Great Ireland Adventure – Goodbye Sweet Ireland

20160718_015210Sonja is flying back to Northern California and I’m flying back to SoCal so we’re on different flights heading home. (Sad faces!)

 

 

20160718_021729We got our bags checked quickly enough but then we had to get through security, a homeland security kiosk, another security, and finally a chat with the homeland security agent before finally making it to our gates, but not before stopping to savor a quick shot (I mean, sample) and take a moment to reflect on our time in Ireland.

 
2016-07-18-04-41-37--302087197As we were going through security we noticed Lizard Man in line behind us. Sonja joked that he was probably going to end up sitting next to her on the flight. Turns out he’s on my flight instead. Thankfully I’m not sitting next to him but Sonja sure got a kick out of it. She said that was my payback for ditching her and flying international first class back home.

 

20160718_041041Can I just say, international first class…it’s pretty freaking awesome! I’m sitting here with my footrest up and a glass of wine nearby. We’ve had a salad, an entrée, a cheese course, sundaes, cookies and another “light” snack. I had to pass on a few courses because I was worried they’d have to roll me off the plane. I’m flying into Newark where I’ll be hanging out in the First Class Lounge for 3 hours before catching my connecting flight.

The flight into Newark turned out to be the bumpiest flight I’ve ever been on. There was a major thunderstorm in the area and for the first time in my flying history I was actually looking around to make sure there was a little bag in the seat pocket in front of me.

20160718_170017 We arrived early into Newark but the airport was a mess because of all outbound the flight delays. Long story short…my flight was delayed getting out and I didn’t get home until after 11:00PM. The one redeeming factor was that the sky was breathtaking and I got a lot of great pictures.

This little traveler is tired! Unfortunately there will be no rest for the weary because I’m back on mom-duty bright and early tomorrow morning.

Good-bye sweet Ireland; I can’t wait to return.

Dublin Pub Crawl stats:
Steps: 7,987
Miles: 3.48

Great Ireland Adventure – Day 9 (New friends & old pubs)

We set the alarm so we’d be up in time to enjoy breakfast in the hotel. The restaurant was very charming. The food was delicious but the best part of the meal was the coffee. Those Irish know how to make a good cup of Joe. Every cup of coffee I’ve had this entire trip was brewed using a French Press. I’m not going to lie, I did a little online shopping and there just might be a French Press on my front porch when I get home. (Thanks, Amazon!)

20160716_053728We grabbed coffee and a scone at Fallon & Byrne because we loved the place so much at dinner last night. We managed to get in a lot of walking (and shopping) before heading out to meet up with our friends. Sonja has been Facebook friends with two of them for several years. She became acquainted with them through music. We had no idea what we were in for but we were pretty sure it was going to be a night to remember…it didn’t disappoint.

 

13692685_10153194182613078_6896731784109323391_nMaurice and Camilla met us outside a very posh store and we meet up with two more friends, Enda and Anne Marie (somehow she got cut out of the photo), before hitting the first of several pubs. Anne Marie is from Michigan but she’s celebrating 20 years in Ireland this year. They’re all very talented in their own way and although we just met them in person tonight, it feels like we’ve been friends for years.

20160716_072735The weather was so lovely that we had a hard time finding a place outside so we ended up downstairs at Bruxelles. Bruxelles is located just off Grafton Street and is actually 3 bars in 1. It was perfect because it was quiet and air conditioned. We spent some time chatting and getting to know each other.

FB_IMG_1468841435166Camilla is originally from Sweden and she’s a gifted artist. One of her (many) talents is knitting and Sonja ordered two custom-made stuffed kitties from her that she was going to hand-deliver when we met up. Sonja suggested I check out Camilla’s website, MillaMull Art & Design, and I fell in love with her designs. In fact, I ordered a unicorn, 2 kitties, and a frog. (The picture doesn’t do them justice!) You should have heard us squeal when she gave them! They are the cutest things you’ve ever seen and we could not contain excitement. My great-great grandparents were from Sweden and it was so special for me to have something handmade from this beautiful, talented Swedish artist. I can’t wait to send one of the kitties to my Nana.

20160716_091316The second pub, O’Donoghues, is one of Dublin’s oldest pubs and is known for having live, traditional Irish music  every night. There we met up with another couple, Enda and Karin. Walking into O’Donoghues is like walking into the Tardis—bigger on the inside. The facade is very small and it looks like a little hole in the wall, but when you step inside you realize it keeps going and going. I think there were 4 or 5 different sections to the place. We drank a glass, we learned the hard way to not order a pint, and enjoyed some live music before heading over to Foley’s for dinner. I think Smithwick’s might just turn this wine-loving gal into a beer drinker.

20160716_101640At Foley’s, we were joined by yet another couple, Maurice’s son and his girlfriend, who only added to the fun and festivities. A glass/pint and pub food (mostly fish & chips) were enjoyed by all before it was time to say goodbye to Enda and Anne Marie and Enda and Karin.

 

 

20160716_130009Now, off to The Palace Bar. The Palace Bar was another traditional Irish pub with its own local flair and several tiny, separate rooms. It was established in 1823 and the decor is the same today as it was back then.  After yet another glass/pint, it was finally time to call it a night. Hugs for everyone before a lovely stroll back to the hotel.

Tomorrow is our last full day in Ireland and we’re heading to a football game. This should be good! #UpTheDubs

Dublin Pub Crawl stats:
Steps: 12,252
Miles: 5.34

*Photo credit for the first group shot and the MillaMull Art & Design animals goes to Camilla.

Great Ireland Adventure – Day 8 (Old books and aged beef)

Boy did it feel good to sleep in! We weren’t on a time schedule for the first time since arriving in Ireland so we took our time getting ready for the day. We slept too late for breakfast in the hotel but figured we’d grab something light when we hit the streets.

We took the scenic route to get to Trinity College and it felt great to stretch our legs and enjoy the fresh air. The weather has been perfect this entire trip. There’s no cost to tour the grounds of the college but we wanted to see the Books of Kells so we had to wait in line and pay for that. I don’t know how many things I’ve purchased that haven’t made it home from the store without breaking and here I am looking at books from the 9th century. Impressive! Reading the history and seeing it up close and personal was a lovely experience. Photography is not allowed in the Book of Kells exhibit so go online and check it out.

13697011_10153845646373178_3280381759402325719_nFrom there we headed up to the “long room” to soak in the magnitude of literary history contained in the library. Wow! You don’t realize how young America is until you travel to other parts of the world.

 

 

 

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13729106_10153845651013178_7367291602441967886_nWe left the college and headed to the Dublin Castle and the Dubh Linn Gardens before roaming the streets and doing some shopping. There are so many parks in Dublin and the weather was perfect for enjoying them. We had late dinner reservations so we had time to rest at the hotel for a bit before heading back out for dinner.

20160715_120647Friends told us that Fallon & Byrne was their favorite restaurant and I can see why. It was a little pricey but worth every penny. The service was impeccable and the food was the best I’d eaten the entire trip. Here’s the description of the salad: Roasted peach, fresh goat’s curd & serrano ham with wild rocket, aged balsamic, pumpkin seeds & soda bread crisps.

 

 

20160715_123110We both ordered the Aged Irish rib-eye of Steak and didn’t leave a single morsel on our plates. Seriously one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten. Dinner was followed by an evening stroll through the streets of Dublin before heading back to the hotel to get some sleep.

On the walk back we saw this sweet tribute to the Nice victims.
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Agenda for tomorrow is another relaxing morning, some sightseeing and time with our Dublin friends. (Pretty sure there will be a pub or two involved.)

 

Dublin Pub Crawl stats:
Steps: 15,647
Miles: 6.42

Great Ireland Adventure – Day 7 (Why there are no pigs in Ireland)

Not sure what Fiona (that’s what we named our GPS) was thinking but she sure took us for a ride today. The road we took getting from the hotel through Cork on our way to Midleton was basically the size of a bike lane, complete with bikes…and a guy peeing on the side of the street. People in Ireland sure like living on the edge!

20160714_043206 We headed over to Midleton to meet Nicole at Farmgate Restaurant & Country Store. After driving past, doing a U-turn, going around the block and finally giving up and parking three blocks away and walking, we finally found the place. Farmgate turned out to be yet another quaint shop with fresh-baked breads and pastries, take away deli food, gourmet packaged goods and an award-winning restaurant. We sat on a small patio enjoying coffee and the best scone I’ve ever eaten. After lots of hugs and a promise to return soon, we turned the car Northward toward Kilkenny. If you make it to Cork, give yourself an extra day to visit Midleton. We didn’t have enough time this trip but you can bet it will be on the list for our next visit to Ireland.

20160714_043959BTW, if you ever find yourself in the water in Midleton you can take comfort knowing there are flotation devices at the ready. I don’t know why but I found these so cute.

 

 

 

20160714_065014Originally we were going to stop in Waterford but we kept hearing about Kilkenny so we were debating which one we had time for. Nicole said that if she had to pick, she’d pick Kilkenny. Once again, we were not disappointed. With so much to offer, Kilkenny definitely attracts a lot of tourists. We walked the grounds of the Kilkenny Castle then headed across the street to an artist shopping center. The shops were filled with wares from Irish jewelers, potters, painters, writers, and much more. It’s a great place to go if you’re looking for unique, artisan products and you have a big budget.
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20160714_063253The streets were lined with shops and cafes and we stopped by one to grab an iced tea for the road. One thing we learned the hard way is that it’s pretty much impossible to find unsweetened, unflavored iced tea in Ireland. I ordered an iced tea and the woman asked if I wanted any milk or lemon. I told her no thanks, I like it straight. To which she replied, “Just like we like our men, right?!” Sadly, it was lightly sweetened but at least it wasn’t artificially flavored.

 
We arrived in Dublin during rush-hour traffic and the roads were the busiest we’d experienced the entire trip. We checked with Fiona for a petrol station near the airport and we found the strangest place right down the street. Not sure exactly what it was but it looked more like a station for commercial vehicles than personal vehicles. Turns out it was run by an adorable couple who chatted with us about our trip and our time in Dublin. The husband told us that we HAD to go to football game on Sunday and we HAD to wear blue. (Up the Dubs!) I asked him what other color options there were and his reply was, “There are not other options.”  Looks like we know what we’re doing, and wearing, on Sunday.

We managed to get the car dropped off (sadly, we did not run into our German friend) and a taxi to the hotel in record time though. We were sharing the cab with another American and we had a fun time with the taxi driver. I asked him where all the pigs were because we’d seen tons cows and sheep but no pigs. Sonja piped in, “Yeah, there’s a lot of bacon and ham in the restaurants.” To which he replied, “That’s why you haven’t seen any pigs.”

When we drove past Domino’s Pizza I commented that it broke my heart to see that. He asked why and the guy we were ridesharing with replied, “It tastes like disappointment.” Touche!

20160714_112848The hotel was right across the street from the National Concert Hall and a stones throw from St. Stephen’s Green Park. It was the perfect location for walking and it was so easy to get around. We grabbed a quick dinner at a local pub before heading back to the hotel. On our way back we walked past a small liquor store and picked up some wine to go with our chocolates for dessert.

 

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Sidebar: The National Concert Hall was promoting their International Concert Series and turns out Sonja went to college and is good friends with one of the guest performers. Talk about a small world! Yes, we took a picture of the banner outside. For our Dublin friends, Sonja could not stop talking about how talented Joyce DiDonato is so go listen to her when she’s in Dublin! (I’m telling you, my girl Sonja knows people!!)

Tomorrow’s agenda includes sleeping in, Trinity College and dinner at Fallon & Byrne. Someone told us to put our credit cards on ice because Fallon & Byrne is very expensive. We’ll be getting in extra walking tomorrow and saving our appetites in anticipation of an exceptional meal.  I’m oddly excited.

Great Ireland Adventure – Day 6 (Cork, Kinsale and Firefighters)

20160713_073317So the highlight of this day will be hanging out with our friend, Nicole. She’s a singer (check out her website here) and has been a dear friend of Sonja’s for several years so we were both looking forward to hanging out with her and seeing the local side of Cork.

 

20160713_074448 We did some sightseeing and shopping before grabbing lunch at a Arthur Mayne’s. It’s a quirky pub/wine bar/restaurant. It used to be an old chemist and it’s decorated with bric-a-brac that I’m sure has been haphazardly acquired over the years. The waitress was phenomenal and one of the most delightful characters you’d ever hope to meet. She knew all the locals by name and treated us like we were long-lost friends. If you get the chance to go, I’d suggest dining on the patio for some real ambience. (Just beware of the smokers!)

20160713_081541From there I convinced the girls to head over to the Cork City Fire Brigade so I could have a look around and size up the local fire service. While I’m not at all shy about swinging by a fire station, evidently this was a pretty exciting adventure for our host and tour guide. They had a great time chatting up the crew while I geeked out taking pictures of the rigs and bombarding the guy in charge with questions. After lining them all up to take pictures, we excused ourselves and headed off again. We had to say goodbye to Nicole so she could get home but decided to meet up in her small village tomorrow morning for coffee and scones before heading up to Dublin.

20160713_110107 Several people had told us to take a drive down to Kinsale and since the sun was still up we decided to hop in the car and drive over. It was only a 30-minute drive from Cork and as we came around the corner into Kinsale we both gasped. Kinsale is a quaint fishing village with stunning views that will quite literally take your breath away.

 

20160713_104816The town center is lined with shops and restaurants and is bustling with folks on holiday. Most of the shops are filled with unique artisan pieces and it’s a treat for the eyes even if you’re just window shopping. Unfortunately we arrived just as most of the shops were closing so for the most part we were stuck with window shopping. However, we did manage to find a shop with some stunning handbags and we each walked out with one. Kinsale is definitely on the list for our next trip to Ireland.

20160713_131315We reluctantly said goodbye to Kinsale and headed back to Cork. We ate in the hotel restaurant and had the most delicious seafood chowder either of us have ever eaten. My mouth still waters just thinking about it. Dinner was followed by two hours in the lobby sipping our champagne and using our electronic devices since we still didn’t have WiFi.

Tomorrow we’re looking forward to coffee with Nicole, a stop in Kilkenny, then on to Dublin.

Great Ireland Adventure – Day 5 (Cliffs of Moher and Cork)

20160712_054010After a super quick breakfast, we were on the road to Cork with a side-trip to Cliffs of Moher. It’s about a 6-hour drive from Donegal to Cork and the locals were shocked we were doing it in one day. We had to laugh because a 6-hour drive in California wouldn’t give us a second thought. We thought maybe they knew something we didn’t. I will say that much of the drive was on country roads so there were a few white-knuckle moments along the way. If you’re ever considering driving in Ireland let me be the first to tell you that all the flora and fauna along the side of the road is actually covering a stone wall. There are no “soft shoulders” in Ireland! Thankfully we never had a need for a soft shoulder.

20160712_060220The drive from Donegal to Cliffs of Moher takes over 4-hours but it was stunning and we didn’t stop once. It’s everything you expect from a drive through Ireland and more!

 

 
Check out these curves!!
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The landscape was dotted with cows and sheep and it looked like Mother Nature blanketed the land with a green patchwork quilt. The only thing more brilliant than the greenery was the radiant blue sky that was highlighted with random puffs of fluffy clouds. It looked like a picture-perfect postcard from the Ireland Tourism Council…if there is one.
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20160712_065226Cliffs of Moher was breathtaking. I’ll be honest, I really wasn’t interested in seeing it, but since Sonja went along to Giant’s Causeway, I was going to return the favor and play along at Cliffs of Moher. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. Pictures cannot capture the magnitude of the beauty of this natural wonder. It’s quite a hike from the parking lot to the entrance and an even bigger hike to the top of the cliffs. It was fairly busy but we didn’t feel at all crowded or rushed. There were several places along the hike to stop and take pictures and just soak in the majestic views.
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Leaving Cliffs of Moher, we still had about an 1½ drive to Cork. By now we were both feeling tired and hungry so we stopped at a petrol station to grab a coffee and small snack before the final leg of our drive.

20160712_110315We arrived in Cork and found our hotel with no trouble. Our friend recommended the Ambassador because it was an older property with lots of charm and character, not to mention it had free WiFi and free parking.

 

20160712_111919Although we were in a room with a view it was basically the attic. Unfortunately for us the WiFi didn’t reach the “attic” so we were forced to sit in the lobby if we wanted to take advantage of the free WiFi. The elevator also didn’t go up to the 3rd floor (aka the attic) so we had to take the elevator to the 2nd floor then haul our suitcases up two flights of stairs to our room. Here’s the view from our attic room. It helped make up for the quirks at the hotel.

20160712_154903They did comp us a bottle of champagne for the inconvenience of not having WiFi, so there there was that.

Our first night in Cork was spent walking around stretching our legs after the long journey. After getting the lay of the land we headed back to the hotel for a bite to eat.

20160712_120027The best part of the meal was an unbelievable bread board with assorted breads, Irish butter, pesto and a tomato relish. As the waitress was walking across the room with it in her hand I was praying she was bringing it to our table. YUM!

Off to bed so we can meet up with Nicole tomorrow.

Dublin Pub Crawl stats:
Steps: 15,115
Miles: 6.51

Great Ireland Adventure – Day 4 (The Birthday)

I didn’t think we could top our epic New York birthday trip two years ago but I’m pleased to say we succeeded.

After breakfast and a quick goodbye to our breakfast friends from yesterday, we were in the car and heading to Giant’s Causeway. The drive was beautiful and there was surprisingly little traffic. Other than about 100 roundabouts there were no delays.

20160711_051748Giant’s Causeway was crowded and the weather was chilly and windy but it was on “The List” so we were not going to be stopped. We decided to forgo the shuttle bus and walk (I did need to get my steps in for the day) but walking down to the cliffs was much easier than the hike back…something we failed to take into account as we were leisurely strolling downhill. The rocks were very slippery because of the sprinkles so between the fear of a breaking a bone, trying to stay warm, and hiking up hill (both ways…in the snow), it wasn’t the most pleasant experience of the trip.

20160711_052744The views were stunning and we were both pleased we made the effort to see it.  To be honest, it’s one tourist attraction I’ll check off the list and not feel compelled to see again. Originally we’d planned on heading on to Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge but by this point we were both fading and, knowing we still had a 2 ½ hour drive back to the castle, we decided to head back.

20160711_075801The drive back was highlighted by a quick stop for gas and some ice cream. We didn’t realize the petrol station was full service and Sonja nearly ran over the attendant who seemed to appear out of nowhere. Fortunately he was quick on his feet and had a good sense of humor about it.

FB_IMG_1468262365499Back at the castle we decided to grab some bikes and head over to the cemetery we’d heard so much about. The bikes were an adventure in themselves but we somehow managed to not get killed.

 
20160711_094752The cemetery turned out to be the burial site for a Major General. The entrance was practically covered in brush and was definitely off the beaten path. We wouldn’t have known about it if Mary hadn’t shown us how to find it when she dropped us off last night. It’s amazing to me how much history there is here in Ireland and how many ruins there are in random locations. From the cemetery we biked over to the lake before heading back to grab some dinner.

20160711_110756Since it was my birthday, and we’d done so much hiking and biking today, we decided we’d earned the right to enjoy some authentic (guilt-free) fish & chips–boy were they good! In case you’re wondering, that green stuff is not guacamole, it’s mashed peas and it’s really good.

For dessert we had the most delicate apple pie I’ve ever eaten. Sonja mentioned to the waitress that it was my birthday and the Chef wrote Happy Birthday in chocolate on the plate. Of course no birthday meal would be complete without a little tonic (aka Irish Coffee!!)
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Our final adventure for the day was a trip to the spa for some swimming. For “hygiene standards” they require swim caps to be worn at all times in the pool. Thankfully I came prepared with two classic, flower swim caps, one for each of us, and because it was my birthday there were no arguments about whether or not they were going to be worn.
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The pool was empty so we convinced (and trust me when I say it took very little convincing) the janitor to take pictures while we entertained him with some synchronized swimming. He took his photography job very seriously and kept directing us so we were in the best lighting. Pretty sure he’s still laughing at us which is just fine because we’re still laughing too.
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Sitting here enjoying a nightcap and reminiscing about my day. This has been my best birthday yet and the best vacation ever.

Tomorrow we’re driving to Cork after a little side trip to Cliffs of Moher. I’m super excited to meet up with Sonja’s friend, Nicole. She’s an extremely talented singer-songwriter and crazy funny. She’s going to be our personal guide in Cork.

Dublin Pub Crawl stats:*
Steps: 10,862
Miles: 4.77
*I lost some steps/miles during the bike ride which is really frustrating because everyone knows if they aren’t documented on Fitbit the don’t count.