Barbara and Richard left home early in the morning November 18 to catch a flight arriving London at 7am the next day. At Heathrow Airport, we got on a train to Holyhead in northwest Wales to catch the Irish Ferry. Altogether, we were in transit for 36 hours, a very full day activity. We enjoyed the lush UK countryside. The weather was surprisingly sunny and bright, much better than our hometown Seattle. The ferry pulled into Dun Laoghaire around 8pm. We took a bus to the outskirts of Dublin to find our hotel, but when we got off the bus we got lost in dark. Fortunately, we were less than a mile away from the hotel, and a friendly taxi driver saw us wandering up and down the street, picked us up, and took us to the hotel. He refused to accept any money for helping us. He said for that short distance, we can have a pint on him. Of course, we immediately did so at the hotel pub after checking in.
Each of the next two mornings, we rode a double decker bus to Dublin city center. It was great to be sitting on the top deck with locals going to work or shopping: better than a tour bus! We passed by the narrow streets through the neighborhoods where kids were walking to school. All over Dublin, people are friendly and helpful. Anytime we stopped in the street or even hesitated to check our maps, someone would ask if we need any help. This is very different from our experience in Lima, where they want to be paid before they answer your question.
Downtown Dublin is lovely, compact and full of energy. It's very pleasant to walk around, partly because there are no skyscrapers throwing their great shadows everywhere. We visited Trinity College (photo, Sphere With Sphere) and viewed the Book of Kells, toured the Dublin Castle, strolled around O'Connell Street (photo, Jim Larkin Statue), visited the Writers' Museum. Barbara stayed busy looking for the best Fish and Chips and the most authentic Irish Stew. We found both, fish at Leo Burdock's and stew at Paddy's Place, patronized by locals only. We stood on the street right outside Leo Burdock's with the other customers, eating fish and chips just out of the frying pan. The potato and leek soup at Paddy's was so good with the soda bread that we wonder if Frank McCort might be exaggerating Irish misery in his memoirs. To us visitors, a simple Dublin life doesn't seem too bad with just soup and bread. If you add a pint, it would be just grand. We also went to a couple of pubs in Temple Bar where local musicians played traditional Irish music. It was a completely different layout from a performance space in a US bar. We walked in looking for a stage, but there was none. The performers were sitting around a table just like everybody else, only they have a nice little microphone, barely the size of a pen, hanging down from the ceiling just above them. Richard was quite taken by the Irish drum, called the Bodhran (rhymes with moron), and vowed to take one home.
We picked up a rental car at the end of our third day in Dublin, and headed west. Within one hour, Richard managed to drive the car four times into the right side of the road, luckily without any accident. We drove for four or five hours, arriving in Doolin, a small town 20 miles southwest of Galway. Doolin is in county Clare, the musical center of west Ireland. Even in the dead winter, midweek, they still have live bands in the local pubs. Since Doolin is close to the Cliffs of Moher, we met a few American tourists in Doolin that night. Early the next morning we went to see the cliffs. We drove up to Galway, visited the Lynch Window. Now we know where the word lynching is coming from. We looked in at St. Michael's (photo, St. Michael Tower) and walked around University of Galway campus. We continued north and west to Achill Island in County Mayo, as suggested to us by a gentleman we met at the Dublin Car Rental office. He is from Pennsylvania but has lived 30 years in Ireland. Achill island is a combination of vast ocean, mountains and bog land, it is also so isolated, with occasional spot of sheep, it did not seem to belong to planet earth (photo, Achill Island sunset). There is a Deserted Village in the north end of the island where hundreds of old stone houses tumbled down after the villagers abandoned them 150 years ago. Ironically, brand new houses with powerboats parked in front have been built right next to the ruins in the last 10-20 years.
We drove to Ennis, the county town of County Clare, arriving very late into a hostel right next to River Fergus. The river runs fast directly beneath the window of the lounge where we sat around snacking into the night. Ennis is a nice relaxed little town that seems to wake up late during the day in the winter. We found a music shop open and Richard bought a tunable bodhran.
From Ennis, we headed back east toward UK. We stopped at a magnificent ruin at the Rock of Cashel. We also managed to stop at the Waterford Crystal factory and picked up some nice wine glasses for our friends who were to be wed in Exeter, UK, just two days away. We pulled into the port town of Rosslare a little after dark, and found a hostel down near the ferry terminal. This is one of the best hostels we have stayed at in Europe, run by Brent and his wife from Portland, OR. Barbara put a pin down on the map of world hanging in the lounge, as the first guest from China in the Rosslare hostel.
We spent a whole morning sailing through St. George's Channel to Pembroke in southwest Wales. There is a train station there without a single soul. The station office and lounge were closed, no ticket booth either (photo, Pembroke Dock). We waited two hours on the platform. Luckily there were two couples of the ferry from Cape Town, South Africa, stuck in the station with us. They were following their national rugby team around Ireland and UK, enjoying a tour and taking in the games. They were in quite merry mood because they beat the Irish team the night before and were looking forward to a tough match in Cardiff that night. They like to talk and drink. We shared their beer and cider with little meat pies and chips. We had good time talking mostly politics. It was interesting to get a taste of a typical white South African view of our country's election fiasco, and their own effort to deal with the end of apartheid and a severe economic collapse. We enjoyed their company a lot. The train finally came, but alas it was perhaps the slowest train in the world, stopping at every bend in the tracks. The rail system was in chaos, we were told. We missed a connection in Bristol, had to wait again for 2 hours. We had hoped to catch the reception party before the wedding day, but Barbara had to call the hotel to report that we would be at least two hours late.
We stayed at Exeter's Holiday Inn in a suburban industrial park, right across the street from a convenient Park and Ride bus stop. We toured Exeter a little before going to the wedding blessing, which was conducted at a 150-year-old parish church (photo, Parish Church). The groom was our friend from the U.S., and the bride grew up in Exeter. We sat on the groom side of the aisle, quite a bit smaller population than the UK team. The bride was so beautiful and the groom so happy, and after the morning's hard rain the sun came out to shine down brightly, making the entire wedding perfect and wonderful. The reception was scheduled to start at about 5 pm, and run til 7:30 or so, with a formal sit down traditional English dinner. We had to skip the dance party and late buffet to set out for London, again on the train.
Again owing to the vagaries of the disrupted English train system, we didn't get into London until well after midnight. We had reserved a stay at the Continental Hotel close to Paddington station. The room was horrible: half the carpet was soaking wet and the whole room smelled moldy. But this was the last room available and we did not want to try to find another hotel in the middle of the night. We resolved to check out first thing in the morning.
London is so grand, everywhere you turn there is an attraction. We toured London Tower (photo, London Tower), visiting the Queen's Walk (photo, Queen's Walk), the White Tower (photo, White Tower), the old armory and of course admiring the Crown Jewels. The Tower neighborhood offers lots of pretty views of the Thames and Tower Bridge (photo, Tower Bridge). We spent half a day at the new Tate Modern Gallery. The next whole day we devoted to an inspection of the British Museum (photo, British Museum). We have trekked the Inca Trail the whole day long before, and now did a whole day trekking the BM, Hard to say which one is more challenging to your feet and back, but at least it did not rain on us in the museum! We are so tired at the end of the vacation, it seems like we need to take another vacation to rest up from it.