A Travellerspoint blog

Ireland

Finally after so long.

semi-overcast

This blog has been on our minds since we got back to FL, but between planning Alec's brother's wedding, pouring a new front porch (among many other construction projects) at Alec's parent's house, and beginning our next trip we just haven’t found the time to write it until now.

Some of the most enjoyable moments of our trip were spent in Ireland. There were places we visited where we felt like the only two people on earth. The landscape was breathtaking and the people were kind beyond compare. So without further ado it went a little something like this...

After quite possibly the most frustrating travel day ever we finally made it to Gatwick Airport from Frome and caught our Aerlingus flight to Ireland. We were beginning to think it would have been easier to swim there. Arriving at Dublin Airport we picked up our rental car, a stylish Nissan Micra that we quickly named Patty Clover O'Conner, and headed to our friend Sean's place.

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Our fourth tiny car of the trip.

Sean had visited us in Tampa and we were excited to see another friendly face on the trip. We enjoyed a wonderful meal with his family and our first Pint of the "Black Stuff" at the local pub that night.

The next day we headed south for our next HelpX adventure in the small town of Skibbereen, population 1200, with around 12 pubs. Along the way we made a stop in Cashel for lunch and a look at the famous castle. Back on the road we enjoyed the rare Irish sunshine and Alec honed in on his left side of the road driving skills.

Our time spent at Barbara's cottages (which you can find here http://barbarascottages.com/) was amazing. We helped look after the ducks and chickens, did some weeding and gardening, repaired the roof of a shed, constructed a polytunnel, and helped with the cooking.

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Working hard!

Our time off was spent exploring southwest Ireland. We visited Sheepshead, Drumborg stone circle, Three Fingers, the Blarney Stone, Glandore, and Unionhall. We even got to celebrate Australia day with the other HelpXer, Dave, who was also staying at Barbara's cottages.
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Gotta love kissing some hard rock!
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The next part of our Irish adventure was spent driving the entire perimeter of the country. We drove the Ring of Kerry where we saw spectacular views and the occasional sheep in the road.
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They owned the road.

That night we stayed in the small surf town, Lahinch. I enjoyed the double carb overload of salmon on a bed of mashed potatoes with a side of chips aka french fries. I love me some potatoes! Our next stops were the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren. The Burren was like the surface of the moon. It is a limestone landscape with megalithic tombs, underground caves, and a surprising variety of flora and fauna.
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Just some of the amazing scenery the island had to offer.

We sprung for our lodging that night in Galway...one whole euro per person! Galway was a happening town full of music and young people. We went out for a night on the town to catch some authentic Irish music.

The longest leg of our road trip was the drive from Galway to Donegal, but oh how it was worth it. We had been told by many people what a beautiful place Donegal was and we decided that we had to see it for ourselves. The evening of our arrival was rainy and cold, but there was a magical feeling in the air as we drove past seaside cliffs and through large valleys to Ardara where we would be staying in a B&B for the next couple of nights.

After a delicious breakfast consisting of coffee, juice, porridge, yogurt, toast, eggs, and brown bread we headed out for our first adventure in Donegal. We explored the beach and caves of Maghera where we felt like we were the only two people on earth. It was nothing but, wind, waves, and beautiful scenery for miles and miles. We even saw a rainbow!
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Anyone for a swim?

Next it was on to Slieve League, the highest sea cliffs in Europe. At almost 2,000 feet tall, Slieve League is a sight to see. In our time spent there we managed to see only six other people. There were no guardrails or security so we essentially had the run of the place. We spent many hours at the cliffs before heading around the other side of the cliffs to do a little hiking. We just couldn't get enough of the breathtaking landscape around us.
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So much freedom.

We both decided that Ireland and especially Donegal was some of the most spectacular nature that we had seen the entire trip. That evening we shared locally harvested raw oysters, a couple pints of Guinness, and great conversations with the owner of the nearby pub. We were also told that, "It never rains in a pub" while discussing the weather with a pub patron. Gotta love his glass-half-full take on life!

The next day we were on the road again headed to Northern Ireland. We wanted to check out Giants Causeway before returning back to Dublin. The weather was a little sketchy looking that day, but we decided to visit Giants Causeway anyway. It really was a neat place. All of the stones are hexagonal in shape and are the result of volcanic activity.
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Amazing what the earth can do.

We had a wonderful time until we started to head back to the car and the skies opened up. I'm not talking about a light shower it really came down on us. We were soaking wet by the time we got back to the car. So with a couple more hours on the road ahead of us we took off our pants and I dried them on the heater while Alec drove.

Our last days in Ireland were spent in Dublin. We took a free walking tour to see the sights, visited the Guinness Storehouse, went on a pub crawl, had a traditional Irish breakfast, and went to the Archaeology Museum to see the bog people.
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Guinness, for strength!

We also managed to listen to some traditional Irish music and have a few pints of Guinness. We were sad to go, but were so thankful that we added Ireland to our itinerary last minute.

With our trip drawing to a close it was time to pack our bags, say goodbye to Ireland, and head back to England for a few more days before returning home to Florida.

Posted by smart alec 07.08.2011 10:16 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

England

It Would Be Rude Not To

rain 55 °F

London

We arrived in London after a quick but lovely jump across the channel. We were a little worried for our flight because of the recent snowy weather but everything had cleared in time for us to leave Paris. We were planning on catching the tube and train to Sam’s place but when we arrived we saw a recognizable bald head peering over the rail as we exited customs. We were graciously greeted by Sam for a personal escort to his home on the local bus. It was a joy to see a close friend after such a long trip of new faces and locations.

Catching up took no time; sharing our travel stories and remembering the time we enjoyed in Tampa together. We stayed with Sam at his parent’s who were running the “Prior Hostel” as we began to call it. With the mass number of people fitting in one home it rightfully deserved such a name; including his parents, brother, sister, Sam, Jana his girlfriend, her two friends from Germany, and us.

Jen and I purchased a weekly train/tube pass at a hefty cost so we made sure to travel into London each and every day. Being New Years Eve the next day the girls needed to do some shopping for the big night and I took the opportunity to spiff up my wardrobe with some new boots, compliments to the ‘rents for the Christmas money. We were given a short tour of some of the sights by our lovely tour guide, Mr. Sam Prior. Visiting the main attractions along the river Thames, we were enlightened by his extreme knowledge of local history and not so local facts. With the New Year peeking around the corner we planned to welcome it in with Power Ballads at one of the local clubs.

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Party People

  • Disclaimer – Please be warned! This video contains flashing lights and some snogging. Anyone not comfortable with that or has a history of seizures, please do not watch.*

The night finally ended around 5:00 a.m. after a long train/taxi ride home. We hope everyone had a great New Years at home! We would love to hear your stories of what you did for the New Year and maybe some resolutions for the year.

The majority of the time spent in London included day trips into the city and evenings in Cheam. Cheam is the cute and quaint town where Sam lived. We visited the obvious big sites including the Eye, London and Tower Bridge, Big Ben and Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, the Stables Market, the Natural History Museum, and the Gherkin.

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Eye See You

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This Bridge is Not Falling Down

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Ben and Jen

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If anyone visits London they must see the Tate Modern. We spent an afternoon there and were simply amazed by the artwork. In an old turbine factory, the setting is just amazing.
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We also enjoyed another guided tour by Sam, with the help of his dog, of Cheam which included some lovely parks and “the oldest building in…the world”….ha ha, not so sure about that one, but we appreciate Sam’s effort.

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It Looks a Bit Wonky

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Right Out of a Harry Potter Film

The last day was quite full and included a nice city bus ride around the city which was only dampened by the rainy weather outside and a failed attempt to find platform 9 and ¾. We’re planning on a revisit when we return to London before we leave for home.

After visiting so many countries with different languages and cultures, London felt a little bit like home. I’m not saying it’s the same as the U.S. by no means, but there are lots of similarities. The English still use a whole gambit of different words (cheers, wonky, rubbish, etc.) and eat more pie and pudding than anyone on earth. We’re referring to the kind of pie that’s filled with meat and puddings that don’t have chocolate in them. We definitely enjoyed our share of the local fare including: fish and chips, meat pies, Yorkshire puddings, and bitter beers. We really enjoyed being in the city; another plus to London, most of the museums are free to enter.

With our time in London winding down for now we made plans for our last month of travel. We had extended our trip a month and were deciding on either Scotland or Ireland for the future. After arranging a few more HelpXs our decision was made and we were heading to Ireland in about a week and a half. We headed further west in England to visit my second cousin’s home in Camberley after some long goodbyes at the Prior Hostel.

Camberley

Whilst (I am practicing my British English) in England we travelled to Camberley to visit Alec’s second cousin, Heather, and her family. Heather prepared a lovely dinner for us and we shared some drinks and conversation until the wee hours of the morning that first night together. The next day, Heather’s husband, Steve, drove us all the way to Windsor so we could check out the castle and the surrounding town. The following day was spent lounging around and also included a trip into Camberley. That evening we took a walk through the woods to a lookout where we could see the skyline of London in the distance.

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I'm Here To See the Queen

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Cool Hat

Heather and Steve were so good to us during our stay and we were happy to get to spend some time with them. Lucky for us we will be staying a couple more days with them at the very end of our trip!

Frome

We participated in our second HelpX of the trip in a small town called Frome. It was a funky little town that was a mecca for artists. Lucky for us, Frome was located close to both Bath and Stonehenge so we made a couple of day trips on our weekend off (with the help of “Betty”….no not Alec’s mom, but the local Frome car share ride).

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Betty When You Call Me You Can Call Me Al

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Stonehenge Rocks!

The time spent working in Frome was divided between odd jobs at our hosts’ house and the old Silk Mill that they were converting into artist studios and a gallery. We enjoyed a lot of good food during our stay including fresh baked bread and homemade jams, fresh eggs (from the hens in the garden), curry, and sticky toffee pudding. Kate, Damon, Dickon, and Francis were absolutely lovely and we enjoyed sharing many interesting conversations. We hope to see them again someday maybe in America this time so that Francis can, and I quote, “stuff his face full of Lucky Charms!”

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The Moores....Minus One, Plus One

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The Lucky Charms Addict

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Attempt #1.....Don't Worry Attempt #2 Worked

So now we are off to Ireland to start wrapping up our trip. Stay tuned!

Posted by smart alec 01.25.2011 00:53 Archived in England Comments (4)

No Presents Just Paris

A Once in a Lifetime Christmas

sunny

We arrived in Paris on Christmas Eve after a very long day of delayed (and cancelled) train rides. The trip which would have taken 2 hours on a high speed train or 5.5 hours on local trains ended up taking closer to 9 hours. It is a good thing that we enjoy our train rides. We checked into our three star hotel…a Christmas treat to ourselves, where we spent the next 48 hours. The receptionist at the hotel had suggested a local Parisian restaurant, but much to our disappointment it was closed. After a couple of laps around the block we decided on a pizza for Christmas Eve dinner. We figured since the holidays were already different we might as well do it up however we pleased!

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Pizza Party!

The sun decided to grace us with its presence on Christmas day so we took a stroll along the Canal Saint Martin stopping to peer in shops that were closed and generally just take in the local sights. We made a stop at the Pompidou for Alec and then headed for Notre Dame. We were both getting a little hungry so we stopped for a crepe to hold us over until the nice dinner we planned to have later. I had nutella and bananas and Alec had egg and cheese. As dinner time rolled around we were both surprised to find out that we were still full from the crepes. So much for having a nice dinner! Dinner that night consisted of some fruit and chips that we managed to snag at a local shop before they all closed for the holiday.

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Sunny Christmas in Paris

The next four nights in Paris were spent at a friend’s flat that we met in Turkey. It was actually a brief meeting. We met her the night we were leaving Cappadocia. We were having dinner before our long bus ride and we invited her over to share a beer. After chatting for a bit she mentioned that she lived in Paris and that we should contact her when we were headed that way, and that is just what we did. We were sad to find out that she would not be in Paris for Christmas, but she generously offered her flat to us and set it all up. So we enjoyed our own flat in the center of Paris for Christmas (probably the best Christmas gift that we received this year).

The time we spent in Paris was enjoyed at a slower pace than most places we have stayed so far. Since we were there for almost a week we took the time to sleep in, cook some of our own meals, and visit the sites on our own schedule. We still managed to see all the sites like Christmas markets, the Les Puces de Saint-Ouen flea market, the Latin Quarter, Champs Elysees, Crazy Horse burlesque show, Arc de Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower (which we climbed to the second floor and ice skated on the first floor, yes I said we ice skated on top of the Eiffel Tower!).

Eiffel Tower Fun
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The Hunchbacks of Notre Dame aka Quassi Moto Photos

Our last day in Paris was spent at the Louvre. We picked up our new favorite sandwich (chicken, mayo, and really caramelized onions…I’m talking really caramelized, bordering burnt) at the shop just around the corner from where we were staying and hopped on the metro. When we arrived at the Louvre we found a line of only a million people waiting to enter through the glass pyramid. Luckily, thanks to Lonely Planet we knew that there were other entrances! So after enjoying our sandwich on the lawn of the Louvre we located one of the other entrances and were in after about five minutes. The next task at hand was to navigate our way through the Louvre (the largest museum in Europe) back to the main entrance so we could try out Rick Steves’ audio tour that I had downloaded onto my iPhone. After unsuccessfully locating the first room due to maintenance we skipped that part and moved onto the rest of the interesting, but quirky tour by Rick Steves. We spent a couple more hours exploring the Louvre once the audio tour was over, but you really could spend like a week in the Louvre and still not see it all. I guess we will just have to come back one day!

And that was the way we wrapped up Paris. London here we come!

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The famous sandwich

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Twins.......stay tuned though! Alec enters the New Year with a new face!

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Looney at the Louvre

Posted by smart alec 01.11.2011 15:47 Archived in France Comments (4)

Amsterdam and Antwerp

They may both start with an "A", but are by no means the same.

snow 27 °F

When thinking of Amsterdam most people think of the legal use of drugs in "coffee shops", red light district, and drunken college students flocking to its streets. What they don't describe is the beautiful city set in the background of its craziness.
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We arrived in Amsterdam after a long travel day from Berlin. We had been trying for a while to find someone to stay with but after realizing how popular a city it was we decided on a modest hostel, centered right in the red light district. We figured we'd only be staying a few nights, since we were past that prime college student age, and our trip was starting to wind down.
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It had been snowing all the day and the streets were covered. After already a few weeks of snow under our belt, we were beginning to get used to it. Our hostel was an interesting one to say the least. Every room had a movie theme to it. Glad to not get the princess theme we stayed in "the wall" room. Across the street we could see the lovely ladies behind the red lights.

Our days were spent wandering the beautiful canal streets and admiring the wonderful architecture.
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Amsterdam has a nice mix of classic and contemporary architecture. The city plan can be a little confusing though, especially with the streets radiating around the center. We managed to only get lost one night while there. Unfortunately the weather in the city was bitterly cold while we were there. Snowing almost every day, the streets were a mucky slush consistency, which soaked our feet.
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I'm not sure how some people survive this weather. The snow is bearable but the cold feet are not. We wrote previously about our love of certain things, especially socks, but after wearing two pair of wool socks and our feet still staying cold, we were desperate for any remedy.
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In the Dam Square!

It's also to frustrating how cold you can get in such a short amount of time. You have to stay inside about thirty minutes to warm back up but it only takes five minutes outside to be back to freezing. Any non-Floridians that are reading this and thinking, "that's just the crazy complaints of a typical beach bum, the weather drops below 60 and they start freaking out." Well I'm sorry but we're kinda freaking out. Enough with that for now.

We spent the evenings there walking around our part of town, laughing about the girls in the windows, as if they were plastic dolls in a display case.
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We ran into an interesting character while staying at the hostel. He was suffering from a number of self proclaimed problems that he proclaimed again and again with everyone in the hostel every chance he got. I apologize about the re-use of words but I needed to reinforce his actions. Whenever leaving the common room anyone sitting there would express their annoyance with him. He was in fact crazy as a loon. He had come to Amsterdam to sort out his problems, aka get baked all day long and not think about anything, but his trip was ending soon because he had to travel home because he was running out of his "medication." After going over and over his plans for travelling back to London he left, bags in hand. I only share this story because he really shows the city in its true light. Unfortunately the city has now been transformed into this crazed party center and there's no light in sight. Maybe Jen and I are already getting too old for this kind of stuff. We love to have a good time but it just wasn't our cup of tea.
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Leaving the next day we didn't quite know what to expect from Antwerp. Would there be diamonds raining from the sky? We were also staying in an abandoned hospital, our host was part of an anti-squatting program. With winter now upon us our train travel was beginning to get affected. This was the day that everyone saw all the flights across Europe being cancelled. Needless to say our first train was cancelled but we eventually made it to Antwerp with a few connections. We arrived at the station, rang our host, and met him at the hospital. Jeroen, our host, was an architect/engineer working on his own as an interior props designer. He had finished school a few years back and worked for a large architecture firm but then decided to work on his own.

He immediately took us on a tour of the hospital, showing us the dark rooms that used to be for patients and taking us to the helicopter pad on the roof where we enjoyed a beautiful view of the city.
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Hurry, code blue in room 13.

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Our view from atop.

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He pointed out some architecturally significant buildings on the map and we met him later at a pub for a drink and some dinner afterwards. We were both excited to indulge into the many treats that Belgium had to offer: chocolate, trapist beer, and waffles.
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We were pleasantly surpirsed how nice Antwerp was.
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We didn't really know what to expect because there wasn't much mentioned in our travel book but Antwerp was alive with contemporary and historic architecture and since there was a fashion institute there the city was saturated with style.
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We spent our little time there just walking the streets and went to Bruges for a day trip.
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Bruges was a quaint medieval town with it's main square flanked by gothic and medieval architecture. We spent the afternoon walking around admiring the sites. The city reminded us a lot of Brasov's old town in Romania, with it's cobble stone streets and small roads.
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That afternoon we headed back to the train station in Antwerp to sort our our Christmas Eve travel to Paris. Unfortunately the high speed train, which would have only taken 1.5 hours to get to Paris, would have cost around 100 Euro each. We opted to take the local trains with a 5 hour journey that was free. We were excited to be heading to Paris for Christmas because we didn't know when we would ever have a holiday like this one again.

Posted by smart alec 01.11.2011 10:22 Archived in Netherlands Comments (2)

Merry Christmas!!!

For an update, we just made it to Paris where we will stay for six days before heading to London to spend New Years with one of our favorite couchsurfers, Sam.

We hope all of our friends and families are having a wonderful holiday season. This is the first Christmas that either of us has spent away from our families so it will be different, but we think that the magic of Paris will help to make it up. Besides, both of our families are spread across the U.S. this year anyways: Albuquerque, Memphis, Philadelphia, Clermont, and Indian Shores.

Wishing everyone peace, love, and joy this Christmas! Happy Christmahanakwanzika!!!

Below are a few pictures to get you in the holiday spirit (if you aren't already!)

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Posted by smart alec 02:41 Comments (7)

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