Northern Ireland and the bus…

Day 2 – The Bus

 

When I was home and planning a day to Northern Ireland to explore the coastline, the bus to the Giant’s Causeway and Belfast sounded tolerable.  The idea of having someone

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Yes, I look about as excited

else navigate the different political points of view, do the driving on the left, deal with Belfast’s traffic, and traverse the goat paths the Irish call a link road sounded like a good idea, as day 2 would be a jet lagged day – I should have known better!!

 

We were up and standing outside a closed Starbucks at 6:45AM waiting for our “Luxury Coach” as advertised on the internet.  Did you catch the word closed?  Starbucks and the coffee place next to it were closed until 7:00 the same time the bus was scheduled to leave.  If I didn’t like a Starbucks before, I do now.  Who waits to open a coffee place until 7:00 on a Monday? Ok we are on the correct bus, not as simple as it sounds, and the first thing we notice regarding our “luxury Coach” is that the word luxury is a relative term.  As the bus filled up, we quickly learned we would be spending the day tucked into two seats with no way to spread out.  Without coffee we were not off to a great start to our 13 hour day.  The other thing we noticed was the bus didn’t have a bathroom, so in hindsight, maybe it was a good thing the coffee place was closed.

Did you know when you take a tour bus the guide never stops talking about the places 20170321_074423you are going to see, what you are seeing and what you saw?  Doesn’t he know we know if we paid for the trip we know where we are going? When the guy does shut up, don’t worry it will not be quiet as they sell the other trips or put on a damn video on the overhead TV’s.

Several hours later and finally through Belfast traffic, we had the choice of two tours: “conflict tourism” (a taxi guided tour of Belfast highlighting the “disturbances”) or the Titanic museum.  We (Maggie) P1040873decided on being the “King of the World” and avoid any more politics. Well you all know P1040881the story… but I felt a little ripped off as the place was advertised as the Titanic Museum and there was no Titanic, only nine interactive galleries housed in a new ultra-modern impressive building and dry dock describing the history of the Titanic.  The museum’s exhibits started with it being built at this location to its rediscovery on the ocean floor. Maggie was a bit upset that the school kids  hogged the Morse Code exhibit and she could not send a SOS message, but the reality of the situation was that I was the one who needed to send an SOS.

Back on the bus and a few hours later and a quick photo opportunity at a “Game of
Thrones” site, we arrived at our goal for the day – The Giant’s Causeway… a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a check on my bucket list.
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I will let the pictures speak for themselves

Not sure if this was allowed, but we did it anyways…

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This way up                  P1040931

The Giant’s Causeway is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption… for more information please ask Maggie for some “Fun Facts”

 

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No tourist location in the world would be complete without a picture like this…

 

Scotland any one…

Next up, a trek across the swaying Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge – not on Maggie’s bucket 20170321_115517list.  Once again we had the luck of the Irish or as Maggie is calling it the luck of Maggie
with a nice clear day and no rain in sight.  The bus driver said this was the first time in more than 2 weeks we will be able to see Scotland from our vantage point. More importantly it was not windy or rainy allowing us to make the 20M death-defying walk across the 30M gorge to a small island, and yes a clear view of Scotland.

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Yes you have to come pack after you cross…

As we were sitting in about the middle of the bus, we had a lot of people in front of us as the bus unloaded from the front and the back.  We did not want to wait in line, as some of you reading this might know Maggie and I do not do well with waiting.  To avoid being at the back of the line, we power-walked, well maybe jogged, actually we bulldozed, our way to the head of the group over the 20 minute walk to the pass and were one of the first to cross. Then we realized we need to wait for everyone else to cross before we could cross back!

We survived the crossing over and back; and, as a reward for our heroism and waiting for everyone else on the bus to finish, we rewarded ourselves with a great cup of hot cocoa at the little café overlooking the water.

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Our lunch spot

Then the real death-defying trip – the long, long, long bus ride back to Dublin.

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Check out the drop-off out the window

Remember, no bathrooms on the bus.

 

Once again we changed out of our hiking and LL Bean boots and were off to dinner in the Temple Bar area. This time at Norsman restaurant / pub.

 

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Guess who had this for dinner?

A quick detour on the walk home to the actual Temple Bar bar, so we could check the box.  Finally we ended up back at the Westin.  After some e-mails for me and Maggie updating her journal, we called it a day.

 

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Spring Break in March… the Republic of Ireland

Sunday March 19th 6:00AM

With sleepy eyes my “first year” college student and I were on our way to explore the emerald isle.

Side note – Did you know Freshmen is no longer politically correct, and we now must call the men and women attending college in their first year something gender neutral?  Say what you like about Trump but maybe political correctness has gone a little too far.

Without incidence, we landed in Dublin around 10:30 local time (only 4 hours difference this time of year versus Boston) after a quick stop in London for dinner. Well maybe I should clarify when I say “without incidence.” When making our connection, I was told we needed to check our carry-on suitcases to make room in the overheads for everyone else’s stuff.  Now note, I DO NOT check a bag, ever; and, we both packed for 7 day excursion in a small TSA approved bag, so we did not have to deal with checking. When Miss “don’t make waves Maggie” has to step in and restrain me, you can use your imagination as to the situation! PS: Our bags arrived without too much delay.

By midnight we were both in a drug induced sleep for a forced eight hours of rest in order to be fully energized for day one.

Day 1: Dublin

8:00 AM our alarms went off and after a great breakfast at the hotel we were off to explore whatever Dublin had to offer with an umbrella and rain jackets at the ready.

Instead of jumping on the cliché sightseeing bus, we, being the contrarians we are, set off on foot around the city.

DSC_5320Just around the corner from our strategically located hotel is Trinity College – the kicking off point of our one day in Dublin tour. It’s at the heart of the capital, packed full of incredible history, and it’s the oldest university in Ireland. The main attraction for us was the old library (referred to as the Long Room) more than the big attraction of the Book of Kells.  The Library was simply incredible, packed with old books in a truly grand long room library and the blueprint for the someday “Maggie’s home library room” or so I was informed.

DSC_5353Skipping the National Gallery, we entered Merrion Square and gardens. Arguably Dublin’s grandest Georgian square.  You had to admire all the painted old doors a
Dublin trade mark.

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Magpie

From the tranquility of the green parks with trees just starting to bud and the dahlia’s in full bloom, we made a stark transition on to Dublin’s premier shopping street, Grafton DSC_5369Street.  As both of us had little to no interest in this Mecca for tourist, we completely missed the unmissable statue of Molly Malone that supposedly sits at the bottom of the street.

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Working our way through the streets of Dublin over the Ha’Penny Bridge and then back over the river again, we found ourselves in a great Café named Dwarf Jar and not a Starbucks that has encroached every city’s essence including Dublin.  Ordering a coffee and hot chocolate before entering Dublin Castle, we then entered our second library of the day, Chester Beatty Library.

DSC_5394As we enter this descript building, founded by an American living in Dublin, Chester Beatty, we were met by an over-energetic guide who went on and on about the 20170320_083909libary and finally expanded that this place would “melt our faces off.” Confused and a little dizzy from his enthusiasm, we entered the 4 floors of manuscripts, books, and ancient texts and eventually the roof for the best view of Dublin Castle.  20170320_083852

Next up on our walking tour was St Patrick’s Cathedral, truly a worthwhile DSC_5420excursion.  The bright fresh new green grass of the park to our left as we approached the medieval Cathedral contrasted beautifully with the aged stone magnifying the Cathedral’s grandeur.  We checked out all the nucks and crannies of the resting place of Gulliver’s Travels author Jonathan Swift; but, the real highlight was my Latin lessons, as my tutor Maggie proceeded to translate and explain all the Latin engraved on each tombs along the way.  To add to my confusion and boredom, she threw in a Latin grammar lesson just to make sure I was totally bewildered and in actual pain.  Thank god we were in a church, and I could pray to make the torture end.DSC_5405

The real gem of the day was stumbling onto our third library, the Marsh’s Library.  It was just around the corner in the shadows of the Cathedral tucked up a few steps. DSC_5410 (2) The beautiful bookshelves with their wooden ladders reaching to the ceiling were stuffed with old books.  The tables were full of examples of doodles found in the margins from long forgotten students.  I thought this was the best part and most interesting. Maggie was horrified that someone would defile a library book like that, but we did some doodling of our own with ink and quills.  One of us had more ink on our hands than the book marks we were making, guess who?

DSC_5422 (2)At this point it was way past lunch so off to one of Dublin’s top tourist attraction, the Guinness Storehouse. It is located in the heart of the St James’s Gate Brewery (a nice walk from Dublin) and home of the world-famous beer, Guinness.  With 360-degree views across Dublin City (top floor) we had a pint, lunch, and watched it rain for the first time all day.  This was another chance 20170320_102927for Maggie to mesmerize me with what she called her “fun facts.” She had a list of “fun facts” for each of our stop over the coming days. Almost made me miss someone’s index cards!!!

20170320_121221With a full stomach and a clear sky, we made the trek to Kilmainham Gaol, a notorious old jail with what the tour books said was an excellent guided tour throughout the jail and exhibition.  That is if you reserve your tickets days in advance, which we didn’t.  We settled for a self-guided jog through the museum.

Checking our pedometer and realizing we had walked almost 24,000 steps or about 12 miles in our determination to see as much of Dublin in a day by foot as possible,DSC_5376 we decided to grab a local bus that we hoped would bring us back to the city center.  We lucked out and the bus dropped us at our next stop O’Connell Street GPO (General Post Office) at 5:15 – just fifteen minutes before closing in time for Maggie to send a post card to her first grader she mentors at a local elementary school near Colby.  Our hotel was just a short walk over the river and down Dublin’s main thoroughfare.

P1040861After a break and changing out of our hiking and LL Bean boots (side note on Bean boots, Maggie was the only one in all of Ireland with a pair, much different than the Colby campus).  With that we were off to dinner in the Temple Bar area.  The restaurant/bar was called Gallagher’s Boxty famed for its Irish potato pancake called a boxty.  Maggie had the boxty with chicken and I had the Irish salmon washed down with a pint as would be expected.

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A night in Kazimierz…

The Krakow Dragon

The Krakow Dragon

It’s Saturday night and dusk as I make my way around the20151114_103443 perimeter of the closed Wawel Castle in search of the Krakow dragon. If you believe the legends, Kraków was founded on the defeat of a dragon and build on his cave, or something like that. Seeing I missed access to his cave via the closed Castle, I thought I might catch the sculpture breathing fire out of one of its seven heads, but once again I was a little late.
With Castle and dragons behind me I set out to find something I could control, a bar and a beer.  20151114_103818My destination was Kazimierz, better known as the Jewish quarter of Krakow about a 20 20151114_104514minute walk from my hotel.  Taking the long way around, I checked out several places, opening doors, looking in windows as I made my way. After a few missed attempts, I finally found the streets that make up this quarter.  I was pulled in to a place called Aichemia on the corner of NoMy and Estery. This place perfectly pull together the heartbeat of the street, a coffee house feel with an Eastern European bar 20151114_113546atmosphere smattered with antiques/junk covered in candlewax and Jazz.  The place was a mix of 30 something hipsters and tourists. I was initial drawn in by the crowd and a poster offering live music, but stayed because I found a seat at the end of the bar and a cold glass of Tyskie beer.  After a little people watching another beer or two I realized I was the most mature, well maybe just the oldest person, in the place.  With that realization and the need to find food and a toilet but not in that order, I gave up my bar seat and started to wander the surrounding alleys in search of a new spot. The streets were in full swing with people everywhere spilling out of the bars and restaurants, sitting at tables outside on the sidewalks like it was a hot summer night (think a French café, but with music throbbing) and remember it is 41 degrees and a wet cold 41 at that.  I was still cold with several layers and a hat. Maybe I need another beer?

Kazimierz was once described as a thriving Jewish community resembling an open-air Jewish heritage museum, almost frozen in time.  At 9:00 on a Saturday night it was something different.   You can see the building Steven Spielberg used in his epic 1993 film Schindler’s List, but the atmosphere was very different with the noise of tourists, locals, cool bars, music and the smells of great restaurants and street vendors everywhere.  It will not be long until McDonalds and Starbucks move in and change this place again!20151114_103640

I worked my way back to the old town eventually, but without my hat (don’t ask, because I don’t know)?  I wanted to see what this section of town would be like on a Saturday night.  I was not disappointed, the tourist had mostly retreated back to their hotels and the party goers had taken over the streets.  Every club had a line and the late-night food places were overflowing!  Krakow is one alive city on a Saturday night!

20151114_104445With a 6:00 flight on Sunday morning I begin my retreat too.  Just then my watch chimed and showed that I had walked 30,000 steps today.

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Saturday morning in Krakow, what to do…

Breakfast, Part one

Breakfast, Part one

First off, breakfast at the hotel. Why the hotel, maybe because I needed something substantial after yesterday’s beetroot soup with dumplings (AKA, borscht if you are Russian, barszc if Polish or simply beet soup if you’re me).  But the reality is the hotel had good WiFi and breakfast was free.  After a few hours catching up on work and way to many cups of coffee, I set off for the day around 11:00 with the goal of checking out a salt mine and then the inside of the Castle.  I had been admiring the Castle since I arrived.  Each time I looked out my window it was different, as the sun seamed to transform it in to something new as the days progressed in to the nights.

The woman at the front desk told me the salt mine is just 14km southeast of Kraków in 20151114_092550Wieliczka.  She said “You just need to take 20151114_062840the number 304 bus from around the corner from the hotel just behind the JUBILAT grocery store”.  After browsing in the store and a little time in a used book store that was hidden under the back entrance of the JUBILAT, I was finally on a bus heading out of Krakow.  It was all too simple… the part I did not count on was knowing when to get off the bus, I

Me and the King...

Me and the King…

realized a little too late the bus did not terminate at the salt mine and I will not even discuss figuring out how and what to pay to ride the bus. Apparently I picked the correct stop in 20151114_071829Wieliczka (the second one if you are wondering).  After about a ¼ of a mile walk following a few scattered signs, I arrived.  I purchased a ticket for a guided tour (the only way to see the mine) and queued up for the 1:00 English tour only to find out it would be a 2.5 hour event.

It’s a very cool yet eerie world of pits and chambers, and everything within its depths has been carved by hand from blocks of salt from the walls to the floors.  We made our way 20151114_075713down some 800+ steps into a labyrinth of tunnels (only 1% is open to the public).  We ended up about 135m below ground and the two and a half hours passed quickly.  At points I was thinking I was in one of Tolkien’s tails with The King beneath the mountain.

Carve out of the salt was everything from chapels with altarpieces, statues to monuments – and there are even underground lakes. The showpiece is the ornamented Chapel with a carving of John Paul at one end.  Every single element here, from the chandeliers to the altarpieces, is of salt.

Long story short, it was too late to see the inside of the Castle by the time I made it back to20151114_102523 Krakow!

PS: I had still not figured out what to pay for the bus, so I didn’t pay anything for the ride back.20151114_103041

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Friday I visited Auschwitz and Brikenan.

After a 2 hour bus ride…

20151113_050552I passed under the famous sign that reads ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (work sets you free).

20151113_065906I walked through the gate at Birkenau on those now famous train tracks.

20151113_070352I spent 4 hours between the two sites, I was educated, shocked, payed tribute and did a lot of thinking.

20151113_051217Another 2 hour bus ride I was back safe and sound in my hotel room!

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London to Krakow Poland for the weekend!

My Hotel before heading to Poland

My Hotel in England before heading to Poland

After a long few days of work outside an iconic village in the south of England, I am off to Poland.  The reason is simple, I have never been!

Did I tell you the one about the Polish Airline?

Did I tell you the one about the Polish Airline?

It is 10:30PM in Boston, 4:30AM in the UK and with 3 hours of sleep I exit a nondescript hotel at Heathrow and step on to a bus… my trek to Krakow Poland begins.  First up Polish Airlines, and yes all I can think about is did you hear the one about the Polish Airline?  As I board my flight, I realize just how little I know about Poland.

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The way in…

Via Warsaw, I land in John Paul II International Airport, Kraków.  Avoiding the easy choice of a taxi to my hotel, I found a train to Krakow center or so I think.  With no time table and only a backpack with me, I feel like a challenge (I left my luggage at the hotel at Heathrow so I would not be dragging a suitcase all weekend).  I wander the train station or a more20151112_070137 appropriate description would be a large shopping mall with a bunch of trains close by, not what I was expecting.  It dawns on me at that point, I have no map and only vague understanding where my Hotel is.  I could google map it, but that would be no fun.  I remember it’s in the direction of a River, near a Castle and not too far out site the “old town” in the direction of the Czech Republic, what more would I need?

20151112_070721Once I finally found my way out of the mall / train station”, I quickly located the large wall that encircled the old town.  With the wall as my guide, I followed a park outside that acted like a moat but only inviting people in vs keeping them out, until coming across a beautiful entrance.  I stumbled in to the Old Town with its soaring churches, museums and huge market square (later I learned it was Europe’s largest and called Rynek Główn or should I say spelled because I have no idea how to actually pronounce it).  I passed what must have been hundreds of restaurants, bars and clubs, as I drifted through the streets.  It was hard not to love the way the quiet back streets mixed with the afternoon sun, the people and the architecture making up thissection of Krakow.

I found the fort!

I found the fort!

Eventually I did find my hotel after hours of just walking and wandering the streets, shops and cafes of Krakow’s Old Town.  Unfortunately, I then found the back half of the Ease Coast work day before reversing my walk and exploring the same street at night seeing it all anew.

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Last few hours in London

20150627_040028After a late night in Piccadilly, we opted to skip all parks this morning and any pretense of running or exercise.  We had one last breakfast at the hotel and Maggie once again had the 20150627_050911American breakfast of pancakes, English Bacon and her new favorite, scrambled eggs cooked medium and served in a cup/small bowl and eaten with a little spoon, while I stayed traditional British.

Next up a on the agenda was to spend a few hours at Hampton Court Palace, the home of everyone’s favorite flamboyant King Henry VIII.   First the 20150627_052738underground to Wellington station to pick up the train for our 35 minute ride.  Side note – It’s not a good idea to place a full cup of coffee on the floor in front of you while riding on a train and ask Maggie to keep an eye on it. Nothing good can happen and didn’t. There is 20150627_052839more to the story, but that’s for another place and time.

20150627_060341The guide books said you should spend 2 to 3 hours exploring King Henry VIII’s enormous palace with its grand hall, the world-famous maze and original 17th century tennis courts, gardens, the lush greenery and the Great Vine vineyard that was planted in 1769 (submitted to Guinness World Book of 20150627_055314records in 2005). We were through the maze, grounds and palace and back on the train in about an hour and a half with a stop for some fresh strawberries and raspberries.

The extra time in the schedule bought us a trip to the oldest book store in London, Hatchards (booksellers since 1997). Maggie attempted to cover the 5 floors in just 30 minutes, unsuccessfully or so she said.  As we 20150627_075638were leaving the store she said, well I guess I have an excuse to come back to London now.  She did find time to get one book, a Paddington Bear book, I said only something UK-ish.

20150627_081749We still had just enough time for a sandwich in the park before grabbing our bags and backtracking home exhausted and sore from all the walking.

20150627_090606We spent five days in the UK with no rain.  We just landed in Boston, late of course and are walking to our Uber car it starts raining, what’s up with that?

20150627_055314Great Kid – Great Trip – I had a blast showing Maggie the town. Where are we going next?

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