A Travellerspoint blog

I'm more eloquent today

overcast 55 °F

Quick entry since I have a limited amount of time. I kissed the Blarney Stone today (after waiting in an hour-long line), but it was worth it. The castle was actually really neat to see, so I'm not complaining. We also learned a little bit more about Irish history while coming in to Waterford, and after we stopped at the Waterford Crystal factory (quite cool to watch them make a piece from start to finish), we went on a brief city walk with a local guide. He provided a TON of history about Waterford and how it's older than the Scandinavian strongholds of Copenhagen, Stockholm, and the like.

Waterford is actually pretty cool when the history is revealed. It was a Viking stronghold and has been around since the early 1000s. We saw the oldest Roman Catholic church in Ireland, a place where a major Viking city was discovered buried under the soil for hundreds of years, and the oldest tower in continuous use in Europe. Though everything was very nondescript, the history was fascinating. We finished our tour at the oldest pub in Ireland (I think--800+ years old) with a chug of Guiness and good conversation. It's too bad we have to leave our new-found friends just when we are starting to learn about them.

Well, I'm likely to be kicked off the WiFi pretty soon, so tomorrow will be our ferry ride back to Wales for our final night on the tour. We will visit Cardiff Castle and then have a traditional Welsh dinner before leaving for London on Wednesday. We'll be stopping at Stonehenge and Bath on our way back in, and then we leave at 7:15 AM on Thursday for our return home...time sure flies! I can't believe we're back already!

Signing off from Waterford, have a wonderful evening!

Posted by S_J_Peterson 13:40 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Ireland...

The Irish mist has settled on my soul!

semi-overcast 65 °F

I guess I have a few days' worth of updating to do, but I'm not sure how successful I'll be since it's 11:30 and my energy clock is starting to run out sooner and sooner. I'll have to talk about leaving England and what we've done in Ireland so far...it may be a two-parter!

For starters, we woke up at a good time on Thursday in Chester and departed for our city walking tour in Chester after breakfast. The weather was pleasant--not sunny, but not cold either--so the walk was great. Chester is an interesting place for the simple fact of the rows all along the city streets (that and it's another walled city). The theory is Chester was built on top of an old Roman city because of the rows and the fact that they have recently been discovering ruins like a part of a coliseum (sp?). Because it was built on top, the streets are lower than the sidewalks. They also did it because it was "stinky" in the city since everyone threw out their sewage and their other delicious items. They raised up the fronts of the shops and houses so they could rise above the muck. Very cool...and stinky...

We continued on from there through Wales and stopped at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (translation: St Mary's Church (Llanfair) in the hollow (pwll) of the white hazel (gwyngyll) near (goger) the rapid whirlpool (y chwyrndrobwll) and the church of St Tysilio (llantysilio) by the red cave ([a]g ogo goch). I think this was more of a tourist-y stop than anything else, but I stamped my passport with it anyway and armed myself for the trip across the Irish Sea to Ireland. We drove quickly through Anglesey (home of Kate and Wills) and arrived at Holyhead where we boarded our ferry and settled in for the 3-hour ride to Dublin. The ferry was lovely--basically like a cruise ship without beds--and the crossing was smooth and fun. We were able to relax and spend some time with our new friends from the US, Australia, and New Zealand before we encountered the Irish.

Our late evening Dublin arrival was a little misty and cold, but we arrived at our hotel (The Burlington on the south side) with just enough time to freshen up before our dinner in the bay at Howth. Though a few people were disappointed with our coastal drive (the east side is more like mud flats), I thought it was delightful and it really reminded me of home when we landed at Howth, had dinner, and walked out by the boats. The breakwater was nothing like that of Morro Bay (ha...what waves?), it was beautiful to see the sun setting on the Irish coast with the quaint little storefronts dotting the landscape.

The next day was Dublin, and we went on a driving tour with our local tour guide (our first real hint at the Irish brogue) and saw some of the sights of the city. I was very interested to learn about the bullet holes that still remain downtown from the IRA uprising in 1914--there is so much history surrounding this little island, and most of it is sad, but the people seem to embrace it and truly want us to learn. We also took a drive through Phoenix Park (largest in Europe) and went into the State rooms to see how the better half use to live before Ireland elected presidents. Once done here, we were dropped off at the Guinness Storehouse for a visit and a free pint of the black stuff. We all thought the trip would be more of a visit to the actual plant rather than the museum they've set up for Guinness, but we still had a good time (and a beer!). From here we walked along Grafton Street and marveled at the ecclecticism of the street performers. I think they set it up so weird sideshows played for an hour and then classical violinists and guitarists play the next hour, but most of the shops were very commercial. We then went on a mission to try to find Irish jewelry, and that turned out to be a farce. I did end up purchasing a unique pendant made in Ireland, but a lot of the celtic jewelry looked like it was probably made in China, and that would completely defeat the purpose.

That night we joined most of our 32 members and partied at a dinner and cabaret show. The food was average, but the entertainment was great. The dancers were amazing in their Irish dance, and the singers and musicians (eilin pipe?) were great. Along with that we were treated to the comic delights of Noel Ginnity (I think that was his name). He was more for the older crowd, but he was funny nonetheless.

The next day was our trip west to Killarney, which is where we are now. The trip around the countryside was beautiful--we finally got to see what Ireland really looks like away from the big city. We first visited the Irish National Stud (I'm still kicking myself for not buying the shirt that said this on it for Jeremy) and saw some beautiful horses. The are one of the biggest and most successful studs in the world, and they showed us a few of their stallions that not only have won some races but are producing some of the best racers in the business. Some of these stud fees reach upwards of 100,000 Euro! The grounds and horses were beautiful, and since it was our first real day of sunshine, we were all more excited than we should have been. We then went in for a nip of scones and tea before taking a stroll through the Japanese Gardens and meditating before the long haul to Killarney. We drove further into the interior and stopped at the Rock of Cashel for lunch. We grabbed a sandwich and walked up to the top of the hill, then walked through an old established hotel before doing a little window shopping and heading to the coach. From here we wound our way through County Cork and into County Kerry, our home for the next two nights. Killarney is an absolutely charming city! We had our "dine around" meal at Treyvaud's, a little restaurant that had excellent stuffed portobello mushrooms (with Irish cheese), Irish meatballs, and cheesecake. We then walked around the city, scoffing at the hen parties and the girls dressed in scantily-clad outfits trying to attract the young guys. Even I got a little winky-winky from one little Irish guy who wanted a high five. That night, we went back to the hotel and decided take a quick drink in the hotel pub before turning in...but the "quick drink" turned into a 2 1/2 hour drinking fest with our new Aussie and Kiwi friends. We had so much fun listening to the live singer, singing the songs, and having drinks until late. We all were very happy to be where we were at that time.

This morning was our trip to the Ring of Kerry, but the weather decided not to play well for us. It never rained, which was good, but the low clouds and fog hung in the mountains and along the Atlantic coast didn't make for the best of views. However, I think it was traditionally Irish in its appearance, and it made for great photos (I have one of a statue of Madonna shrouded in mist--I hope it turns out!). The clouds also accented the green hills and the trees beautifully, so I won't complain too much. We stopped in Sneem (I think--it's late) for lunch at a little B and B, and then we took our drive back down to Killarney on the other side. Aside from the weird biting flying ants we encountered at a "picky stop" (photo op), the trip back in was smooth, and we transitioned easily to the Jaunting Carts with the jarvies...basically a horse-drawn buggy around Killarney National Park. This was a highlight of the day because of the good company and great views of the park--we saw a few deer, a few lakes, and a beautiful shot of Muckross Castle (it takes its name from the wild boar that use to roam the countryside). After one last jaunt around Killarney's town, we headed off to a traditional Irish ceilidh (cay-lee) in the hills, which was phenomenal. The three men who played the traditional Irish instruments took time to explain them and really play good Irish music--we even chimed in with a rendition of "Danny Boy" that was all about our tour guide, Nigel, and his quirky ability to tell random jokes and be positively British. The craic was a good time, and I think it's been the most relaxed we've all been thus far. Listening to the music makes me long to stay here forever (with Jer and the animals, of course!), and I could hear the music linger as we dropped back down into Killarney at twilight, the mist hanging gently in the rolling hills around the town. It gave me the feeling of warmth and home and what Ireland is supposed to be. I hate to leave this place on Tuesday.

We are off to Waterford and the Blarney Stone tomorrow, and then it's back to England for Wales and Cardiff Castle, Stonehenge, Bath, and then home. I'll update again when I get a chance. Before signing off, however, I just want to send out my condolences for all the families affected by the Norweigan extremist who shot and killed over 90 children and set off bombs in Oslo, killing 8. I also was saddened to hear of Amy Winehouse's tragic death. I love her music and think she will be missed. Hopefully tomorrow can bring that same feeling to all that I get when I think of the Irish music and the mist in the trees.

Until next time.

Posted by S_J_Peterson 15:25 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Back to England...and the Lake District

semi-overcast 60 °F

We left Kendal and the lovely sunset this morning in a bit of a drizzle, but it truly embodied the gently rolling hills of what I think of England. I can't even begin to describe the number of sheep grazing in the meadows all along the countryside, and they are all framed by the 600-800-year-old stone fences that have remained standing because of good masonry and gravity. Every time we'd move back and forth among the hills, I could just imagine running across them to meet Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFadyen, of course...Colin Firth isn't my Darcy!). All I could see was Pemberley in all her glory and how lucky I would be to have Darcy come and take me to the beautiful English countryside for the rest of my days...Ah, England, how quaint, romantic, and misty!

We did take a nice drive through the Lake District and see the area that Beatrix Potter called her later home and eventually bought 10,000 acres in order to preserve it from being developed. Currently, those acres have turned into a national park, so it has been preserved for (hopefully) years to come. We also stopped in Grasmere and saw William Wordsworth's grave. I always find it funny to amble through a graveyard and come across old headstones, especially as an English teacher. I was excited to see that David Hume was buried in a cemetery in Edinburgh even though I didn't get a chance to go in, but that was just because of my strange debate/philosophy fascinations. We also sampled some Kendal Cake bars, which are really just super-sweet sugary things that taste like a slightly denser version of the inside of a York Peppermint Patty. Strangely enough, no one mentioned the peppermint patties while we were in York, but these Kendal Cakes were quite delicious.

We then stopped for lunch on Windermere (don't call it "Lake" Windermere--apparently, a "mere" is a lake, so it's redundant) and found it easier to just stop in Tesco and grab the cheapy sandwich/chips/drink before our lake cruise. Once on the cruise, we saw some lovely verdant hills with some great estates upon them, and they were made even more beautiful by the emerging sun and the Canadian Geese that dotted the shoreline. We arrived at our port and hopped on the steamtrain for a brief ride back to our coach before heading off for Chester and our stop for this evening.

We went through Manchester (go Man U!) and Liverpool, but I decided that resting my head against the seat of the coach was a better option, so I guess I missed Nigel's (our tour guide) impression of a bad "Manny" Ringo Starr accent. I didn't wake up again until we pulled into Chester, a sleepy little town similar to York. We arrived at the Queen Hotel, which seems very Victorian in both decoration and lack of air conditioner, but we also discovered its ecclecticism. I've never seen a hotel decide that the decorations of every time period and style would work together. Our wing of the hotel is lined with modern art, but the wing immediately before it has old Edwardian buffets next to modern office chairs. The "grand staircase" is lined with Roman, Greek, and 19th century Eastern sculptures, and the courtyard below has Roman busts, heads of Buddha, giant ants and turtles, and grecian goddesses...weird. We did find a cute little pub across the way (The Town Crier) that served pints of beer for 1 pound 25 p, significantly cheaper than the 3 pound 50 p the hotel charged. After a pint of Carlsberg with Peter and Helen from Australia (LOVE their accents!) we walked back to the hotel for dinner, noshed on some food for a while, and then decided to walk around Chester to see what it's all about.

It's all about closing early. How strange! The buildings are all very similar to York (think of Shakespeare's and Ann Hathaway's house with the dark crossbeams and the small-paneled bay windows), but nothing but the bars and restaurants were open. Walking around seemed like a ghost town, but we did get to see the Chester Cathedral and hear the organist practicing. It was almost haunting since no one was on the streets...I kept waiting for the sky to turn dark, lightning to strike, and a hunchback to walk out during the music. Much to my chagrin, the sky was blue and the young revelers looking for food and drink were out instead, so we walked back to the hotel in time to catch the sun set and settle in for the night.

I'm very excited about tomorrow...we depart on the ferry for Ireland, and I can't wait to see the coast. I think the stark contrast between the ocean and the green cliffs will be amazing, and I really want to meet the people of Ireland because of my ancestry (Laughlin). It sounds as if they have had an extreme economic downturn recently with about 30% unemployment among people ages 18-30 and 15% overall, so I'm excited and also sad to travel to a country that's struggling to make ends meet while I've just visited a couple of cities that seem to be living off the fat of the money gluttons (i.e., London). I don't think this last week to Ireland, Wales, and back home will disappoint.

Until later (or when I have free WiFi again)...goodnight from Chester.

Posted by S_J_Peterson 14:07 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged chester ireland windermere kendal pride_and_prejudice Comments (1)

Finally--An Update!

London, York, Edinburgh, and the Scottish Highlands

all seasons in one day 60 °F

Since it's 10:12 PM and I haven't had a lot of sleep, the update will be short, but I'm frankly quite glad I'm even updating! Attempting to find WiFi that actually works on this trip has been its own journey. Hotels either don't offer it or are stingy and want you to spend millions for a few minutes. That's why I love the Best Western Castle Green here in Kendal. Great hospitality and free WiFi!

So, where to begin (as the photos are slowly uploading...will have to erase the memory card to make room)...

London was delightful as always, and fortunately it wasn't as hot as it was last year. Once we settled into our hotel (quaint and a little old, but comfortable and clean), we took a stroll down through Hyde Park and saw Buckingham Palace. We started to get a little hungry, so a trip to Henry's Cafe and Bar on Picadilly just across from the park hit the spot--An excellent place to start the trip. The next morning we departed for our morning tour (which left much to be desired--I'm glad that wasn't our only introduction to the city) and left when we reached Westminster Abbey to catch the water taxi up the river to the Tower of London. I was so grateful to have ordered our tickets early and to have more time to spend in the Tower. We were able to really look at the tower, see all the different areas, and enjoy the weather. We headed back up the river to the Westminster drop off and walked back to the hotel by way of Trafalgar Square and Regent Street. Though it was quite busy, the weather held up and managed to be nice.

The next day we were off for our actual start to the tour, and our first stop (besides the rest areas along the way) was Stratford-Upon-Avon and Shakespeare's birthplace. We stopped to see Anne Hathaway's house and drove into town to visit the birthplace. We learned quite a bit about the mannerisms of the people during that time, most notably that they slept sitting up to keep the evil spirits away (sleeping flat was too similar to a corpse). They also would wear red and dress the boys in dresses for the same reason. The house and the gardens were fascinating, especially to know that the stone floor on the main living room was the original. Weird and neat to think Shakespeare walked there!

We continued on to York and visited the town with the Shambles (the old butcher area--"shambles" was what was left after the animals had been slaughtered) and the York Minster--a grand cathedral reminiscent of Westminster Abbey. We took in the Friday evensong--long but pretty--and had just enough time to make it back to the hotel in time for our welcome drink and dinner. Here's where we started to meet the other people on the trip. Quite a few Aussies and one Kiwi couple, a few people from California and Pennsylvania, and a few from Canada. They are quite a good group--no noisy kids, no whiners, all just a lot of fun.

We departed York the next morning (sans hot shower--long story, may tell it later) for Durham, Hadrian's Wall, and finally Edinburgh. Durham was a neat town. We visited the college and the church, spent a bit of time in the town market area, and bought a delicious coffee from a young college kid who set up his own coffee cart for his income. Despite the rain, the town was beautiful. We then headed off to Hadrian's Wall, just a small patch of wall that is left over from the Romans many years ago. We continued on into the moors and across to Scotland for sweeping views of the countryside. Scotland is truly beautiful country. We ended up in Edinburgh, one of the coolest cities I've seen thus far. We were able to spend all day in Edinburgh the next day, and though we were rained on during our visit to the castle (noticing a theme?), the sky opened up and gave us a glorious day to walk down the Royal Mile, take a few shots of Holyrood Palace, and scale the hill up on Calton to catch some amazing views of the city and the Firth of Forth. We then took in a traditional Scottish show with haggis (not bad, actually) and free wine...needless to say, the ride home was hilarious with everyone singing their national anthems.

We set off the next morning ready to get to the highlands, and we stopped at Blair Castle and St. Andrews before we stopped at the Laggan Country Hotel in Laggan for the night. St. Andrews was glorious and quaint despite the rain. The college of William and Kate was so simple yet regal, and the ruins of the old church were haunting. Blair Castle, the home of the Dukes of Atholl, were also neat to see. Much like Hearst Castle in its purpose, seeing the old relics of this highland estate was exciting. We then continued up to the Laggan Country Hotel, a wonderful B and B style place in the middle of the most beautiful scenery we'd seen. Since it didn't get dark until about 10:45, we walked to the old churchyard and saw all the MacPherson graves before walking back next to the "Hielan' Coo" (cows) for a final pint of Tennant's before going to bed. I think we all begrudgingly left this morning, but the trip into the highlands and to Glencoe were amazing. Driving through the terrain that was so rough and wet was breathtaking. The stark tall mountains coming down to the glens were further dramatized by the stormy clouds followed by the hints of blue and sun. This was truly Scotland, and it makes me want to come back year after year. In fact, I'd love to do the 96-mile through-hike from Glasgow to Fort William and camp or stay in hostels along the way--the country was amazing.

The drive nearly ended with a cruise on Loch Lomond and our final descent back into the English countryside on the western side. We stopped at Gretna Green for a quick snack and continued the hour-drive into Kendal, which is where I update from now. I must say the views in Kendal are also breathtaking--a true English countryside hamlet that had the most beautiful mist-defined sunset I've seen. We took a quick walk around the woods and the glens, and we really soaked in the feeling of living in the countryside with the rain and the sun and the beauty. Tomorrow we continue into the Lake District for a cruise on Lake Windermere followed by a train ride (I think), and then it's on to Ireland...definitely something I'm looking forward to. I'll try to post some pictures on facebook...so far I have quite a few (500+), so I'll only pick a few of the best.

Goodnight for now. Hopefully I can update sooner rather than later.

Posted by S_J_Peterson 14:24 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london edinburgh england york wall highlands durham glencoe hadrian's laggan Comments (1)

At the gate!

sunny 73 °F

We've finally made it to LAX and are settled in for our boarding wait. Everything thus far has been smooth...we narrowly escaped probably two of the most hectic events to encounter--William and Catherine's visit to SoCal and the now-infamous "Carmageddon" (the 405 shut-down on July 16-17). I will consider myself lucky to even be at the terminal unscathed!

TSA was smooth, the bags were light, and we paid too much for mediocre food--we MUST be on vacation! Now, we wait. Considering the number of people that have found their way to gate 23A in prep for our 5:35 flight, we're lucky we have seats. At least we have entertainment. A guy also on this flight has been dancing (the controlled, Michael Jackson-style dancing), and that's been keeping us entertained. I think coffee may be in order soon.

Until tomorrow!

Posted by S_J_Peterson 15:21 Archived in USA Tagged vacation terminal baggage lax Comments (0)

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