Highlights… & Hindsights Making The Case for Repeat Destinations

I’m currently, ok always, considering my next vacation destination, and with so many amazing places in the world it’s hard to decide. Should we commit those precious vacation days to repeat destinations, digging deeper into what a city has to offer? If we do, what about all those wonderful new places just waiting to be discovered?

#jardindestuileries
Sailing ships! A highlight of our Paris visit!

When traveling, I’m torn between wanting to wing it and not wanting to miss anything, which definitely helps makes the case for repeat visits to certain destinations. For example, our recent trips to Paris, London, and Edinburgh were all repeat visits, we’d already checked off many of the main attractions, which enabled us to explore more freely. One point for repeat visits!

#bigben
Our tour of the Houses of Parliament was a definite highlight!

That said, one of my favorite things about traveling is the discovery of the new. The surprise and delight you feel when discovering something wonderful in a new place simply can’t be beat! These moments are one of the reasons I love to travel, the highlights of our adventures! One point for new destinations!

#arthursseat
We missed out on Arthur’s Seat during our first visit to Edinburgh.

However, being new to a place can at times be a hindrance. No matter how much research I’ve done, there are times when things don’t go quite as planned. Whether it’s accommodations, location, food, or timing, these are what I like to refer to as the hindsights of our adventure. These are things one can only know after time spent and often it’s too late… Another point for repeat destinations.

#brugge
This view from our hotel window in Bruges was a highlight!

Of course not everywhere has a hindsight and some places are just plain full of surprise and delight. I love surprise and delight! Looks like another point for new destinations!

Northern Ireland Antrim Coast
Flying to Glasgow from Belfast we were treated to this fabulous view!

So, it looks like a tie between old and new, which means I’m no closer to working out where in the world, we’ll go next, but in the meantime, here are some of the highlights and hindsights from our summer 2016 adventures in Europe!

Highlights & Hindsights

Dublin, Ireland

Highlight: Guinness Factory Tour

There were many wonderful moments during our visit to Dublin, however it was our visit to the Guinness Storehouse that came out as number one! Which speaks volumes, since I don’t even drink beer. All four of us absolutely loved this experience and if you should find yourself in Dublin I highly recommend you go.

#guinnessstorehouse

Hindsight: Popular attractions require advance planning

Our planned a visit to the  Kilmainham Gaol Museum went awry when we couldn’t print our tickets and unfortunately we missed out. We ended up visiting Malahide Castle instead, which was delightful, but lesson learned.

Cork, Ireland

Highlight:  The Blarney Stone

For more than 200 years people have been kissing the Blarney Stone and after some debate (it is the world’s germiest attraction) Simon and I decided to join the club!

Cork Blarney Castle
The Blarney Stone

Hindsight: Touristy doesn’t always equal bad

If only we’d known how much we were going to enjoy exploring Blarney Castle, we would have given ourselves more time.

Killarney, Ireland

Highlight: Killarney National Park

We spent three nights in Killarney, the gateway to the Ring of Kerry and the perfect little Irish town! Quaint, friendly and picturesque, it was exactly what I had pictured an Irish town to look like!

Killarney Ireland
Ross Castle is located inside Killarney National Park

Hindsights: Whoops, attention to detail is key!

Putting the wrong fuel in our rental car meant a drastic change in our plans. Instead of a visit to the Dingle Peninsula and Skellig Michal we spent a lovely day wandering in  Killarney National Park. If I ever find my way back to the west of Ireland a trip to the Skellig Islands will be my first order of business!

Limerick, Ireland

Highlight: King John’s Castle

We weren’t sure what to expect at King Johns’ Castle, but I do love a good castle and we had to stop for lunch anyway so why not just eat lunch at the castle?

#kingjohnscastle
King John’s Castle

Hindsight: There was none!

This was a bonus stop on our way to Galway, and we were delighted with the way this midday stop turned out!

Galway, Ireland

Highlight: The Cliffs of Moher

The spectacular Cliffs of Moher are a definite must-see if you’re visiting the West Coast of the Emerald Isle.

ireland cliffs of moher
The Cliffs of Moher

Hindsight: Allow time for unexpected adventures

There is a walk along the cliff tops , but we were running out of daylight and weren’t really dressed for a hike, so we satisfied ourselves with a good long look over the edge.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Highlight: Everything about the entire visit

Our visit to the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland was by far the best day of our 12 day tour of the Emerald Isle, if not our entire summer abroad!

#dark Hedges

Hindsight: We should have stayed longer.

Having no idea how much we would enjoy our visit we only booked three nights, but easily could have spent twice that many exploring Belfast as well as the amazing natural beauty along the Northern Coast.

Glasgow, Scotland

Highlight: Mural Trail

A very happy accident, we discovered Glasgow’s Mural trail on our way to another destination!

#hiphopmarionettes

Hindsight: Glasgow deserves more time!

Two days just wasn’t enough in this walk friendly city brimming with architecture, art, music, and shopping!

Inverness, Scotland

Highlight: Urquhart Castle on the Shores of Loch Ness

Having missed out on a visit to Loch Ness on our previous trip to the Highlands, we decided to make it a priority. A highlight was exploring the ancient ruins of Urquhart Castle, located on the shores of the lake.

#urquhartcastle

Hindsight: So much more than a monster!

Our visit here was wonderful and exceeded our expectations in every way.

The Highlands of Scotland

Highlight: Eileen Donan Castle

A last minute decision to see Eileen Donan Castle did not disappoint. It’s no wonder that Eilean Donan is the most photographed castle in Scotland, it’s setting in the middle of three lochs is stunning!

#eileandonanbagpiper

Hindsight: The Isle of Skye

There is never enough time in this magical country. We got a small taste of what the Isle of Skye has to offer and I’m definitely going back for more!

Edinburgh, Scotland

Highlight: Everything

Have you ever visited a place that felt so right, so special that it was almost painful to leave? Love at first sight? That’s exactly how I felt about Edinburgh from the very first moment.

#edinburgh

Hindsight: I’ve realized my Edinburgh list will never be completed

Although we didn’t have time to go inside the Writers Museum, we did spend time in the courtyard reading the tiles, which are inscribed with lovely quotes written by some of the city’s most famous writers. All of them about Edinburgh of course!

Hadrian’s Wall

Highlight: A dream come true

I know that for some, what basically amounts to a crumbling brick wall in the middle of nowhere England might not be interesting, but for me, a history loving anglophile, this was an absolute dream come true!

#hadrianswall

Hindsight: Walk the Wall Hike

It’s quite popular to “walk” the Wall and I would have liked to, at least for a little while, but serious rain was threatening and after a few minutes the boys abandoned me for the shelter of the Housestead’s Museum.

York, England

Highlight: York Minster

It made sense that the center piece of York, York Minster, the largest medieval Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, would be our first stop. We were not disappointed!

#yorkminster

Hindsight: There wasn’t one!

The rain fell hard and steadily during our visit, but thankfully we still managed to enjoyed this lovely city.

Nottingham, England

Highlight: THE Nottingham!

Yes, that Nottingham, home of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men!

#robinhoodnottingham

Hindsight: Sometimes the weather wins

Sadly, extremely heavy rain put us off from a visit to Sherwood Forest.

London, England

Highlight: Camden Market

My highlight is also a hindsight!  I can’t believe the Camden Market wasn’t already on my radar, It’s right up my alley and reminds me a lot of Venice Beach, California. Fun & quirky!

#camdenlock

Hindsight: Top of the Shard

With my love of photography, I regret that I didn’t take the time to visit the observation deck at the Shard. Greenwich is also high on my list for next time…

Brugge, Belgium

Highlight: Beautiful Medieval Town

I was delighted by the incredible beauty of Brugge, a quaint little medieval town. I immediately fell in love and spent the better part of my three days there taking endless photos.

Bruges Canal

Hindsight: Why didn’t we eat more chocolate?

The question is: With endless chocolate shops around every corner, why didn’t we visit more of them? I’m afraid that’s a question, I’ll never know the answer to.

Ghent, Belgium

Highlight: Graffiti Street

Wanting to see something a bit off the beaten path and big fans of street art, we were excited to learn that Ghent has a dedicated graffiti street called Werregaren straat. We really enjoyed this and loved the idea of a dedicated place where anyone can express themselves freely.

#wergeranstraat

Hindsight: Maybe next time…

Elliot really wished we’d had a can of spray paint or two, so he could contribute.

Amsterdam, Holland The Netherlands

Highlight: Everything about our visit!

A lovely and walkable city with no shortage of interesting sights and streets to wander we made the most of every minute of our visit in Amsterdam.

#nightcanal

Hindsight: We visited Amsterdam and didn’t ride a boat or a bike, what?!

We made the most of every moment while visiting this fabulous city, but still ran out of time before ever stepping onto a boat, or peddling a bike. We did see some windmills though! If I had to do it over again I would stay on a houseboat!

Zaans Schans, Holland

Highlight: Windmills

I felt I couldn’t visit Holland without seeing at least one windmill up close and personal! I know, I know, that’s a very touristy thing to do, but hey, sometimes I’m a tourist!

#zaanseschans

Hindsight: Why didn’t we rent bikes here?

If we ever find our way back to this wonderful place we will be sure to rent bikes. The wide pathways and lovely scenery would make for a perfect bike ride!

Paris, France

Highlight: Sainte Chapelle

As I emerged from the doorway into the main part of the chapel my mouth literally fell open. I was completely surrounded by jaw dropping beauty. How did I not know about this amazing place?

#saintechapelle

Hindsight: Accommodations

While there wasn’t really anything wrong with our hotel, I’ve yet to really hit the nail on the head as far as Paris lodgings go… hopefully next time!

Versailles, France

Highlight: Marie Antoinette’s Gardens

My favorite part of the day was our visit to the Petit Trianon, the home away from home of Marie Antoinette, who apparently wasn’t so enamored with the main Palace and preferred to spend her time elsewhere.

#petittrianon

Hindsight: An evening visit might have been better

We should have considered going later in the afternoon for the musical fountains show and evening fireworks. We might have been able to beat the crowds, and the heat.

London, England

Highlight: Hyde Park

London’s parks are the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon just like the locals do! They are beautiful, vast and filled with activities for every interest.

#serpentinepavilion2016

Hindsight: Do we really have to go home?

Even after six weeks of travel, I wasn’t ready to go home.

Nothing makes me happier than discovering new places with my family and sharing them with all of you!


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Hotel Reviews! Hilarystyle!

When I think of travel many things come to mind, adventures, seeing new sights, trying new foods, and dedicated family time. I love all of those things so much, however there are a few things about travel that I don’t love… Though worth bitching about mentioning, there is nothing that would stop me from embarking on my next journey, let’s not carried away!

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Arriving in Dublin!

Having recently had the opportunity to stay in 12 different hotels over the course of 6 weeks I had a lot of time to think about the things I love and don’t love in hotel rooms. Before I tell you specifics I’ll admit upfront that I’m a bit of a hotel snob. However, I do try to be objective. Really!

A few of my not so favorite things:

  • Why are there never enough towels!? Enough said…
  • Data – in this age of instant satisfaction spotty data just won’t cut it, especially at the rates they’re charging for it?! This is especially irritating when one is attempting to watch the season finale of Game of Thrones from a hotel room and there is little or no wifi service!
  • Laundry services – Is it just me or do all hotel laundry services use the same very bad strong smelling detergent? And too much of it at that! Since Elliot insists on throwing up in just about every country we’ve ever visited and Simon fills in the blanks we’ve had plenty of occasions to notice.
  • Crappy shampoo – In an effort to travel light and pack everything in a carry on suitcase packing shampoo isn’t always an option, so more often than not travel equals bad hair that never quite feels clean. High on my dislike list are the two in one shampoo options!
  • Weak Hairdryers – and don’t even get me started on where to find the hairdryer! I like to think of it as a game: Find The Hairdryer. I get to play it at each new location! Yay me.
  • Plug placement – Why oh why can’t their be a hairdryer plug in the bathroom?! I’m traveling with a man who doesn’t shave on vacation (yes, even when traveling for six straight weeks), yet there’s always a shaver plug available!

Between bad water pressure, hard water, soft water, weak hair dryers, scalding hairdryers, cheap shampoo, rain, and humidity it’s almost impossible to have a good hair day while traveling, but throw in the fact that the hairdryer isn’t located in the bathroom and I’m absolutely sunk!

Ireland The WestburyI’m sharing a room with three other people, none of whom wake up as early as I do, so while I can take care of everything else quietly in the bathroom, drying my hair isn’t an option unless I want three extremely grumpy traveling companions!

hotel-review-headerAll of this has prompted me to come up with a personal rating system for places I stay and blog about!

I’ve decided this hairdryer icon hairdryer will work perfectly. Moving forward I’ll use a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the best! I’ve just finished a series of blog posts about our recent travels through Ireland, so I’ll start with those properties first! While cleanliness, comfort, and service are paramount. My ratings will also include the following criteria:

  • Water pressure
  • Shampoo quality
  • Placement of the hairdryer plug

Reviews:

The Westbury Hotel – Dublin

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Dublin The Westbury Hotel ReivewThe Westbury Hotel had lovely bathrooms, with really good water and pressure! The shampoo and conditioner smelled and worked great! The hairdryer plug wasn’t in the bathroom but instead located at the mini bar/coffee station right next to the bed. The hairdryer was so hot I had to use the medium setting or risk burning my hair – that’s a first! If only the hairdryer plug had been located in the bathroom.

Overall this hotel was a lovely property located in a great part of town and I would absolutely stay here again. If you’re interested in a visit to Dublin, you might like to read Three Days in Dublin and if you’re a beer drinker or even if you’re not check out my post about The Guinness Storehouse!

The Ross Hotel – Killarney

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Ireland The Ross HotelThe lobby and main areas in The Ross Hotel were fun and very trendy, but this didn’t carry over to the rooms which weren’t nearly as cheerful as the rest of the property. The bathrooms were pretty utilitarian with dark shower stalls and although the water pressure was decent, the shampoo and conditioner were awful. I never really felt like my hair was clean during our stay. The hairdryer was in the bathroom, but it was so weak it was hardly worth it.

Considering Killarney isn’t a big town and the staff, service and location were great I would consider staying again, but I would bring my own supplies. Killarney is well worth a visit as is The Ring of Kerry and if Castles and Cliffs are on your list than you are in the right part of the world for those as well!

The Twelve

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#thetwelvehotel

The Twelve located just a few minutes down the road from Galway had a lovely and helpful staff and the rooms were very spacious for a family of four. Little touches of whimsy were placed here and there, so I really wanted to give them a better review… However, even great water pressure won’t help if the shampoo is terrible and it not only smelled bad, but it didn’t do anything. Unfortunately, the only plug located near the mirror was on the floor, so I had to dry my hair while kneeling on the floor. The hair dyer was decent though… In hindsight, I might like to stay just a little closer to Galway, so probably won’t choose to stay at The Twelve again. Galway was a lovely little town and if you fancy a chilly dip in the bay you’ll be in the right place!

Stay tuned for more hotel reviews hilarystyle!

 

Ireland! Galway’s Salthill Promenade!

#galwaybayCrystal blue waters and sandy beaches weren’t exactly what I was expecting during our recent travels to the Emerald Isle, but it’s exactly what we found! In fact Ireland has many beautiful beaches although the water is bit on the chilly side. Salthill Promenade overlooking Galway Bay came highly recommended, so after dropping off 8 days worth of laundry at a nearby laundromat we set off for the beach!

Ireland GalwayThe Promenade also known as the Prom is 2 km long and lined with bars, restaurants and hotels. During the summer months their is an amusement park. It’s a popular destination with both locals and tourists alike.

Ireland GalwayWe wandered up and down the Prom and really enjoyed the walk. About midway we came upon a giant high dive where we stopped to watch some kids jumping into the 59 degree water! Brrr! Those were some brave kids!

Ireland Galway

The water at Salthill was every beautiful shade of sparkling blue you can imagine changing from dark to light as wind blew the clouds back and forth across the sun. The lighting was spectacular! Note to self, don’t wear lip gloss and then walk along a windy beach and try to take photos.  I did get a few good ones and as usual I’m probably sharing too many.

Ireland GalwayWe only had one day in Galway and spent most of it at Salthill, but we did find time to explore the main part of town. Parking our rental car was no trouble at all and we wandered up and down the pedestrian only Quay Street poking in and out of the various shops. Our lunch at Martine’s of Quay Street was worth mentioning. Elliot had duck and Tim loved his fish soup, but Simon’s attempt at trying something new, bacon quiche, resulted in him eating my fish and chips and I had… bacon quiche…

Ireland Galway

Ireland Galway

Our hotel, The Twelve, was located a few miles outside Galway in Barna village. The service was excellent and the hotel rooms were whimsical and fun. The layout of two rooms with a shared bathroom worked perfectly for our family of four giving us all the privacy and space we needed.

Next up:

Stops in the Midlands, Newgrange and then on to Northern Ireland!

Photo Gallery

Ireland galway

#salthillpromenade

Ireland Galway

#galwaybay

Ireland Galway

#galwaybay

#galwaybay

Ireland Galway

 

Along the way… The Heart of Ireland!

Filled with history, beauty and warm friendly people, what Ireland lacks in size it more than makes up for in heart! Easily traversed in one day, the Republic of Ireland isn’t a big country, but there is no shortage of worthwhile things to see and do which makes deciding where to stop along the way no easy task. The fact that it was our last day in this amazing place didn’t help matters.

Ireland NewgrangeWhile our ultimate destination that final day was Belfast, Northern Ireland, my list of sights in the Republic of Ireland was only partially checked off and with only hours left difficult choices had to be made. One such place was Newgrange, a 5000 year old monolithic passage tomb, which conveniently happened to be on our way to Belfast, this meant the castles in Athlone and Trim got only passing glances during true pitstops. Normally I would never pass up a chance to visit a castle let alone two, but the idea of seeing and stepping inside a place older than the pyramids was just too tempting to pass up!

Along the way from Galway to Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK

Athlone Castle – Athlone, Ireland

86 km from Galway

#athlonecastle

Athlone’s moto is “At the heart of it!” a fitting moto since it’s right in the middle of the country! Both Athlone and Trim looked were lovely places and we would have liked to spend more time in each, however neither time nor weather were on our side, so after a quick walk to stretch our legs we grabbed snacks and off we went…

Trim Castle – Trim, Ireland

92 km from Athloneireland-midlands-2956

Newgrange Visitor Center – County Meath, Ireland

126 km from Trim

#newgrangeirelandNewgrange is a prehistoric monument which is located in the Boyne River Valley about an hour or so outside of Dublin. I won’t go into too much history as I think the official website will do a much better and more thorough job, but I will say that built in the Neolithic period around 3200 BC Newgrange is older than both Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. The exact origin and reason the passage tomb was built is unknown, but it’s believed to have religious significance. There are other passage tombs in the river valley as well, Newgrange is the most famous.

#passageIf you plan to visit Newgrange here are few things to keep in mind:

  • This is a very popular tourist destination especially during the winter solstice as this is the only time that light fills the tomb.
  • You can’t get to the tomb without joining a tour
  • The tours are only offered through the official visitor center
  • Reservations cannot be made in advance and the tours do fill up

#brunabonneAll that aside, Newgrange was fantastic! The visitor center had a really nice exhibition as well as a movie, a cafe and a very decent gift shop. That was a good thing too because the first available tour was at 4:45 pm and we arrived at 2:30 pm. Access to the monument is via a bus which leaves directly from the visitor center.

Upon arriving at the monument the guide will briefly explain the history and then split the group into two. While one group goes inside the passage tomb, the other explores the outside and then about 15 minutes later you switch. It’s tight inside, so you’ll be glad they split the group up!

While inside you’ll see a demonstration of what it would be like on the winter solstice when the sun shines into the tomb! No photography is allowed inside the passage tomb. I was amazed at how moved I was by the experience. The idea of standing in a place that had been in existence for thousands and thousands of years was very powerful. Afterwards while it was our turn to explore the outside I spent my time taking photos! The entire experience is about an hour long.

It was a long but incredibly fascinating day and a lovely way to end our visit to the Republic of Ireland!

Next stop:

Belfast, Northern Ireland

124 km from the Newgrange Visitor Center

Photo Gallery

Ireland Newgrange

#newgrange
Amazing craftsmanship!

Ireland Newgrange

Ireland Newgrange
5000 year old carvings!
#passagetomb
No wonder this place was hidden for multiple millennia.
Ireland
The countryside was beautiful.

#ireland#ireland

Ireland Newgrange
Yes, the grass was wet!

 

 

Ireland! Along the Way… Castles & Cliffs!

#kingjohnscastle

Where is: halfway between point A and point B and boasts a large medieval castle with beautiful views? If you guessed our next “along the way stop” on our journey around Ireland, then you guessed right! Of course it wouldn’t be right if we didn’t get a late  start and losing the car keys didn’t help, but once we got all that sorted*, we were off! As expected the drive was beautiful and we saw many tower house ruins along with the ever present cows and sheep!

#limerick

King John’s Castle

Along the way from Killarney to Galway… Limerick, Ireland

111 km from Killarney

#kingjohnscastleWe weren’t sure what to expect at King Johns’ Castle, but I do love a good castle and we had to stop for lunch anyway so why not just eat lunch at the castle? Although we had limited time in Limerick and I can’t speak to the city itself, I highly recommend King John’s Castle, especially if you’re traveling with kids!

Ireland Limerick

I loved that it had the traditional castle look compete with ramparts and crenelations and the kids really enjoyed exploring the castle and its many interactive displays and activities. They both participated in a scavenger hunt which became a friendly competition between them! I will mention that the castle cafe turned out to be pretty terrible as they ran out of food and the line was painfully slow, notice I didn’t say long. So you don’t go there for the food…

However, the views from the castle ramparts were beautiful and I lucked out and saw them just before the torrential rains caught us! Getting to the carpark was an adventure in itself! Just as we left the castle the sky opened up and literally drenched us! It didn’t help that Tim and I each ran to the wrong (right?) sides of the car and then had to switch sides. Even with the heat blasting it was two hours before we dried off!

Always one to go along with my photo antics, Simon was kind enough to pose humor me and we I had some fun with the castle’s many props!

The Cliffs of Moher

ireland cliffs of moherLeaving Limerick with plenty of daylight to spare we set off for the Cliffs of Moher and crossed our fingers in the hopes that the skies would be clear by the time we arrived. Believe it or not, these magnificent cliffs which rise vertically almost 700 feet straight out of the sea and stretch for 5 miles are not the tallest cliffs in Ireland, however, they are the most famous and a definite must see if you’re visiting the West Coast of the Emerald Isle.

The Cliffs of Moher

Along the way from Limerick to Galway… Just south of the Village of Doolin in County Clare, Ireland

78 km from Limerick

ireland cliffs of moher

ireland cliffs of moherLucky for us the skies were clear when we arrived although it was very windy! The weather is never boring in Ireland! The views from the cliff top walkways near the visitor center were breathtaking, but judging by the silly antics of the boys I could tell they were over it within just a few minutes. It had already been a long day and in hindsight visiting at the end of an already full day was probably not the best idea.

ireland cliffs of moher

There is a walk along the cliff tops , but we were running out of daylight and weren’t really dressed for a hike, so we satisfied ourselves with a good long look over the edge and then spent time in the visitor center. The center is fairly new and very well done with interactive exhibits, a restaurant and a gift shop.

ireland cliffs of moher

ireland cliffs of moher

If you’re looking for a slightly different view point, you can walk up O’Brien’s Tower. We discovered these wedding rings on the tower bulletin board left there by a woman honoring her nana’s last wish… very sweet.

ireland cliffs of moher

Next Stop: Galway!

*Seems like for us Killarney and transportation just didn’t mix!

Ireland! 50 Shades of Green!

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, surrounded by lush green landscape all year long, I was skeptical about the idea that there could be anywhere more green, I mean just as green, sure, but MORE green, no way… Okay, I was wrong, Ireland has the PNW beat, because not only are there 50+ shades of the most intense green you’ve ever seen and then some, but there are castles too!  You’ve got to have castles!!

#rosscastle

Driving from Cork to Killarney we experienced not only all those beautiful shades of green, but its possible to have weather from all four seasons within one day, if not the hour, which made our drive, not only stunningly beautiful, but eventful as well!  Rain, wind, sun, clouds you name it…

Killarney
White caps on the lake!

Planning to explore nearby areas we spent three nights in Killarney, the gateway to the Ring of Kerry and the perfect little Irish town! Quaint, friendly and picturesque, it was exactly what I had pictured an Irish town to look like!

#killarney

After some difficulty deciding which pub to eat at (there were so many to choose from) we ended up at Danny Mann’s Lounge for dinner and traditional Irish Music! Super Fun! Tim had the best meal, cottage pie, and afterwards we stopped at our new favorite Irish ice cream shop, Murphy’s!

#dannymanns

S**T Happens!

Only a few days into our Irish adventure we were still plagued by Jet lag and got a late start, what else is new? We had our “morning” coffee and pastries at this adorable and tasty little patisserie in town, before we hit the gas station to fill up for our drive to the Dingle Peninsula. By this time it was already 1:00 pm…

Then this happened:

We went to the nearest gas station and filled up… with gas… but we were renting a diesel!! Argh! Of course driving it wasn’t an option. Apparently this happens three or more times a week. Thankfully there was a service station right across the road… convenient, right?! The station attendant said he was busy but he could remove the gas later in the evening, or… we could just fill it the rest of the way and try to burn it off…I wan’t too keen on that!!! We weren’t taking that chance on narrow winding roads in unfamiliar territory and we can’t drive around this tiny town all day trying to burn off the fuel, we’ve just got to leave the car and find something else to do. After all mistakes do happen and it’s not our car!! We had to leave the car at the pump! The gas station attendant  was so kind and assured us, “Don’t worry about your car, this happens every week.”

Having never driven a diesel it was news to me that American diesel cars and pump nozzles have different shapes preventing such a mistake from happening, I’m betting it’s mostly Americans who are pumping the wrong fuel! I will report that we received excellent service from and were only set back about 80 Euro.

Life Gave Us Lemons, So We Made Lemonade!

Killarney National Park!

KillarneyNot having a car meant no trip to the Dingle Peninsula, which although disappointing, turned out to be more than okay as we spent a lovely day wandering in the Killarney National Park. Located just across the road from downtown Killarney and about one block from our hotel it was just steps away. No car needed! As I mentioned the weather can be quite unpredictable and we experienced just about every kind of weather during our walk in the park. We were well prepared with rain gear and the boys loved walking into the wind and rain! The park path twisted and turned through forest and meadow and along the way we saw cows, deer and ducks, and at the end a castle!

Killarney

 

Ross Castle

Killarney Ireland

Ross Castle, a 15th century tower house, is open for tours. Keep in mind that Castle tours are limited to around 12 people and run about every 30 minutes. Consider getting your tickets upon arrival and then exploring the grounds while you wait for your tour to begin. Seriously, because the tours will fill up…  You can also visit the nearby Ross Island, however the winds were very strong on the day of our visit and the boats to the island weren’t running. We learned that there are as many as 3500 tower houses still standing across Ireland today. If you keep an eye out you can see them from the road!

Killarney Ireland
Rain!
Killarney Ireland
Wind
Killarney Ireland
Sun (sort of…)

After our walk we decided to take a jaunting car back to town. In case like me, you have no idea what a jaunting car is: It’s basically a horse and cart! Our driver was a third generation jaunting car driver and much to Elliot’s delight he got to “drive” us back to town! We finished up our day with a lovely traditional dinner at Sceal Eile! I had the cottage pie!

Stay tuned for more of our amazing road trip through the Republic of Ireland… Next stop: The Ring of Kerry!

Just A Few (50) of the Many Shades of Green we saw along the way…

Apple, army, asparagus, basil, blue green, British racing green, celadon, chartreuse, chrome green, clover, dark green, electric, emerald, evergreen, fern, forest, grass, grass, grasshopper, green, green yellow, hunter, inchworm, jade, jungle, juniper, Kelly, leaf, light green, lime, meadow, mint, moss, neon green, olive, pea, pear, pickle, pine, pistachio, sage, sea green, sea foam, sea weed, shamrock, spring, tropical, turquoise green, viridian, & yellow green!

 

Ireland! Along the way… Cork!

#blarneystone

Cork Blarney CastleThe Emerald Isle, where we almost kissed the Blarney Stone in Cork (yes, almost…), walked atop the parapets of King John’s Castle in Limerick, stood at the very edge of the Cliffs of Moher on the far Western Coast, and felt our mortality while standing inside a 5000 year old monolithic passage tomb at Newgrange! Not to mention the many other amazing sights “along the way” during our recent visit to The Republic of Ireland!

Dublin Rental Car AgencyWith no shortage of interesting must see places, manageable driving distances between cities, and a long wish list of sights to see in a relatively short period of time we decided driving would be a great way to try and see it all! Picking points of interest about 2 or 3 hours into the route on driving days would give the kids a break from the car and all of us the opportunity to see even more of the beautiful Emerald Isle!

The Blarney Stone

Along the way from Dublin to Killarney… Cork, Ireland 259k from Dublin

The first leg of our road trip around Eire was from Dublin to Killarney, and our midpoint stop was Cork! Home of the famous Blarney Stone located in Blarney Castle! I won’t pretend this is not an incredibly touristy destination, it absolutely is. For that reason Tim wasn’t all that keen on a stop here, but as I always say, “these places are touristy for a reason.” Sometimes good and sometimes bad, but I’m happy to say we all loved our visit, even Tim!

#blarneystoneFor more than 200 years people from all walks of life have climbed to the top of Blarney Castle and kissed the Stone hoping to gain the gift of eloquence. After some debate, Simon and I decided that although the Blarney Stone is the world’s germiest tourist attraction* we too would join the ranks, brave the germs, and the incredibly long lines and kiss the stone. After all who couldn’t use a little more eloquence, and besides how could we come all this way and not at least give it a try?

Cork Blarney Castle

Cork Blarney Castle

All of this sounds easy, but in order to kiss the Blarney Stone one has to lay down on their back and lean backwards over a large opening at the very top of the Castle’s parapets. What I should say is that Simon and I attempted to “kiss” the Stone, but honestly it was so far out, did I mention the very large opening, and the drop is so far down… Even with assistance from the Castle staff neither Simon nor I could reach it without leaning WAY WAY over… and really, don’t I already have the gift of eloquence? Oh well… we almost kissed the Blarney Stone!

Cork Blarney Castle

Don’t despair lovely readers, our visit wasn’t for naught! The climb up through the Castle to kiss the stone provided lovely views of the surrounding countryside…

The Castle grounds were beautiful, much more so than we expected, with extensive gardens including a poison garden, creeks, and walkways.

We spent about two hours exploring and taking pictures but easily could have spent two more…

Stay tuned for our next stop on our road trip around Ireland…Killarney and Ring of Kerry!

 

*We’ve now visited #1 and #2 of the world’s germiest attractions! Read about our visit to Seattle’s Gum Wall located in the Pike Place Market!

 

Ireland! Three Days in Dublin!

Dublin The River Liffey

Arriving in Dublin, our first stop on a six week tour of Europe, there was no time for jet lag, we hit the ground running! With only three days in which to see the Republic of Ireland’s biggest city, we had our work cut out for us… armed with a list of sights and fortified with Murphy’s Ice Cream we set off to discover Dublin!

Dublin

Day One!

Trinity College

Dublin Trinity College CampusThe first stop on my list was Trinity College and the Book of Kells. Upon arriving on campus we discovered that the university students run a tour company called Trinity Tours which offer guided tours of campus ending at the Old Library where the Book of Kells exhibit is located. The tour takes about 30 minutes and if you enjoy college campuses it is definitely worthwhile. Simon, the older of my two sons, really enjoyed hearing about campus history and life from the perspective of a student, while Elliot enjoyed that the tour wasn’t too long!

The Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript, which was  created around the year 800 and tells the story of the Four Gospels is kept in the Trinity College Old Library which was my favorite part of the entire visit. If you’re a book lover you’ll not want to miss this amazing library filled floor to ceiling with books, books and more books, some of which are quite ancient! Of course you can’t actually touch any of them, but just being surrounded by all those old beautiful books and the smell of them is something pretty special! I can’t help it I love the smell of old books!

Dublin Trinity College Old Library

Not only will you find thousands of books in the Old Library, but it’s also home to the Brian Boru harp a national symbol of the Republic of Ireland.

Dublin Old Library Brian Boru Harp

Merrion Square 

Dublin Merrion SquareAfter we’d had our fill of old books, we set out for a walk around Dublin and found ourselves in Merrion Square. Conveniently, there were food stalls set up in the park and we enjoyed a quick lunch on the grass followed by a visit to the park’s playground and the Oscar Wilde statue. Both the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Ireland, an archeology museum, are located on the edge of Merrion Square and while the Museum of Ireland, was definitely the more current of the two, both were fun and quirky and neither required a ton of time.

Temple Bar

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After a quick nap and refresh in the hotel we set off for an evening of traditional Irish food and music in the Temple Bar neighborhood! We had the best Irish Stew at Quays Bar and Restaurant, and I had my first Guinness! I definitely recommend eating here. Both the food and the service were excellent!

SAMSUNG CSC

The boys were more interested in a visit to the sweet shop than cramming into a crowded pub, but with plenty of great live music on the street there was something for everyone. We capped off the evening with a walk along the River Liffey and across the Ha’Penny Bridge. Not a bad first day!

#mutefish

Day Two!

#Stpatrickspark

Jet lag working in our favor, the boys and I were able to get out and about on the earlier side and we set about checking a few more things off of our list! Lucky for us I have a friend living in Dublin and though I hadn’t seen him in 23 years, he was more than happy to meet us for a little tour around town! Dublin is a very walkable city, and in fact we only used a taxi once the entire time we were in town choosing instead to walk everwhere.

Christ Church Cathedral

#christchurchChrist Church is Dublin’s oldest building and dates back to around 1030! Though not over the top ornate, the cathedral is quite lovely and definitely worth a look around. There are many interesting things on display in the crypt and I think that may have been the boys favorite part! I was surprised and pleased to learn that Christ Church was a main filming location for one my favorite television shows, The Tudors! They had costumes on display in the crypt which was pretty neat to see!

Dublin Christ Church

#catandrat

St. Patricks Cathedral

Dublin St. Patrick's CathedralNext up was St. Patricks Cathedral which is the largest cathedral in Ireland and an important place of worship for over 800 years! You know how I love old places!! Not only is it beautiful inside, which always appeals to me, but it was fun for the boys as well. They really enjoyed exploring the many interactive and educational displays throughout the cathedral. I loved the many flags and other decorative items throughout. After we’d finishing exploring the inside of St. Patrick’s we spent some time playing in St. Patrick’s Park with our friends, before it was time to say goodbye.

The Guinness Storehouse

#slainteA woman needs a man, like a fish needs a bicycle, good things come to those who wait, and not everything in black and white makes sense, these are just a few of the things we learned during our visit to The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland. Though I’m not usually a beer drinker, okay, I never drink it. Ever. I absolutely loved our visit to the Guinness Storehouse as did my kids, and if you should find yourself in Dublin I highly recommend a visit.

Day Three – Daytrippers!

Dublin Malahide CastleOn our last day we decided to venture outside Dublin and took an easy 30 minute train ride to Malahide Village where we met Shane and his children for a tour of Malahide Castle. The Castle has been in the same family for over 800 years and has a long and fascinating history! The gardens are really beautiful and we spent a long time exploring and playing before and after the tour. I took a ton of photographs and as you can see I had a tough time choosing…

Dublin Malahide Castle & Gardens

Around Town!

The Westbury Hotel

Dublin Grafton StreetWe stayed in The Westbury Hotel on Grafton Street which is a great location in the main shopping/eating area of Dublin. I would definitely stay here again.

Breakfast in the hotel was located in the Wilde Room overlooking Grafton Street. Of course I had to have the Full Irish Breakfast on day one because… When in Ireland! Simon and I enjoyed the Afternoon Tea service in the hotel lobby, especially the cakes!

Eats!

Beyond traditional Irish fare we also discovered these fun places during our visit:

Bunsen Burger – We LOVED the burgers and the pun! The service was friendly and prompt and it was walking distance to our hotel! Super casual!

Murphy’s Ice Cream – So GOOD! We discovered this on our first evening in town! We tried Blissful Butterscotch with Salted Vanilla, honeycomb caramel with extra cream vanilla and raspberry sorbet. Lucky us there are other locations throughout Ireland.

Kokoro Ramen Bar – Another great find just around the corner from our hotel was this amazing ramen bar!

 

Catch 22 – Another restaurant with a fun pun in its name! Can you guess what we ate there?! Not only did I enjoy the food at Catch 22, but I loved the signage!

Although we weren’t able to cross everything off our Dublin wish list we covered quite a bit of ground and had a great time doing so! A wonderful start to our whirlwind tour of Ireland…

Temple Bar-2102

 

Dublin! A Woman Needs A Man, Like A Fish Needs A Bicycle!

#guinnessstorehouse

#fishonabicycleA woman needs a man, like a fish needs a bicycle, good things come to those who wait, and not everything in black and white makes sense, these are just a few of the things we learned during our recent visit to The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland. Though I’m not usually a beer drinker, okay, I never drink it. Ever. I absolutely loved our visit to the Guinness Storehouse as did my kids, and if you should find yourself in Dublin I highly recommend a visit.

Follow the Signs!

#guinnessstorehouse

Located in the St. James’s Gate Brewery, the Guinness Storehouse is easily found, just follow the signs, and look for the large vats of what they call the Black Stuff. According to Guinness, the Storehouse is Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction with over 4 million visitors each year. In fact, according to Forbes the Guinness Storehouse is one of what they consider to be the 3 best global brand experiences* in the world!

#guinnessstorehouse

#guinnessstorehouse

First Things First

Ireland Guinness Storehouse

Per our usual, our day didn’t really get started until lunch time, so we decided to hit the cafeteria on the 5th floor first thing. There are multiple dining options, but we were too hungry to wait for a table in the more formal restaurants, so we opted for the Brewers Dining Hall. We enjoyed our food. Of course there are many Guinness inspired items on the menu, and if you’re interested you can bring home printouts of various Guinness inspired recipes!

Your Tour Starts Here:

Ireland Guinness Storehouse

Your self guided tour starts on the ground floor with an introduction to the four main ingredients, water, yeast, barley, and hops, with the founder Arthur Guinness making up the magical fifth ingredient. Arthur Guinness signed a 9000 year lease when he started the brewery. Apparently, he knew what he was doing because over 250 years later his beer is one of the most popular in the world.

#guinnessstorehouse

Along the way…

Ireland Guinness Storehouse

While exploring the seven floors at the Storehouse you’ll learn not just what Guinness is made from, but it’s history, how it’s processed, shipped, and even how it’s poured. Here’s a fun fact: Guinness’s famous harp logo is a depiction of the Brian Boru harp, which is currently in Trinity College, and was first used by the company in 1862. In 1922 when the Irish Free State chose to use the harp as the symbol of their nation they had to use a mirror image to avoid trademark issues.

#guinnessstorehouse

The tasting rooms on the 2nd floor are incredibly popular so you’ll have to plan in advance if you’re interested.

#guinnessstorehouseFloor three showcases 80 years of advertising campaigns, which we loved and afterwards had fun recognizing in all the pubs around town and every other town we visited in Ireland and just about everywhere else! We also posed with the animals and heard a whistling oyster!

Guinness School?

#guinnessstorehouse

We weren’t able to visit floor 2, but we were able to visit the Guinness Academy on the 4th floor, where you learn the six steps to pouring the perfect Guinness. Yes, thats right, there are six steps and there is a Guinness Academy. I must admit I was somewhat nervous… What if I didn’t do it right? Guess What? With a little bit of practice, I passed!

A few things I learned at the academy:

  • Waiting for your Guinness to settle is crucial to your enjoyment.
  • I like Guinness!

The Gravity Bar

#slainte

The seventh stop on your tour is the Gravity Bar , which is of course located on floor 7 at the very top! The bar offers 360 degree views of Dublin and the brewery down below. Your entry fee allows for one glass of Guinness each and the Gravity Bar is the perfect place to relax and enjoy a pint! In case you’re wondering the boys had soft drinks!

One Last Stop!

#guinnessstorehouseOf course you know we couldn’t leave before a visit to the gift shop! They sell everything you can imagine, Guinness crisps, Guinness chocolate (tastes like Guinness), clothing, holiday ornaments, magnets, and on and on… This holiday season I’ll be enjoying my new Guinness tree bauble!

I must admit I never thought I would say that a visit to a brewery was fun, let alone a highlight or a family activity, but not only was the tour fun and informative, we loved the look and feel of everything from signage to displays and interactive galleries and I highly recommend a visit!

Sláinte!

 

* Samsung’s flagship building in New York City is also on the Forbes list! You can read about my visit here! I had the honor of being one of it’s first visitors!