Éire & Alba, Autumn 2016

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 in once I review my notes:

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’s Call
  • 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) (below)
  • 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 rhythmic 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

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:

The Docks

rock by Galway Bay herself

with her rushing foam-edged curves.

The festival of Cruinniú na mBád

presents an annual race

from Connemara to Kinvara

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.

There,

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, “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 hiking trail framed by graveled edges. 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 to be 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 momentums 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). Emylee has established she is overly-positive Jerry, Moriah is hypochondriac Dan-O, and I’m Just-Do-It Tom. Perfect comparison for us three.

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 side note, 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 herself 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.

Image result for fionn maccool figureThere 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

Thomas MacDonagh

Joseph Plunkett

Edward Daly

Michael O’Hanrahan

William Pearse

John MacBride

Con Colbert

Eamonn Ceannt

Michael Mallin

Sean Heuston

Sean Mac Diarmada

James Connolly

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!