Nearing the end of Mr. Selfridge

This past week at work was extremely busy (is this getting to be a theme?).  :)  So busy that I’ve been looking forward to getting it done for a couple weeks prior.  Friday I was interviewing candidates all day.  And by all day, I mean all day.  It wasn’t as tiring as I thought it would be but given that when I look back I can remember only a couple of the candidates my brain must have gone on autopilot at some point.  Mike has also been very busy at work and has typically been coming home tired.  Both of us see a light at the end of the tunnel this fall, though.

Friday night Mike and I completely relaxed.  I went for a 3 mile run down by Lake Union (still following my training schedule), and then Mike and I watched a Mr. Selfridge episode.  We only have one more to watch in season 2, and then we’re out of luck until sometime in 2015 when the next season comes out!

There is a new Brooks headquarter building going in about a third of a mile from our apartment building.  It’s almost finished, and their giant logo is now posted out front.  I’m excited for them to open… I think they’re going to have a big showroom on the first floor and then have offices on the upper floors.  Maybe they’ll start a running club in our area?

Saturday afternoon Mike and I gave our apartment a pretty deep cleaning and tidied everything up, and then Saturday night Mike and I got together with a friend of his from work and friend’s wife.  We had dinner at Kabul, which is a fairly upscale Afghan restaurant that takes basmati rice to a whole new level.  I hadn’t met either Mike’s friend or his friend’s wife before, but they were very friendly so we were able to talk right along and had a fun dinner.  Since Kabul is only about a mile from our apartment, we all came back to our apartment and walked around Fremont for an hour or so.  It was a lovely evening… warm, but not too hot.  Lots of fun.  :)

Today I did a lot of cooking with all the CSA produce.  (I have to use it up before I get new produce next week!)  I steamed up some yellow wax beans, and discovered that I had a lot of zucchini to use up.  I split it between a simple zucchini stir fry with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and a zucchini and sweet corn sauté.  Both turned out well.  I know I’m going to have to get really creative with zucchini before the summer’s over, though… there is still a lot more zucchini on the way!  I also made an easy meatloaf recipe, but made it healthier by cutting down on the bread crumbs used and replacing half a cup of the ground with a chopped up green pepper.  Mike still really liked it.

My running has been plugging along.  The half marathon I was planning on doing in Vancouver is coming up, but because Mike and I are both busy at work and because I want more training time to get faster, I’m going to do a different half marathon later in the fall instead.  That will be much more relaxing!  I am going to run a 10k in Seattle the same day I was going to do the Vancouver half marathon though, and it starts only half a mile from our apartment so it will be MUCH more cost effective than two nights in a Vancouver hotel.  :)

Mike finally got me started using the dish washer a few months ago (yes, I’ve been hand-washing dishes all these years).  We were having an argument/discussion about time management and I was complaining about all the dishes I had to wash.  Mike told me I didn’t deserve to complain about hand-washing dishes when I had a dishwasher in the apartment.  Upon thinking it over, I realized he was right.  I didn’t think we would make enough dishes to be able to justify the dishwasher, but we actually have.  It helps a lot that we have two sets of silverware so we don’t run out of silverware before we’ve filled the dishwasher.  I feel like the dishwasher saves me a significant amount of time!  Not only do I not have to hand-wash dishes, but Mike is very good about rinsing off his dishes and putting them in the dishwasher, so he effectively does his own dishes.  I still haven’t taught Piper to put her dishes in the dishwasher yet, but perhaps that just takes time.

Apart from watching Mr. Selfridge, Mike and I haven’t been doing anything very structured in the evenings.  Mike typically plays a little guitar, I typically prep some food for him to take to work the next day, we typically play with Piper, some nights we go to the gym, some nights we go for walks around our neighborhood.  We have been planning to do some hiking in the mountains ever since we went with Lia during her trip here, but somehow we haven’t gotten to it.  A coworker lent me a couple books on hiking at Rainier and some other mountains in the area, and I am determined not to return the books until I’ve gone on at least a couple of the hikes!  Maybe next weekend!

In other news, I have pretty much given up on any pretense at couponing (is that a word?  dictionary.com says ‘no’).  Basically I seem unable to use coupons.  One of the four scenarios always occurs.

1. I see a coupon for an item I use.  I clip it, place it in the drawer near the front door, and never think of it again.  I then find it three months after it’s expired and throw it away.

2. I see a coupon for an item I use.  I clip it, place it conscientiously in my purse, and then discover it mixed among old receipts when I clean out my purse.  At this point it’s already expired and I throw it away.

3. I see a coupon for an item I use.  I clip it, place it conscientiously in my purse, think of it at the cash register, and then can’t find it in my purse.  The checkout line is building up as I search for it, so I finally give up and forget about it.  I then discover it mixed among old receipts when I clean out my purse later.  Once again, at this point it’s already expired and I throw it away.

4. I see a coupon for an item I use.  I clip it, place it conscientiously in my purse, think of it at the cash register, and hand it proudly to the cashier feeling like a responsible adult (or at least a good resemblance of one).  The cashier looks at it and shows me the small print saying that the coupon “cannot be combined with any other discounts”.  And the item I’m purchasing is on sale.  So I can either have the sale (worth $2.50) or the 50 cent coupon.  My math skills don’t have to be superb to realize that I’m better off shredding the coupon and taking the sale.

There’s another scenario that has happened twice, which (together with the frequency of the previous four scenarios) lead  me to believe that I have bad coupon karma.

5. I see a coupon for an item I use.  I clip it, place it conscientiously in my purse, think of it at the cash register, and it doesn’t scan correctly.  The cash register attendant tries a couple times, then tries keying in the numeric code, and then finally opts to just manually subtract the 50 cents from my bill.  Except that she’s new and still in training, so she has to call for a manager to come and manually subtract the coupon.  And apparently the manager is nowhere near the cash registers.  Or in the store.  Despite my pleadings with the cashier to forget the coupon, she assures me it will only be a minute.  Fifteen minutes later I’m finally leaving the store with a manager-approved receipt for the 50 cent deduction and with everyone else in line glaring daggers at my retreating back (ok, maybe that last part is just my imagination).

All in all, I’m beginning to accept the fact that coupons and I just don’t seem to mix.  I still clip them, but don’t feel badly when I don’t use them.  :)

This has been a pretty light post picture-wise (gross understatement).  I took a picture of Mike with his electric guitar, but he didn’t like the lighting so he said I’d have to take one a different time to post.  So that picture is still to come.  I’ll leave you with a picture of some beautiful flowers I saw on my run yesterday though.  :)  I hope everyone has a good week ahead of them!

 

A flowering tree

A flowering tree

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Filed under Cooking, CSA, Food, Friends, Running

A Trip to the SAM (Seattle Art Museum)

Once again it was a very busy week at work.  However, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I have a few more key projects to get done at work, but the interns I’m working with all leave in the next one to two weeks.  I love working with them, but it will give me more time when they’re back at school.

Mike and I had a very relaxing Friday night and went to the University Village shopping area and out for dinner.  It’s surprising how little we’ve been going out to dinner lately.  I think because Mike’s trying to eat healthier he prefers eating at home.  On Saturday we drove to a local coffee shop that we hadn’t been to before called Fuel Coffee just to try it out.  Mike got a latte, and I got a Tangerine Ginger tea.  It was so good that I asked the barista about it, and she said it was organic looseleaf tea made a company named Rishi.  Since we were out anyway, we decided to go to the Seattle Art Museum (known locally as the SAM).  We hadn’t been there since our first year in Seattle when they had a Picasso exhibit that we attended, and at that time we really only looked at the Picasso paintings so we didn’t see anything else.

This summer they have a special exhibit going on showcasing painters from the Pacific Northwest.  The building is very well architected and was light and airy.  At this point, particularly after a couple of European vacations, we’ve seen our share of darker, more crowded art galleries, so this was refreshing.  The museum was divided into various galleries, each of which had a theme.  For some, the theme was a time period, for others it was related to a type of subject matter, and for others it was a painting style.  Some of the highlights for us included a bronze sculpture of a hunting panther which reminded us of Piper, a Jackson Polluck painting, and a Monet.  The Jackson Polluck painting was entirely abstract but very striking.  I noticed it and liked it before I knew it was a Jackson Polluck.  He actually spilled gravel on it to get a grittier texture.  Very interesting.  There were big sections dedicated to Egyptian, Greek, and Italian artifacts.  Unfortunately at this point Mike and I have seen a lot of those already so we were less impressed than we should have been.  Mike made quite a few comments along the lines of ‘We’ve seen better versions of this’, and we walked through those sections quickly.  We did really enjoy the Native American Indian exhibit and saw some pretty intense totem poles and other carved work.

Hard-core native American Indian carved work

Hard-core native American Indian carved work

Afterwards we ate at a little organic restaurant called Taste.  We were too late for lunch and too early for dinner, so we were served the happy hour menu.  It was all very good and flavorful.

Appetizers at Taste

Appetizers at Taste

 

Then, since we were downtown anyway we decided to walk around a little.  We went into a small, multi-story mall called Westlake Center which had been under construction for the previous year.  The construction seemed to be over, and there were a lot of new stores in it.  Mike and I found a coffee equipment store called Seattle Coffee Gear.  We had been to that store before, but it was miles north of Seattle and we had to drive to get there.  We discovered that they were opening new branches of their store, and this branch was one of the new ones.  Mike bought a bigger French press so that he can make coffee for him and me at the same time instead of having to make the cups one at a time.  I was just about to leave the store when I saw that they were giving away samples of Rishi organic tea, the same kind as my tangerine ginger tea that morning!  Once I saw that they sold Rishi tea I bought a small packet of their loose leaf tea as well.

Mike bought some sheet music for a classical guitar piece.  I had never heard of it before, but he’s been practicing that a little most evenings, and I really enjoy listening to him.  I have promised to post a picture of Mike playing his electric guitar, but unfortunately he’s mostly been playing his classical lately so I haven’t had the opportunity.  Hopefully in the next blog post!

My running has been going pretty strong.  I did 12 miles yesterday, and it will be another 12 miles next week.  I think the strength training this time around is really helping because I haven’t had any knee problems in a long time.

Run around Green Lake on Saturday...

Run around Green Lake on Saturday…

One night last week Mike and I were settling in to watch Mr. Selfridge Mike decided that he felt like popcorn.  We dug out the old, old air pop popper that I bought in Yonkers five years ago as a spur-of-the-moment purchase.  It hasn’t gotten much use (any use, actually) since I discovered that the brand of organic popcorn kernels I had been buying didn’t work correctly in the popper.  The kernels were a little smaller and lighter than regular popcorn and so they flew unpopped right out of the air popper as soon as it started blowing hot air.  This time though I had some organic normal-sized kernels from PCC.  We tentatively dumped a quarter cup of popcorn into the air popper and plugged it in.  It immediately start spinning the kernels around and literally 30 seconds later we had a big bowl of fluffy popcorn.  I was completely amazed by how quickly and accurately it worked.  Other people may be blown away by computers, wireless internet, etc, but I’m still stuck on how amazing common kitchen tools are.  :)

Yesterday I made up chicken rice soup.  In addition to the veggies recommended for the soup I threw in green beans, peas, and corn from the CSA produce that I get each week.  Last week I got beets, which I’ve never been a huge fan of, but thrown into smoothies along with other fruit and veggies seems to mask their taste so that I get the health benefits without the taste.  The only downside is that beet juice is seriously purple.  Very seriously purple.  I’m afraid if I make too many beet-based smoothies I’ll permanently stain my blender and my teeth purple.  I’ve sometimes wondered how people used to get dyes for clothing from plants, but as long as they had beets around they would have at least been set as far as purple dye.  I can’t even cut up a beet without staining my fingers.

Yesterday evening Mike and I went for a 3 mile run together.  Mike has been running more regularly since the 5k we did together several weeks ago and I can outrun him on flat or downhill terrain, but he pretty much dominates the uphill running.  It’s nice that we’re getting out to enjoy the gorgeous summer weather!  It has been dry, sunny, and warm for the past couple of months.  We’re supposed to have a high of 94 degrees today (!!) and then it’ll drop down to the 80’s tomorrow and the 70’s on Wednesday (with some rain and strong winds in there… pretty inevitable when you get a twenty-degree temperature drop in a couple of days).

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Filed under The Arts in Seattle, Running, Cooking, Seattle Restaurants, CSA, Beets

Back to blogging…

I’m back in the blog world after a fairly prolonged absence.  :)  I think my absence was basically due to two factors.

1) Everything seemed boring to write about in comparison to writing about England and Ireland.

2) It has been a busy summer so far!

Regardless, I’m back and will try to give an overview of Mike’s and my summer so far.  (It’s so hard to believe it’s already August!)

Lia, my good friend from Las Vegas, flew out to visit for a long weekend two weeks, and it was so good to see her again!  (How could it have actually been three years since I’d last seen her??)  We had a blast getting our hair done together, doing lots of shopping, visiting Pike Place Market, the Fremont Troll, and Rattlesnake Lake, and going to various Seattle restaurants to give her a sense of the culture!  Mike even drove us around while we shopped and looked in most of the stores with us.  (By ‘looked’ I mean that he was physically present with us in the stores but was looking stuff up on his iPhone… thank goodness for smartphones!  Seriously I don’t know how Mike survived shopping trips or I survived Home Depot trips before we had them!)

At Pike Place Market by the famous bronze (brass?) pig

At Pike Place Market by the famous bronze (brass?) pig

 

Apart from Lia’s visit, everything has been rolling along as usual, although work has been busier than usual for both Mike and me.

My training for the half marathon in late August is also really ramping up.  I ran 11 miles today, and next weekend’s long run will be 12 miles.  I’m trying to remember how I managed marathon training, because even the training for the half feels intense.  Mike and I are still going to the gym regularly as well.  I typically work out with Mike on Sundays and Wednesdays, and I’ve also started working out with a friend from work one or two nights a week.  I’m trying to focus a lot on lower body strength to avoid injury with all the running.  Lots of working out to coordinate!  :)

Last night Mike and I were just in the mood to drive, so we drove north towards Everett.  There’s nothing quite like driving around Everett after dark… the kinds of people you see are interesting to say the least.  We drove past all of the Fluke buildings in Everett, past the Boeing office building, and past the Boeing assembly line.  One of the giant doors was open as we drove past, and we could see a couple of planes being assembled inside.  Their factory is just HUGE!!  So interesting!

Aer Lingus?  Or some other green plane?

Aer Lingus? Or some other green plane?

We drove down to the harbor (I don’t know which harbor… just one of the harbors along the Puget Sound), and then we got out of the car and walked around for awhile.  It was early evening, the sun had just set, and there were lots of people at the beach with campfires, roasting marshmallows, playing music, and talking and laughing.  It had a very Grand Haven kind of feel to it.

 

Sunset at the Puget Sound

Sunset at the Puget Sound

We watched one of the big car ferries take off from the shore with a bunch of cars aboard bound for the other side of Puget Sound.  The ferry was all lit up inside, so it almost looked like some kind of cruise ship.  Then we drove back in a roundabout way towards Seattle.  Traffic on I-5 was good for once… I guess 10pm on a Friday is a good time to travel!

Mike got an amp for his electric guitar and has been playing guitar in the evenings pretty regularly.  I love listening to him.  He has a couple of delay pedals that he uses as well that give him a very “U2″ sound.  With the additional interest in music, though, getting the picture processing finished for the England/Ireland pictures has been going slowly.  Hopefully those pictures will be done in the next few weeks!

Every summer there is a big month-long Seafair festival in Seattle.  I’m honestly not entirely sure of the entire point of it (except that it’s summer in Seattle, the weather’s great, and why NOT have a festival?).  There’s a pirate-themed 5k as part of the festivities, and Mike and I ran that together last weekend.  It was a hilly race, but Mike just charged up those hills.  I think his time at the gym is definitely starting to show!  :)

Mike... just ran a 5k and still looking cool and collected!  Not phased by those hills at all!

Mike… just ran a 5k and still looking cool and collected! Not phased by those hills at all!

 

This weekend, though, Seafair is ending, and as part of the festivities the Blue Angels are flying over Seattle doing aerial tricks.  As cool as they are to see, it is LOUD when they fly overhead!  I was on a run this morning when I heard a crazy supersonic sound that almost made me jump off of the sidewalk into a bush.  I initially thought it was thunder, but it was the Blue Angels.  Mike and I also saw them out flying in formation over Seattle later today when we were out running errands.  Poor Piper!  The loud sounds from the Blue Angels scared her several times this morning, and she has been pretty nervous and very clingy since then.

We also went to The Guitar Store today (capitalization intended… that’s actually its name), and interestingly both of the guys working there recognized us from having been in a few weeks ago, to the point that they even remembered we were in looking at Mesa Boogie amps!  Mike and I chatted with them for awhile and Mike got new electric guitar strings and some new picks.

The weather here has been absolutely beautiful… mid 80’s and sunny.  We love it!  Tonight after we’d run a bunch of errands we walked to a coffee shop for some iced coffee.  The weather was just perfect, and there were so many people out!  The sky was breathtaking.

Wow!!

Wow!!

 

After we got home we settled in and watched a Mr. Selfridge episode.  Mike’s dad recommended it, and we’ve watched a couple episodes now.  The thing I find the most interesting about it is that it’s based on a real Mr. Selfridge who revolutionized the way department stores operate.  I’m not sure how many of the characters and the actual events are factual, but I always love shows based on true stories.

I’m planning to blog more regularly now… even without England and Ireland trips to write about!  Hopefully there will be enough going on in Seattle to be interesting!  :)  I hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend!

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Filed under Friends, Life in Seattle, Pictures, Planes, Visitors, Weather

The end of a journey

So for those of you keeping track, you must be starting to think that our trip can’t possibly last much longer.  Despite my apparent inability to get through more than a single day in one blog post, the blog posts can’t go on forever, right?  This is true.  So true, in fact, that Saturday, the day after our Good Friday Ring of Kerry drive and 5 mile race, was our last full day in Ireland.  We were due to fly out of Shannon Airport early Sunday morning.

We woke up on Saturday morning with plans to fully enjoy our final day and to end up at the Park Inn Hotel in Shannon by nightfall.  We packed up and left Brook Lodge a little sadly.  Even though we only stayed there two nights, it was starting to feel like home.  The staff members were so helpful and friendly and we just loved the town.  Ah, well.  All good things must come to an end, even our time in Killarney.

We started out the day with the good breakfast in the sunny yellow breakfast room at Brook Lodge.  I was already getting accustomed to having dried apricots with my breakfast and wasn’t sure how I was going to manage without those in the future.  Suffice it to say I enjoyed them that last morning.  :)

The day was sunny and gorgeous with a bright, bright blue sky as we drove through town headed north and out of Killarney.

How could you not fall in love with this town??

The Quills on the right is where Mike bought his Irish hat and I bought my pink and purple plaid scarf our first night in Killarney

 

Well, actually I’m using the word “we” rather freely.  Mike, of course, was driving.  He tried to talk me into driving because he felt I should have the experience.  He tried hard.

“It will be a good experience for you,” he said.

I shook my head.  “No.  You’ve already got the hang of it.  It’s best if you keep going.”

“What are you going to do when your coworkers ask you if you drove on the left side of the road during your trip?” he wanted to know.

“I’m going to tell them my highly mechanically-minded husband did all the driving,” I replied.  “Plus,” I added, bringing out the clincher.  “I have all my maps and you’ll have to figure out all the navigation if I drive.”

Mike looked at my stack of five maps, all of them different, some road maps, some city maps, and he shook his head.  “Ok, fine.  You can keep being the navigator.  But let me know if you want to drive.”

Like that was going to happen.  I wasn’t scared of driving, but I believe everyone has their gifts and Mike understands how machines think which gives him an inherent edge when driving.  And my gift includes leafing through obscure maps trying to figure out which exit we should take on a 5-way roundabout.  All about teamwork, right?  :)

Once we left Killarney headed north the traffic thinned out immediately.  To the point where it almost didn’t matter which side of the road we were on.  We saw small stone fences separating farms as far as the eye could see.

Our first planned stop was about forty-five minutes outside of Killarney and was a special place!

Brosna... the town where my Irish ancestors are from!

Brosna… the town where my Irish ancestors are from!

 

We got a little lost trying to find Brosna because it’s a very small town and my maps didn’t have quite the granularity needed to navigate us there, but we found it!

My dad had told me there was a big church and cemetary there, and that many of my ancestors (Horgans) were buried in the cemetary.

We drove up a hill through the town, and it literally took about two minutes.  We didn’t see any big church or any graveyard.  Driving back down the hill, though, gave us the perspective needed to see the church and the graveyard.  Mike pulled our little Fiat Panda into the empty parking area.

The church with the gorgeous blue sky behind it was surprisingly breathtaking!

The church in Brosna

The church in Brosna

 

At first it looked as though there was a fence all around the graveyard, but then we located the gate.

There were Horgans there... probably relatives!

There were Horgans there… probably relatives!

 

We took pictures and enjoyed the nice weather at the church for awhile and then decided it was time to get back on the road.

We noticed a lot of windmills around Brosna and the surrounding countryside… as windy as Ireland seemed to be, it made sense to harness all that power!

Irish countryside with lots of windmills in the distance

Irish countryside with lots of windmills in the distance

 

Because of the way the River Shannon cuts so deeply into western Ireland, in order to keep going north we either had to take a car ferry across the Shannon River or drive east far enough to get to Limerick where the Shannon was narrower and there were bridges across it.  We opted for driving up through Limerick.

Limerick was a cute town, but we didn’t see any compelling reasons to stop, so we headed through and turned back westwards.  I continued reading my maps and discovered that we were going to be passing within a few miles of Bunratty Castle (and coincidentally our hotel for the night and the Shannon Airport, but we weren’t ready to stop there yet!).  We were getting hungry so we decided that a detour to quickly check out out Bunratty Castle and get some food was in order.

We were pretty sure we didn’t want to actually tour Bunratty Castle because there was a fee and because it would take time and we had a different destination in mind for our final day in Ireland.  However, since it was right off of the N18 freeway that we were driving on, we wanted to at least stop.  The first thing we did after getting off of the highway was to get lunch, though.  We found a good-looking place called J.P. Clarke’s about half a mile from Bunratty Castle.  I got a bean and lentil casserole (which was really good!) and Mike got some steak medallions with giant carrots and mashed potatoes (which he said was also really good).  Everything was tasty and relaxing and gave us the chance to be off the road for a little while.  Then we got back in our little black Panda and headed down the road to Bunratty Castle.  We could see it as we were coming up on it, and we were surprised that there seemed to be construction around it.  We discovered that this was actually not due to renovation of the castle, but due to building a “folk park” that basically would consist of replicas of the village houses that were prevalent in Ireland over a century ago.  While we appreciated the sentiment on one hand, we were a lot less interested in reproductions than we would have been in seeing the real thing.  However, we still enjoyed walking around the castle and taking pictures from the outside.  In looking up the history of the castle, it was attacked and fought over many times because of its prime position on the Shannon River estuary into Ireland.  It was a beautiful old castle!

Bunratty Castle

Bunratty Castle

 

After staying awhile, enjoying the gorgeous weather and watching a crow gather twigs to build a nest in one of the narrow windows far up on the castle wall, we were back on the road again.  We made our way back to N18 with little trouble; despite the area having more traffic than what we’d driven in before, Mike was getting used to driving on the left side of the road and shifting with his left hand.

Back on N18, we continued our journey west.  Our goal was to make it to the Cliffs of Moher, all the way on the west coast, with plenty of daylight left to see the cliffs and to take pictures.  If you aren’t familiar with the Cliffs of Moher, they are huge cliffs on the west coast of Ireland that span five miles of the Irish coast.  They have been used in several popular movies (i.e. The Princess Bride and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince).  They are also one of Ireland’s top tourist destinations and one I’d seen pictures of since I was a kid, so I was eager to see them in person.

I continued navigating us along the N18, which then became the M18.  In Ireland, ‘N’s indicate National Primary Roads and ‘M’s indicate Motorways (i.e. freeways).  Driving on these bigger roads was much easier because there were few intersections and once you were on the left side of the road you just stayed there.

We knew that we had about an hour to get from Shannon all the way west to the Cliffs of Moher, so we settled back to enjoy the ride.  The freeway part of the drive went by relatively quickly.  Once we passed through Ennis, the capital of County Clare, the roads got more windy and narrow.  I was able to look at my map less frequently as there were plenty of signs for the Cliffs of Moher.

Note the Cliffs of Moher sign on the right... and note that the Gaelic name is listed first!  This was standard throughout Ireland.

Note the Cliffs of Moher sign on the right… and note that the Gaelic name is listed first! This was standard throughout Ireland.

 

We kept driving and seeings signs for the Cliffs and the areas we were passing through kept getting less and less populated and the cities kept getting sparser and sparser, but we still didn’t actually see the Cliffs.  Mike kept pointing out things that might be considered cliffs.

“How about those over there?” Mike asked, pointing to some small rocky hills.

“No,” I said decidedly.

“How do you know?”

“Because I know what they’re supposed to look like.  And I know that they’re on the Atlantic Ocean so I think we have to drive west until we can’t drive west anymore.”

Both Mike and I were expecting some small visitor center out in the middle of nowhere, maybe watched over by an old monk, particularly since the Cliffs seemed to be in a sparsely populated region.  However, when we got to within about 5 miles of the Cliffs we started to see a lot more cars, about half of them headed west and half of them headed east, and we realized that this was all traffic from the Cliffs of Moher.  The traffic was pretty backed up for that five miles, but then suddenly it opened out into a giant, flat, paved parking lot.  There were signs everywhere directing people where to park, and there was a whole section of parking just for tour buses.  There was also a giant visitor’s center and some small shops.  Well, well.  Definitely not isolated and guarded by a single, solitary monk!

We easily found a parking spot in the giant sea of parking spots, and then walked up to the visitors center.  We bought entry tickets from there, and I tried to make sense of the map shown on the brochere we were given.  After all, we were at the Cliffs of Moher, right?  And there seemed to be hundreds of other people here, right?  So where exactly were those cliffs?  The spots on the map were a little unclear, listing sights like “North Platform”, “Main Platform”, and “Goat Island”.  Um, ok.  We decided to just head towards the main platform and see if we could see the cliffs from there.  We felt a little disoriented since we’d come there somehow expecting to be the only car in the wilderness next to cliffs on the Atlantic Ocean and instead we seemed to be in the middle of a giant visitor’s center with hundreds (or thousands?) of other people, many of whom were eating slushy-like frozen treats from a refrigerated food truck.

Interesting feeling!  :)

However, as we climbed the steps to the main platform, we saw the cliffs.

The Cliffs at last!

The Cliffs at last!

Now those were the cliffs I was expecting to see!  They were amazing!

To get a sense of the scale of the cliffs, you can dimly see people at the top of the cliff on the left… but they are very small in comparison to the cliffs.

VERY small people... or very large cliffs

VERY small people… or very large cliffs

 

At the north end of the cliffs there was a tower called O’Brien’s Tower.  It was an observation tower built in 1835 by a descendent of Brian Boru, one of the high kings of Ireland.

O'Brien's Tower

O’Brien’s Tower

 

The Aran Islands, a mecca of Irish culture and history and an area where Gaelic is still the primary spoken language, were visible on the horizon.

The Aran Islands

The Aran Islands

 

We also discovered that many sea birds make their homes among the rocks on the cliffs, including Puffins which are a special favorite of mine.  We saw many, many sea birds flying in and out and around the rocks, but we were so high up that I couldn’t tell what kinds of sea birds they were.

We ended up spending several hours at the cliffs because there was quite a bit of walking along the cliff edges on pedestrian paths to get different views.  It was extremely windy and very sunny while we were there.  Because we were up at the top of high cliffs there really wasn’t any shade, so by the time we were finished we gratefully sought refuge in the visitor center just to get out of the sun for awhile.  (Clearly we wouldn’t be good desert dwellers!)  :)

We got back to our car around 4pm and decided we were pretty exhausted from all the traveling and sight-seeing over the past week and a half, so we decided to head back to our hotel next to the Shannon Airport and get some rest before our early flight back to Seattle the following morning.  The drive back was easy and uneventful.  We were pretty familiar with the route given that we had just travelled it going in the opposite direction several hours earlier.  I was wondering how easy it would be to find our hotel, but as it turned out there were excellent signs pointing us right to it.  And it literally was right across the street from the Shannon Airport.  Perfect for getting to our gate early in the morning!

Our first order of business was dropping off our Enterprise car.  We saw rental car signs all over the front of the airport, but we didn’t see any Enterprise signs.

“What if there is no Enterprise location here?” Mike asked.  “And we have nowhere to drop the Panda off?”

I tried not to think about it!

As it turned out, though, the Enterprise location in Shannon was just new and didn’t have any signs up yet.  What a relief!  The woman who helped us was very friendly and had a name so Irish we couldn’t even begin to pronounce it but it sounded very pretty when she pronounced it.  :)

After we had said our good-byes to the Panda, we headed back across the street to the hotel ready for a relaxing dinner and drinks in the Park Inn’s lounge.

Given that we had been on the go for the previous ten days and had spent lots of time figuring out hotels, sights to see, rental cars, trains, and subways, we were very ready to just completely relax.  The lounge at the hotel definitely gave us that opportunity!  Mike had some sort of meat stew and I had a vegetable soup.  We both got drinks.  I got my usual Jameson (we were still in Ireland, after all!), and Mike went for a gin cocktail since he’d had enough Guinness to last him for awhile.  :)  We lingered there, eating at the bar and chatting with the friendly bartender.  We watched a couple shows on the Kindle Fire when we got back to our room and decided to make it a relatively early night.  We kept the window open to let the cool night breeze in, and we fell asleep to the sound of cars driving up to the airport and the sound of people talking as they approached the terminal.

And thus ended our England and Ireland adventure.  :)  We uneventfully flew back early the next morning on the Irish airline Aer Lingus (which has the cutest planes I’ve ever seen by the way!) .

Check out the three-leafed clover on the engine!  :)

Check out the three-leafed clover on the engine!

We found ourselves back in Seattle with our little black cat by 4pm that afternoon (plenty of time to do laundry and stock up on groceries, but not time for much else).

Hopefully we go back to Ireland at some point.  Mike really liked Ireland and said we can definitely come back, and I haven’t given up on convincing a certain friend (*cough* Lia *cough*) to come with us the next time we go to Ireland.  ;)

I know I haven’t seen enough of it to last me a lifetime.  :)

Slán go fóill, Éire

Slán go fóill, Éire

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Filed under England Ireland Trip, Food, Pictures, Travel, Weather

The Ring of Kerry

We woke up on Friday morning pretty early, but Mike felt pretty tired so he decided to rest in bed for a little while.  I went down to the breakfast room and had a delicious homemade breakfast of soft-boiled eggs, assorted fruit, and dried apricots and prunes, and fresh coffee.  Mike was still resting when I finished, so I walked down the street a ways to get some bottled water to take back to Mike.  On the way I noticed a poster for a Good Friday race.  I vaguely remembered looking up races in Ireland before I left and seeing something about that.  I was pretty sure it was in Tralee, which was about twenty miles from Killarney.  Intrigued, I went back to the hotel.  Mike was still resting, and he drank some of the water and then headed off to take a shower.  I looked the race up online and saw that it was in Killarney, not in Tralee, and it was at 6:30pm that very day.  Excitingly possible, depending on when we got back from our trip around the Ring of Kerry.  Unfortunately the website said that they didn’t take day-of-race registrations.  Nevertheless, I emailed the organizer asking if it would be possible to run the race.  Meanwhile, Mike took his shower, and we went down to the breakfast room for Mike to have breakfast.  The woman working in the breakfast room recognized me from coming down before and still brought me coffee so that I could drink that while Mike had his coffee and breakfast (very similar to mine except minus the prunes and plus bacon.  I even convinced him to try an apricot, which he was not enamored by but thought was ok).  Then we prepared to head out.  The receptionist at the front desk was so helpful and let us know how to get out of town. “Once you’re on the N-72, it’ll take you all the way around the Ring o’ Kerry,” she said.  “And there’ll be lots o’ turn-offs and areas to take pictures.  But apart fr’m that, it’ll take you right around and bring you back into the south end o’ Killarney.  It takes most folks 4-5 hours to go ’round.”  She paused and glanced out the window.  “It’ll be a beautif’l day f’r seein’ the Ring.”

We started out headed west on N-72 towards the start of the Ring of Kerry peninsula around 11am.  The town was still relatively quiet as we drove through on our way out of Killarney to the north.  As we drove away from the town, we were almost immediately greeted by the mountains that filled the peninsula.  A grey set of clouds hung low over the Macguillycuddy’s Reeks mountains that the sun hadn’t yet burned away.

Macguillycuddy's Reeks

Macguillycuddy’s Reeks

The further we drove away from Killarney the more the wildness of the surrounding countryside seemed to envelope us.  We drove for about twenty minutes before we hit Killorglin, the first town on the Ring, which was close to the Atlantic Ocean and the start of our journey around the peninsula.  According to one of the books of maps I had with me, there was a turn-off from N-70 onto R564 which would lead us out to a look-out point across Dingle Bay to the Dingle Peninsula.  We decided to take it.  We almost didn’t see the tiny turn-off for R564, but Mike managed to take the slight right turn at the last minute.  We drove for several miles on a very narrow, windy road.  We came to a bridge over a rocky narrow stream which had only one lane (not one lane per direction of traffic; just one lane). Mike stopped the car dead in the middle of the road and turned to look at me.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.  One lane?  What if someone else is coming from the other direction?”

“I think whoever gets on the bridge first gets to go first,” I said, comfortable in the knowledge that I wasn’t driving.  And that the car was fully insured.  “Kind of like the bus we took up to Lake Como.”

Mike shook his head, clearly not liking this blatant violation of the rule that every direction of traffic gets at least one legal lane.  Mike proceeded across the narrow stone bridge with caution and we didn’t run into anyone coming from the other side. Although the road was a little sketchy in places and one-way anytime we crossed a bridge, the look-out point we reached was amazing.

The Dingle Bay, and the Dingle Peninsula beyond it

The Dingle Bay, and the Dingle Peninsula beyond it

 

We didn’t get to the Dingle Peninsula itself during our trip, but we saw it across the Dingle Bay.  The water was so turquoise blue we almost couldn’t believe we were in a real place.  Ireland had the most magical, ancient, wild feel to it… with each new landscape we saw we admitted to ourselves that it didn’t seem real.  It seemed magical and other-worldly and ancient.  So, so ancient.

So much blue sky and blue water... breathtaking

So much blue sky and blue water… breathtaking

Everything felt surreal.  We couldn’t still actually be in our world, right?  Not with sky and water and rocks like that.

Back on the R564, we made our way back to N-70 and continued on our journey. We continued to pass beautiful scenery, and the road was clearly winding up, and we were clearly headed into the mountains.

Towns in the mountains

Towns in the mountains

 

The towns we started to see looked so small against the giant mountainous background.  Shortly after 1pm we stopped for lunch at a beautiful cafe by the side of the road with a gorgeous view of the Atlantic Ocean.  I had the vegetable soup, and Mike had fish ‘n’ chips.  I had lots of vegetable soup in Ireland.  It was very good, and the vegetables were pureed rather than left chunky the way most vegetable soup in the U.S seems to be.  Mike had lots of fish ‘n’ chips in Ireland; all of the fish there was very fresh!

 

A brief break from driving manual on the left side of the road

A brief break from driving manual on the left side of the road

As we got farther up into the mountains, the sky started to cloud over.

Dark and wild mountainous countryside

Dark and mountainous countryside

We passed through one of the main market towns of Kerry named Cahirciveen.  The streets of Cahirciveen were very narrow and the one we were on was one-way.  There were so many little stores just crammed together along the street… it felt like there were hundreds although I’m sure there weren’t actually that many.  :)

 

Crowded steets of Cahirciveen

Streets of Cahirciveen

 

There were so many lookout points along the way for us to stop and look… it was beautiful!  Mike has lots more pictures to show (which he will hopefully be posting soon!)

We stopped in Waterville, another little town, to take some pictures… both pictures of the town full of colorful buildings and of the Atlantic Ocean.  We were never very far from the water!

Waterville... and everyone looking out to sea

Waterville… with everyone looking out to sea over the rocky beach

 

The beaches were all very rocky.  There were also waist-high stone walls everywhere, sometimes used to show property lines and sometimes used to fence you out of an area with a steep drop below it.  (I appreciated those!)

 

Stone walls

Stone walls… and the Atlantic

The roads were very narrow, full of twists and turns, and very close to steep cliffs in places.

Lots of twists and turns

Lots of twists and turns

 

We also definitely saw that Ireland is, in fact, the Emerald Isle.  Even after we got up into the mountains and the sky became cloudy, the green of the farmland throughout the area was striking.

Farms separated by stone fences with the Atlantic beyond them

Farms separated by stone fences with the Atlantic beyond.  The Atlantic was always close by.

 

We saw quite a few other cars on the road, but since apparently it’s well known that you’re supposed to drive around the Ring of Kerry in the counter-clockwise direction, almost all of the cars were going in the same direction as us (which was particularly nice since we were still getting used to being on the left side of the road).  I kept getting nervous at the speed we were going, given the twists and turns in the road, the mountainous landscape, and our proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, but Mike assured me that we weren’t going very fast and he had a handle on the car.  He was already bonding with our car and was starting to feel like it was a friend.  Ah, Mike.  Always bonding with heavy pieces of machinery, but unable to understand the draw of stuffed animals.  (On a side note, I mistakenly typed in the last blog post that our rental car was a Mini Cooper, but it wasn’t.  I asked Mike yesterday what kind of car we had, and he told me we had a Fiat Panda.  I had a feeling Mini Cooper was incorrect, but somehow Fiat Panda wasn’t leaping to my mind.)  :)  So we were in a pretty tiny car traveling over those roads, and we could feel every bump of the road. We could tell that at the beginning of the Ring we were traveling upwards into the mountains, and throughout most of the Ring we were far above the Atlantic Ocean.

 

This doesn't seem like it could be real...

Even looking at this, it didn’t feel real.  It felt thousands of years old.

 

Waves have been crashing against the rocky Irish coast since long before we were born and will likely continue until long after we die.  Everything we saw reminded us of how young we are and how old the world is.

After several hours and miles of breathtaking scenery had gone by, we realized that we would soon be reaching Sneem, which was one of the last towns on the Ring, and then we would be descending out of the mountains into the Killarney National Park, which was supposed to be beautiful but was supposed to have a very different landscape than the rest of the Ring of Kerry.  (It didn’t border the Atlantic Ocean for one thing!)  Sneem was a delightfully colorful town!

 

One of the more famous bars in Sneem... and it's pink!

One of the more famous bars in Sneem… and it’s pink!

 

It seemed as though every shop and restaurant in Sneem was painted a different color!  We saw bright blue ones, bright red ones… and of course the pink one above.  :)  We stopped there for a snack and ran into our first person who didn’t speak English and spoke only Gaelic.  Mike had ordered an apple tart from him by pointing at it, and then we realized we had left our Euros in the car.  We tried to tell him we’d be right back with money, but he didn’t understand us.  So we just hightailed it back to our car, retrieved our Euros, and then returned breathlessly.  When he saw our Euros, he smiled and understood what had happened.  He seemed very nice, and it was so cool to hear him talk in his lilting Gaelic.

After our snack, we were back on the road, this time winding down the mountains and slowly edging away from the Atlantic Ocean back towards Killarney.  As the last part of the Ring of Kerry, we drove through Killarney National Park.

I honestly wasn’t thinking much about it one way or the other; I knew it was supposed to have a lot of walking trails in it, but I also knew it wasn’t along the Atlantic Ocean so figured it wouldn’t be stunning the way the Ring of Kerry had been.  It was beautiful!  Although we were certainly not strangers to rocky landscapes by this point, Killarney National Park was much more rocky and much less green than the Ring of Kerry.

Very rocky!

Very rocky!

 

There were some amazing look-out points along the road through Killarney National Park, so I can only imagine what it’s like if you’re actually on the hiking trails deeper into the park.  Ladies View is one of the more renowned lookout points… it’s lovely!

All of the water in Ireland was SO blue

We stopped for a rest at Ladies View… so beautiful!  And you can see the shadows from the clouds on the mountains.

 

By the time we drove back into Killarney it was around 4pm, and we were tired.  I was not too tired, however, to stop in at the running shoe store (since it was coincidentally right around the corner from our hotel) and ask about race entry for the race at 6:30pm that day.  The woman I talked to told me it was fine to register, even though it was the day of the race.

“Ye just go down to the old monastery near wh’re the race will start,” she said.  “Ye know it?  Ye just tell the woman there that Bridgit from the runnin’ store sent you.”

As soon as I’d started looking up the race that morning, I’d already figured out where it started and ended, and had discovered that the old monastery where it started was actually only a few blocks behind our hotel.  I thanked Bridgit, and then Mike and I walked several blocks to the monastery.  There were already people there in race gear warming up even though the race wasn’t starting for another two hours.  I paid for my race entry while Mike, who had brought his camera along, started snapping some preliminary pictures.  We walked back to the hotel to rest for an hour until we had to head back for the race.  Mike wanted to shower and I wanted to do some warm-up stretches.  After so many hours in cars, trains, and planes over the past week and a half, my legs were feeling pretty tight!  I checked my race “goodie” bag back at the hotel and saw that there was an adorable little egg holder in it, since this was a Good Friday/Easter run.  I loved it!  There was also a chocolate egg so huge I knew it would be futile to even think about trying to get it back to Seattle in my luggage!  :)

An egg holder... with a giant chocolate egg in the background!

My egg holder… with a giant chocolate egg in the background!

Some resting, some stretching, and an hour later found us walking back to the monastery.  It was a little chilly out, particularly for me since I had opted for cool, racing clothes.  It was so exciting to see so many people there and ready to run!  There was lots of energy and excitement, and it seemed like a lot of the participants knew each other as there was lots of back-and-forth conversation before the race.

I lined up with the rest of the participants while Mike went on ahead to see about getting some good pictures.

He got some great pictures!

And it starts!

And it starts!

Mike told me that the guy in the orange shirt ended up winning the race, and based on this picture he looks like he’s practically catapulting off of the starting line!

I really didn’t have a good enough sense of Killarney to understand the race course.  I just followed everyone else.  We ran out the north end of town and seemed to be running through a park that had wide bike/pedestrian paths in it.  It was lovely!  And it had such an old feel to it… very different than the races I do in the States!  Everyone had so much energy and seemed so excited to be running that I was too.  And I was running in Ireland!  In Killarney which wasn’t more than fifteen miles from the town my ancestors came from!  Crazy!!  What an awesome connection with the past!  Although I didn’t have a good handle on the route, I did know we’d be passing down Main Street twice, and shortly after we exited the forested bike trail, we ran down Main Street the first time.

And Mike was right there waiting to wave and take my picture!  What a guy!  :)

Running down Main Street in Killarney!

Running down Main Street in Killarney!  If I look happy, it’s because I am!

 

Once down Main Street, we veered off into an unknown (to me) direction, and I just followed the excited happy Irish runners.  There were lots of spectators along the sidelines cheering enthusiastically, which made for even more excitement.  When we passed by the old monastery, I got my bearings again and knew that I was close to running down Main Street for the second time and then around the corner to the finish line.  I kept running strong since I knew I’d be seeing Mike on Main Street again and wanted to be able to pass him with lots of energy!  Sure enough I saw him again, he snapped my picture again, and then I was around the corner turning off Main Street, and I could see the finish line!  I tried to put in a final burst of energy, and managed to cross the finish line with a chip time of 43:53 for the 5-mile race, which comes out to a pace of 10.9km/hr.  Hard to do the math on that to turn it into mph, so I didn’t try.  ;)

It was an amazing race, and I loved every minute of it!  :)  I grabbed some bottled water and two bananas from the post-race food area, and then Mike found me.  The band was still playing loudly as more finishers crossed the line, and Mike and I slipped down one of the side streets to head back to our hotel.  It was already getting dark, and it was a cool, crisp, still twilight.  We could still hear all the music and yelling and cheering from the race behind us as we walked the couple of blocks to our hotel.  I took a shower and got cleaned up, and then Mike and I headed out for a late dinner.

We went to the Danny Mann Inn, which was one of the pubs we’d passed just off Main Street while walking back to our hotel from the race.

The Danny Mann Inn

The Danny Mann Inn

 

Although it would have been a great night for a Jameson, we discovered that there is exactly one day of the year on which it’s illegal for Irish pubs to serve alcohol, and that day is (you guessed it!), Good Friday.  We didn’t mind at all though.  Their stew was tasty and hearty, and the restaurant manager and the waitresses were open and friendly so we thoroughly relaxed during our dinner regardless of the lack of alcohol.  Interestingly enough, it wasn’t enough that they didn’t sell it; they had to actually cover all the taps in plastic tarp.  Wow!

After our late, relaxing dinner, we strolled slowly back to our hotel in the dark.  There was still a lot of music playing from pubs in the area and lots of talking and laughter coming out of the restaurants.  Interesting how late everyone was out given that there was no alcohol being served!  :)

Back at the hotel, we were both tired and content after having gazed at amazing, fairy-tale worthy landscapes all day followed by an Irish evening race and lots of Irish culture.  (I’ll go easy on the words “beautiful”, “gorgeous”, and “amazing” in the next blog post… I realize I’ve overused them pretty badly in this post!).  We were tired, but not in a go-to-sleep way… it was more like a completely relaxed way.  We watched a Game of Thrones episode on the Kindle Fire using the wireless in the hotel and listened to the host of birds singing outside.  (The birds in Killarney seemed to sing constantly, not just in the morning!)

One thing I have to say… the pictures don’t do the Ring of Kerry justice.  The words don’t do it justice.  Nothing can express how ancient the Ring of Kerry feels.  All around you, three-hundred and sixty degrees, all you can see is a giant sky and giant mountains flanked by a giant ocean.

It is the beauty of a land aged gracefully by time, and it is the wisdom of a land who remembers her past.

It has to be experienced first-hand to be understood.  So I would definitely recommend going.

And back to Seattle… the weather here has been warm and sunny!  We’ve been enjoying our gym memberships, but balancing gym time with time outside enjoying the Seattle summer!  I hope everyone had a good weekend!  We actually spent most of the weekend cleaning, so it wasn’t particularly fun but our apartment is much cleaner.  :)

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Filed under England Ireland Trip, Running, Travel

Heading west to Killarney!

We woke up pretty early and had slept soundly, despite (or perhaps because of) the noise from the neighboring pubs.  We had a very homemade breakfast at the bed and breakfast, and it seemed to be very comparable to the English breakfast with eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans, and all those kinds of trimmings.  We both opted out of the black pudding, but Mike adventurously tried the white pudding and officially pronounced it “ok”.  :)  I loved the Guinness clock with the toucan on it above our table, specifically because there’s another Guinness toucan picture similar to it at Paddy Coynes, Mike’s and my neighborhood Seattle restaurant.

We recognized the Guinness toucan!

We recognized the Guinness toucan!

After giving it some brief thought (and after realizing that we only had three days left of our trip), we decided to hightail it over to the west side of Ireland since that was the part we were the most interested in seeing.  I should clarify: that was the part I was the most interested in seeing.  Mike didn’t have hardly any background with Ireland and would have been hard-pressed to name any city in Ireland other than Dublin prior to our trip.  I was especially interested in the west side since it’s much more rural, there are still areas of the Gaeltact (areas where Gaelic is still the first language), and since that was the area my ancestors were from.  Although we could have driven across Ireland from the east to the west, a train was just as fast and meant that we didn’t have to bother renting a car until we got to the west side.  One area that I knew that I wanted to see in Ireland was the Ring of Kerry, a (supposedly) fabulous mountain road winding along the perimeter of a peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean.  The town at the base of the Ring of Kerry was Killarney, so I looked up train tickets on the Irish Rail from Dublin to Killarney and easily found some.  There was one train leaving late that morning, which was perfect.  We decided to walk to the Dublin Heuston railway station since that would allow us to see some last minute sites around Dublin before we left.  It was very, very windy in Dublin.  My coat was pretty warm, but we stopped at a local shop and bought Mike a winter hat to wear since his coat was thin, and then we proceeded on.  Dublin was pretty busy in the morning with people walking down the streets this way and that, most of them looking like they were dressed for work.  Thanks to the Dublin street map I had purchased on the ferry, we had a good idea of some local sites to see on our way to the train station. We walked past Dublin Castle, literally right over the River Liffey from our hotel and near the Temple Bar district we had visited the night before.  Dublin Castle was not nearly as old as most of the castles we’d seen.  It had been erected in the 18th century and was originally the seat for British rule of Ireland.  Upon Irish independence in 1921, Dublin Castle was given to the newly created Irish government. Along the lines of Irish independence, one thing Mike and I didn’t realize prior to our trip is that Ireland is part of the EU independently from England and uses the Euro as its currency rather than the Great British pound.  Mike and I also discovered from our Dublin cab driver that even prior to the adoption of the Euro, Ireland had had its own currency (the Irish pound, not to be confused with the Great British pound).  This of course meant that the GBP we’d gotten in England weren’t going to usable in Ireland, so we got them transferred to Euros just before we left London. We also detoured a few blocks out of our way to walk past Christ Church Cathedral.

Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral

It was absolutely beautiful!  It was built sometime after 1028 when the Norse king of Dublin made a pilgrimage to Rome. Some things that Mike and I would like to see on a future trip to Dublin:

* The inside of Christ Church Cathedral

* Trinity College and the Book of Kells

There is just never enough time on this trips to see everything you want to see!  :) We also walked past the Guinness factory.  You can take tours of that as well, but we had a train to catch so of course we walked right by.  The Guinness factory had high walls, which was a little disappointing.  I would have liked to at least get some good looks at the outside of the factory! Dublin Heuston station was gorgeous!

Heuston Station

Heuston Station

Mike stopped to take some pictures while I looked around the beautiful old station.  It had the same old, stone, drafty feel as the stations in Italy.  Mike and I didn’t have that much time before our train so we headed inside and picked up our tickets from a kiosk.  There were little stores inside of the station, and I got a fresh ginger carrot juice, and Mike got a latte.  I also found some gluten-free Welsh snack bars to eat on our train ride.

Inside the station

Inside the station

Once we boarded the train we saw that the Irish Rail trains were much nicer than the trains in England!  There was a lot more room per person, there was lots of overhead storage area for luggage, and everyone was very friendly.  The clouds cleared as we started heading west across Ireland, and the scenery was lovely, although not unlike the scenery we’d seen in England and Wales.  We did see the Wicklow Mountains off to the south which were beautiful… dark purple against the skyline. We knew we had to transfer at Mallow to take another train to continue on to Killarney, so we were on the lookout for Mallow.  The train was mostly empty, but three stops before Mallow a large group of German backpackers got on the train.  They were loud and boisterous, and very interesting!  They were all wearing matching kerchiefs, so it appeared that they were part of the same backpacking club.  They had lots of German beer, giant knapsacks, and were talking back and forth in German.  They took over a couple of empty tables in our area and broke out a game of Uno which was punctuated by loud shouts of laughter.  Apparently Uno is funnier than I remember it being.  Or the German beers were helping to increase the hilarity.  ;)  Anyway, they were a really fun group! At Mallow Mike and I got up, along with the troop of a dozen or more German backpackers.  I wasn’t sure what platform our next train would be on, but I noticed a train on the other side of our current platform when we emerged.  The sign said it was heading to Tralee which, thanks to my overly extensive map reading, I knew was close to Killarney.  Mike and I hurried over and asked a woman getting on the train if it stopped in Killarney and she assured us it did.  So we hopped on with our luggage.  Once again, the German group was in our train car, so it was a fun, boisterous 45 minutes from Mallow to Killarney.  :) We got off the train in Killarney and were greeted with absolutely gorgeous weather!  The Killarney train station was much smaller than the one in Dublin… must more similar to the one in Newbury than the ones in London and Dublin.  Once again, there was a whole line of cabs out front, and we instantly grabbed one.  The taxi driver was so nice and friendly (just like all of the other taxi drivers in both England and Ireland).  She was warm and welcoming and instantly treated us like family and confided to us that we had picked a really good hotel when I gave her the hotel name.  “T’is off the main route,” she said.  “But t’is still only a block from the main street, so i’s close to everyth’ng.” On further talking with her, we discovered that her husband just died three months ago and she was just now going back to work.  We told her how sorry we were, and she told us about him and how they met.  Apparently he was Irish but he was from Chicago, and his family had migrated out of Ireland during the Potato Famine.  She grew up in Killarney but moved to Chicago because there just wasn’t any work in Ireland.  She met her husband there, and he was a cab driver and got her into driving cabs as well.  He had a dream to move back to Ireland where his roots were, so they moved back to Ireland about ten years ago and both drove cabs in Killarney.  She said she absolutely loved it.  Her story was so touching, and I couldn’t get over how easily she talked with us… just like she was talking to close friends instead of people she had just met five minutes ago.  Seriously, I can’t say enough good things about the cab drivers in England and Ireland.  Either the British people are all welcoming, friendly, and warm, or else the cab drivers represent a truly amazing group of the British people!  I’ve had lots of cab experiences over the years, but hands down the best experiences have been in England and Ireland.

Our cab driver dropped us off at the Brook Lodge Hotel, which is a family-owned bed and breakfast in Killarney.  It was absolutely beautiful!  Clearly it was previously a large privately owned home and had been converted into a bed and breakfast.

The Brook Lodge

The Brook Lodge

Our room was light, spacious, and airy, with a big window at the far end.  Very clean, and very charming!

In our room

In our room

It was only early afternoon so we still had a lot of time to explore Killarney.  Since we were planning on driving around the Ring of Kerry the following day, we decided to get a rental car that day so we would be all ready to go the following morning.  I called the local rental car company recommended by the hotel, but they didn’t have anything available that we could keep for three days and drop off at Shannon Airport.  I looked up other local car rental places and found an Enterprise that looked like it was only a mile or so outside of town, so I called and reserved a car while Mike took a quick shower.  We decided to get a cab to Enterprise and then from that point we’d have the car until we dropped it off at Shannon Airport the night before our departure.  The woman at the front desk called a cab for us and also gave us some tips about driving around the Ring of Kerry in the few minutes before our cab showed up.

Once again, we had a delightful cab driver, an older man who kept up a good string of stories and lots of advice for us about driving in Ireland once he found out that our destination was the Enterprise Car Rental.

“Have ye iver driven on th’ left b’fore?” he asked in a thick brogue.  We shook our heads.  “Uh, uh, uh,” he said.  “Well, t’is not too different.  Ye just have to be constantly thinkin’, ye know?”  We nodded.

“And roundabouts… do ye have those in the States?”

Mike shook his head.  “No.  Not really.”

“Ah, goodness,” he said.  “It’ll be a learnin’ experience then!  And who’s to be the driv’r on this expedition?”

I pointed at Mike.  At that point our cab driver helpfully gave Mike very specific instructions on how to navigate back to the Brook Lodge from the rental car facility and repeated them several times so that we were sure to remember them.  “If ye go this way, ye won’t encount’r so many roundabouts or one-way streets,” he advised.

When he pulled into the rental car lot, there didn’t seem to be Enterprise signs anywhere, and it looked more like a shop than a rental car lot.  The taxi driver suggested that he wait for us until we were sure that we were all set.  So nice of him!  We went in and immediately met a woman who informed us that Enterprise has two locations in the area: one in Killarney and one in Tralee and that Tralee was the main office they operated out of.”

“We’re Pat Looney’s Garage here,” she said.  “So we m’stly fix cars.  But they have a space here with us, so if you’ve rented a car, they’ll be here to drop it off for ye,” she said.  We had rented a car, but our rental didn’t officially start for another hour.  The woman helpfully offered me her cell phone to call the Tralee office, and, despite the very pronounced Irish brogue of the man on the other end of the phone, I managed to gather that there was someone driving the car out to Killarney at the moment, but that traffic was very bad because it was Easter weekend so it might be half an hour.  I thanked him, while Mike went out to tell our cab driver he didn’t need to wait anymore.  The sweet man repeated the directions for getting back into town for Mike to make sure we were all clear on that, and then we sat down to wait.

“Did he say how long they’d be?” the friendly woman working at Pat’s Garage asked us.  I told her about half an hour, and she laughed.  “Ye’d be better to double it!” she said.  “They’re never on time!”

Mike and I looked at each other deciding what we should do for the next hour.  “Is there anywhere to eat close by?” I asked the woman.

“Oh, yes, yes,” the woman assured us.  “There are some lovely cafes up the street.  One in p’rticular.  The Brown Sugar Cafe.  It’s very good!”

It was getting close to dinner time, so we headed off to the Brown Sugar Cafe with the woman’s promise that if Enterprise showed up early (“Which they won’t,” she said emphatically), she would call us.

Mike and I easily found the Brown Sugar Cafe, and I loved it!  They had all of their gluten free items labeled, and I ended up getting a broccoli salad and a vegetable soup while Mike got a tasty looking baked quiche and a side of vegetables.  Everything in the cafe was warm and clean-looking, so we lingered before heading back to Enterprise.  As we got close to Pat Looney’s garage, a small dog showed up at our heels.  At first we just smiled and waved at him… but he kept following us and we didn’t see any owner for him.  We walked right up the front walk towards the office at Pat Looney’s… and he followed us.  We walked into the building and I told the dog he needed to go home and then carefully shut the door most of the way.  There was no one in the office so we sat down to wait.  However, our little furry friend pushed the door open with his nose, walked in like he owned the place, and marched towards the back door that opened into the car garage and stood by it expectantly, obviously waiting for us to let him in.  I told him I wasn’t sure he should be back there, but he didn’t seem to understand.

Why can't I go in the garage?

Why can’t I go in the garage?

We started calling him ‘Bob’ because he reminded us so much of Bob from the Hercule Poirot episode “The Dumb Witness”.  Such an intelligent little guy!  :)

A few minutes later, the original woman who’d helped us showed up.  “See!  I tol’ you they’d be late,” she said with a wink.  We asked about Bob, and it turned out that he lives at the shop.  So it probably would have been fine to let him back in the shop after all.  :)

Several minutes after that another nice woman came breathlessly into the office and sat down at the Enterprise desk.  She apologized for the delay, reiterated that the traffic from Tralee was crazy with the Easter weekend, and then we signed all of the rental papers and were ready to go!

We ended up with a small black mini cooper, which Mike didn’t like at first but which had totally grown on him by the time we returned it at the end of the trip.  Cars have a way of growing on Mike.  :)

We took a deep breath and prepared for our journey into the world of driving on the wrong side of the road (Well, Mike prepared.  I just dug all my maps out of my purse so that I was prepared to give him directions).  We were off to a questionable start when Mike walked around the car to get in the left side.  But, of course, there was no steering wheel there.  Our eyes met over the top of the little car, and Mike gave me a half smile and just shook his walk.  We both walked around to our correct respective sides of the car, and Mike got in and tried to get oriented.  As it turns out, the pedals are the same: clutch all the way on the left, then brake, then accelerator.  The difference was that the steering wheel was on the right side of the car, shifting was thus done with your left hand instead of your right, and we would be driving on the left side of the road.

A minute later and we were on the left side of the road headed towards the gas station next to the Brown Sugar Cafe since the car was pretty much on empty.  It took a little talking through it to figure out what lane we were supposed to be in given that there were three ‘in’ lanes to the gas station.  We successfully navigated that crisis and after getting gas we were back on the road.  On the left.  Going through roundabouts and trying to figure out whether we should be in the left or right lane going into the roundabout if we were getting off on the third of five exits.  Fun stuff!

Fortunately, the cab drivers directions were right on, and we navigated around town and came down from the north so that we could be coming in the right way on the one-way street.  We still managed to get turned around a few times just because Irish directions seemed to be based on landmarks, and we weren’t sure whether the thing we were passing was ‘a large church’ or not.  But we ended up back at the Brook Lodge.

The Brook Lodge had free parking, so we parked in their lot and then decided to go car-free for awhile and wander around downtown Killarney.  The main street was literally only a block from the Brook Lodge, so we headed out to the main street.  There were so many people out!  We weren’t sure whether this was normal or whether this was part of the ‘Easter traffic’ that the locals were all talking about.  We shopped for a couple of hours, and I ended up with a woolen scarf in a bright purple, pink, and red pattern, and Mike got a very Irish beret-looking hat.  The little shops were crowded next to each other all up and down the main street and there was such a friendly, positive energy!

We stopped for dinner at Treyvaud’s, an Italian restaurant on the main street since Mike felt like something besides his usual fish n chips.  :)  The atmosphere there was very relaxing, and we were uncharacteristically camera-less so that we could just enjoy exploring Killarney.  Then, pretty worn-out from our day, we headed back to Brook Lodge.

Mike in his new hat

Mike in his new hat looking very Irish :)

We watched a couple shows on the Kindle Fire while we listened to muffled, musical sounds of the town from outside of our open window.  There was a soft, cool breeze blowing and everything seemed very peaceful.  We felt as though we were a million miles away from everything (which I guess we kind of were, particularly after the city experiences of London and Dublin).  It was a wonderful relaxing evening!

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Dublin and our journey across the Irish Sea

Mike got back safely from Minneapolis, so I’m happy about that.  No more plane rides for him for awhile… he’s ready to just hang out at the apartment!  :) So back to our England/Ireland trip!  I feel like I’m getting some momentum in these trip blog posts.  :) Mike and I thought long and hard about how to get to Ireland from England (well, as long and hard as you ever think on vacation… which actually isn’t very very long or very hard).

Traditionally trains have been our preferred and cheapest form of inter-city travel (i.e. on our Italy trip), but the Irish Sea kind of put a damper on train travel.  After some research and talking we decided two things. 1.  We were still sick of air travel after our nine hour flight to London and didn’t relish the thought of getting to an airport two hours early so that we could go through security again, wait for our plane to board, etc. 2.  It was MUCH cheaper to take a train to Holyhead and then take the Irish Ferries ship (called the Ulysses) across the Irish Sea, and that would land us right in Dublin. Long story short, I bought our train/ferry tickets that night.  Through the Rail and Sail program by Virgin Trains, we were able to get from London to Dublin for only 38 Euros each.  Compared to 150 Euros each for airline tickets!  We were instantly sold on the idea.  It also meant that we’d be able to see the Welsh countryside, since the train to Holyhead passed through Wales.  Fun!  The next morning we checked out of our London Hotel after one final last full English breakfast and headed towards the Underground.  The day was clear, crisp, and a little chilly, but the rays of the sun warmed us up considerably.  Ten minutes later we were on the Subway and headed for London Euston station (we were getting really familiar with a lot of the London train stations at this point, having already departed from London Victoria and London Paddington).  We were just about out of money on our Oyster cards, so it was just as well that this was our final Underground ride.  :) As usual, traveling by train in Europe was very easy.  We printed out our tickets there and waited for the boarding platform for our train to be announced.  Our train was actually about half an hour late because of some technical difficulties at another station, so when it finally rolled in we were more than ready to hop on board.  I wasn’t very concerned about missing our ferry because we had an hour in between our Holyhead arrival and our ferry departure to Dublin.  This luggage area of the train was pretty packed, but we managed to find room to stuff our suitcases.  It helped greatly that the train wasn’t full so all of the passengers were able to put some of our luggage in the empty seats.  (This wasn’t technically allowed, since more people can get on at any stop and the seats should be clear for them.  Practically, however, as long as you’re willing to keep an eye out at each stop and move your luggage if necessary, it seemed to be fine.)

The Welsh countryside was beautiful!

Welsh countryside

Welsh countryside

Sheep dotted the landscape.

Sheep!  Because we hadn't already seen enough sheep on the trip.

Sheep! Because we hadn’t already seen enough sheep on the trip.

 

We started to pass signs that were in both Welsh and English… with Welsh written first.

Bae Colwyn

Bae Colwyn

 

More of Bae Colwyn

More of Bae Colwyn

The time went by quickly and we reached Holyhead around 1:30pm, half an hour later than usual given that we had been delayed in London Euston by half an hour.  Our whole train seemed to be bound for Dublin (I guess I’m not sure why else you would go to Holyhead if you aren’t planning on taking a ferry.  It seems like a pretty port-based town.)  We were all ushered off the train en masse and directed towards a ferry ticketing station.  I handed them Mike’s and my tickets, they checked our baggage for free, and we were all directed down some stairs to a waiting area.  A few minutes later, a big bus pulled up and we all piled on.  The nice thing here was that we didn’t seem to have to know anything… about anything.  Everyone at Holyhead seemed to be proficient at getting people to Dublin.  The bus drove us out on a pier and Mike and I started looking for the ferry.

I’m not sure what we were expecting regarding the ferry to take us across the Irish Sea to Dublin… but we were shocked when the ship came into view from behind a big building.  Oh.  My.  Gosh.  It was HUGE!  Our bus drove right up to the ship… and right up a giant ramp onto the 10th level of the ship.  Um… ok.  So apparently we didn’t even have to walk onto the ship… the bus just drove on board.  We found out later that at the time the Ulysses was built in 2001 it was the largest car ferry in the world.  It can hold 2,000 passengers and crew, 1,342 cars and 240 trucks.  Wow!!  To say we were overwhelmed was something of an understatement.  We were directed to some red stairs, which we walked up for several levels until we found ourselves very, very high above the water below and in some type of cafe/arcade game floor.  We didn’t really know what we were doing, but most other people seemed to be stopping on that level rather than continuing up the stairs so we stopped too.  There were all kinds of poofy chairs scattered amongst cafes, small tables, little shops.  Another whole big room was full of arcade games.  It really didn’t feel like a ship at all… it felt like a giant casino or something (minus the roulette tables, of course).  :)  We walked around our level a little and then Mike wanted to rest a little.  I explored a little more, getting us some bottled water and browsing the small shops.  I hit the jackpot when I found maps of Ireland.  Perfect!  I browsed them and picked up three: one road map of Ireland, one that showed walking streets in the major Irish cities, and one that was just a walking map of Dublin.  I went back to Mike, who was amused that I felt the need for 3 maps.  What can I say?  When you have a sense of direction as poor as mine you need to make sure that you always have maps on hand and that you know how to read them.  One thing that we instantly noticed was that all announcements on the ship were given first in Gaelic and then, after a pause, in English.  So interesting!  The trip across the Irish Sea was only about two hours, and the ship was so huge I didn’t even realize when we started moving.  We looked out the windows for awhile at the grey misty Irish Sea.  It was so interesting… the weather in Wales had been sunny and gorgeous, but out at Sea there was a grey fog over everything.  We passed some islands which I was able to correctly identify from my maps.  Actually I joyfully read my maps for most of the duration of the ferry trip, while Mike just shook his head at me.  It’s very hard for me to communicate how good I feel about having maps and reading them.  I guess everyone has idiosyncrasies.  The upshot of this was that when we arrived in Dublin I already knew where we were, where our hotel was, and where the most “happening” areas of Dublin were.  Disembarking in Dublin was a little surreal.  We found ourselves in a port building and we waited by a little baggage carousel for our checked baggage to come out.

In Dublin... waiting for luggage

In Dublin… waiting for luggage

While we waited for the baggage, I looked around and realized that, like Wales, all of the signs I could see outside through the windows were printed in two languages, Gaelic and English, with Gaelic first.  With our luggage in hand, we walked outside the port building, not really sure where we going or what was going to happen next.  It was beautiful and sunny out, so apparently there is only fog and grey mist crossing the Irish Sea… both sides of the sea were sunny.  There was a huge line of taxis and hotel buses.  It was actually surprisingly warm, so warm that I felt like we probably didn’t want to walk the mile and a half to our hotel, particularly since we had luggage.  So we walked up to one of the taxis and hopped in.  The taxi driver was so friendly!  We chatted with him the entire 15 minutes of the ride.  The Dublin traffic was pretty bad, and as our taxi driver informed us, it was getting towards rush hour.  We talked about the Irish economy, and he talked about how hard Dublin was hit in the 2008 recession.

“If ye stay in the touristy areas ye won’t notice it,” he told us.  “But if you wander off th’ beaten path ye’ll see lots of buildings… fallen into disrepair.  We’re recoverin’, but we’re not fully reco’vered yet.”

We asked him about the primary Irish industries and he stopped to think.  “Agriculture mostly,” he said.  “Sheep, livestock and all o’ that.”  He paused again, and then said, “And technology I guess.  Google and a lot of them companies have offices here.  Lots of big, glass buil’ings have gone up in the past few years.”

“Is that the Liffey River?” I asked, well aware of my Irish geography, particularly after reading maps for the prior two hours, as we crossed a beautiful wide river.

“The River Liffey?  Ya,” he said.

He had lots of thoughts when we asked about things to see in Dublin.  Unfortunately we were only planning on staying a single night in Dublin and heading for west Ireland the following day, so we knew we wouldn’t have time to see everything.

“Well, at least see the Temple Bar area,” he said.  “Right on the banks of the River Liffey.  Lots of bars and nightlife.  I get down there occasionally m’self.  There’s one spot down there… big boistrous place.  Lots o’ music spilling into the streets and flying so many flags you can’t count.  It’s bright yellow… ye can’t miss it.”

He easily found our hotel.  “Ah, you’re on lower Gardiner Street,” he said.  “That’s central to everything.”  He made sure we had clear directions for getting to the Temple Bar district before leaving us.  Then we headed up the few steps to the bed and breakfast where we were staying.

Before going any further, I think I need to talk about Dublin.  Dublin is a very old port city originally founded by the Vikings in the 9th century.  Its ancient name comes from the roots dubh (black) and linn (pool), thus meaning Black Pool.  However, the modern Irish name for Dublin is Baile Átha Cliath which means “town of the hurdled ford”.  Consequently when you were wandering around Dublin, you didn’t see signs saying “Dublin” much; instead you saw signs that said “Baile Atha Cliath”.  If you have any interest in the history of Ireland (and Dublin particularly) I highly recommend The Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherford.  I’ve read it and it’s amazing.  Because Ireland has so much modern tech presence but so much history, it’s a very divided city.  You can wander some areas and see castles from 1100.  You can wander other areas only a 15 minute walk away and everything feels new and completely modern.  You can wander other areas where, as the taxi driver mentioned, everything feels tired, worn-out, and run-down.  Interestingly, perhaps because of the tech industry and a surprisingly good economy compared to other countries, there are a large number of immigrants in Dublin.  The brogue of the Irish people in Dublin is there, but it’s not overly noticeable.  Mike and I commented that we heard far more Russian accents from the immigrants than we heard really intense Irish brogue.  It felt like a city of changes… a city that has changed much and that will continue to change much more.

The bed and breakfast at which we stayed was owned by a Russian family.  It was very nice, clean, and very cheap.  We dropped our bags off in our room after noting the intense red of the carpet and the bedspreads, and then decided to make the most of our only night in Dublin.  On our way out, we noticed that there seemed to be a lot of Russians in the bed and breakfast lobby… maybe friends and family of the owners?  Regardless, it seemed a little weird since they weren’t actually doing anything and just seemed to be hanging out.  Dublin city map in hand, we headed towards the Temple Bar district.  We got turned around once, despite my map, but a local stopped and pointed us in the right direction.  Just like in England, everyone seemed friendly and open, even to strangers.  There was a strong sense of community.  We could hear Temple Bar even before we could see it.

Temple Bar

Temple Bar

Lots and lots of live music coming from lots and lots of Irish pubs!  We stopped at one pub called Buskers.  Our waitress was very friendly, and Mike ordered a Guinness and I ordered a Jameson (I mean, really, we were DUBLIN!  What else were we going to order??).

 

At Buskers... Guinness in hand!

At Buskers… Guinness in hand!

After stopping at Buskers, we walked around Dublin a little.  The River Liffey was gorgeous in the growing darkness!

The River Liffey

The River Liffey

 

There seemed to be a lot of statues in Dublin.  We passed the Famine Memorial in the tax to our hotel and saw many others while we were out walking around.

A Statue in Dublin

A Statue in Dublin

Back at our hotel, we had our windows open and the cool night breeze drifted in.  Lower Gardiner Street has a pretty active night life, so we heard lots of talking and laughing and music as we fell asleep.  Such a fun and relaxing day!  :)

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