Ireland 2014 – Day 1 (Sunday, June 15 through Monday, June 16)

Planned Itinerary

  • 17:28-21:09 – UA1600 (DFW-IAD)
  • 22:15-10:18 – UA126 (IAD-DUB)
  • 11:45-13:00 – Tour of Trinity College
  • 14:00-15:30 – Tour of Leinster House
  • 16:15-17:45 – Tour of Guinness Storehouse
  • 18:30-20:30 – Hang out on Grafton Street; find a place to eat dinner
  • 21:00 – Check in to the Citywest Hotel & Resort
  • 22:00-1:30 – Watch US v. Ghana World Cup game

Kristalyn’s dad brought us to DFW Airport about three hours before our flight was scheduled to depart.  Mostly, this was to make sure that we had plenty of time to deal with anything unknown and unexpected.  By going through the gates on the end (E1-E10), there was virtually no one in line at security and we were able to get through very quickly.  While wearing a money belt is no doubt the right way to go when traveling in Europe, it’s not necessary and it makes it a little more difficult to get through security to have it on at that time.  The one thing I did right (more by luck than by design) was wear hiking pants with a lot of pockets, some of which have zippers.

Having gotten quickly through security, we then had a couple of hours before our flight was scheduled to board.  So, to TGI Fridays we went where I could have a couple of scotches, Kristalyn could have Spinach Florentine Flatbread, and we could watch the second half of the France v. Honduras World Cup game.

With the United iPhone app, I was able to keep track of our flights (both DFW to IAD and IAD to DUB) as well as the flights leading to them.  While our gate changed once, the flight itself looked to be on time.  We got into our respective boarding groups (Kristalyn was Group 3; I was Group 4) and waited our turn.  As we were waiting, they announced that it was a full flight and, since no one had volunteered to check their bags, those in Groups 4 and 5 would have to check their carry on item.  I pulled out the things that I thought I would need and gave them to Kristalyn or stuffed them in one of my many pockets.  As it turned out, however, by putting my now less full bag on like a backpack, I was able to get it on as a “personal item”.

During our flight to DC, both Kristalyn and I spent time reading, she on the iPad and me on the iPhone.  For the last hour or so, we used the headphone splitter to watch Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway on the iPad.

While I didn’t really realize it at the time, we were either a little late leaving Dallas or we lost some time in the air.  Fortunately, the flight attendant asked that those whose final destination was DC stay seated while those of us who were catching a connecting flight were able to get off and get through the airport.  Because the international flight boarded 45 minutes before takeoff (as opposed to the 30 minute boarding process for domestic flights), we got to the gate just in time.

Originally, we were seated in 35B and 35F, but we were were able to convince the woman who had the other window seat in the row to switch, and we sat together.

Despite taking Tylenol PM, sleeping was difficult.  Nonetheless, after what felt like an interminable amount of time, I was able to fall into a fitful, and often interrupted, sleep. Kristalyn was unsuccessful in falling asleep at all (neither Advil PM nor Tylenol PM made a difference for her).  Because she was awake, she got both a light supper and a light breakfast; I settled for one of the protein bars I had packed.

Upon landing at Dublin International Airport, we got our first stamp in our passports and were through Customs very quickly.

At the Dooley Car Rental counter, we filled out the paperwork and I very tiredly made the mistake of asking that she charge us for our petrol in US dollars.  Despite almost immediately correcting myself and asking that it be done in Euros, she had already hit the button and the damage was done.  My only consolation was that it is refundable if I bring the car back with a full tank.

Our wheels for the week

Our wheels for the week

Down the elevator and a couple of left turns later, we were standing on Irish soil for the first time as we waited under an overcast sky for the shuttle to get the rental car.  Silver, four doors and a hatchback, and a manual transmission, the Skoda Fabia turned out to be a pretty new, pretty zippy little ride.

Between the long time since I had driven a standard, and much more importantly, the fact that they drive on the wrong side of the road, my first few minutes behind the wheel were pretty tentative.  “Stay left.  Stay left.  Stay left.” became our often spoken mantra throughout the trip.

While all guidebooks and websites warned against driving into Dublin, particularly for Americans driving in Ireland or England for the first time, we nonetheless headed into town. With the GPS unit we very wisely rented with the car, we were able to get to the Guinness Storehouse Parking Lot (which is free…a rarity in Dublin) with only one set of extra turns. And, that was due more to the fact that streets are so poorly labeled rather than poor navigation or poor driving.

It was just cool enough that both Kristalyn and I decided to wear our light jackets.  Honestly, it probably would have worked out either way; while slightly cool, we ended up doing enough walking at a quick enough pace that we probably would have been fine without them.

As an afterthought, I decided to grab the GPS unit.  Looking back, it seemed like a no-brainer and I’m not sure how we would have found our way around Dublin without it.  We also apparently looked like the lost, first-time to Ireland tourists that we were because a very stereotypical short, red-headed man asked us if we were lost and then spent a few minutes asking us where we were from and how we liked it.

Even with the GPS, we took a few unintended detours through some of Dublin’s less scenic neighborhoods.  While they weren’t abundant, we did see a few homeless people sleeping or sitting on doorsteps and a few who looked to be druggies walking around.  The colorful doors on the row-houses were bright spots in otherwise dingy neighborhoods.

A short time later, we found ourselves walking along much more lively streets with lots of shops and restaurants.  Walking a little further on, we came upon Trinity College but, since we didn’t yet have any Euros (we were told our ATM card wouldn’t work until at least 8am Texas time – 2pm Ireland time), we decided to go find Leinster House where they provided a free tour.  We got there about 1pm which was about an hour and half before the tour started. So, back up to the tourist area around Grafton Street \we went.  Seeing a currency exchange shop, I decided to take the bad exchange rate in order to get the comfort of having some local currency on hand and I turned $100 into about 70 EUR.

With about an hour to kill and a hunger in our bellies, we looked for a restaurant that had something we were willing to eat and WiFi.  The Clarendon Bar looked to fit the bill.  While the WiFi was spotty at best, the Shepherd’s Pie and fries I ate were both delicious and filling. Kristalyn got salmon that she didn’t like quite as much; it was apparently pretty raw and fairly fatty.  I wasn’t sure 1) how to get my bill, or 2) whether they would accept my credit card.  I finally realized I just had to go to the bar to let them know I was ready to pay.  The waitress took my card and, because my card isn’t a Chip-and-PIN card which is the norm in Europe, she pointed out that I had to sign the receipt.  It wasn’t, however, an issue for either of us.

Leinster House

Leinster House

Having killed off most of the hour, we walked back to Leinster House, gave them our IDs, and waited for a few more minutes while other tourists arrived.  The tour started in the lobby where there were portraits of Éamon de Valera, Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith, and Cathal Brugha.  The tour guide, a self-proclaimed fast-speaking Dubliner, took us down a hallway to the right of the lobby to an area with law books from the days before the Irish Revolution.  Then, up the stairs, around the corner, and into the balcony above the Dáil Chamber. Originally built as a university lecture hall, it was renovated when it was purchased by Ireland (while Michael Collins was the Finance Minister) and is now an impressive legislative chamber.

After a few minutes and a few stories there, we went down the stairs and through the “Hall of Taoiseachs” (or something to that effect).  Originally built to make it easier for President Kennedy to get to the House Chamber, in part because he never used it, they renamed it and hung portraits of former Taoiseachs (Prime Ministers).

Next he took us to the Seanad (Senate) side.  Along the way, we went through a hallway which contained the offices of the Ceann Comhairle (House Speaker) and Cathaoirleach (Senate Chairman).  This led to a narrow set of stairs at the top of which was a door going into the Seanad Chamber.  It was very ornate but very small for a legislative chamber. Apparently, it was originally a ballroom when the House was a home and was renovated upon being purchased for the Government.

Finally, we stopped at a battle flag President Kennedy presented to the people of Ireland. The flag commemorated the contributions of the Fighting 69th, a predominantly Irish regiment from New York, during the American Civil War.

Kristalyn enjoying her Guinness

Kristalyn enjoying her Guinness

Having successfully accomplished one of our tourist goals, we began the walk back across town to the Guinness Storehouse. By this time my allergies were going nuts and Kristalyn realized I hadn’t yet taken my allergy pills for the day.  So, we stopped at the car and I got them out of my bag so that I could take them when I had something to drink.  Then, into the Guinness Storehouse we went.   We were able to quickly redeem our pre-purchased (and discounted) tickets at the kiosk and get up to the first floor where they have a large store with a great deal of Guinness-branded merchandise and an orientation area.

Gravity Bar

Gravity Bar

With orientation sessions starting every five minutes or so, we didn’t have long to wait to hear the story about Arthur Guinness leasing the land (and all-important water rights) for 9,000 years.  After a fairly quick walk through of exhibits about the brewing process, we headed up to the 7th floor which was home to the Gravity Bar and where we could redeem our tickets for a pint of Guinness.  This was where the action was; packed with people enjoying a pint, the glass-enclosed room gave close to a 360-degree view of Dublin and the Wicklow Mountains.  Much to my surprise, Kristalyn drank – and sort of enjoyed – her pint.  Guinness really is better in the mother country.

As tired as we were, we decided to forgo an evening on Grafton Street and, instead, headed for the hotel.  Plugging back in the GPS unit, we entered the Citywest Hotel address and began the journey.  Shortly thereafter, we began getting low-battery warnings from the GPS unit.  Thinking it just wasn’t plugged in well, I checked both connections and kept going.  But, it wasn’t too much longer before the GPS unit was dead.  Not really knowing where we were, and not knowing at all where we were going, we pulled into a McDonalds/Convenience Store parking lot where we tried everything we could to get the GPS unit working and then to find a map that would show us where we needed to go.  Unsuccessful at both and realizing that we would need the GPS for the rest of the trip, we decided to try and get back to the Car Rental place at the airport.

This turned out better than we probably could have hoped for as we could tell that the Airport was off of M50 to the north and we quickly saw signs pointing that way.  The folks at Dooley’s were great about diagnosing the problem (bad cigarette lighter fuse) and getting it fixed.  With a now-functioning GPS unit, we were back on the road and heading for the hotel.

Even with the GPS unit, we managed to get off at the wrong exit but, because the exit led quickly to a roundabout, we got right back to the right road and made it to the hotel without further incident.

Citywest is a really nice resort hotel with what looks to be a beautiful golf course.  Our priority, however, was a nap and it didn’t take long for either of us to crash.  We woke up too late – a little after 10pm – to eat at the restaurant in the hotel.  So, we settled for protein bars and water in our room.

While I watched the US v. Ghana World Cup game (US scored in the 1st minute, Ghana scored to equalize in the 82nd minute, and the US came right back in the 86th minute to win the game), Kristalyn tried to get some much-needed sleep.  With about 20 minutes left in the game, I took a couple of Tylenol PMs, hoping that they would help me get 6 good hours of sleep in spite of the allergies that were still bothering me.

Actual Itinerary

  • 17:28-21:09 – UA1600 (DFW-IAD)
  • 22:15-10:18 – UA126 (IAD-DUB)
  • 12:45-13:30 – Lunch
  • 14:15-15:30 – Tour of Leinster House
  • 16:00-17:30 – Tour of Guinness Storehouse
  • 19:00 – Check in to the Citywest Hotel & Resort
  • 22:00-1:30 – Watch US v. Ghana World Cup game

Ireland 2014 – Day 4 (Thursday, June 19)

Planned Itinerary

  • 8:45 – Check out of Hollymount House Bed & Breakfast
  • 9:00-10:30 – Rock of Cashel
  • 12:00-13:30 – Waterford Crystal Factory
  • 18:00 – Check into Harbour Hill Farm Bed & Breakfast
  • 20:00-22:30 – England v. Uruguay World Cup game

The day started with an alarm at 7am; it was our best night sleep so far.  We had a traditional Irish breakfast (bacon, eggs, ham, sausage, a potato cake, and something we never did identify); not heart-healthy but pretty tasty.

Cahir Castle

Cahir Castle

After a fun conversation with Margaret in her driveway, we loaded up and headed back into Cahir where the castle was now open.  As the first visitors in, we had the theatre to ourselves as we watched a 15-minute video about the castle and its history.  We then spent about 45 minutes exploring the ruins, climbing up to the top of towers and down to the bottom of dungeons.

The view from inside Cahir Castle

The view from inside Cahir Castle

Going to see this as our first castle in Ireland turned out to be an inspired choice as we were able to explore and enjoy it without comparing it to any of the others that might be more elaborate or better preserved.

Rock of Cashel

Rock of Cashel

Next up was the 15-minute journey to the Rock of Cashel where we proudly presented our Heritage Cards which were really paying for themselves.  On every tour guidebooks list of must-see locations, it lived up to its billing.  Our young tour guide did a great job talking us around the ruins on a cool windy day.

Once we figured out how to pay to get out of the parking lot (even though a piece of tape indicating that 2 EUR coins weren’t accepted, that was about all it would take…thank goodness a tour bus driver was paying his way out and talked us through it), we headed for Waterford.  This turned out to be the closest thing to a misadventure we’ve had so far.  The path the GPS took us on to get to Waterford Crystal was closed off.  We tried to find our way around the closure but we kept getting sent down a dead-end road.  Even after stopping to ask directions while topping off the gas tank, we were unsuccessful in finding it.  After the third time we hit the dead end and feeling like we were living in The Truman Show, we decided it wasn’t meant to be; since it wasn’t a stop that either of us were particularly excited about, we chalked it up as an excuse to see this industrial town and drive along the coast to Kinsale.

Looking across the harbour to Kinsale

Looking across the harbour to Kinsale

Kinsale has proven to be our favorite town thus far.  Very picturesque as it sits near the harbour, it has a very active city centre.  We found the free parking lot by the fire station (sort of by accident) and walked 10 minutes into the heart of town.  We spent about an hour shopping and bought shirts for the boys and me.  As it was getting close to 6pm, we headed to the Harbour Hill Farm Bed and Breakfast to check in.

Jim Edwards Restaurant & Bar

Jim Edwards Restaurant & Bar

We were greeted by Siobhan who took us up to our room and gave us advice on where to eat and drink in town.  Taking her advice, we went to Jim Edwards Seafood Restaurant where I had the fish and chips while Kristalyn had the pan fried hake, which she said was about the best fish she’s ever had.  After splitting strawberries and ice cream for dessert, we went over to Kitty O Se’s to watch the England v. Uruguay game and listen to some Irish singing.  We were disappointed only by the result of the game as England was effectively eliminated from the World Cup in losing 2-1).  The music and atmosphere were great as I enjoyed a couple of Smithwick’s and Kristalyn kept her Guinness streak alive with two of her own.

Deciding that getting a good night’s sleep for two nights in a row was a worthy goal, we left about 10:45pm and made the short drive back to the B&B.

Actual Itinerary

  • 8:45 – Check out of Hollymount House Bed & Breakfast
  • 9:00-10:00 – Cahir Castle
  • 10:15-11:45 – Rock of Cashel
  • 12:45-13:45 – Waterford (but not the Crystal Factory)
  • 15:45-17:45 – Kinsale
  • 18:00 – Check into Harbour Hill Farm Bed & Breakfast
  • 20:00-22:30 – England v. Uruguay World Cup game (Kitty O Se’s)

Ireland 2014 – Day 3 (Wednesday, June 18)

 Planned Itinerary

  • 8:45 – Check out of Citywest Hotel & Resort
  • 9:30-12:30 – Powerscourt Estate
  • 13:00-15:00 – Glendalough
  • 17:00-17:45 – Cahir Castle
  • 18:00 – Check into Hollymount House Bed & Breakfast

Up at 6:30am again, we didn’t get much sleep (something like 5 hours) but it was pretty good sleep, at least for me.  We packed up, ate some breakfast, and headed out for Powerscourt.

One-lane road Two directions of traffic

One-lane road
Two directions of traffic

This was our first experience with driving on the rural roads of Ireland.  In Rick Steves’ travel guidebook he says that, on these rural roads there is no “my side of the road” or “your side of the road”, there’s just “the road”.  I have a whole new appreciation for what that means now.  A great deal of the time the road was just barely big enough for two small cars to get past each other; many other times, it required one car to pull over in order to let the other one by so you had to really be looking to see that other car coming.

My favorite road in Ireland

My favorite road in Ireland

The drive to Powerscourt was nothing short of spectacular.  I had the thought that if I had to drive this winding road through this landscape for all of eternity, I’d consider heaven a pretty good deal.

Despite having the GPS guiding our way, we missed more than one turn during the day.  Every time it happened, we had the chance to see something we wouldn’t have otherwise, usually in the form of seeing a off-the-beaten path neighborhood that tourists rarely frequent.  The GPS also tried to take us to the wrong Powerscourt…the waterfall instead of the House and Gardens.  We knew we were close, though, and we quickly began seeing signs to the Powerscourt we wanted.

Powerscourt from the back steps of the House

Powerscourt from the back steps of the House

Because we had purchased our tickets online, we simply presented our receipt to redeem our tickets and out the door we went.  If you aren’t prepared for it – and we weren’t – the view as you turn the corner will take your breath away.  Once we caught ours, we spent the next hour or so roaming the grounds.

Starting down the stairs

Starting down the stairs

We started by walking partway down to the lake before realizing that the tour as it was laid out took you other places first.  So, we retraced some of our steps and headed down the recommended path.

The Tower in the Powerscourt Garden

The Tower in the Powerscourt Garden

First up was the tower.  With the gate to the door being opened, we fearlessly headed inside, up the three flights of stairs, and out to the terrace.  Most noticeable from this perspective was how high the trees still were above you.

Looking down on the Japanese Garden

Looking down on the Japanese Garden

Back down and out, we walked around to the Japanese gardens.  Amazing in their own way and so very peaceful, we sat down in the gazebo and just experienced these gardens.  Not many other tourists had made their way to this section yet so we had a few minutes of relatively undisturbed time by ourselves.  We noticed that there were additional paths that weren’t on the “recommended” tour.  It should come as no surprise to anyone that these were the paths we headed down.

In awe of the Grotto

In awe of the Grotto

Coming out of these paths, we walked into the entrance of a mystical grotto that looked like something from “The Hobbit”.

Pet Cemetery

Pet Cemetery

From there, we strolled up to the Triton Lake and then took the winding path around to the Pet Cemetery where they have buried dogs, horses, and cows for more than 100 years.

One of the thousands of flowers at Powerscourt

One of the thousands of flowers at Powerscourt

We then sat by the Dolphin Fountain (on which there were no Dolphins) for a few minutes before heading for the walled garden.  This was another section that caught us totally unprepared since you couldn’t really see it coming until you went through the gate in the tall stone wall. It was filled with a ton of flowers on both sides of a path that led to a rose garden.  There were hundreds (thousands?) of roses of every color of the rainbow…except, for some reason, blue.

One of the winged horses overlooking Triton Lake

One of the winged horses overlooking Triton Lake

Taking one more trip down to the Triton Lake from the other side, we got our pictures of the winged horses for our middle son.  And then we headed slowly back to the house.  We took a quick tour of the small exhibit area which only made us regret that we were not able to see the banquet room which must be spectacular in its own right; since it’s apparently only open on a couple of days a week, and today wasn’t one of those days, it wasn’t possible.

A little bit of shopping for Kristalyn and we were on our way. Breakfast was filling enough for Kristalyn that she wasn’t hungry even though it was a little past noon.  Because a protein bar is often a meal for me and I had plenty of them, off the road we went.

Guinness Lake

Guinness Lake

We knew we had to take the scenic route to Glendalough along the military highway, but we weren’t sure we knew how to get there.  Nonetheless, we started down the very narrow road and fumbled our way through.  Were we ever so glad that we did. We must have pulled over three or four times to explore scenic views.  On two different occasions we stopped to look down on “Guinness Lake”, so named apparently because 1) Arthur Guinness owned the house nearby at one time, and 2) with its dark color and one sandy beach, it resembles a very large glass of Guinness.

After all of our detours, we arrived at Glendalough where parking was a challenge.  Proving once again that, in Ireland, the smaller car is the better car, we were able to squeeze into the smallest parking space I’ve ever used.

With our Heritage Cards in hand, we were able to get into the Visitors Centre at no charge. We did, however, have to spend 50 cents to get a map of the site.  We took a few minutes to walk through the exhibit and then watched a 20-minute video on monasteries in Ireland.  If it had been a 25-minute video, Kristalyn and I both would have been asleep.  Not that it wasn’t interesting; we were just exhausted and sitting for that long without falling asleep was a huge challenge.

Glendalough Monastery

Glendalough Monastery

With the video complete, we got up and got the blood moving again by walking over to the ancient monastery and graveyard.  It’s a place that people are literally and figuratively dying to get into to this day even though it’s so crowded it’s hard to believe any portion of the ground is available for another body.

Upper Lake at Glendalough

Upper Lake at Glendalough

We then walked up to the Upper Lake.  Not knowing any better or different, we decided to take the boardwalk path up.  It proved to be an easy, gently sloping path, even if it was a little bit longer than the Green Road.  At the Upper Lake, we found people everywhere.  Some were picnicking, some were sunbathing, and some were playing in the lake.

Because we wanted to get to Cahir in time to visit the Castle before checking into the Bed and Breakfast, we cut our visit to Upper Lake short and headed down the Green Road.  While not a difficult path, the grade was certainly steeper and the path much rougher.

From Glendalough, we drove to Cahir, at first along the same winding, narrow roads we had spent most of the day on, and then on a Motorway where we could really pick up the pace. We had to roll the windows down and turn on the radio in order to keep awake, however, as the long straight road can by hypnotizing to sleep-deprived tourists and the lack of air conditioning made it a little warm.

Cahir

Cahir

Pulling into Cahir, we made two fateful decisions that cost us three precious minutes.  First, we decided not to park in the pay parking lot right next to the castle.  So we parked a couple of blocks away where it was free and walked back.  We then unknowingly walked around the back of the castle and, by the time we figured it out and walked back around the front, we missed the last admission by those three minutes.

View from Hollymount House Bed & Breakfast

View from Hollymount House Bed & Breakfast

So, we headed to the Hollymount House Bed and Breakfast where we were greeted by Margaret, a delightful woman who has been hosting a B&B for 26 years.  She gave us our three restaurant options in town and back to the square we went. After looking at the menus posted outside, we elected for the Galileo Café, an Italian restaurant where the locals eat.  We both put away large bowls of pasta (penne, red sauce, and vegetables for Kris; Chicken alfredo for me).

Needing some grocery items, we walked something like a quarter of a mile down to the grocery store.  After doing a little exploring just to observe an Irish grocery store, we picked up some sandwich stuff, fresh fruit, Irish chips, baby wipes, and plastic utensils (we really should have bought Rick Steves’ travel plasticware!).  We then went back to the square, bought some ice cream, and walked around while we ate it.

While it was only about 8pm at this point, we were both pretty wiped out so we went back to the B&B, hit the showers, and watched the Spain v. Chile game as we drifted off to sleep.

Actual Itinerary

  • 8:45 – Check out of Citywest Hotel & Resort
  • 9:30-12:30 – Powerscourt Estate
  • 13:00-15:00 – Glendalough
  • 17:00-17:45 – Cahir Castle (almost)
  • 18:00 – Check into Hollymount House Bed & Breakfast

Ireland 2014 – Day 2 (Tuesday, June 17)

Planned Itinerary

  • 9:00-12:00 – Newgrange and Knowth
  • 12:30-14:30 – Hill of Tara
  • 15:30-17:00 – National Museum of Ireland-Archaeology
  • 18:30-22:00 – An Evening of Food, Folklore, and Fairies (The Brazen Head)

The alarm went off at 6:30am after only about 4 hours of sleep, but we had places to go and we weren’t going to let a lack of sleep slow us down.  We did let breakfast slow us down, though, and we didn’t get on the road until a little after 8am.  This meant we got to experience Dublin rush hour as the road we needed to take to get out of town was packed.  A lot of stop and a little go.  Fortunately, it didn’t last all that long (at least in terms of distance; time was another matter).  Once we broke free, it was pretty much clear sailing to Newgrange.  Except that the GPS wanted to take us to the site instead of the Visitors Centre. Once we figured out that that’s what was going on, we resorted to old fashioned sign-following and got there without much trouble.

Walking into the Newgrange/Knowth Visitors Centre

From the parking lot, we walked through a tree-covered pathway to the Visitors Centre where we were greeted by a typically delightful docent who got us signed up for the tours and gave us the stickers with the times our buses would depart.

Newgrange

Newgrange

Our timing couldn’t have been better as, following a 5-minute look-around, we realized that it was already time to walk down the path and across the bridge to get on one of two buses leaving at 10:15am.

Newgrange

Newgrange

The drive to Newgrange took all of about 5 minutes.  We spent the next hour exploring this burial mound.  This included going inside a tunnel that at times was so narrow I had to turn my shoulders to the side.

At the Newgrange site

At the Newgrange site

Once inside, we were able to see the three recessed areas as well as the dome shaped ceiling. The tour guide used the light they had installed to simulate the sun rising on the Winter Solstice.

Cattle crossing the road

Cattle crossing the road

After our hour was up, we got on the bus and went back to the the Visitors Center only to load back up for the trip out to Knowth. As we made the slightly-longer journey, we encountered the stereotypical herd of cattle crossing the road.  With the bus at a complete stop, the cattleman maneuvered the herd of twenty or so cattle around the bus and down the road.  There’s at least a chance the whole thing is staged for the tourists, but it was entertaining nonetheless.

Knowth burial mounds

Knowth burial mounds

Surrounded by something like seventeen smaller mounds, Knowth was impressive in a different way than Newgrange. Because the tunnels haven’t been stabilized, tourists can’t go inside in the same way that you can at Newgrange.  You can, however, look down the tunnel through the gate they’ve installed to get a sense of how deep it goes.  You are also able to go to the top of Knowth and see where the house(s) would have been in later centuries.  The views from both Newgrange and Knowth were spectacular.

Back at the Visitors Centre, it was well past lunchtime so Kristalyn had a french bread pizza and I had Irish lasagna at their little restaurant.  While waiting on the bus, I had realized that buying a Heritage Card would have saved us some money since we are going to several of the sites.  So, I talked to the ticket agent about the possibility of applying the cost of our tickets to the cost of a pass.  She couldn’t have been nicer about it and we are now proud holders of Heritage Cards.  After shopping in the gift shop (and purchasing a postcard we sent to the boys), we headed out, but not before plugging “grocery store” into the GPS.  This took us to a little convenience-type store in Donore where we bought a big jug of water, hairspray, and some bananas.

Because it was so late, we decided to skip the Hill of Tara and head back into Dublin.  We were able to find the parking lot I had scouted out online (but not before nearly heading down the road the wrong way when a bus, trying to make a right turn onto the street we were on, got stuck because the turn was too tight; in trying to get out of his way, I ended up going the wrong way down a one-way street for a very short period of time).  Fortunately, everybody – including the cop directing traffic – was very patient with the tourist driver.  Not far from our parking garage was the National Museum of History-Archaeology which had the distinct advantage of being free.  Following the tour directions in Rick Steves’ Ireland guidebook, we explored the museum until it closed at 5pm.

The Brazen Head

The Brazen Head

Having some time to kill before we needed to be at The Brazen Head, we walked through St. Stephen’s Green which was impressive not only for the beauty of the grass and the water but for the number of people who were taking advantage of a beautiful day in a beautiful place.

That done, we began the walk to The Brazen Head where we had reservations for An Evening of Food, Folklore, and Fairies.  We got there a few minutes too early so we sat downstairs and got online. Remembering that we hadn’t paid for our tolls yet, we took advantage of the internet connectivity to pay for the number of trips we think we took on the toll road.

Upstairs on the 3rd floor, we were in a room with about 60-70 people seated at 5 different tables.  We joined Terry and Sandy (elementary principal) from Billings, MT who were celebrating their 25th anniversary and Emma and her mother from Portland, OR; (this trip sounded like a graduation gift for Emma).  Johnny, the Irish storyteller, regaled us with stories between appetizers (potato fish cakes for both of us), dinner (Irish Stew for Kris; Beef Stew for me), and dessert (chocolate cake for Kristalyn; apple pie for me).  I had a Smithwick’s and Kristalyn, being converted to the cause, had her second Guinness in as many days.  While we ate dinner, we were entertained by a guitar playing singer/comedian and a fiddle player.  This evening was not cheap, but I think it was worth it.

The Temple Bar

The Temple Bar

The meal and entertainment finished up about 10pm so we began the walk back to our car…while it was still light outside.  Having missed the nightlife last night, we decided to walk through the Temple Bar district where there were a ton of folks, both in the bars and in the streets.  Kristalyn found a shop that was still open and bought an Irish t-shirt.  We finished the walk back to the car, remembered a little late that we were supposed to pay before we got to the car (so Kristalyn had to jump out and pay while I circled the garage), and drove back to the hotel.  Getting in a little after midnight, I took a hot bath and some ibuprofen to try and relax my lower back which had tightened up significantly while Kristalyn got a jump start on getting some much-needed sleep.

Actual Itinerary

  • 10:00-14:00 – Newgrange and Knowth
  • 15:00-17:00 – National Museum of Ireland-Archaeology
  • 18:30-22:00 – An Evening of Food, Folklore, and Fairies (The Brazen Head)

Ireland 2014

We had made arrangements for Kristalyn’s parents to watch the boys for a week in June. Now, we had to figure out where to spend our first real vacation since we got married almost 13 years ago.  One possibility I was exploring was to drive up through Idaho to Washington and Oregon.  In fact, I had spent a fair amount of time mapping out a possible route, complete with stops and potential activities.  But, when Kristalyn’s parents pointed out in early May that they could actually keep the boys a few days longer was followed by an email from Budget Travel with vacation packages to Ireland, we had a whole new ballgame.  I spent a couple of days looking at calendars, budgets, and TripAdvisor, and I was getting excited. One more phone call to her parents to confirm the dates and I pulled the trigger.

We spent the next couple of weeks sketching out an itenerary, booking bed & breakfasts (the package came with open vouchers for B&Bs), getting passports, watching travel tips videos, ordering travel supplies, and developing packing lists.

With the entire family anxious to get the vacation underway, we were pretty well packed and ready to go by the night of Thursday, June 12.  This allowed us to leave on Friday evening after I got off work and the rest got back from Reid’s gymnastics.  A late arrival in Amarillo on Friday night followed by a 6-hour journey to Ft. Worth on Saturday and we were just a Sunday night departure from DFW away from beginning the adventure.

We decided early in the process that we were going to operate under three philosophies: 1) this was just our first trip to Ireland, not our only one, so we don’t have to try and do everything, 2) travel planning is a lot like military planning (in war planning, it is said that plans rarely survive first contact with the enemy; in travel planning, the plans rarely survive first contact with the realities of the destinations); and 3) we are nothing if not flexible.

So, with that all being understood, we developed the following itinerary (all times local):

Sunday, June 15-Monday, June 16

  • 17:28-21:09 – UA1600 (DFW-IAD)
  • 22:15-10:18 – UA126 (IAD-DUB)
  • 11:45-13:00 – Tour of Trinity College
  • 14:00-15:30 – Tour of Leinster House
  • 16:15-17:45 – Tour of Guinness Storehouse
  • 18:30-20:30 – Hang out on Grafton Street; find a place to eat dinner
  • 21:00 – Check in to the Citywest Hotel & Resort
  • 22:00-1:30 – Watch US v. Ghana World Cup game

Tuesday, June 17

  • 9:00-12:00 – Newgrange and Knowth
  • 12:30-14:30 – Hill of Tara
  • 15:30-17:00 – National Museum of Ireland-Archaeology
  • 18:30-22:00 – An Evening of Food, Folklore, and Fairies (The Brazen Head)

Wednesday, June 18

  • 8:45 – Check out of Citywest Hotel & Resort
  • 9:30-12:30 – Powerscourt Estate
  • 13:00-15:00 – Glendalough
  • 17:00-17:45 – Cahir Castle
  • 18:00 – Check into Hollymount House Bed & Breakfast

Thursday, June 19

  • 8:45 – Check out of Hollymount House Bed & Breakfast
  • 9:00-10:30 – Rock of Cashel
  • 12:00-13:30 – Waterford Crystal Factory
  • 18:00 – Check into Harbour Hill Farm Bed & Breakfast
  • 20:00-22:30 – England v. Uruguay World Cup game

Friday, June 20

  • 8:45 – Check out of Harbour Hill Farm Bed & Breakfast
  • 9:15-10:45 – Don & Barry’s Historic Stroll in Old Kinsale
  • 13:00-15:00 – Bantry House
  • 16:30-17:45 – Gleninchaquin
  • 18:00 – Check into Oakfield Bed & Breakfast

Saturday, June 21

  • 7:00-12:00 – Ring of Kerry
  • 12:00-16:00 – Dingle Peninsula

Sunday, June 22

  • 9:00 – Check out of Oakfield Bed & Breakfast
  • 9:30-10:00 – Drive through the Gap of Dunloe
  • 13:00-17:00 – Lough Gur Summer Solstice Festival
  • 18:00 – Check into Sea Crest Farmhouse Bed & Breakfast
  • 23:00-1:30 – US v. Portugal World Cup game

Monday, June 23

  • 8:00 – Check out of Sea Crest Farmhouse Bed & Breakfast
  • 10:00-13:00 – Cliffs of Moher
  • 17:00 – Check into San Juan Bed & Breakfast

Tuesday, June 24

  • 9:00 – Check out of San Juan Bed & Breakfast
  • 10:15-12:15 – Farmleigh House
  • 18:00-21:00 – LH981 (DUB-FRA)
  • 22:00 – Check into Comfort Hotel

Wednesday, June 25

  • 7:00 – Check out of Comfort Hotel
  • 10:00-13:55 – LH438 (FRA-DFW)

We knew that we had probably packed too much into schedule, but we had already been discussing what we would drop if we found ourselves running out of time.  This proved to be very helpful as we would quickly have to begin adapting to conditions on the ground.

Next up:  Traveling to Ireland and our first day.

I Don’t Care Who You Are – This is Impressive

Take less than a minute out of your life and be amazed by the hitting performance you’re about to witness.

I’m pretty sure the shortstop gets a pretty good workout when this guys up to bat.

h/t:  Extra Life

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

This presents me with the opposite problem that I’ve had with books that aren’t good enough to inspire me to write about them.  Quite simply, To Kill a Mockingbird is the best book I’ve ever read.  It also happens to be the first “real” book I ever read.  And, I don’t have a clue what to write about it to do it anything resembling justice.

When I was in the fifth grade or thereabouts, I was bored and giving my folks a hard time.  My mom handed me the old copy that was on our bookshelves, we took turns reading a chapter each out-loud, and a love affair was begun.  Incidentally, I’ve still got that copy I read for the first time even though I’ve had to use a lot of masking tape to keep the cover together and pages are beginning to fall out.  I re-read it again in high school, then again in college, and yet again in law school (not because I was required to, but because I love it that much).  Since law school, I have made an effort to read it at least once every couple of years.  It simply never gets old.

It had probably been more than two years since I last read it and I had been thinking about when I might make time to read it again when, on one of my many pilgrimages to Half Price Books, I found a copy of it on cassette for $2.48.  It didn’t take me long to snatch that up and begin thinking about when I might be in the car for a long enough stretch that I could listen to most of it at one time.

Turns out I was not far away from such an opportunity as I was getting ready to move from Texas to New Mexico.  As I was making that long drive, I eventually ran out of range of The Ticket so I put this in the tape deck.  The rest of the journey was as pleasant a road trip as I’ve had in a long time.  Even having read the book as many times as I have and having watched the movie version more than once, in some ways it felt like I was experiencing the story for the first time.  Roses Prichard does a marvelous job of letting you believe that you’re listening to Scout tell you about her childhood experiences.

I’m not sure if the next time I “read” To Kill a Mockingbird I’ll put the tapes back in or pick up the ratty version I read the first time more than 25 years ago, but I’m pretty sure it won’t take me more than a couple of years to get back to it.