A Travellerspoint blog

London - 1 of 2

A.K.A This city is huge!

sunny 58 °F
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We plunged into the heart of English life: London and, you guessed it, soccer. We snagged tickets to QPR hosting West Ham United, which apparently is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to the Premier League. Holy crap, we just don’t do sports right in America. The fans were constantly singing, chanting, and taunting both specific players and each other. I remember one song even alleging that a particular player ate the feces of birds. Add a cockney accent and you’ve got a recipe for good times. Oh and get this: no booze in the stands!

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The following day we toured what can arguably be described as the most beautiful manmade structure on Earth: Wesminster Abbey. The rising vaults, the intricate decorations, the number of historically important entombed there. Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin to King Edward the Longshanks (ffffreeeeeeeeedddooommm) to Bronte sisters and Lewis Carrol. Right there!

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Oh and it’s right by Big Ben, which you can’t tour if you’re from a different country. Total BS. Screw you impressive and imposing symbolic clock tower. Screw you.

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Near our hotel we happened to wander underneath a commuter train bridge in Southwark. The tile on the wall had been gouged out in several places and honestly (in a British accent) looked quite unkempt. Next to it we noticed a plaque describing that a V2 bomb had exploded 500 yards away, leveling several buildings, and scarring this wall. Apparently one of many sites around the city with tangible and immediate remnants of the conflict. Errmazeballs.

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So food in Britain is terrible, right? No. We ate at an upscale Indian restaurant one night, ordering butter chicken and some other stuff that sat next to the butter chicken. Savory, creamy, spicy, mmm mmm goodness. We couldn’t stop eating. I think I bit the plate.

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Our planned time in London was coming to a close, so I went to the interwebs to book a Chunnel ride down to Antwerp. No times? Wha? STRIKE! Apparently the train workers union needed an increase to their annual stipend of mayonnaise, so they shut the country down. Rude!
Turned out to be a blessing as we got another full day to tour through the Tower of London. White Tower, trebuchets, armor, torture, blah blah. The coolest bit was Beauchamp Tower, where prisoners of great political or social value were held from the 1400s to as late as 50 years ago (mobsters!). Like any bored and confined person, they turned to graffiti and without your standard spray paint, they turned to chiseling the rock. Intensely detailed carvings of poems and laments, coats of arms, etc. line the walls. Most of these are in Latin, but the ground floor has a translation of the most impressive ones. The craziest part was that some prisoners were allowed to hire out craftsman from around the city to do the work for them. It’s good to be the King.

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We were finally leaving that afternoon for Belgium where we could replenish our clean clothes supply, but had the morning to continue exploring London. We headed to the British Museum via the tube. The stop for the museum is called Russell Square and as the train unloads this mass of human congestion stops in front of three elevators. Feeling young and fit, we disregarded the warning sign (“There are 175 steps to the ground floor”) and started climbing. It’s a trap! Evil does not quite describe the stairwell of that train station. It. Was. Torture. We arrived to the coat check of the museum still breathing hard and drenched in sweat, the dossier knew exactly why.

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BUT the British museum was awesome! Put this one on the bucket list kids; it’s a fascinating place. Some of humanity’s oldest artifacts are there, including a 13,000 year old Mammoth killing sling carved from bone! The Sloane wing of the museum is itself an exhibit in that it was the original collection of artifacts from the late 1700s. He collected everything: bugs, plants, mummies, ceramics, jewelry, etc. You run around like a kid in a candy thinking that you’ll find something no one has seen before in a maze of little boxes and shelves, all labeled and catalogued precisely.

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Seriously, you want to go to there.

Posted by skiddaddle 08:28 Archived in United Kingdom

Ireland - Galway

Festival! Festival? Festi-no.

semi-overcast 57 °F
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Galway is an old port town on the north west coast of Ireland and our mutual love of oysters compelled us to make this town a stop on our trip. Doesn't the "Galway International Oyster Festival" have a certain ring to it? We mentioned this soiree a handful of times and were met with thin smiles and curt nods. Turns out that it's not really a festival, and it's not really about Galway, or oysters. But it does bring showy, pretentious people from around the globe for a good, old fashioned hobknobbing! One major enjoyable highlight was a cooking show put on by a relatively world famous chef at a restaurant called Fishy Fishy. We picked up some fantastic cooking tips, our coats, and went out into the city. Oh and the Gulf oysters blow these out of the water.

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At first, the city was hard to get to know. The main tourist street was beautiful, but filled with those pesky tourists. We went into an old church, but didn't see any pamphlets, so we went out again. Hurumph. Out of desperation, we stepped into a local tour guide company and asked where we should start.

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"Did you see the church?"
"Yes, but we left".
"Where are you from?"
"America."
"Did you know what you were looking at?"
"Err, no. It was old for sure."
"You were looking at the church where Christopher Columbus said his last prayers before embarking to the New World."
"Oh. .... We should maybe go back."
"Yes, I would think so."

We went back. Turns out the church was finished sometime in the early 1300s but was built on top of a norman chapel from around 900s. An anonymous Knight Templar is also entombed there. Most of the statues are headless and handless, part of the widespread desecration brought with the Cromwellian Invasions (also evident in Edinburgh). We started to understand where the Irish / English discontent may have started. Cromwell apparently used the church as a stables, you know, just to make a point. Also, the choir was practicing at the time which filled the whole church several seconds after they stopped singing. Wonderful.

What's another way to scoff at the English? Hurling. I mean the sport, which is a just-as-violent mix of rugby and lacrosse. Galway was, on that very day at that very time, in the finals for a hurling championship. We hopped into a pub off the beaten path, asked for some Guinness, to which I accidentally attempted to pay with 10 British pounds (they are a euro country). The bartender looked at my tender and replied "You can kindly dispose of that in the trash." D'oh! (FYI Galway lost, and I think I was blamed).

We wandered off to some other sites: the Spanish arch which used to be on the gates of the city, the museum which was closed, and along the wharf. The city really started to grow on us. Perfect little framed moments of beauty popped up around each corner.

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We got pizza that night. Don't judge: you can only eat so much potatoes with stewed meat. And after these chips, we needed something we knew.

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Posted by skiddaddle 08:17 Archived in Ireland

Ireland - Cliffs of Moher

Moher awesome than one can imagine

semi-overcast 55 °F
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Early the next day, we said goodbye to our pleasant host (who may or may not have played a part in attempting to murder us with pudding) and started our trek to the Cliffs of Moher. Although Ireland is relatively flat, the roads outright refuse to be straight. Normally a 40 mile journey would equate to 40 minutes (using advanced math). Here it's 1.5 hours with no stops, but as always our trusty companion terror was with us.

Our path took us due north near Tralee to a small bay requiring a crossing via car ferry. It was completely uneventful, besides being frigidly cold and extremely windy, and that was a good thing with my recent experience painting alleyways.

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After crossing the ferry we continued on and stopped for a late lunch in a small seaside town. We needed something light and ordered soup and sandwiches where, in place of mayonaise, they use butter. It's a custom I'm going to adopt. Elida ordered an ice cream cone, and just like everything when you're traveling, it too could not just be "normal". After tasting some, the phrase "extruded non-melting semi-sweet paste" comes to mind. Tasty.

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"To the Cliffs!", we cried. Arriving, we hopped out into bone chilling wind gusts that playfully attempted to knock us to the pavement. Wary, we walked up the hill and glaced off in the distance. Stunning. Shocking. Awe-spiring. 700ft cliffs rising straight out of the North Atlantic, birds rising in the wind, and grass that looked painted on in large goopy swaths. Enormous curtains of stone that seemed to blow in the wind. You felt absolutely tiny and fragile next to these things.

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Trivia: remember the movie The Princess Bride? These were the Cliffs of Insanity.

We made our way into Galway that night and stayed in a slightly creepy B&B.

Posted by skiddaddle 05:46 Archived in Ireland

Ireland - Killarney and the Dingle Peninsula

People aren't exaggerating ... it's that pretty

58 °F
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After a solid, boozy night at the pub we were beat. We slept in late, got some brunch, and caught a later train to Killarney. It's a touristy little town in southwestern Ireland, but used as a home base for driving tours of the area. Like we were going to do. What a coincidence!

The train ride was straight from the movies. Glancing out at each stop, you'd see children and parents waiting and then running up and into the arms of a grandfather. Or young lovers kissing madly before one got on, while the other looked on. It's something I wish we had in the America I know. What I don't wish for is a town like Mallow, where every breath is filled with the finest, most fragrant horse manure. And not the composted, earthy smell. The real shit.

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As a side note, I struck up a conversation with a train conductor on the way out. He's lived in Ireland his entire life and had never seen the west coast. A place that millions of people from around the world flock to every year. And he works on a train that goes out that way. Alllrrrrighty then.

Upon arrival in Killarney, we headed straight to a pub for some beers and landed at a place called Courtney's. Locals! Met a friendly, old gent named Patrick who insisted on asking all questions twice. Outside. we met a fast talking, Bush-hating, libertine named Tim O'Leary. I paused. He nodded. We moved on. The night got blurry and we checked out of the place when a younger crowd of guys engaged in a spirited nut kicking contest. Breakfast the following morning of black and white pudding, a mostly raw sunny side up egg, and a grilled tomato, was sprinkled with Advil.

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Upon the advice of our car rental guy (and some sleuthy eavesdropping by Elida the night before), we changed our plans from the Ring of Kerry to the less traveled but just as majestic Dingle Peninsula. We picked up a car and immediately realized why no credit cards or insurance companies cover you in Ireland. The car was partially destroyed: missing a side mirror cover, panels kicked in, scrapes and dings galore. The "previous damage sheet" was completely blotted out. I'm positive that if I set it on fire, no one would have noticed.

Off we went. Roundabouts? Not a big deal. Driving on the left side from the right side of the car? You get used to it. But you never, ever, ever get used to driving 50mph, 1 inch from a stone wall , the sound of hedges slapping the remains of your side mirror, and facing an oncoming, demonic tour bus filled with hundreds of elderly willing to take life from you. You have to comfort your cringing wife with your left hand. YOUR LEFT HAND! That's the weird part.

The landscape is striking and beautiful as they say. Only pictures can describe it. We headed up to the sleepy habor town of Dingle, stopped in a local farmers market for some bread, brie, and salmon pate spread and off we drove on the Slea Head drive. It's a series of roads circling the peninsula from which you can view exquisite cliffs and islands, rolling green hills, and ancient ring forts built some 2000+ years ago. You get a funny, attached feeling when you're standing on a remote cliffside in a distant country, touching a stone that hasn't moved for eons. We had a picnic en route.

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We also met a goat. Goats are pehaps the creepiest animals up close. If you ever get the pleasure, just stare into those devil slit eyes. Or don't and keep that portion of your soul that it would have taken.

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On our way back, a little indigestion expressed itself in our stomachs. By the time we were stuck in traffic back in Killarney, I had to leap from the car, wander into an alley, and express my own technicolor yawn. Dinner was attempted and failed. We spent a quiet night back at the B&B with the delicious stabbing pains of food poisoning.

Posted by skiddaddle 07:43 Archived in Ireland

Dublin

semi-overcast 57 °F
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We got up in the wee hours to make an early flight to Dublin. On our way out of the hotel, we happened to notice a delivery of eggs and milk waiting on the doorstep. Hee hee! Our cabby was named Sean and he may as well have had on the garb of a leprechaun. He was 110% Scottish and excited about it. He gave us all kinds of tips and places to see in Dublin and the west coast, and had loads of history about Edinburgh and Dublin. He was just what we needed to wake up (and distract Willis from his catastrophic thoughts) on our way to the airport, so we took pictures with him! He wouldn't fit in our luggage, otherwise we would kidnapped him.

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We arrived at the airport and all was well, until the plane rolled up to the terminal. The flight just wasn't dangerous enough with the inclement weather, coastal city, regional flight early in the morning thing. No it had to be a 30 year old prop plane. We were doomed. That is, until just after takeoff, when the sun streamed through the clouds and an enormous rainbow burst onto the sky. Talk about lucky charms!

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We didn't die, and instead arrived, checked in, and began our long, cold walk to Trinity College to view the Book of Kells. For those of you that don't know, it's a 1200 year old bible with the intricately drawn images and iconography. We spent a good couple of hours learning about the history and viewing the handful of pages opened at this particular time. Apparently the illustrators, who were monks in their late teens, wrote notes to each other in the margins. Sometimes they were things to do or continue working on, but other times they were complaints about being tired and wanting to stop, which was funny to think about. Unbelievable quality, craftsmanship and time went into creating it. It was awe inspiring, and not in a religious way, but in witnessing the human drive for perfection. And the colors were still bright! So beautiful.

After that we made our way to the Guinness Storehouse by way of the Dublin "castle". The castle portion has been mostly removed or converted into a governmental building, complete with a boring square and nondescript towers. Not sure why I'm even writing about it. Moving on. The Guinness Storehouse is a monument to the infinite well of money that the brewery has drawn from for its advertising. Like Disneyland for beer. We skipped through most of the first floors and went straight up to the top for the magnificent view of the city and the complimentary pint of Guinness. It was delicious and the view truly was worth it.

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Dublin smells like pee everywhere you go. There's no gracefull way to fit that into a paragraph, so there it is.

It was evening so we headed over to a pub called O'Donoghues, which is outside of the tourist area and recommended by Sean, our cabby friend. As it was early, the music hadn't started so we went for fish and chips and a nearby restaurant. It was like eating a puffy, mildly fishy cloud. So delicate, so delicious, so we took a picture. On the way back to the bar a street trumpeter was playing a solo rendition of Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen. As they walked by, 20-30 people all started singing. You couldn't help but smile and indulge yourself in a moment communal happiness.

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The bar was hopping when we got back, and as we wandered to the where the musicians were, we became aware that it wasn't just a couple of guys playing a fiddle or two. It was 10+ people of all ages, men and women, playing fiddles, miniature accordions, piccolos, recorders, and rasps. And then one of them sang. Pure magic.

Posted by skiddaddle 08:19 Archived in Ireland

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