...constantly searching to find the best travel deals and places to visit. A never-ending quest for adventure!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Ireland Day 5 - Bray and Dublin

We took our time waking up knowing we were so close to Dublin and the surrounding area.  I took a quick pic of the map to show where we were...fun to be out in the country.

Rather than go directly into the city, we decided to try some antiquing before our planned activities in the afternoon evening (including seeing a show at the Abbey Theatre!).  After much research, Shannon found a desired place to visit in Bray.  So off we went to the seaside town. Unfortunately...we quickly discovered that the shop was closed. Of the permanent variety. Since we were already in town, we decided to visit the local church and again came away impressed with the overall architecture.

For lunch we decided on a local place, Ocean Bar and Grill.  We also were able to take some great photos of the Irish Sea since the rain decided to hold off.  The food overall was excellent.

Soon we were back on the road and needed to check in to our hotel before heading back into Dublin.  The place for our last night in Ireland?  Clontarf Castle.  The pics speak for themselves.

The rain and wind were back but we were not about to be stopped. We made one final trip to Penneys and then it was on to the show. The Abbey Theatre had a preview night on tap for the Bernard Shaw production of "You Never Can Tell", and we couldn't pass that up. An added bonus was seeing Nick Dunning in the cast (also well known for his role on The Tudors).  It was a hilarious show and we had a very enjoyable time.  To offer a quote, "Wherrrrrre's Finch?!"  (and yes, that is a small moat of water around the edge of the stage)

Afterward we took the 130 bus back to Clontarf and began our final packing prior to departure.  Hard to believe our fantastic trip was almost complete!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Ireland Day 4 - Belfast

The wind was strong all night again and when we woke in the morning, much of the storm had passed but it was still raining.  Our host recommended that we proceed back to Dublin directly and avoid paths to the northern cities due to poor roads and flooding.  Grudgingly we took her advice but decided on stopping in Galway city before heading back to the highway (Donegal and Londonderry will be on tap for the next visit). We made a quick drive through town and soon were back on the roadway for another longer driving segment.  I really enjoyed the driving, song playlists, and our conversations as we went along.  The countryside is very green and beautiful with many cows and sheeps.

Upon reaching Dublin we steered toward Belfast and soon crossed the border - surprisingly no major checkpoints along the main route.  Our primary goal for the day - the Titanic Museum.  I've always been fascinated with the Titanic and remember reading everything I could find on the discovery and history of the tragedy.  The museum itself contains many historical facts and background on the design and build, along with stories about the infamous night.  One highlight - the actual ship outline to scale in the berthing area where it was built:

We took our time exploring and it was well worth the visit. Before heading back to Dublin we decided on fish and chips for dinner, and found a local place which was quite excellent: The Famous Bethany.  More food then we expected and quite busy!

Our place to stay for the night was another AirBnb property, and this one was also exciting - a country farm location owned by Willie.  Located outside of Dromore and Bainbridge, we had to wait for directions in order to proceed since we didn't want to chance getting lost.  Because of spotty cell coverage, Willie came to meet us in town and we followed him out to the property and our cottage for the evening.  Nothing like a wood-burning stove on another cold night to wind down our day out and about.  The trip is flying by!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Ireland Day 3 - Killarney, Galway

I should have shared this link much sooner - it is our GPS tracking throughout the trip. Cool to see where we actually went!

The winds at Glenlohane whistled throughout the night.  We knew it was pretty bad weather and Desmond confirmed it in the morning.  Yellow flag warnings as you go further north.  We were not going to be deterred yet, so after a huge Irish breakfast with eggs, grapefruit, bread, and sausage, we were out the door (but not before Shannon spent some time with Desmond and the horses!).

The weather was poor but passable - we made stops in Killarney, Newcastle West, and Limerick. Unfortunately there just wasn't enough time to get to the Cliffs of Moher...the weather would have been too much and we just didn't have enough time to get there to see it.  We stopped and took a few pics along the way: An Augustinian Abbey, the Castle in Newcastle West, Bunratty Castle, and King John's Castle.  Much to our chagrin, most were closed or required prior arrangements in advance to visit which we found puzzling. Bunratty Castle wouldn't admit us at the end of the admission time and King John's Castle was closed for the entire month due to a special engagement - even the lady we talked to joked about being 'cheeky'!

The final stop of the day was our next AirBnb stay with Caroline just outside of Claregalway.  By this time the wind and rain were howling with pretty good intensity - part of the road getting out of Claregalway was flooded near the castle and down to one lane.  We decided to head out and find the place first before getting food.  And it was an adventure again!  We passed by it at least once but doubled back and found it in the dark.  I almost went through the door trying to shoulder it open, but once inside found our room to be very pleasant.  Our hosts warned us that due to the wind we might lose power and had a flashlight prepared just in case.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat in town at The Abbey - I love trying these local establishments for the food and people watching.  No traditional fish and chips on this menu - steak and lamb!  We opted for smaller appetizer plates and some wine...not a bad way to end the long day.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

More Blarney Pics

Thought it might be fun to include more pics from our walk around Blarney Castle!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ireland Day 2 - Kilkenny, Blarney, Glenlohane

Now the adventure will really begin...we weren't going anywhere without our rental car.  And driving on the opposite side of the road.  I had pondered this for quite a while before departure and knew it was going to be different - and in reality it wasn't bad at all (After the first few times around the rental car garage.)

We got up fairly early to get out and about.  I walked back over to Terminal 2 from our AirBnb and it did not take long to sign out the car from Hertz (at a very reasonable price for as many days as we had it).  And to our surprise, we also ended up with a pretty fancy car: a BMW X1!  Let's just say that the first few miles getting on the highway were quite the time. We tended to drift a bit to the left in the lane, but got the hang of it once we were a few more miles down on the major roadway.  Our first stop: Kilkenny.

Many of the towns we stopped in were amazing: small, easy to walk, and everyone very friendly.  While in Kilkenny our first site was Kilkenny Castle.  After we found parking, it was only a short walk to the grounds:

Unfortunately the tour times didn't match our schedule, so we chose to wait until next time to visit.  We did walk a bit more, though, and stopped at St. Mary's Cathedral where we had it mostly to ourselves. A kind church parishioner shared info about the statue of Mary, one of only a few known to not have her head covered.

To make sure we had enough time to get to Blarney, we stopped at a local cafe and grabbed sandwiches for the road: Kafe Katz.  They were quite excellent!

Blarney Castle was our next major stop and we were quite impressed with the overall grounds.  You can spend hours walking end to end, and we spent more time than we realized in several different areas.  Shannon was able to kiss the stone...huzzah!  And the rain/wind held off for most of the day, making our exploration easy.

We also stopped in at the Blarney Woolen Mills - a fantastic shopping complex where they hand-make many woolen wear products.  Most are quite expensive but we also found a few deals.

Our stop for the evening was one I was especially excited about - Glenlohane.  We found this place through the Princeton Alumni Magazine since there were PU alums in the family.  Secluded location, huge estate, what more could you ask for?  The GPS took us out into the country on the back roads and soon the rain also picked up.  Before we knew it, we were on a one lane dirt road out in the middle of the fields...where we soon were stopped by localized road flooding.  We climbed out to assess whether the BMW would make it through or get us stuck.  We were quite the scene...Shannon in the road middle, me up on the embankment.  Our decision: just gun it!  And success.  Glenlohane was only a bit more down the road and took a bit to find - one of the perks of staying is its seclusion and hidden nature.  Desmond welcomed us with open arms and we retired to his study for tea, double whiskey, and stories about the countryside.  An amazing place with so much history.  If you're ever interested in horses, fox hunting, or just getting away, you won't find a more magical place.

We hadn't made time for dinner yet, so Desmond made us reservations in Kanturk at a recommended spot called The Vintage.  Our time there can only be described as fun and with much laughter.  We had long chats with one of the owners (Pat) who wanted to know about us and our trip.  And we sampled much food, wine, and dessert.  A perfect end to the day!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Ireland Day 1 - Dublin/Arrival

Another adventure!  I've been looking forward to this trip for quite some time, ever since being asked to go along by Shannon, one of my best friends back in Milwaukee.  The lead up took a few twists and turns but all details were finally confirmed and we were off to Dublin via JFK.  One added bonus for this trip was having Exec Plat on American Airlines, which afforded the opportunity for upgrades to Business Class for both of us.  And wouldn't you know it...two seats confirmed!

We successfully enjoyed the trip over, made an easy 1:40 connection at Heathrow, and then took a short British Airways connector flight to Dublin.  Passport control in Dublin Airport took a bit of time, but fresh passport stamps in hand, we were off to find our first place to stay.  We chose AirBnb for several stays along the way - this turned out to be far more economical than trying to stay in hotels each day.  Exiting the airport we experienced our first taste of Irish weather...and it was literally washing us over.  Rain, rain, and more rain - on top of 30-50 mph winds.  We had only a short walk to our first place - Cloghranguesthouse in Swords.  Matt was very kind to meet us (we were a bit early on his watch but had confirmed a noon arrival...no matter) and our room was reasonable and efficient with tv and free wifi. It took us longer than we thought to find how to get hot water out of the shower...would have been a long start to the evening if we hadn't found the magic power switch.

After a quick refresher, we decided to venture out to Dublin and find Penneys. We were told the 41 bus was a close walk and would take us directly downtown.  Little did we know how cold and wet we would be by the time the bus arrived...or how long it would take to get there.  Soon we were off and made it to the central part of Dublin and a quick walk to Penneys.  If you're ready for a fun shopping experience, this is it!  Plenty of clothes and other articles to choose from. This picture shows us waiting for the bus and still in relatively good spirits despite jetlag:

We were famished after our shopping and evening in the rain, and found a very cool place to eat just down the street - Flanagan's.  The food was excellent and service was great.  Nothing like a few pints of Falling Apple cider on a rainy evening!

Soon we were back to the bus on Lower Abbey and off to our stay in Swords.  It didn't take long for us to pass out after a long first day of travel.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Vienna - Departure/Recap

Overall the trip turned out very well and weather held for the most part.  Visiting Vienna is such an immersive experience - the cobblestones, the small alleys and passages...all make for a wonderful time experiencing a city that is very welcoming.  Some takeaways:

1. Nov/Dec is an excellent time to visit Christmas markets - so many great things to eat!
2. The Park Hyatt Vienna is worth the stay (points are very reasonable) - the upgrade really made it special
3. Walking the city is just as easy as using the train system - very convenient and easy to visit sites a bit out of town
4.  The more popular restaurants need reservations - give plenty of notice to get the time you want

I really look forward to coming back!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Vienna - Saturday

The sun was out and shining for our Saturday adventure, and the subway didn't take long to get us over to a different part of the city and another national treasure, the State Opera House.  We decided a guided tour would be a nice way to view the entire property, and after a short wait and stop of a nearby coffee house we were off.  If only we would have had time to see a show!

Soon after our tour was complete, we had one more major stop: Schloss Schonbrunn and the famous Christmas Market in the courtyard.  It took us a while to walk through most of the major rooms and sections throughout, and at times it felt as though you were stepping back in time.  I enjoyed seeing the Imperial Apartments the most and much of the ornate furnishings.

Dinner for the evening was a true Austrian experience, Restaurant Ofenloch.  Another schnitzel try and we came away very impressed (and full).  We were lucky to get a reservation on such short notice - next time, we need to make sure to email plenty ahead.

One last stop at the Am Hof Christmas market and our day was complete!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Vienna - Friday

With just a few days in front of us, we had to make our trip count and see as much as we could fit in before our Sunday departure.  On Friday morning we set out for our first place: The Central Cemetery.

Now you might be asking yourself, why would we go there?  It just so happens to be the resting place for a number of famous composers who made significant contributions to music in a variety of time periods.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:

Our next stop was the Belvedere Palace and Museum - the museum boasts an impressive collection from a variety of time periods, but is famous for its collection of Gustav Klimt pieces including "Lovers (the Kiss)".  I couldn't take a picture of the art without having a guard come over and scold, but it was enjoyable to walk through each of the sections and floors.  The view from outside was also beautiful:

We concluded the evening by walking around the squares near our hotel and stopped in to St. Stephen's Cathedral, an impressive structure right by Stephansplatz. It didn't hurt there was another market nearby and cider to keep warm!

For our Friday evening dinner we scoped out a restaurant that was a bit hidden away from the main square, Brezlgwolb. So much history in these places, we dined in the the lower basement area and had some of the best Austrian white wine ever tasted.  It was so good I went back and bought a bottle to bring home...saving for a special occasion!