This page is split into three parts: Moriah’s writing, Katie’s writing, and Emylee’s writing. Enjoy!
Days 1 & 2: NYC Recap and Arriving in Dublin
As I write this, I’m sitting in the common room of the Paddy Wagon hostel in Dublin and trying to get it in my head that I’m actually in Ireland. I would love to say that I am already so inspired by this beautiful country and that I’ll write you a tear-jerking ballad, but I’m too tired and culture-shocked to produce something like that. So, let me give you a little overview of the past 48ish hours, and you’ll see why my brain feels like scrambled eggs.
Let me begin by saying NYC is an extremely impressive city, but let me quickly follow that statement by saying NEVER EVER EVER EVER PLAN A DAY IN NYC BEFORE CATCHING A PLANE AT JFK. Murphy and his law were in full swing yesterday. The beginning of the day was fine, with my mom getting up early to drive us to the train station (thanks, Mama!), us successfully catching an early train to the city, seeing Times Square, and navigating the subway to get to the ferry that would take us to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We hung out in Battery Park, where I befriended a flock of pigeons by feeding them honey-roasted cashews. One of them landed on my hand several times and let me pet it.
I’ll spare you the details of the security process that we had to endure in order to get on the boat to see Lady Liberty, but the procedure included us standing in line for an hour, surrounded by people who did not seem to understand basic hygiene. My nose is crinkling thinking about it.
The Statue is absolutely incredible!! Seeing her in person is, in all honestly, indescribable. I wish I could see how she looked when she was first delivered, before the elements turned her green. Alas, while gazing at her magnificence, my fingers began to freeze and were soon white and aching. Here comes Murphy…
We hardly had any time at Ellis Island since the boat took so long getting there, and we had to catch a subway to the airport. Emylee’s feet were in pain from her shoes fitting incorrectly, and I felt so bad that she had to walk through the underground hellhole that is the subway system. We ended up on the subway much later than anticipated and ended up getting on the wrong train and getting off the right one. At one point, we were shoved into a train that was so cramped that I thought of comparing our state to that of those nasty sardines in their cans. However, I then realized that even sardines have enough room to slide around in that gross salty liquid. We didn’t have space even for that… It was then I came to the conclusion that we were pressed together like a bunch of sweaty butt cheeks, without room for even the smallest of farts to squeak through.
Once we finally got to the airport, we ended up at the wrong terminal and had to take the air train to the correct one. Miraculously, we made it through security and had an hour to spare before boarding. I was able to sleep all the way to Ireland, and, thankfully, Murphy seems to finally be leaving us alone.
I will write more about Dublin in the next few days but, now, I really don’t have much to say. People drive on the opposite side of the street, the bathroom is called the toilet, nothing (so far) is taxed, and I’m still trying to figure out the currency. Don’t get me wrong, I am quite enjoying myself here. I had some delicious stew and coffee and a beer and already bought myself a new hat. I think I’m just too sleep-deprived to come to any real opinion of what I think. Hopefully some sleep will remedy that.
And so, I wish you a good night. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite. I pray to God there are no bed bugs here.
Day 3: History Geek-out Time
I had a wonderful day today geeking out at the National Museum of Anthropology, seeing the Book of Kells, and going to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Here are some brief experiences I’d like to share (I’m tired, so this will be quick):
The anthropology museum was HUGE and filled with artifacts. Some of my favorites were those from Catholic churches from the Middle Ages. Seeing a monstrance and knowing that it held the Eucharist, Jesus’ body, all those years ago, really touched me.
On a more macabre note, I also saw a viking’s skeleton, a skull that’d been smashed in by an axe, and the torso of a bog body. The skin was like leather, and I could kind of make out some of the organs. It was so cool! Creepy and surreal, but cool. The human body is fascinating, in life and in death.
Now onto the Book of Kells. I love literature–not just stories but the printed word itself. I love seeing how a work is laid out on the page. So learning about how the ink was made, the four monks who wrote out the manuscript, and how the book was bound, was a glimpse of nerdy heaven. After wandering through the information part of the exhibit, I finally saw the book. It was originally a whole manuscript but, at one point, was separated into four smaller books: one for each gospel. On display were two of the books, one of which was open to an excerpt of a gospel and the other open to an intricate illustration. Every time I see an artifact, I want to touch it. I know that sounds bad, but I get my hands on everything and am always that person trying to sneak a touch at a museum when you aren’t supposed to. I was just aching to get my hands on that 1200 year old masterpiece. Unfortunately, a few inches of glass separated my fingers from its delicate pages. Wanting to get my hands on such things isn’t a result of OCD or anything like that. I just love history. Everyone has a sense that they favor. Some people learn better via visuals, other via listening. I learn the best by touching. Touching something so old is experiencing a bit of history. By touching something so old, you are feeling the same sensation people felt hundreds, if not thousands, of years earlier. I love it. My dad got me an old pocket knife found at Benners Hill from the Battle of Gettysburg, and it’s one of my favorite possessions. I want to know who owned it, what it was used for, who made it. I will never know those things about that knife, but I can share in its story by feeling the same surfaces felt by the man who lost it one day in battle.
I was able to get my hands on a chair from 1690, however, when we visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Apparently, King William III sat in it when he came to St. Pat’s to give thank for defeating James II at the Battle of the Boyne. So, there is now some Maresh DNA on the armrest. (I need to point out that there wasn’t a sign saying NOT to touch it… So I technically didn’t break any rules.)
I am off to bed soon. Jet lag is no fun at all.
Oíche mhaith agus codladh sámh. Good night, and sleep well.
Days 4 and 5: Paddywagon Tours and into Galway
As I write this, we are on a train headed for Galway. I was way too tired last night to post, so I’ll catch up now.
We went on a tour yesterday that took us to the Rock of Cashel, Cork city, and Blarney Castle. This was definitely my favorite day so far. The bus ride let us observe a lot of the countryside, and I loved seeing the occasional abandoned tower off the highway and the multiple herds of sheep, cows, and horses.
Before the tour, however, we experienced the wonders of a continental breakfast in a hostel. I was in desperate need of coffee, but the only coffee was the instant kind that looks like hot chocolate mix. It looked like hot chocolate, so I figured it’d work like hot chocolate mix. I proceeded to fill half of my cup with coffee mix, poured in some water, and tossed it in the microwave. This was probably the worst thing I’ve tasted in my 22 years of life. Even after pouring a third of it into another cup, adding water, milk, and sugar, it was still not potable. I tried to wash it down with juice, but the urine-colored liquid that I thought was cheap orange juice was some combination of rotten pineapple and children’s tears. I had no other choice than to make some toast, which was more like two warm pieces of bread slathered in butter and strawberry jelly. Thankfully, that was the end of my misfortune for the day. Yesterday was awesome.
Our first stop was the Rock of Cashel. It sits atop a hill that overlooks a quaint village on one side and rolling hills and fields to the other. It was breathtaking. The castle was originally built to house kings but then became a cathedral. A chipping painting of Jesus on the cross still remained on one of the walls, and an artist’s reproduction was on a board near it so to show how it would have looked. I really liked seeing that.
I was excited to find out that there was a cemetery beside the structure. I like cemeteries. I don’t know why, but I find them very relaxing. Emylee and I strolled around, snapping pictures and taking in the view. She found a lovely spot to leave some of her Nana’s ashes, in between three Celtic crosses. I had my own little adventure when I climbed behind a massive grave to find the remains of a giant Celtic cross that’d fallen down. Emylee later told me that she learned it was struck by lightning in the 1800’s. After an hour of exploration, we headed to Cork.
Cork reminded me a bit of Portugal. It’s right by the River Lee and is adorably quaint. I actually prefer it over Dublin. I like city life, but only for a short time. It can get overwhelming. Most of the buildings in Cork are colorful, either on their entire exterior or just on the doors. A jazz festival was going on, so there were street performers and even a band playing from the top of a double-decker bus. We got some tasty sausages for lunch, bought stamps, mailed postcards, then hopped back on the bus to go to Blarney Castle.
I LOVE BLARNEY CASTLE! I knew I’d like it–castles are awesome, right?!– but I had no idea I’d like it as much as I did. The base of the castle is built into a big rock/hill, so there are natural caves to explore that weave under the structure. Emylee and Katie took a picture of me in there, and, from the way I had to hunch over, I totally look like Gollum from Lord of the Rings. I took a couple rocks as free souvenirs…*My precious!*
As Katie explored other parts of the grounds, Emylee and I headed into the castle to find and kiss the Blarney Stone. Emylee is afraid of heights, and I’m afraid of falling, so this was a feat that we agreed to do only if we did it together. Our anxiety rose as we ascended the old steps that looked like they’d been built only to support the feet of toddlers. We were able to see some of the bedchambers and the dining room as we journeyed forward, which was quite neat, but I was sweating with nerves when we reached the top. However, the view made the nerve-racking climb worthwhile. You can see for miles at the top of the castle. The fall leaves, contrasted with the deep green grass, looked like an oil painting. After snapping some pictures, we proceeded to the Blarney Stone.
For some reason that I don’t know, the Blarney Stone is supposed to give you the gift of eloquence, or “the gift of gab,” for seven years. I was expecting just a rock siting at the top of the castle. Nope. It’s part of the outer wall of the castle, but it juts out over the side. The only things keeping you from plummeting to a blood-splattered death are two metal bars and an old man who gently takes your waist as you lie down and lean back…90 feet in the air. I did it. Then Emylee did it. It wasn’t terrible…a little peck doesn’t take too long, but looking up at it later and knowing that half of my torso had been hanging over the side was a bit surreal. I’m glad I did it, though. We both bought certificates, accompanied by a picture of us kissing the stone, to prove that we did it.
I need to address a common rumor about the stone. Some people say it used to be used as a toilet or that locals pee on it. Maybe some guy drained the lizard there hundreds of years ago, but there is no way he’d get away with it now. It’s under lock and key at night and the watch of cameras 24/7. I just wanted to clarify that misconception, since I had believed the rumor for a while.
Another thing that I loved about Blarney Castle is that it’s like a smaller version of the castle I envision in the book I’ve been working on. Wandering up the stairs and through the rooms made me feel, for a few wonderful minutes, like I’d slipped into the world of my book. I bought a miniature of the castle that I’ll put on my writing desk when I get home, just to remind me of how real my fantasy world seemed while I explored the castle. Hopefully, it’ll give me some encouragement to keep writing when I get discouraged or overwhelmed (which happens much more than I like to admit).
We were able to spend two and a half hours on the castle grounds then headed back to the bus and arrived at our hostel around 8. Emylee and I were starving, so the three of us dumped off our stuff in our room then got a cheap dinner of pizza and soda for only €4. I’ve been spending more money on food than I’d like, so that meal was perfect for my wallet. Upon returning to the hostel, Katie went to the common room to write while Emylee and I stayed in our room. We weren’t in the mood to be around many people, and the common room was pretty crowded. We had a relaxing evening of talking, writing, and sharing conversation with a German girl in our room.
As I said, we are now on the train to Galway. I might post about it tonight. If not tonight, tomorrow… Halloween is tomorrow!
Until then, God bless.
Day 6: Cliffs, Caves, Abandoned Buildings… My Kind of Day!
Galway is lovely! I prefer it so much more over Dublin. Even thought it’s a city, it has a quaint charm and inviting atmosphere. Walking into our hostel made it even better. Our hostel in Dublin was grungy and smelled of must and body odor. Having never stayed in a hostel before, I presumed that this was normal. Our hostel in Galway, on the other hand, is like a hotel! It’s clean, has a nice kitchen, a common room with a pool table, a breakfast with coffee that is NOT instant, and a bathroom in the room rather than down the hall.
Funny story about the bathroom… Two of the girls sharing our room showered before me and left the floor pretty wet. Emylee and I shrugged it off, and I got in the shower. After a few minutes (thankfully after I rinsed all the conditioner from my hair), I heard Emylee banging on the door and yelling at me to turn the water off. I freaked out, turned off the water, and ran out of the bathroom in my towel…only to splash through a huge puddle that had accumulated on the carpet of our little hallway. Apparently, the drain was clogged. Emylee alerted the guy at the front desk, who felt the need to apologize every two minutes as he fixed the drain and dried the carpet. I told him that he had nothing to apologize about, to which he replied. “I can’t help it. I’m Irish.” He was great about the whole thing. It was pretty amusing.
Today, we took a bus tour around the Burren region to Aillwee cave, the Cliffs of Moher, the town of Doolan, and Dunguaire Castle. Our bus left at 9:30 and was driven by a learned, funny Irishman named Daren. As we passed different sights on the way, he shared a lot of history with us. He talked about Irish politics, the famine, the language, the old abandoned cottages, etc. etc.
Our first stop was Aillwee cave. We took a tour through the safe part of the cave (some of it hasn’t even been explored yet), and I was amused to find most of the tour guides were dressed up for Halloween. One of them made me nearly jump out of my skin when he came up beside me and said, “Welcome,” in a very impressive Dracula voice. Inside the cave, we saw stalactites and stalagmites, waterfalls, and the markings from a river that had flown through there over 10,000 years ago. It was really cool.
We then got back on the bus and proceeded to the Cliffs of Moher. If you’ve ever seen The Princess Bride, you’ll remember the Cliffs of Insanity. They filmed that scene at the Cliffs of Moher! There is a quick scene from the 6th Harry Potter movie that was filmed there, too. So I enjoyed a little geek-out moment while there.
I think the best word to describe the cliffs is “overwhelming.” They seem to go on forever. We climbed to the top of an old tower on one of the cliffs, and that made them look even more magnificent. It took me a while to realize that what I saw was real. That may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s the truth. They’re gorgeous, breathtaking, and intimidating, all at the same time.
One thing I noticed is that the air wasn’t salty, even though they overlook the Atlantic. I was kind of looking forward to smelling salt air–it’s one of my favorite aromas. Oh well.
As Emylee and I journeyed down one of the paths close to the edge (which was pretty but freaky), she wanted to leave some of her grandmother’s ashes behind. A guy saw her toss them into the wind and asked, “Was that cocaine?”
Without missing a beat, Emylee replied, “No, it’s my grandma.”
The guys’s face froze, and his girlfriend, clearly mortified, began apologizing and scolding him. They ended up being really nice people from New York. We talked with them for a while then headed to the gift shop and back to the bus. On the way, Emylee and I both laughed about why anyone would buy cocaine then throw it over a cliff. That stuff is supposed to be expensive, right?
In Doolan, we shared a lunch of roasted bacon with vegetables, potatoes, and a red beer called Dooliner that’s brewed in the town. It was all delicious. Sometimes nothing hits the spot like a cold, frothy beer and a salty slab of bacon laced in fat. We didn’t have much time to explore the town, but it looked very sweet and relaxing and is nestled in the gorgeous green landscape.
Before I talk about Dunguaire castle, let me talk about the landscape that we observed from our bus. We got a really good glimpse of rural Ireland and all agreed that it’d be a great place for a little writing cottage. Stone walls called “penny walls” zigzag across the hills and valleys. They were built years ago when the British, who still controlled Ireland, offered to pay a penny a day to any man who built the walls. There were countless sheep, cows, and horses grazing besides abandoned houses in the open fields. We saw the traditional cottages with thatched roofing (which is apparently quite expensive now), more abandoned towers, and a crumbling old church and cemetery. Everything was so picturesque. We were trying our best to snap some photos from the moving bus. Thankfully, Daren stopped the bus a couple times at some extra nice spots to let people take photos.
One place we stopped was a perfect example of the Burren region. There are rocks everywhere, I think left there by the glaciers. We got out by a flat area that led down to the coast, and Emylee and I quickly began running across the rocks and trying to dodge the crevices. I was so proud that we didn’t slip.
Our final stop was Dunguaire castle. As Katie pointed out, it could be a cousin of Blarney Castle. They are extremely similar structurally. Dunguaire is just smaller and overlooks a little bay. We only had fifteen minutes there, plus the sun was setting, but it was enough time to walk around.
We got a dinner of fish and chips when we got back to Galway. Some Irishmen sat at our table (it was a place where you sit wherever you find room) and talked with us as we all ate. It’s fun conversing with the locals here. They’re very friendly, but I sometimes find them a bit hard to understand. Some of them have pretty thick accents!
I’m relaxing in our bedroom now with Katie and Emylee. Thankfully, the shower didn’t flood tonight. We need to get up early tomorrow to head to the Aran Islands. It’s about a half hour ferry ride to get there, so I’ll definitely be taking Dramamine. I haven’t gotten motion sickness yet this trip. Fingers crossed that will not change! If it does, I’ll be sure to share every delightful detail with you tomorrow.
Until then… Good night, and Happy Halloween!
Days 7 and 8: Aran Island Beauty and Shopping in Galway
Today, we had a pretty chill day of shopping. We’ll have a busy day traveling to Edinburgh tomorrow, so it was nice to have a day to just stroll around, spend money, enjoy a pint, and eat some good food. Not much to report for today.
As for yesterday…
We took a ferry to Inis Mór, the larger of the three Aran Islands. I was so nervous that’d I’d get seasick (I had a bad experience on a lobster boat, so now I’m always nervous getting on a ship), but, thankfully, I was fine. We docked in a little harbor and decided to rent bikes to ride around the island.
Inis Mór is breathtaking. Remember the stone walls I talked about before? There are miles and miles worth of them on the island. They crisscross the land and make it look like a gigantic puzzle. There are cozy cottages, the ruins of houses abandoned during the famine, sprawling coastlines, and numerous ruins. We spent five hours there but only got to see a handful of the sites since we spent so much time taking pictures of the scenery! I could easily spend a week there, just riding around and exploring. I think I’ll add that to my bucket list.
One of the ruins we got to see was a prehistoric fort called Dun Aengus. It sits atop a high hill and overlooks the countryside and Atlantic Ocean. All that remains of the fort are the semicircular outer walls. The walls end at a shear cliff, so a 100 meter drop straight down to the Atlantic would have protected that side of the fortress. 100 meters. That’s over 300 feet. I got pretty close to the edge, close enough so I could look down but not close enough to slip and perform my first and last epic swan dive. The three of us took a bunch of pictures and some pretty terrifying selfies by the ledge.
While we were up there, we saw a dog that we’d seen strolling about the island. I’m not sure if he belongs to anyone. He didn’t have a collar. That dog has a pretty sweet life, wandering around the island, getting free food, and making friends all day.
After our time at Dun Aengus, we were pretty exhausted. Being up that high was really intimidating, so it took a lot out of me. We we’re all hungry too. I was bordering on hangry. (Hangry= angry + hungry)
Gradually, we made it back to the pier (there were a lot more hills on the way back). We returned our bikes and had some time to spare, so we picked up some snacks at a convenience store. There was a beautiful horse in a pen not far from the ferry, so, on our way to board, we paid him a visit. He really was beautiful, with a slick mane and black and white hair.
The dog we’d seen before made another appearance on the beach as we boarded. The sun was setting over the horizon, nestling between two sloping hills. It was all very poetic, but I’m not in the mood to try to translate prose into verse. If you want to, knock yourself out.
Oh! I almost forgot… One notable thing from today is that we ate at The King’s Head Pub, a place bestowed to a man named Gunning in 1649. Gunning was a Galway soldier who, along with a man named Dean, volunteered to head to England to decapitate King Charles I. Yes, they volunteered to chop off a guy’s head. Apparently, the English people wanted Charles killed because he started two civil wars but didn’t want to do the deed themselves. The pub was a sort of thank you gift, so to speak. On a more appetizing topic, the food there was great.
As I said, we head to Edinburgh tomorrow. I’m really excited about Scotland. I don’t really know what to expect there, but that’s part of the fun. I’ve seen Braveheart. That’s about the extent of my Scottish knowledge. However, I’m looking forward to learning more about the country and experiencing it’s culture.
Until next time, guid nicht. (That’s “good night” in Scots Gaelic.)
Day One: October 27th, Dublin, Ireland
New York was a disaster for me–let’s just leave it at that. I’ve been there many, many times and my neutral opinion of the city has not changed nor will it ever. Boom. That’s the end on that.
As for today, these are my observations as well as conclusions:
At the airport, our cabbie had a hardcore Irish name–Brian O’Flaherty. He was as happy and friendly as any Irish stereotype. He had a lot of suggestions and was a smooth talker as he was a good driver. It was a good start after a five-and-a-half-hour flight; not to mention the five-hour jump to go with the jet lag that would be in tow soon enough.
After checking-in and dropping off our stuff at Paddy’s Palace Hostel, we explored a bit and passed plenty of people. They appeared if it was twenty degrees lower than the fifty-degree temperature I say we were lucky to have. A fair few even gave myself and Emylee odd looks as if we were crazy to wear our regular clothes with a simple scarf and flip-flops in this gently breezy weather.
A couple hours passed napping and walking around when I saw Dublin as a metropolis dressed in modernity yet rooted in classicism. With its pillared buildings and aged cobblestone walkways, the play-by-play of Gothic architecture meets Victorian style meshed beautifully with the orange zones of heavily disoriented traffic and construction.
The cross walk signs were outlines of a figure signaling you when to and not to walk. Instead of countdown, like in any major U.S. city, it had a progressive tick you could hear. The faster it was, the less time you had to cross the street. But the sign was still perceived as a suggestion to most pedestrians like any American city’s downtown parts.
Another thing I’ve noticed, or heard really, was the diversity of tourists. Though I’m no language barer, I’ve heard a French family conversing in J.W.Sweetman’s while slurping my traditional Irish stew; an argument in Italian where two men were stereotypically gesturing with their hands on O’Connell Street (by the way, which smelled like deli meats the whole time walking–I loved it); and two teenagers contemplating directions (I assumed since they were looking at a map) speaking in Portuguese. Later, when I made note of this to Emylee, I was told that a lot of Brazilian-born people live here.
On another note, I had the opportunity of having a glimpse–and a pint–in Peadar Kearney’s Pub smack me in the face. To clarify, there’s two explanations:
- I wanted to check out this pub. The atmosphere was anything but what I expected; I’m referring more to my observation of the patrons rather than the narrow, red- and gold-accented pub itself. As we stepped further into this pub, just about all the pint drinkers seemed entirely shocked by our appearance. But that’s not it…not counting all three of us and one other customer, the entire place was filled with men. It was unnerving at first, seeing everyone staring as they were socializing with their beer, but then shortly Moriah and I went up to the bar and got three Murphy’s Irish Reds. The bartender was very friendly and one of the men at the bar was grinning through my phone as I took a screenshot.
- Peadar Kearney’s Pub is one of the many locations I intend to use in my manuscript I’m currently working on. One of the reasons for coming to Ireland was to get firsthand research and experience the settings I’ll be describing in my novel-in-progress. It’s set mostly in Dublin and Galway as well as Boston.
After today’s somewhat short exploration, I concluded that Dublin must have been one of the few inspirations for Boston’s own exterior and street culture. Everything is extremely similar that I was flabbergasted. I immediately felt at ease, being in a place I haven’t stepped foot in ten years.
In spite of yesterday’s struggles and the somewhat-difficult flight, I know each day is going to be unforgettable in the least.
Day Two: October 28th, Dublin, Ireland
Too much to say about the following attractions/places, so I’ll fill it when I feel less jet lag among other things:
The Book of Kells Exhibition
- pages on display: “The temptation of Jesus” & John 6.57-7.1
- its materials & ink
- “turning darkness into light”
- Chi Rho page & John the Baptist portrait
Old Trinity College Dublin & the Long Room:
- Book of Hours, c. 15th century
- stocked with many subjects influential of the 17th to 19th century, even today
- its position with the public & its 4000 present researchers
- busts of influential, well-known and unfamiliar (to me) men
National Museum of Ireland, location of Archaeology Branch
- Ecclesiastical atmosphere
- The Fadden More Psalmer, or Book of Psalms
- materials & content
- “Book shrines”
- Archaeological remains
sub-exhibit: Medieval Ireland
- Replica of Gokstad Faering, or of a Viking ship
- Brian Boru
- Distinction between the Irish & Vikings
- Slavery in 10th & 11th centuries
- Role of Bogs
- Dugout Canoe
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
- coat of arms (I think that’s what it was)
- physical description & atmosphere
- lighting a candle for my grandmother
More to come, should I get the chance, to recap my notes and pictures.
Day Three: October 29th, Cork City, Ireland
Even after getting a full night of sleep, for once in my life, this morning felt like I still woke up at the crack of dawn. Which technically we did, considering the sun didn’t come for another two-and-a-half hours.
It was 8 a.m. when our cross-city tour down to the Southwest towards good old County Cork was in motion. When we met our bus driver for the day, immediately he asked, “What’s the crack?” I blinked, thinking did he really say that? Since he got similar looks from the other tourists, he elaborated what he said was “What’s the craic?” meaning, “hello”, or “What’s up?”, that kind of greeting. Then he gave plenty of sass to go around to which the ride was a pretty easy-going atmosphere.
And when we found out the bus had wifi, it was like a gift from God. I wish I was kidding. But anyway, the hour-drive to the first destination, the Rock of Cashel, went fast with The Count of Monte Cristo to entertain me. Then the Sand Man took over, knocking me out, having me leave a cheek print against the bus window.
When we got to Cashel, I wondered off like an over-curious child and made a beeline for the hill to the giant cathedral that is the beacon of the Rock. Though my calves were burning by the time I got to the entrance, I saw the little cemetery. Keep in mind that while I was generally raised Catholic, I don’t consider myself religious. Yet I found it necessary to make a sign of the cross out of respect several times as I carefully stepped around head stones large and small, faded and new. What really drew me, however, was this one large headstone: a cross that crumbled some time ago and let the Irish moss root it to the ground. The thought that came to mind was “A broken grave does not break the soul whose body resides there.”
Since we had a little over an hour to explore, I took my snapshots and said farewell to head back to the bus. Another hour or so passed by. Naturally, I nodded off again.
I opened my eyes and there we were smack-dab in the main street of Cork City with the large bridge breaking yet unifying city’s many island cousins. Like in Cashel, we only had an hour to explore. Which meant we had time to get stamps, something to eat as take-away, and pee. In that order. So after spending 11 euros on international stamps, we stopped at gourmet sausage place and it overshadowed the average all-American hot dog a hundred times over. Oh my god, it was so good yet somehow I still have no idea what any toppings I picked were. I just know it was cheesy, hardy, a little crunchy, and even had what I assume as saucy purple cabbage. I don’t know. Point is, I’ll definitely be on the hunt for that place the next time I’m in Cork.
While stuffing my face on the bus with the delicious sausage and the O’Donnells Irish mature cheese and red onion chips–better than any Lays I’ve had, go find some–we were at the site of Blarney Castle. And the three outlet shops. One of them was the World’s Largest Irish Shop. I went a little overboard in there, let’s just it at that.
But back to Blarney. We were given less than 3 hours to poke around, take pictures and shop. Just let it be known that, no, I did not kiss the stone. I’d already done so back when I was thirteen, and I don’t intend to ever do it again.
What I did though, was take one detour in Badger’s Cave; it was creepy but awesome as hell. Then I got sidetracked by a cave-like tunnel in the front of the 600-year-old fortress. At the end of this tunnel, there was an enclosing ceiling covered in white writing–mostly names of people–as if someone was leaving their mark in history. Going back the way I came from was the tough part: my bag got me stuck a few times, spots in the tunnel were either wet or muddy, and to top it all off I literally slipped and got dirty. So instead the tunnel left its mark on me. At least my coffee didn’t spill the entire time held it crouching in there.
Finally, all the exploring and browsing got the better of me. I did the exact same thing I did coming down to County Cork. I slept a bit, then woke up to read some more of The Count. So far I’m really liking Edmond Dantés.
As much fun as that all was, thank god it’s a lazy day tomorrow down to Galway.
Day Four: October 30th, Galway, Ireland
We were able to, what I consider, sleep in until around 10 a.m. Check-out was at 11, so we got out efficiently and quickly because we were on our way to the Heuston Train Station. To get there, we took a short Tram car ride–it’s like an above-ground and cleaner subway–and by chance, we crossed paths with a young woman name Dale. She’s a Tennessee native on vacation for two-and-a-half months. She assured us that we were on the right one, since we got a little uneasy with the whole subway mix-up back in New York. From day one, we’ve been noticing how friendly everyone is here, even the tourists too. We’ve been told different about the tourists.
Anyway, we took the Luas Tram car to, not only to catch our train to long-anticipated Galway, but to meet up with Emylee’s long-time online friend, Brendan. He’s as bubbly and Irish as I’m fair-skinned and redheaded (I am those things, in case you don’t know what I look like). While having a bit of SuperMac’s, Emylee introduced Moriah and I, we sat right down, and got right down to learning what Brendan’s been up to. He still writes (Emylee told us he’s a published author), he’s been performing in a variety of things, Brendan and his boyfriend, Gustavo, are going on strong seven months in counting, and he came to the train station with a huge hangover.
With some coffee and ice cream, we managed to gab the morning and early afternoon down to the last twenty minutes before us, girls, had to board the 2:05 p.m. train on its A coach. This was the last car at the very end. But because we booked them ahead we got special seating with a table and extra room for our stuff.
It was a peaceful ride down to Galway. We were expected to arrive just before 5 p.m. For the first hour, it was rather quiet since we had to catch up on our personal writing, social media, and what-not. I spent it journaling any access things I haven’t done the last couple days. It’s amazing what you can learn about yourself by writing your thoughts and documenting your memories; you can see what works for you and you recall more of those special moments.
Once I finished my five-page entry, due to the soft and rhytmic vibrations of the train, I did the usual and nodded off for just a bit with Enigma serenading in my ears.
When I stirred, I decided to reorganize my stuff. Then a man sought my attention, asking if we had any suggestions for places to eat in Galway. I explained how we were trying to get some as well. This man thought we were from Dublin judging by Emylee’s and my hair (again, we’re redheads). As it turned out, he and his wife were visiting Galway from Budapest, and I saw a brochure of the Lally Tours that we’ll be attending tomorrow. So while Emylee looked up recommendations from Brendan and her brother, Moriah and I told him that we’ll be seeing them tomorrow since we’ll be doing the same tour. He was a very nice man and, though he had a thick accent, he spoke English very well. For some reason, he reminded me of a Hungarian Anthony Hopkins.
Around five minutes till five, we got off the train and headed straight to our hostel. After the short check-in, we were given a key that opened the general door to the dormitory, if lacking a better word for it, and to our room itself. This room and its accommodations were many times better than our last hostel we were in (since the first day arriving in Dublin). For each bed, there was individual light, two USB drives for charging and personal outlets (but we need a different energy converter). We only had the place for one night and, within fifteen minutes, we wanted this room for the next three nights that we’ll be spending in Galway.
We got lucky thanks to the guy at the front counter; he was able to give us the three more nights but starting Tuesday, we’d be in different rooms, which obviously we’re more than okay with. So I canceled our reservation for the hostel we would have stayed in starting tomorrow, and Emylee got the confirmed reservation. Though we haven’t asked for his name yet, I intend to so the acknowledgment is there and I want to give gratitude where it’s deserved.
Once that was all taken care of, my stomach was yelling for us to head to the nearest place to eat. Emylee was told to try The Pie Maker. I guess you can figure out what their specialty was: meat pies and, of course, regular pies too. It had no more than four booths and a narrow bar area where you could see their pies being made. While we waited for a booth to be free, I was surrounded by the warm combination of beef, vegetables, and baked bread. Going through the doorway, you smelt the meats and felt the literal hearth that it was being cooked from.
We decided to share two meat pies: one with beef, onions, and gravy, and the other with Irish sausage and veggies. We got sides of hearty mash potatoes and gravy. Ahhh, so good. I mostly ate the beef and gravy one and had some of my Australian root beer. Apparently, they make their root beer with vanilla and licorice for an interesting aftertaste down under.
Once we settled the bill and took a couple of pictures, we browsed in whatever store was still open, and then hurried to the hostel’s common room to do much needed laundry.
Right now at this moment, as I’m finishing this post, I get a text pic showing how the shower had somewhat flooded the doorway of our room. Awesome. Emylee told me that the two girls staying in the room with us took showers first. Then Moriah was in the middle of hers when Emylee noticed water seeming out on the carpet as she was talking to her husband on the phone. This night should be interesting.
The more exciting stuff will occur tomorrow while we’re at the Cliffs of Moher.
Day Five: October 31st, Galway, Ireland
I’ll expand on this day when I get a chance. go raibh maith agat. Thank you.
Our Lally Tour Coach left at 10 a.m. on the dot. Darin was a very meticulous, punctual, non-bullshit kind of tour guide. What he requested and outlined to us three, as well as the rest of the tourists, was exactly what happened. He also emphasized time; the bus left at a certain time and if you got back a minute after, the bus would be gone with no exceptions. Fair enough for me considering how much we did and went through.
From Galway to the Burren and County Clare, the roads were windy and narrow like we were on a slow roller coaster. Our blunt and direct, yet informative (not mention with an ironic sense of humor) guide gave us a brief overview of an annual festival in August regarding Galway hookers (they are little sailboats). I instantly perked up because in my final college semester I took a poetry class and one of my poems I wrote about that very festival.
Here it is if you’d like, otherwise feel free to scroll down:
rock by Galway Bay herself
with her rushing foam-edged curves.
The festival of Cruinniú na mBád
presents an annual race
on the county edge
of Galway and Clare.
A sea lough
once a parcel
for picts and vikings
is now a tradition
for importing limestone
and sport on strong seas.
Galway hookers travel
with three burnt umber sails
and hulls black as greased carbon;
the only repose
in this competition is Lennon’s voice,
if we could make changes with the morning dew
the world would be Galway Bay,
drifting like the acute gusts
treading the sails of those humble vessels.
A wandering sailor
scouts out Inis Mór’s pier,
his foot perched on the bow
and a cauterized hand deflecting the sun.
high above the heads
of locals and tourists,
the cliffs of Moher
sustain the stone fortress
of Dun Aengus.
A terra firma
of Irlanda’s zealous republic
awaiting this lone boater
to finally come home.
Téir abhaile riú
Because your match is made.
On the way to the understated county of Clare, we passed the city of Kinvara. It means “head of the bay”. The entire ride I saw layers and hills of greenery; the specks on this sea of grass were spotted and brown cows, and obsidian-faced sheep, and the barriers of the land were waist-high stone walls with flecks of white on them. The centerpieces of these lands were cottages of all sizes and shapes, and the accents were lots of still water–ponds, rivers, lakes, some of the Atlantic ocean even, you name it–of all shades of blue. I’d go as far as to rephrase Frances Mayes’s words to say this was what blue smelled like (rather than smelling purple in the Tuscany market). Cool, calm, and fresh.
When we drove into County Clare, Darin immediately informed us we were passing the mountainous Burren. It is a colossal mound of limestone and one of the few locations to have plenty of the mineral-based rock. The Burren is over 560 km and has been around since the Ice Age.
I’ll even throw you a little history of a once powerful figure: Connor O’Brien. The O’Brien family, for a time, was considered the head honcho of this county for several centuries. He especially made his family’s mark during the 17th century; O’Brien even designed Corcomroe, an abbey, in honor of himself almost as if he were the last high king, Brian Boru. He sounded like a pompous ass, yet somehow within his right to act as such; after all he and his family made the county very prosperous.
But before his O’Brien name seeped into Clare soil, Darin spoke of the Penny Walls that became one with the land. These were high-mound stone walls made by the Irish people, under English rule, to keep them corralled and in line. Let me tell you, these walls go for miles or, as they’d say, kilometers. It saddens you to think that the English used the Irish resources to use them against the natives.
Though history can be ugly and brutal, Darin lightened the ride with introducing us to Aillwee Cave. The cave was discovered in the mid-1940s as a man was searching for his dog that wandered off. The man (I can’t remember his name) came upon what turned out to be the home to bones of European bears. We were told that this species grew extinct years ago, due to most likely deforestation and hunting.
For several decades, the cave was under excavation. Archaeologists determined the cave to be made of over 300 kilometers of limestone. Aillwee had so many caverns and trenches, and rainwater would seep in from above. The cave’s guide said it was, “an ancient sea head risen above the sea.”
Just to pass on a science lesson, the group and I were told that that very rainwater would get in to form pieces of calcium on the rock. Then that calcium would create a shimmering effect on the edges and surface. It made limestone look like icicles hanging from the ceiling.
That tour guide then took a few seconds to turn off the lights, for us to stand in pitch black darkness, so we could get an idea of what you’d be dealing with if you came into the cave like that man searching for his wandering hound.
Our time table was just about up as we went out the door, so I stepped back on the bus with my signature pin and postcards (that I get from every destination I’ve been to so far and will continue to do so).
Before telling about the next destination, I’ve got one last piece of history from Darin to speak of: the typical Irish home. It’s known to have three windows on the front, two in the back and most having a half door where there’s a split (you can open the upper half without needing the bottom). Usually square or rectangular is the shape of the house. However, some houses are judged by the craftsmanship of how they’re shaped; they can even be used to decipher which clan name built it. Spectacular.
Within due time we arrived at the main attraction of the tour: the Cliffs of Moher. In the time span of an hour and a half, I went solo on exploring the cliffs from all angles; I even managed enough time to be on the edge of one (behind the aligned fences, of course). On that one side I stood one, you could see across the frigid Atlantic as it occasionally sprayed you in the face the little battlement that is O’Brien’s Tower. Yes, the very same family I just spoke of above. I didn’t get a chance to hear much of the tower, but I can assure you I’ll be researching soon.
This place had the weather we’ve all been waiting for: fiercely windy, cool, moist air, and clouds that only darkened the grass and calmed the ocean. We managed to get a bit of Irish fog to make the sight even more sullenly pastoral as the moors you’d read about in Wuthering Heights.
Reality set in, so I hurried back to the bus with fifteen minutes to spare. As we headed back to Galway, we stopped into the cottage town of Doolin for lunch. Like Chipotle-style, only Irish, we got in line to share a humongous meal on a slab; on this wooden tray was Irish bacon, potatoes, and vegetables, with some seafood chowder on the side. Oh, and Dooliner’s Red Ale to top it off.
On the way to County Clare and Aillwee Cave, Darin pointed out Dunguaire Castle and our chance to explore towards the end of tour. Though we couldn’t go into the ruined fortress, we were given the opportunity to spend twenty minutes taking some snapshots literally around the castle. Before entering its grounds, I thank God for the screenshot I attained of Dunguaire and its pristine reflection in the water underneath it.
The time limit came by fast, so we hopped back on the bus only to be thrown back into exciting Galway nightlife for dinner. We chose O’Donnagh’s, based on recommendation, to have good old-fashioned fish and chips with some good conversation with a few senior, but local delightful characters.
Day Six: November 1st, Inis Mór, Aran Islands, Ireland
This morning was somewhat the same as yesterday; we were to head to our next destination–the Aran Islands, more specifically the biggest of the islands–and be on the tour bus for a bit. About an hour, I believe.
It was until we got on the ferry, when I was pulling out my phone from my pocket and instantly knew it fell out of my pocket and got left on the bus, the day turned completely upside down. Like any other person, I was freaking out as I was checking the aisle way of the ferry, the deck outside and the walkway. Nope, I knew it had to be on the bus.
Thanks to Emylee, she was able to see my phone being tracked as a green moving dot along the road of Connemara on her Galaxy phone. Apparently, you need to find a special way to track a iPhone device on a Samsung one because Samsung won’t track another device unless it’s another like theirs. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple had some regulations like that too.
Anyway, because of my lacking of phone in hand, I was a bit blue while on the forty-five-minute ferry ride to the island. Mostly, because I couldn’t take snapshots of the beautiful sights we saw today. I had my digital camera, but it’s ten years old so it has its limitations in capturing shots.
But I was instantly perked up when I smelled the sea air and seaweed on the dock. Then there was the coolness of wind kicked in, thank God. This was the weather I was waiting and prepared for. I didn’t even care that I got slight wind burn on my nose, lips and chest (I saw the imprint when I changed my shirt).
Then my mood dimmed a little when I found out, for the root to take thirty minutes to one of the major landmarks on our itinerary, we had to rent bikes to get there. But I thought for a moment I thought, “Why not? It could be fun and a change of pace.” And oh dear God, it was a change of pace.
First, the bike was awkward to ride for a bit; the seat was too high (had to lower that). Then, when I went slightly uphill it took too much energy, I just got off the bike rather clumsily and walked it up to the convenient store. It was ridiculous. So then I asked Emylee to help readjust the bike. As we got to pedaling for a while, it was smooth and okay.
After about twenty minutes into the ride, the bike seat and the pedaling took a toll on me from the waist down. Long story short, already I knew I’d get bruises and indentations on my inner thighs and my lower rear. Ow. I guaranteed I’d be feeling it the next day.
Another perk from the nuisance of using the bike was that we made many stops to take pictures during the first half of trail ride. There was a spectacular view of the Atlantic and the island’s edge from every angle. Incredible.
In fact one major stop was the beach. We took our time here. We even made our literal mark in the sand. Voyagers’ Pen. Our names were also in the sand, but I couldn’t get a good shot with my digital camera; mostly because I’m too short, I wasn’t able to lift the camera high enough to get everything written in the sand.
But Moriah emptied a water bottle to put some sand and shells in for safekeeping.
Oh, and there were beautiful mares, tricolored cows, warm brown donkeys, and a dog. What appeared to be a stray, yet beautiful, Border Collie was following us and other tourists throughout the day. He, or she (I couldn’t tell), had the classical look of an all-black coat with a thick white collar and pelt. The animal was super friendly and responsive. So adorable.
Then when the dog drifted to another group, we came to what we considered our halfway point: Dun Aoenghasa. For two euros, we hiked a twenty-minute walk up to the structure. It turned out, the stone structure was a prehistoric ruined site that early islanders built as an intimidating fortress against outsiders. I didn’t doubt it for a second considering how high we were and how big the drop of the cliffs was the fortress used as their walls.
After recovering whatever little energy we had, we hurried back, sometimes walking the bike instead of riding it (because I was just to sore to put it delicately), by 4 p.m. And even paid a visit to a white and dark brown, and rather large, pony. It was very curious and was sniffing around, especially Moriah. Maybe because she just finished eating an apple. However, it welcomed our petting and attention, and gave us a bug-eyed look I considered as a silent goodbye to us.
We went to the convenient store to get a little something to hold us over (we haven’t eaten technically since 8:30 this morning). I got a few cheap things with a cappuccino. One of those was Jacob’s Caffe Di Milano hazelnut cream wafers. And, oh my god, they were one of the best cookies I’ve ever had. I haven’t had a sweet like that, where it was good with well-made ingredients, in so long. It made up for the soreness that formed while on the ferry. Just wanted to put that out there.
Once we got back on mainland, we took the second bus back to Galway. An hour passed and, when we got off, I asked the driver about my phone and he said it was at the Lally Tours tourist office. I was so relieved that it didn’t bother me that much that they were closed by the time we arrived to their door. We got a replied email saying my phone was in good hands and that I could pick it up tomorrow.
Now I’ll be heading back to my new room that was arranged (in order to stay at Savoy Hostel). This hostel is just so nice that we’d compromise to anything; even switching rooms and separating. I like my clean, dry bed and that I get to have personal multiple outlets (on my bed post) all to myself.
Tar éis lá fada, oíche mhaith, guys. After a long day, good night, guys.
Day Seven: November 2nd, Galway City, Ireland
SHOPPING! That’s generally what happened today. I managed to get just about everything I wanted for gifts in Ireland. So Scotland may be a bit sparse for my contribute to browsing. Maybe just a souvenir or two; basically some more pins and postcards. *insert cheesy smiley face emoji*
We were on Quay Street for the duration of window shopping. And just to put out there, by chance, I swear I had the best vanilla latte ever. This may be profiling, or assuming a certain stereotype, but it was made by the Italian shopkeeper of a Galway souvenir shop. Just saying, I think because of him, I think there was a huge difference.
And finally in a corner we went into Saint Nicholas Collegiate Church. was a high towered, Gothic structure with three major arched stain-glass windows. Simply too beautiful to describe in words. I lit a candle for my grandmother, Berneda Nofziger who passed away at the ripe age of ninety-four. She was a trooper who had a sharp mind.
I have no shame in saying that I was particularly set on seeing that church solely because it’s named after the legendary figure known as Santa Claus. Christmas is my all-time favorite holiday hands down. Which on that subject, I keep forgetting that Thanksgiving is only celebrated in the United States. So naturally, once November 1st hit, the Christmas decor went up here in Ireland. I love it.
In fact, I’m listening to Christmas music as I write.
It’ll be a rather dull day since it will be travel day tomorrow. But I’ll put some interesting stories on here should they occur.
Day 8: November 3rd, Galway to Dublin to Edinburgh, Scotland
Today had the label, Travel Day. A somewhat slow morning, we had an 11 a.m. train ride back to Dublin. It was quiet, steady, and a good time to catch up with anything I had put off or was too exhausted to do.
At about 2:30 p.m. we arrived at Heuston Station then hailed a cab the airport. The cabbie was an O’Reilly and had a sort of paternal grandfather appeal to him. He was friendly, informative, yet a man of few words and laughs.
We got there in about 15 minutes and went straight to baggage check, only to be told we couldn’t check in for another hour. Apparently you can’t check in more than three hours till departure.
So in the meantime, we had McDonald’s. I saw it in the food court, and instantly I craved chicken nuggets when I saw their advertisement.
When the hour was up, we thought to stuff our bags in plastic trash bags in order to keep all straps together in one piece without any issue.
Like every other airport process, we waited off and on for those three hours–we were to depart at 6:40 p.m.–and then boarded the flight. Only instead of the plane connected with the platform, we headed outside and climbed the RyanAir’s stairs like some Kennedy. There’s a first time for everything.
An hour later we arrived in Edinburgh. Once we claimed baggage, I had an ATM swallow a hundred and thirty bucks for just over a hundred British pounds sterling.
Naturally, we got a rather large taxi to Castle Rock Hostel. Then to our dismay we searched for last minute dinner. For those who don’t know, everything (from Dublin to Edinburgh and in between) was practically deserted after 6 p.m. But after asking around, we got some luck handed to us and ate at Civerino’s who was still serving pizza.
This was another moment where I had the best of something–I swear to God everything here in Europe is so much better than in the States. And not for a bad price either considering the currency exchange. We each paid 4.50 (that’s about $6-7.00) for a third of a 14-inch pizza.
Finally, we ended the night with getting some great advice, from a Canadian living in here in Edinburgh, about fining the more unique, more authentic Scotch Whiskey in Scotland: find it in their grocery stores or convenient stores like Tesco.
Now I bid thee goodnight. Yes, that was a bit sarcastic and haughty of me.
Day 9: November 4th, Edinburgh, Scotland
The morning started like this: with the time to meet was misunderstood, as Emylee emphasized, lacking confirmation and proper information, these all caused us to miss the Quest for the Holy Grail tour.
To put in broad, yet expanded terms, there was no travel voucher in our email. The only confirmation we’ve ever received was of payment from September when we booked it. To know anything of where to meet, we had to look up the place on the Scotland tours website. Emylee made it clear that this was considered terrible customer service (look below in Emylee’s part for expansion).
So with limited option, we reluctantly booked a tour for tomorrow to two other destinations (not remotely the same as our original tour) with Stirling Castle.
Then we did some actual retail therapy. Needless to say it helped. A lot. Though my card kept acting up, I bought, for 28 pounds, a 100% cashmere scarf for Mom, a lambswool one for me, for 8 pounds, and a few little trinkets for a few people.
Then we took a short break at the Saint Giles Cafe & Bar for some cappuccinos, a couple little platters, and I wrote on some hilarious postcards.
Once finished we headed to the Greyfriars Bobby Statue, and took a short detour to the cemetery across the street from the memorial (and pub named after the little Skye Terrier). I can only say that I felt the intense stillness of those sacred grounds and the need to not disturb it was emphasized in the air.
Then we went toward the infamous Royal Mile to climb Granny Green’s Steps and stand at the courtyard entrance to the eight-centuries-old fortress that sits on a hundreds of millions-year-old [extinct] volcano: Edinburgh Castle.
This place was worth the 16.50 pounds; the only way I can describe as much as possible is through extremely short sentences.
Stone. Cobblestone. Hills. Steps. Bricks. View. Edges. Wind. Cold. High. Arches. Knights. Arms. Torches. Towers. Battlements. Wallace. Stain Glass. Painted Gold. Red Velvet. War. Uniforms. Museums. Chapel. Margaret. Grand Hall. Lions. Horses. Tudor. Stewart. Blocks. Gargoyles. Square. Governor Quarters. Prison. Dungeons. Barracks. Rod Iron. Gates. Scots. Honour. Crown Jewels. Mannequins. Stories. High Kings. MacBeth. Charles I. Antechambers. Marble. Mantles. Medals. Relics. Flags. Kilts. Dirks. Swords. Rifles. Pistols. Plaid. Re-enactments. Photographs. Paintings. Red. Black. White. Blue. Ropes. Glass. Faded Signatures. Memorials. Pamphlets.
The following above is what comes to mind and reflects in my pictures I snapped for now. Should I have any more that pop out, I’ll be sure to add them.
To end the night, we decided to take another stab at eating in Deacon Brodie’s Tavern. We got a spot by an open window (to keep things circulating from what a waitress had told us) and had some tea. I decided on some good old fashioned baked macaroni and cheese. It came with garlic bread, and this meal too went beyond the American standards.
I fear my appetite will be changed forever once I leave for home.
Now moving on from that slight melodramatic moment, outside the tavern the weather lived up to it’s stigma: cold and rainy.
Moriah and Emylee needed something to remedy their sniffles so we found Tesco, got some medicine, and then just stayed in for the night. Rather than take a spontaneous, walking tour, we tapped out and caught up with our writings.
Slàinte! Mòr Albannach! Cheers! Great Scot!
Day Ten: November 5th, Edinburgh, Scotland
Today was the day of our replacement tour today. Awesome sauce. Look, I just want to put it out there that I had a good time today; but I know I would have had a fantastic time with the other tour seeing Rosslyn Chapel and Dunfermline Abbey with Stirling Castle (which was what we saw today).
But anyway the tour started early with check-in around 8:40 at the Cafe Nero. We were assigned to Michael as our tour guide. And let me tell you know, because you’re going to hear a lot about him, he is a prime example of the stereotype that the Scottish are superb storytellers. You’ll hear plenty as you read.
On Scottish roads as windy as the Irish, we came to Loch Lomond in less than an hour. Though not as infamous and large as Nessie, the loch was still impressive and beautiful nonetheless. Just as cerulean as the waters off the coast of Inishmore or Inis Mór. There was a great breeze while we were there and the small town, Balmaha, that occupied along the loch, had a nice trail along the graveled edges of the loch. That town also has a population of 28. I’m not kidding. Just wanted to point out how small exactly this city was.
To the next spot, we were told a story about the love of two brothers, based on a song, that I can’t recall, that played on the bus radio. It was about the capture, bargain, and the life and death of these two brothers in consequence for going against the English in the Jacobite Rebellion. Michael said that they were given a choice while imprisoned; they either decide which is killed and goes free or they both die together. The brothers surprisingly chose to fight to the death, and one lived while the other died in a pool of his blood.
But in spite of how tragic and selfish that sounds, these brothers had an understanding between them when it came to life. You see, the brother who chose to live had a note in his pocket (I believe it was his brother’s jacket he took to find the note), and it said, “If you take the high roads, I’ll take the low.” Two lives shouldn’t have been wasted on the count of one, in their eyes. So what that note meant was that the one who lived would roam the Highlands and the one who died his soul, as a faerie spirit, would roam the Lowlands. Michael emphasized that Heaven was the Highlands and the Lowlands for the Scots back then, and that when you died, your spirit became a faerie. They believed in that very much and the superstitions that came with the legend. How romantic and glorious to imagine, huh?
That next spot, which we first believed to be a whiskey distillery, turned out to be a surprise for this tour: for the second destination, we had two choices, where one would be a whiskey distillery tour and provided a drink, and the other option would be a popular film/entertainment stop on a castle’s grounds. Obviously, my friends and I with the majority of the bus chose Doune Castle. Especially since we were told that stone defense was the very place that filmed the first season of Starz’ Outlander known as Castle Leoch. And also the spot where the first episode of Games of Thrones was filmed as the Castle of Winterfell.
We walked through the MacKenzies’ Great Hall, ducked through Mrs. Fitzgibbons’s kitchens, and grazed on the grounds that resided the stables and the courtyard. Let’s just say it was everything I hoped it would be and more, considering Sam Heughan was guiding you, murmuring tidbits in your ear (through audio guide headphones).
After an hour of being “on the set”, it was time to ride the bus to the final destination. For those of us, just about all, who didn’t check out the distillery, Michael transitioned from fact to fact on how to properly drink whiskey: First take a drink, let it sit for a second or two on your tongue then swallow to numb it and your throat for a few seconds. For the next sip, put a drop or two of water, hold it on tongue and do the same with the second sip of whiskey (as done the first time). He said if you follow this, you can truly appreciate the difference and taste of quality and cheap whiskey.
As a side note, I’ve been having issues with my debit card the last few days. But I won’t go further into detail since it was finally taken care of, after being on the phone for twenty minutes in the Stirling Castle gift shop.
By mid-afternoon, we rode up the long stony lane entrance of Stirling Castle. Throughout the drive, our tour guide was trying to persuade us that this castle was far more encapsulating than Edinburgh Castle. And as much as I enjoyed his tourism, I made that comparison and decided to take his word for it, because Edinburgh just has nothing to compete with. Don’t get me wrong, Stirling had spectacular views and stepping along the stony fortress walls was nothing short of accelerating. But I repeat, Edinburgh has the latter in favor regarding exposure, exploration, history, and beauty.
We got back to Edinburgh within two hours and dusk had already passed. We got back to the hostel to recharge and clean up, and went to dinner. As a spur of the moment, we decided on a late tour going to the rather gory and dreadful points and spots in history.
Before the tour, we had enough time for a finger or two of whiskey to warm us and more importantly release some anxiety caused by what we’d be walking into on this night tour.
After a few minor, very public stops, our guide for the night, Stefanie, took us to the vaults. These underground vaults were closed up for a couple of hundred years until upon discovery by a restaurant owner attempting to be handy (as our guide put it) about thirty-five years ago.
These stone vaults instantly felt stuffy, musty, dang, and enclosing. Despite the fourteen other people walking with me (two of them being obviously Emylee and Moriah), I never felt more crowded or invaded of personal space than when I was down there. It was as if all those occupants that used to reside there hundreds of years ago were still there sucking up whatever air was remaining and feeling the body heat of others magnify.
When you know that you’re visiting a haunted place, paranoia always comes in tow; however, as calm and steady I was, my heartbeat never stopped beating rapidly throughout that, what felt like, too long of a tour.
I won’t even go into detail how one of the freaking spirits tried to take my headphones from my bag.
We all were a little shook up like the average person would be after that kind of experience. But we wanted to do it and overall it was fun and fascinating. Disgusting and nerve wrecking, but fun.
Day Eleven: November 6th, Edinburgh, Scotland
Today was what we called the Free day. The lounge-about day where we got to sleep in, I got to take a long, hot shower, and eat a little breakfast before we separated. To do whatever each of us solely wanted to do. For me, the day was made for walking along the paths of Holyrood Park to get to Arthur’s Seat.
I was told at the front desk getting there would be a twenty-minute walk along Lawnmarket that turned into High Street to where Holyrood Road would lead me the rest of the way. But even with those directions, you still get sidetracked as you follow the path.
The first distraction was the convienient store. I thought that I might as well get something for the long hike to come so I got a couple bars of sort and a big water bottle.
Shortly after before the street turned into High Street, I saw the signs stating that the National Museum of Scotland was just a little further if you crossed the George IV Bridge. I couldn’t resist. It was free admission and right by the entrance was the gift shop so I was curious on what they had regarding William Wallace. Which by the way, since we didn’t get a chance to explore the Wallace Monument and I was craving to watch Braveheart, I figured if I’d try and find something about him to make up for it. Until I’d get the next chance to travel back to the Land of Scots.
I managed to find just that and it was even better considering Mel Gibson reviewed it too. I also got more beautiful postcards that photographed some artifacts I missed; like the Lewis Chessmen dating from the late 13th to the early 14th centuries.
However, due to the time crunch I had, I decided that I’d only spend time in the Scottish-based history sections. Logically, I thought that every museum had science, technology, animal kingdom displays and whatnot exhibits so I shouldn’t waste time in those areas when I could really take in the Scottish history and anything related to the Scots. Every museum, no matter what the destination, had those exhibits so I had to make the time count.
From the map I was given and grazing observation, the palace-like interior had seven floors and, just from looking above, I knew it would be at least two hours going through the entire place. The main floor alone had at least ten pedestals displaying relics and artifacts, even the infamous cloned sheep, Dolly, stuffed and standing tall. Every wall was covered by international pieces of art, technology, and weapons. And of course, the ceiling had plenty of skeletons, animals, and vehicles of all types dangling. The interior was an elongated oval with many pillars and the first three floors visible from the naked eye. Everything, aside from the artifacts and displays, was stark white and if I recall correctly had marble floors as well.
As for the Scottish-themed exhibits, I’ll leave those to your imagination. How else will you come and see it for yourself? Museums need to be more appreciated these days. They make it possible for us to touch history and feel the past.
The last distraction I came across was Blackwell’s Books. Yes, English major passing a book store. But this wasn’t an ordinary distraction for me; rather that moment of discovery was something precious to me because a lot of bookstores in the U.S. are commercialized, and unless you live in places like New York City, Chicago, and Columbus (like I do), it’s difficult to find indie and second-hand bookstores. Bookstores that have a personal touch and each experience is different every time. I had to seize the opportunity.
And it was a good thing I did, because I found Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy and Eleanor Atkinson’s Greyfriars Bobby. For about six pounds, I purchased two books very crucial to Edinburgh’s history and culture. Not to mention that these two books were published right in that very city. The locality made them all the more precious souvenirs.
They were worth more than the trouble I had stuffing them into my bag, to which I decided to call Machiavelli. After another five minutes I turned the corner to Holyrood Road and the home and park of its namesake.
And there I saw Arthur’s Seat in the distance. Arthur’s Seat is 823 feet above sea level or rather high counting from the park’s base. After FaceTiming my parents, so they could see one of the trails to the Once and Future King‘s throne, I somehow reached over 300 feet from the base. But not without running out of breath.
I spent a good 45 minutes getting up as high as dusk would allow. Once I accomplished one of six trails to His Seat, and considering there were no lights along the path, I knew I had to turn back. Though I did not have as much time as I would’ve liked, the timing however I was perfect. There were so many colors in the sky and so much of Edinburgh in my sight that no filter was needed to capture, or emphasize, the scenery with my digital camera and my iPhone.
Later in the night, after we all met back at the hostel, we did another bookish detour at Waterstone. There in the travel section was a book titled 1001 Walks You Must Experience Before You Die. I was particularly proud of myself to find that Arthur’s Seat & Holyrood Park was one of those walks.
I got back to the hostel around an hour early, since we agreed to meet back around six. On the way there, I passed a professional rugby team hauling their luggage into a luxury red van and a street performer playing the part as a floating Yoda. Only in Edinburgh, right?
More to come.
Day Twelve: November 7th, Edinburgh to Inverness, Scotland
This day didn’t start out well. Let me break it down for you.
Our train was for 8:30 a.m. But we ended up getting on the wrong one. Yet, we managed to get off before departure. Just to be clear, it wasn’t our fault; that particular platform had two cars on the same track and neither the attendants nor the time boards informed us as well as six other passengers–four of them natives–going to Inverness.
After some badgering from us and the other troubled passengers, we were given tickets to cover the misunderstanding. We got on the next train where we were to get off at Perth, on platform 19, and then fifteen minutes later we got on the next train on platform 7. It was tedious, exhausting, and strained us in a time table of over three hours.
More or less, we got to our hostel an hour or so later than planned. It was super small and tight, but not awful. We dropped off our stuff, explored a little, and got some food at the Caledonian (which was okay regarding food and service). Then we browsed the streets a bit on the way back to the hostel. Already dark, we saw a convenient store across the street so I got some soda and British hard gummy chews…then I thought about the Domino’s we passed and instantly got the munchies. Two medium pizzas for fourteen pounds.
The real fun started in the lounge: pizza, soda, and Netflix with fellow hostel residents. Using a PS4 controller, Moriah put on Stepbrothers, and later, when that movie finished, the Avengers. Emylee and Moriah went to bed while I stayed behind to work on more writing. I ended up talking to a couple people from England, Ireland, and Canada while watching White Chicks. One was asking about the U.S., more specifically Chicago, New York, and Boston. I told him the truth of those cities; I had to be honest but I made sure the anecdotes were both good and bad.
After dealing with the craziness this morning, I felt it necessary for the Count to entertain me with his exceptional mind unfolding justified chaos.
Day Thirteen: November 8th, Inverness to midnight in Glasgow, Scotland
Once we checked out of the hostel the next morning, we put our bags in the luggage room under lock and key. Since the flight from Dublin to Edinburgh, we found it to be very difficult to find a Starbucks anywhere so stopped into Costa. Basically, this company is their Starbucks. So each of us ordered coffee and a sandwich; I decided on an Amaretti latte & all-Breakfast toastie. My god, they were delicious.
I made a pit stop across the street to a souvenir shop to get a couple key chains, for Mom and my sister, before heading for the bus stop to Culloden Battlefield.
The ride was 3.70 pounds for the whole day. It took about ten-fifteen minutes to get there, and then we walked short hike following the picket sign to the battlefield and its visit centre. As luck would have had it, each of us got a student discount and paid 8.50 instead of 11 pounds. In addition, they had gorgeous guidebooks for 5 pounds so I bought one. It was also necessary due to the no-photography sign stressed across the entrance of the museum portion of the centre.
I wandered off first into the interactive and large history book that were the halls of this museum. Having the ability to view and touch the artillery and weapons, used from both the government (red coats) and the Jacobites, I’d say the no-photography warning was more than fair. I also had the opportunity to see precious tokens of the leaders and loved ones, from both sides, and even the death mask of “Bonnie” Prince Charles himself, the Pretender of the Scottish Throne.
Before the main event outside, there was a five-minute video reenacting the battle that lasted no more than two hours. Four screens, that ranged from the floor to the ceiling, showed Scottish men being taken down like dominos. In that short time, silence was essential as you witnessed this acted-out slaughter. You couldn’t help sympathizing, knowing it was a loss cause.
Being told of history is one thing but it’s another when it’s displayed in front of you. That’s the thing about history: to see it reenacted, understanding the past is the past, you still want to change it knowing there is nothing you can do to go back. A moment of melancholy takes over you for a moment.
Close by the exit to Culloden Battlefield, you’re given an audio guide. For the duration of 35-40 minutes, there’s a GPS in this device so when you walk in a certain or path, it automatically starts providing information about one of the many areas; like point 5 was where the blue flags, or the Jacobites, stood. The blue flags stood for their front lines. There were red flags that stood for the government, or the British.
Halfway during the self-guided tour, I came across the gravestones of the clans. These were blunt stones that had certain clan names carved into them; over 1500 Scotsmen died on that battlefield and if they (the British and Scots alike) could identify the clan tartan on the body, they put the body in a mass mound for all those who once were a part of that clan. However, when they couldn’t, they had those unknown Scots placed in mass graves labeled “Mixed clans”. I suppose the government did this out of respect; not only for the dead, but for the sake of military honor.
When the audio guide wasn’t speaking, the only sound you heard was the wind becoming louder and harsher, as you went further on the path; especially around the Culloden Memorial. This structure was a stone battlement within reach. Some of the stone bricks had faded words speaking of, I guessed, respect, peace, and heartfelt memory.
After finishing the exploration of the battlefield, I dropped off the audio guide, walked around the gift shop, then had a cappuccino while working on some postcards.
Sometime later, I asked the woman behind the visit centre desk, who happened to be a Fraser, told us that if we headed into the opposing direction of Clava Cairns (the bus stop where we got dropped off) we could reach a stop for a bus that comes every twenty minutes. Originally we intended to wait for the 5:15 bus but since we no longer thought to see Clava Cairns for now, we had a couple hours left and took the woman’s advice. We walked there, waited for ten minutes at the first bus stop sign, then got restless and headed further into town to another bus stop that had a looped road. Not even two minutes later the number 5 bus came and we were on our way back to Inverness from Culloden.
Immediately getting off the bus, we went into the mall to use the toilet and pop into Waterstone’s Bookstore. Then we grabbed our stuff and were at the train stop almost two-and-a-half hours early for our 8:15 train.
Once the time came, we hopped on and stayed on there until 11:58 p.m. Twenty minutes before we got off, Emylee looked at our booking confirmation for our hostel only to see that our check-in time wasn’t midnight on the 9th (which was tomorrow soon to be today minutes from then) but at 3 p.m. of the 9th. In a nutshell, we had to pay an extra night because of information they didn’t point out to us when we were specifically requested a check-in time.
I was too angry yet too tired to argue, so we paid the licking-chops gremlin that was the night manager. We went straight upstairs and I directly in the shower.
I’m not even going to discuss the shower.
What I will say in final note, is that all of us agreed to sleep in and have the following day be somewhat leisure since there wasn’t much on our itinerary.
I won’t blame Glasgow, but by God, I hope tomorrow will make up for this night.
Oidhche, a h-uile! Night, guys!
Day Fourteen: November 9th, Glasgow, Scotland
To accommodate the series of unfortunate events from last night, all three of us slept in, took our time getting ready and then went into the Royal Scot for an early lunch of burgers, diet Coke and tea. Since we were still feeling a bit pinched from last night, we just did some browsing. But not before hunting down a Starbucks for an Eggnog Latte. It took awhile but we found one.
Being a calm and steady day, we took today to spend time in and around the Necropolis. Even caught a few glimpses and screenshots of Glasgow Cathedral. Literally meaning “the city of the dead”, the necropolis felt it went on for miles. And odds are it did, considering when we all separated for silence and assessment, none of us covered the entire grounds.
The graves were either weathered, battered, or broken. Even some were stacked like bricks and pushed together. Sometimes the line of graves had the stones pressed or squished together. There were several, and variously sized, mausoleums with Greek- and Gothic-stylized architecture. The necropolis was hills upon hills; flights of stone steps, damp but very green grounds, and gravel in the soft grounded paths.
On the way back, when dusk descended, there was a half-moon above one of the mausoleums striking the sky like God’s thumb.
When dusk passed, came Night herself. Not too much of a walk back, we rerouted through St. George’s Square. Lit up and more than ready for the Happy Christmas greetings to come. You forget that we, the U.S., are the only ones who celebrate Thanksgiving.
Soon we were back at the hostel to eat in their house restaurant and bar. I had my fix of mac ‘n’ cheese with garlic bread and naturally some tea to go with it. But I changed my favorite meal a bit with having some dessert called millionaire ice cream cake. It wasn’t bad.
Then I ended the night with some writing and a couple episodes of The Crown. Got mind-blown by the end of the fourth episode.
I assure you I’ll have much more exciting things to tell later.
Day Fifteen: November 10th, Glasgow to Edinburgh, Scotland
I want to be clear about Glasgow: it is place where you invest time in the theater and in the downtown life. So for this trip, we agreed that we should just leave early. And that’s just what we did: we switched our train tickets from 8 p.m. to 1 p.m. to Edinburgh.
We checked out early and walked to the Glasgow Station. Couple hours till departure, we read and did postcards as we waited. The simple morning drifting to an easy, early afternoon didn’t last long.
Once again the rail reps in Scotland seem to have communication issues when it comes to crucial information. Like on our train from Edinburgh to Inverness, the ScotRail Rep on the phone didn’t tell or assist us in the crucial details; that we had to get on a train to Plymouth and then get off to another train that goes directly to our destination.
The ticket attendant told us we were technically on the wrong train but helped us out, said to just stay on this train (1:03 pm to Edinburgh), since it was going the right way regardless, and to just double-check next time.
My God, Edinburgh, how I’ve missed you.
Shortly, we were in by 2 p.m. as anticipated, then hit the streets to browse and find something to eat. Especially since I had coffee, some lemon loaf cake and some chicken nuggets in my system. Just took a couple turns and ate at our new favorite pizza joint in the United Kingdom: Civernios.
We walked around some more, then headed back to the hostel. I immediately went into the shower, and got out, anticipating a night in. The other two wanted a drink downstairs but I wasn’t in the mood for anything at first.
Sometime later I ended up going downstairs because I was craving a soda and was a little hungry. Also the vending machines were practically empty. I sat with them and met Rob; the new friend they met on the Royal Mile shopping while I was at Arthur’s Seat.
He was nice as much as he was challenging, inquisitive, and bold. Rob was somewhat easy-going and honest without being in any way judging. Decent guy as well as a very great storyteller. How do the Scots do that? This question coming from an amateur writer.
And it’s about to be a busy day tomorrow.
Day Sixteen: November 11th, Edinburgh, Scotland to Dublin to Belfast, Ireland
Last night did not go as well as I’d thought. Though I left somewhat earlier than Emylee and Moriah, I still couldn’t sleep and ended up finally falling asleep around two in the morning. Three hours later we were disoriented zombies using the bathroom light to pack our stuff up.
Half-coherent and lazy, we took a cabbie to the airport. The flight took off at 8:10 a.m. and I easily took advantage of the hour-long duration sleeping for however long I could.
Swiftly and efficiently, we came down the RyanAir steps to Dublin ground and we’re in and out of the airport itself. The taxi line was short so we had one readily for our disposal. Immediately we went on to Connelly Train Station, then waited in the station cafe until the 11:20 a.m. ride to Belfast. In a little over two hours, we were in the Northern Irish city. But for what we were seeing, one more train was we had to take. In another ten minutes the train on platform 3 to Victoria’s Street came and we jumped off the first stop at Botanic.
This hostel we chose to stay at–Lagan Backpackers–I think was my favorite throughout the entire trip. It was very roomy, comfortable, well-accommodated, yet had a laissez-faire air about it. By appearance, to most it wouldn’t seem like much, but I’ve never felt as much at ease in the other hostels. Keep in mind, I’ve been in Lagan Backpackers for a handful of hours and I’d already made my decision.
After some slight recuperating, we picked a rib joint. I ate a spicy-as-hell hotdog and a Caesar salad. After the checks were paid, we made a pit stop to a convenient store for some snacks and international stamps (through Northern Ireland).
We decided to head in for the night, so while Emylee and Moriah watched a movie or two, I nodded off while watching some Netflix myself. I woke up about four hours later around 9:30 p.m.
Won’t be long before I pass out again, so Sláinte from Northern Ireland!
Day Seventeen: November 12th, Belfast, Ireland
The morning was a bit slow for us but eventually we went to the station to get back on the train that went to Victoria Street. Only instead of getting off there, we got off at Titanic Quarter for the namesake’s museum.
Yes, we headed to the Titanic Museum; the place where the gigantic ship was built along with her sisters, Britannic and Olympic. The center of the “ship” was floor after floor of translucent windows and on each side of her had an off-white, harsh-lined wing with a metallic pattern; it shined like a water’s reflection seen with light. The architecture of the museum looked like the tragic ship slicing through the iceberg that brought her twelve thousand feet below. I later found out that was the intention when designing the building.
It was around noon when we arrived so I just thought there was only so much time here. There were two kinds of tours and the less extensive one was six pounds cheaper. The difference was the more expensive one included a picture and access to a gallerie; I’m assuming this gallerie was the bonus features of the museum. Oh, well.
I still got all the essential benefits. I received a virtual tour of the 882 ft. and 9 inch-long ship from left to right, bottom to top.
I rode a replica of the average elevator scaffold and was told the Titanic’s was four times the size of this typical one. Damn, it was high already to begin with just by looking down.
There was a ten-minute ride about the inside of the building/ship yard (another replica) for the Titanic.
In glass barriers, there were displays of different class cabins as well as dishes, trinkets, and documents.
Later, spectators and myself were lead into a theater to see a short documentary; it was a film about the discovery of the remains of the larger-than-life ship after over a hundred years of her disappearance into the abyss.
And of course, there was the overall exhibition itself, informing us of Harland & Wolff, the shipping yard and company that built her and many others almost like the Titanic, and just throwing interesting facts about the once major metropolis that was Belfast during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Just a little something for you: Belfast was known as the linen capital of the world and one of the most prestigious cities in all of Europe. Hey, I thought that was fascinating among other things of Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Emylee and Moriah drifted off, whether ahead or behind me, but we didn’t care. I wanted to redevelop my appreciation for this museum (it’s been almost ten years since I was last here), knowing how it changed so much, and I know how much they wanted to spend time in this expansive memorial. Emylee had always loved ships, especially the RMS Titanic, and Moriah had a deep fascination for tragedy in history, as do all three of us.
After I had a moment to take in all the morbid yet extraordinary things this spectacular museum had to offer, obviously the next step is straight to the gift shop. You can’t not go to the museum yet not go into the Titanic gift shop. Naturally, a pin, postcards, and some friendly conversation with a cute Irish boy at the counter were in order. I even tipped it off with an awesome key chain that looked like a first class ticket for the majestic liner.
I messaged the girls that I was in one of the cafes. I bought some tea and did some postcards knowing how much my mother, my uncle, and aunts love everything surrounding the water, boats, and ships. And all surrounding THE Titanic. I have teachers and history enthusiasts in my family; it was my duty to send those momentos to them.
Plus, Emylee noticed a postbox right by the humongous bronze-tinted TITANIC sign in front of the entrance; which mailing so much easier and all the more sweet.
As predictable as it was essential, dinner and drink came later and then an early night (after watching Without A Paddle on Netflix).
A supremely exciting day is coming. Take this phrase into consideration as to what were doing tomorrow.
Day Eighteen: November 13, Belfast, Ireland
I woke up early enough to hunt down an ATM only there was a maintenance issue (until 6 a.m. Eastern Central time which means no money for another five hours), so I couldn’t get more money until later. I walked back to the hostel to see a black cab parked. I texted Emylee and Moriah guessing that was our ride for the day.
It was, and representing Paddy Campbell’s Black Cab Tour was Peter; our very bubbly, happy, and great conversational cabbie driver. He came at 9 a.m. sharp and went over the itinerary; we’d explore a bit around Belfast through a local’s eyes, check out a few spots where Game of Thrones was filmed, see the Dark Hedges, head over to walk on Carrick-a-Rede Bridge, drop us off to have something to eat and finally spend a great deal of time (until dusk) at Giant’s Causeway. Sounds like a lot, huh? And dear God, it was. But unspeakably worthwhile.
For ten minutes, Peter wove through town, pointing out little tidbits of several buildings, incidents that occurred on certain streets, and even explained why the Belfast police cars look like S.W.A.T. cars or those huge military-armed vehicles you see in front of businesses. They were necessary during the riots and fights, not only because of the religion feud but, because of the IRA bombings and breakouts. I was generally familiar with the feud and mayhem but not to this extent; it was horrifying and sad to hear jovial Peter go into gory detail about the events that went on.
He took a few turns out of the way (due to the barrier I’ll explain in a bit) to stop at a couple of murals in memory of King William III, or “King Billy”, the Protestant, in addition to, popular sovereign to Northern Ireland and Scotland, and a decorated Protestant commander of the Ulster Defense Association named Stephen “Top Gun” McKeag.
Top Gun was a Northern Irish loyalist, meaning he was for Northern Ireland to remain with the United Kingdom, and a good shot, hence his nickname, who had died from a drug overdose of painkillers and cocaine in 2000. Although, conspiracy and controversy says one of his rivals, within the UDA, (you can look him up for yourself since it’s public record) had came into McKeag’s house, armed men behind him. Due to a crossbow bolt punctured in the wall close to where he was found, it’s theorized that McKeag fired a crossbow bolt at the men and then they forced lethal amounts of the drugs down his throat killing him. However, there still isn’t any proof to support this, so it’s declared a suicide. Intense stuff, right? Not going to lie, it freaked me out a little.
After a couple mural sightings and a short parade that passed us, we were taken to the barrier that occupies the separation of Protestants and Catholics. Yes, for the last forty to fifty years this wall still remains as does the segregation. However, let me be clear, there are civilities and proper respect for one another. Also due to university and our (the younger) generation, a lot are friends and dating one another. It’s just how things are here and majority of those practicing those religions prefer it that way.
But on a brighter note, this high barrier was full of graffiti. Peter said it’s encouraged as a way to make a peaceful statement of acceptance and understanding. So we made our marks on this wall. Mine was my name, the date, and the triple spiral, or triskele, Celtic symbol for birth, life and death. It also references everything, especially regarding the universe and the elements, come in threes.
Peter then told us it’d take about an hour before arriving to the next spot. So I nodded off a bit after some tea and crisps courtesy to our wonderful tour guide.
We were officially on roads cradled by the Dark Hedges themselves. As a sidenote, this was also another place where Game of Thrones was briefly filmed. Shortly, after some pictures and telepathically telling other tourists to get out of our shots, I spotted one of the hedges had a hole large enough to fit a person in it; a rather short and petite person–a Keebler elf, maybe–but a person nonetheless. So obviously, I stuck myself in the burrow hole to take a selfie. Then shouted out to Emylee, Moriah, and Peter that I was kinda stuck. They just started laughing and came over to try fitting in it too (after Moriah grabbed my arm to help and get hersef up to get a turn at a selfie. Emylee tried too with Peter snapping shots with her camera.
A few more minutes there, then we jumped back into the stark black cab to be on our way to Carrick-a-Rede Bridge. Peter insisted on lending us some jackets he carried handy for rainy days like we had today. Though it was mild, we each still took one and thanked him profusely since we didn’t anticipate the hike we had to do to get to the bridge.
One thing to consider if you wish to go to Ireland and Scotland: the people in both countries and the republic are crazily friendly, polite, and overall genuinely good people.
Before going to the bridge, we ate some lunch next door to the ticket stand. I wanted something warm but light, so I settled for some Calypso coffee and a ham and cheddar sandwich. Just to let you know we didn’t go about this extensive day starving. Now with both of those anecdotes said, I’ll continue.
In comparison to the hike to Dun Aonghasa, this hike was so much easier yet much more breathtaking (in the sense where we weren’t huffing and puffing while we cursed the treadmill for misleading of how in shape we really were). The whole hike we had the ocean as our view. Like at the Cliffs, the atmosphere was as damp and windy as it was all shades of green, blue, and brown. I had to cut down my digital shots intake to gain more memory on my camera.
With the bridge in front of you, for a moment you blanche thinking, “God that’s a big drop.” But once you take the first few steps and hold onto the ropes on each side, you feel accelerated but safe, like on a roller coaster; you want more and more of the adrenaline as you go further and further. I wanted to make another thing clear: this bridge is perfectly safe otherwise it wouldn’t be open to the public period. Also it had a sturdy steel outlined under my feet and throughout it’s exterior.
Honestly, I wasn’t as intimidated as I first thought (which is why I wanted to do it, because in theory, it was crazy and exciting experience I couldn’t miss); when I set foot across it I felt less unsettled versus far away at a glance. Though it wasn’t as adrenaline-seeking as bungee-jumping or going on a 600-foot suspended swing in New Zealand (It’s on my list to do), I still considered it an amazing accomplishment. Even if the guy behind me was shaking the damn bridge trying to get a rise out of people and thinking it was funny. Ugh, jackass. He got into big trouble for that, just to warn anyone who even thinks about doing that in the future.
The hike back went by fast. We made a pit stop at the toilets and gift shop, then Peter drove us to see the Danseverick Castle ruins. They’re over 1500 years old and all that was left standing were two walls.
And now for the final and long-anticipated destination, we reached Giant’s Causeaway. This is an area of around 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that science said became a the result of an ancient volcanic eruption.
But Peter suggested, as we were heading the Causeway, to take the folk legend into consideration as do a lot of the natives; the tale is about a giant named Fionn MacCool who built the causeway across the North Channel in order to meet for a fighting challenge with the Scottish giant Benandonner. Peter told us when MacCool realized the other giant was much bigger than him, his wife disguised him as a baby and tucked him in a cradle. So when Benandonner came to search MacCool at his home, he saw the “baby” and insinuated that the baby’s father was a giant among giants so he hightailed out of there, destroyed the causeway behind him so Fionn couldn’t follow. Awesome.
There are two things that people don’t tell you when coming to the Causeway: if you aren’t going into the visitor’s enter you don’t have to pay an admission fee, and, if you don’t feel like making the 15-20 minute walk, you could take a bus to and from the causeway for one pound each ride. And since we were somewhat lazy, we took the ride at the beginning and end of our exploration.
Anyway, I wandered off as usual and spent a good hour and a half there, climbing cautiously the many columns of stacked hexagonal stones. A causeway isn’t any different than the shores of a beach; the edges are always wet and can bring powerful waves to clash against the land edges. However, a beach isn’t as slippery or muddy than a causeway, so if you intend to come here, wear solid, rubber boots. Maybe weather-proof ones if you can get them for a good deal.
Also don’t get too close to the water’s edge. I don’t mean to where you’d slip and fall into the icy deep–that goes without saying–but to the extent that you could get slapped with the high waves like this one poor guy that got knocked down hard, therefore, soaking him from the shoulder down and his, I assume was, girlfriend having a laughing attack at the sight of him. No worries though, he was completely fine, just a little embarrassed and shocked by the hit.
Aside from that misfortune on his part, I saw, hiked, and climbed three major peaks. Instead of shades of green, blue, and brown, it was all fifty shades of gray, navy, white and black. Extraordinary what nature has done and can still do. The sea air spraying my face was just icing on the cake as I watched dusk bring the curtain of night on the endless ocean before me.
But on a somewhat sour note, my phone died from being too cold outside (yes, that’s a thing–it just shuts off when it overheats or freezing). And when I had my fill of the Giant’s Causeway, until the next time, I waited and searched for Moriah and Emylee for about a half hour to no avail. So when the time was cutting close–when I took a picture on my digital camera, it showed the time–I thought to look for them up at the visitor center. Nope. It came to where the center and the bathrooms were closed that I gave up and went to find the black cab. I found the cab and those two in there as well. Apparently, they went looking for me up where I was not too long ago and then decided to wait in the cab if I wasn’t there already. They’d been sitting there for ten minutes. I threw a couple f-bombs at them, wondering where they were and to get some frustration out, and then I was good, they were good, and then off to Lagan we were.
We got huge hugs and goodbyes from Peter, then we paid him and went for a short but sweet dinner. I crashed at the hostel soon after another detour to a convenient store.
Day Nineteen: November 14th, Belfast to Dublin, Ireland
Since there wasn’t much to tell, I’ll make this post brief.
Today was when we take the train back to Dublin. It was an slow, yet easy morning considering departure wasn’t until 2 p.m. We got in around 6:30, and took the opportunity to hop in my bunk to nap while my phone charged.
Then Emylee said Brendan wanted to meet up for pints and some food so we went to The Cobblestone for Guinness, Swithwick’s and crisps. About two hours later, Brendan took us to Frank Ryan’s for some ham and cheese sandwiches with more Guinness (which I declined, sticking with water as I already had three huge pints in my system).
In Frank Ryan’s we also got to hang out with the pub pooch, a Kerry Blue Terrier, that I can’t for the life of me remember it’s name. He was so cute and friendly, though; he was Moriah’s buddy almost the entire night.
So there ya go–it was just one of those days where there wasn’t much except a couple endearing, yet slightly sloppy moments.
Day Twenty: November 15th, Dublin, Ireland
Today started out as another lazy day since we had one specific place to check out. So we slept in. I took a shower where managing it was like handling the sink levers where you push down and only so much water comes out, depending on how much you press down. Except I had to do this every two seconds; otherwise, I did everything one-handed. Took FOREVER. Ugh.
Anyway, once I was ready, which the other two went to get some final shopping down, I walked around Dublin doing the same myself. Then we met back at the hostel around 3 p.m. since we had to take the Tram (the above-ground subway system) for several stops to get to Kilmainham Gaol. Gaol being another word for prison.
The tour we paid for was at 4 p.m., so we took the Luas Tram and walked for a good ten minutes almost entirely straight ahead. We got there with another ten minutes to spare, so we waited in the holding cell as suggested by the guy at the front desk.
The prison is about 220 years old. Its walls were made of limestone that held moisture, which was why it’s very cool and damp everywhere even, in the countless hallways. It had a west wing as the general body of the prison, until about a hundred years later, and a modernized east wing.
This stone gaol was most famously known for two circumstances: the first was in 1850 where its largest of its population with 9000 prisoners with 100 cells–some had stood in these very halls I passed through–and the second was this being the place where the leaders, who started the fight for Irish independence with their declaration document in 1916, were executed.
The first circumstance had these statistics almost completely because it was a tough time in Dublin where people were either homeless, starving, or both. It was common knowledge that you were fed and the prison was the roof over your head; so if you suffered from any of those predicaments, you went to crime to get shelter and rations. Simple enough, from what the tour guide explained.
The second was the one of few events that brought the uprising for a free republic of Ireland. Seven, of the fourteen prosecuted and shortly executed, were the ones who wrote the proclamation of the declaration of the Republic.
The following were carved onto a plaque in memory for their boldness; after Easter Week, these leaders were executed, between 3rd and 12th of May 1916, and in order:
P. H. Pearse
Thomas J. Clarke
Sean Mac Diarmada
From this list, one Irish nationalist, Joseph Plunkett, had a final request: 24 hours before his execution, he wanted to be married to his sweetheart, Grace Gifford, in the prison chapel. In the morning, they were given ten minutes with each other before he was taken away.
One other from this list, the last to be executed, James Connolly, had the most controversial of executions. Before these men above were arrested, the uprising caused several men to be injured including Connolly, and they were taken to hospital. Connolly was so badly injured from the fighting, he couldn’t stand for his prosecution and execution. With these circumstances, it was a tough call of how to proceed since a doctor declared his injuries fatal. The choices were to either let him die in his hospital bed naturally or execute (shoot him dead) him.
It was decided to not treat him any differently since he was claimed a traitor. Like the others, he was shot repeatedly till death, however, they had to bring him to the courtyard of the prison on a stretcher then attach him to a chair to hold himself up. Tragic and grotesque.
Less than eight years later, the huge stone castle-like prison closed down in 1924.
Yes, it was a pretty intense, even somewhat emotional, tour. But I recommend you go check it out. I paid 3.50 euro for it, but make sure to book a little in advance. Oh, and they have an amazing exhibition, once you finished the tour, and gift shop.
Then met up outside the gaol and headed back the way we came to get some early dinner (though it’s incredibly dark by the end of the exhibition).
Day Twenty-One: November 16th, Dublin, Ireland
Today was the final day of the three-week voyage, that started in Ireland and, ends in the Emerald Isle herself.
We also started in the city of Dublin and decided to end with a couple days here too; that way we’d be able to have one last opportunity exploring a couple other spots and extra browsing.
After some lunch, since we took some recovery time this morning (again) sleeping in, we headed to Christ Church Cathedral, since Moriah still needed a rosary, or something relevant to that, and I wanted to see the exhibition, Dublinia. It’s adjacent, and linked, to the cathedral and cost 7.50 euro with a student discount.
I took the chance to see it and the others went on the hunt for some more shopping. We agreed to meet at the Chester Beatty Library around 2 p.m.; so that gave me two hours for Viking mayhem.
Three floors of visual displays as well as weaponry and Christian relics presented all over. There was also an interactive food market nook where you could try on chain mail and peruse the apothecary’s spices and herbs. Although it was fascinating and full of the history I see, I’d say that this be more for those twelve and under.
But I’d say also climbing three flights of stairs, to check out the view of Michael’s Tower, was definitely worth the effort.
After catching a glimpse of the city from all four perspectives of the tower, I went back to down to earth and practically skipped to Chester Beatty Library.
It was a bit confusing looking my map regarding the library being on the other side of the stone entrance to Dublin Castle. Once I figured it out, I saw the modernized entrance of Chester Beatty and then turned around.
The angles of my standing position made quality landscape shots of the castle with my phone. The sun scaled over to the right, focusing on the two battlements within my line of vision. The shadows and shade of the trees aligned perfectly with the pathway to a short balcony (where you’d get a widespread visual of the courtyard.
After taking a couple moments to appreciate the lawn designs, I went into Chester Beatty Library.
Before I make a list of the things I’ve gotten the privilege to see the spectacular exhibition and gallery, I want to provide a couple things for if you intend to come:
- First, it’s free admission considering it’s not only a library but a beautiful museum.
- Second, before you go up the stairs to the second and third floor (exhibition and gallery), you’ll need to request a token to use a locker since you can’t have any bags or cameras while viewing.
Didn’t have enough time (on my time table) to see the roof garden.
You could look up the following artifacts, relics, and pieces of literature–or you could go and see them for yourself–majority of the exhibit regarded Japan and China:
- snuff bottles and jade books
- well preserved scrolls and calligraphy
- the great encyclopedia (16th century copy of all Chinese knowledge) and the picture scroll
- Nara Ehon
- Japanese wood block printing and illuminated headings/openings/printing
- Persian poetry
- mamluk/other bindings
- astrolabe & use of astronomy (used to determine times of prayer for the Islamic faith)
- display about bookbinding (gold toiled Armenian jeweled, attributed Clovis Eve, and Flemish panel-stamped–The more common/familiar style)
- some of Thomas Frye’s work of portraits (mostly consisted of the poor or elder as subjects)
- a sub-floor was entirely dedicated to Hinduism, Buddha, the Dharma, Confucianism, daoism, and some more of Islam along with Christian and Hebrew icons and printing–EXTRAORDINARY.
- There were some text fragments of Manichaeism and early Christian biblical papyri in Greek and Hebrew.
- Also a text from 1177 called the Pauline Epistles that contained the earliest accounts of Jesus’s life (c. AD 50-60)
Though I only have so many words to tell you what I saw, I decided this was one of the places, like the Dublinia exhibition, where you need to see it for yourself; I can’t tell you my experience because it wouldn’t see it in the same way I had today. This place was more than ancient paper and aged leather in painted gold. The man, who had cultivated and gathered this expansive collection, Alfred Chester Beatty, was someone of eclectic taste and appreciation.
He also emphasized his interests in the Arabic and Ottoman Turkish languages through his collection. A good chunk of his purchased antique works were Arabic–where the language is read from right to left (Persian and Ottoman Turkish use the same alphabet but with additional letters)–and of course this is used in the Qur’an.
Chester Beatty was also a papyrus collector; this was spread out in relics and pages from all works including the Gospel of John, the Hebrew Bible, or the Tanakh, and of course the Qur’an.
He wanted to use his collection to emphasize print techniques particularly woodcut, engraving, etching, lithography, and chromolithography; basically the transformation and evolution of printing and writing. So you can imagine how excited we were to see this library.
A mining engineer by profession and livelihood, Beatty was more honored by being Ireland’s first honorary citizen (among other countries in Europe) for his cultural and historical contribution with his antique literary collaboration. Decades of searching, auctioning, and cataloging, that only one word–by word-of-mouth unknown–described the Chester Beatty Collection comparing one book, a c.1480 copy of Cicero, on display: Quality!
On the third floor, the gallery presented Hong Ling and his large scale landscapes painted with what I could see as chaotic, impressionist-like beauty. I especially adored his June 2013, oil on canvas, Delicate Wonder. There was a mini-collection shown alongside Ling’s work; and I loved the 1991 oil on canvas Cold Snow from the collection of Soka Art!
I realized we were there for almost two hours, so I made one last trip to the gift shop and then went into the cafe for some tea and biscuits. I wasn’t feeling well in spite of that wondrous collaboration of ancient and modern. So Emylee and Moriah went to meet Brendan one last time as I soon headed back to the hostel (mostly walked in rain) to sleep off some of the lethargy and heat off the chills.
It ended with an easy night considering how much traveling would entail for tomorrow.
Oíche mhaith! Good night!
And I give a voyager’s farewell…until next time!
- DAY 1: The Pain in the Apple
- Long before the birds awoke to welcome the dawn, we were up and showered and on our way, headed towards the train that would take us to The Big Apple. Being the only one of us who had not yet traversed the complex grid that is NYC, I was certainly excited to experience it. We had a one hour train ride before we stepped onto that platform at Grand Central Terminal. A bit of a maze in and of itself, there wasn’t much to look at until we stepped into the main area where the immense windows stretched up to touch the sprawling sky details on the ceiling. The constellations were the perfect choice to decorate the ceiling because it seems to span what is as vast as the eye can see in a single glance at the night sky. Cold wind whipped through our hair and carried the cacauphony of scents that epitomize the big city through our noses and sang in our ears. We exited the east side of the Terminal so we had to walk all the way around to the West side. We created a longer walk for ourselves but it was neat to see a bit more of the city. I discovered that putting my pack on with my thick winter coat is not an easy feat and results in me feeling a bit like that Chris Farley bit, fat guy in a little coat.
- We dropped our packs off at a secure storage place on 46th street and made our way down to Times Square for a bite to eat and a few snap shots. Murphy’s Law began to stalk me at this point with my boots (I didn’t pack my hikers…shame on me) and my foot was beginning to have that familiar sting of a blister starting. So I found a place to buy some socks and got a hat as well so that I could cover my windblown, melting hair before we made our way to Battery Park for our tour to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The tour company said that it takes 3 hours to do the tour. This, we discovered was quite misleading. We had reserved tickets for 1pm, and were told we could not line up until 12:45. Upon returning at 12:45 we found we were of the last 20 poeple they let in during that time slot. We then waited in a line for 45 minutes to go through Airport style security and then went to another line to wait for another 10 minutes to board the Ferry to Liberty Island. Upon boarding it took another 10 minutes to get fully boarded and then get on our way.
- Once at Liberty Island we walked around the Statue and took a ton of photos (of course) and decided that we would be best off heading to the ferry to go to Ellis Island since we were already looking at 3pm. That line was another 45 minutes….Needless to say, we got just about 15 minutes at Ellis Island before we had to line up for the Ferry back to Battery Park. We had to catch the subway to return to pick up our bags and then catch the subway again to JFK.
- Lesson 1: Don’t wear anything but the most comfortable shoes EVER if you are walking around NYC. Lesson 2: 3 hours is NOT enough time to see Ellis Island AND the Statue of Liberty. Lesson 3: 46th street is not the spot to store your stuff for the day when you KNOW the Statue of Liberty is going to be the last thing on your to do list that day before heading to the airport. We made it, eventually, to the airport and got on our flight to Dublin. At the end of the day, Murphy was pretty enamored with me. My knees and feet ended up 3x their regular size!
- DAY 2: Jet Lagged and draggin’
- After a painful day walking around NYC, 5 hours cramped into an economy class seat, trying despirately to sleep, we woke to the sounds of the Airline cre w preppin g fo r arriva l i n Dubli n. Althoug h i t wa s mornin g, an d th e cit y wa s awak e an d livel y, w e wer e no t. Al l w e wante d wa s a goo d na p, a ho t showe r an d t o ge t o n ou r wa y. Unfortunatel y w e wer e unabl e to check into our hostel at that time so we had to walk around the city. We decided to lock our bags up at the hostel and go get something to eat while we waited. We went to JW Sweetman’s and we all chose some Traditional Irish Stew. I decided that some comforting hot tea with milk was going to be the best with this and it certainly warmed the body and the spirit some. It was difficult to take in the city at this point though. Moriah and I were both so incredibly exhausted and sore that we wanted nothing but a nap and a shower. We made our way back to the hostel, the city streets merging into one blurry gray mess of lines around tall gray structures and collapsed into our beds. Upon waking 2 hours later, it was time to wash off the grease and grime of the last 2 days of walking, subways, trains, airplanes and breathing in the stagnant air of other people’s lungs. We wanted to make our way around the town to see Trinity College and the Book of Kells, but unfortunately by the time we made our way over there it was closed. We had the same misfortune in trying for Christ’s church. We stopped into a pub and had a pint of beer, a welcome consolation prize for our jetlagged bodies, before heading back to the hostel for some WIFI time to call home, send messages to friends and family and to update our blog.
- DAY 3: History and Faith
- Today, we got an earlier start. I can feel the grip of jet lag waning and my perkier self starting to come back to life. My feet still hurt but the massive blister on my heel was popped (I did it on purpose) and bandaged yesterday and today it is feeling much better.
- We made our way at about 10:30 am to Starbucks, we have found about 5 or 6 in the city so we know where the closest one is to our Hostel. We had a small breakfast of coffee and a baked good. I chose fruit toast which came with Irish Butter (my favorite) and a tiny personal pot of raspberry jam. The air was cool and crisp this morning, a slight breeze and gray sky threatened of rain but we never felt a drop. Which was a good thing because we had a long walk to Trinity College. We had been warned that the line (they call them queues in Ireland) can be quite long but we must have found the perfect time to go because we only waited about 5 minutes or so. We were able to get the student rate and save a couple Euros, which was nice. We were not allowed to take any photos in the exhibit, but it was incredible.
- The Book of Kells is approximately 1200 years old and around the 1950s it was divided into 4 separate books, one for each of the gospels. Each page has been beautifully escribed, though each of the scribes had a different style of writing. The vellum used was made from Calf skin and it is approximated that it took 183 (ish) calves to create this beautiful work of literature and Holy Word. It was incredible to be separated by a mere sheet of glass from such an amazing work of art. The time and attention it took to create the beautiful writing is one thing, but to see each image and design so painstakingly detailed and filigireed was just breathtaking. We made our way to The Long Room, the famous library at Trinity College. Floor to ceiling bookshelves, loaded with old manuscripts adorned the room from front to back. Arched entryways framed each section and a ladder on each side. Warm glowing light bathed each bookshelf in an angelic hue. The wood that encased the entire room was deep and richly colored with a golden cast which I wasn’t sure if it was reflecting the light from the books or if the gold was in the floor itself. Marble busts stood guard between each section on the ground floor. The likes of Socrates, Milton and Plato, joined by many others, looked down the rows, along the corridors and upon the awestruck faces of visitors. Truly, my dream library. I would love to reach up and grab a book only to touch its pages and smell them.
- After a trip to the gift shop at Trinity College, and some shopping of course, we headed to the National Museum of Anthropology. This was a free outing, which was amazing because the building was HUGE and they had SO much to see. Moriah and I actually didn’t make it to all the exhibits, so we are going to try to bounce back over when we are back in Dublin at the end of our trip so that we can see the rest of the Bog Bodies display. The Viking skeleton was very cool, and he surely was quite tall. We saw Medieval dress, jewelry and even weapons. There were religious relics that were pretty amazingly adorned with intricut carvings, embroidery and gem stones. It was apparent that just like with the Book of Kells, great adoration went into these works of art and faith.
- We then went to grab some lunch at Bruxelle’s on our way to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I chose their &Open Ploughman’s Sandwich& which was SO good. It had Mature Wexford Cheddar on it that was to die for. We shared some onion rings and fries and each got a pint of Smithwick’s which was also a great suggestion by our waitress. After our much needed siesta we headed the rest of the way to St Patrick’s Cathedral. As we start to get our bearings, maneuvering the city streets becomes easier. Even with the construction currently happening all over the place, the hoards of foot traffic and the speeding cars through winding, narow roads doesn’t seem to slow us down anymore.
- The Cathedral park was quite peaceful with a large fountain in the center with walk paths all around. The church is surrounded by a wrotiron fence and trees at the corners. As we stepped inside (after taking multiple photos from every angle as we walked towards the entrance) we were greeted by the cahier (it costs 6 Euros) and then by a kind gentleman who provided us with an information booklet in English and Irish. Naturally, I got one in Spanish, French, German and Japanese as well. I have always loved cathedrals. The intricut art, the comforting glow of stained glass windows, candles and the hollow echo of hushed voices, interrupted only by the occational accompanying footfall, gingerly placed in an attempt to walk silently throughout. We each walked our own path throughout the church, taking our time to reflect if we wanted and to capture a few images. There was a place for lighting candles in rememberance of loved ones, and so I took a moment and lit one for my Nana. As they were getting ready for Mass, we were not able to stay unless we were staying for the service. Outside, I chose a nice spot, with a view of St. Patrick’s and here, Nana will forever be in God’s presence and peace, while enjoying the view of this beautiful church.
- After a large and somewhat late lunch, we chose to stop into a market and grab something small for later and made our way back to our hostel. And the adventure continues tomorrow! “Come along Nana, it is on to Blarney tomorrow!”
- DAY 4: A Paddywagon Adventure
- Our day began while it was still dark. The air was heavy with moisture, as it has been so far this whole trip. People will tell you that Ireland is wet. What I have discovered they are refering to is not the weather in and of itself, ie. rain, it is acutally that the air contains a ton of moisture. Much like Japan in the summer, the air feels thick in your lungs and flattens the hair on your head. But I digress.
- We waited in the crowded lobby of our hostel for the rest of the tourists to arrive and for our tour guide/ bus driver to retrieve us. We chose to sit in the very back of the bus because it was the only place where the three of us could sit together. Katie took one corner seat by the window and I took the other. Moriah sat in the middle where her legs could stretch out a little more down the aisle.
- The diver, James, started us off with some local slang, explaining &how’s the craic?& and & What’s the craic?&, which I was lucky enough to already know since my friend Brendan is from Dublin and I ask him about the slang he posts to social media. James provided a quick guide to the other side of the city as we drove out of Dublin and got on our way towards The Rock of Cashel. We were all pleased that the wifi was working aboard our bus, as I had found out prior to the tour that the buses usually have wifi for these tours. Moriah struggled a little getting hers to connect, but we have discovered that her phone seems to like my ju-ju so the moment I had it in my hand, it connected easily.
- Moriah and I passed the time, chatting and lookin through our updates and posts from family at home while Katie chose to doze off and continue to attempt to overcome the grip that the jetlag has on her. After about 2 hours of a bus ride, we pulled into the parking lot at Rock of Cashel, the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster dated to about 1100. Later, the site was gifted by the King to the church and it became a cathedral. Luckily there was a restroom at the bottom of the hill, right next to the parking lot because Moriah and I had had a good deal to drink on the way. By the time we came out of the restroom, all but 2 people had made their way up the hill to the site, so we had a quiet walk, just the two of us, taking it all in. As we made our way up the steps, James let us know that he was getting everyone’s tickets taken care of and it would just be a few minutes. Moriah and I joined some of the other people from our tour bus in a side room where we found St Patrick’s Cross. The room was small but painted white. The dampness continued in this space as well and the growing scent of mold quickly adjusted in my nose to a point where I no longer noticed after a few short minutes.
- After this room, we ventured into the Vickar’s quarters. An open space with high ceilings, the was cool and airy and adorned with a few simple furnishings and upon the wall facing the doors was a tapestry. At the end of a small hallway was a door which led out to the grounds bewteen the Vickar’s room and the cathedral. The cool crisp air whipped through our hair and sang in our ears. It was easy to close my eyes and imagine the sounds of bells, or the quiet voices of prayer and song echoing through the corridors and sailing out through the moors of the Irish countryside. Moriah and I, ever the shutterbugs, alternated between our phones and DSLRs, dodging other visitors and carefully avoiding stepping into each other’s shots before locking eyes and with a wordless agreement, headed inside. It is funny how you have those friends sometimes with whom you grow to communicate with little more than a nod or a look.
- The beauty of this place is awe inspiring. The high arched entryways, the ceiling with its curves and angles would no doubt offer some angelic resonance to any song, prayer or sermon. The light that makes its way through the remnants of window frames, is heavenly, but I can only imagine the colors that must have stretched their rainbow fingers along the walls and warmed the faces of relics and parishoners alike. After a few minutes of trying to work around some of the other visitors, Moriah and I took a few quiet moments to gush over the beauty of the cathedral ruins and the immense peace that seems to wash over you, body and soul when you step into it. It was then that Katie came back into the cathedral after being out in the cemetery and exploring on her own and we nabbed her for a selfie in the main courtyard. It was then that Moriah and I thought it would be wonderful to let Nana be at peace here too.
- So, when we were alone again in the main courtyard, Moriah and I opened my precious little jar and left a small amount of Nana’s ashes there in the light that came through the window, touched gently by the shadow of the round tower, the oldest structure of the original building from 1100. We then headed outside to the cemetery.
- The cemetery is full of old High Crosses, and grave markers from Priests and Pastors, as well as local families. Moriah and I split up a bit and each took our own path around the markers, reading those we could make out and taking photos of the ones that struck us. When I found my way to the top of the small hill, just outside the cathedral, diagonal from the round tower, I found a spot where three markers, each barred off by a low medal barrier/fence, I saw that I could see the whole of the countryside stretch out as far as I could see around me. Such a beautiful spot, right next to the cathedral and with the most beautiful and serene view. It was here that I decided Nana would love to stand. So I poked my finger tip of my left index finger into the wet dirt, up to the first bend and put a small amount, filling the hole with some of her ashes. I said a small prayer, silently to myself and Moriah and I started to make our way back to another area of the cemetery.
- With only 10 minutes to spare, we headed down to the bus. I turned and didn’t see Moriah so I had assumed she had already headed down, so I went, just me and my thoughts, and Nana. When I arrived at the bus, I found the bus pretty much loaded. Katie was already situated in her seat, but Moriah was just a minute or so behind me. We had a good laugh when she made it on because we had done so well keeping each other within somewhat eye shot up until that point, not wanting to get separated too long and end up missing our bus.
- Then it was a 30 minute or so ride to Cork City. Cork has quite a different feel from Dublin. Dublin is bustling and busy and BIG. Cork feels smaller and more laid back. This is where Nana’s family is from, and where my grandfather’s family is from as well. Immediately, Moriah and I were smitten. With only an hour in Cork, we had our plan set. The three of us decided that we needed to grab a few little trinkets, some post cards to mail home, grab some airpost stamps, some food, find a toilet and run back to our bus. And so, I took the lead, somehow already feeling that the city was familiar. I found a shop on the left with some trinkets and postcards and we all chose some to send home. After selecting a few gifts, Moriah and I made our way to check out and I asked the cashier if she could tell me where I could buy postage stamps and a post box. She gave me the easiest directions ever, &exit left out the store, turn left at the second street and the post office is at the end.&
- Katie was still shopping so Moriah and I stepped outside to jot some very quick messages on our postcards before Moriah ran in to see if Katie was just about done. We then made our way to the second street and made our way down past shops and I saw a sausage place and suggested there for lunch since we could take it with us easily. We popped inside and bought some stamps and quickly got them on the postcards before dropping them into the box. I really wanted to send them from Cork and the Dublin ones in Dublin, so I only sent my Cork postcards. We quickly made our way to the sausage place, &The Hatch at O’Flynn’s&, and I got a &Cork Boii& which is loaded with Chili, cheese, grilled onions, pickles and mustard. It was really good by the way. On our way back down the street, we ran into McDonald’s and used their toilets, stopped on the bridge over the River Lee and said another little goodbye to Nana, letting her stay and see the view of the River, the rowers, the swans and the beauty of Cork City forever, before running back, food in hand to our bus, bound for Blarney Castle.
- It was a short ride to Blarney Castle, just 15 minutes really. The enormity of the place is a bit surprising at first. There are gardens, and out buildings, the castle, caves, a garden walk and lookout towers. We started with a stop at a standing stone with a hole cut into it for some photos of the castle on the other side before making our way down the rest of the path to the castle. Moriah and I began taking tons of photos, from every angle we could. Katie got a little irritated and said we kept taking her ideas, but we had no way of knowing the angles she was thinking of, especially since we were taking the photos from those spots before she went to. We were just a thought ahead I think. Moriah and I just go into photographer mode and we start snapping photos this way and that, and laugh at how great minds think alike for angles. When we reached the bottom of the castle, I of course had to lay on the groud to get my vantage point I wanted and Moriah went left to check out the Kennels in front of the Castle while Katie went right towards the caves a few feet away. Moriah and I decided to head towards Katie and see what she was getting into and she hollered at us to come into the cave with her. It was dark and wet and smelled musty, but they have lights placed in various places so you don’t trip and die. Katie said that the ceiling was low, but I was able to stand upright, further solidifying that I am a short person, because I was the only one able to stand fully upright in the cave.
- After this, Moriah and I made our way around the front of the castle while Katie explored on her own. She had already been to Blarney when she was 14 so Moriah and I drank in the place with a hunger that Katie must have when she visited the first time too. We were very anxious to get to see all of it, every angle, every room, every stairway. We talked about kissing the stone, both Moriah and I being fearful of heights, but decided that if one did it, the other would too. So we made our way up the very narrow, steep and tight cornered stairway all the way 90 feet up to the top of the castle, before bending over backwards, hanging out over the edge and kissing the underside of the stone! All the while, I had a small amount of Nana’s ashes to kiss the stone as well. While at the top, Moriah and I took the moment, because we certainly weren’t coming BACK up the stairs, to take photos from the top. With the adrenaline still rushing through my veins, I felt extra brave and leaned my upper body over the side of the wall and took some photos over the edge, down onto the observation tower below. There is a bell at the top of Blarney Castle, and we left a small amount of Nana’s ashes there so that she could enjoy the beauty and the adventure she’s had forever.
- The trip back down allowed for the use of a different staircase with wider steps and a more forgiving width of the stairwell. By the time we reached the halfway point, Moriah started looking to explore more places in the castle, but my knees were starting to go weak with the waning adrenaline and so we decided to head down to the bottom. When we came out, we had to buy souvenir photos and got a certificate that said we kissed the stone before heading towards the poison garden, where we thought we might find Katie. Sure enough she was there, standing near a wall, looking towards the castle where a balcony was. She told us about a cave, just near the dungeon that she went into and came out a bit dirty from the wet and mud in the small space. She said it was pretty cool but was unsure if I would be able to do it. However, from what she said it sounded really cool, so Moriah and I decided to go and check it out while Katie went to discover some other areas and see if they had a cemetery on site.
- Katie was right, the cave was cramped and very very wet. However, being the shortest of us, it wasn’t nearly as cramped for me as it was for Moriah who is at least 5 inches taller than I am. We managed to emerge from the cave without any mud or wet on us, and made a few friends in the cave too. They were other tourists, not bats or bugs or anything like that.
- We made our way towards the gift shop and were sitting to take a little rest when Katie came back down the pathway too. I realized that we didn’t take a selfie with the castle, not all of us anyways. Moriah and I had taken a photo at the top of the Castle together but Katie didn’t go with us, so she wasn’t in that one. We all decided to walk back down the path to the castle and take a photo before heading into the gift shop for some souvenirs.
- It was a long drive back to Dublin. We had a stop on the way for the toilets and made it back to our hostel at about 8pm. After a quick room change, and a clothing change for Katie, we made our way down a street we haven’t seen yet for some dinner. We opted for a slice of pizza and a diet coke before heading to a corner market for snacks for the train to Galway the next afternoon.
- DAY 5: Casey Jr Coming Down the Track
Ok so it isn’t a circus train, and there wasn’t any music playing. However, today, we simply headed by train to Galway from Dublin. We did get to have coffee and meet up with my long time pen pal Brendan, so that was certainly a HUGE piece of what made today so awesome.
- We found our assigned seats and each settled in for the two hour journey. We each spent some time chatting with each other, writing in our journals or the blog, and reading at any point that we weren’t daydreaming out the window.
- This is more my speed. I loved Dublin, it was lively and fun…but the slower, simpler life of the countryside is more what I like.
- Upon arriving in Galway, I was immediately in love. Seriously, this city is my home away from my home away from home. It was crowded, but only because people were lining up to watch the Halloween Parade. People were still kind, friendly and forgiving with our huge packs. We checked into our hostel and LOVED it so much more than our last one (Dublin’s Hostel was WET, MOLDY and SMELLED). We decided to cancel our other reservation for the rest of our stay in Galway, and just stay in the Savoy. (I Highly recommend this place.)
- My brother, Justin, had been here in the summer and he suggested that we eat at The Pie Maker. Best.. Food. In. Galway. Period. Hands Down. I could eat this stuff every single day. Best suggestion ever. We decided to get two different types of pie and share them between the three of us and also got some pints. SO GOOD.
- DAY 6: Nana’s 91st Birthday
- Today, we took a long bus ride to the Cliffs of Moher. Along the way we stopped at Aillwee Cave and drove through the Buren. It was, understandably, a very emotional day for me. I felt a little out of sorts most of it, so I was a little less talkative than I usually am. Nana’s birthday, I knew would be hard for me. But we chose to be at the cliffs for it and Moriah and I spent a good bit of time talking about her and found a perfect spot on the cliffs to cast off some of her ashes into the Atlantic.
- Besides the emotional nature of the day, I took away a few things to share about the Cliffs of Moher.
- 1. They are far bigger and amazing than a photo can do justice to convey.
- 2. They look like a painting, even in real life…much like the Grand Canyon does.
- 3. This will always be a special place to me, since I shared it with Nana.
- DAY 7: Let’s go for a bike ride, it will be fun…Buns of steel needed.
- So today, we took an hour bus ride to the ferry that also took an hour to take us over to Inis Mor. Inis Mor (which means &Large Island&) is part of the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway. We decided to rent bikes and ride around the island. The tourist information said that it was a 4 mile ride to the ruins of Dun Aonghasa, however, we decided to go the long way around, along the coast and past the seal colony. This &easy& ride, as they say it is, involved a LOT of hills (read buns of steel necessary) and wild whipping winds.
- Along the way we stopped at various places along the route to take photos of the farms, animals, ocean and beaches and ruins of houses and churches we saw. The farms and properties are separated by low rock walls, making the countryside appear to be divided like a giant chessboard from street to coast and street to hillcrest. Many of the ruins we saw along the way had no plaques or labels to indicate what it might have been when it was whole. I felt like this added to the sensation that we were somehow stumbling across an echo of a time long gone, rather than lining up in a queue to wait our turn to file through another touristy spot.
- Along the way we stopped at a small beach and I wrote &Voyagers’ Pen& and our names in the sand along with a little ink well and quill. We walked along the sand and just took in the comforting scent of the ocean air and I knew this was a great place to cast some of Nana’s ashes.
- We then continued on to Dun Aonghasa, with a few wrong turns and unnecessary hills before we figured out which way to go. We parked the bikes and paid our 2 Euros each before heading up the trail for another 30 minutes of hiking. Our legs were like jello by the time we got up to the top and Katie plopped into the grass to rest while I flipped myself in half to stretch out my legs and catch my breath some before heading towards the edge of the cliffs where I found Moriah, sitting gingerly on the rocks only a couple feet from the edge. I sat myself down a few yards away from her, with my legs dangling over an edge, with another length of cliff just a step below and extending a few feet beyond me. A precarious spot to take some photos, especially with the forceful winds pressing against me, threatening to blow me over, I crouched near the ground and called Moriah over for a photo. We found Katie where Moriah was before and made her join us near the edge for a photo of the three of us. Moriah, feeling extra brave from the increase in adrenaline, decided she needed to climb the cliff and wanted me to take a photo with her in a higher spot. We all tried to get a photo in the spot, all together, but there was no way to get all three of us, so I took a photo of the two of them.
- We then ventured inside the actual ruin. It was wide open, with a table type ledge in the middle, at the edge of the cliffside, so I decided to toss some of Nana’s ashes over the edge, on the Eastern side of the Island. Nana would have loved the beauty of this spot, a pre-historic ruin on an island where the primary language is still Irish Gaelic. A place where Ireland is still wild and the beauty that God bestowed on it is still untouched by modernity.
- After a long climb down, it was time for another hour of biking up and down hills, second guessing our map skills and hoping for the best. In the end, we figured it out and got back to the ferry with an hour to spare. In that hour, we met a horse, watched a gorgeous sunset, I did a kindness for strangers, someone did one for me and we laughed the whole way back to Galway.
- DAY 8: Shopping, packing and FOOD…basic white girl things.
- Today, we slept in, which meant breakfast at 9:30 instead of 8. After we were all fed and caffinated we headed out to run a few errands. Bank for currency exchanges, pharmacy for contact solution, post office for stamps and shipping questions and a bookstore for shipping supplies. We then headed for shopping. We hit up some jewelry stores and knick knack shops, Aran Wool shops and post card kiosks all before lunch. We grabbed a bite to eat at The King’s Head, a pub and restaurant we had been eyeing all week. A small red building with a warm open front room where a huge fireplace blazed into the biting cool air that accumulates in the foyer. We were ushered into the dining area and we ordered pints. Katie and I chose the two types of cider they had on the menu, Katie’s was more of an apple tasting one, mine was more of a dry and tart one…equally tasty. Moriah went for a Murphy’s which turned out to be a dark brew with a creamy head much like Guinness. It was causing all kinds of smiles and yummy noises from her, so I’m assuming it was tasty. Katie went for a seafood chowder and garlic cheesy toast while Moriah and I went for the King’s Ploughman Sandwich which is made with corned Irish beef and Irish sharp cheddar.
- Our tummies full and our bodies warmed up, we headed back out to finish our shopping. We then headed back to the hostel to pack up the shipping box and send home my boots that caused me too much pain with the miles I walked in them, a few items of clothing that neither myself nor Katie needed with us, most of Katie’s souvenirs, and all of the ones I had purchased so far. Once we got it all packed up, we sent it on its way to my house in Ohio and headed back out for a little exploration.
- We stopped in at Saint Nicholas’ Church, which was built in 1320 and dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Myra, the patron saint of seafarers, in recognition of Galway’s status as a port. It is small, in comparison to the cathedral in Dublin, but its age doesn’t show as much as you would think. It smells damp, and the heavy scent of old stone lingers in the lungs and in the nose. The cool air carries a weight that only moisture can carry and is somehow warm even in its coolness. When I stepped inside I felt what I usually do in old, beautiful churches. Peace, overwhelming peace, comfort and reverence. I quietly, and solely, walked around the outer edges of the church, taking a few photos of the inside, while listening to the fullbodied resonance of the pipe organ. The only other person present in this house of God, besides myself and my two companions, was the organist. He made no sound besides the hymns he played on the pipe organ, worshiping and welcoming all, in a single breath.
- After our quiet visit at the church, we made our way for a light dinner at Finnegan’s, an adorable little spot on the edge of Galway city center, a couple blocks from our hostel. It is housed in Galway’s oldest medieval building. Moriah and I chose to share a bangers and mash (it was delicious) so that we could have room for the gilato we had been thinking about all day.
- In all it wasn’t a particularly eventful day, but we had a blast just chatting, shopping and doing what we do together. Joke, annoy and just be present.
DAY 9: Birds of a Feather…
Today we bid farewell to Galway and are heading back to Dublin. We only connect through Dublin though, as we have to catch a flight from Dublin to Edinburgh. After sleeping in just a smidge, we loaded up our backpacks and headed to the train station, arriving 20 minutes before our train was to board.
We have settled into our seats and back into our usual pattters. Moriah, writing in her journal, Katie listening to music and either letting the train lull her off to a zoned out/sleep, reading or writing in her journal. All while I either read on my tablet, write for the blog, watch a movie on my tablet or just watch the scenery pass by and day dream out the window. Days like this are a much needed reprieve from the busy schedule we have set for ourselves in an attempt to see as much as we possibly can.
Scotland has always been a place I have craved to see. My sister was lucky enough to visit many years ago and she has always said how wonderful it was. A place that is part of my ancestry, I have always felt that it held a piece of me that I had to discover in order to know myself better. I have felt the same about Ireland as well and I believe that I have discovered a little bit more of that part of my being. Perhaps I have this overly romanticised idea of these places, and if that is so then I’m sure part of those romantic dreams will be shattered into a thousand shards and the truth of myself will be discovered in the process.
This is not just a physical journey for me, it is also a way to find myself again, to know myself and allow myself to find inspiration. We must strive forever to be a better version of ourselves, to find inspiration in our own personal history and in the world created for us. We must listen to the song that it sings and feel it within our soul. We were not placed on this earth to be stagnant, unmoving and sad. We are meant to grow, to love, to learn and to share it with the world…and I i ntend to do just that.
So we arrived in Scotland, took a cab to our hostel and got something to eat. Immediately, Scotland felt like coming home. The strangest sensation when you have never visited a place. I had the same feeling in Galway, but didn’t feel this at ease from the moment I stepped out on the streets Edinburgh is so far, my kind of town and Scotland calls to me to stay longer than a week. I will certianly be back…and I’ve been here a few hours. I’ve eaten in one establishment…pizza. And walked down 3 streets. I LOVE IT HERE. I can’t wait to see all that Scotland and Edinburgh has to give us…and to come back with Ben someday soon.
DAY 10: Switching gears…
Today we had plans to see Rosslyn chapel. However that plan fell through when we found out the tour time was not the same as we had and it left without us. The tour company was NOT very helpful, they refused to offer us a refund, saying we should have known and we should have looked at the website to make sure the time wasn’t different. We never received anything from them other than a confirmation of payment, no vouchers or anything, which they say they send. SO, after I talked to them, told them how disappointed I was in their version of customer service, they agreed to allow us to take a different tour, which doesn’t do what we wanted to do, and I will still be complaining to upper management at a later time.
Because of this little detour we decided to do our shopping, or at least the bulk of it, today instead of later. I got just about everything I wanted to get for everyone back home (in California and Ohio) as well something for myself…which I almost never do! I decided that it was time I got myself a nice cashmere scarf. I used to have a cashmere sweater I loved, but it got moth eaten a few years ago. The Scottish are known for their soft and beautiful cashmere, so it was a perfect souvenir for me.
We had had breakfast at the hostel, which was just coffee, toast and fruit, and had a small cheese platter, bread and coffee for lunch at St Giles’ Cafe before shopping, so we decided to see Edinburgh castle. It was stunning! It was also HUGE. There is so much to see, we didn’t manage to see every inch of it. Moriah and I ended up wanting to see the same things so we walked around together. We spent a lot of time, silently walking through the Military Memorial, Margaret’s Chapel (the oldest in Scotland) and also saw the Crown Jewels of Scotland.
It was quite cold today, so Moriah and I decided to check out the Whisky shop and they had a tasting available. It was SO good and warmed us up perfectly, so we decided to each get a small bottle which would be easy to pack in our bag. It is going to be tough not cracking them open when we get cold on the trip!
We chose to go to Deacon Brodie Tavern for dinner, because they weren’t open when we got here last night and were starving. So we made it while they were open and were all set to get something hearty and hot to eat. Katie decided on Mac N Cheese and Garlic bread with hot tea to drink. Moriah and I each chose the Slow Cooked beef with Amber lager and wild mushroom pie wich came with greens and potatoes. I had hot tea too. It was SO good. Especially since they sat us next to the open window. The window had to be open because they have no AC.
By the end of our dinner, it was raining. Cold, windy and raining…yup we are in Scotland. We braved the cold a litltle longer to walk a couple blocks to find a gracery store to get some nasal decongestant since Moriah and I are dealing with some sinus stuff….it is ALLERGIES…we keep telling ourselves that. We have now settled back into our warm hostel for the night, cozied up in jammies and ready to snuggle under the warm covers. Tomorrow we will be on to Stirling Castle.
DAY 11: You take the high road, and I’ll take the low road
Today we met early, 8:40 am, near the Nero Cafe next to St. Giles’ Cathedral for our tour to Loch Lomand, Stirling Castle and Doune (pronounced doon) Castle. Our tour guide’s name was Michael and he looked just like a friend of mine from my days working at Disneyland. I wish I had taken a photo of him to show my friend, but I forgot to by the end of it.
We drove through the Scottish highlands, which was one of the most breathtaking things I have ever seen. Michael played some music for us along the entire tour. Some of it was traditional, bagpipes and the like, and some of it was more modern. All of it was entertaining. I actually knew quite a few of the songs he played, out of maybe 10 I didn’t know 3 or 4.
Our first stop was Loch Lomond and a small town of about 23 people called Balmaha. Our guide walked us down a walking path and upon reaching the banks of the Loch he told us there was a trail along the water’s edge that is much more rocky and narrow. This trail is called The West Highland Way and it stretches for 151 km from Milngavie near Glasgow all the way to Fort William at the base of Ben Nevis. NATURALLY, this meant that I immediately took off down the path, not really waiting for Katie or Moriah. I walked around the corner, out of view of the rest of the group on the dock, and found myself walking a path on the side of the small &cliff& with the hills to my right and the Loch waters, washingup against the rocks below like the ocean lapping at the edges of the shore. By the time I rounded a few more corners and found myself face to face with a bridge suspended over a small divide, the girls had caught up with me. Katie decided to climb down the little divide (it really wasn’t very far and it was a sandy/rocky beach area) and Moriah and I walked across to the other side.
We continued on around a few more corners, and up and down some little steps until we saw a beach stretching out before us. I started to edge my way down the embankment, between rocks and at the end just jumped to the sand/rocks below before making my beeline for the little collection of rocks that I could easily stand on. I got out there quickly and easily, with Katie following right behind. We took a few photos and then Katie went to explore another area of the littel beach while I took a few more photos and Moriah and I collected a couple rocks we found along the water’s edge.
It was so pretty and peaceful, so we decided that it was the perfect view for Nana. With a little prayer, and a loving thought I left a small bit of Nana’s ashes there at the edge of Loch Lomond with a gorgeous view of the Loch.
Katie had already headed back to the bus, afraid to not make it back on time and to handle an issue she was having with her bank card the last 2 days. So Moriah and I headed back a bit behind her and stopped a few times for more photos along the way.
When we got back on the bus and headed towards our next destination, Michael played a song for us that is about Loch Lomond. You’ve probably heard it. I’ve been singing it as long as I can remember. &You take the high road and I’ll take the low road and I’ll be in Scotland before you. But me and my true love will never meet again on the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.& A song about two brothers who were imprisoned and told that one would be set free and the other would die, but they had to choose which was which. The one brother knocked the other over the head and while he was unconcious, the other had made the choice for him, rather than them trying to sacrifice themselves for each other. The &low road& means the road with the &faeries&. When someone dies, the legend has it, that the faerie road through the &other realm& and they take you home to the place you started. So when the brother who was knocked unconcious wakes us, he finds in his pocket a note &You take the high road and I’ll take the low road. And I’ll be in Scotland before you.&
Our next stop was a choice we got to make. The distillery or Doune Castle. The girls and I picked Doune Castle. Doune Castle (pronouced doon) was used in the Outlander series as Castle Leoch and also in Games of Thrones in the pilot episode. (I haven’t seen it so I don’t know what site is was.) It was ALSO used in Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail. (Think Frenchmen on a wall shouting &I blow my nose at you& and &I fart in your general direction!&)
It was stunning. Absolutely stunning. This was the Scotland (along with the Highlands, the whisky, the bagpipes and the food) that I wanted to see. You could FEEL the history in this place. It isn’t a very big castle, not the areas we were permitted to see, but it just left me wanting more.
Our next stop was Stirling Castle. Again, we actually had a choice. We could see the Wallace monument or we could see the castle. The momument would be a great place to visit…if you want to climb the 246 step, narrow spiral staircase after hiking up the massive hill if the shuttle to the base of the monument isn’t running. We opted for the castle.
We had 2 hours here, but Moriah and I didn’t manage to see it all. Katie saw some things that we missed and we saw some stuff she missed, so as a team we managed to see the whole thing. It was amazing. Edinburgh castle was stunning too. But there was something about Stirling that was just…more. We walked along the halls, through the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Museum on the site, through the Bedchambers, the grounds and gardens…it was alive with the echoes of a time long gone. You know that feeling you get when you walk into an old building or a ruin and you can close your eyes and imagine life there in that time? Wherre the weight of it seems to fall on you and if you imagine hard enough you can smell the smells and hear the sounds? That is what it was like there. Impossible to describe adequately, even for a word addict like me.
As the sun was setting and our time was about run out, Moriah and I made our way back to the garden next to the main house and watched as the sun bathed the castle in warm amber light. We found a place between the large tree and the castle, and over the wall, into the wind I sent some of Nana’s ashes. Here she will get to see the beautiful sunsets washing over the Scottish highlands, the roses in the garden as the bloom and the changing colors on the large tree beside the castle.
Upon arriving back in Edinburgh the girls and I went back to Deacon Brodie’s for dinner, this time ordering different food. Well, Moriah and I had fish and chips and Katie had their mac n cheese and garlic bread again because she said it was that good. The service is slow, they are nice but forget to bring you things a lot and they take forever even when they remember. But the food is really good. We stopped into &The Filling Station& for a whisky to warm us up and the bartender, a cute young guy with a rich Scottish burr in his voice and a sweet smile (the girls were quite taken by him) suggested Talisker for me. It was strong but GOOD. Had a nice woody, smokey flavor!
Then we decided to take one of the “ghost” tours of the underground vaults in the city. It was really neat actually. They took us to the Mercat Cross a place where they would hold markets and public executions. We then went down a close (alleyway) where they would leave plague victims. Sometimes they would wall up a close on each end and leave the 300-500 people who lived there to die together if they found people with the plague in the close. Then they took us under the city, underneath the bridge to show us some of the vaults. People lived in there! It was also used for storage, manufacturing, gambling, smuggling, prostetution and other nefarious things. Certainly a place and period of time I’d be interested in studying more. (That sounds terrible I know, but I’ve always had an interest in history and how societies dealt with sickness in times before modern medicine.)
We returned to our hostel for a good night’s rest. Tomorrow is our final day in Edinburgh. I have loved this city and all its surrounding areas. I’m certainly going to be coming back here.
Day 12: How do you do, let’s shake hands….
Today was our last day in Edinburgh, well our last full day anyways. We all chose to sleep in and get some much needed rest before we pop to several different cities in a matter of a couple days. The sun shone through the large window opposite my bed and I was up and moving by half past 8. I used this quiet time to watch the sun grow warmer outside and to write a bit before Moriah and Katie blinked awake. We were literally the last to leave our room for the day.
The three of us decided to get an early lunch instead of a late breakfast and chose to check out one of the places we had passed a couple times called The Jolly Judge. It was a cute little pub that served lunch and was tucked at the end of a close (which is what the Scottish call alleyways). I chose an open face chese sandwich and a hot toddy. All warmed up and no longer starving, Katie wanted to the the hike to Arthur’s seat, which is a hike up to 823 feet that overlooks the city in a panoramic view. It was described by Robert Louis Stevenson as &a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design.& Some theories to the origin of the name claim that the hill was the location of Camelot. Tradition says that it was at the foot of Arthur’s Seat that Scotland’s 12th century king, David I, encountered a stag while out hunting and thinking he would be gored, he had a vision of a cross appearing between the animal’s antlers before it truned away from him without harming him. David I believed that his life had been spared by God and founded Holyrood Abbey on the spot.
While Katie was exploring this beautiful spot, Moriah chose to explore more of Edinburgh and locate some candybars my sister has been missing since her visit to Edinburgh nearly 20 years ago. (We did find them by the way.) Moriah and I walked around the Royal Mile (which we had done a bit of during our days here) and popped in and out of shops looking for some last minute souvenirs for my family. While we were checking out on shop, we were greeted by a young man in a kilt. Not an uncommon sight or happening here in Scotland by any means. All are friendly and helpful, but this young man was quite interested in talking to us. So, being the friendly types we are, Moriah and I spent a good deal of time talking to Rob and hearing all about his trip he took to the US with his band and sharing our experiences on our travels.
After chatting for nearly an hour, Moriah and I headed out to check out the shop Rob had suggested that I try for the Daim bars my sister missed and sure enough, they had them! After another shop or two, Moriah and I decided that we needed some coffee and so we went to the coffee shop that Rob had suggested we try, which made a pretty darn good latte. Rob joined us on his break and the three of us chatted and visited while we warmed back up from the chilly weather.
As we were leaving, Moriah was unable to find her key for the hostel and so we had to try to figure out where she might have dropped it. On our way back to the hostel, thinking she may have left it on her bed, we decided to check the first place we went after leaving the hostel this morning and sure enough, the Jolly Judge had her key! All was not lost and so we went back to exploring the city. We ducked into a close and happened across the Writer’s Museum and being one of those awesome kitschy places, we felt the quiet awe we get in museums as wel stood mere inches away from things that belonged to Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott. We were in writer nerd heaven to say the least.
We popped into a few last minute stores and on the corner before crossing the final street to our hostel, Moriah saw some dresses in a window and we had to duck in to check them out. She ended up buying an adorable dress for 70% off the original price!
We met Katie at the hostel and heard all about her day in the National Museum, a bookstore and then Arthur’s Seat before we headed out to one of the little pub/bistros on our street. We chose the Castle Arms Bistro for dinner and I got the girls to try fried haggis. I ordered Yorkshire Pudding for dinner and a side salad that was HUGE and had one drink after dinner before we all returned home to pack up our freshly washed laundry and rearrange our things for our early train to Inverness in the morning.
Come along Nana, we are off to Inverness!
DAY 13: You just gotta roll with it!
So, we got up early and got a cab to the train station, Edinburgh Waverley station. We arrived an hour early and settled into some seats in the waiting area where we could see the board with the times and platforms. At 7 minutes before departure time, they finally put up the platform, #16. A bunch of us rushed to the train and got on. We watched the time pass by and when the train was supposed to have departed 10 minutes ago, I watched the stations tick by on the ticker in the train and realized that Inverness was not on the ticker. I got off the train as did two other women and asked an employee which train was the Inverness train. It turned out that the train to Inverness was only the first half of the train and it left without about 8 of us.
We ended up being put on a different train that left an hour later and that required a connection, even though we had purposely chosen a direct train so that we could avoid connecting. We caught the train from the correct platform thanks to the nice Scottish ladies that missed the train with us and made our connection in Perth with them as well. After a long day on the train we arrived at the Inverness station and walked the couple blocks to our hostel.
After checking into our comically small room, equipped with very small lockers stacked nearly behind the door, allowing for barely enough room for the door to open. It also has 2 bunk beds that take up the only other two walls, one of which is already taken up by a window. Thankful that it is only the three of us in this tiny space for one night, we set out to check out inverness. We stopped in for some lunch then started shopping for some postcards to send home and located the castle, all lit up at night. It was stunning.
We started back to the hostel and decided to order some pizza from Domino’s (very Scottish, I know…but Katie wanted Domino’s) … then we settled back in at the hostel in the common room and had our pizza and wine while watching a movie.
Tomorrow we are off to check out the Castle and Culloden Battlefield before we head to Glasgow tomorrow evening. It is a short stay here in Inverness, but we will have a taste to keep our interest and desire to come back!
DAY 14: Our blood is still our fathers, and ours the valour of their hearts….
Today, we saw Culloden Battlefield.
It was cold, it was windy and it was overcast.
Places like this always touch me, deep within the confines of my soul and pull at my heart. The sides don’t matter, the loss of life and the valiant passion with which they fought for their causes tugs at the heartstrings and plays a sorrowful song. It is impossible for me to stand in a place like this and not feel the weight of the moments that passed here, the pain and the loss, the triumph and the defeat. It is not unlikely that somewhere in my own ancestry we lost people in this battle. My father’s family can be traced back to the Scottish Highlands and the Shetland Islands back to the 1500s (we are still making our way back through the geneology).
To imagine that it is possible to have a tie to such a huge part of history (here, in Ireland, Germany or the USA) makes places like this echo through my very bones and ignights a longing in me to touch more of it, feel more of it and live more of it.
I have always been a lover of stories, true and fictional. I’ve also always felt the pull towards the very threads that have been woven through time and generations in the tapestry of my very being. Each thread is a piece of me, how I came to be and each one intrigues me. I want to know the pasts that have created my parents, grandparents and so on…it is a thirst that I do not know if I can ever fully quench. My parents both have a passion for history and I spent a lot of my childhood in museums, watching the history channel and imagining what it may have been like &way back when&.
Today I discovered that these things drive my stories. Each story I write has some piece of myself in it. A thread of my tapestry is laced into the premise of every story that flows from my mind and onto the page. I think perhaps this is why I tend to say &writing is like bleeding your soul onto paper&. For me it is a pouring out of my very being, in some way or another. It makes me wonder if writing is what I should study for a Master’s Degree or if History & Folklore would be a better choice for me…specializing in these various threads…German, Viking, Scottish & Irish. It is certainly something to consider…it is always what I seem to come back to in my thoughts, my reading and my writing.
We are now on a train…for the next 3 hours…on our way from Inverness to Glasglow. So I have 3 more hours to reflect on the magnitude of what I saw today, what thoughts it ignighted in me and how this entire trip has so greatly impacted my heart.
Day 15: I’ve been here before…
Glasgow – Well we arrives super late after being on the train for several hours last night and checked into our Hostel. The night manager gave us our room, but because they don’t count the day as starting at 0:00 / 12 am we had to pay to sleep this morning, as well as sleep tonight. SIGH The night manager here looks like a sour, bitter lady and she barked and grouches at you when you disagree or question her. She did put us in the room we were supposed to be in for both &nights& so there was that, but I think she did it to keep me from complaining. The girls and I were just glad when we got up to our 9th floor room that we got a view of the river and a clean bed to sleep in.
We got up this morning and started to make our way around town. My first impression of Glasgow was that it feels really familiar. It is like downtown LA without as much traffic or even like Columbus when you venture downtown on a cold, wet early winter day. We decided that we would make our way to get something to eat first, then we headed to the Necropolis.
It sound macabre, I know, but I find cemeteries peaceful. Moriah and I both find this to be true, so we tend to walk in nearly complete silence in the same area as each other, just taking photos or reading the markers we pass.
Next to Glasgow Cathedral (which we couldn’t go into because it was closed…Moriah and I were very sad) there are wrought iron gates, painted a glossy black with golden details all over them which opens to a long walkway that passes over a cool old bridge that spans over the road below. At the end of the bridge is the Necropolis, a cemetery that winds its way up a large hill. The hill offers stunning views of the city below, as well as the cathedral as the sun begins to set and it is bathed in light.
Katie went right down the path while Moriah and I made our way left and up a huge hill to the top of the cemetery where we found huge monuments and old mausoleums. We walked around for a little over an hour before we found Katie again and took or usual &selfie& of the three of us and headed back towards to cathedral to take more photos of it in twilight.
We made our way back to town ,stopping at a few stores and at St. George’s square before heading to our hostel. On or way back we discussed changing our train tickets so that we could leave Glasgow a little earlier than we had planned so that we could get some better rest in Edinburgh before our BIG travel day. After we had dinner in the restaurant on the ground floor of our hostel, we changed our 9pm train tickets to 1pm tickets and changed the hostel we had booked in Edinburgh to one that is across the street from the train station, allowing us an easier treck to the hostel.
Tomorrow will be a busy day, but now it won’t be crazy. We will have time to get any last second souvenirs, a good meal and a good night’s sleep before leaving for the airport at 6am for our 8am flight to Dublin, followed by a train ride to Belfast.
I enjoyed Glasgow. It is a college town with a lot of theaters and galleries. It is someplace I would love to visit again and spend more time here. Until next time Glasgow…
DAY 16: The right train or the wrong train?
So we woke and packed our things up and Moriah and I headed down to our breakfast buffet while Katie caught up on some more sleep. The breakfast was hot and plentiful. Sausage, eggs, bacon, toast, yogurt, fruit, cheese, lunch meat, cereal, tea, coffee and juices. WAY better than the coffee and toast we have been having each morning so far unless we venture out to a coffee shop and pay 4 or 5 pounds for a breakfast sandwhich.
So after we ate, we joined Katie in our room and finished gathering our stuff and made our way to the station for our train back to Edinburgh. Last night I had called and changed our tickets from an 8 pm train to a 1 pm train. We arrived early to the station, mailed our postcards, grabbed some coffee and sat down for the hour and a half wait. We kept watching the train board and finally saw the listing for the 13:03 train to Edinburgh but never saw the 13:00 one to Edinburgh. We assumed that there had been a change or delay so we found the platform and boarded the train. This time ensuring that we were on the right number of coaches because once again they were splitting the train! We asked two different people and were told that YES the first two cars are going to Edinburgh. So we get on and look for our reserved seats, but can’t find them so we just sit down.
As the ticket guy starts coming down the aisle, one of the gentlemen who told us that we were getting on the right train is told by the ticket guy that he is on the wrong train. Of course my ears perk up at this and I hear that he was supposed to get on the 1:00 train and this is the 1:03 train. When the guy comes to us he tells us the same thing. It turns out that we were supposed to get on the 1:00 train to Plymouth. However, when I talked to Scotrail on the phone last night, they didn’t tell me this, nor did we see any indication that we needed to do this when we got to the station and watched for the platform to come up.
After talking with the ticket guy on the train though, he said that our best bet is to just stay on this train and get off in Edinburgh but to be more careful when we travel by train next time so that we don’t get on the wrong service again. The train we are on isn’t a crosscountry service and we paid for a crosscountry service. Interestingly though, this train is 5 pounds more than the one we paid for.
Well we will arrive in Edinburgh at 2pm and check into our new hostel. We changed from the one we booked to a different one that is across the street from the station so that tomorrow morning it won’t be ridiculous to get to the airport at 6:30am. It will be nice to have one last evening in Edinburgh and see those streets and shops that have become familiar to us.
Come along Nana….we’ve lots to see!
Day 17: Edinburgh calling…
We arrived in Edinburgh from our earlier train and decided to do a little walking around and last minute shopping. Have I said before that I just LOVE this city? It just feels like a home away from home for me. There are still so many things that I want to see. The way the city sounds and smells, the soft burr of the Scottish accents fill my ears and echo through my mind…familiar, comforting….I’m coming back. We walked up and then back down a huge hill towards the Royal Mile twice before heading back up to find something to eat. We chose the same pizza place we had eaten at our very first night in Edinburgh. The food was delicious and Moriah and I each had a beer too. We ventured around the Royal Mile a little bit more and then headed towards the Hostel for some more stops in a couple shops along the way. We walked across the river and then down the block and up another street back towards the hostel for a change of clothes and then to meet our friend Rob for drinks in the bar/bistro below our hostel.
Rob met up with us and we had a good deal of fun. Katie didn’t plan on joining us but decided to come down for a bit. She then went back up to go to bed and Moriah and I headed to the bar next door to listen to the band with Rob. We closed that one down and then I went to bed but Moriah and Rob went for a walk, returning in less than an hour.
We all headed to bed. We have an early flight tomorrow. Come along Nana….Belfast is next!
Day 18: A Whole New World….
After an early morning cab ride to the airport, an hour flight to Dublin, a pass through security and customs, we made our way by train for just over 2 hours to Belfast. The train was crowded and there was another lady sitting in the open seat at the table we were assigned. She was nice, but it made the already crampted quarters of our train a bit tighter.
As the beautiful countryside whizzed by outside the windows, we read, played games on our devices and wrote in journals the whole way. As we pulled into Belfact Central station I looked at the booking information on our email and they suggested taking the train on the other platform back one station to Botanic because the Hostel was just a 10 minute walk away from the station.
After getting to the hostel and getting checked in we decided that we needed to get something to eat and once we had done that, we realized just how exhausted we were from traveling all day. So, we settled in and went to bed relatively early with plans for a late morning heading out to the Titanic museum the next day.
Day 19: They said she was nearly unsinkable…
I was up at 8 am…but the girls were so incredibly tired that I just let them sleep. They woke up around 10 and we got ready for our day. After lunch we headed to the Titanic Museum.
Overwhelming, that is best way that I can describe this place. It was huge. Lots of artifacts and models. They had a ride, yes a ride.It was set up a bit like Peter Pan at Disneyland and they tell you how the ship was built through the eyes of those who built her. Different voices telling about which job they did and what it was like. They had replicas of first, second and third class staterooms too.
Then we went into an area where they talk about the sinking and how it happened. They play first hand accounts from survivors in another room. It was heartbreaking to hear.
Moriah and I then headed to the theater room they had set up with a film about the discovery of the wreck and an interactive touchscreen exhibit where you could explore the debri field.
Moriah and I then headed down to the gift shop where Katie was already checking out and made our way around all the goodies before making our purchases, mailing some postcards and heading outside to the diagram that was lit up of both the Titanic and the Odyssy (her sister ship) were built. We walked the length of what would have been her decks and I pointed out a few things to Moriah about the Titanic that she didn’t know. After taking a ton of photos, of course, we headed back to the train station to make our way home.
We had a good dinner and then tucked ourselved into bed for our very early pick up time of 9am for our Black Cab tour.
Come along Nana, we’re seeing the Antrim coast tomorrow!
Day 20: In the Footsteps of Finn McCool
At 9am we were picked up by Peter, our tourgide/driver from Paddy Campbell’s Black Cab Tours. We were greeted warmly and he had our names down in mere minutes. We sat in the back of the cab, the 4 of us, as we went over the plans for the day. He brought along a thurmos of hot tea, snacks and chocolate for us as well.
We started with a tour of Belfast. He took us to the Crown Bar and told us the story of the husband and wife who opened it. She wanted to put the crown above the door and he wanted to put it on the ground &so people could tip their had on the way in& then told his friends &wipe your feet on the crown on the way in& because he wasn’t for the British Crown.
Peter told us about how Belfast is peaceful now but that the city is segregated by Catholic and Protestant. There is literally a wall between the two sides that is closed by huge gates on the weekends and only open during business hours for those that have to cross sides for a job. He told us that the wall was supposed to be temporary and it technically is. You will not find it on any maps and visitors to the city are often seen looking at google maps trying to find their way around the wall. It went up, and then they added to it a couple decades later to try to keep the molotov cocktails and stones from being thrown over onto houses. In 2004 they added a third section on top of that one. The molotov cocktails aren’t thrown anymore, but you can see the scorch marks from them. On the Protestant side, under the scorch marcks and dents from stones, the entire length of the wall is decorated in grafiti. Quotes from the Dalai Lama, Bill Clinton and others adorn the wall, now on metal plaques. People are encouraged to add their names to the wall and so Peter gave us each a pen and we added our names. Katie added a celtic symbol she likes, Moriah wrote her name and some hearts and a peace sign. I picked a spot by Moriah that was open and added mine: &Above all…love one another& and then signed my name and put the date 11/13/16.
Peter took us to the old IRA headquarters and showed us several murals around Belfast before we headed to the highway to make our way to the next part of our day. It was certainly interesting to see first hand some of the things I remember from when I was growing up. The IRA was still a major threat and traveling to Belfast was not safe for a good part of my childhood.
We then made our way to the Dark Hedges…a length of road with gorgeous Beech trees that bend and twist to create a tunnel. It was lovely and eery at the same time. There is a hollowed out tree that we all wanted to try to get into. Katie had a tricky time getting in, but she managed to get in there. Moriah slid in easily, being the bean pole out of the three of us, but being the tallest as well, she had to bend her knees a bit to not rack her head on the inside. Then I tried to get in….it didn’t work. My right boob got smooshed and banged up a little and after having surgery on them already, I chose not to bruise myself to get into a tree.
Then it was on to the Carrick-A-Rede Bridge, a rope bridge that spans a divide from the main land to a small island. It costs just over 5 pounds to cross but is a 1km walk up and down hills to get to it. We set out with excitement to make our way across the bridge. When we finally arrived we had to climb down very steep, metal steps that were more of a ladder than stairs to the rope bridge below. We quickly made our way across without looking at much but what was ahead and got to the other side. We walked the tiny bit of trail that was open and then turned around to go back across. We then had to walk the 1km back to the car park where Peter was waiting. The bridge was cool, and I would say I would do it again, but I don’t think it is a must see. It isn’t something that you will be sad if you missed it I don’t think. It isn’t as long as I thought it was going to be. It is high, which is a fear of mine, but it wasn’t as high as the other stuff we have done on this trip. Moriah and I both felt that it was cool, but not as impressive as we had thought it would be.
Then we made our way to the Giant’s Causeway. On the way, Peter told us the story of how the Causeway was formed. Science will tell you, he said, that the causeway was formed millions of years ago by a volcano. BUT, the locals will tell you, the Irish will tell you the truth…he said with that typical twinkle in his eye you see in the good storytellers at a celi. He told us about the giant, Finn McCool (Fionn MacCumhain) and the Scottish giant, Benadonner. They would shout and argue back and forth about who was tougher and the other things that guys often do. However neither one could swim so they couldn’t cross to fight each other. So Finn decided to build a causeway. He put the pillars in the water, creating a road over to Scotland. He crossed and in seeing Benadonner he realized that the Scottish Giant was 3 times his own size! He went back to Ireland and told his wife they had to leave or they would both surely die. She told him to calm down and started to take wood and built a cradle. She put Finn in the cradle and put a bonnet on his head, tucking him in with a blanket and a bottle of beer. Finn fell asleep and Benadonner came storming into their house calling him out. Finn’s wife shooshed him and told him that if he woke her baby she would kill him. He asked again for Finn and she told him that he was out working, but would be back. She gave him tea and he set himself down to wait for Finn. He saw the baby in the cradle with a beard and asked who that was. Finn’s wife said that it was Finn Junior. Benadonner stood up and said that if that was the baby, he didn’t want to meet Finn. Benadonner stormed out of the house and across the causeway, breaking it up as he went so that Finn could never cross and fight him.
We arrived at the Causeway and went into a pub for some lunch and our first Guinness in Ireland. It is so much better here….and I like my Guinness. Moriah and I each had one, Katie had a Coffee with Brandy. We each ordered some food to fill our tummies and then headed down to the causeway stones. Once we arrived we each kind of went our own ways. The stones were seriously slippery in areas but at one point Moriah and I found each other again and took a couple selfies on the stones. We found a good spot for Nana and I got some of her ashes out before tossing her over the stones and the water below. Moriah went to explore some more and I sat on a mostly dry stone to take some photos and just sit and think about Nana for a bit.
When I climbed back to the turnaround for the bus, I found Moriah and we agreed that it was time to head back up and use the toilets. We waited for two or three buses, hoping to find Katie but then decided that it might be best to head up because she might already be up at the top. So, we boarded the bus headed for the visitor center, thinking Katie was already up there since she often walks around on her own and ends up back at the starting point/gift shop before we do. We found the toilets and then made our way to the gift shop but not Katie. We watched the sunset and I mailed some postcards before we headed back to the cab to find Peter but not Katie as we had hoped. After a few minutes, Katie returned to the car. She had waited at the bottom for 20 minutes trying to find us. Oops, we thought she was already back at the top and she thought we were still at the bottom.
We made the long journey back to the hostel and grabbed some dinner before heading to bed.
It has been an adventure and a wonderful trip. Tomorrow it is an easy day, a walk to the city center, shopping and a train to Dublin.
Day 21: Girls on foot
As the sun rose over Belfast, we loaded up our packs and checked out of our hostel. We had a train to catch at 4 pm so we were able to leave our bags in the luggage room at the hostel and head towards the city center of Belfast for some last minute sightseeing and some last second souvenirs from this lovely city. We decided to go mapless as our maps were packed in our larger backpacks as keepsakes. This wasn’t all that difficult to be honest. Just like in Dublin, Belfast has directional signs which guide you around the city to popular or important places like train stations and shopping centers.
We had a few hours but it took about 10-15 minutes to walk to the center and then after shopping and eating, we headed back, grabbed our bags and then headed one station back to Belfast Central station to catch our train bound for Dublin.
Again, we arrived about an hour early for that train. In Scotland, they consistantly waited until 5 or less minutes before the train was set to depart to give the platform information. In Ireland, and Northern Ireland, they have the platform information posted way before. We arrived and already knew what platform we were going to need to be on for our departure. We had time to grab some snacks, charge our devices and relax before our train.
The train was PACKED as usual and there was a young woman sitting in the open seat at our table. When she saw all our gear, she cose to move to another seat instead being squeezed in with us. We didn’t need her to move, but it certainly made it more comfortable for us and her. It was another long train ride with the gorgeous countryside whizzing by.
The countryside is just as you would imagine. Photos do not do it justice and I’m afraid that even in my penchant for adjectives, I would fail miserably at painting such a stunning scene. Imagine the greenest of greens, in 15 varying shades and tones, competing textures and rolling hills with ribbons of silver waterways, dotted with creamy white houses and clouds of cottony sheep. The air is different, indescribeably wet, fresh and grassy…like the freshest goat cheese you can imagine.
We had just over 2 hours of this before we pulled into the station at Dublin Connolly Station. A taxi driver directed us the two blocks to our hostel and we settled in before heading out to meet up with my pen pal of 10 years, Brendan, at a pub called The Cobblestone for some pints.
Brendan was awesome and told us how to get there by the Tram and so we headed over to the station a couple blocks away (we could have caught it a block away, but we didn’t know that). The wind was whipping and the moisture was pretty bad, so my hair was acurly, frizzy mess.
We got to The Cobblestone at 8 and it was packed, on a Monday. We quickly realized that with the exception of the staff and the musicians, everyone was was not Irish. Brendan arrived and we immediately started chatting and drinking pints of Guinness. He introduced us to his favorite crisps (chips to us Americans) and then we headed to another pub where his dad used to take him when he was younger. They serve toasties at all hours, while most pubs stop serving food much earlier. We hadn’t eaten dinner, so the ham and cheese toasties were absolutely perfect.
The pub had a dog as their little mascot of sorts and he was the cutest thing ever. Greeting all the patrons and patiently waiting to see if scraps were dropped by anyone. We ended up closing down the pub and said our goodbyes with Brendan with plans to meet up the next day before his classes in the evening.
We ave 2 more full days in Dublin…we have some minor things planned and then it is back to the real world for us. Back to the daily grind.
Come along Nana, we have one more adventure left…then we can rest.
Day 22: Kilmainham Goal & The Easter Uprising 1916
Today, Moriah and I got up a bit early and headed to the pizza place down the street for a 4 Euro lunch which consists of a fresh slice pizza and a can of soda pop. We then headed out into the city to do some shopping for souvenirs before meeting up with Katie back at the hostel to catch the tram to Kilmainham Goal (a jail that is no longer in use as a detainment facility but is now a museum).
The jail is most famous for housing those who were executed for the Easter Uprising in 1916. We were taken to the chapel where Joseph Plunkett was allowed to marry his fiancee before being returned to his cell. They were permitted to spend just 10 minutes together, in his cell, prior to his execution by firing squad. We stood on the same floor they stood in 1916, and were able to see inside his cell through a small hole in the door.
The prison was also a place where many people chose to live during the potato famine. It was a place where people knew they would be guaranteed something to eat, even if very meager, a cold and damp place to sleep that was at least out of the streets and the most severe of the elements. The jail housed far beyond capacity in this time, and women and children often lived in the corridors instead of in cells. The jail housed petty thieves to murderers. The youngest inmate was a 5 year old boy who had stolen something, I don’t remember what it was…I’ll have to look that up.
After spending time in these older sections of the prison they took us to the panopticon which was build in the Victorian era. There, we saw more cells that housed the well known inmates over her years of operation. This included the very last inmate to leave the prison in 1923, who later became the president of Ireland and opened her doors as a museum following her renovation and restoration. In this area, on the ground floor, we also saw Mrs. Joseph Plunkett’s cell where she was housed in the 1920s. We were not able to go into her cell, however we were able to view the cell through the hole in the door. When doing this we could see on the back wall of the cell, a mural that she painted that has been restored/recreated.
The Panopticon is a large, long room with a rounded end on one side and three levels of cells. Down the center, there is a large staircase which connects to walkways that span from one side of the panopticon to the other. There is a single walkway for each level of cells, as well as a narrow walkway outside of the cells. This allows for easy viewing of every cell by the guards. If you haven’t read the book Panopticon then do it, you will understand entirely how this set up works. It is the same in the film In the Name of the Father. At the other end there is a spiral staircase where guards can walk up to any level as well as a staircase that extends down into the basement where women and children who were sentanced to hard labor worked in the laundries and kitchens. Throughout the panopticon are large manhole covers in the floors. Our guide told us that these were covered by bars or grates which would allow the steem to rise into the room and heat the entire wing.
We were then guided outside into one of the exercise yards and then followed her into another area where there was a plaque with all the names of the men who were executed in that yard in 1916. The names were listed in the order in which their executions took place. The final name on the list, James Connolly, was born in Scotland to Irish parents. All the men were executed by firing squad on one end of the yard. They were blindfolded with their hands bound behind their backs and a white sash placed over their heart. A wooden cross marks the place where their executions took place. Visitors often leave flowers here. James Connolly, however was executed on the other side of the courtyard. His execution was quite controversial. He was already sick, weak and dying from wounds that he sustained and it was considered unneccessary to execute him by many people. However, he was brought in through a door on one side of the yard and seated nearby, tied to the chair, blind folded and then executed by firing squad. Two of the men involved were not executed at the prison, their sentences were carried out elsewhere.
The prison was overwhelming and extremely interesting. After a long day, we headed back towards the hostel and got some dinner at Supermac’s. Tomorrow is our final day in Dublin. We just plan to do some shopping and a tiny bit of sight-seeing before catching dinner at the same place we got our first meal of our trip.
Day 23: Who said you could rain on my parade?!?
We got up early today and headed to the Art Cafe on the corner by our hostel. We are staying at Isaac’s Hostel this time round in Dublin. Interestingly, our hostel is on the same block at the one we stayed in the first time we were in Dublin at the start of our trip. That time, we stayed in Paddy’s Palace. Now, that hostel was miserable. Everything was constantly wet, smelled of mould, the showers were gross and growing with mould as well. Our bedding always smelled musty and felt slightly damp. The floors were dirty and our room smelled of dirty gym socks, body oder and bad breath to mix with the ever present bouquet of various moulds. There were no outlets in or near the bathrooms other than for shavers, only 2 in the entire room that slept 14 people.
Isaac’s, however, provided clean and dry rooms with non-mouldy bedding or walls. We had separate shower and bathroom facilities for men and women as well, something we didn’t have at Paddy’s Palace. Our room was a little stuffy, but we could correct that by opening our window, which we did. Our roommates at first were a woman from Ireland, who has been living in New Zeland for the last 7 years and was home to visit family and friends and the other was a young man named Johnathan from Australia who started his trip in London and had made his way to Ireland. He checked in the same day we did. Also in our room was a mirror with an outlet under it as well as an outlet between the beds. This room slept 6 of us. In the hallway, there were long mirrors with counter space and multiple outlets so that those of us who shower in the morning, and then need to use styling devices for our hair don’t wake everyone up. By far I would say that I would tell people to stay at Isaac’s over Paddy’s. The staff was helpful and friendly at both places, but the conditions at Isaac’s is much better.
But I digress…..
We stopped at Art Cafe to have an Irish breakfast and some hot tea before we got on our way to do our last gallavanting around Dublin. Katie wanted to see Dublinia, a Viking museum about their influence on Dublin and Ireland (I believe. You will have to read her post to know exactly what it was about.) and Moriah and I, though interested in the museum, chose not to spend the 7 Euro to go in and headed to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to buy a few last souvenirs. When we were done there, we headed towards our meeting place with Katie, Chester Beatty Library. We had an hour to spare before our meeting time of 2 pm, so Moriah and I popped into a couple shops and stopped into a cafe for some hot tea and free wifi. With 20 minutes left until meeting, we headed over to the library, which is more of a museum of books and art. We didn’t see Katie so we headed into the gift shop and after about 10-15 minutes in there we messaged Katie to tell her we were in the gift shop so we could meet up when she got there. She must have walked in just after we made our way into the gift shop because she replied that she was upstairs in the exhibit already.
Moriah and I made our way up and joined Katie in the exhibit. We saw papyri that dated back to 100 AD! Illuminated texts from various religious sects, the history of book making, the methods used by different regions of the world as well as different eras were all present. There was a section where they demonstrated Asian calligraphy as well and it made me miss those lessons. It might be something I pick back up I think. My calligraphy has gotten really rusty, to a point where I can’t say I would call it calligraphy anymore. HAHAHA.
After the library, Katie was not feeling too well so she decided to head back to the hostel and rest while Moriah and I went tea and snack shopping with Brendan. We were meeting up at 4pm at the Spire in the city center and the weather decided to turn.
The day had been really windy, but the humidity was down and though it was very cold, it was otherwise sunny, clear and beautiful. Until now…
It began raining, large cold raindrops…
As we were waiting for Brendan we ducked into the GPO (General Post Office) where the bulk of the fighting in 1916 began. It was neat to see some of the display they had while we waited out of the wet and cold for Brendan.
When he arrived we made out way through the city to some shops where he said we could find his favorite crisps, which he had sent to him when he lived in Canada and Los Angeles because you can’t get them there. He also introduced us to some of his favorite chocolates so that we could share them with our families, and directed us to the best tea.
Brendan took us to a pub that used to be a church. The pub is called The Church and still has the pipes from the organ on the inside. Very pretty inside for sure. We then walked over to a courtyard area where there have been a number of suicides and used to be a place where a graveyard was.
It was then time to say goodbye to Brendan, so he rode with us on the tram to our stop, which was also by his college. After we all prolonged the saying goodbye as long as we could it was time for the real farewell with hugs and Moriah and I made our way to our hostel around the corner.
I had thought it would be nice if we had our final meal in Dublin at the same place we had our first meal, so we headed over to J.W. Sweetman’s for dinner. It had stopped raining by the time we headed to dinner, but it was still incredibly windy and cold. We made our way over and found a table on the second level as it was quite busy. Katie wasn’t very hungry, so she ordered a Calypso Coffee and the Cheese Platter for two, which had a large assortment of cheese, fruit, sweet relish and crackers. Moriah and I decided to share the pie of the day which was a turkey and bacon pie with mash (which is mashed potatoes), mixed veg (which is mixed steamed vegetables), onion rings and then each got a side salad. Moriah decided to have one more Guinness and I had water.
We ROLLED ourselves out of the restaurant and made our way back to the hostel for a good night’s sleep. Moriah’s eye had been hurting all day because she had forgotten the tablet that you have to add to the contact solution here and ended up putting her contact in her eye basically drenched in hydrogen peroxcide. By the end of the day, it was bothering her so much and she was in pretty excruciating pain. She had been flushing it with saline all day, but even without a contact in for more than a few seconds, and lots of flushing it out, her night was pretty miserable but she was a trooper and barely complained all day.
Tomorrow is our flight back to the USA…I’m ready to see my husband and kids, my four legged boogerbutts and to sleep in my own bed…but I’m not sure I want the adventure to end.
Come along with us…..it is time to reflect and head home.
Day 24: May the good Lord bless and keep you, whether near or far away…
Today, Moriah woke after an exceptionally rough night. I’ll let her tell you all about it, but neither of us got much sleep. We all got up early and grabbed a cab to the airport. We decided to check our large backpacks for the return flight so that we could ensure that they would fit on the plane. With all the extra souvenirs and stuff, our bags were heavier and bulkier than they were on the way out, and it was tough to get the overhead bins to close on the way out. Poor Moriah’s eye was still bothering her, so I had her flush it again but with just cold clean water, then I taped her eye shut and put gauze over it to make a sort of eye patch for her. She was still so miserable and they put us through security twice as well as through customs on this end.
By the time we got to our gate, Katie and I had Moriah stay with our stuff so that we could get her some water and something to eat before getting some medicine in her. Katie and I waited in what felt like a half hour line for a couple bottles of water, diet cokes and then I got a muffin for Moriah and I and Katie got herself a brownie. It was just enough to hold us over until they will be feeding us on the plane. We got boarded and situated in our seats, only to have the plane not leave. We ended up delayed because someone….chose not to fly with us today and their companion chose to remain off with them, so their luggage has to be removed from the cargo for security reasons. It took a good 20 minutes for them to locate all of these people’s luggage and to get us on our way. Now, we are cruising along with only 3:26 left of our 7 hr flight.We have been fed lunch, and now we are just waiting it all out in the near darkness of the cabin.
This trip has been a real adventure. I always wanted to backpack Europe when I graduated college. However, at the end of my Sophomore year, at the age of 18, I chose a different path. The path still took me overseas…but to Japan, and I got two of the most wonderful, talented and amazing kids out of that path. I didn’t think that my path would mean divorce at 24 let alone being remarried at 30 to the one my heart was meant for, the one that God had intended for me all along. It was an amazing surprise to find out that that dream that I had had to backpack Europe after graduation wasn’t completely gone. It was 20 years later than I had intended, but I still got to do it.
The things that we have seen, these lovely young ladies I am so incredibly blessed to call my best friends, have grown us as individuals and allowed us to draw closer to each other. I feel completely blessed to share this experience with them. They are the best of me and the worst of me, as your best friends should be. We have gotten on each other’s last frayed and dying nerve, cried tears together, healed hurt feelings and gotten to know more about ourselves than we knew before.
Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland will forever be places that I treasure and crave to experience again and again, I will carry with me memories and pieces of this journey until the last of my breath has left my lungs. The sights, the smells and tastes, the way each city and people sound…the sensation of standing in places older than the country I call my home will forever resound in my core. It is strange how places that are part of your ancestry can feel like home and be so familiar when you have never seen them firsthand. This sensation is so much stronger once you actually touch them. There are so many more places in these wonderful countries that I want to see and experience, so I know that I will be back. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
I have had a fire lit in me to dive deeper into my family’s history and to eventually find the places where we started and visit those too. But I find that this experience has also made me consider the options that I have for Graduate programs. I always thought that I would stay in the Writing field or maybe consider Journalism, but the truth is, I don’t have to have a Master’s Degree in writing to be a writer…I’m a writer now and I was a writer before I completed my Bachelor’s Degree. I have a few ideas on where I might focus my studies, but I’m not settled on that yet. Do I ever seem to actually settle in my life? Have I ever setled on anything ever? Why start now right?
A vagabond spirit runs through my veins and laces with the gypsy soul, dancing along with my hippie heart towards the next adventure.
On this trip I got to stand in places that my wonderful grandmother, my Nana, visited several times, places her family emigrated from to start over in the USA. To take her ashes with me on this journey was both comforting and heartbreaking. I think that logically, we know that our grandparents age and eventually will pass on, but I don’t think our hearts are ready to let go of them and acept that their legacy lies in those who loved them, learned from them and who continue on to share the lessons with the next generation. My nana was 90 years old. She raised 2 amazing and challenging boys by herself. An Irish New Yorker mother and grandmother to her core, she loved her family with a furvor that will surely continue through the generations like the rippled rings of a drop of water on the glass surface of a Loch or stream. I spent her birthday on the Cliffs of Moher, and watched her sail on the wind over the cliffs and into the wild water below, to forever breathe in the sweet salty air of Ireland’s western coast. I thought that somehow I might find some closure for her passing by taking her to these places she loved and to have one last adventure with my firey Nana. In a way, there has been a small bit of finality. It feels more real, but I don’t know if I will ever feel real closure. I don’t think anyone ever does when someone they are very close to passes. I don’t think I will ever get used to it, but I know that we will all continue on at least.
Go on ahead Nana…the adventure is done and there are so many things for you to see that I cannot yet see.