Monday, June 15, 2015

12 Days of Madness

With all the time we spent in the car and on busses and on planes and on ferries on our trip, we had a lot of time to amuse ourselves... So we made up various renditions of the Twelve Days of Christmas based on our adventures.

We have two versions for summing up the trip in general:

12 course corrections
11 doses of Benadryl
10 bottles of coke
9 service stops
8 English breakfasts
7 hour plane flights
6 bagpipers playing
5 million sheep
4 different countries
3 crazy tour guides
2 ferry crossings
1 giant bag of Becky's trail mix!

That trail mix saved us more than once. Meals were tricky some days.

12 hours of driving
11 trips to Carroll's
10 scenic pull offs 
9 days with sunshine
8 cups of cocoa
7 fights with Prudence
6 thousand pictures 
5 motorways
4 very full checked bags
3 fighting Irishmen
2 duty free cafes
And one suspicious solid metal anvil...

Oh, that anvil.... Still shaking my head about it.

And then.... There was the souvenir song...

12 pounds of chocolate
11 refrigerator magnets
10 Christmas ornaments
9 pieces of fudge
8 tartan accessories
7 Irish t-shirts
6 boxes of shortbread
5 Celtic rings
4 bears in kilts
3 Scottie dogs
2 highlander husbands
A mini bagpipe none of us can play

The bagpipe.... Hahahaha. I forgot about that. 
Great trip. Great memories. Starting the countdown for going back already!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Eitiltí Amach -- Departures

Thursday, June 4th
Dublin Ireland and Chicago, IL

Here's my last email from the trip!
First thing's first: the most mysterious Irish word in the world -- Ghrianghrafadóireacht. It's the word for photography, we saw it several times at the airport on our first day and today as well. Here's the thing: no one knows how to say it!!! I literally asked 5 Irish people at the airport and no one knows. We may never know. I may make it my personal mission to find out.
There's really nothing else to say about this. Leaving sucks.
It was an easy drive to the airport, less than 15 minutes! We said goodbye to Prudence and Declan (the Audi), and got on the Hertz bus driven by a Frenchman who helped us with our bags. Not sure what the deal is with the French in Ireland, but there seemed to be many.
Prudence saved our lives. We would have died twelve thousand times over without her.
Saying goodbye to Prudence and Declan was so rough. See our emotions?
Sniff. But we don't want to be Eitiltí Amach!
Sidenote: I love seeing the Irish on the signs. I should learn the language.
BUT HOW DO YOU SAY IT??? Longest word ever...
There was a loooooong line to get boarding passes at the kiosk, then we saw that the lines were split into flights, which was better. Then there was a long walk through airport to security where took things out to scan. That was annoying, I had so much stuff! 
We had to go passed all of the shops and food to get to US pre-clearance, where we did another security check with taking stuff out. Steph's mom packed a souvenir anvil from Gretna into her carry on and got buzzed for it. She couldn't find it forever in the bags, then started crying, so the nice lady said she would ask our flight attendants if they would hold it for get for the flight. 
THEN we got to customs (you can do US customs in the Dublin airport so you don't have to worry about it when you actually get in the states. Nifty!), put in info at the kiosk, and got our lovely picture taken (basically mug shots), then handed everything to the nice man who welcomed me back....while I'm in Dublin. Very odd.
We waited for Steph's parents outside of the area and I started eating chocolate covered cranberries. "I'm having chocolate covered cranberries for breakfast, no judging!" A lady walking by laughed and I gestured grandly and said "Thank you," which she really appreciated. I think I really brightened her day.
Finally we got to our gate, and we needed food. There was limited access to food on our side of customs so we made do. We went to the duty free shop by customs. Someone dropped a bottle of Jameson's whisky and it was a strong irritant, so we got to experience Irish whisky after all!
Ahhhh, Jameson's.... On the floor.... I could almost smell it. Kid you not.
Then..... I got a scone and cocoa for breakfast! Thanks, Ireland!
My last memories of the country of my heritage... And what delicious memories they are!
The sweet Irish lady that took the anvil came onto the plane and hand delivered it to us before we left Dublin and said "I cleared it with my manager, I didn't even tell the crew. Just hang onto it and don't tell anyone." Marilyn gave her a hug and we all laughed a lot, then she said "I need to get off the plane or they'll leave with me on board!" So awesome.
This flight was sooooooo long. Way longer than the first one. And there was a really annoying kid who kept running up and down the aisles trying to get people to play tag. Lunch was chicken and mashed potatoes (fake and gross!) but the crackers and cheese were good. Listened to music, listened to the Irish guys next to us, watched the insane child keep running up and down the aisles, pretending to stick my foot out to trip said insane child...
No! No, get me off the plane!
We pause our mourning to pay tribute to Skittles... They taste different over there. They taste like GOD'S GIFT TO CANDY LOVERS ALL OVER THE WORLD. You want to know what heaven tastes like? Go to Tesco and get the Fruits bag of Skittles. Devour. Praise the candy gods. Repeat. Okay, back to the trip.
Wait, is that ocean or sky? Oh man. That's trippy. Where's my Guinness? Right, I don't drink... Ginger ale, it is!
And guess what! We got ice cream! On an airplane! Blew my mind. Bonus -- it was pretty dang good! Then second lunch was a chicken margherita wrap and a rich chocolate sponge (aka a cake or brownie) that was SO GOOD. I like international flights!
Then we were back! We got our bags, took the train to the parking lot, and headed out! Driving on the right was weird, big roads are strange, and billboards are annoying. But hey, it's cheaper and we have really awesome bathrooms! Go USA!
Jet lagged, weighed down like nothing I've ever felt before, and pretending my heart isn't broken.
And we're wearing sweatshirts and fleece jackets in June... Because we don't know where we are. And we didn't have room in the bags for them, to be honest.
Middle of the escalator selfie!
Middle of the OTHER escalator selfie! And we bring it back full circle... The first selfie was on this escalator, as is the last. Sniff. We'll never forget ye, beloved Isles across the sea. Dinna fash, we'll haste we back as soon as we can, ye ken?
And now we are home.... Or somewhere... We're not quite sure. It's hot, it's humid, and people talk funny... I think we're lost.
Anyway. It's been fun sharing my adventures with you! Hope you've enjoyed them!
[And a post-recap note.... I know how to say that word now. Progress is progress.]

Saturday, June 13, 2015


Wednesday June 3rd
Belfast, Malahide, and Dublin, Ireland

It was a lovely, lazy morning at the B&B. Looked like it was going to be a gorgeous morning, absolutely no clouds. Of course, this is Ireland, so give it 5 minutes. 
We had a delicious cooked meal by the lovely owner Mariann. I had the soda bread breakfast sandwich, which had eggs, bacon (the thick Irish cut!) and sausage. SO GOOD. And of course, hot chocolate, which came in it's own personal heated pitcher that I could pour into my cup. Too perfect! I love Ireland so much.
Oh my gawsh, this was so good.... Ugh...
At breakfast we talked with a lovely lady from California who has been here in Ireland for 3 weeks with her husband and walked the ENTIRE Wicklow Way as part of a tour. That's 70 miles! She thought Steph and I were sisters, and also thought we were in school in the states. Hurray for looking like early 20's!!!
Our first stop of the day was Slieve Gullion Forest Park. It's just on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Little kids from primary schools were there on a field trip and workers were dressed up in medieval-ish costumes. It was a little confusing to find that the park had been turned into place of giants and fairies, little fairy villages in the woods... The kids had to start by doing the fairy magic before they could go on the trail, lots of hand motions and twirling and we were invited to join in. This was the Storytelling Park. The owner wanted to make it more fun for kids, so she commissioned artists to come in and create stories and bits and pieces to make the park magical and interactive.
The Giant's book of fairytales! So cool!
One of the park workers! She explained everything to us about the park, since we were confused. And she was also guarding the dragon eggs, so there was that.
I wanted to bring the girls here SO BADLY.
One of the houses in the fairy village!
It was beautiful and fun and we think brand new because there wasn't any information or price or anything. We had a blast and became about 5 years old again. We wanted to do the 8 mile drive but it was closed due to flooding and poor conditions. So sad.
Driving back was so pretty. Just Irish countryside. It was really nice when we crossed back into the Republic of Ireland from Northern Ireland because it goes back to kilometres which is what our car is in!
Next stop was Malahide Castle, one of the oldest castles in Ireland and the last one to have people living in it -- 1973! That is just crazy.
I have a thing for wisteria.... And Malahide had a lot!
Look at this place! People lived here? Oh man.
We had lunch before we started since the next tour was at 2:00. I just had a wrap (but it was a superfood wrap!) and a fantastic shortbread cookie bar with chocolate and caramel. And some apple raspberry juice by the family company, DP Connolly and Sons. So good! The business is doing well!
How cool is this??? And it tasted AWESOME!
After lunch we walked the walled gardens waiting for the castle tour. It was gorgeous and old and so peaceful. I got some story ideas from it.
These gardens. I want.
There was a little display about the history of the Talbot family (who owned the house) and the stories going back 800 years, one of which got turned into a poem, The Ballad of the Bride of Malahide by Gerald Griffin. Very sad and haunting!
Finally we took a tour of the castle which was interesting and full of history and had lots of original furniture and details. Malahide is full of cool stories and rich history. It's currently under a restoration process, which is awesome, and there was a lady there from the national gallery working on restoring a massive painting of the battle of the Boyne that will be taken down and hung in the gallery next year for the massive exhibition as part of the 100th anniversary of the Easter rising.
This was SO NEAT. I wish I could have stayed to watch her work longer to see the whole process.
Malahide, guys. Just...Malahide.
When you think castle, you think Malahide.
After walking the lawns for a little longer after that, we drove back to Dublin, checked into the hotel, then caught a bus down to Temple Bar, where tons of bars are and more random shops. We walked around and shopped the very last bit we could, amidst the crazy amount of people, and then caught a bus back, and had to stand the entire time.
Oh, the river Liffey... I just love this place.
We thought we were gonna die a little bit. But hey, dying in Dublin? Why not?
We had a light dinner down in the hotel bar. Light meaning I had french fries. And cocoa... gracious heavenly blessed days.... I'm never leaving.
Then the packing began. And wow it was hard! I was sweating so badly! Memo to me: buy less and bring bigger bags! But that's okay. As long as it closes, right?
I don't want to come home -- no offense -- but a break will be nice. We've been running around like crazy people and it feels like we've been here forever. And yet not long enough. I really love it here. A lot. Next time it won't be seven years between visits!
Now I just have to figure out how to drive on the right side of the road without a fancy navigation system to tell me which exit from the roundabout to take. We love Prudence -- aka the navigation system lady. She's our best friend and we would have died without her. Several times.
Maybe Rico will talk to me when I get back...but I doubt it.
Oíche mhaith agat! (Good night!)

Friday, June 12, 2015

Boats, busses, and Belfast

Tuesday, June 2nd
Cairnryan, Scotland, and Belfast, Northern Ireland

Greetings from Belfast!
Today was an early morning wake up, but a beautiful day. The room was cold, the bed was comfy, and the duvet was heavy and lovely. And I know you've all been wondering: The shower was awesome and there were massive towels, which were were fantastic. 
We had breakfast provided for us in coolers by the cheeky guys who run the Rhins, and I'll get to that in a moment.
We had to check in at the ferry pretty early, but it was super easy this time and very easy to find. We waited in line in our car lanes until they decided to load us up. Then we drove up into the boat and headed up to our reserved suite!
Good morning, Cairnryan!
Sniff. Bye, Cairnryan, you adorable place you!
Thar she blows! Or however you say it...
Our suite was basically a hotel room and we were on deck 10. Yes, 10. But to be fair, parking was on 5. And 6 was for crew only. It was easy to get up top to see everything. The motion of the boat was much smoother this time, but the waves were so big we could still feel it. It was a bit like being on an airplane. And bonus! There was hot chocolate on board with free refills! There was also a spa and a mall and a game room and a cinema on board. Stenna Lines doesn't mess around.

See? It's just adorable.
Then we got to breakfast from the bed and breakfast boys, which was....ham and butter sandwiches. Don't ask. Thankfully, they also gave us muffins, yogurt, cereal bars, and orange juice boxes. They were all sitting in a cooler outside of our rooms this morning. The thought was nice...
Once we got out to sea, the motion and waves started getting crazy. We went back up to the suite and napped, watched TV, etc. So cozy! We got a phone call to the room about 15 minutes before docking to get ready and head down to our cars. (The overhead announcements don't come on in the suites.) 
Driving off of the ferry was pretty cool, we took videos. The workers thought we were nuts.
I think this was just so cool, all the cars and lorries under the ferry...
Our first stop right from the ferry was the Titanic museum and it was amazing. Very interesting and sobering. Reading about the process to make it and the details of the lives of those involved made it way more real than it's ever been. And the effect it had on those in Belfast who helped build it and shape everything. The details of victims and survivors was hard to read. I found two Connollys on board. One survived, one did not. It was very cool to see the docks where it was built and launched. Also the girl who gave us our tickets apparently sounded like me when I do an Irish accent, so it seems I am Irish after all!
Titanic was build on the left, it's sister ship Olympic on the right.
Just a really cool place. It was launched right here after it was built...
Best sign ever. Well done, Belfast.
After that we caught another hop on hop off bus down by the docks. We love those! You can learn a lot and still get where you want to go and do what you want! We had a very entertaining tour guide again! Must be our good luck or something. His name was Ed and he was great. He had some really funny moments.
"There was nothing wrong with her when she left here! This is what happens when you give your boat to English captain, a Scottish navigator, and a Canadian iceberg. It was nothing to do with us."
"Everybody jumped on the Titanic bandwagon in 2012 when we had the anniversary celebrations. Everyone. If they could make money, they did. Look to your right, you will see a Thai restaurant. Check out the name. .... Thai Tanic. OMG." He actually said that last part! We about died laughing.
"If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask. If I don't know the answer, well I'll just make it up. I'm sure you'll be none the wiser anyway."
Stormont, the Parliament buildings of Northern Ireland. The only picture I took on the bus tour because... Well, read on and you'll see.
It was fascinating to hear about the struggles between Northern Ireland and Ireland, Catholics and Protestants. It was less about religion and more about how you wanted to identify yourself, as Irish or as English. Much of Belfast and Northern Ireland us still divided. They have separate schools and separate parts of town. There are murals all over the west side for memorials. It was so sad to hear about it. So much trouble for so long. Peace walls were put up around town to keep the peace in the 60's and were only meant to stay up for a few months but they are still up. Peace gates are still only open during the day, completely dividing the area. Very haunting, very how I imagine Berlin was back when the wall was up. Allegiances change from the Republic of Ireland tri-colors to the British Union Jack on the sides of these walls and gates. One side has started having Irish as their first language, the other is covered and filled with British flags and tributes to the queen. It has never been chilling to see a wall of tribute art to the Queen, but this time it was.
We learned more about the Battle of the Boyne, which was King William vs King James, and you already know about that. Dutchman, Scotsman, English crown, Irish battlefield. Whatever.
We got off to do a little shopping, then got back on a different hop on bus. That was hilarious.
Richard and Francis and Mark (all Irishmen) and Don (a Scot) fought over the troubles and different stories and what it was like. Entertaining and fascinating, and very loud with lots of interrupting. Then it became quite hysterical. They were so great.
Richard was our tour guide that second time. At one point, he asked us to stomp our feet to practice indicating that we would want to stop in case the button didn't work, and then said he'd "just put us through our sevens to be Irish dancers, and we could now officially call ourself as such."
We eventually got to our bed and breakfast, Maranatha House, and the door locked. We finally got a hold of the lady and she opened it up, it was really cute. We dropped our stuff off and decided to head up to Giant's Causeway an hour and fifteen minutes away. It's these amazing rock formations at the most northern tip of Ireland right on the coast, rumored to be man made and dated before the pyramids.
The Causeway! It was actually tricky to walk on...
According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant. The story goes that an Irish giant named Finn was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant. Finn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet. In one version of the story, Finn defeats him. In another, Finn hides from him when he realizes that his foe is much bigger than he. Finn's wife disguises Finn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When the giant sees the size of the 'baby', he reckons that its father, Finn, must be a giant among giants. He's scared back to Scotland, destroying the causeway behind him so that Finn could not follow. Across the sea, there are identical columns at Fingal's Cave on the Scottish island of Staffa. So there's that. Cool, huh?

It's a World Heritage Site and one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. We hiked along the rocks and the shore, took tons of pictures, and breathed in the glorious sea air. Absolutely spectacular and well worth the time and effort to get there.
Look at that! Just look at it! UGH!
Such a gorgeous place.
Sometimes nature is just spiritual, you know?
Definitely coming back here. Have to.

Just as an FYI... The causeway was ACTUALLY created by lava and stuff. Pretty nifty. But I like Finn the giant better.
Watch out for possible queues when driving... They happen a lot...
Then we drove back, repacked all of our stuff to try and make things got better, and now we're off to bed! We have separate rooms tonight, so Steph and I are in one and her parents in the other. And we get our own beds! Yay!
Tomorrow is another national park and a castle and back to Dublin! I can't believe we're almost done -- and I haven't found my husband yet! Guess I need to stay longer, huh?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

"It's a bit bracing!"

Monday June 1st
Edinburgh, Argyll, and Cairnryan, Scotland

Dia dhuit!
(That’s hello in Irish…)
Crazy, crazy day. But what else is new?
It was a BEAUTIFUL morning!!! The sun was up before 5 and the sky was so blue! People live here all the time?  We had a bit of a slow morning, got to sleep in until 7 and hit snooze twice. Thanks to a bit of Benadryl and natural exhaustion, I slept much better. Then the rounds of showering started, Steph and I turned on music and had a dance party to Sugar by Maroon 5 in our beds and then out of our beds and Marilyn thinks we're nuts, but it just felt good to move and dance, and we were so happy, and it's a beautiful day!
This was my "first thing in the morning" shot out of the window. Not fair.
Let’s discuss something before I go further in the details of today. We stayed at the Corstorphine Lodge Hotel just outside of Edinburgh. And before I tell you a good story, let’s discuss showers over here. The Ashling Hotel in Dublin's shower had no curtain, just half wall of plastic or plexiglass, and a massive drop to the ground. I almost died every shower. Then the Premier Inn in Manchester had tiny box shower in a literal water closet of a bathroom where you could sit on the toilet and shave your legs in the shower at the same time. THEN Corstorphine for two nights...where you only had the handicap shower head that wouldn't stay up at first and the pressure is like washing under a drain pipe or in the rain outside, and you turn it on with a button that says "start/stop”. It was ridiculous. Steph’s dad got it to stay eventually, but it was still like showering from a garden hose.
Breakfast was the same as yesterday, just some cereal and toast and yogurt. Pretty basic, nothing to write home about...not sure why I'm even telling you, then, but whatever.
ANYWAY. Then we got our things to start the day. We upgraded our car at the airport in Dublin before we left, thinking we would need the trunk space, and we were right. Now the trunk is having problems fitting everything but it always works.
Our first stop was just 20 minutes outside of Edinburgh, Rosslyn Chapel. It was beautiful. It’s used in The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown and showcased a bit at the end of the movie. We walked around with guides telling us about all of the carvings and important things. The crypts were so cool, they had the pictures used in the movie. The building is so old and has gone through a really neat conservation and restoration process.
COOLEST church!
It was awesome just to walk around it!
After that, we loaded up and spent time driving through Glasgow on the M8. They were very safety conscious there. There were light up signs that said "Use safety belts." "Drive efficiently." "Caution high winds." "Don't drive tired." "Check tire pressure." "Please drive safely.” From the car, it looked to be an industrial town but bigger than Edinburgh. It looked pretty cool, I wished we could stay. And they had excellent roadways. Probably the easiest time we've had driving through a big city.
I love Glasgow. Love.
I mean, look at this place! I am so spending lots of time there next time.
I bet they do, random building! Can't wait to find out myself!
After hitting Glasgow, we drove through Loch Lomond National Park and stopped for pictures. That was some truly gorgeous countryside. Lots of trees and wild flowers and there was snow on the very tips of the mountains.
Such a pretty drive!
By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes...
Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond...
We drove some more, but pulled off in the highlands at Argyll Forest Park because we had to take pictures. So windy, so gorgeous. Another middle of the street selfie, and probably the scariest one yet! But so worth it.
What are men compared to rocks and mountains?
Is there any felicity in the world superior to this?
I adore this place. Obviously.
Argyll Forest Park, everyone. Go there.
Then we FINALLY went to Inveraray Castle and the house was amazing! It was used in Downton Abbey as a house they visited with Rose’s family, and it was spectacular. They are very proud that of being the head of clan Campbell so there were a ton of Campbell clan stuff. There was also a touching tribute to the highlanders that fought in WWI. 
I mean, really??? People live here?
And they see THIS every day?
And walk around in this???
Inverarary might be the most perfect castle on the planet.
We had a lunch of a toastie sandwich of cheese, tomato, and onion, and a homemade scone with jam and cream. AMAZING. I love the food here.
After lunch, we walked the the rain, which felt very Scottish! So gorgeous. But SO COLD. We were freezing and wet so we didn't stay as long as we normally would have. We were very grateful our rental car has seat warmers!
It's a fair prospect...
A quiet little field of bluebells.
And the most adorable little bridge in the distance!
It was a rainy drive back towards Glasgow until we split off for Cairnryan. Way too many lorries [aka semi trucks] on the road!
Hi, Scotland. Nice to meet your usual temper. Still love you.
Something interesting about our fancy Audi car is that we get traffic updates through the navigation system when nearing major cities, cutting off whatever music is playing. And it is always very thorough on the radio stations, no matter what city. So cool and very helpful!
The M8 was taking care of us again. "Caution surface water." "Congestion after J27." Flashing indicators of reduced speed. "Queue on M8 (E) after J22." 
There was LOTS of Glasgow traffic, thanks to weather and rush hour. Not as bad as our traffic, though, for some reason. We discovered that Glasgow has an IKEA. I've decided that Glasgow is my favorite city that I've never stopped in. And we saw the stadium for the Rangers FC there. Maybe I’ve found a soccer team to support, finally.
Sniff. GLASGOW!!!
After turning off of the M8, there were only small towns and very sporadically. The little town of Maybole had signs that said "Haste ye back." And then the rest of the small towns did too. So cute.
Such cute countryside. And random ruins. Wait, what?
Awww, I love you too, little Scottish town. I WILL haste me back!
Oddly enough, one time we saw a sign alerting us to otters. So far we have seen signs for sheep, deer, badgers, squirrels, otters, children, elderly people, disabled people, and a man on a horse.
Driving along the western coastline was incredibly beautiful. And then the sun came out. It was amazing. How can a small country have so much beauty??? We decided Scotland is middle earth. There is even a town named Lothian that sounds like elves live there.
After what seemed like forever, we stopped at the most awesome quaint little bed and breakfast ever. The Rhins of Galloway bed and breakfast. Cairnryan is a teeny tiny and adorable town. This county is just perfection! We went shopping about 5 minutes away in the comparative metropolis of Stranraer at a Tesco and got some light stuff of wraps and fruit for dinner. And chocolate.
The shore and the sky... UGH.
And then the sun came out! Breathless...
Cairnryan is adorable. The end.
The Rhins of Galloway B&B. So cute!
The view from my window. WHAAAAAT?
We just got back from a walk along the shore, which was very rocky, but so stunning! The sun was setting and two large ferries were pulling into port nearby, and we were in the middle of nowhere… Windy as all get out and really cold, lots of waves, but that didn’t stop me from putting my bare feet in! We’re on the shore of Loch Ryan here, which feeds right into the Irish Sea. So cool!
This is just stunning. UGH.
So cool, so creepy, so awesome!
I could get used to this.
Tomorrow we get up SUPER early to catch our ferry to Belfast, but we have a private cabin, so it should be fun. Stay tuned for how showering goes here at the bed and breakfast. I’ve checked it out a little, and it looks promising.
All in all, a very windy, cold, and Scottish day. And I loved every minute!