August 2007- England, Ireland, Scotland

girl atop caernarvon wales castle

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I love to travel, and I have basically structured my life around opportunities to go visit new places and experience new things.  Thus, it should come as no surprise that in July, after being home for three weeks, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to…. Moosejaw, Canada.  And while that is a great story, one sure not to be forgotten in my family for a long time, that is not the story I am telling today.

Instead, here are the details from my trip in August to England and Ireland.  Chris had a conference outside of London and then some time off, so I flew to London to meet him there and travel a bit.  We spent the first two days in London, and did a little sightseeing:  the British Museum (home of the Rosetta Stone, how cool to see that!), the London Eye, and some fun sidetrips around Piccadilly Circus, Covent Gardens, Trafalgar Square, and Waterloo.  We spent one really great evening with our friend Jonathan, who took us to a wonderful dinner and some fun bars.  It was nice seeing him; we hadn’t seen him since he left Haiti two years ago.

We left London and took a train to Wales.  We stayed in a quaint little city and visited the castle at Caernarfon, which hosted the investitures of two Princes of Wales, in 1911 and 1969 (Prince Charles).  It was really interesting being in Wales and hearing Welsh spoken everywhere.  We went to a small museum that detailed the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, a fascinating part of the British Army.  Click on this link for an extremely awesome picture of the castle at Caernarfon.

Eager to see Ireland, we took a ferry from Holyhead (Wales) to Dublin.  Unfortunately, we arrived on the evening of a giant soccer game, so the entire city was booked as far as hotel rooms went.  So, we decided to just lock our stuff in the bus station and pull an all-nighter.  We headed down to the Temple Bar area, a part of Dublin akin to Sixth Street in Austin, where the streets are blocked to cars and there are probably 50 or more bars to go haunt.  We enjoyed the pubs and bars until dawn, when we caught an early bus out of town to go to Cork.

Sleeping on the bus, we arrived in Cork by noon and got a room.  Cork is a small city with a very friendly walkable city center.  They have a museum there on the history of Irish butter, which I hadn’t known was once internationally renowned- the major papers of the world quoted the price of Cork butter daily all through the 1800’s and early 1900’s.  The things you learn when on vacation….

From Cork we took a short day trip to the Blarney Castle.  And yes, we kissed the Blarney Stone! I guess we both have the gift of eloquence now.  Blarney is a great little village that is exactly what you would expect to see in Ireland.

After Cork, we cruised through Waterford, staying the night in a crazy 1970’s-style bed and breakfast, and we visited the Waterford Crystal factory.  We took a tour and were able to see workmen actually blowing the glass and making the etchings.  Very cool.

We returned to Dublin to see the city by day, and spent a couple of nights there.  We visited the Jameson Distillery, where we learned the difference between Scotch Whiskey, Irish Whiskey, and American Bourbon.  We got to sample 5 kinds of whiskey and do a taste test, which was fun.  We headed over to the Guinness Brewery the same day, and did a tour of their seven-story building.  Two really great museums, if you’re ever in Dublin; completely worth doing.  Maybe don’t do them on the same day, though.

On our last day in Dublin, we visted Trinity College to see the Book of Kells, an ancient 5th century, hand illustrated text of the Gospels.  Trinity College has an amazing library and it was quite an experience getting to walk through it.

We headed to Northern Ireland, and stayed in Belfast.  We did a bus tour of the city, which helped us get oriented.  You can definitely still see the effects of decades of bombings and paramilitary activity between the Nationalists and the Unionists- those who want Northern Ireland to be a part of the (Catholic) Republic of Ireland and the (Protestant) United Kingdom.  I found all of that history and information to be very interesting; I would love to take a class on that.

We took a bus trip up farther north to the Giant’s Causeway, a unique geological land formation- and a great hike.  It was typically northern Irish weather that day, cold and rainy, and it felt great to put on my hiking shoes and my rain jacket and go for a long walk up the cliffs- I even put U2 on my ipod for the occasion.

After that, we ferried from Belfast to Scotland, landing in Stranraer, where we stayed the night in a tiny village- tiny as in one pub, one bed and breakfast, and a bus stop.  We actually had a really great dinner there that night- the cool weather was perfect for a beef-and-guinness pie.  The following day we took the train into Glasgow, and got a room at a hostel.  We did a bus tour of Glasgow, to get a feel for the city.

The next day, we took a short train- one hour- to Edinbourough, which was an amazing city.  The castle!  The university!  The kilts! We ate haggis there!  I love this site here because the picture at the top, I stood there!  Both the Fringe festival and the Royal Military Tattoo were going on in August, so there was plenty to do in the city, plus they have an amazing array of museums- including the Royal Museum and the Dynamic Earth Museum.  You could spend an entire day at either one of these musuems.  We stayed in the city of Edinburgh until late that evening, drinking Guinness in a pub, to catch the beginning of the Edinhburgh Military Tattoo– sort of a giant drumfest, but including horses!  Really beautiful.

Our trip was coming to an end, so we took one last day trip out to some of the highlands of Scotland.  We visited Loch Lomond, a magnificent lake, and then Stirling Castle (of Braveheart fame).  We had a great tour guide that day- said “wee” all the time, as in “I have a wee tale to tell you….”.  He was like a little leprechaun.  He did a great Sean Connery impression.  The fifteenth-century castle was really interesting to walk through and see.

With that, it was time to go back to London.  We had a fabulous steak dinner in Glasgow, then caught an overnight train to London and flew out the next morning.  Overall, I would say it was one of the greatest trips I’ve ever taken and I enjoyed all of it.  I would love to go back, but there are so many other places I want to see…..


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