Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Day 9: a long strange trip

I think day 9 was a Thursday. This is not important. What is important is how far we drove. Go to this map. Find Waterford (its at the bottom) now find Kilkenny above that. We drove from Kilkenny to Waterford to just outside Cork then north to Cashel then back to Kilkenny, it was quite a day.

One of the places I had to see was Waterford, the home of Waterford Crystal. This turned out to be a good choice. Chris really liked the tour. We got to see them making crystal from start to finish. It is really fascinating. All the workers apprenticed for 8 years before they could be called master crystal makers and only masters work on the floor. Everyone can do every single job from blowing to engraving. There are no cheat sheets so the cutters have to have every pattern memorized. There are also no seconds. If any piece is not perfect, it is smashed. 
The coolest thing that I think we saw was in the cutting area, there was a guy working with this cabinet/chamber. We asked what he was doing and he stopped to show us. They were using sand blasting to etch very fine snowflakes in a champagne flute. The designer then wanted it acid dipped (what makes it sparkle) and more snowflakes etched after the dip so they would be white instead of clear. He was doing some R&D to see if what the designer wanted could be done. So cool!

In the showroom, were yes I bought crystal even though I was already wondering what to do with all the crystal we got at out wedding.

We then headed on in to County Cork to see Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone. It was weird because Blarney only got a tiny blip in our guide book but doesn't every trip to Ireland need a trip to the Blarney Stone. The answer is No! I am not even going to put up a photo. There is not historical tour. There is no learning. You can wait on line for over and hour to kiss a rock that locals pee on at night. No thank you, I want my money back. If you go to Ireland and your friends say, "aren't you going to see the Blarney Stone?" Just tell them "no, it is crap." You heard it from me.

Luckily our foul castle mood was saved by our final stop, The Rock Of Cashel. The Rock of Cashel is actually a hill and on it sits a very old monastery and residence. The chapel contains some of the oldest frescoes in the world. It has an interesting history in architecture and residence. It was here that St. Patrick converted the King of Munster so it is sometimes known at St. Patrick's Rock.

 The round tower at Cashel

 St. Patrick's Cross (a replica actually, the real one was moved indoors). Our guide said if you could get your arms around it then no more toothaches for life. Chris made a "that doesn't look hard face", there was a solid 3 feet between my hands.

We had a late lunch so we just stopped off at a store some pastries and ate dinner in our room at the B&B. Day 10 was our last day in Ireland.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Day 8: The long road

So on day 8 we reluctantly left County Meath and headed south.Once we clear Dublin, we head down the East Coast and make out first stop in Enniskerry at Powerscourt Estate. It was really nice to get out and stretch our legs in these breathtaking gardens.

I loved the tower gardens. This is what most of Ireland looks like except here it is on purpose.

Chris was intrigued by the pet cemetery. Here you see the grave of Eugenie a beloved Jersey Cow.

We then drove on to Glendalough, which I had been looking forward to all week. This was however, the one stop where it would rain on us. We did get a nice look around. Glendalough is home to St. Kevin, a monk that so admired for his practices of solitude that a monastery will built by his followers. Ironic, yes?

Getting wet at Glendalough, you can see the round tower in the distance

It was in Glendalough that we ran out of Euros and I was very concerned with our lack of funds. We didn't have anymore stops for which we might need cash and we did have our credit cards. Luckily as we drove through tiny village after tiny village we saw a Bank of Ireland which advertised a Bureau de Change. I felt so much better once we had cash again.
We spent the rest of the afternoon driving through the countryside on our way to our next B&B Moonarch Inn in Callan.

This is what Ireland looks like mostly

and this

Once we had unloaded and checked in, we drove back over to Kilkenny for dinner. Even though we weren't super hungry, I had picked Langton's out of the guide book and decided to try it. The food was stellar as was the beer and we recommend it. 
After, dinner we walked down to Kilkenny Castle. It was closed but we looked in the gates. We then strolled about town and even though most shops were closed, it was fun to window shop and people watch.

You can just see Kilkenny Castle in the background

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Day 7: Green

Man, I am so glad the title bar prompts me or I would have no idea what day I am on.

We wake up to this double rainbow (you can barely make the 2nd in this photo, it's to the right). I am not kidding when I say you could see the end in front of those trees! Just unreal.

Ita at the B&B serves us toast, bacon (like ham not really bacon), sausage and eggs. We then get the breakdown on what we should see. Ita tells us to go back to bed because I look tired. To be honest I was exhausted so after breakfast we take her advice and go back to bed for an hour.
She then suggests that we check out Trim Castle which is close by. We did miss the turn and have to loop back around but I am so glad we found it. I think Chris and I both agree this was in the top 3 of things we saw for our entire trip. It is run by the equivalent of the Irish Park Service so there was en excellent guided tour. The wooden floors our mostly gone and so on the inside you use the stone stairs and walk across walkways. The tour was just amazing and I really learned a lot about castles. Including that they were all white inside and out - so movies are wrong when they show gloomy slate colored castles. We also learned the source of the phrases "stir the pot" & "shit stirrer" as well as why the person in charge is the Chairman on the Board.

Trim Castle was used as the stand in for York in the movie Braveheart

Next we headed out for Newgrange an ancient burial site. We had to drive some back country roads to get there and that is when I first noticed what I shall call the Irish Castle Phenomenon. Every town no matter how small has a castle. It may be a well preserved castle and furnished castle, it may be a gutted but well preserved in recent years (like Trim) or in most cases a round tower and few standing walls. Most of them are just in a field with some cows or sheep, no one pays them any mind. This just blew my mind! Who just takes the dog for a walk out past the castle! Unreal!
Anyway, it was after lunch when we got to Newgrange. Because the monument has timed entry the next possible time was too late for us to get back to Dublin on time. This meant we couldn't go in the burial site but there is a visitor center with a museum and great exhibit about how the site was used. Luckily since it was a closed passageway a lot of archeological evidence exists and unlike Stonehenge historians paint a pretty convincing picture of its purpose.
The 3 main sites with Newgrange being the largest were built 800 years before the pyramids in Egypt. The massive stones used were similar in size. One guide was kidding a young boy and said, "Go back to school and when your teacher asks who built the pyramids, say the Irish. Oh no, I am just kidding, don't say that. The Irish didn't build the pyramids. But we bid on 'em!"

Newgrange from the road

When I say that every point of interest has a cafe, I am not kidding. I also don't mean hot dogs and pre-packaged sandwiches. Every place in both England and Ireland has a nice cafe with tasty hot food. Since it was past lunch, we had a nice meal in the Newgrange visitors center. I had a chicken and mushroom puffed pastry thing and Chris had a Guinness meat pie. I will come back to how I think meat pies are a food overlooked by America. One of the interesting Irish condiments is Brown Sauce. We had already been ed offered some at breakfast but I declined. At lunch there it was in little packets just like the ketchup and mustard. I decided to try it. It was almost like thickened Worcestershire sauce. Very curious. 

Wikipedia says it is like A1 but it wasn't tangy like A1

We then took a scenic drive back to the B&B where we regrouped and again caught bus to Dublin. By the time we arrived, we were a bit hungry again and about go to go drinking so we needed full bellies. We popped in Abrakebabra - see what they did there. 

We then headed out to our featured activity The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl. If you go to Dublin, you have to do this. But book in advance online, we did and were glad because we watched others get turned away. The tour is led by two actors who take you around to famous pubs and do sketches from works of famous Irish authors. Chris and started with 1/2 pints because we didn't want to over do it. There are only 4 pubs so we should have went with full pints. We also stopped at Trinity College and few places right on the side walk. It was fun. I am not sure Chris learned anything about literature though. 

I won't lie, James Joyce is probably the one great author I can't stand but still going to Davy Byrne's is a little surreal. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Day 6: Give Chris a drink and....

First let me say a few words about European Budget Airlines. We flew on Ryanair. They are dirt cheap. However, that is because you barely get a seat. Checking baggage costs a fortune and the carry on limit is one 15lb bag. No personal item. No "I am a lady so I get a purse". No duty free shopping bag. It must all fit in this one bag. Since I had to take my c-pap, we were forced to check a bag. Next you must know that Ryanair flights will always leave from the bit of the airport that is being remodeled or needs to be remodeled or has actually fallen down from lack of remodeling. Finally, there are no seat assignments and since everyone is taking the largest carry on bag possible none of them will fit under the seats and if you are not one in the first 50 people then you do not have room for your bag and will thus be charged the checked baggage fee to have it stowed. Also, in flight there are no free snack, drinks or water. They will try to sell you duty free (which you couldn't get before because it would have to fit in your carry-on) and also try to sell you charity lotto tickets. 
Chris likes to play a game called "Chris has two or more beers and tells you about things he hates", Ryanair is the current topic.

Once we landed we went to Enterprise to get our rental car sorted. We got an upgrade to larger car!

Chris say,"I hate to see what we got an upgrade from"

Thanks to a new toll road and Dublin County's attempt to make everyone on it go through the toll, we missed our exit and went through the toll. Once we realized our mistake we followed the signs to the town our Bed and Breakfast was in. We had to ask directions in town but quickly found it. The owner said since they made it a toll road they took down the signs to make everyone go to far and loop around. She was right that if there had been a sign and we exited it was much easier to find.
At first we we sad about staying 14km outside of Dublin but it actually worked out for the best. We didn't fight traffic or pay to much for parking, and we were very close to some of the Meath County highlights. We stayed at Killeentierna House which I can't recommend enough. 
After we checked in we began the I am hungry fight so we walked just up the road to County Club. The County Club is a nice restaurant and lounge. It was about 2 pm so we weren't sure what they would be serving. We walked in and chatted with the Chef who was just wrapping up what they call a Carvery Lunch (carving station). He said it was almost over and there wasn't much. We only wanted a snack so as not to ruin our dinner in Dublin so it sounded great. What we got was beef, carrots, cabbage, 3 scoops of mashed potatoes and a whole roasted potato. It was delicious but way too much. The chef was the first of many Irish people we met who has a cousin who works at a stud farm in Kentucky - not kidding, everyone is Ireland knows where Kentucky is! 
The folks at County Club were so nice that when we asked to make smaller change for the bus, they found out what the fare was and made sure we had exact change for a return because the bus driver will not give you change.
It was about a 40 min bus ride to Dublin, but again it was worth it to get dropped off right in the city center.

Here I am waiting fer the bus.

Our first order of business was the Guinness Storehouse. It was a great tour. We learned history, how to make beer, how to drink beer and saw the sites of Dublin at The Gravity Bar. My interesting tidbit - Aurthur Guinness signed his lease for 9,000 years. St. James Gate was already a thriving brewery area and he didn't want the competition to think he was a fly by night brewery but that he was here to stay - for 9,000 years!

Chris is excited!

Our drinks at the end of the tour in The Gravity Bar which overlooks the entire city.

We ate at Gruel which was recommended in the travel guide. By far the best meal that we had for the entire trip. I can't recommend it enough. If you are in Dublin, check it out. It is tiny and you may have to wait but everything was fantastic.

After dinner we hiked it back to the bus station to catch our bus back to the house. The Dublin Bus Station is called Busarus. Which is pronounced just like it appears. I personally, think that they should change it to Busasarus.

Day 5: A couple big rocks

So before even leaving the states, Chris and I had decided we wanted to see Stonehenge. I don't know why. Because it is a big deal. I have to tell you that it was sort of a let down. I mean it is incredible to think about how ancient peoples moved those big stones, but it is no more incredible in real life than it is on the History Channel. Honestly, I think I expected to feel tingly with magic or something. I did get my mom the most awesome present of a really hard jigsaw puzzle. She loves puzzles.
No kidding, her puzzle is pretty much this picture. Hard!

It wasn't a total loss because as we walked around it in a circle listening to our audio guides about how no one knows what it was for I snapped this awesome picture of Matthew.

After Stonehenge, we headed over to Windsor Castle. It has it's own shopping mall. Windsor Castle was very nice. We got to see Queen Mary's doll house which was really pretty awesome. Unfortunately, since it was Sunday there was mass in St. George's Chapel and we could not go in. Chris wouldn't have been allowed anyway because * spoiler alert* King Henry VIII is buried there.

Check out the link above to Wikipedia for the aerial view and to see just how big the castle is.

After Windsor Castle we went into the mall to at Gourmet Burger Kitchen (gbk). Chris had been looking forward to this as it is a Kiwi burger chain. Chris ordered the Kiwi Burger (not actual kiwis), an L&P (Kiwi soda) and a Mac's Gold (Kiwi beer).

Chris's dinner.
A description of the KiwiBurger: beetroot, egg, pineapple, cheese, salad (this means lettuce and tomato), mayonnaise & relish. We will make a voluntary donation on your behalf of 25p which will go to help save the Kiwi in Whakatane**

That was for our Sunday jaunt. Chris and I needed to get some sleep so we could leave for our early flight to Ireland. Luckily, we now knew which train to take.