Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Last Day in Dublin

Eileen with her Guinness Beef Pie 
Day 12 (8/14/15)

I forgot to mention in yesterday’s blog that after spending the day touring the north we decided to catch some Irish music when we got back to the hotel. My only regret is that we didn’t purchase one of the young man’s CDs. Even though he didn’t look the part he had a great voice and did an outstanding job on the Irish Ballads. Today was our last day in Dublin before taking off early tomorrow morning. We had already decided we were going to take it easy and continue our tour of the city. We had done the National Gallery of Ireland on our first day of touring so today we decided to go to the Irish Museum of Modern Art. It didn’t open until 11:00 am, however, so we stopped at the Dublin Castle first. The castle has served many purposes through history, serving first as a defensive structure later the residence of the royal representatives of the Monarchy until 1922 when it was handed over to the new Irish government. It turns out that parts of it are still used for formal functions like Queen Elizabeth II visit in 2012. Not long after we arrived there it started sprinkling. We then hopped back on the bus and headed for the Irish Museum of Modern Art. The IMMA as it is called is housed in the old Royal Hospital building one of Ireland’s finest examples of 1700s architecture. Like all Modern Art Museums you are kind of subject to what happens to be on display when you visit. There was an altered photography show in the main building that was rather interesting but much of the rest I found a little predictable. After perusing the museum we hop back on the bus and finally were able to finish the last part of the hop-on hop-off loop that kept eluding us. We then changed bus routes and headed out to the Docklands, an ongoing renovation area were a lot of the new businesses of Dublin are housed. Our first stop was at the” U2 Graffiti Wall”. Unfortunately much of it is being demolished and the part that they are trying to relocate was covered with tarps. We did get to see a small piece of it though. The last thing we had on our must do list was to visit the Temple Bar area, which is not a bar at all. It is the commercial hotspot of Dublin filled with small shops and cafes and of course pubs. It is where you will find street entertainers hanging out. Because of the weather it was kind of subdued but at least we didn’t have to fight crowds. We decided to have lunch at The Fitzgerald, a typical Irish Pub looking place. We weren’t disappointed. I had a traditional Irish stew with lamb while Eileen had a Beef and Guinness Pie. The food was very good and the atmosphere was perfect. After lunch we just started walking and checking out the local area. Eventually we meandered our way back in the direction of our hotel. We wanted to pick up a few souvenirs so we hit some shops on O’Connell Street before heading back to our room. I wanted to make one last loop around Parnell Square which was the area around our hotel so we dropped our stuff off and hit the streets again. It was hard to say goodnight but finally we had to go back, repack and get ready for our early departure.
Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle

Gate of Justice

Gate of Fortitude

Sand sculptures at Castle

Embracing Death
Irish Museum of Modern Art

Another view of IMMA
Palace of the President

Dublin Convention Center (Tube with the Cube)

Who knew Dublin was a Viking City?

Good Eats

Molly Malone

U2 Graffiti Wall

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Northern Ireland

At the Peace Wall
Day 11 (8/13/15)
As I said in yesterdays blog this day got off to an early start. We had requested a breakfast to go last night so we stopped by the desk to grab it. We have a feeling that somebody had dropped the ball on the breakfast because when we asked the morning desk person about it he took off in a bit of a panic and said he would be right back. A little later he returned with what turned out to be three cheese sandwiches. We headed towards our designated Pickup sight. Unlike yesterday there were copious amounts of people waiting to get on buses. Our tour luck held though and when our bus pulled up and we showed our guide the voucher he said he had two seats reserved for us in the front row of the bus. Neither one of us ever figured out why we had reserved seating when we have to assume that most people bought their tickets as we did on line. I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth however and anyone who has ever taken a bus tour knows how nice it is to have the front seat. With the front seat you have the opportunity to look and photograph out both the front and side windows. You are also right next to the tour guide so if he is the type who likes to talk like our guide John you get information that is not broadcast to the rest of the bus, not to mention being the first off when you get to a place of interest. Our first stop, other than a quick rest stop, was Belfast. It turns out that not that many years ago a tour like this wouldn’t have been possible. Even if you could have gotten across the border into Northern Ireland there was no direct route between Dublin and Belfast and most of your day would have been taken up in just driving to Belfast and back. In the last ten years they have done away with the restrictions at the border and have built a bridge that allows for a more direct route to Belfast. It turns out that half our tour was going to the Titanic Museum and the other half, like us, were going on the “Black Taxi Tour”. I could write an entire blog on the Black Taxi Tour but in a nutshell the Black Taxi Tour is a bunch of taxi drivers, both Protestant and Catholic, who have joined together to promote peace by informing the world of what is going on behind the scenes in Northern Ireland. Peace is a very tentative thing in Northern Ireland and there are still a lot of hard feelings on both sides of the fence. The first stop on the tour was at the mural walls on the catholic side. It turns out that anyone who gets approval can paint a mural on these walls so there are even murals dealing with themes from the U.S. After a period of time they are painted over and a new mural goes up. You could tell that our driver and guide Jordi was very passionate about their mission. After the murals we went to the Catholic Church where one of the major players in negotiating peace, Fr Alec Reid, had been a priest. After that we headed to the so called Peace Wall. We had caught glimpses of it as we drove through the city but you don’t realize how massive it is until you are right next to it. In some areas it is thirty five feet tall and able to sustain the blast of a hand grenade. Here we stopped and continued our history lesson on the “troubles” as they call the events that have led up to such a divided Northern Ireland. Our bus guide John who was also from Belfast had pointed out the security cameras as we crossed the border and it turns out that Belfast has more security cameras per capita than any other city in the world. We then passed through the gates and went to the protestant side. The gates close down every night starting with the smaller side streets and finally the larger thoroughfares. When you get to the Protestant side the first thing that you notice is all the English flags. Just about every house flies a flag and many streets were lined with them. The other thing you notice is that most of the wealth is in the Protestant section. The Protestant section also had their walls of murals, but in my opinion, where the catholic side seemed to promote peace these murals here seemed to be more about glorifying their war heroes. We were told however that a lot of these buildings were being torn down and hopefully things will change. Our last stop was to sign the “Peace Wall” on the Protestant side. It had been a real eye opener for us and was hard to leave Jordi. In a very short time he had gained our respect and admiration. I gave him a piece of my “Peace Paper” and wished him the best of luck for peace in the future. We met up with the rest of our group at the Titanic Museum and after a quick look around the grounds reloaded the bus and headed north past the studio where “Game of Thrones” was currently filming. We continued north until we reached the northern coast where we stopped to photograph Dunluce Castle, one of the castles used in filming the Game of Thrones. We weren’t allowed to close since they were currently filming but we were able to get some shots from the road. We then worked our way along the coast until we came to the Giant’s Causeway. Giant’s Causeway is a natural landform made up of around forty thousand interlocking basalt columns caused by a volcanic eruption. It would be easy to spend an entire day there but after a little over an hour it was time to continue on to our last stop at Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge. Since arriving at the north coast the scenery had been breathtaking with glimpses of the coast of Scotland off in the distance. Carrick-A-Rede was no exception. Everywhere you looked there was something you wanted to explore. Eileen and I started immediately on the twenty minute hike to the bridge. We had heard that there could be long lines and we wanted to make sure that we were able to do the trip across the bridge. When we got there we were again lucky and the line was pretty short. On our way back across we did have to wait a little longer, which gave us time for photographs, but when we reached the other side we saw that the line was now extending way up the hill. We slowly worked our way back to where the bus was parked stopping to take photos as we went. Soon, unfortunately, it was time to start home. It had been a wonderful day and emotional rollercoaster, from the emotions of Belfast to the beauty of the north coast. The bus meandered its way back to Belfast through rural areas and small towns. Again, our guide continued our ongoing history/geography lesson. Because of heavy traffic we skirted Belfast on the east side this time and meandered through even more scenic areas. Eventually we hooked back up with the main highway south of Belfast and headed for Dublin. In spite of the diversions we ended back in Dublin almost right on time, tired but with our head swimming with all that we had seen.  
Eileen with our Black Taxi

Mural Wall (Catholic Side)

Wide range of Subjects

First Ten People to Die in Hunger Strike in 1981 

First glimpse of Peace Wall with British Flag flying on Protestant side

Church that Fr. Alec Reid was Priest at

Just one of many security cameras

Mural on Protestant Side. Poppies represent Catholics he killed

The barrel of this gun appears to follow wherever you go

Eileen with Dunluce Castle

Giant's Causway

Basalt Columns 

Climbing the Columns

My one Build at Giant's Causeway

Northern Coast

Carrik-A-Rede Rope Bridge

Fishing Hut

View from the Bridge

Don't look Down 

Coast looking east

Another view of the Bridge

Everywhere there is Beauty

Coming back across the bridge

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Whitlow Mountains

Glendalough Cathedral and Tower
Day 10 (8/12/15)

Today was our first sojourn out of the city. We have always had a weakness for trains so when we saw that they offered a rail tour south along the coastline to the Whitlow Mountains it made the top of our must do list. After breakfast we headed for Connelly Station to meet our guide and catch our train. We started getting a little worried when it was almost time to leave and we were the only ones standing at the queue. Promptly at nine we saw a man in a yellow jacket walking towards us. It turn out that our tour consisted of five people and our guide Paddy. We then found out that the other group was from Dublin so it was almost like having our own personal guide. We were slightly disappointed with the train ride. Most of it was either below ground level or was very grown over so it was hard to catch many glimpses of the beautiful coastline but Paddy kept us entertained with stories of Irish lore and personal stories. We traveled south by rail until we stopped at Arklow and got into a small van to continue our journey. Our first stop was in the small town of Avoca which is apparently the village used in the britcom Ballykissangel.  We had never heard of the show but apparently it brings a lot of tourist based on the reviews I have read. We were more interested in the woolen mills with their hand woven goods and demonstrations. It was a beautiful setting and we spent some time wandering around the area. Then it was back in the van and off to the ancient Monastic city of Glendalough (glen of two lakes). On the way we stopped by Tomas Moore’s tree, the site where two rivers come together and Moore was supposed to have composed many of his songs while sitting under the tree there. The tree was now dead but a new one had been planted in its place. We than continued on to Glendalough and judging by the number of people this must be a very popular landmark. We had a great time wandering around the grounds trying to time our photos to have the least number of people in them. The area was absolutely beautiful so I can understand its popularity. We then took a commuter train back to Connelly Station. It was still early so we meandered our way around Dublin walking along the banks of the river Liffy. Eventually after walking down one side and up the other we headed back towards our hotel. As cities go Dublin is not a huge city and everybody is more than happy to give you directions. We decided to have supper in the other hotel restaurant and then started preparing for the longest and earliest day of our journey the next morning.   
Avoca Mills

Stringing the loom

Hand Weaving

Eileen outside the Mill

Village of Avoca

Thomas Moore Memorial

Bridge at Memorial

Two rivers meeting

Big lake at Glendalough

Tower at Glendalough

Old Church at Glendalough
Ruins of the old Cathedral
Celtic Cross
Old Dublin Gasworks now apartments

Amnesty Globe with Eternal Flame
Dublin Harp Bridge, Santiago Calatrava
Potato Famine Memorial