, and we didn’t even travel much distance! We strolled from Trinity down to St. Stephen’s Green, which is only about 1/2 mile away, and back, stopping frequently to hear about the sites. It was interesting most of the time, but everyone grew tired by the end of it. The kids (all six!) handled it well, and we were proud of them.

We had some time to return “home” in the afternoon before our welcome dinner. We met the students and Tony at the front gate of Trinity and headed toward Temple Bar around 7:00. We were ushered up two sets of stairs to a nicer restaurant setting at Oliver St. John Gogarty’s, which I didn’t expect (I thought it would be more of a pub setting, which the first two floors are). We had a lovely dinner, complete with duck for Hannah, lobster for Jamieson, steak for Kayla and Tony, sole for Jamie, pork loin for Jackson, Irish stew for Reed, fish & chips for Abbie, & veggie lasagna for me. We sat there long enough to make room for dessert, so it was a fun celebratory type of meal. We heard about the students’ home stays, which are going well, along with other things they’ve done to explore the city, both together and separately. They are a really great group of individuals, and we are so glad each one is here with us!

We returned home around 10:00, still fairly awake…it doesn’t get dark here until about that time, so our clocks are a bit shifted. We all slept well (I am writing this Tuesday morning), and are ready for another Dublin day!