Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May 10 and 11 - It Rains in Edinburgh

In the evening we are just not hungry and it's still raining. We walk up George's Street and end up eating a few mediocre Spanish tapas, of all things, then go in search of a pub and whiskey, something not very hard to find in Edinburgh.

We end up at the Conan Doyle, a charming traditional pub. We try several different single malts, skipping the ones, like Laphroag, that can be found in the states. If I had had my wits about me I would have carefully taken notes on which whiskeys we tried, but alas, only by going to a whiskey website can I remember a few of them. Bowmore, Caol Ila, Dalwhinnie...., nevermind, it's all delish. The couple next to us standing at the bar as well are fun to talk to, but when the girl asks we if I know "hahrrrreeee pahtorrrr" I cannot figure out what she is saying. Finally, Harry Potter! Oh! Duh.

In the morning it's not raining! We walk up Calton Hill for the best views of Edinburgh according to Robert Lewis Stevenson, another man whose poem snippets have been running through my head. One about the gaslights being lit, and another about "the pleasant land of counter pane" concerning pretending that your bed is a country with hills and valleys made by the lumps and bumps of the bedclothes.

Calton Hill does have great views, we walk up the Nelson Mounument, and walk around taking pictures. Then down the hill we go and back into Old Town. Try the Natnal Museum, this time it's open, so we go in and learn some Scottish history, then eat in the Tower restaurant in the museum for lunch. It starts raining again, so we duck into a coffeeshop off the Royal Mile and have a florentine cookie (chocolate, caramel, almonds, oranges), Scottish shortbread, and cappuccinos.

Then we take the Mary King Close tour. A Close is a narrow alleyway off the royal mile that used to be lined with tenement dwellings. High walls kept out the sun; disease and smells were rampant. The tour is pretty kitchy but it's cool to see some of the original rooms and pathways.

That evening we ate at a very nice French restaurant on Jeffery Street, right off the Royal Mile. The name of the restaurant was La Garrigue, and the food and service were excellent.

This is pretty much the end of our UK vacation. The next day we left Edinburgh and flew back to London. We spent one more night in a hotel on the Thames, took a walk along the river the next morning, and then flew back to the US that afternoon.

This was a wonderful vacation. I liked so many things about it, but if I had to pick a favorite, I guess it would have to be the couple of days we spent in County Kerry. I definitely want to go back to western Ireland again and explore more of the rural areas of that country.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

May 9th and 10th - On to Scotland, Edinburgh in the Rain

The drive back to Dublin is uneventful except for a fun lunch at a cafe that just happened to be having their grand opening in the little town of Portlouise. Half the town stopped in and the people were super friendly. We got to participate in their general happiness and excitement, and have a pretty good lunch as well!

We flew from Dublin to Edinburgh in a noisy prop plane. Our first indication that we are in another country is the Taxi driver with a THICK Scotish brogue. Those rolling rrrrr's are a little hard to understand.

Our new b&b, Six Brunton Place, is an old Edinburgh townhouse across from a pretty park. We have a nice room with a view of the garden and a teeny bathroom with the littlest sink I've ever seen, but a roomy shower, fluffy towels and efficient radiated heaters. We get in pretty late but the owner recommends a good nearby restaurant, The Olive Branch, and even drives us there so that we don't get lost. We enjoy a good bottle of wine and I have hake with chorizo. Yum.

We still manage to get lost on the way back to the b&b. There is a rotary between us and our destination and we're not positive which direction to go. Things look unfamiliar walking in the dark, but once we call our hosts they get us straightened out.

In the morning I run in the rain in the park across the street. We have a leisurely breakfast and talk to the other guests, including an interesting man that does things with charities in his retirement and travels all over the world.

We bundle up and head out into the elements. First up Princes Street to the Walter Scott monument, and then Edinburgh castle. Its raining harder, but we check out a few of the exhibits and the views. Now both raining and blowing, we watch the setting off of the 1 pm cannon and decide the heck with this.

We have lunch at a nice Kurdish restaurant around the corner from the castle, why not? Then down the hill we go to an area called The Grasslands. We end up shopping for sweaters and tweed jackets and manage to find some nice stuff. We both buy sweaters in a shop called Bill Baber Sweaters, and Lee buys a tweed jacket from Walker Slater . We are both very pleased with our purchases!

We try to go to the Scottish National Museum but it's closed for an "Industrial Action" whatever that means so we stop into a cafe for a coffee and a cookie and call it a day.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

May 8th - County Kerry

After a nice 30 minute run up the lane from the castle, passing stone walls, an ancient church, a graveyard, and plenty of cows, we head into Killarney and the nearby Killarney National Park for the day.

First stop is Ross castle, which dates from the days of the Irish chieftains, and was used primarily for defense. We go on a short tour, climbing the narrow stairs, peering down through arrow holes and trap doors, admiring the stone floors and massive oak ceiling.

Then its on to Muckrose house on the shores of Muckrose Lake. Instead of another tour or a ride in a pony cart we opt to hike around the lake, a distance of about 10k. Its a lovely hike, but I find myself thinking about Sherry Ott, hiking the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, 20k every day, blisters and now the flu. Get well soon Sherry! (she did)

We pass over an old stone bridge, past rhododendrons, moss, flowers, lake vistas, and general beauty. It takes us about 2 hours with multiple photo op stops.

We walk through the gorgeous gardens back at Muckrose House at the end, then sit outside and drink coffee. Once revived we take a short drive up the mountain to the spectacular vista at Ladies' View, so named because one of Queen Victoria's ladies in waiting exclaimed "this is the prettiest view in all the realm!" when she saw it, and she may very well be right. This part of Ireland is SO PRETTY! It's not the Rocky Mountains; it's small, and green, and exquisite. I love it!

We end the day at a quiet pub in Killarney. I have Irish Stew, and a beer. Ah.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

May 7th - Dublin to County Kerry

The drive from Dublin to County Kerry is not bad at all, and Lee drives on the left like a pro. In about 4 hours we have crossed central Ireland and entered the western part of the country. Our directions to the Ballyseede Castle Hotel are pretty obscure so I call them just to be sure. "Sure, its the next left past the Earl of Desmond Hotel!" they say encouragingly. I plug coordinates into the gps for added certainty, and for the rest of this portion of the trip we get to hear "arriving at coordinates" whenever we come back to our hotel.

I'm delighted and downright thrilled to find out that yes we are really staying in a castle, actually a 17th century country house that was privately owned until the 1960's. It is absolutely beautiful inside and out, with beautiful furnishings, knights in armour on the staircase, stone lions at the entry, and miniature ponies and donkeys in the field.

We still have a couple of hours left this afternoon so we decide to drive over to the little town of Dingle where we admire wool sweaters and I buy a pretty scarf. We return to the hotel by way of Connor Pass, and the view is completely spectacular. A rainbow greets us at the top of the pass, how cool is that? We drive the rest of the way through flocks of sheep, rocky fields, peat bogs. Unfortunately the remains of the Celtic Tiger, Ireland's burst housing bubble, can be seen in the vestiges of abandoned spec houses everywhere we go. But beyond the empty new houses lining the roads are ancient fences made of stones and brush. The word beautiful seems inadequate but that's what it is, beautiful.

We have a fine dining meal in the castle that evening and then retire to the bar to try some Irish whiskey before bed. A perfect ending for a lovely day!

May 6th - Dublin and Howth

This morning was the 11 mile run I was both anticipating and dreading. Its sunny, bright, clear and cold outside. I have a route all planned out but quickly lose my way and end up going in a circle somehow. I retrace my steps partway and decide to head down the Grand Canal which is what I should have done in the first place.

Strollers, runners, dogs, locks, ducks, swans, birds, flowers, trees; the run passes quickly. You'd think by my third year of marathon training I would know not to worry about those long training runs, but that seems to be a lesson I have to relearn every time.

I'm not 100% positive I'm going the right direction on my return until I see the Aviva Football Stadium in the distance. Since its right down the street from our b&b and looks like a giant flying saucer its hard to miss.

Lee has saved me a breakfast of granola, yogurt, dried fruit, grapefruit juice, French toast and coffee. After a shower it's time to head to Howth (pronounced Hoe), a cute little town on the seaside right outside Dublin. Cute yes, but also cold and windy! We walk to the lighthouse, snap a few pictures and then head inside to warm up and eat lunch. Chowder, mussels, fried oysters, oh and hot tea cause we're freezing. Then fortified we stroll some more. Up the hill to the ruin of an abbey. We go on a bit higher and then sit on a bench, ask other strolling couples if they know another way to get back to the train station. I produce a little laughter when I ask them "do you know where you're going?" The first couple didn't know anything more than we did, but the second couple pointed us down a pretty green path. We warmed up with coffee one more time and then made it back to Dublin on the train without incident.

That evening I signed us up for a literary pub crawl. With so many famous writers hailing from Dublin it seemed like an appropriate thing to do. The tour is led by two actors that combine drinks in 4 famous old pubs with recitations from Becket, Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and Brendon Behan, plus a drinking song or two to boot. I really like the bit from Waiting From Godot. That play is kind of boring and irritating to just read, because nothing happens, so I was pleasantly surprised that watching a scene is quite different and actually funny. I'm not much of a beer drinker but I do manage a glass each of Red Cider and Guinness over the course of a very entertaining evening.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

May 5 - A James Joyce Walk and an Irish Prison Tour

Irish oatmeal for breakfast then into the city for a James Joyce walk. We wander about the north side of the city seeing places where Joyce lived, or characters in Dubliners and Ulysses stayed or visited. Our guide gives us a mixture of bits of literature and Irish history thrown together. Its a very good tour, very entertaining and educational. Its so strange how some parts of Ullyses and Dubliners I remember so clearly and others not at all.

Then another good meal in a pub, vegetable soup warms us right up. We walk along the Liffey to the Kilhamon Gaol for a prison tour. It's much farther than we think, but a nice man encourages us along the way. "Going to the prison? Don't worry, you're almost there!" People are so friendly in Ireland!

The prison is grim and beautiful, awful bits of Irish history, hangings and rebellions. We take a taxi back to the train and the driver is a hoot, tells us where to go and what to do in Howth tomorrow, and the best way to enjoy ourselves on the drive to County Kerry. Will we take a picture at each county sign? Ha.

May 4 - Dublin

Our b&b is called Ariel House. With our still off sleeping habits it's hard to get up in time for breakfast, but we make it. I choose fruit and pancakes. Love those b&b breakfasts, but no desire to try a full Irish one. All that sausage and pudding things don't appeal to me at all. I'm a breakfast traditionalist, MY traditions, that is!

Then we take the DART, the Dublin light rail into the city, only 2 stops away. We wander through Trinity College, go to the Book of Kells exhibit and the old Library. The Kells exhibit is good. Besides displaying the beautifully illuminated manuscripts, there is a clear explanation of how and why these books were made, which makes it much more interesting. The old library is so beautiful! Yards and yards of books in a gracefully arched space.

Back in the gift shop Lee buys a Trinity College baseball cap for, our first official souvineer of the trip, but more a purchase of necessity than desire, since he forgot to bring a hat and his head is feeling bare.

Next we stroll through the Temple Bar area (mostly bars) and Dublin castle, whose tower (although not the right one, that tower is actually somewhere on the coast) has me thinking of Stephen Dedalus and the beginning of Ulysses.

Then we walk over to to St. Patrick's cathedral, smaller and a bit more decrepit than St. Paul's. There's no mention of snakes but there is a memorial to Jonathan Swift, who was a health nut that bathed and exercised when such activities we're considered unnecessary.

Finally we head over to Grafton street, a shopping and restaurant area for coffee, cakes, and Irish berets for both of us. Its darn cold in Dublin and we both need something to cover our heads. My hat is a wool tam that I end up really liking and wearing all the time. We walk through St. stephen's Green and Marston Place on our way back on the train, beautiful bits of greenery in a somewhat grey city. We have time to rest a bit before eating at the Lobster Pot, another wonderful restaurant close to our b&b.

Friday, May 11, 2012

May 3rd- London to Dublin

One last run in Battersea Park, dry the last of our clothes, eat the last of our food. Back to the Mason Arms for one more lunch and then it's off to Heathrow and Dublin. Funny how in just a few days a city like London can start to become comfortable. Just enought time to get a general sense of what it's about, enough to wish we could come back often and explore more thoroughly.

Quite a flog to get to our flight, but we knew it woud be. Only 1 hour+ a bit to get to Dublin. A much smaller airport, more casual security. We get a cute little Mercedes for our car and decide that perhaps its best after all for Lee to be the only driver which save us 20 euros a day, and both our nerves. I can drive on the left from our years in Hong Kong, but the thought fills me with anxiety. I make a much better navigator than driver.

We have a gps, plug in the address of our b&b, and an easy 30 minute drive later there we are at Ariel House. Its outside the little town of Ballsbridge right outside Dublin City. Dublin is much smaller and more compact than London. By the time we check in its almost 8, so we walk the 5 minutes to the town center and eat at a little French place, French Paradox, where they squeeze us in at the bar even though we don't have a reservation. Flights of wine, I especially like the white, a Spanish allbino, and a light red Cabernet. Duck terrine, leek soup. One of the best restaurants we've eaten at this trip!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

May 2- Boat Ride to Greenwich

We decide to walk to the Prince Albert Pub at the other end of Battersea Park for lunch. In our opinion its not as good as the Mason Arms, but we were charmed by the fact that they let dogs come inside with their owners. Harper would love it here! Then it's off to Westminster Pier, where we hop on the boat to Greenwich. We find out that the river is pronounced Temes, not Thames. The guide on the boat is funny and knowledgable, pointing out all the sights along the river. Its a cool misty day, thank God, I was boiling yesterday. On our latest journeys we've froze in Hong Kong and been sweaty in London. I guess it's hard to be prepared for any kind of weather on a vacation.

Once we arrive in Greenwich we head to the Maritime Museum, but are unimpressed. Then its up the hill to the Royal Observatory. Its worth the 7 pounds to take your picture on the prime meridian. I find zero longitude thrilling in a way, like its the place where everything begins, even though its just an arbitrary spot on the globe. I like the small exhibit about time and longitude, the misty views of London in the distance, watching the stadium going up for the equestrian games this summer.

Then we walk down the hill to the little town. Greenwich is supposed to have a good craft market, but we can't find it until after its closed for the day, oh well. Instead we opt to have a coffee in a cafe and plot our course to the Indian restaurant where we plan to eat tonight, which is outside of Lewisham, a small town south of Greenwich.

We decide to take a taxi there, which turns out to be a good idea since its a couple stops on the DLR and then a bus and we can't figure out which bus we need to take. The restaurant, Panhir Gurkha, serves Indian/Nepalese food, yummy and artfully presented. We do take the bus and train back to London though and are quite proud of ourselves for handling our transport so well. Of course, the conductor had to hold the train so we could run off and run back on since we forgot to validate our oyster cards before we got on, but they're used to bumbling tourists here, and he was very nice about it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May 1 - London

After another slow start, I head out for a run in Battersea Park. Its muggy out and I'm soon damp and sweaty. Its a drizzly day. We head to St. Paul's Cathedral, Christopher Wren's masterpiece. We wander around in awe listening to the audio tour. The mosaics, the arches, the domes...then up up up, 500 steps to view the city from the top of the dome, then creak downward feeling elderly by the end. Are my days of climbing 1500 steps in HK over? Or did I just need hiking boots? My calves are sore for the next 3 days

Lunch in a nice cafe, then a slow stroll over the millennium bridge to the Tate Modern. We pause mid-bridge to take pictures of iconic London Bridge with its drawbridge and two towers downstream on the Thames.

I had heard a lot about the Tate, but it turns out to be disappointing. There are currently no exhibits in the massive turbine hall which is what I was really looking for, a lot of it is closed, probably in preparation for the Olympics this summer. We glance at the Globe Theatre next door, but can't summon the time or energy for another tour just yet.

Back across the Thames and then, tada! The historic 15h bus is found after all! We hop on and ride it down to the tower of London, which turns out to be a huge Norman castle. We sit outside admiring the massive structure and drink some coffee, too tired to do any more touring today.

Monday, May 7, 2012

April 30th London

Sun! We head to Westminster abbey first. My oh my, I feel like my Art History class from freshman year just came to life right before my eyes. We take the free audio tour and wander through the naves, niches, graves and memorials that fill the interior of the abbey. The Abbey is of course in a very touristy area of London. most of the time things like this don't bother me, after all, I AM a tourist! But when it comes to finding good stuff to eat I am more particular. We decide we have to try fish and chips at least once on this vacation. UGH! Well at least we got that out of the way. Walk through St.. James park to Buckingham Palace, with the Christopher Robin poem repeating itself in my head.

"They're changing the guard at Buckingham Palace
Christopher Robin went down with Alice
Alice is marrying one of the guards,
A soldier's life is terribly hard,
Says Alice."

We can't find the historic 15h bus, and after wandering all around the Abbey we finally decide that the guidebk lied. Back to apt, then early seafood dinner at J. Shecky's, another excellent meal. Then its time to see some London Theatre. We have opted for One Man Two Govnurs, a slapstick piece of British humor based on comedia del arte, and although this sort of humor is not really my cup of tea, haha, I end up laughing in spite of myself, and not always at the same time as the rest of the audience. I'm glad our English friends suggested it cause we would have never seen it otherwise, and now that it's been nominated for something like 9 Tonies I can say I saw it when, I suppose!


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