Living the Magnolia Dream...at the Silos!

It felt like everywhere we drove in Waco, you could somehow see glimpses of the Magnolia Silos from the car window, (that and Baylor University football stadium).

After eating our wonderful breakfast at Magnolia Table, we decided that we had enough fuel and energy to head to Magnolia Market at the Silos. A short, 10 minute drive from Magnolia Table, we easily found parking in the lot behind the market(although we heard it gets busy). There is street parking in and around the block, but if you can park in the actual lot behind the Silos, do it. It is easy and very convenient.

There they are!! A beacon to all of us farm house style lovers and Chip and Joanna Gaines fans!  

There they are!! A beacon to all of us farm house style lovers and Chip and Joanna Gaines fans!  

Let me just say that when we first talked about going to Magnolia Market at the Silos, I really didn’t know what to expect. Sure, I had seen a plethora of pictures on social media as well as the glimpses on Fixer Upper, but when we stepped onto the grounds of Magnolia Market, everything I had thought it was, was even more than what I had expected.  

The green lawn in the middle had huge bean bag chairs for lounging in and an area for kids to run and play. There was cornhole boards and soccer balls to kick around. There was also a misting machine under the pavilion to help cool you down on those hot Texas days. 

Before the crowds... 

Before the crowds... 

Around the outside of the yard, there were about 10 food trucks...ranging from kettle corn to Asian-fusion. Over the course of our 3 days, we sampled a few- SummerSnow(amazing snow cones with unique flavors, Tiger’s Blood anyone?), Luna Juice(they have a mini-watermelon they cut open and blend for a refreshing drink), Chuck’s Gourmet Popcorn(try the French Toast kettle corn-sweet and cinnomony), and Alabama Sweet Tea(huge mason jars of, you guessed it sweet tea, although I got the half sweet, which was sweet enough). 

Found a shaded picnic table to letter under and have our cool drinks. 

Found a shaded picnic table to letter under and have our cool drinks. 

One of the garden sheds at the Silos.  

One of the garden sheds at the Silos.  

So, after having our drinks, we walked around the outside of Magnolia Market. The gardens were lovely. You felt as if you were actually walking around in Joanna’s garden. The items that they sell for gardens and outdoor spaces was in a larger garden shed with all of the Magnolia Seed and Supply goodies. They even had packets of seeds from Magnolia Farms you could take home to plant.  

The actual Magnolia Market, the farm house style lover’s heaven. 

The actual Magnolia Market, the farm house style lover’s heaven. 

We ended up going to Magnolia Market at the Silos two days. There was just a lot to see and so many people that to really be able to shop and pace ourselves, we went once to look around. Then on the second day, we bought things to bring home, finally got into the Silo’s Bakery next door, and just simply enjoyed hanging out at the Silos. We may or may not have visited SummerSnow more than once...😆

On the wall when you walk into Magnolia Market. Loved all of the little details. 

On the wall when you walk into Magnolia Market. Loved all of the little details. 

Now, the Silos Bakery. After seeing the huge line and the ever growing que, we decided to come to the bakery early on our third day for pastries and coffee.  

Photo op spots are everywhere at the Silos. Selfie time! 

Photo op spots are everywhere at the Silos. Selfie time! 

When you first get to the bakery-and make sure you get there around the time they open, hardly any line, you are given a menu card with all of the pastries, cupcakes, beverages, etc. and you mark what you want and the amount you want, and once you get inside, you hand it to the ladies and gentlemen at the counter who get all of it packed and ready for you. You pay for your treats and then at the other end of the counter, you pick up your order and exit the bakery. 

Lovely window boxes outside of the bakery. 

Lovely window boxes outside of the bakery. 

The ordering was very efficient(would you expect anything else from Joanna Gaines?), - however, if you happen to forget creamer in your coffee like I did, you have to stand and wait for someone to exit and sneak back in OR stand in line again. Luckily, I had a very lovely man(my husband) who was kind enough to get creamer for me. 😆 

Cupcakes for days and cinnamon rolls as big as your head... 

Cupcakes for days and cinnamon rolls as big as your head... 

Everything at the bakery looked delicious, and it was just so pretty. The boxes and packaging were simple and handy for toting around with you. They even put your sweets in a giant brown paper bag with handles.

Cinnamon roll, cupcakes, and chocolate chip oatmeal cookies(that put mine to shame). Matt had a chocolate pastry which didn’t make it into the picture.

Cinnamon roll, cupcakes, and chocolate chip oatmeal cookies(that put mine to shame). Matt had a chocolate pastry which didn’t make it into the picture.

The silverware was eco friendly! Loved it. Like I said before, every detail was thought out. The Gaines and their team are truly fabulous.

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My cinnamon roll was amazing. It was huge. We ended up sharing it. I even was brave and tried the Texas Pecan coffee. 

Cupcakes!! Mmmm. 

Cupcakes!! Mmmm. 

Of course, we got cupcakes! They were our treat to take back to our tiny house. There were lots of different flavors. We decided to get three. We tried the pink lemonade, peach cobbler, and of course, SHIPLAP(vanilla)! My picture doesn’t do the cupcakes justice. They were actually pretty big cupcakes with the fluffiest buttercream frosting I have ever had. The cake was dense and moist and not overly sweet. The flavors were SPOT ON. The peach was my favorite- loved the cinnamon crumble bottom. 

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Yes, Magnolia Market at the Silos was more than what I was expecting. The store itself was just a homegoods store. There was so much to look at though, and I did like seeing some of the items in real life than just a photo online. If you are like me, I like to actually see something in real life before I buy it. Now, after seeing some of the things they sell online in person, I know what I would order after seeing it.

Some of the items were hand crafted in Waco, like the pottery made by Black Oak Art(my new favorite), as well as some of the metalwork and some of the pieces crafted from wood.

A tip that I was given by a friend(coincidentally, my 6th grade math teacher, yes we still talk!), was if you see something, buy it otherwise you may go back and it won’t be there. Thanks for the advice! We listened! We made sure on the first day to pick up the shirts we wanted because when we went back the second day, the sizes were picked over as well some of the styles we liked. 

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I am definitely looking forward to returning to Magnolia Market someday. It is amazing to see how much they have grown and changed. We are looking forward to seeing what they do with the silos themselves, since as of now, there is nothing in them. They are more of a backdrop of Magnolia Market. 

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After we were at the Silos, we headed on a little adventure to check out Clint Harp’s shop, Harp Design Co. It was a short drive from the Silos. 

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There was a lot of cute things and hand crafted items by Clint and his crew. We got a candlestick and I found a pair of earrings made with scrap walnut.

The little wood shop where all of the fabulous tables are made! 

The little wood shop where all of the fabulous tables are made! 

We also stared in awe of the Harps’ old home that was on Fixer Upper. Sadly, they no longer live there due to super fans coming over and knocking on their door. Totally understandable. However, you can stay in the house. The Harps turned it into a rental.

After exploring Harp Design, we drove past the original Magnolia Market on Bosque Avenue where Chip and Joanna got their start. It was cool to see how far they have come. 

Magnolia Market, the original. Now Magnolia Warehouse, open various times throughout the year with sale items. They usually post on social media when it is open.

Magnolia Market, the original. Now Magnolia Warehouse, open various times throughout the year with sale items. They usually post on social media when it is open.

Had to make a comparison collage.

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We then drove around past some of the Fixer Upper Houses.

 

One of my favorites! The Shotgun House with the pull down steps.  Done the block from the Silos.

One of my favorites! The Shotgun House with the pull down steps.  Done the block from the Silos.

Then we headed back to downtown Waco to visit the Dr. Pepper Museum. Who knew Dr. Pepper was invented in Waco?!?

Blocks from the Silos. 

Blocks from the Silos. 

I did not realize Dr. Pepper was made in Waco, TX. After visiting the small, but fun museum, I left with some soda pop knowledge and saw some memorabilia from days gone by.

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The museum wasn’t fancy, but it was air conditioned and there was a lot of old signs and old fashioned soda machines, lots of bottles, and Dr. Pepper artifacts. It also had an old fashioned soda shop where you could get floats and ice cream treats. 

We then drove around downtown Waco and explored the antique scene a bit. There were a lot of high end shops, some with antique reproductions and some with true antiques. Many had farm house style items. 

One shop that stuck out in particular was called Simply Irresistible, on Austin Avenue. It was a mixture of old antiques, reproductions, and cool houseware items. There was also clothing and jewelry as well. If you want to stray away from the Silos, definitely check it out!  

We then went back to Magnolia and treated ourselves to another SummerSnow...we couldn’t get enough.  

Definitely go back to the Silos in the late afternoon. It may be hot, BUT the crowds were small. 

Definitely go back to the Silos in the late afternoon. It may be hot, BUT the crowds were small. 

We then went to dinner at Chuey’s Tex Mex, a chain in the south, but really good! Tortillas were homemade, and I had charro beans-life changing!  

Third day in Waco, we went to the Silos in the morning again, drove around Baylor University- gorgeous campus by the way, had lunch at Vitek’s, a local barbecue place close to Baylor. In an episode of Fixer Upper, Chip takes his sons to get take-out from Vitek’s, an old haunt of his during his Baylor years. 

My brisket platter. Matt got the GutPak- pulled pork, beans, coleslaw, pickles, pickled jalapeños, and cheese piled high on top of a bed of Fritos.

My brisket platter. Matt got the GutPak- pulled pork, beans, coleslaw, pickles, pickled jalapeños, and cheese piled high on top of a bed of Fritos.

On the way back to the tiny house we went to the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum(NOT the baseball team). It was a nice little museum with a lot of Texas Ranger artifacts, some Bonnie and Clyde artifacts(which they were shot down by the Texas Rangers), a lot of guns, spurs, and saddles of former rangers. It took us about 2 hours, with a short movie that gave an overview of the history of the rangers and how they were formed.

Informative and full of facts. For anyone who loves the Wild West and cowboys. Plus, it was air conditioned! 

Informative and full of facts. For anyone who loves the Wild West and cowboys. Plus, it was air conditioned! 

We then headed back to our tiny house to relax and decide where to eat dinner. We decided on a burger place called Twisted Root, good burgers and craft root beer. After dinner we went to the suspension bridge and enjoyed the evening.

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Waco was definitely fun and I underestimated how much I would enjoy it. If it wasn’t for Chip and Joanna, this town probably wouldn’t be receiving as much positivity as it has been. The city has had a lot of controversy over the years but has been trying to over come it. 

I was sad to learn that several of the Fixer Upper houses are now rentals. Many of them can be found on Airbnb, Homeaway, and VRBO with the tagline, “Stay in a Fixer Upper”. It was disheartening to learn that the so called forever homes that the families on the show were toting were not forever. 

However, it was nice to see the Gaines trying to rehabilitate their town and bring business to the area that they love and grew up in. Seeing their humble beginnings on Bosque, to their ever growing Magnolia Market at the Silos, I have a new found love and respect for them and their lively hood. 

Now...if only I could get them to come to Pennsylvania to build our modern farm house... 

Sun setting behind our tiny house. Nothing like the Texas sky...

Sun setting behind our tiny house. Nothing like the Texas sky...

Waco, Living the Magnolia Dream

Arriving in Texas, the first thing that greets you is the heat, the undeniable, dry Texas heat. Next is the sudden realization that there are hardly any mountains around you. Texas is very flat, but at the same time, absolutely beautiful. 

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Our first destination was Waco, home to Magnolia Silos and the HGTV famous, Chip and Joanna Gaines, and if you have been living under a rock for the past five years, it’s kind of hard to miss the Fixer Upper stars with their clean, fresh, lovely modern farmhouse style. I have to admit, I am a super fan, and I couldn’t wait to explore their town and their little slice of Texas.

We did not stay in a hotel in Waco. We stayed in a little tiny house community of six self-service tiny homes called Deer Field Cabins, which was a short 10-15 minute drive from downtown Waco and Magnolia Silos. It was the perfect location. It provided the peaceful quiet of Texas countryside, but was close enough to all of the restaurants and small city of Waco. 

Little courtyard in the center of the tiny homes.

Little courtyard in the center of the tiny homes.

Upon further exploration, we discovered a unique barn wedding venue right up the road that was part of the tiny homes. It would make the perfect location for a wedding! 

Each tiny home had a small kitchenette with a mini-fridge, a loft with a double bed, a full bathroom, and a king Murphy bed(the beds you pull down from the wall). They also had AIR CONDITIONING, which after spending the day in the heat, was wonderful to come back to.  (I am a bad blogger and forgot to take pictures of the inside...)

Quaint porch, perfect for watching the sunset after a long day of touring the Silos!

Quaint porch, perfect for watching the sunset after a long day of touring the Silos!

If we return to Waco someday, I would stay here again in a heartbeat and recommend it to others traveling down Waco way. It was comfortable, quaint, and had the perfect feel for our Magnolia adventure.

Another shot of the porch. Just don’t mind the gecos who like to visit in the morning...🦎

Another shot of the porch. Just don’t mind the gecos who like to visit in the morning...🦎

After settling in our tiny home, we decided to venture out into Waco and find dinner. We settled upon Moroso Wood Fired Pizziera and Pasta. The food was delicious! Service was great, and I really loved the bucatini with their homemade meatballs and marinara(again, was too tired and am a bad blogger and forgot pics). The pasta and pizza was the perfect comfort food after a long day of air travel. 

We decided to call it an early night after dinner. We did drive around town a little and found a Target to stock up on some supplies for the 3 days we were in Waco...water, Pepsi, and some snacks(duh) . After getting our provisions, we went back to the tiny house and headed to bed early to prepare for an early morning and breakfast at Magnolia Table!

The tile work in the foyer of Magnolia Table.

The tile work in the foyer of Magnolia Table.

Friday morning we were up bright and early, ready to hit Magnolia Table- the new breakfast/brunch spot that Chip and Joanna own. We had read reviews that said to get in line early if you didn’t want to wait. We got to the restaurant around 8:00 and had to wait only 30 minutes for our table, which was pretty good considering the host said the day before the wait was almost 2 hours. 

Sitting in the courtyard/waiting area. Coffee stand is on the other side as well as a yard area with games and a fountain. 

Sitting in the courtyard/waiting area. Coffee stand is on the other side as well as a yard area with games and a fountain. 

Window boxes filled with herbs...

Window boxes filled with herbs...

While the wait may have been long for some, it didn’t feel long. The little coffee stand helped pass time as well as the Take—Away shop that not only had food to go, but trinkets, spices, specialty food items, and apparel to take home. There was so much to take in that we were able to find ample things to do and see to make the 30 minutes fly by. 

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Who doesn’t remember when Chip put up this sign? 😆

So many delicious things on the menu! It was hard to choose. Some of the items can be found to make at home in the Magnolia Table cookbook! 

So many delicious things on the menu! It was hard to choose. Some of the items can be found to make at home in the Magnolia Table cookbook! 

Started off with the Signature House Blend coffee, husband had one of their fresh juices-juiced in house. There was even a tasting flight of different kinds.

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Ever had eggs benedict made with biscuits? Well, I did and it was delish! Perfectly poached egg, thick slices of bacon, topped with a lemony, thick Hollandaise sauce. We also got house made tater tots as well. Matt had Chip’s Pancakes(which in the Magnolia Table cook book are the Fluffiest Pancakes Ever recipe). 

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One thing that I loved about Magnolia Table was that the ingredients mostly came from Magnolia Farms. Everything was super fresh and came out in a timely manner. The waiters were friendly and helpful and even though there was a huge line waiting outside, you never felt rushed or hurried. 

It was a great experience. I loved being able to see and be in one of their buildings that they renovated on Fixer Upper. Everything was just like it was on the show. Chip and Joanna think of every little detail. Their thought and consideration for every aspect of the restaurant really showed in the decor, the quality of the food, and even the presentation of the food; no fuss, farmhouse.

Magnolia Table was the breakfast spot of dreams, and I am still dreaming of those biscuits. 

Pennsylvania Mountains to Wide Open Spaces...

On Thursday, June 7, we started our Texas adventure! Let me say, catching an early flight from our tiny regional airport without my coffee, was an adventure in itself.  

We had three hops until our final destination, Dallas Fort Worth Airport. Let me tell you, getting to Waco, TX is no easy feat. Our flight plan went like this: Williamsport to Philly to Oklahoma City to Dallas Fort Worth. 

Our layover in Philadelphia wasn’t so bad. We only had an hour wait, which gave me ample time to find coffee. However, OKC was a different story.  

Oklahoma City Airport was probably the nicest airport I have ever been in. It was clean, the bathrooms were spotless and had an automatic seat cover machine, that once you were finished doing your business, with a wave of your hand, a new seat cover rolled out.

Touching down in Oklahoman City!

Touching down in Oklahoman City!

At this point, while I was fascinated by the cleanliness factor of OKC, my other half was checking the status of our flight to Dallas, only to find it was delayed due to extreme thunderstorms. So, we found a Cinnabon, refueled our systems with ooey gooey cinnamon goodness and more coffee.  

While sitting with our giant cinnamon rolls, we heard a siren alert and phones around us began buzzing and beeping, signifying to travelers tornado warnings. We were in Oklahoma after all. We watched our flight time change, getting later and later.

Luckily, after five, almost six hours, the folks at Oklahoma City Airport graciously gave passengers who had to be rerouted, delayed, or canceled free pizza. That is true Southern hospitality right there. My husband, who travels for his work all of the time and is a much seasoned traveler was even impressed.

After a long wait, we FINALLY were able to board the plane and head to Dallas Fort Worth! We then had to take a not very short shuttle ride to pick up the car rental and we were on the way to our first stop, Waco! 

 

Back roads of Texas...

Back roads of Texas...

Restarting the Lotus Blossom Travels Blog!

Hey there folks!

So, besides my lettering and art creating, my other love is travel. Luckily, I have a spouse who has found that he enjoys it as much as I do, especially when we are off to a new destination. It has been almost 2 years since my last blog post, frankly, I didn't have much time with a full time job and my art business.

ANYWAY, I decided to start the blog back up, and what a better way to start it again than with a trip to WACO, Texas! If you are a fan of Fixer Upper, which I totally am, thanks to my mom who got me watching all those years ago, then Waco is definitely on your bucket list. It has been on mine since reading Joanna Gaines's book about how they began their journey and of course, watching Fixer Upper.

We will be heading to Waco tomorrow, and I am honestly so excited, not only because it is a Waco, but I have NEVER been to Texas! I am excited to explore a new place. We will also be hitting up San Antonio for a few days as well. Can't wait for some Texas barbecue and Tex-Mex! 

Check back on the blog for updates and travel pictures! Cheers!

Rock of Cashel, Limerick- a city not full of clever rhymes...

On our last whirlwind adventure in Ireland, we decided to wake up early and head to Rock of Cashel in Tipperary. Tipperary is a little more inland than what we have been traveling, but it was our last full day.  

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Loved the clever sign on our way out of Ballyseede Castle. Notice the reproduction William Morris wallpaper...!!!  

So, Rock of Cashel...Rock of Cashel is known to be the site that Saint Patrick converted the King of Munster in the 5th Century. Rock had been the seat of the kings of Munster for hundreds of years before the Norman Invasion. In 1101, the King of Munster at the time donated his huge fortress to the church. 

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Most of the structures date from the 12th and 13th Centuries, hardly any of the original structures survive. Rock of Cashel has a variety of buildings. One being a round tower, Cormac's Chapel- the chapel of King Cormac Macarthy, which was finished in 1134. There is a huge chapel that was built in the 1200s and has an aisle-less plan. The Hall of the Vicars was built in the 15th Century as a place where choral chants were sung from during services.

The chapel area... 

The chapel area... 

Cormac's Cathedral was under renovations to help preserve the murals and Celtic art that adorns the walls. Lots of scaffolding was up all around.

You can see the scaffolding through the archway... 

You can see the scaffolding through the archway... 

A lot of ancient tombs and graves were dotted around the area. 

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There was also a redone hallway/living quarters of the Kings of Munster. You also got to view some of the relics of the kings that were recovered from digging sites around Rock of Cashel.

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Huge Irish silver pin one one of the Kings of Munster...was as big as a teacup saucer. 

Huge Irish silver pin one one of the Kings of Munster...was as big as a teacup saucer. 

The outside of Rock of Cashel was beautiful. There were ancient graves with huge Celtic crosses with family symbols etched into them. There was also a pathway that lead you around the perimeter of Rock of Cashel, so you could look up and see the grand spectacle among the sheep pastures. 

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The Rock of Cashel from the walking path... 

The Rock of Cashel from the walking path... 

Sheep munching away, not noticing the Rock... 

Sheep munching away, not noticing the Rock... 

This was once Scully's Cross, tombs and markers of the Scully family, patrons of the church. The cross was erected in the late 1800s and then in the 1970s, a lightning storm struck the metal top of the cross, destroying it. It was once the largest of the Celtic crosses at Rock of Cashel.

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We continued to be amazed at every site we ventured to. All of the landscape was so lush and green, even by the ocean, and excluding the Burren, which was a bare patch of mountains that extended to Cliffs of Moher. 

After the Rock, we headed to Limerick. Limerick was NOT my favorite city. It was very dirty. It claimed to be the shopping capital of Ireland, but there seemed to be the same junky shoe stores in every block and really, how many Dunnes Stores(like our Macy's does a town need?). There was a castle ruin by the river, which if we had had more time, would have visited.  

We did find a great pub in Limerick though, Glen Tavern. After a whirlwind of shopping, we sat down and enjoyed some pints. 

Our last Guinness in Ireland...SAD. 

Our last Guinness in Ireland...SAD. 

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Glen Tavern also had Guinness's Brewers' Project beer, Hop House 13, a hoppy lager perfect for summer days. Too bad it is only exclusive to Ireland...and ONLY Ireland. Matt has been drinking it wherever we could find it, it was that good.  

We also got dinner at the tavern as well. We were very pleased with our last meal in Ireland. 

Shepherd's Pie with chips(of course), and Matt's Irish Stew in the back. 

Shepherd's Pie with chips(of course), and Matt's Irish Stew in the back. 

It is true what they say about the Irish stew here. Every county does their version a little differently. In Dublin, the stew was thick and the broth was more of a gravy. They also used other veggies like turnips as well as carrots and potatoes. On the coast, the stew was more of a soup. The broth was thinner, more pieces of lamb, no turnips, just carrots and potatoes.  Matt preferred the stew in Limerick. He said the meat was more tender and the broth had more flavor.

This will be the last full entry in our Ireland travels. Our trip is ending. It has been a wonderful experience and we are looking forward to doing it again, sooner, rather than later!!! Looking forward to getting back home to our house, our dog, and our families,  but we are looking forward to our next trip to Ireland as well.

Check back for another entry with trip wrap ups, tips for Ireland travel, places to not go, places we would definitely do again, and other things! Thanks for reading! Slainte! 

Killarney, Matt's golf round on a real links course, the Dingle Peninsula and enjoying the sunshine...

On Tuesday we got to Killarney. Killarney is one of the biggest tourist towns in Ireland, due to its closeness to the ocean and its own Killarney National Park, hundreds of acres of beautiful wilderness, hiking trails, narrow roads, and mountain views.  

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The town of Killarney is not a huge town, it was very easy to get around and the people were very friendly. Co. Kerry is not only home to Killarney, but it is home to Killarney National Park which is home to Muckross House. But, we will get to that later.

On our first full day in Killarney, Matt went golfing at the Dooks Golf Links. I told him he would be crazy to not go golfing while we were in Ireland, on a real links course as well. Matt researched all of the courses in and around Co. Kerry before making his decision.

Views from the course. 

Views from the course. 

Wednesday he went. Up until that day we had been blessed with unusually sunny Ireland weather. When we were in Dublin, Belfast, and Wicklow the weather had been perfect. Wednesday, it became the Ireland everyone in Ireland was used to. So, at 8:00AM, in gray, Ireland mist, Matt teed off.

The course was right along the ocean. Matt said salt water most was coming down at him the entire time, soaking everything. 

The course was right along the ocean. Matt said salt water most was coming down at him the entire time, soaking everything. 

Thankfully, Matt was paired with other Americans who happened to be from Georgia. Small world, since his cousin lives in Georgia as well. The two men had just started their trip in Ireland and were going around the opposite way we went. Which, is another option when visiting Ireland, flying into Shannon airport and leaving by way of Dublin.

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While Matt was golfing, I was amusing myself in Killarney. I found a coffee shop called Jam, with great lattes and a traditional sausage roll(a sausage wrapped in puff pastry). I worked on my blog and did some research about things to do when Matt got back. I also checked out some shops. 

When Matt got back, he told me all about his golf experience, he got dried off, and then we headed out onto the Ring of Kerry. Our first stop was Muckross House, at the entry way to the Ring of Kerry. 

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Muckross House is located between two of Killarney's lakes, Muckross Lake and Lough Leane(lough is the Gaelic word for lake, pronounced loch). It was built by Scottish architect William Burn in 1843 for Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife Mary, who happened to be a watercolorist. All of her works were displayed in rooms in the house. Most of them were of Killarney and the park.

Built in the Tudor style. 

Built in the Tudor style. 

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Sadly, there were no pictures allowed in the house, due to wanting to preserve the belongings of the family, which about 70-80% of them where original to the house. There were many pieces of furniture made in Killarney as well as a portrait done of William Bowers Bourn, an American who purchased the house in 1911. The portrait was done by one of my favorite artists, John Singer Sargent.  

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The house's main claim to fame is in 1861, it received a visit from Queen Victoria herself as she was doing a tour of the area with her ladies in waiting and other important figures of the British Empire. It took the family nearly 6 years to complete the improvements for the Queen's visit. New and very expensive drapes had to be made in France, a new billards table was purchased, weighing nearly 3 tons. The floor had to be specially braced for the weight.  

Queen Victoria had a fear of fire as well, and she insisted on having her room on the first floor and a special fire escape ladder be added to the window. Now, this might not seem silly, but for a two night visit, this was a little extravagant.  

View from the back lawn. 

View from the back lawn. 

The Herbert family only had the pleasure of meeting the Queen once while she stayed at their house. She did not even done with them, having also requested a separate, private dining room for her stay.

Now, in those days after you had opened your house to the Queen, a family could expect great rewards. Some families received land, a visit to court, and even a title. However, the Herbert family was forgotten. The Queen's mother died a few months later as well as her husband, Prince Albert, sending Victoria into her mourning period. the renovations the family did to prepare for the Queen, put the estate in great debt for a time and life wasn't easy for the Herberts.

Gardens all around. 

Gardens all around. 

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The arboretum in Muckross House gardens. 

The arboretum in Muckross House gardens. 

It was then purchased by a member of Arthur Guinness's family, and then it was sold in 1911 to William Bowers Bourn for his daughter, Maud and son-in-law Arthur Rose Vincent from California. Then in 1932, after Maud passed away, the family decided to give the house and all of the lands back to the Ireland nation. It was then that Killarney National Park was formed and became Ireland's forest national park.

Gazing out into the misty, Killarney Narional Park. 

Gazing out into the misty, Killarney Narional Park. 

After we toured the house, with our very informative tour guide, Aiden, who was surprised Matt and I guessed that the huge churn that was in he kitchen was an ice cream maker, we headed to drive some of the Ring of Kerry. 

First, funny story. The receptionist at Muckross House. She checked us in with our Hertihage Cards(which if you come to Ireland is a MUST purchase...50euro together, BUT, got us into a majority of Ireland's heritage sites, which at 6-10euro at each place, we definitely got our $$ worth, especially when we saw 20-30 of the sites on the list). Then she asked us what the rest of our plans were on the days we had left in Ireland. We told her we didn't have any set plans, probably to drive the ring.

The woman, stopped, looked at us over her glasses and sighed. At first we thought we were in trouble. In a hushed tone, she said, "Why are you driving the ring? To drive the entire thing will take more than five hours, much to crowded. Go to Dingle." She then pulled out a Co. Kerry tour book and began leading through, circling things, jotting things down on a piece of paper. She was also extremely annoyed we were going to Tralee, as she said it was not much of a town with not much to do.

I wish we had gotten her name. She was elderly and gave us so many tips and told us we HAD to drive to Dingle, "much nicer than Killarney, views are much prettier and stop by and go to Aghadoe to view to Killarney Lakes, much nicer and prettier than Ladies View", all still in hushed tones, like she was going to be caught by giving us information. 

So, with promises to go to Dingle, and afraid that she might come after us if we didn't, we continued on our rainy tour of Killarney National Park.

Torc Waterfall

Torc Waterfall

Torc Waterfall was beautiful and we got there just before three HUGE tour buses. Then we headed up to Ladies View, even though the receptionist didn't respond to our plans to going and it was rainy, it was something I had wanted to see. 

We drove up a narrow road, that at times was so steep that it felt like our little VW was going to fall off the side. Some of the roads were one lane, making it impossible for two cars to pass and tour buses. We had to pull over as far as we could at times so we could pass or cars could pass. But when we got to Ladies View, it was worth it. 

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Ladies View got its name from Queen Victoria's visit in 1861. After touring the lakes and mountains, her ladies in waiting declared the view to be the most beautiful in Killarney. So, it got the name Ladies View for Victoria's ladies. 

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On a clearer day, you are able to see the lakes of Killarney and down to Killarney Town. However, even in the Ireland weather, the view was still breathtaking. 

Then we headed back down the mountain and decided since the drive was a little nerve-wracking, some pints and dinner were in order. 

The next day, on our way to Ballyseede Castle, our hotel stop in Tralee, we decided to drive the Dingle Peninsula as the woman at Muckross had suggested. The drive to Dingle was about an hour from Killarney, and if you are staying in Killarney, I highly recommend taking a day trip to Dingle.  

Dingle is a town on the coast of Ireland. It is one of the biggest fishing towns in Ireland and much of Ireland's seafood comes from Dingle. Dingle is also known for two drives, one around the coast called Slea Head and Connor Pass, through the mountains. It is all part of the Wild Atlantic Way. 

Ross Castle

Ross Castle

First we stopped on our way out of Killarney at Ross Castle. Ross Castle is part of Killarney National Park. It was built by the O'Donoghues in the 15th Century. We had a wonderful tour guide. I just wish some of the others on the tour would have been as courteous and attentive as those who were trying to learn something.

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We went all the way up into the towers and saw the various rooms of the castle and learning about the life of the lairds who lived in it. Again, no pictures were allowed inside, which did not make one visitor happy, who kept trying to take pictures. But, rules are rules and as a tourist, you should respect the rules of the country you are visiting. This is why Americans get a bad reputation.

View from Ross Castle of Lough Leane, which Mor O'Odonoghue is said to haunt. 

View from Ross Castle of Lough Leane, which Mor O'Odonoghue is said to haunt. 

We learned a lot on our tour of Ross Castle. The castle went through several owners during the Desmond Rebellions, on was Macarthy Brown, who leased the castle and its land. It was fitted with several defense mechanisms, like spiked doors and a "murder hole" that allowed troops to dump hot tar, chicken feathers, scalding animal fat, and rocks at enemies through a secret hole in the ground by the front entrance.

In 1652, Ross Castle was the last stronghold to defend the area during the Irish Confederate Wars against Cromwell. However, it was given up to Cromwell and his soldiers when General Ludlow marched his 4000 troops to Ross Castle.

Walking the castle grounds. 

Walking the castle grounds. 

Life in the castle's medieval times was not glamourous at all. If you were a laird or the laird's wife, you would have slept sitting up in bed. It was the medieval belief that you caught lung diseases from laying down when sleeping. That is why historians believe headboards were invented for beds. Nevermind all of the lice, fleas, and ticks that carried disease, poor diet, and uncleanliness, laying down when sleeping was what caused you to catch your death.

After our castle tour, with some very unappreciative and rude attendees, we started on our trip to Dingle and Tralee. We found Aghadoe Pass, which is the view opposite of the Ladies View. Ladies View shows you the backside of the lakes and mountains, Aghadoe Pass shows you the frontside.

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After seeing Ladies View, Aghadoe Pass took the prize for its beauty and view. It wasn't crowded, and it was a lovely stop outside of Killarney. Many tourists don't know about it, so it wasn't crowded and we were able to sit and enjoy it. Glad the sun was out! 

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Looking up at the mountains, it was hard to believe that the day before we were driving up in those mountains to Ladies View. Next, on to Dingle! 

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Just with the views from the car, I knew Dingle Peninsula and Slea Head were going to be beautiful! I have come to really LOVE the Wild Atlantic Way and can't wait to come back someday. 

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The roads to Dingle town got a little scary. Some of them, the edges were cliffs that plummeted straight down to rocky ocean, but we pressed on. 

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We were glad to get to Dingle. We had a great lunch at a place called, Chowder that was recommended by our Muckross lady. We had fresh seafood chowder with chunks of wild salmon, cod, mussels, and calamari. She also told us about this little locally owned ice cream shop called Kool Scoops. She told us it was 100 times better than Murphy's and less expensive, which it was.

My Kool Scoops ice cream! 

My Kool Scoops ice cream! 

After enjoying the sunshine and our ice creams, we continued on our way on the Slea Head drive to the Blasket Centre. 

Driving the Slea Head... 

Driving the Slea Head... 

Made a friend at one of the look out stops.  

Made a friend at one of the look out stops.  

Instead of ice cream, we probably should have had a pint before going any further on the Slea Head drive... 

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We didn't really know, like a majority of the roads we drove, what we were getting ourselves into. This was probably the most adventurous of all of our coastal drives we went on. Gorgeous view points, but there were times we wondered why we were doing this. 

At the end of Slea Head, there is the Blasket Centre. The Blasket Centre is devoted to a group of people who settled on the Great Blasket Islands, out at the tip of the Dingle Peninsula. Between the 1830s and all the way up to the 1950s, people settled on the islands, speaking strictly Irish Gaelic and creating their on world. They built houses and had things brought in to them from Dingle. They built tools and boats and worked the land and braved the elements.

Several Irish journalists ventured to Blasket to learn the old language and learn from the people of Blasket. There was a school formed for the children and a boat slip built for the boats they made so they could venture to Dingle, but many never left.

But, with the Great Famine(or as we call it, Irish Potato Famine), the curiosities of America and Dublin, many of the younger generation of the Blasket Islands began to leave. By 1957, there was not enough living on the islands to declare it a town. The remaining islanders were evacuated to the mainland, bringing their items with them, but leaving their homes.

The view of the mountains behind the Blasket Centre. 

The view of the mountains behind the Blasket Centre. 

After we visited the center, and viewed the island from the shore, we got back in the car and continued down the a Wild Atlantic Way, stopped back in Dingle and got pints at Murphy's Pub, another place our Muckross friend told us about, and then decided to get to Tralee and our hotel. 

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We stopped at Inch Strand Beach. There were several surfers catching the giant waves that were crashing on shore and swimmers. Brrr! Too cold for this girl! 

This could rival any beach on the East Coast back home... 

This could rival any beach on the East Coast back home... 

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Our feet in the North Atlantic on the other side!  

Our feet in the North Atlantic on the other side!  

With one last look, we got in the car and headed to Tralee and our hotel, Ballyseede Castle. 

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Our hotel in Tralee for the night was a huge manor house that had been converted into a hotel. Beautiful and very old. I felt like a princess or Mary Lennox when she comes to Mistlethwate Manor. We decided that while the castle was cool, the next time we venture to Ireland, we would probably do another night in Killarney and the Ring of Kerry, since Tralee didn't have much to do.  

We did find a great dinner though. We went to Quinlan's Seafood. It is a local fish monger, but they have meals made with their catches of the day. All of the seafood is brought in fresh and there is a huge board that has the names of the fisherman who caught your dinner. Matt had prawns with a garlic mayonnaise dip(they LOVE their garlic mayo in Ireland), and I had fish and chips, where I got to pick my fish. I could choose between hake, whitefish, haddock, or cod. I went traditional and got cod.  

Two HUGE pieces of fish, fresh cut chips, homemade tartar sauce and mushy peas.  Both of my fish pieces were the size of two of my hands put together.

Two HUGE pieces of fish, fresh cut chips, homemade tartar sauce and mushy peas.  Both of my fish pieces were the size of two of my hands put together.

This was a great end to our trip to Tralee! The ladies running Quinlan's were wonderful. Will definitly go back, maybe next time try their place in Killarney. Wish we could have brought some of their fresh fish back to the states, it was that good!

As much as I hate to say it, tomorrow's entry will be about our last day in Ireland. I have loved this trip so much and can't say enough about it. We over a 1,000 pictures and lots of stories and experiences I can't wait to share. 

Check back for my post tomorrow about Rock of Cashel and our last adventure in our trusty Volkswagen Polo! Slainte! 

A Gothic style house turned nunnery, sheep in the road, the Cliffs of Moher, and getting to Killarney in a trusty VW Polo...

All I have to say is, I commend the men and women who drive on the back roads of Ireland's country side on a daily basis. We have been on so many twisty, winding roads, that Matt is beginning to feel like he is a rally car driver. He is really getting the hang of this left side driving thing...too bad we leave in 3 days...hah.

Anyway, back to our travels. On Tuesday, we woke up bright and early and decided to head to Kylemore Abbey. It was about an hour drive from Westport, but driving through Connemara National Park to get to the abbey was so worth it. 

Views from the car. 

Views from the car. 

It was so misty and melancholy looking that morning. We had had so much sun the week before in Dublin and Belfast, we knew we were due for some real Ireland weather. Some might be a little put off by the misty, cloudiness, but it was beautiful rolling off of the mountains.

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Connemara is a part of Co. Galway(Gahlway not Gaaalway). It is one of the most untocuhed, unspoiled countryside in Ireland. There are places that the boundary lines aren't marked or are unknown. And, it is here that a man built his true love a huge mansion and it is here that that same man built a church just for her as well. 

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Kylemore Abbey started out as a country estate that a wealthy doctor named Kyle Henry built for his wife who was Irish and had always loved Connemara. The family had purchased the land while he became a politician and built the home around the 1870s.

View from the driveway to the house. 

View from the driveway to the house. 

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore Abbey

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The house had 33 bedrooms and electricity, which those coming up to visit the family in the evening remarked what a beautiful sight it was to see it all lit up reflecting off of the lake in front. All of the stone was quarried locally and was once a white limestone and granite, but now time has changed it to the dark grayish color you see in the picture.

Dressing room entry way, a portrait of Mrs. Henry. 

Dressing room entry way, a portrait of Mrs. Henry. 

Kylemore Abbey was sold to Duke of Manchester in 1909 after the Henry family suffered a great tragedy. Kyle Henry's wife contracted an illness while over seas and she died. Henry had built a church on the grounds for his wife, so it was only natural that he build a moseleum for her final resting place. 

Dining room  

Dining room  

The Gothic chirch

The Gothic chirch

After the Duke of Manchester could no longer keep up with the upkeep of the house, he sold the estate to a group of Benedictine nuns. The Irish nuns had been forced to flee France because of World War I and bought the house and land in 1920. With them, they brought several relics from their abbey in France, some are on display in the house.

The nuns opened up a boarding school for girls as well as doing some of their own renovations to suit their needs. The boarding school was forced to close in 2010 due to lack of funds. 

There is also a walled garden on site, which went through a major renovation in the 1970s. Much of the money for renovations comes from the local Benedictine community and the nuns themselves who make chocolates, produce honey from the bees in the garden, and pottery. 

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Walking along the lake... 

Walking along the lake... 

We did not go to the gardens, it was pouring down rain and we wanted to get to the Cliffs of Moher which was a two hour drive from Kylemore. Good thing we had a GPS, a full tank of gas, and some snacks. The roads were about to get exciting!

When you see the quintessential pictures of Ireland, you see winding, narrow roads, stone fenced pastures of green with cows or sheep,  and the random whitewashed cottage. It is usually an Ireland that only exists in your imagination. It is what you think Ireland looks like,  but it wasn't until we drove through the Connemara wilderness that we really got a taste for what Ireland is like.

Sheep cross the road with no cares in the world. 

Sheep cross the road with no cares in the world. 

At this point in our trip, we were on a narrow road that was really only one lane. There was hardly a soul around, save for the random sheep farmer we saw mucking about in his wellies with his trusty border collie who gave us a strange look of bewilderment that another car is passing through his part of the woods. He waved and smiled and we continued on our way.

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The Cliffs of Moher are probably one of the things you MUST do when you are in Ireland. No matter what the weather, sunny or rainy, you HAVE to go experience them, not only that by the roads you have to travel on to get to them, that was an adventure themselves. Every time we passed a tour bus, we held our breath that it didn't scrape our car.

When we got to the cliffs, the lady at the front gate told us to turn around and come back if we wanted and wait for another day, but we explained to her that we didn't have time. She understood, so we went to the Cliff View Cafe and sat a while and waited for the fog to lift. 

The fog did not really get any better, but we were still able to see parts of the cliffs, just the view out across the ocean wasn't very nice. 

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The cliffs provide for many different species of birds. Seagulls swoop and dive, as well as swifts, and puffins, who you could hear clucking and chirping from their spots on the rocks. 

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They were a magnificent sight to behold even on a misty afternoon. We were glad we stayed and waited it out a little bit. The fog did clear a bit and we could see parts of the cliffs. And, yes, these cliffs were used in The Princess Bride as the shots of the Cliffs of Insanity.

After the cliffs, we made our trip back down the hill and started our journey to Killarney, Co. Kerry. The views outside of the car window were amazing and we kept remarking at how glad we were that we rented a car instead of taking a bus tour or having a driver. We have seen so many gorgeous things and have been able to stop and pull off to enjoy the views as we go along. 

One thing that we did that we ended up being really happy about, was we took a car ferry boat from County Galway over to County Kerry. It cost 18euro and shaved off a lot of driving time. Our trip to Killarney was going to be two hours and the ferry cut it down to about 1 hour 15 minutes. If you go to Cliffs of Moher and are heading to Killarney or vice versa, look for the Tarbet Ferry. The scenery isn't bad either. 

After we got off the ferry, we continued our drive to Killarney. 

Londonderry/Derry and driving the Wild Atlantic Way to Westport...

So...this is really where our adventure of Ireland begins... 

After we were in Belfast for three nights, we headed out on the open road, on the left side, in our VW Polo for Londonderry/Derry. We had a stop along the way in Northern Ireland. Our stop was called Springhill House, which was the estate of an Ulster family who were wealthy, powerful members of the British Army starting back with King James II.

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Ten generations of the Lenox-Conyngham family resided in this plantation style home and in the 1950s, the estate could not survive and was bought as a landmark by the National Trust.

What I loved about this stop was, everything in the house belonged to the family. All of the furniture, paintings, an 1868 piano forte, everything, was the original pieces to the house. It had sprawling garden walks and an old remnant of a corn mill. 

Corn mill

Corn mill

Walking paths in the countryside... 

Walking paths in the countryside... 

Cows munching away in the pasture next to the estate. 

Cows munching away in the pasture next to the estate. 

The guide at the house Zachary, told us many interesting facts about the family. There even was a charter to have one of the kings of England hanged with Oliver Cromwell's signature on it, one of 3 surviving copies. The library had over 500 books as well. 

The walled garden and costume exhibit were my favorite parts. I enjoyed seeing the actual dresses and clothing the family wore, as it is a surviving piece of their history. 

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Close up of the beetles wings. 

Close up of the beetles wings. 

This dress was hand embroidered with beetles wings. The gardens attracted a certain type of beetle that the family ended up harvesting to create this dress. The lady who wore it was said to have shimmered with the pearlescent wings when walking into a room. 

The garden

The garden

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Springhill was definitely a great stop while on the way to Londonderry/Derry! 

Now, onto Londonderry/Derry... 

You are probably wondering why I keep calling it Londonderry/Derry...well, if you read my post on our Black Taxi tour, Londonderry/Derry was/is going through much the same thing. Like the riots in Belfast during the Troubles, this city had one of the worst riots/IRA uprisings in a neighborhood called Bogside. 

What is confusing about Londonderry/Derry is, is instead of peace walls like Belfast, the city decided to have part of it join the Republic of Ireland and the other part stay Loyalist.  

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This sign welcomes you to Derry, removing the London part to distance themselves from anything English. But what is so confusing is, Londonderry/Derry when it was formed back in the 1600s, was primarily made up of English/Ulster(English-Irish) settlers. The town was supposed to be like Jamestown in the United States but failed miserably at first due to weak soil and climate. 

Murals like in Belfast depicting the Bogsides and the Troubles. 

Murals like in Belfast depicting the Bogsides and the Troubles. 

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Anyway, what makes it confusing is, those who are Loyalists call it Londonderry, it was called when it was settled by the English in the 1600s. But, those that live in the Free Derry side, call it Derry.  

A new mural depicting the hunger strikes and Bobby Sands. 

A new mural depicting the hunger strikes and Bobby Sands. 

While you have all of these political things going on, which are so deep and heavy like Belfast, there are also these huge, massive brick walls that are still in existence from when they were built in the 17th century when Londonderry/Derry was colonized. 

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Guildhall

Guildhall

The walls are from the original colony and fort as well as when they were built up by other Kings and rulers of Londonderry/Derry. They outline where the original town once was beginning at Guildhall- the city's public office building.  

What is amazing is, you are totally able to walk among the walls to get from place to place. Matt and I spent a good hour or so walking the walls, and the walls are high. Some parts going over the rooftops. 

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Getting higher... 

Getting higher... 

Hello rooftops of Londonderry/Derry! 

Hello rooftops of Londonderry/Derry! 

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This is when I noticed the sign...the part of the wall we were walking on looked out onto the Londonderry side, the Loyalist side. The words on the mural and the colors of the Union Jack flag tell you what side you are in... 

The walls were absolutely amazing and the fact that the modern city sprang up around them without tearing them down or removing them is just as amazing. In the United States, we are so quick to tear something down and build something bright and shiny, that I feel like we sometimes miss out on the wonderful things around us. 

Peace Bridge in Londonderry/Derry, built after the Londonderry/Derry sides were resolved in 2011. 

Peace Bridge in Londonderry/Derry, built after the Londonderry/Derry sides were resolved in 2011. 

Like Belfast, Londonderry/Derry has much to overcome. They still have a lot of anger and differences to resolve as a community, which made it very hard for two people from another country to decide what to say or what to call the city. Depending on who you spoke to, depending if they were Catholic- Republicans it is Derry, Loyalists- Protestants it is Londonderry. Matt and I when speaking to someone in Northern Ireland always did the "Londonderry/Derry" just to be on the safe side and miss out on a lecture of politics. Hah. 

While we were in Londonderry/Derry, we were touring Guildhall and noticed a sign to search your Irish roots. We asked about it with one of the receptionists and he told us about a man who does it and started a database of census lists from all over Nothern Ireland, beginning in the 1840s, the years that people began to leave Ireland through Londonderry/Derry to go to Canada and the United States. He asked what Matt's surname was and Maty told him it was Tinney. The man smiled and said, "Aye, I know a lot of Tinneys, it be a Northern Irish name."  

So, after receiving some more information, later that night we accessed the database and discovered that Matt's great-great grandfather was baptized in 1839 in a church in Raphoe- a small town in Northern Ireland, near Letterkenny. After that, there doesn't seem to be much more information, so Matt plans on contacting the genealogist who might be able to help. 

We made Raphoe a detour on our way to Donegal Castle, which Matt was happy about and happy to see the town in which his Irish ancestors came. Still a lot of research to do, seeing as we found two possible siblings of James, a William and an Isabella living in Raphoe in 1901.  

On the road...best way to travel Ireland, rent a car and muster the courage up to drive. We have seen so much beauty and mountains, like nothing ever seen! 

On the road...best way to travel Ireland, rent a car and muster the courage up to drive. We have seen so much beauty and mountains, like nothing ever seen! 

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After our detour, we arrived at Donegal Castle. 

Donegal Castle

Donegal Castle

Donegal Castle is located in Donegal, a town in the Republic of Ireland, en route to the Wild Atlantic Way, which is a coastal drive stretching from Donegal all the way down to the Ring of Kerry. The castle was a stronghold built by the O"Donnell clan who settled in Donegal in 1474.

The castle was almost in ruins in the 1990s, when it was made a National Ireland Hertiage sight and restored almost completely.  It consists of the man stronghold and a later Jacobian wing that was added on in the 17th century.

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Replica dining table and rugs. 

Replica dining table and rugs. 

Original Jacobean fireplace... 

Original Jacobean fireplace... 

The room above the dining room, according to the information pamphlet, was had a fourth floor above it at one point for housing servants and knights that guarded the castle. That was evident by the fireplaces that seemed to be floating on the walls and the window placement on the top floor level. But, instead of finishing it and making it a fourth floor, the restorers wanted visitors to enjoy the open timber ceilings and windows, making the room light.

The very top windows is where the fourth floor would have been. 

The very top windows is where the fourth floor would have been. 

After Donegal Castle, we continued on the Wild Atlantic Way to Sligo(Sly-go, not Sleh-go). Sligo is a coastal town in Co. Sligo. The area is known for its coastal scenery and Benbulben Mountain as well as being nicknames "Yeats Country" because W.B. Yeats vacationed there as a child and later in in life made the area and town of Drumcliffe his home. Several of his poems are written about the natural beauty of the county.

Ben Bulben

Ben Bulben

With Ben Bulben looming in the distance, we found Drumcliffe church where Yeats is buried.  

Ben Bulben is part of the Darty Mountains and a log of Irish legend surrounds the mountain. Finn McCool again, was said to have tricked a mighty warrior into fighting an enchanted boar on Ben Bulben. Irish mythology warrior queen Grianne is also said to be buried among the rocks of Ben Bulben. 

Ben Bulben and the Darty Mountains

Ben Bulben and the Darty Mountains

In this small church in Drumcliffe, W.B. Yeats and his family attended church while vacationing in Drumcliffe, and it is where Yeats wanted to be buried, against the backdrop of the county he loved so well.

Altar in the church. 

Altar in the church. 

What the graveyard looks out on... 

What the graveyard looks out on... 

Yeats's grave. 

Yeats's grave. 

 

"Under bare Ben Bulben's head 

In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid,   

An ancestor was rector there 

Long years ago; a church stands near, 

By the road an ancient Cross. 

No marble, no conventional phrase,   

On limestone quarried near the spot   

By his command these words are cut: 

               Cast a cold eye   

               On life, on death.   

               Horseman, pass by!"

    - excerpt from "Under Benbulben" 

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It was such a lovely place to be your last spot and I could see why Yeats loved Co. Sligo so much. 

Next we went into Sligo to visit Sligo Abbey.  Sligo Abbey is a ruin Dominican Friary that was built in 1235 by order of Baron Maurice Fitzgerald of Offaly. In 1414, a fire destroyed part of the abbey, then in 1595 by the Nine Year's War, and then more destruction in 1641 during the Ulster Uprisings.

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Like some of the sites we went to, Sligo Abbey was in the middle of a busy street and the road was built around the ruin along with modern buildings. 

The stone slabs are grave markers. Matt was a little creeped out. 

The stone slabs are grave markers. Matt was a little creeped out. 

Plans of what the abbey once looked like. 

Plans of what the abbey once looked like. 

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Sligo Abbey had a gorgeous cloister. There were, of course grave stones in the walk ways, but it added to the ambiance and peacefulness of the site.

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After the friars left the abbey for another one in Sligo, it was bought by Lord Palmerston who restored parts of the abbey and made it into a graveyard where many of his family is buried. 

Graves in the cloister. 

Graves in the cloister. 

Sligo Abbey from the street. 

Sligo Abbey from the street. 

From Sligo we continued our trip to Westport. This really was one of the longest driving days so far. Before Westport, we stopped at a megalithic burial site called Carrowmore with over 60 tombs some the oldest in Ireland. 

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Again, in the middle of a field, like Hill of Tara, mountains dotting the distance.

Again, in the middle of a field, like Hill of Tara, mountains dotting the distance.

Walking inside the largest one, that is the burial site for one of the early people's queens. 

Walking inside the largest one, that is the burial site for one of the early people's queens. 

The tiny speck on the top of the mountain belongs to another huge grave of Queen Maeve. The site has not been completely excavated yet and there are no plans to. 

The tiny speck on the top of the mountain belongs to another huge grave of Queen Maeve. The site has not been completely excavated yet and there are no plans to. 

It was so gorgeous and the views were breathtaking! However, both Matt and I did manage to get sunburned! Who would have thought in Ireland, but we both left Carrowmore with a definite sunburn on our cheeks and noses! Should have packed a travel size sunscreen, jeeze! 

After a long drive, we arrived in Westport Co. Mayo. Westport is another coastal town that lies along the Clew Bay. It is also near the Murrisk Mountains and Croagh Patrick, the famous mountain that St. Patrick is said to have made his pilgrimage and fast for 40 days and 40 nights. It still attracts hundreds of visitors who make the trek to the summit where he fasted.

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Matt's pint and my half pint- proper for a lady to order half pints in traditional pubs. 

Matt's pint and my half pint- proper for a lady to order half pints in traditional pubs. 

Westport also is home to Matt Malloy's. If you have ever heard of the Irish group, the Cheiftans, then you would know that Matt Malloy is one of the flute players in the band and native to the area. His pub has many traditional music sessions called trad sessions.  We loved this pub so much! We went back twice, once before dinner and then after!

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We ate dinner at a restaurant at the base of Croagh Patrick. Great seafood from the Clew Bay.  

Then we drove around and found the entrance to Croagh Patrick summit. 

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There was so much fog rolling off the top, you can't even tell in my picture where the top is and it makes it look smaller than it really is. The mountain was huge, one of the tallest in Ireland. 

Views out the car window coming back from dinner. 

Views out the car window coming back from dinner. 

We were only in Westport for a night, which was alright, but I would have enjoyed one more day. There was a lot to do and see in that area, especially the town of Cong where the movie The Quiet Man was filmed. We just had too many places to get to and we had to decide what was the most accessible on our routes to Co. Kerry. But we keep telling ourselves the next time we come we can do the rest. (Smile and sigh).

This concludes the first leg of the journey to Co. Kerry and Killarney. Tomorrow check for a blog on Connemara National Park, Kylemore Abbey, and Cliffs of Moher! Thanks for reading. Slainte!

Titanic and Finishing Up Belfast

I am behind on the blog! Ahh! So much to wrap up! Saturday was our last full day in Belfast. 

Belfast's biggest claim to fame is Titanic and the White Star Line, which employed many of Belfast's men to build ships, not just any ships, but huge ocean liners like Titanic, Olympia, Britannica, and the Nomadic(the last surviving White Star Line ship, which is docked in the harbor and you can walk aboard). 

 

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The Titanic Museum was a sight to behold. The building itself was remarkable with its peaks and shiny outside. It looked like a giant iceberg...hah! 

The Titanic Museum was interesting. It had a lot of neat exhibits about Belfast and the city at the time that the ships were being built. Belfast was a booming city, full of people coming to work in the shipyards, the linen factories, the whiskey distilleries, and all of the other factories that were popping up along the River Lagan. This helped make Belfast  successful during this time. 

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A first class room. 

A first class room. 

The ship was built at the shipyard and once the skeleton was put together, it was floated down the river to the dry dock that was specifically built for Titanic. It was at the dry dock that all of the final touches were added, like the paint, the furnishings, etc, before it could make a few test sails to make sure it was built properly.

Second class room

Second class room

Third class

Third class

I enjoyed the museum, it had a lot of history of the ship and the passengers who died, but the one question that I was left with was, after they built the Titanic, the shipyards were still used. Most of them were destroyed during the wars and were bombed almost completely during World War II. They were rebuilt and used again, but the museum never touched on the shipyard in its future state. When I left the museum, Matt and I both wondered what about today? What sort of ships does the shipyard produce today? 

Titanic's life boats.

Titanic's life boats.

Titanic/HBO Studios, where Game of Thrones is filmed... 

Titanic/HBO Studios, where Game of Thrones is filmed... 

After we went to the museum, we walked down to the dry dock and pump house of Titanic. Passing by, we noticed the Titanic Studios/HBO, where Game of Thrones is filmed when they are not using Nothern Ireland's amazing landscapes.

Another shot, the main studio.  

Another shot, the main studio.  

The walk to the pump house was nice. Great views of the shipyard and the studios that Game of Thrones is filmed. Arriving to the pump house, it was so amazing to realize that this was the last place Titanic saw before she left for Southampton, England on her fateful voyage. 

Titanic pumphouse and dry dock. 

Titanic pumphouse and dry dock. 

Upon arrival to the pump house, Matt and I didn't really know what to expect. We watched a short movie on how the pumphouse and dry dock worked and the. We had to sign a waiver about treading on dangerous ground around hazardous materials...so, we signed and went about the tour of the pump house.

This pump house once operated Titanic's dry  dock, where it was floated down the river empty and then finished on the inside.  This opened the huge hate that allowed water to flow inside the dock to get the ship in place, then it drained and pumped the water out.

This pump house once operated Titanic's dry  dock, where it was floated down the river empty and then finished on the inside.  This opened the huge hate that allowed water to flow inside the dock to get the ship in place, then it drained and pumped the water out.

Walking to the dry dock. 

Walking to the dry dock. 

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While we were here, what amazed me was the fact that the entire ship dock was made by men, by hand. All of the bricks, digging, etc. 

The huge winch that dragged the ship into the slip...it was taller than me. 

The huge winch that dragged the ship into the slip...it was taller than me. 

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While we were walking around the dry dock we noticed two sets of modern staircases at the very end. It started to click why we needed to sign the waver...we could climb down inside the dry dock! 

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And, we did! It was an amazing spectacle. 

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Looking up towards the pump house... 

Looking up towards the pump house... 

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It was neat to be standing in the place that once had one of the greatest ships ever built in it, too bad she didn't make it across the sea... 

Afterwards, we caught a taxi to the other end of Belfast to the Botanic Gardens and the Ulster Museum, which was all about the Ulster nation.  Ulster people are native British/Irish in Northern Ireland.

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Victoria College

Victoria College

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Walked by the impressive Victoria College, established by Queen Victoria, and then we ended our day with pints at Crown Bar/Crown Liqour Saloon across the street from our hotel and dinner at a little hole in the wall, Darcy's, great food! 

Loved the atmosphere and the old gas lights they still use in Crown Bar! 

Loved the atmosphere and the old gas lights they still use in Crown Bar! 

Belfast was a nice city, however, Matt and I said we probably wouldn't have been able to spend two entire days in the city. We were glad to have made a trip to the Giant's Causeway. If we stayed in Belfast again, we would probably use it as a base for Giant's Causeway, since it is only an hour and a half drive from Belfast. 

So, from there we embarked on a grand journey back down to the Republic of Ireland in our little blue VW Polo, which I have come to love.  

Check back for another entry later about traveling by car to Londonderry/Derry, Donegal, and Sligo! Slainte! 

Giants, scones, a castle and Game of Thrones...Part II of Belfast/Antrim Coast...

After our perspective lesson on Belfast, we headed to the Antrim Coast and the Gaint's Causeway, a more fun part of the day...

Ballycastle coast, where Paddy's family has a caravan(trailer to us Americans). 

Ballycastle coast, where Paddy's family has a caravan(trailer to us Americans). 

Paddy was extremely excited to take us to Ballycastle, a seaside town on the Causeway because his family has a vacation caravan in one of the caravan parks near the harbor. He knew the area very well, telling us some family stories and sharing legends and folklore. 

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Padddy pointed out to us the mountain cliff to the right(see in the non-pano). That is called Fairhair. It got its name from a story about a woman who had gorgeous, beautiful fair hair. She was in love with two men, one who lived on the island and the other who lived in Ballycastle. Both men wanted to marry her, but she couldn't choose, so one of the men took her and was going to push her off the cliff, but in when he went to kill her, the other man went to save her, but ended up tumbling into the ocean off of the cliff with her, thus the name Fairhair.

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As we climbed further and further up the mountains, Paddy kept asking us if we were ok, and I assured him that my silence was just because I was in awe of the beauty surrounding us.

Causeway look out...down in the almost middle, you can see the rope bridge.  The tiny island out to the left is called Sheeps Island, small enough to feed 8 sheep, large enough to feed 9 sheep, but any past 10, then you have no sheep, as Paddy said. 

Causeway look out...down in the almost middle, you can see the rope bridge.  The tiny island out to the left is called Sheeps Island, small enough to feed 8 sheep, large enough to feed 9 sheep, but any past 10, then you have no sheep, as Paddy said. 

We finally got to our first stop, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. If you have ever looked up pictures or googled the Giant's Causeway, this place usually comes up. 

The bridge is owned and operated by the National Trust, much like a lot of heritage sites in Northern Ireland. It is thought to have once been a bridge used by salmon fisherman in the North Atlantic over 350 years ago. Over the years, the bridge has been fixed and replaced for visitors to cross over for a small fee and continue on their hikes across the ocean path. 

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The bridge goes 66 feet across and is 98 feet high above the ocean and rocks below. On high wind days, the bridge is closed to visitors, however, some fisherman are said to still use the bridge, as evidence by several boats anchored on the rocks and sides of the cliffs. 

Before reaching the bridge, you have to walk 2 miles along the cliff path, which to me was just a big anticipation builder. Since I am terrified of heights, I wasn't even sure I could cross. 

Beautiful views along the cliff walk... 

Beautiful views along the cliff walk... 

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Then finally, we reached the bridge. It isn't a straight shot across the bridge, ohhh no. There is an incredibly steep set of steps that lead down to the bridge first, about 60 steps, along a steep cliff, 100 feet above the ocean. The attendant at the gate told us to look straight ahead and focus on the other side. And that is what I did.

Made it across! Now have to go back.... 

Made it across! Now have to go back.... 

More stunning views on the cliff walk on the way back from the bridge. 

More stunning views on the cliff walk on the way back from the bridge. 

I was impressed with myself that I had made it across and not freaked out. The bridge is definitely not for the faint of heart or those afraid of heights. It did sway a few times, not going to lie, and about half way across I watched some people taking selfies(WHY)...but, it was a cool experience and I was glad I did it.

Another cool fact Paddy shared with us was that several scenes for Game of Thrones had been filmed along the side of the pathway. For about 8 weeks the crew set up a mock camp for a battle scene. Several spots along the Giant's Causeway have been used in the show, some spots even have markers for all of the fanatics who come to see the places it was filmed.

Smallest church in Ireland. 

Smallest church in Ireland. 

Next Paddy took us to the smallest church in Ireland. Don't ask me how to get there, it was down a twisty, turny road...

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The man who built the church, also built a house. The windows on the side were leftover portholes that were not used on the Titanic. Paddy was just full of fun facts. Paddy also took some pictures of us on our camera. Then he took us to Giant's Causeway.

A shot of another place they filmed Game of Thrones...when one of the characters is meeting his brother or son on the shores of the ocean...(I clearly DO not watch it)... 

A shot of another place they filmed Game of Thrones...when one of the characters is meeting his brother or son on the shores of the ocean...(I clearly DO not watch it)... 

If you know anything about Irish culture, even if they are Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland, they love their stories and folklore. How Giant's Causeway formed is one of those stories. To hear the story of Fin McCool is one thing, but to hear an Irishman tell you the story, well that is another. There is nothing like it.

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Giant's Causeway is located in County Antrim and is part of the United Kingdom, like all of Northern Ireland. It is 3 miles away from the town of Bushmills, where the famous whiskey was from. There are over 40,000 interlocking, hexagonal besalt columns all over the coastline.  

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Now, if you believe science, you would learn that the columns were formed by volcanic eruptions. If you are Irish, then you believe the myth and legend of Finn McCool. However, there are two different versions, depending on who you talk to. 

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Paddy's version went like this, "The story about Finn McCool and Giant's Causeway is a funny thing really, because there are two stories, and depending on how you look at them can be a little political. But I will tell you what I believe. Finn McCool was a mighty giant who had been threatened to a fight another giant, Brendadonner. But, when Finn found out that Brendadonner was much bigger than he, Finn didn't want to put up a fight, so he had his wife Oona dress him up like a baby and he he layed in a cradle. When Brendadonner arrived at the house to fight him, Oona answered the door and told him that Finn went to work in the fields and mountains. Brendadonner asked who that was then in the cradle and Oona replied that it is her son with Finn McCool. Brendadonner says well, if that is the size of Finn McCool's son, than what is the size of Finn McCool, and flees, running across the ocean to Scotland, breaking up the rocks and making the Causeway."(Irish are very long winded).

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So you can see the size of these columns... 

So you can see the size of these columns... 

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There was something magical about seeing these huge octagons made of rock rising out of the ocean. We walked out on them, but had to be careful since many of them were either wet from the ocean or getting worn from the hundreds of visitors who tour the Causeway daily. 

After the Giant's Causeway, we headed to Dunluce Castle. A huge castle ruin on a cliff side over looking the ocean. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. 

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In the 13th Century, Richard Og de burg, Earl of Ulster built Dunluce Castle. There. Already was a Viking fort that was built on the cliff side, and Richard added on. Then, according to records, the castle passed into the hands of the McQuillans in 1513. Then the McQuillans who became Lords of the Route, lost the castle in a battle with the MacDonnell clans from Scotland.  After pledging his allegiance to the crown, Sorley Boy MacDonnell was made 1st Earl of Antrim by King James I in 1613.

The ruins of the keep. 

The ruins of the keep. 

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To walk to the main castle, we had to cross a bridge that goes across steep cliffs that plunge into the Atlantic. 

Walking to the castle, the winds were whipping and the temperature dropped. I couldn't imagine what it was like in the 1500s.  Brr!!

Bridge, looking back towards the keep and stables. 

Bridge, looking back towards the keep and stables. 

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The main manor house, where the Earl and his wife would have entertained guests. 

The main manor house, where the Earl and his wife would have entertained guests. 

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Looking through the window to the ocean. 

Looking through the window to the ocean. 

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I loved wandering around this place and picturing what it would have looked like when it was grand and mighty towering over the ocean. Sadly, due to erosion, portions of the castle have fallen off into the ocean. Many efforts recently have been put together to try to preserve what is there.

Guesthouse where important people would have stayed.

Guesthouse where important people would have stayed.

Views of the North Atlantic at every turn, reminding you that you were on the side of a cliff.

Views of the North Atlantic at every turn, reminding you that you were on the side of a cliff.

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I wasn't sure that Paddy could have made our day any better. He was a wonderful tour guide and every place we went with him, he knew someone and received warm welcomes and hugs from them all. One of the best parts of our tour was when we sat down and had tea and scones with Paddy right before we went to Dunluce Castle at a small little place called Wee Cottage, and Dunluce was right across the road. 

The ladies treated us to warm scones cut in half and stuffed with fresh cream and strawberries, while Paddy had a huge cup of tea. We chatted about his life, his work driving taxis, when he met Vince Vaughn, when he met Rihanna, who had been in trouble in Belfast for taking her top off in a field of a very conservative farmer's field for a music video, his love of Game of Thrones, and how there recently have been people trying to use his name to further their own black taxi tours.  

In their tours however, Paddy said they pick sides in the Republican/Loyalist desputes and paint unflattering pictures of the opposite side. It makes Paddy sad because it is part of Ireland's history, a history that a 25 year old trying to take a person to the murals in Belfast has no idea the depth of their stories because they did not live through the Troubles like Paddy and many of his other drivers have.

After wonderful conversation and AMAZING scones, Paddy took us to Bushmills Distillery, where Matt got to taste his favorite whiskey and he bought a bottle of distillery reserve, 12 years aged(not my cup of tea). Then it was home by way of the Dark Hedges. 

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BEFORE it was used in Game of Thrones, these 200 year old beech trees were planted as part of a driveway for the Stuart family to line their driveway to their country estate Gracehill House. It was intended to shock and impress visitors to the estate. Gracehill is no longer, and the house is used as part of Ballymoney Golf Course as their club house.

Our taxi against the Dark Hedges. 

Our taxi against the Dark Hedges. 

Paddy told us that it saddens him to see how much the hedges have changed over the years. Many trees have been cut down or branches have snapped, leaving gaps in what were once full and lush, twisting over the roads. Paddy also said a few years ago, he was doing a tour and his taxi started up the road and came upon Game of Thrones being filmed. In the shot, Paddy's taxi got caught on camera, and they had to refilm the whole scene. They sent Paddy a picture of his cab in the background, which he showed us chuckling.

All in all, ending our day on the Antrim coast was a wonderful experience. Getting to talk to Paddy was great. It was such a great thing to hear an Irishman's stories and thoughts on joining the Republic of Ireland and what that would mean for the rest of Northern Ireland. It was the best thing we did in Belfast, no question. 

When we got back to our hotel, later in the early evening, Paddy have us huge hugs and told us to contact him again and ask for him again should we ever return to Belfast, and if we do, that will be the first thing we do. Thank you, Paddy Campbell for making our Belfast experience so amazing! 

Then we had to have a pint at Crown Liqour Saloon, directly across the street from our hotel, so handy!

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This concludes our second day in Belfast. Had a wonderful time and met a great man. I hope we cross paths again someday. 

Check back tomorrow for blog post about our last Belfast day, Titanic, and more! Cheers! 

Meeting Paddy Campbell, black taxis, and The Troubles...Part 1 of Belfast

Belfast. 

Where do I begin? This post will be two parts. In order to sufficiently give you a proper introduction, this post on Belfast, will be two parts. So, let's get through the hard, political stuff first.

When we were relating our trip to Dubliners who asked us what our plans were on holiday, the responsed usually with the "Oh! Belfast! Go to the Titanic Museum!" Or, "Lovely Titanic Museum!" Then one day, our cab driver asked us the same question and his response was, "different, not like Dublin, darker feeling, not as cheerful".  

Driving into Belfast to the Europa Hotel. 

Driving into Belfast to the Europa Hotel. 

At first, Matt and I weren't really sure what he meant. Once we arrived to Belfast, it looked pretty, like any other city.  Walking around Belfast, it really is a beautiful city. It's not at all the size of Dublin, and has a very weird Irish/English mix of culture. It has a huge city hall, gorgeous architecture, with beautiful sculptures.

City Hall

City Hall

Both of us kind of knew about Belfast's history. I had learned in my European history class in high school school about the struggles with Catholics and Protestants in Ireland and how Northern Ireland continues to be a part of the United Kingdom.

What I didn't realize was how the struggles in Belfast, a beautiful city,( its people helped build the Titanic for peats sake!), are still very much a reality and not part of the past.

When you come to Belfast, it is a great place to base yourself in if you are planning to venture to the Antrim coast and Giant's Causeway. There are a few sights to see in the city, like Crumlin Road Jail, Belfast Castle, City Hall, and Titanic Museum. But, if you really want to get to know Belfast, the back story of the struggles this city has been through, then you need to take one of its Black Taxi tours.

Black taxis lined up waiting for customers. 

Black taxis lined up waiting for customers. 

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When you know you are visiting Belfast, like we did, we researched and researched Black Taxi tours based off of a recommendation from someone and watching Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. There are some who advertise that they are the Original Black Taxi Tour, but the only Black Taxi tour to take is run by Paddy Campbell. 

Mr. Paddy Campbell, or Paddy as he wanted us to call him, met us promptly at 9AM in the lobby of our hotel. He was very cheery and greeted us with warm smiles. He took us out to his taxi and once inside, he went over In detail our itinerary for the day. We were going to visit some parts of Belfast city and then head to the Giant's Causeway.

THE Paddy Campbell.. 

THE Paddy Campbell.. 

Paddy has been driving cabs for nearly 30 years after he returned from living abroad in Germany. He made it clear that while on his tour, he was going to point out to us places around Belfast that were and are important to the Catholic/Protestant conflicts as well as the famous murals that have been painted around the Catholic and Protestant areas in honor of the famous men killed or honoring the conflicts of the Troubles.

The first area we went to was the Protestant neighborhoods starting on the Shankill road. This was the beginning of our history lesson on The Troubles. The Troubles began in 1969 and is the ethno-nationalist conflict that arose from a series of problems that began years and years ago when Northern Ireland wanted to join the Republic. However, there were Loyalists who wanted to stay loyal to the crown and England, and this caused problems.

Mural on the Protestant side...Shankill Road...depicting all of the tragedies that occurred on the road during The Troubles. 

Mural on the Protestant side...Shankill Road...depicting all of the tragedies that occurred on the road during The Troubles. 

It is hard for me to put into words what happened in Belfast. I only really knew the general background information of what went on and what has caused two separate states basically. Matt equated it to our North states and South States. North would be Republic of Ireland and the South would be Northern Ireland during the time of the Civil War or even the Civil Rights movement.

Basically the Catholics were being given a hard time in Northern Ireland and down in Dublin at this time, the Protestants were being given a hard time. There were riots, businesses were bombed and seized, people were searched and detained, especially if you were a Catholic.  

Another problem was the internment of prisoners which is imprisonment without trials and the use of illegal interrogation that the British Army used against Nationalists(Protestants).

The opposing parties in the Troubles were republican paramilitaries(IRA), loyalist paramilitaries (the UVF and UDA, the British state security forces, the British Army and the RUC, Northern Ireland's police force), and political activists and politicians. There were than 3,500 people were killed in the conflict.

Memorial Mural depicting Jackie Coulter, a Loyalist(Protestant), killed in 2000. 

Memorial Mural depicting Jackie Coulter, a Loyalist(Protestant), killed in 2000. 

Many of these memorial murals are painted all over the two areas. Paddy told us that many of the people who he has taken on the tours ask him why they are commemorating a terrorist, but he doesn't agree with the term terrorist.  

Mural about the Battle of the Boyne...King William was a protestant, who over threw James II, a catholic. 

Mural about the Battle of the Boyne...King William was a protestant, who over threw James II, a catholic. 

These murals are on both of the roads, on the sides of row houses that line the street. However, these memorials aren't surviving, as the houses are being updated and torn down. 

Depicts the police forces formed during the Troubles. Pretty heavy stuff... 

Depicts the police forces formed during the Troubles. Pretty heavy stuff... 

Mural on Falls Road... 

Mural on Falls Road... 

Summer of '69(not a Bryan Adams song), was the summer that all of the riots broke out all over Belfast and Londonderry(Derry). Men, women, and children died. Several police and military force were killed.  There were hunger strikes as well due to the way both sides were being treated while imprisoned.

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The most famous of these hunger strikers was Bobby Sands. Sands was a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army and died while he was imprisoned at the Maze. Sorry to say, I did not takes picture of his memorial, Matt did with our camera. Bobby Sands lead the hunger strikes in 1981, and his death caused a new wave of IRA activity. 

Memorials are now being erected instead of murals as a more lasting tribute to all of the men, women, and children who lost their lives as part of the Troubles. 

Memorials are now being erected instead of murals as a more lasting tribute to all of the men, women, and children who lost their lives as part of the Troubles. 

This road is where black taxis would line up looking for work, however Paddy related to us that people were not going out of their homes or coming to Belfast. Taxi business suffered and were sometimes targeted in the acts of violence. 

This road is where black taxis would line up looking for work, however Paddy related to us that people were not going out of their homes or coming to Belfast. Taxi business suffered and were sometimes targeted in the acts of violence. 

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That's part of our Troubles tour took us to one of the walls that surround the neighborhoods on Shankill Road and the Falls road. After all of the violence, the government felt they should build "peace walls" to try to keep feeding sides apart. These walls cut through streets, sometimes making it impossible to drive through.

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However, unlike the Berlin Wall, these walls don't hold people in. They were never meant to keep people from going places, they were meant to keep Protestants out of Catholic neighborhoods and vice versa.  

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There is a gate that closes, in the Shankill side Paddy said it closes around 10:30PM on the Falls road side, 11:30PM. But, if you live in the Falls road side, you are able to access the main roads in Belfast. Recently David Cameron, UK's prime minister, has enacted a bill that will take the walls down in 2023. 

A bonfire being built. 

A bonfire being built. 

The last thing Paddy pointed out to us, which we had seen one when we came into Belfast, where these huge giant pallets stacked over ten feet high. 

Most were in a circular shape, with garbage piled high in the middle. Paddy told us that after all of the violence, to show peace, but really a way of silent protest, Protestants created a day of bonfires. The building of them begins a month before, not earlier, as the government does not allow it.

On July 12, these huge bonfires will be lit all over Belfast as a symbol of lighting the way for Loyalists and the crown. It is known as Orangeman's Day, a day for Loyalist Protestants to celebrate. Which also gives more meaning to the Irish flag. Green is the Republic, white is peace/neutrality, and orange stands for Loyalists.

What was supposed to be a peaceful celebration of Ulster culture, at times can turn violent. Many times the Irish flag is burned, there is a parade in Shankill, and the British flag flies all up and down the road. Sometimes Protestants will hurl bricks and bats over the walls into the windows of Catholic homes, resulting in many of the homes that border the walls to have huge metal cages around their windows.

The feelings of being Loyal to the Crown still run rampant in Belfast. And, it is incredibly hard for those who want a free Ireland. Paddy didn't tell us what side of the conflict he was on, but Matt and I figured it out, and before he left to head to the Giant's Causeway, he asked us what we thought. Needless to say, we guessed correctly.

While I can't say what Paddy is, I can say Paddy is for peace. He has a family that he is trying to support and if you asked him 30 years ago if he would be owning one of the most successful black taxi companies in Belfast, he probably would have laughed in your face. Paddy is now able to earn his own income and work for himself. His company now employs 20 drivers who all are responsible for taking others like ourselves on a history lesson and showing us that there still are problems for Northern Ireland and that it is as much of the past as it is their present.  

These conflicts have been going on up until the 2000s and while things have been quiet, Paddy says like anything, it can happen again. He referenced the police brutality I the USA and the constant battles in Palestine. Freedom is not a luxury and keeping the peace is something that has to be worked at and someday, Paddy hopes for a resolution that will be the better for Northern Ireland. 

So, if you come to Belfast, PLEASE take the black taxi tour with Paddy Campbell. It is not a disappointment at all. It will open your eyes and make you see a bigger picture of the world we live in and the people who are striving for a better place and the idea of peace and togetherness. 

We signed the peace walls...along with thousands of others...notably Bono and Rihanna.

We signed the peace walls...along with thousands of others...notably Bono and Rihanna.

My next entry will be happier, I promise! And, Matt and I stayed safe and Paddy was a wonderful tour guide, very informative and knew his history because he was there. 

Look for Part 2 of Belfast later! Cheers! 

Driving on the left requires patience, a good co-pilot, and a lot of gorgeous scenery to take in!

Yesterday we left Dublin(so sad...LOVED Dublin!), and we picked up our rental car at Hertz back near the airport. We had been worried about what type of car we were going to get, but Matt was excited to drive a different European model car like a Peugoet. But, low and behold, we got a Volkswagen. It was a Polo though, not available in the USA, which Matt was excited about. Somewhat like a VW Golf...a little smaller, but with a lot of kick.

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On the M1... 

On the M1... 

The drive from Dublin to Belfast is only an hour and 15 minutes, crazy to think that the Republic of Ireland is really that close to the north, still under United Kingdom rule and government. We did enjoy some historic sites along the way, which were very easy to get to and Matt was able to experience driving on the narrow country roads. 

First stop was the Hill of Tara. Hill of Tara was the high seat of Ireland's oldest kings, where they performed ceremonies and had their grand feasts, all in tunnels dug under the ground.

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All of the humps in the grass were once tunnels and caverns. 

All of the humps in the grass were once tunnels and caverns. 

The Prisoners Keep

The Prisoners Keep

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One thing I loved about visiting this spot, was all of the green, lush grass, beautiful scenery, and the sheep!!! There were tons of sheep roaming around, just munching on the grass. They didn't seem to mind us or the Hill of Tara. I also loved not having bus loads of tourists around, which, I know we are tourists as well, but there are tourists and then there are  tourists...

Parking lot at Mellifont Abbey...Abbey ruin in the back... 

Parking lot at Mellifont Abbey...Abbey ruin in the back... 

Our next stop in the area known as the Boyne Valley, was the beautiful Mellifont Abbey. Such a gorgeous place! 

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Mellifont Abbey was the first Cistercian abbey formed in 1142 by Saint Malachy on the banks of the River Mattock.  By 1170, there were over 100 monks living at the abbey. In 1539, the abbey was closed by Henry VIII. He gave the monks a settlement and sold the abbey to Edward Moore, who then turned it into a manor house. The abbey/house fell to ruin afterwards, being used as headquarters for William of Orange during the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. After it was abandoned, many of the towns people of Drogheda came to the empty manor house and would chisel the stones to be used for things in their town, leaving the place in ruin.

Model of what it used to look like... 

Model of what it used to look like... 

What it looks like today. 

What it looks like today. 

Chapel interior

Chapel interior

There is a small chapel still standing and a part of the monks octagonal wash house. 

Tiled floors...beautiful! 

Tiled floors...beautiful! 

Part of the wash house. 

Part of the wash house. 

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There is a lot of history in the Boyne Valley on the way to Belfast. We were heading there from Mellifont Abbey, when our GPS took us on a detour, but a good detour. We followed it down a road that turned into a gated road, which suddenly was open fields and old cannons...cannons?? It turned out, we stumbled upon the site of the Battle of the Boyne, a happy accident. 

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The Battle of the Boyne occurred in 1690, and if you ask some was the crowning start to Ireland's ongoing conflicts between Catholics and Protestants. The conflict was between James II of England and Scotland who was Catholic and William of Orange, who was a Protestant. William of Orange had overthrown James II of England in 1688 and had become William the III of England and Scotland. James II wanted his title and lands back, but to no avail. 

Gardens

Gardens

The manor house was built several years later, in the 1700s. But it features a huge English style walled garden and several walkways and paths all around the battle fields and surrounding grounds. 

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The battlefields were beautiful and very peaceful. There were several people out for walks on the various paths and having picnics on the lawn. If I lived in Dublin, it would be a great spot to get away for the day! 30 minutes outside of Dublin, and they had a tea room that over looked the gardens. I sadly, did not have tea. We needed to get on the road to Belfast.

I can't even try to put Belfast and Northern Ireland into this blog. The city's history warrants its own blog page. I will say this, our one cabbie in Dublin wasn't exactly wrong when he said Belfast has a different feeling to it...but at the same time, it is definitely a city worth visiting on your travels to Ireland. 

So, for now, I will leave you with the Boyne Valley and my new sheep friends! I am off to research our trip to Titanic Museum tomorrow! Cheers and thanks for reading! 

Last full day in Dublin

Yesterday was our last day in Dublin. It was a beautiful, sunny day, which most Dubliners we talked to were completely surprised and asked if we brought the sunny weather from the states. 

Walking away from Grafton Street the night before. 

Walking away from Grafton Street the night before. 

On Tuesday after we got back from Enniskerry we visited the Irish Whiskey Museum. At times, it was a little kitschy, but our guide was very informative and gave us a lot of information on the history and political aspect of whiskey. It was a lot more interesting than the Jameson tour actually. At the end we tasted four varieties of whiskey and learned how the Irish drink it. No ice. A dash of water is the acceptable way to properly drink Irish whiskey.

The always busy Grafton Street, much like New York's Madison Avenue with the high end shops and stores. 

The always busy Grafton Street, much like New York's Madison Avenue with the high end shops and stores. 

Then we grabbed a pint of Guinness(duh), at The Quays Pub in Temple Bar, full of tourists, but close to where we were going to eat dinner. 

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After our pints, I eventually got a Bulmer's Irish Cider, we headed to check out Dublin's craft beer scene. If you know us at all, you know that we LOVE and are avid drinkers of craft beer. We went to The Porterhouse, a craft beer pub that brews their own beer. It is a chain over here and has three other locations and one in New York. But since craft beer is a relatively new thing in Ireland, we gave it a try. 

Loved the copper mash tun as a bar table. 

Loved the copper mash tun as a bar table. 

Sampler. Three stouts and three others, a lager, an IPA, and a blonde. 

Sampler. Three stouts and three others, a lager, an IPA, and a blonde. 

The beers were pretty good. There were about three that we would have had a full pint of, but nothing really stood out. I guess we are just spoiled in America with our craftbeer.  

Christ Church in the evening... 

Christ Church in the evening... 

One thing that has been hard getting used to is, that it doesn't get dark here until 9:30-9:45PM, which has been great! But we're so used to 8:00PM as our evening time. 

On our way back to our hotel at about 10:00, we stopped at Murphy's Ice Cream, a famous Dublin spot where they let you try one or ALL the flavors as many times as you wish. After sampling a few, I decided on the Chocolate Sorbet and Kieran's Cookies. The girls working in the shop were lovely and gave us some tips on traveling to Belfast and what to see and do. 

Ice cream from Murphy's... 

Ice cream from Murphy's... 

The next morning we woke up early, had breakfast at our hotel, which had a great all-inclusive breakfast, and tried to fill in as much more of Dublin as we could. Dublin really is a great city. Not too hard to get around in, the people are so helpful and chatty too.  

Entering the Trinity College Library where the Book of Kells is kept... 

Entering the Trinity College Library where the Book of Kells is kept... 

Our last day took us straight to Trinity College to see The Book of Kells.  No pictures were allowed in the exhibit, BUT that didn't stop many other foreign tourists from taking pictures and SELFIES...with selfie sticks...ugh. After the very anti-climactic Book of Kells(two turned pages and THRONGS of people), we headed to one of my favorite parts of our last day, the Old Library.

No words. 

No words. 

The room was built between 1712 and 1732. It is 214 feet long and houses over 200,000 of the college's oldest and rarest books. 

Busts of philosophers and poets. 

Busts of philosophers and poets. 

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Many of these books are so old, that a program was started in 2007 where someone can adopt a book to have it safely preserved. Special UV protection blinds have been installed over the windows and the roomies temperature controlled to help save the paper of the books.  

Preservation room...workers carefully dust and clean each page. 

Preservation room...workers carefully dust and clean each page. 

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We sat for a it and enjoyed the quiet and the smells of the old books and paper. Then we walked around Trinity College campus again and stumbled upon the birth place of Oscar Wilde. 

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Then we headed to St. Patrick's Cathedral, also known as the National Cathedral. 

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Ladies Chapel, behind the alter. 

Ladies Chapel, behind the alter. 

Saint Patrick's Cathedral was formed in 1192 by John Comyn who was the first Anglo-Norman Archbishop who wanted to open a teaching church. However it was King Henry III in 1227 who built a majority of the structure that exists today.

Panorama of the Ladies Church.

Panorama of the Ladies Church.

After finishing our exploration of the church, we popped around the corner to John Fallon's Pub, way off the beaten path of the Temple Bar area, which we enjoyed. Fallon's was established in 1780, the woman pouring pints told us. We even had a simple sandwich and our pints were 9euro total! Cheapest so far on our trip! The bar manager was very friendly as well and gave us lots of advice about Ireland travel and what to do in Belfast. 

Next we headed to The National Museum of Ireland Decorative Arts. The museum is housed in old army barracks that were named after Michael Collins, decorated officer and IRA member.  

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The museum was full of artifacts that were relavent to Irish history. It was also exhibiting the history of the Irish's involvement in wars all over the world and the effects of the British Army. 

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This museum had something for everyone, war artifacts, a couple huge tanks, which Matt loved, old war artillery, Irish silver, gowns of fine Irish women, and other artifacts.

William Morris tapestry... 

William Morris tapestry... 

Michael Collins' coat... 

Michael Collins' coat... 

As soon as we were finished, we used the Luas train and our handy Leap cards to head to the place Matt was looking forward to most in Dublin, the place that makes the drink that is just as popular as Irish whiskey, Guinness Storehouse. 

Arriving at St. James's Gate... 

Arriving at St. James's Gate... 

Display showing the importance of water in brewing. 

Display showing the importance of water in brewing. 

The Guinness Storehouse tour was very exciting. It was five floors of Guinness history and memorabilia. It went through everything from the brewing process to the history of advertising. The tour was self-guided, making sure at the the end you got your complementary pint at the Gravity Bar at the end. However, before we booked our tour, I had been doing some research and discovered the very secret Connoisseur Tour.

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Guinness doesn't like to advertise this tour, they like keeping it private, and if you somehow discover it, then lucky for you. The tour is a one and a half hour tasting of four of Guinness beers; stout on draft(which is synonymous with Guinness), the extra stout, a Foreign Extra Stout, and their Brewer's project, the Dublin Porter. Not only did we get samples of them, but we got a history lesson as well. We learned about why each one was brewed and just how different Guinness really is. It is not black in color, which so many think, but it is actually a ruby red color.  All of this was done in a secret bar behind one of the big screen displays on the fourth floor. It even had a lock and push button access. I felt like James Bond.

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The lighted bar top shows you the true color. 

The lighted bar top shows you the true color. 

After we learned how to taste beer, we were then showed how to pour the perfect pint. We were given a demonstration, which at the end I learned that a majority of people pour Guinness out of the tap completely wrong. And, the cutesy little hearts or shamrocks that sometimes are drawn in the foam or head, is a BIG no no. So, after our guide demonstrated, we were then offered our chance to pour. Ladies first. 

My perfect pint in the background, a few sips out of it, of course! 

My perfect pint in the background, a few sips out of it, of course! 

There were only three other women in the private bar, and they weren't going. I wasn't going to be shy, so I hopped up and went to pour. I did great! I almost didn't make it to the top of the golden harp, but when I went to top it off, it was perfecto. It had the right amount of foam(head). But, before we could drink it, we had to let the pint settle. Another mistake people make when pouring. You have to wait to let the bubbles settle, that is what creates the head. Then, when it settles, you sip from under the foam, giving yourself a Guinness mustache. 

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Matt was a pro, of course. 

Matt was a pro, of course. 

Panorama of the Gravity Bar, beautiful views with beautifully poured Guinness! 

Panorama of the Gravity Bar, beautiful views with beautifully poured Guinness! 

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We had a lot of fun at Guinness! Definitely recommend the private tour! Not that much more than the regular tour and you get so much more!  

Arthur Guinness's house, right behind the brewery! 

Arthur Guinness's house, right behind the brewery! 

After our afternoon with Guinness, we headed to dinner at L.Mulligan Grocer. The pub used to be a neighborhood grocer in the 1900s, but since then has become an eatery and a craftbeer spot. It had so many craft beers from all over Ireland and the world.  

Craft beer from Kildare and Matt tried a Brew Dogs IPA from Scotland, and the TV show, Brew Dogs... 

Craft beer from Kildare and Matt tried a Brew Dogs IPA from Scotland, and the TV show, Brew Dogs... 

Our dinners were relish! The best dinner so far in Ireland. The food was all locally sourced from farmers in the area and was a new take on Irish classics. 

I had Chicken Kiev, stuffed with Irish cheeses, Matt had mussels, everything served with think cut chips(of course) and a really good garlic mayo dipping sauce. 

I had Chicken Kiev, stuffed with Irish cheeses, Matt had mussels, everything served with think cut chips(of course) and a really good garlic mayo dipping sauce. 

With our bellies full, we walked a couple blocks to catch the bus all the way back the the south part of the city to our hotel. It was a great way to end our time in Dublin. I was very sad it was our last day, and can definitely see us coming back and spending more time in Dublin. It as so much to offer and things to do. Everyone we met was wonderful and helpful and so proud to be Dubliners and Irish! 

So far, we have not experienced the wet Irish weather, but we are here for another week and three days. I know we are bound to hit some. So, check back on the blog tomorrow to find out how Matt did with his first time driving on the left side, rental cars, and driving to Belfast! 

- Cheers!