Ireland 2011


IRELAND

JULY 12 -23, 2011


A. THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND

MONDAY, JULY 11

VIRGINIA BEACH, VA


We were up at 2:00AM for our 3:35AM Super Shuttle pickup and out at SFO at 4:15 - in plenty of time to get our bags checked, through Security and have some breakfast before our flight to Houston and Norfolk took off at 6:00AM.

The flight to Houston was very uneventful but the one from there to Norfolk was a nightmare! We were on a small puddle jumper, twin prop-driven plane and the parents of three little kids put two of them in the seat right behind us. They kicked our seats, yelled at each other constantly for the whole 4 hour flight and all the time the father was five rows further back in complete bliss and the completely unconcerned mother had the sleeping baby about eight rows in front of us. Thank you, iPad (it kept me busy)!

We arrived in Norfolk about 5:30PM, got out bags and picked up our Nissan Altima from Hertz. We headed out to Virginia Beach but it wasn't too long before we had to pull off the freeway - the engine was screaming and running up in the red. Fortunately, we found a Hertz place on the street we pulled off on and the Hertz guy showed us how to put the car in automatic drive. We had it in manual drive and in 1st gear all the way! Once we found out how it worked we were good to go!

After checking into the La Quinta Inn, we called Helena. They came by and we followed them to UNO's where we had dinner with Helena, Tee and Buddy and Harold met us there too. Then it was back to the Inn for a good night's sleep.


TUESDAY, JULY 12

ON OUR WAY TO IRELAND


We got some breakfast in the lobby then checked out and drove over to Buddy's. After loading Buddy's things in the car, we all piled in, said "good bye" to Harold and headed out to the airport, stopping only to top off the tank before dropping the rental car off at the airport garage. We checked our bags through to Shannon, got our boarding passes and through Security without a hitch and spent the next few hours getting brought up to date with what all Buddy's been doing lately. He sure has grown up - both physically and literally!

The flight to Newark was only 1 1/2 hours and we had a 4 hour layover before the flight to Shannon took off. We met up with Helena and T out by the gate and managed to get some lunch while we were waiting.

Our 6 1/2 hours flight left at 7:30PM and with a 5 hour time difference added on, would arrive at 7:00AM on Wednesday the 13th!


WEDNESDAY, JULY 13

GALWAY


We landed right on time at Shannon Airport, got our bags, passed through Customs and after stopping for directions at the Information Window, found the ticket machine for the bus to Galway and got tickets for all of us. We pulled our bags along and found the bus stop just about ten minutes before the bus to Galway arrived. The bus passed through several small towns on the two hour ride and it wasn't long before I was feeling "home" again. I just love the different brightly colored buildings, houses, shops and pubs that line the streets. Everything seems so clean and the people - they all seem to have a smile on their face and a gleam in the eyes!

The Galway Bus station was just a couple blocks from our hotel so we just pulled our bags over to the Skeffington Arms Hotel. Since it was only 10am, and we couldn't get in our rooms 'til 3pm, we were allowed to leave the bags in the lobby where the clerk would keep an eye on them. Our hotel is right across the street from Eyre Square, the city's "Central Park" and the city is having an Artist's Fair this week! A giant wheel, like a 20' bicycle wheel was being erected in the center of the square and the park was filled with tons of bystanders and on-lookers. Instead of going over to the park, we headed down Merchant's Road where all the shops were and there were tons of people wandering around there, also! Along the way down the street were performers - artists painting, poets reading, singers singing, fiddlers fiddling and one group in particular was doing it all - playing their instruments, fiddle, whistle, pipes and accordion while another was singing a good old Irish Jig song - they were great! 

We walked on down to the Carrib River and across the bridge to our favorite Galway Pub, Monroe's and T & I each had a "Gally Hooker" beer (locally brewed, not bad) - Gin had a Smithwicks and Helena and Buddy had soft drinks. I asked the bartender if we'd have a problem getting a table for eight this evening and he said he'd reserve one for us. I told him we'd better not, because we've been on the go since yesterday morning and some might not make it - we'll just take our chances tonight.

We stopped at the Spanish Arch, part of a building still standing that was originally constructed in 1584. On the lawn area, we watched two groups of probably high school kids performing a war dance ritual there and then back by way of Queen Street, to the hotel where we had lunch in the 1st floor restaurant. Back at the hotel, we could see that the wheel had been set upright in the park and the crowd was even bigger than before.

We were able to get in our rooms after lunch, so we dropped our bags off and then we all went to the railroad station to meet Devon, Erika & Michael. They flew into Dublin this morning and we had their train tickets for the 11:20am train to Galway waiting for them at the Heuston Station, about a half hour taxi ride into Dublin from the airport. We were hoping they had enough time to make it from the airport, after their arrival, to the train station and sure enough, when the train arrived, there they were!

Walking back to the hotel this time, we could see  two muscular acrobats performing their routines on the bars inside the "spokes" of the wheel as it rotated slowly in one direction and back again. Unfortunately, I was just too tired to stay and watch, so I went up to our room to get some rest while the kids checked in and freshened up. When they went exploring, Ginny went with them while Buddy, Helena & T and I rested up in our rooms.

That evening, by previous agreement, we met in the lobby at 7pm to go to dinner, but Helena and T never did show and they didn't answer their phone or door when we knocked, so the rest of us headed back to Monroe's for dinner without them. There wasn't much happening there - it was still fairly early - and we didn't have any trouble finding a table big enough for the six of us. We all had a great Irish dinner with a couple pints each - the girls seem to have acquired a taste for Bulmers cider and the boys seem partial to Guinness or Harp!

The "wheel" was back down on the ground and looked like it had already been dis-assembled but there was no shortage of people - mostly youngsters and it was Party Time! - by the time we got back to the hotel. We were all pretty tired so we just headed back into the hotel. At the lobby, the hotel clerk said that T and Helena came down looking for us a little while ago and had just gone out but we never did see them.


THURSDAY, JULY 14

THE CLIFFS OF MOHER AND KILLARNEY


We all had breakfast in the Skeffington Arms restaurant and then we pulled our bags down to the lobby and got checked out of the hotel about the time our Discover Ireland Tours driver and guide for the next three days, Paul Ryan showed up. A short while later, we boarded our 10 passenger Mercedes van and headed out. 


Leaving Galway on our way to Killarney, we passed through the barren landscape of the Burren. A little after 11AM, we pulled into the parking lot of the Visitor’s Center for the Cliffs of Moher. Everyone agreed to be back at the bus by 12:30PM and took off up the path to the edge of the cliffs. Unlike the way it was in 1992, when we first came through here, the paths are all paved now and fences keep the public away from the very edge of the cliffs. It was pretty overcast this morning and after going all the way up to O'Brien's Tower, we found out it was closed today! I don’t think we could have seen any more from the top of the tower anyway, and that was probably why it was closed. As we made our way back down the path, the sky did lighten up gradually and Ginny was getting some fairly nice photos before we had to leave.

Back on the van, we headed on down the coast and stopped for lunch at the Atlantic Hotel in Lehinch. 

I don’t normally take note of what people had for lunch but I do remember Devon had the BIG plate of mussels!

Before heading back to the van, we went wandering out on the pier after lunch and I tried a periwinkle snail from a vendor and was really wishing that we had time for another Guinness afterwards! 

Continuing on down the highway, we drove through Kilkee and Kilrush and into the ferry port on the River Shannon at Killimer. It was about 3PM when we drove aboard the ferry "Shannon Breeze" for the 20 minute ride across the river to Tarbert. On the road again, we passed through the neat little towns of Listowel and Tralee and finally into Killarney, where we’ll be spending the night. We were booked into the Plaza Hotel, right by the town square, but on the way down, Paul got a call from his main office to see if we would mind going to the Malton Hotel instead. It seems Killarney was having a big celebration this evening in connection with their summer racing festival. If we agreed to the change, we would be given a complimentary dinner for the group in the Plaza's Main Restaurant.

It sounded like a pretty good deal to us, so we checked in to the Malton Hotel - one of the old plush railroad hotels - instead of The Plaza. Not a bad decision! And, at 7:30PM, we had dinner in the Plaza’s elegant main restaurant on the top floor and had a meal fit for royalty – instead of fish and chips at a local pub! (The plates were HUGE and full to the brim - I think we all left more on our plates than we ate!) I had beef medallions (3) that looked like small roasts that could have fed the whole group. And in honor of our 38th wedding anniversary today, July 14th, I toasted my lovely bride with a manhattan with an olive in it instead of a cherry!  


FRIDAY, JULY 15

KILLARNEY NATIONAL PARK, BLARNEY CASTLE AND CORK


We all had a very nice breakfast in the Hotel restaurant, checked out, Paul picked us up and we headed out to Killarney National Park for a morning of kayaking on the Lakes of Killarney.

The gang met their kayaking guide in the parking lot by Ross Castle at 10AM and got all decked out in their safety gear. Buddy and T were the only ones to don wetsuits, even though it was overcast and pretty chilly. We walked along with them out on the dirt pathway to the end of the point where they each got a kayak. They pulled the boats down the bank and into the water and they all got in without too much trouble. All this time, Ginny was busy with the camera, recording all the action on video and photos until after they had been given more “hands – on” instructions and finally headed out of sight. Then she and I took the trail out to the point on the other side of the lake where we met up with them again. Unfortunately, we just missed the capsizing by both T and Buddy. When we saw them, they were both back upright in their kayaks, and though they seemed to be pretty upbeat, they still looked a little upset about it. Fortunately, they were the ones who opted to wear the wet suits when given the opportunity.

The wind and white caps were really picking up out on the open water, and it was about noon, so they headed back to the landing area where it was a lot more protected and calmer until time to pack it in. The kids went up to use the facilities in Ross Castle, but we never did go in and look around at all. Paul had said that there really wasn’t very much to see and besides, we didn’t really have a lot of time before getting on the road again. Paul came back with the van at 1PM and after everyone had dried off and got all their gear turned in, we headed off to the Torc waterfall further into the park. It’s not a very high waterfall and there’s an easy path up to a nice viewing area where we got lots of photos before returning to the van.

Back on the road, we stopped and had lunch in the Molly Darcy’s Restaurant inside the Muckross Park Hotel in Killarney. After lunch, we got back on the road, passing over the Cork/Kerry mountains via Ballymakeery, Ballyvourney and passing by the Macroom Castle, William Penn's home, and on into the parking lot at Blarney Castle. It was about 4PM when we all headed up to the castle and Paul said we should be able to see everything in an hour or so and we set 5:30PM for our return time. Since Ginny & I had already been up to the stone a couple times already, I didn't climb the steps again but Ginny did, just to take photos, though. All the kids went up and although each one went through the motions of kissing the stone, only he or she knows if the stone was actually kissed! Back on the grounds, everyone went off exploring and we wandered around the grounds taking lots of photos and then headed back to the parking lot. By 5:30, we were all back in the van and on the way to Cork.

By 6PM, we arrived at the Cork Imperial Hotel and after everyone was checked in, we agreed to meet in the bar at 7pm and go to dinner. After getting our bags in the room, we headed down to the bar and found a big seating area for our group in the upstairs area over the bar and that’s where we all got back together and had a pint. A couple of the guys had a Bulmers Cider and Ginny noticed that the guys always seemed to get their Bulmers in a regular shaped pint glass but the girls always got a glass with a large, round, ball-like top. Hmm! – I wonder what the significance of that might be?

        The girls’ Bulmers pint glass!

It was close to 8pm when we went out to find a place to eat. We were right down in the center of the city and it seemed like there were plenty of places to choose from but we weren’t having much luck…

After stopping in a couple of pubs looking for some pub food, we were told by a guy that pubs don't serve food in Cork – only in America do pubs serve food! Well, we found two Italian restaurants, one Thai, one Chinese and one French restaurant – but nothing Irish. We finally found the Fish Hatch, a take-out fish & chips place and we all got an order to go and took it back to the hotel. We said good night to the kids when we got back to the lobby, and while Ginny took our food up to the room, I got a pint of Beamish ale and a pint of Bulmers cider from the bar and took them up to the room. The kids went back out later that night, but we stayed in and got a good night’s sleep!




SATURDAY, JULY 16

KILKENNY


After having breakfast in the main restaurant, I packed the Bulmers glass that I got from the bar last night, in my bag. When we went down to the lobby to meet the group, I took the Beamish glass back and set it on the table next to the bar. When everyone showed up, we headed out at 8:30 to find the English Market. Some of the kids had gone out for ice cream (yeah, sure) last night and knew the short cut to the market. Pretty interesting place but not something I would have gone out of my way to see on my own - but then, there's not much else to see in Cork! We walked around the English Market for an hour or so and then headed back to the Hotel, got our bags and checked out.

Paul drove up right at 10:30 and we headed off to Kilkenny and the Club House Hotel. On the way to Kilkenny, we made a sightseeing stop at the Rock of Cashel. We managed to get on the 12:30pm tour and our guide did a wonderful job of explaining all the things about the Rock.

After getting back to the bus at 1:30 we headed out again. Before we got very far, we stopped at a McDonalds to get our lunch and brought it back to the van to eat on the way. We pulled in to Kilkenny about 2:30, and after dropping us off at the Club House Hotel, we said our thank-yous and goodbyes to Paul and the van and he went on his way.

We got checked into the hotel and after storing our bags in our rooms, we all headed up to Kilkenny Castle where we just explored on our own. There was quite a bit more to see since we were last here in 1992! (In 2007, we stayed at the farm just outside the city, but we never did get to the castle.) In '92, only the Great Hall and the Gardens outside had been restored and open to the public. Now, it seems that the whole complex has been restored and there's even an Art Gallery in the basement! The Gardens are quite beautiful and would you believe, the whole gang was sitting on a bench admiring the view when we went outside to see it!

Having gotten our fill of castles for the day, we all headed back to the town center. It was only 4:30 and it had never dawned on me to think about a pub, but someone in the group noticed the Harp Pub on the corner of the first street that we had to cross. Well, I guessed that it would be alright if we went in and checked the place out... So, we stopped in the Harp Pub and had a pint - but - they didn't have any Harp!

We separated after leaving the Pub, and we told the kids to find a good place for dinner tonite and also agreed to meet back at the hotel at 7:30. Ginny and I wandered out to the bridge over the River Nore and found a great street with some pretty interesting places, just in case, and then back to the hotel for a little rest.

We all met in the lobby and it wasn't too long before we discovered that we were all talking about the same street to find a place to eat! So we headed off to Kiernan St. and found Kyteler's Inn, a great old place for a great dinner. According to the big sign on the wall, Kyteler's was established in 1324 by Dame Alice le Kyteler who was accused of being a witch, but who escaped (on a broom?) before being burned at the stake! After dinner, we said goodnight to the kids and it was about 9pm when Gin & I went back to the hotel.

SUNDAY, JULY 17

DUBLIN


We all had breakfast in the hotel restaurant and then went back to our rooms, got our bags and checked out. We had arranged for 2 taxis to pick us up at 9:15 and get us to the train station and they both came within minutes of each other. We all piled in and were at the station in plenty of time to get the 9:50am train to Heuston Station in Dublin. It was only a 1 1/2 hour train ride from Kilkenny Sta. to Heuston Sta. and by 11:45am, we had gotten our tickets from the machine in the Heuston station lobby and were waiting on the platform when the (LUAS) light rail train to Busarus station pulled in at noon. It was just a 2 block walk to our Townhouse Hotel and Jim & Corky were waiting in the lobby for us when we got there. We couldn't check in 'til 2pm so we all left our bags in their room and went to Madigans for a pint and some lunch. After lunch, we walked down O'Connell St. and over the River Liffey bridge to Grafton St. When we got to the corner of Suffolk and Grafton it was like seeing a dear old friend again and I had to give a big old hug to Molly Malone (the "Tart with a cart" or Dish with a fish"). Then it was down Grafton Street and through the Temple Bar District and finally back over the Ha’Penny Bridge. We returned to the hotel, checked in and got our bags from Jim's room and got in our rooms. The gang went out exploring (we told them to find a place for dinner tonight) and we just stayed in for a bit and rested up. At 5pm, Gin & I walked up the block to O'Shea's for a couple pints and I watched the finish of the British Open Golf Tournament - the hotel only got 3 channels and this wasn't on any of them...

We all met in the WiFi room back at the hotel at 7pm and found out the kids had made a 7:30 reservation for the 10 of us at Gogarty's in the Temple Bar Area for dinner. So we headed off again for dinner at Gogarty's!  It seemed like all the waiters and staff were of Indian descent but the food was typical Irish and very good. I had a scrumptious Fish (plaice) & Chips and a pint of Guinness - Excellent!

It was after 9pm when we got back out on the street and the whole area was jumpin' - a hot time in the old town tonight! We told the gang to have a good time and said Good night and everybody went their separate way and Gin & I went back to the hotel.


MONDAY, JULY 18

DUBLIN


After breakfast we all met at the hotel desk and I got Hop on - Hop off bus tickets from the clerk and then we headed over to the bus stop by the Spire on O'Connell St. There was a bus at the stop when we arrived, so we hopped on and took it around to Stop # 14 and went to the Guinness Storehouse. We got tickets for all ten of us and we got to do the tour - Finally! For various reasons, this is the first time after 5 trips to Dublin, that Ginny and I were able to take the tour! During the course of the tour, which lasted about 2 hours, we learned how to pour a "perfect" pint of Guinness, and we even got certificates attesting that we poured a perfect pint from the tap. The best part was that we got to polish it off, too! Then at the conclusion of the tour, we ended up in The Gravity Bar on the top floor of the building. Someone down at the pouring station had given his ticket to T and he gave the extra ticket to us. We were able to exchange it for another pint in the Bar! Good thing we had a big breakfast before heading out this morning...

It was about 1:30pm when we all got the Hop on bus and took it around to Stop #1, where we started this morning, and agreed to meet at 6:30 at O'Shea's for dinner. Everybody took off for different destinations and Gin & I went to Madigans for a pint and then we went back to the hotel.

We all met as planned at O'Shea's and had dinner at 2 tables in the pub area rather than wait for one big table in the restaurant area and then headed over to O'Connell St. to get the  Ghost Bus Tour at 7:30. The bus goes around to the city's old cemetery and haunted buildings and the driver spookily tells about all the ghosts and mysterious things that have happened- pretty funky - but it was one of the things the kids wanted to do and they had a good time. The bus dropped us off back on O'Connell St. about 10pm and we headed back to the hotel.


TUESDAY, JULY 19

DUBLIN


After a nice big breakfast, the gang took off in various directions and Buddy came along with us today because he wanted to see the Kilmainham Gaol. We walked over to the Spire on O'Connell St. and got the 10am Red bus around to the gaol. We got tickets for the 11:15am guided tour around the prison grounds, which reminded me very much of Alcatraz, and then we wandered thru the Museum and saw many of the artifacts and stories of the famous Irish political prisoners who were imprisoned here.

Back outside, we got the Red bus right away and took it to Stop #22, walked over the O'Connell St. Bridge and got the Yellow line bus out to The Point and the Dublin Eye. There was hardly anyone around and we weren't sure the thing was even open today, but we went around to the ticket counter and sure enough, we got tickets and walked right on up to one of the cars and were shown in. A few minutes later, the wheel started moving and we went around a total of three times in, I'd guess, about five minutes. At the top of the rotation, you get a good view of the docks and the waterfront. You can also see the Samuel Beckett Bridge over the River Liffey, which is supposed to be shaped like a harp, and with a little imagination, you can see that it really is! All in all though, I'd have to say that the Dublin Eye is a pretty poor imitation of the London Eye!

Heading back downtown at 1:30pm, we got a Yellow bus right away to the #1 stop and had snacks and a pint in the Madigans on O'Connell St. After our lunch, we went back to the hotel to rest up before we all met at the Savoy Theater at 3:30pm. to see the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part2 movie in 3D!

After the movie, we all went to Madigans by the theater for dinner - I had skewered shrimp and carrot soup and a Smithwicks - Ginny had the same w/Bulmers. It was 8pm when we said goodnight to the group and left them at Madigans.  On the way back to the hotel, since it was still fairly early, we decided to walk over to Connelly R.R. Station and get our tickets for the train to Belfast tomorrow. On the way back, Ginny timed our walk to the hotel - 7 minutes...


B. NORTHERN IRELAND

WEDNESDAY, JULY 20

BELFAST


After breakfast, we cleared out of our rooms and we all met down in the lobby at 10:00am. We checked out and headed off, pulling our bags behind us, on the seven minute walk to the train station. 

The train from Connelly Sta. to Belfast Central Sta. left at 11:00am and arrived in Belfast at 1:15pm. Outside the station, we all piled into 3 waiting taxis for the short ride to the Travel Lodge in downtown Belfast. It was too early to check in, so we stored our bags in a locked room off the lobby and went out looking for a place to get some lunch. We found Brennan’s Pub right around the corner, got something to eat and a pint to wash it down! We talked about taking a city hop on hop off tour bus and Erika suggested the Black Taxi Tour. She said that that was something she was wanting to do here.

At 3:30pm we were back at the hotel and while we were checking in, asked the desk clerk about the Black Taxi Tour. She said it was highly recommended and she could arrange a tour for us this afternoon. At 4:00pm, after we had all brought our bags up to our rooms and freshened up a bit, two Black Taxis pulled up outside and we split up in groups of five and we were off again!

The tour lasted for about 1½ hours and covered the areas where most of what the locals call “the troubles” occurred. We went along both Falls Road, the republican/catholic area and Shankill Road, the loyalist/protestant area and each of our drivers took turns describing and/or explaining the importance and the meaning of the significance of the particular place where we had stopped. In most instances, the murals on the walls told the story. I just couldn’t help feeling that it is so appalling to see what these so-called civilized people have done to each other – and are still continuing to do – over political and religious differences! And, what is really even more alarming, is that we are hearing and seeing the same things that set these people apart in our own country now a days!

That evening, at 7:00pm, we all met in the lobby and went to the Crown Liquor Saloon for dinner. The place was absolutely packed, and I couldn’t believe that they would ever be able to seat all 10 of us. But upstairs, in the restaurant area, they were able to put two tables together for us and once again, we lucked out and didn’t have to be separated into two or more groups – amazing! This is one very nice place with great service and delicious food. And to top off the evening, I asked Susan, our waitress, if I could keep my Harp glass and she brought me a new one to take home. I now have 2 glasses from Belfast (2007&2011), 1 from Donegal (2004) and 1 from Sligo (1998).

I don’t know what the rest of the gang did after dinner, but by 9:30pm, Ginny and I were back in the hotel for the night.


THURSDAY, JULY 21

BELFAST & ANTRIM COAST


Breakfast wasn’t included in our hotel rate, so we all met in the adjoining Café, through the hotel lobby door, at 8:00am. It didn’t look like the place served regular hot breakfast food, so I just had a coffee and pastry. The waitress said it was “cash only” and we couldn’t charge the bill to our hotel room! 

At 9:00am, Mark our driver/guide for the day from McComb's Tours pulled up at the hotel in a HUGE tour bus for just the 10 of us. Back in May, Ginny had arranged with McComb’s for a private tour for the day and she was told that we would be in a Mercedes 15 passenger van similar to the one we had with Paul Ryan of the Discover Ireland tour.


But for whatever reason, we got this big, honkin’ bus! (That’s Mark our driver/guide.)

We all clambored aboard and before long, we were off to our first stop of the day at Bushmills Distillery.

It turned out that the Distillery closes down production in July for its annual maintenance, so by the time we got there at 11AM, there weren’t any crowds at all and we were able to go right on in. The bottling machines were the only things operating and our guide told us they do contract bottling for other distilleries and breweries. It was amazing to watch them in action – but they were going so fast it was hard to see just what exactly they were doing! We finished off the tour in the Tasting Room and we were each given a shot of our choice to sip and savor! We also, of course, had to exit through the store and I’m sure they did OK by us!

Leaving Bushmills, we headed on up the coast and it was about noon when we stopped at Dunluce Castle. We wandered around the grounds for just a short time but got lots of photos of the old rocky ruins. Some of the remains date back to the 13th century, so it’s not only a very historic site but sitting out on the edge of the cliff, it is very photogenic also. 

A short distance back up the coast from the castle was our next destination, the Giants Causeway. But first, before heading down to explore the rock formations, we had lunch at the Causeway Hotel Restaurant up by the main Visitor’s Center. When we were at Dunluce, Mark had called ahead and arranged for us to be seated right away and we were in and out of there in no time at all. While we were eating, Buddy was wondering about the rock formations and how they got there, so we had to tell him about the legend of the Giant’s Causeway.

When we left the restaurant, we walked up by the Visitors Center where we could either take the pathway down to the site or wait to ride the shuttle down. The kids walked down, and we took the shuttle. We all scrambled around, tripped over and/or climbed up on the column-like formations for an hour or so, getting lots of photos before it was time to get back together again. After taking the shuttle back up, we waited outside by the Bus loading area, and it wasn’t too long before Mark pulled up and we all loaded on. 

About five miles further east on the Coast Road, we pulled into another big parking area, and we were off to our next adventure on the Carrick-a-Rede bridge. It’s a pretty long hike down to the bridge but it wasn’t nearly as windy as it was in 2007 when we here with Tim and Mary. Yet even without a hurricane trying to blow us off, crossing over is still a daunting challenge! After crossing over, I was sitting on a big boulder, resting up before crossing back, when a man and his little boy about 5 or so, came across the bridge and as they were going by me, the little boy asked his father, “When are we going to get to the bridge?” 

On the way back up to the bus, I couldn’t help thinking that it may only be a mile or so walk down to the bridge but it sure seems like climbing Mt. Everest on the return trip. Sitting on that nice comfortable bus seat again never felt so good!

At 4:30pm, all were present and accounted for and Mark gave us the choice of taking the fast way back or the slower more scenic route along the coast. We chose the coast route. This was just a very beautiful road! The hills and the glens were just gorgeous – the emerald green of Ireland seemed to be even greener here and not too far off across the Irish Sea, Mark said the land we could see was Scotland! The two-hour drive back seemed to fly by and our bus pulled up in front of the hotel right at 6:30PM. We said goodbye to Mark and thanked him for an outstanding day! With his thick Irish brogue, he was a little hard to understand at times but he handled that monster bus like a pro and he was always pointing out things of interest as he was driving along- a real good guy! 

For dinner that evening, we were interested in just getting something simple and pizza came up. So after freshening up back in our rooms, we all met in the lobby at 7:00 and with directions from the desk clerk on where to get a pizza, we headed off down the streets of Belfast. We walked quite a ways in what we thought was the right direction, but we never did see a pizza place. I was about ready to give up when we came to Carlotti’s Italian Restaurant and figured that was the place we were looking for. They had a nice big table for all of us and Gin & I split a pizza and tiramasu for desert. It turned out to be a little fancier than we were looking for, but everybody seemed to be happy and satisfied, so we had another serendipitous experience. 

When we got back to the hotel, Jim, Michael, T & I went to Fibber McGee's for a pint. Michael left after the first one but then, Jim & T each bought a round too, and we talked with a couple of Irish guys who shared our table. A nice, fun time! It was way past my bedtime when I got back to the room for the night, but it was another great day to remember!


FRIDAY, JULY 22

BELFAST


After breakfast, Ginny and the kids piled into two taxis and they went to the Giant's Ring in Ballynahatty, but I stayed back at the hotel - I'm moving a little slow, this morning! When they returned a little after 10am, Jim, Ginny and I walked over to the bus/train station, confirmed that the train to Dublin really doesn’t run on weekends and determined that Jim and his family would be able to take the bus instead. While we were there, we also figured out where to get our bus to the airport in the morning. Then Ginny and I went off exploring and found a small cafe where we had a bowl of soup, a chocolate shake and a cupcake for lunch. We got tickets for the hop-on hop-off bus from a hawker outside the Europa Hotel on Great Victoria Street and he showed us to the shuttle bus that took us to the pick-up stop a few blocks away. We hopped on the 12:10 bus at Stop #1 and spent over an hour sightseeing around the city. On the way up to Stormont to see the Parliament Buildings, we passed by Cabin Hill Independent School, said by our guide to be a dead ringer for Hogwarts but it was too far back off the road to be able to see it. When we got down to the docks, there was a cruise ship in port and that could explain the huge number of tourists that we had been seeing today. When we went by the shipyards, Samson and Goliath were still the most imposing structures on the skyline but very close by, the new Titanic Museum is nearing completion and that building will also become a major attraction for the city. We continued on around most of the route but when it got by our hotel, we hopped off. We stopped in and made dinner reservations for 7:00pm tonight at the Crown Saloon and Ginny got photos of it and the buildings around us and then we went to Robinson's for a pint. A group of very well-dressed people came into Robinson's looking like they might have just come from a wedding and one of the men was all decked out in coat, tie and kilts. He looked very impressive!

Back in our room around 3:00pm, I stretched out while Ginny got her bag re-organized and when she decided to go out for more photos - I stayed in and got rested up for dinner tonight...

Just before 7:00, we all assembled in the lobby and walked the short distance around the corner to the Crown Saloon. Susan was one of our waitresses again and we all had a great time at the same table(s) - just like Wednesday! Everyone talked about their day's adventure and it was quite apparent that they all had had a good time. And not just today, it seems, but the whole trip had been a great experience and a good, fun time for everybody! I couldn't have felt more pleased!

Ginny and I were back at the hotel just after 9:00 and I was ready for a good night's sleep and it didn't take me long to get there!


SATURDAY, JULY 23

HEADING HOME


We all met in the lobby at 7:00am, checked out and said our goodbyes to Jim, Corky, Erika & Michael - Devon wasn't down yet - and then Helena, T and Buddy and Ginny and I walked over to the bus station and got the 7:20 bus to the airport.

After getting our boarding passes, we got a light breakfast in the cafe, made it through the security area without any problem and went out to the gate to wait to board our flight at 10:45am. We left on time and after an uneventful 71/2 hour flight, arrived in Newark, NJ at 1:40pm EDT (5 hours time differential). After getting through Customs, Helena, T and Buddy's flight to Norfolk, VA was leaving from a different area at 6:10pm, so we said our goodbyes then and our flight to SFO left on time at 5:35pm. 

We arrived in SFO at 9:00pm PDT (3 more hours time differential). We got our bags and by 9:30 pm we were outside in a small line waiting for a taxi. We were home by 10pm!

It seems like I always say this after every trip, but I'm going to say it again - This was the best trip EVER!



© Virginia E. Vail 2012