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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Filed under Dogs, England Ireland Trip, Food, Holidays, Pictures, Travel

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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Filed under England Ireland Trip, Pictures, Travel, Weather

More England Adventures

Mike is on a business trip to Minnesota this week, and you would think that would give me so much free time to write blog posts, but apparently not since I’m only just starting on this one.  ;)  Part of the problem is that Mike and I joined a gym right before he left for his business trip, so I’ve been hanging out there a lot in the evenings.  I’ve already taken two spin classes and a barre class, and they are so much fun!  Their treadmills are awesome and have a cool feature where you can “run” on various trails around the world.  Basically you pick your speed, and the incline is dependent on the incline of the trail you’ve chosen.  The LCD screen on the treadmill shows all of the scenery around you as you run.  SO cool!  But a little addictive.  I’ve “run” in New Zealand, Germany, Australia, and California this week.  Mike says it’s cheaper than vacations, but given how beautiful the scenery in the LCD screens looks I think it might just make me want to take more trips.  ;)

All right… back to our trip!  I still have lots of stuff to talk about!

On Monday Mike and I got up early and had breakfast, but Mike had a small headache, so he decided to rest for half an hour or so.  I took the opportunity to check out the workout room at the hotel.  Very nice!  There was a nice selection of treadmills, ellipticals, and free weights.  The treadmills faced windows that looked out towards Westminster Abbey, so it was even a little scenic.  I had a little difficulty figuring out what speed I should be using on the treadmill.  I’m so accustomed to measuring my running in mph that km/hr was a challenge.  I was trying to mentally multiply my typical mph pace by 1.61 in my head to get km/hr, and was failing miserably until I remembered that I know my 5k and 10k times.  Dividing my 10k pace by 10 and just operating off of the km/hr pace was much easier than trying to convert to miles.  (I realize that as an engineer, I should be able to do decimal multiplications in my head.  At least roughly.  And I could, back before they invented calculators.  Since then calculators have done the bulk of my complex multiplications.  ;) )

After my run Mike and I got ready to head out.  We were determined to see Westminster Abbey since we had been thwarted in our plans to see it on Saturday and on Sunday.  After that we were open to ideas.  Mike was still dragging a little, but we stopped at Pret a Manger (our favorite coffee shop/deli in London), and a latte perked Mike up considerably.  Both Mike and I loved all of the organic, fresh, local food sold at Pret a Manger.  Latte and Americano in hand, Mike and I started our short walk to Westminster Abbey.  We got a good look at the Houses of Parliament as we passed.

The Houses of Parliament

The Houses of Parliament

And wow… there was a loooong line at Westminster Abbey!  Is Westminster Abbey always busy… even on a random Monday morning??  We stood in line for about half an hour and then the line moved forward enough for us to get in.  There’s no photography allowed in Westminster Abbey, so if you want to see the inside you’ll actually have to go to London.  (I’m kidding… their website has some pretty good pictures!).  Stepping inside was like stepping into another era.  It was obviously a cathedral (and even still an active one!)  There were candles lit everywhere, mostly I think because it was the week leading up to Easter Sunday.  (How do Mike and I always manage to plan our trips unknowingly around holidays?  Last year was Carnevale, this year was Easter.)

Everything inside the cathedral was made of stone and stained glass.  When we entered we were in a high-ceilinged entryway (which we later found was called the Nave) and were directed to our right where we walked down a long stone corridor with coffins and memorials cramming the walls on both sides.  We passed Sir Isaac Newton’s tomb and the burying places of David Livingstone and Charles Darwin, among many, many other people.  Once we had passed the long corridor of tombs and memorials we were within the big church itself which contained many smaller chapels and offshoot rooms that contained royal coffins.  We saw coffins of so many kings and queens that I completely lost track of who was who.  Undoubtedly a student of English history would have been better able to appreciate everything we saw.  A few highlights, though…

Poet’s Corner.  Poet’s Corner is the burying place of many poets, including Tennyson, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Robert Browning.  There are also many other poets who have memorials there although they are buried elsewhere.  It’s a very quiet, peaceful area, and the floor is full of memorial tiles to various writers.

The Quire.  i.e. The Choir.  Pretty majestic!  View the link for pictures since we weren’t allowed to take any!

The Lady Chapel.  Built in the 1500’s by Henry VII, it’s a very majestic high-ceilinged chapel within the Abbey which included the tombs of Elizabeth I, her sister Mary I, Henry VII, and his wife Elizabeth of York.

All in all, the cathedral was just beautiful and SUCH a step backwards in time!  When we emerged from the dark, stone cathedral into the bright sunshine outside it took a few moments of blinking to reorient ourselves.  We still had several more hours left of the afternooon, so we decided to hop on the Underground and head towards Oxford and Regent streets (i.e. the shopping district!) to get a feel for British culture.  Those streets also happened to be right next to the British National Museum which is amazingly FREE to enter (presumably for the same reasons that the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. is, although I’m not really clear why that’s free either).  After transferring on the Subway on to the Picadilly line (we were becoming pros at knowing the different Subway lines, where they went, and what stations had transfers between the lines), we walked up the steps from the subway and found ourselves right near the British Museum.  Perfect!  :)

And, unlike Westminster Abbey, there were no picture restrictions.  That was good, because our fingers were itching to hit our camera buttons!

The British National Museum

The British National Museum

We discovered that the British National Museum has some amazing treasures from literally all over the world, I’m sure because Britain ruled so much of the world during the time when a lot of these treasures were unearthed.  There were whole rooms devoted to Greece, Rome, Macedonia, Egypt, and other countries and cities.  Similarly to the Smithsonian, there was just WAY too much to see.  So we bought a small guidebook that pointed out some of the highlights, and we headed towards those.

Guesses as to what this is??

Guesses as to what this is??

My favorite things were undoubtedly the Rosetta Stone (see above!), an Aztec mask that I remember seeing a picture of in a history book when I was in grade school, and all of the Aztec artifacts in general (because I’d never seen anything Aztec before!).

Mosaic mask of Tezcatlipoca

Mosaic mask of Tezcatlipoca

The above mask is a serious mask.  A very serious mask.  It is made from a human skull lined with deer hide.  It even contains human teeth.  The Aztecs didn’t mess around when they create masks.

Double-headed serpent mosaic.  Although of course this is only one of the heads.

Double-headed serpent mosaic. Although of course this is only one of the heads.

The double-headed serpent mosaic made of turquoise was gorgeous!  If you like serpents.

Aztec totem poles

Aztec totem poles

Mike was a fan of Hoa Hakananai… a Polynesian statue.  Apparently he weighs four tons and his name means “Stolen or Hidden Friend”.

Hoa Hakananai'a - an Easter Island Polynesian statue from 1000AD

Hoa Hakananai’a – an Easter Island Polynesian statue from 1000AD

There was also a room FULL of clocks from throughout history!

Mike loved all the clocks!

Mike loved all the crazy, old clocks!

And we both absolutely loved the mummies exhibit.  Oh.  My.  Gosh.

Um... this is a very real, very old mummy

Um… this is a very real, very old mummy

Despite all of the Egyptian exhibits which Mike and I have somehow managed to see over the years, we had never seen anything like this.  Real mummies, still wrapped up!

And another really old mummy

And another really old mummy…

Tons of sarcophagi, mummified animals, and other crazy Egyptian artifacts!

Golden covering for the mummy

Golden covering for the mummy

This cat looks WAY too much like Piper!

Could Piper be an Egyptian cat??

Could Piper be an Egyptian cat??

All of this was probably excavated from Egypt by British archaeologists and shipped directly to England, since that seemed to be how things worked in those days.  Despite everything being so interesting, we focused on the things from the guidebook that we really wanted to see since there was so much there!

We exited the museum feeling like we had soaked up so much culture from literally around the globe!

Once outside, we wandered down Oxford Street, talking about what we’d seen and browsing stores.  It was surprising how many stores that were popular in Italy were also popular in London, including Desigual (I LOVE Desigual), United Colors of Benneton, and Mango.  I almost bought a cute purse and dress in Desigual, but the exchange rate of USD to GBP is just ridiculous, so I would have been paying 1.5x what I would have paid for them in the U.S.  So instead of buying them, I made a mental note of them, and then ordered them from Desigual as soon as I got back to the States and got them much more cheaply!  :)  When we reached Regent Street, we turned down that, since my trusty London map that I’d bought the first day recommended both Oxford and Regent streets for shopping.  By the time we’d finished wandering through stores and reached the Underground Station at the far end of Regent street, we were a little tired, but in a very happy, relaxed way.  According to my map, we were only a few blocks from Trafalgar Square, so rather than take the Underground back, we decided to just walk to Trafalgar Square and then walk the rest of the way back to our hotel since it was such a wonderful, sunny twilight… so warm and relaxing!  Trafalgar Square was beautiful!

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

Nelson’s Column in the middle was so tall!  I loved the giant lion statues at each corner of Nelson’s Column in the middle of the square… gorgeous and with such expressive stone faces!

These lions were HUGE!

These lions were HUGE… look at the person behind it for a sense of perspective!

I wasn’t entirely clear on why there was a giant blue chicken statue there, but….

Um... a giant blue chicken

Um… a giant blue chicken.

We discovered that the chicken was on a foundation called the Fourth Plinth which was empty for many years and now is the base for a rotating series of artwork.  Currently, the artwork is a giant blue chicken.  Interesting!  :)

From there, we walked back to Westminster and accidentally ended up in front of the long driveway to Buckingham Palace on our way.   It was beautiful!  The walk to Westminster was relaxing and beautiful, especially with the sun setting, but by the time we reached the hotel again, we were hungry.  We were getting to know the wait staff at the hotel restaurant since we had breakfast there each morning and had also eaten dinner there a couple of times, so we headed back there again!  I got a huge plate of sauteed broccoli and peppers and soup, and Mike got a steak burger.  We decided to make an early night of it, because we had one final day in England the following day and decided to be well-rested for it!

The next morning we woke up refreshed and ready to go!  And we knew exactly where we were heading!

When we were originally planning our trip, we planned it for the week of April 10th specifically because that was the week we were able to get tickets to see this!

Does anyone know what this is?  Anyone??

Does anyone know what this is? Anyone??

It’s the Downton Abbey Castle (i.e. Highclere Castle)!  How exciting!  :)  We have been watching every season faithfully almost since the beginning, and we were excited to see the castle where the show is filmed in real life!  We bought our tickets far in advance online and then just organized our trip around those tickets.  Why?  Well, why not?  If you’re going to England sometime, you may as well go when you get to see Highclere Castle.  :)

We had originally planned to rent a car and drive out to Highclere Castle.  However, that was before our decision the very first day that we were not interested in messing with London traffic.  I had become a pro at figuring out public transportation, and frankly all my experience figuring out public transportation in Italy helped as well.  We took the Circle Line on the Underground to Paddington Station.  (Am I the only one who still knows about Paddington Bear??  Mike had never heard of him!)  When we arrived at Paddington Station, there were little stuffed Paddington Bears in all the gift shops.  SOOO cute!  I wasted no time in educating Mike about Paddington Bear.  After only two eye rolls, Mike and I located the train from Paddington to Newbury, which is the closest town to Highclere Castle and climbed aboard.  (I had already bought our tickets online the night before and just printed them at the station.)  Everything about Paddington Station reminded Mike and me strikingly of Roma Termini Station in Rome, from the ticket machines right down to the high arched ceiling full of skylights.  According to my (super reliable?) website sources, there were always lots of taxis at Newbury Station waiting to take anxious Downton Abbey fans out to the castle.  I hoped so, because it was a five mile walk otherwise.  ;)  The train ride to Downtown wasn’t too long… an hour or so and there was lots of countryside (i.e. sheep) to look at as we rode.  We passed through the Reading station, and I couldn’t help wondering if it was the one the Monopoly Reading Railroad was named after.  (Afterwards I looked it up online, and nope, the Reading Railroad from Monopoly is located in Pennsylvania… significantly closer to home than London!)  :)

When we got to Newbury, Mike and I hopped off the train.  The Newbury station was much more of a country station than a city station, so it was very small.  More the size of the Lake Como train station than the Roma Termini train station.  We walked out front and saw that, oh joy!  There was indeed a whole line of taxis.  Mike and I went up to the first one and got in.  The cab driver was super friendly and we talked the entire 15 minute ride to Highclere Castle.  He started out by telling us he was disappointed to be working when it was so beautiful out.  We asked him what he’d rather be doing, and it turns out that he and his brother are avid golfers.  They also own their own cab company.  So when no one is hiring cabs, they get to go out and play golf.  I apologized profusely for wrecking his golfing plans (while Mike rolled his eyes at me), but Jamie shook his head.  “Nah,” he said.  “I love talkin’ to people and love drivin’ around.  I don’t mind working at all.  There’ll be other nice days to golf.”  His accent was distinctly rural… different from the very precise London accents we’d been hearing.  I loved it.  We asked him about his background, and he grew up in Newbury, near Highclere Castle.  He said it was great for his business that Highclere was becoming such a tourist attraction because except for that trip, it was tougher to find customers.  There is a Vodaphone plant near Newbury (Vodaphone is basically the Verizon or ATT&T of Europe.  Their website even looks like Verizon’s to me.), and Jamie said that previously he was able to get business by driving employees to and from Vodaphone.  Now, however, Vodaphone has instituted their own bus system for bussing employees to work, which is making things pretty tough for the cab drivers in the area.  We also talked sports, and discovered that Jamie is a passionate Liverpool football (soccer) fan.  All in all, we enjoyed our time with him immensely, and he gave us his card (one of his special laminated ones, which I still have!) so that we could call him at the end of our visit to take us back to Newbury Station.  Huge shout-out to super-friendly Jamie and his H&H cab company!  :)

As we walked up the winding driveway to Highclere Castle we saw sheep on every single side.  Sheep… everywhere.  We must have seen thousands of sheep during our trip.  It was pretty insane.  England and Ireland love their sheep!  They all looked woolly and contented, basking in the beautiful sunshine.

Downton Abbey sheep... not to be confused with Stonehenge prehistoric sheep!

Downton Abbey sheep… not to be confused with Stonehenge prehistoric sheep!

Everyone is probably going to give a collective groan here, but Highclere Castle didn’t allow you to take pictures inside either, so we were only able to take pictures of the outside.  Why are all of these people against cameras??  Oh well… if you want to see inside you can always watch the show!  :)

We toured some of the gardens and grounds first… they were beautifully kept up!

A view across the grounds...

A view across the grounds…

The grounds were huge!  We learned from Jamie that all of the sheep surrounding the estate were actually part of the estate.  The real-life owners of Highclere Castle, the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, are not unlike the Grantham family of the Downton Abbey.  They have a huge estate, which still contains livestock, but they have adapted to the modern world as well and are supplementing their income with tours of the castle and, of course, allowing a hit TV show to be filmed there!

Gorgeous, expansive grounds

Gorgeous, expansive grounds

We also discovered that there is an Egyptian Exhibit at Highclere Castle (??).  We didn’t know this originally, but 100 years ago when the  5th Earl of Carnarvon was presiding over Highclere Castle and the surrounding estate, he collaborated with the archaelogist Howard Carter and together they discovered the Tomb of Tutankhamun (King Tut) in 1922.  So the previous day we had gotten to see mummies, and now we got to see artifacts from King Tut’s Tomb.  And we also saw the King Tut exhibit when it went through Seattle last year.  And we actually saw some Egyptian artifacts in one of the Roman museums.  As Mike put it, either we are nearing the point where we’ve seen every Egyptian artifact outside of Egypt that there is to see, or else the Egyptians made a LOT of artifacts!  :)  Regardless, everything was beautiful!  The 5th Earl was very progressive in his thinking, and in addition to his interest in archaeology he also was very interested in medicine and was also one of the first motor car drivers in England (I guess he wouldn’t have actually needed Branson.)  :)

The house itself was gorgeous!  We got to tour a lot of the rooms used in show including Lady Grantham’s bedroom, Lord Grantham’s office, the parlour, and the giant dining room.  Everything was beautiful!  Walking up the winding staircase (shown many times in the TV show) was very cool!  And looking down on the main floor over the upstairs bannisters was gorgeous!  You can see pictures of some of the things we saw in the Highclere picture gallery…. or you can watch the show.  :)  The rooms still have period-specific furniture in them… I honestly don’t know how that works.  Do the current Earl of Carnarvon and his family actually use all of that old furniture?  Or is it only brought out during tours?  I asked one of the tour guides about that, and she assured us that we weren’t seeing the entire castle.  We were only seeing certain wings.  So the family was all at home, but presumably in their own more modern quarters in other parts of the castle.  Wow.  It seemed really big, but I guess there were still lots of parts we didn’t even see!

Some of the turrets

Some of the turrets

Beautiful gardens...

Beautiful gardens…

All in all, it was a very relaxing and fun experience!

From the corner...

From the corner…

And, of course, Mike and I had to get our picture taken with the castle behind us.  :)

Us!  :)

Us! :)

I called Jamie (after a little confusion figuring out how to call a British number from my U.S. phone.  Basically you don’t dial the +44 country code for Britain.  At least not on an iPhone.  It figures all that out.  You just type the primary number.), and he came to pick us up promptly.  We chatted all the way back to Newbury, and he said it was a shame that we had to go back to London right away because Newbury was a very pretty town.  He was obviously proud to live there, and we didn’t have any other plans for the rest of the afternoon (our return train tickets were good for any trains departing that day), so we decided to hang around Newbury for a couple of hours.

It really was a charming rural English town!

Strolling around Newbury

Strolling around Newbury

An old Newbury cathedral

An old Newbury cathedral

We had a late lunch at a Pret a Manger in Newbury… it was so beautiful outside and there were so many people out and about in the downtown shopping area!  There was a street musician playing Pink Floyd songs right outside of Pret a Manger, and we loved listening to him!

Then we made the short hike back to Newbury Station and made the trek back to London.

Although it had been an absolutely beautiful couple of days, Tuesday night was chilly and windy.  We decided we wanted to go somewhere other than the hotel for dinner (since we were entirely too familiar with their menu by that point).  :)  So, despite the cold, we ventured out several blocks to Quirinale.  It was an excellent choice!  It was actually in a well-lit basement, so you descended down a full flight of stairs to get to it from the street level.  The food was very good, and it was a charming atmosphere.  The only thing that was a little strange is that they had gorgeous white roses everywhere.  That was nice, but the mix of the smell of the roses combined with the smell of the Italian food was a little bewildering and overwhelming to our noses.

Beautiful food...

Beautiful food…

Beautiful atmosphere...

Beautiful atmosphere…

By the time we had walked home from Quirinale, we were exhausted.  And we had to get a good night’s sleep, because the next day we were leaving England and heading to Ireland!  More info on our journey later… this post is already ridiculously long.  :)

I hope everyone has a good weekend!  I’m picking Mike up from the airport tomorrow… Piper and I will be glad to have him home.  A little girl time for Piper and me is fine occasionally, but we’re ready for him to come back.  :)

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

Prehistoric sheep… and other England sights

Diving right into the next steps of our London trip…

Mike and I woke up Sunday morning surprisingly early and got up to start the day.  My legs were sore from the dancing the night before that I wasn’t used to doing.  Mike and I ate our usual full English breakfast at the hotel, and I struggled with how to eat a “6-minute egg”.  They’re basically hard-boiled eggs boiled for 6 minutes instead of the more usual 10 that Americans use.  This basically results in the egg white being cooked solid but the egg yolk remaining runny.  I wasn’t too sure how I felt about eating runny egg yolks, but I gave it a shot.  It’s pretty hard to eat a yolk that runny though!  Mike focused on the scrambled eggs and bacon and thus didn’t have the same egg struggles that I did trying to eat runny egg yolks with a fork!

While we ate we decided what to do.  We had originally planned on going to Westminster Abbey but in addition to closing early on Saturday, they weren’t open for tours on Sunday since it’s still an operational church and has services on Sunday.  We decided at the last minute that we’d try to see Stonehenge.  We knew we didn’t want to drive since we’d already decided London traffic was crazier than we had bargained for, so I looked up tours of Stonehenge departing from England and found an afternoon tour departing from Victoria Station at 12:30pm that day.  Perfect!  That gave us some time to walk around London a little in the morning.  We stopped by a grocery store and got some fresh fruit and additional toiletries including an “after-sun” cream.  The nice weather in London and the amount of time we had spent outside the day before had led to a little sunburn.

Then we got some bottled water together and got ready to head to the tour bus stop.  It was a mile and a half walk, but the weather was beautiful so we didn’t mind.

Walking to the station for the tour bus

Walking to the station for the tour bus

 

Victoria station was big!  It’s a train station in addition to a bus and subway station, so there’s a lot going on!  Fortunately we were able to locate the ticket office for the tours pretty quickly and we were seated on a giant, plush tour bus shortly after that.  Our tour guide was a young Swedish guy with a very dry sense of humor, very few words, and a propensity for smoking cigarettes on his breaks.  I liked him immediately.

He started off by saying he was no good as a London tour guide but that he would point out a few attractions as we passed them on our way out of London.  The first thing he pointed out was Harrods, the famous British department store.  Mike and I meant to go there during our time in London, particularly since Mike has an adorable aviator bear from Harrods (that I bought him of course… why would Mike buy himself a stuffed bear??).  Anyway, driving past on the tour bus turned out to be as close as we got to Harrods, but that was fine.  :)  We also drove by the Victoria and Albert Museum, which looked pretty cool, but again we didn’t make it there before we left London either. WAY too much to see!  :)

Victoria and Albert Museum

Victoria and Albert Museum

Our tour guide also pointed out to us a red door in one of the apartment buildings we passed and let us know that used to be Alfred Hitchcock’s apartment.  Crazy!  We also passed a US embassy which, according to our tour guide, is the only US embassy not built on American soil.  The American government tried to buy the land under it from its owner, a duke who is the richest man in England.  However, the duke was only willing to sell it in exchange for the state of Florida.  Apparently the American government wasn’t willing to trade.  :)

Then we headed out of London and into English countryside on our way towards Stonehenge.  I knew from internet research that it was about a little less than a three hour drive, so we settled back and got comfortable.  Mike and I even slept a little which felt great, especially considering how late we’d gotten to sleep the night before!  The English countryside was exactly as you might imagine, very peaceful and full of sheep and cows.

Peaceful English countryside...

Peaceful English countryside…

About two and a half hours later I was starting to see signs for Stonehenge and the traffic was getting significantly backed up.  Mike and I both started looking out the windows of the tour bus and spotted it!

Stonehenge!

Stonehenge!

Our tour guide, displaying his dry sense of humor, spoke up as we passed Stonehenge.  “Well, that was it!  Now another three hours back to London.”  No one laughed.  Mostly I think because no one was 100% sure that he was joking.  After a long pause, the tour guide spoke up again.  “That was a joke, ladies and gentlemen.  I’ll be driving us to the guest center where I’ll get you all on board a bus to take you closer to Stonehenge.  You must all stay with me!  No one wanders off!  When I park the bus, I’ll give everyone a two-minute bathroom break and then I need you all back out front of the guest center so I can get you on a bus.”  He sounded so Swedish and so serious that we took him at his word and as soon as he parked the bus, we all collectively made a run for the bathrooms.  Quite frankly, he actually waited more like five minutes, so I don’t think he was entirely serious about actually leaving after two minutes.  Once he had us all together again, he told us what time he was leaving to head back to London, and told us to all make sure we were back to the bus by then.

“If you miss the bus, no worries,” he informed us.  “It’s only a brisk 10-mile walk to the nearest town where you could hire a taxi to take you the three hours back to London.”  I laughed.  I really liked the ultra-serious way he branded his humor.  Two minutes later he had given us all Stonehenge brochures and put us on a little rickety bus headed out to Stonehenge.

Stonehenge itself was amazing.

Stonehenge!

Stonehenge!

It was very windy out at Stonehenge… maybe because of a lack of any trees or tall buildings to block the wind.  We all had free audio guides which were very helpful!  Areas around Stonehenge were marked with numbers and when you reached those points, you punched that number into your audio guide and it would say things like “On your left as you face Stonehenge you can see…”.  Definitely helpful for navigating something that would otherwise just be a fairly impressive pile of rocks!

One of the interesting things we learned about Stonehenge right away is that it has an arrow on the ground away from the cluster of Stonehenge rocks that points past a giant stone called the ‘heel stone’ and shows the solstice alignment.  Listening to the audio guide we learned that people from long ago likely dreaded the short, cold winter days and lack of food that were associated with winter and likely always looked for the return of longer days and warmer weather of summer.  It was at least in part because of these practical reasons that the solstice was very important to them.  It signaled the beginning of the end of winter (and, conversely, the beginning of the end of summer.  So interesting to think about a time in which calendars weren’t widely used and the most reliable way of knowing about seasonal changes was through the direction of the sun’s rays hitting a rock!

Although nothing is really known about why Stonehenge was erected, it seems widely accepted that at least part of the reason for its existence was for religious ceremonies.  It was also definitely used as a burial site since many cremated human remains have been found there.  Interestingly, the Stonehenge stones are of a type only found in Wales, 150 miles away.  How the prehistoric people got the stones all the way to Stonehenge given that they weigh around 50 tons each is something of a mystery (probably similar to the mystery of how ancient Egyptians made the pyramids, although the pyramids are certainly much bigger than Stonehenge!).

Up closer...

Up closer…

Also of interest is that historians estimate that Stonehenge was first constructed in around 3100BC.  Of course there are various thoughts on that, because who around today can actually know for sure?  Regardless, though, it is OLD.  It was fascinating to look at the old stones and picture people thousands of years ago figuring out how to move and place the stones.  And, why?  Why the need to move such heavy stones so far?  Stonehenge got its name because, archaeologically speaking, a henge is defined as an earthwork consisting of a circular banked enclosure with an internal ditch.  Stonehenge’s bank is actually within its ditch, making it not a true ‘henge’, but the name stuck anyway.

So many people there were taking pictures of each other jumping up in the air in front of Stonehenge.  The goal seemed to be to get a picture of yourself in midair.  Is this a thing?  Getting your picture taken in mid-jump in front of Stonehenge?  I don’t know, but it definitely was the day we were there!  Mike went for the more traditional picture with his feet planted squarely on the ground.  :)

Mike... with Stonehenge in the background!

Mike… with Stonehenge in the background!

We were allowed to get pretty close to Stonehenge, but there was still a fence around the perimeter.  The audio guide explained that with the enormous number of people who come to see Stonehenge annually, with that number of people walking among the stones it would cause soil erosion and would lead to the stones collapsing because of slight shifting in the soil.  Interesting!  Regardless, we got close enough.

From the side rather than from the front

From the side rather than from the front

It was such an interesting, introspective-type of trip!  It is definitely one of those things that puts things in perspective for you.  Centuries and even millennia pass, and people and their motivations from long, long ago are completely forgotten, even to the point where historians desperately eager to find out what their lives were like and what their motivations were, find it an almost impossible task.  Individual lifespans are short, and millennia continue to pass by in the world.  It definitely is a religious experience to visit a place like this and to get that feeling that you are so young compared to these stones and that the people who erected that structure are so long gone from this earth that they are not even a distant memory.  It definitely makes you think about God, eternity, and what actually matters!

On a lighter note, who knew that Stonehenge was surrounded on all sides by SHEEP!  There were sheep all around Stonehenge (fenced with a light fence to keep them away from the tourists and away from Stonehenge itself… but they were still very close by and there were SO MANY of them!)

Prehistoric Stonehenge sheep?

Prehistoric Stonehenge sheep?

By the time we were done viewing Stonehenge and listening to the audio guide, a full 90 minutes had passed.  Amazing how quickly the time flew given that we were actually only looking at a bunch of rocks (well, and a couple hundred sheep).

We took the rickety bus back to the visitor center and decided we had just time to grab some quick food at the cafe before heading back to our tour bus.  Mike had a sausage wrapped in some croissant thing, while I went with a gluten-free ginger muffin.  We headed to the tour bus and our tour bus guide didn’t leave until he had head-counted and made sure everyone was there, somewhat disproving his earlier threat that he would leave people behind if they weren’t back to the bus in time.  ;)

We dozed on the way back to London.  The tour bus was so plush and comfortable, and we’d been out in the sun and the wind for a few hours.  When the tour guide dropped us off, we hopped on a subway station (our Oyster cards were really getting good use since we typically took the subway at least a couple times each day!) and found ourselves back in Westminster just as it was getting dark.  The city looked lovely (and surprisingly less crowded.  Maybe because it was a Sunday evening, so there were only tourists there instead of all of the locals who work there?).

Big Ben at twilight

Big Ben at twilight

We weren’t quite ready to call it a night yet, despite our lack of sleep the night before.  We looked across the Thames… and saw the London Eye.  Aha!  The London Eye was originally the world’s tallest ferris wheel when it was constructed in 1999, but as is the case with most height records, it is now “only” the tallest ferris wheel in Europe.

The London Eye

The London Eye

The London Eye ferris wheel is much larger up close than it looks from further away, and what I expected to be little baskets we rode in turned out to be very high-tech-looking capsules.

A very high-tech ferris wheel!

A very high-tech ferris wheel!

The London Eye runs continuously and it takes about half an hour to complete a single cycle.  So basically how the system works is that there are two platforms, one for visitors getting on, and one for visitors getting off.  You buy your ticket and then are directed to wait behind a roped off area.  At the platform a little further up, attendants open the capsule doors and everyone in the capsule hurries out.  Then the capsule gets to your platform and other attendants wave a group of waiting people on, latch the door… and you’re going up!  And the whole thing happens as the ferris wheel moves!  Fortunately because it’s so big, it’s noticeably moving but it’s not moving ultra fast, which makes all of this doable.  For handicapped people or people who need extra time, they stop the ferris wheel for a minute to make sure everyone gets on comfortably.  Mike and I waited and when our turn came we hustled into the capsule.

Inside our capsule

Inside our capsule

The view was amazing!

London at night

London at night

There were even iPads in the capsule that pointed out various buildings and landmarks you could see from the capsule!  The white dome towards the top of the previous picture is St. Paul’s Cathedral (near the Tower of London).  We didn’t actually make it there, but we did see it, courtesy of the London Eye.  :)

After our capsule completed its rotation, we got to the exit platform, the door opened and everyone hustled out.  So much fun!  Such a wonderful view!  We were very fortunate that the skies were clear so that we could literally see everything!  Night time was a great time to go up as well since we were able to see all the lights of the city.

The houses of Parliament and Big Ben

The houses of Parliament and Big Ben

Back at the hotel, we hung out in the hotel lounge for awhile, had dinner there, and just relaxed.  We were tired, but in a relaxed, contemplative way, not in an exhausted must-go-to-sleep-right-now kind of way.

Relaxed!

Relaxed!

An early night was called for, and we complied.

In other non-England news, the weather in Seattle has been SO WARM this week!  It was up to 85 degrees on Thursday.  As nice as that was, it’s actually a little too nice when you’re doing much walking outside in the sun.  You heat up pretty quickly!  Now it’s back to the low 60’s, though, so it seems as though our brush with summer weather was brief, and we’ll have to wait until later in the year for more consistently warm weather!  I hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend!  :)

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Westminster and the Ministry of Sound

Mike and I are SO glad the weekend has come!  We’ve been feeling a little jetlagged all week and are ready for some good uninterrupted sleep!  Piper has been sticking incredibly close to us.  We took out the garbage last night and when we came back she was basically glued to the front door waiting for us to come back.  It’s good to be missed.  :)

But anyway, on to more trip details!  :)

We woke up Saturday morning bright and early.  Since we’d gone to bed pretty early the night before, we actually felt refreshed.  Our plan was to hit up some of the historic areas around our house like Westminster Abbey, head back to the hotel around 2pm, take a nap, and then get up at night to go to one of London’s crazy electronic music clubs (which typically open around 10pm and stay open, playing electronic music, all night and then close around 7am!).  We had a full day ahead of us, so we started with breakfast at the hotel.

The hotel advertised offering a “full English breakfast”, and they weren’t kidding!  There was everything there!  Scrambled eggs, hardboiled eggs, roasted tomatoes, deli cuts of meat and cheese, toast, breads, and crossiants, fruit, sausages and bacon, baked beans, and white pudding.  Everything was very good!  I discovered that the English hard-boiled eggs are “6 minute eggs”, though, meaning they’ve been cooked for 6 minutes.  Given that I cook mine at home for 10, it was pretty obvious that the yolk of a 6-minute egg must be runny.  I didn’t mind that, but it was a little difficult to eat them since the yolk ran all over.  I think you’re supposed to eat the egg on toast to avoid the messiness, but being gluten-free didn’t allow for that.  Regardless, there was lots of great food for both of us, and it definitely helped to fuel our day!

Once we’d eaten Mike wanted a little time to let his food digest, so he took a long shower and I went out for a run.  The weather was gorgeous!  Very sunny and getting warm as the sun rose.  I ran along the River Thames to the south, since I knew that I’d be walking north to Westminster with Mike very shortly.  There was a path right along the Thames and lots of other people were out running on it as well… it was clearly a favorite running spot!

A view from my run

A view from my run

The sun rising over the Thames

The sun rising over the Thames

Even though you (I?) would expect London to have a lot of pollution since it’s such a big city, the air actually felt very clear and fresh.  It was very windy there, just as it is in Seattle, and that must bring a constant supply of fresh air.

After the run, Mike and I headed towards Westminster.  At least I was pretty sure we were.  My sense of direction is pretty atrocious so I rely heavily on maps, and unfortunately I hadn’t picked up a London map yet on the trip.  I made a mental note that I would have to remedy that ASAP!  Before we actually hit Westminster, though, we detoured towards a sign labeled “Buckingham Palace”.

Our walk was beautiful!

Very narrow streets and lots of brick buildings!

Very narrow streets and lots of brick buildings!

Some handsome guy straightening his camera strap.  ;)

Some handsome guy straightening his camera strap. ;)

After about ten minutes we saw something that looked very out-of-the-ordinary… it was Buckingham Palace!

The gates of Buckingham Palace

The gates of Buckingham Palace

It was literally packed with people!

The Victoria Memorial outside of Buckingham Palace

The Victoria Memorial outside of Buckingham Palace

The Victoria Memorial was huge… and very beautiful!  We asked some of the people what was going on, and apparently the changing of the guard was happening in 45 minutes.  45 minutes?!  And the area was already completely packed?

Outside the gates... we didn't get to go in.  :)

Outside the gates… we didn’t get to go in. :)

Lots of Union Jacks!

Lots of Union Jacks!

We weren’t overly excited for the changing of the guards, particularly since there were so many people it would have been difficult to get a good view, so we moved on to the Queens Royal Gallery, a gallery that showcases some of the art pieces from the royal art collection.  The history behind it is interesting.  It was constructed 40 years ago out of the damaged remains of the private Royal chapel.

Even the building itself was beautiful!

The entrance to the Queen's Gallery

The entrance to the Queen’s Gallery

All of the art was gorgeous!

Looking at art

Looking at art

In addition to art, there were lots of other historical treasures, including things like an entire gilt tea set, early books on botany and biology that included hand drawings, and old jewelry.

After the Queen’s Gallery, we went to the Royal Mews next door because the ticket we had bought was good for both the Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews.  In all honesty, we blew through the Royal Mews and I would recommend just buying the ticket for the Queen’s Gallery rather than the combo ticket.  In case you don’t know what mews are (Mike and I had absolutely no idea), they’re stables.  The most interesting things in the mews were one cute brown horse and the golden royal carriage (which looked similar to the golden papal carriage at the Vatican actually, now that I think about).

Next up was a walk east towards Westminster Abbey.  On the way we stopped for a few pictures at St. James’s Park which was right outside of Buckingham Palace.  It was absolutely beautiful!  We loved all of the gorgeous gardens there!  It definitely felt like spring!  :)

St James Park

St James Park

By the time we reached Westminster Abbey we were getting hungry but still stopped for a couple of pictures.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

We ate lunch at St. George’s Tavern.  It was busy!  We got drinks at the bar while we waited for a table, and then were escorted up to the second floor to a table.  The waiters were all really friendly.  The tavern itself was an old building paneled in dark wood.  Definitely everything you would expect of a British pub!

Mike with a guinness!

Mike with a guinness!

We left the tavern refreshed and ready to go.  We walked across the street to Westminster Abbey… and found that they were closed for the day.  Apparently Saturday hours were abbreviated compared to weekdays!

Undeterred, we bought a London map from a street seller and saw that the Tower of London was only a few miles away.  Perfect!  We had been planning on seeing that anyway!  We hopped on the District subway line at Westminster Station and got off a few stops later at the Tower station (I’m sure it was so named because it was right across the street from the Tower of London.)

Both Mike and I looked around as we walked up the steps from the subway station.  There were so many old-looking buildings that we were a little confused as to which was the “Tower of London”.  (I guess this is one problem with not preplanning all of your vacation stops; you may be making stops where you’re not sure what you’re looking for!  This happened to us with the Roman Forum near the Colosseum as well!)

Anyway, we discovered that the Tower of London is the blanket name for an entire castled city which contains many individual towers.

The Tower of London from the outside

The Tower of London from the outside

We paid our admission price (which seemed really steep at 18 Euros per person!).  We thought about doing a free guided tour, but it was 2:45pm, and the guided tour didn’t start until 3pm, so we would have had to wait around for fifteen minutes at the gate doing nothing.  Also, the guided tour said that it was an hour, and we both thought that sounded really long.  So we just headed in on our own armed only with a map of the city within the wall.

We were completely wrong about how much there was to see in the Tower of London!  As it turned out, we didn’t leave until shortly after 6pm and the experience was worth every penny of the admission price!

There was so much to see!  The Tower of London was everything you would imagine in a medieval castle!  It has a moat around the entire city, and big walls inside of that.  The walls have the traditional square-wave looking top and long narrow windows to make it easy for archers to shoot arrows out, should the city be besieged.  Historically the Tower is almost unrivaled in its importance for the British monarchy.  It was built in 1066 (!!!) by William the Conqueror.  It has been used for so many things I can hardly remember them all.  A royal residence, a place of royal refuge, a prison, a menagerie for exotic animals, an armory, and a treasury.  Many famous people were imprisoned and/or beheaded there including Anne Boleyn, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Lady Jane Grey, and many more.  We walked on Tower Green and saw the spot where Anne Boleyn was beheaded.  We walked in the Bloody Tower where Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned.  We walked through the Martin Tower which has an exhibit with many old crowns and scepters of past British monarchs (most of them with fake jewels inserted in place of the original real ones though).  One of the common things about all of the many towers in the Tower of London were their very narrow very curvy staircases.  It was dizzying walking either up or down them for any length of time because of their tight radius.  Tourists are not allowed to go anywhere near the tops of the towers, so I can only imagine how disorienting it is to climb up to the tops of the towers!

Stairs in one of the towers

Stairs in one of the towers

The hallways were so almost claustrophobically narrow!

Mike exiting one of the hallways onto a battlement

Mike exiting one of the hallways onto a battlement

 

It is so hard to fully convey how large the city inside of the Tower was!

All of this is within the city walls

All of this is within the city walls

 

The various towers had a lot of old carved graffiti on them, much of it done by prisoners in the tower.  Some of the prisoners only carved their names while others carved religious symbols of comfort or phrases or mottos that they lived (and expected they may) die by.

Words carved on the walls by prisoners

Words carved on the walls by prisoners

As I traced my fingers over some of the centuries old marks, it was hard not to think of the tears, fear, heartache, and overwhelming despair that must have faced prisoners there.  Men and women who waited, some not knowing what their fate would eventually be as they chipped away at the old stone of the tower walls.  Others knowing that charges of treason and a fate of death awaited them.  Very sobering.  Queen Victoria was so moved by Anne Boleyn’s story that she erected a glass monument on Tower Green where Anne Boleyn was beheaded.  The memorial is circular, and if you walk around it you can read these words:

Gentle visitor pause awhile : where you stand death cut away the light of many days : here jewelled names were broken from the vivid thread of life : may they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage : under there restless skies.

Tower Green with the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula in the background

Tower Green with the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula in the background

As sobering as all of that was, there was actually a wedding of some military official taking place at one of the chapels within the walls while we were there.  Seeing the happy bride in a flowing white dress and the groom in his impressively decorated military uniform along with all their wedding party and guests took the edge off of the darker pall of the mood created by the tower.  Mike and I also saw a huge, fat raven hanging around tower green.  An old superstition says that if the Tower ravens are lost, the Crown and Britain will fall.  So much history!!

We toured the White Tower, which was the primary royal residence (when the tower was used as a royal residence) and thus was big and well-fortified.

There is also a veritable museum’s worth of armor there, presumably because the Tower was previously used as an armory… we saw literally hundreds and hundreds of pieces of armor and about fifty cannons!

Horses got armor too

Horses got armor too!

So interesting!  So much history!

We were about ready to call it a day when we saw a giant line outside of a big castle-looking building along one side of the city.

Waterloo Block, home of the Crown Jewels

Waterloo Block, home of the Crown Jewels

Curious, we headed over and realized what the line was for.  The Crown Jewels!  We weren’t ready to leave without seeing those!  So, despite the long line, we waited and were happy to see that the line moved fairly quickly.  We read all the placards about the Crown Jewels while we were waiting for entrance.  They have actually been kept in the Tower of London since 1303 when they were stolen from Westminster Abbey.  Such a long time ago!  No photography was allowed of the Crown Jewels themselves, but you can view the website on them here.  Queen Elizabeth II’s crown is set with 2,800 diamonds including the Koh-i-Nur (Mountain of Light), a 105.6 metric carats diamond.  It was SO big!

We left the Tower of London having seen SO much and experienced so much history.  During our time there the sky had become cloudy, which almost seemed symbolic given the sobering feel of the Tower.  As we left through the main gate, we were pretty quiet.  We rode the Underground back to Westminster and realized only then that it was 6:30pm and we’d been hoping to get back to our hotel room by early afternoon so we could get a good nap in before heading out to a London electronic music club.  We decided to give the club a try anyway.  Since it was Saturday, it was really our only chance for good nightlife in London since Friday and Saturday are the big live music nights.  We ate a quick dinner at the hotel and went to bed around 8pm with alarms set for 12:30am.

At 12:30am our alarm went off, and we woke feeling surprisingly refreshed.  (It helped a lot that 12:30am London time was only 4:30pm Seattle time, and our bodies hadn’t fully made the switch yet.)

We got ready to go and headed downstairs.  The man at the hotel front desk called us a cab, and we told him we wanted to go to the Ministry of Sound.  The taxi driver talked to us a little about the club as he whizzed through the less crowded streets of London.  (Apparently London traffic finally does let up, but you have to wait until the middle of the night!)

The Ministry of Sound was located in the Elephant and Castle district, and we could hear the Ministry of Sound before we could see it.  Music was spilling out of it.  We knew that it had five rooms in which live DJs were mixing live music.  There was a crowd of people waiting to get in, but the line moved quickly.

The Ministry of Sound

The Ministry of Sound

Once inside, we were in a different world, one full of dark dance floors, flashing neon lights, and pounding trance music.  It was an amazing experience!  The Ministry of Sound is epic in the electronic music world, and we loved hanging out there.  Mike got a rum and coke, and I just focused on dancing.

Dancing!

Dancing!

We visited all of the dance rooms, getting a feel for the vibe of each one.  One was a purely trance mix, another was a 90’s remixed electronic mix, another was a more relaxed mix, and another was a more solidly electronic techno mix.  It was amazing!  We danced there for several hours and didn’t leave until 3:30am or so, and we left knowing that the music would continue for another 3+ hours!

Trance and lights!

Trance and lights!

We got a cab in the cool darkness and left the pulsating music sounds behind.  It turned out that our cabbie was new to the job, however, and he didn’t know exactly where our hotel was.  We ended up telling him to just take us to the Westminster Underground station and we could find our way back to the hotel from there.  The weather was only slightly chilly despite the lateness of the hour, and there was something magical about walking in downtown London at 4am (especially when we passed Big Ben!).

Big Ben... at 4am!

Big Ben… at 4am!

We were walking back to our hotel pretty leisurely, not at all tired, when I spotted a group of runners stretching near Westminster Abbey.  Realization dawned on me as I clutched Mike’s arm.  Mike, oblivious, glanced at the runners and said, “What are they doing up so early?”

“It’s the marathon!” I said excitedly.  “The London Marathon!  People are starting to arrive for the London Marathon that’s starting in several hours!”

I was almost too excited to talk coherently.  The London Marathon is pretty historic and has about 40,000 participants.  Even though I couldn’t be an actual runner, it was crazy that we were able to see some of the first people arriving for it.  The were up very early, and we were up very late!  :)

Finally around 5am we wandered into our hotel.  There was a 24 hour convenience store open in the hotel, and we went there to get some fruit and bottled water.  When we went to pay for it, Mike said, “Can I buy some of those warm chocolate chip cookies we got when we came here too?”

The friendly front desk man smiled.  “You want cookies?  I can just give you cookies.”  He opened a little oven-looking thing beneath the front desk and pulled out three warm chocolate chip cookies wrapped in paper and handed them to us.

By the time we finally got into our room we were exhausted, and a bunch of fruit and water, and a chocolate chip cookie later, we fell into a very deep sleep.

More next time… I didn’t realize how long this post already was!  :)

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