Monthly Archives: June 2012

Almost there…

We’ve left Dublin airport, we’ve been through Frankfurt, which is weird and surreal and doesn’t work the way other airports do, and we’re in Toronto now. One more flight, a short-ish one, and we should be back home!

So that’s the end of this particular blog adventure. See y’all next time!

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The long trip home

We’re in Dublin airport now, at the beginning of what’ll be a long day…metaphorically (we’ll be tired by the end) and literally (we gain six hours today, so it’s a 30-hour day).

The check-in process was very slow (and thorough…I’ve never had anyone actually weigh my carry-on before), and security was slow (but uneventful, apart from the guy in front of us who somehow set off the metal detector by walking too flamboyantly). We’ve filled out and turned in all our forms for tax refunds (for some of our larger purchases, we can reclaim a portion of the tax we paid. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s free, so why not?)

Our flight starts boarding in about half an hour, so it’s a good thing we got to the airport as early as we did…it took us a solid hour to get through all the check-in procedures and whatnot, and the lines were getting longer as we waited so it would have taken even longer if we arrived later. I’d hate to see this airport when it’s busy!

Anyway, we should be departing for Frankfurt in an hour or so. Our vacation is officially over! It’s been a great trip. Thanks for following along on the blog…I’ve really enjoyed getting all your comments and knowing that people back home were interested in what we were up to. And it means we won’t have to re-tell the same stories to everyone when we get home :-).

Dabblin’ around Dublin

This morning, we did something that we haven’t done all trip: we slept in and didn’t wake up to an alarm! (We did set an alarm, just in case we slept in crazy late, but we woke up before it went off.) We had a fairly leisurely morning (Pamela bought the hotel breakfast; I made tea in our room and ate a box of cereal that I stole from a previous hotel), and headed out.

We wanted to take the hop-on-hop-off bus tour of Dublin (run by the same company as the one we did in Cardiff). Pamela had a map and identified the nearest stop, which we walked to (passing about three of th buses along the way), only to find out that the stop was “closed”! So we went to stop #1, where a bus was parked, and bought our tickets…and were then told that that stop was closed too, and we had to walk a couple blocks to a pick-up point.

See, there’s some sort of event going on in town today – something to do with Formula One race cars – and they’ve closed a few roads in city centre to accommodate it. So the whole route for the bus tour was thrown into disarray. Our bus driver described it as the “mystery tour”, promising that we’d hit almost all of the stops but we’d do them in the wrong order and come at them from different angles (for instance, our first stop was stop 10). She was amusingly cynical about the whole thing, and kind of fun to listen to. (All our guides today had a good sense of humour.)

Some Dublin architecture. I believe this style is known as Georgian.

One of the stops that was closed was the one we wanted: the Trinity College stop. But there’s another one nearby, so we got off there; Trinity College was the one thing that we wanted to see today. We were planning on going to the Old Library to see the Book Of Kells, and we knew that that would cost €9. When we entered the College though (via the Arts Building), we saw a booth offering 30-minute walking tours of campus, including admission to the library, for €10. That seemed like a good deal, so we took it.

And that turned out to be a really good choice. Our tour guide was a fourth-year theatre student named Mark with a great sense of humour. He walked us around the various squares (Parliamant Square, aka Front Square, Library Square, and New Square), commented on the creativity in naming (Library Square is by the Library!), offered editorial opinions on the architecture, gave us information about the school itself (number of students, the process for becoming a Scholar or Fellow, etc.), and told us stories.

Mark, our awesome tour guide

Best story of the tour: In the 1700s, some drunk law students decided to annoy their professor by throwing pebbles at his window in the middle of the night. He responded with gunshots. The students went and got their guns and shot back. The professor ended up being killed, the students were expelled and went to court, they successfully argued their way to an acquittal, were re-admitted to the college, and graduated.

Then we went to the library and saw the Book Of Kells, which is an old (9th-century) illuminated manuscript of the four gospels. There was a whole exhibit about how books like that were made, what the symbolism in some of the illustrations meant, and so forth. It all led up to the room where you could see the book itself, plus two other less-famous books of similar age and content. Plus there was the Long Room of the Old Library, which was a beautiful room to walk through and had displays of interesting manuscripts, like Luther’s translation of the Old Testament and a page from one of the original Gutenberg Bibles. It was all a little nerdy, really…I loved it.

The Old Library at Trinity College

We finished off at the gift shop (I almost bought a harp but didn’t), and then got lunch at Costa Coffee…a chain we have become fans of, as something relatively constant wherever we’ve traveled.

We then caught the next bus for the bus tour, which was led by a very dry-witted driver. When we got back to our hotel, we got off…but because the road closures made the routes weird, I’m not convinced we actually saw everything. And for half the drive, a group of loud cackling British women were sitting in the back and making it very hard to hear what the driver was talking about. Oh well…with the cool weather we weren’t riding in the open top anyway, so we couldn’t see very well.

Dublin (and presumably the rest of the country) has come down with a serious case of politics.

That said, while the weather was cool and gray and damp, we were happy to have it, because the forecast was for “heavy rain”. That never materialized, and it never really got worse than a light drizzle at any point. And yet this still managed to be one of the worst days for weather we’ve had this trip (the other was in St. Andrews), which shows how lucky we’ve been.

After dropping some stuff off at our hotel, we took a final wander through the neighbourhood of O’Connell street. On one street, we saw way more 2nd-hand mobile phone shops than should really exist in a two-block stretch, as well as all sorts of ethnic food stores and restaurants. Pamela said it reminded her of parts of Manhattan, and I’d have to agree. Anyway, we wandered around, took some photos, and went back to the hotel.

Pamela didn’t buy this hat 😦

Once there, we sorted out everything for tomorrow: figured out who owes who what, made sure we knew what was in our bags and what we have to declare at customs, collected all our receipts, and so on. We both had extra space in our bags on the way out, but they’re a little fuller now!

We also discussed the weird time warp that this trip has been. It feels like we were in Liverpool a few weeks ago, and Cardiff feels like a trip we took last fall or something. It certainly seems like way more than two weeks since we’ve been in Winnipeg. Two weeks turns out to be an awfully long trip, especially when the days are as full as ours have been. We’ve had a great time – it’s almost hard to realize that unless we stop and look back on it – but we’re definitely ready to come home!

And of course that’s what we’re doing tomorrow. With flights from Dublin to Frankfurt to Toronto to Winnipeg, it’s going to be one last busy day to cap off a very busy trip.

We’re looking forward to seeing all of you again!

Look how pretty Trinity College is!

 

To the Emerald Isle!

We had our probably-final contact with Contiki this morning. First, in the form of the wake-up call that was set for all the Contiki people in the hotel. We didn’t need it because we were leaving later, so…that was a little annoying. And second, when we went down for breakfast, we bumped into three other people from our tour who had also ended their tour in Scotland, and were all going separate ways.

So we had our breakfast, called a cab, and headed off the the airport (after we learned that Glasgow has two airports, and figured out which one we needed). We were planning to be at the airport 90 minutes before our flight; the airline recommended being there a whopping 2.5 hours early, but that seemed excessive. As it turned out, our morning went quickly and the cab ride was fast, so we ended up a little over 2 hours early anyway…and check-ins for our flight weren’t even open yet! So I have no idea why the airline recommends checking in half an hour before it’s even possible…

The check-in area of the airport was pretty dingy, but check-in and security was very efficient, and once we were past security, the airport was like most European airports and had all sorts of shopping and restaurants. So we wandered through the shops and eventually made our way to our gate. We still ended up having about another 45 minutes to kill, and unfortunately there was no free wifi in the airport (boo!)

Oh well…then it was off to Dublin! Our flight had a crew of about six or eight high-spirited football fans in the back (just behind us), making enough noise and having enough fun for about thirty people. We think they were Irish, but aren’t sure. If the flight was much longer they probably would have been annoying — as it was they were annoying a lot of other people already — but as it was, I just found them amusing.

O’Connell Street (I think) in Dublin. You can see “The Spire” in the background, which is so tall it’s silly.

We got our luggage (it all made it!), went through customs and immigration (almost a non-event; I love the EU, it’s so easy to travel around), and caught a cab to the hotel. After a few minutes settling in, we decided to go to the Guinness Storehouse. First we had to figure out how to get there! After a little sleuthing, I figured we could take the tram. It was a few blocks down some main streets to get to the tram station (we stopped for a late lunch at the Kingfisher pub), then a fairly cheap tram ride, and a few more blocks walking through some weird industrial area (we only got lost once).

I’m at the big Guinness place! Check out me being a tourist!

The Guinness Storehouse itself is an impressively big exhibition. It’s really kind of a museum. It talks about the ingredients that go into Guinness (there’s a huge “sandbox” full of barley that you can run through your fingers), and of course how the beer is made, but there are also exhibits about the ancillary trades: barrel-making, transportation (Guinness had its own ships made to transport beer; one was sunk by a torpedo in the First World War), and advertising. There’s also a tasting room (Pamela and I both had our mini-Guinness), a place where you can learn to pour “the perfect Guinness” (long line; we passed), and a bar up top where you can get a free Guinness (insanely busy; we left). And of course there’s the gift shop, which is impressive.

Pamela in the Guinness Storehouse

It’s been a weird day with the traveling and everything, so we’re probably going to have a quiet evening. We’re planning on just eating at the hotel restaurant for dinner, and I doubt we’ll go out tonight (it’s already 7:30, and we haven’t eaten yet). Then we have a fairly slow-paced day planned for Sunday – our last day of vacation! (Hard to believe!)

Oh, one other thing: on the walk back to the hotel, just a block or two from the hotel, we passed what looked like every fireman in the city of Dublin. We had stumbled across the starting area for a parade celebrating the Dublin Fire Brigade’s 150th anniversary! So that was kind of cool. And very surreal to wander into the middle of!

Dublin’s Finest?

 

A few missed photos from Glasgow

There were a few things we saw in Glasgow last night while looking for wifi, which resulted in me not having the photos for the blog post. But some of them are too good not to share, so here goes:

This is the band that I bought a CD from.

This is the busker that Pamela has a crush on.

This is probably not a TARDIS.

But we got a huge kick out of it anyway.

 

Last day in Scotland!

Breakfast this morning was basically the same as every British breakfast we’ve had – hot food, cold toast, croissants, tea, juice, cereal – and then it was off to Stirling!

There are two major things to do in Stirling. The first is to visit Stirling Castle, and the second is to visit the William Wallace monument. Pamela and I opted to do neither. (But if you’re curious: the reason for the monument is that this was the site of the Battle Of Stirling Bridge, where William Wallace led the Scottish resistance to their first real victory over the English.)

Stirling Castle

But we skipped these, because we weren’t super-excited about doing another castle (especially one with an entry fee that was over £15), and paying for a cab ride to and from the William Wallace memorial also didn’t really seem worth it. Instead, we explored the “Top of the Town cemeteries”.

We actually spent quite a while wandering around a couple of the cemeteries near Stirling Castle. The stones, in general, weren’t as old as we had expected: we did see one clearly dated in the 1500s, and a couple with numbers that might have represented dates in the 1600s, but the vast majority were from around 1850 and later.

Angel on a headstone

Two interesting things that we noticed about these stones: first, there were a surprising number of people born in the late 1700s who lived into their 70s and 80s, and second, a lot of the stones were memorial stones for entire families. They’d start off with one or two names on them and the rest left blank, and then more and more people were added as time went on. It’s not clear if all these people were actually interred there or not; we suspect not.

A typical multi-person memorial

Once we were done with that, we got lunch at a pub that actually felt oddly North-American, and then started the walk back up to the castle. The bus was waiting for us at the castle, which is on top of the hill, and the road to get there is very steep, so we wanted to leave plenty of time so that we didn’t have to hurry back.

Along the way, we passed the Church Of The Holy Rude (where “rude”, often spelled “rood”, is an old word for the cross of the crucifixion). I wanted to take a look inside; Pamela wasn’t that interested and had seen a souvenir shop near the bus that she wanted to check out. So we split up and I investigated the church.

The Church Of The Holy Rude

It was pretty nice! All big stone pillars and stained glass windows. The people there gave me a little map and some information about the church so that while I wandered around I knew what I was looking at. The church was built in stages, with annexes and towers added on over the years, and based on some of the construction they think the original plans called for another tower that was never built. But the best story is that at one point (during the Reformation, I think), two ministers had a disagreement and the congregation was divided, some supporting each minister, and they “resolved” it by actually building a wall across the church and turning it into two separate churches, with one minister preaching in each half! (The wall’s gone now; a later minister managed to re-unite the two halves.)

Inside the Church Of The Holy Rude

Also, king James VI was coronated in that church (as an infant). They’re very proud of that, and there’s a stone marking the location.

We’ve got more great weather today: it’s warm, but not too hot or humid, and it’s partly cloudy, so we’re getting a lot of sun. We keep hearing how lucky we are. It’s a good thing we have good weather, though, because everyone’s getting tired, and if it was grey and rainy it might be getting really bad. I keep hearing people talk about how they miss their beds or their homes or whatever…and most of them still have the whole Ireland leg of the trip to do yet! Pamela and I have been on vacation for 12 days now, and are getting ready to go home…and we’re not the only ones. The mood on the bus is getting a bit punchy, with people randomly singing or saying ridiculous things; we’ve spent too much time on the coach, I think, and it’s kind of like cabin fever.

I’m definitely tired. I got plenty of sleep last night, but the trip and being sick are catching up to me. I fell asleep on the bus this afternoon and slept right through our entrance into Glasgow, including at least half of Roxy telling us about the city and what there is to do around here. (Short version: surprisingly little.) We did stop very quickly at Glasgow Cathedral for some photos, before Muffin dropped us off at the hotel.

Glasgow Cathedral

Our hotel room doesn’t appear to have wi-fi, so Pamela and I are wrote our blog posts, and then went out to wander the city and look for wi-fi somewhere. There’s surprisingly little to do around here…there’s a big street full of shopping, but it’s not interesting shopping: it’s all pound shops (i.e. dollar stores) and shoes and clothes and whatnot…a great shopping strip for locals, but nothing really that you’d do while on vacation. We passed several buskers, including a guy about dad’s age singing “Walking On Sunshine” while playing guitar, a mid-20s woman speaking and rapping about social injustice, and a band of guys in kilts playing bagpipes and drums (I was amused enough to buy their CD).

We also found the best busker ever: an energetic ginger fellow playing and singing anything you could think of on an amplified acoustic guitar. (I think the first thing we heard him sing was “The Bear Necessities” from The Jungle Book, and at one point he sang a medley with “Blitzkrieg Bop” spliced into the middle of “Footloose”. He was great.)

We ended the day at a local pub for our last night with the tour group…we were told not to wear yellow or green tops, though, or we might find ourselves unwittingly taking sides in the local soccer rivalry. And then tomorrow morning it’s onto the plane to Dublin!

(We ended up not finding any wifi, so I bought some time from the hotel hotspot. This probably means that Pamela won’t post anything tonight. And given that I paid for it, it’s disappointingly bad.)