Sunday, September 29, 2013

In a nutshell

I believe we all agree that we tried to see too much in a short period of time. We always seem to do this and have not learnt yet. We probably never will.

The only rationale I can come up with is just in case we never get back, we need to make sure that we see everything we wanted to see.

We need to be more conscious the next time and perhaps even look for a car with a driver, who would know the roads and we as passengers could enjoy the travels and the scenery.

I enjoyed the availability of WiFi everywhere including in most restaurants. In general Scotland appeared to make better use of technology than Northern Ireland or the Republic.

The people were extremely helpful to us every place and made the trip even better. I have to admit I liked the people in the Highlands the most, their friendly helpful and smiling attitude, as they desperately tried to simplify the directions so we would not get lost again.

All in all it was a great trip even though we didn't see Nessie or any Leprechauns.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday 9/20 Dublin - O'Hare - Home.

The B&B was very comfortable, we had a room in the annex. It was well appointed and all the essentials were there.

The only problem I had was being able to connect to WiFi from the annex but the main house is just next door.

Went to the main house to meet up with Dan and Trish and have breakfast. The breakfast was a large spread as always and the coffee really hit the spot.

The family from Australia was just finishing up, they were going to Newgrange this morning. Nora came and chatted with us about the problems we had with the Orley House. I felt she was a bit anxious about what we would say about this place. It would be all good of course, except the weak to non existent WiFi in the annex, but that's just me.

A bit later Jim came to chat, he is a mechanic for the local mine. He mentioned that they use Atlas Copco equipment and it was the largest lead and zinc mine in Europe.

Pretty soon came back to the room and got ready to leave for the airport.

Left the B&B, Jim talked with the road crew in front of the house and helped us make the right turn we needed to make.

Arrived at the airport without any problems and turned our rental car in. We were happy to get rid of it, it was very cheaply built and had way too many little but aggravating problems.

We didn't really have very good luck with our rental cars this time around.

Checked in, went through general security and decided to have Burger King for lunch to put us in the right frame of mind for Chicago.

The WiFi, although flaky is free, so time to catch up with real world.

Boarded the plane, AB 330-300 St. Aiofe on time.

Flight was uneventful and the cabin crew was pleasant. We landed on time at around 6:10 PM.

Went through customs and immigration and got our luggage and hoped to get on the 7:20 Coach USA bus.

The bus came on time but for some unexplained reason it waited 40 mins before letting us get on and get started. We left at around 8:15, got stuck in Kenosha and finally got to the terminal and then drove home.

It sure felt like it took longer to get from Chicago to home than from Dublin to Chicago.

The ending wasn't perfect but it by no means diminishes the fabulous memories of the trip.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thursday 9/19 - Drogheda Area

Went in to have breakfast and a pleasant middle aged man served us breakfast and tried to ease things by giving us directions to the various attractions around the area.

He warned us that Newgrange was the most popular tourist attraction and we will run into huge bus loads of tourists if we are there later than 9:30 in the morning.

There wasn't any way that we could be there that quickly so we decided that we will take our chances with the tour buses.

Newgrange is passage tombs from around 4000 BC. It was very intriguing. There is a passage that is aligned in such a way that sun light came in and lit up the passage and the chambers on winter solstice and a couple days round it. The guide gave us a demonstration of this unique phenomenon and it was really neat.

We had a quick lunch at the cafeteria in the visitor's center and went on to our next stop.

We arrived at our next stop the Battle of the Boyne site. This was kind of a disappointment for me but glad we stopped.

On to our next stop Monasterboice. This was a great site with the high crosses. Apparently there are three high crosses and we only saw two. The two that we saw were very impressive.

Our next stop was The Mellifont Abbey, we didn't spend enough time there but there are lots if ruins to investigate.

We then proceeded on to the Meadow View B&B in the town of Navin. This was a beautiful B&B with a helpful and smiling hostess Nora, we all wished that we had stayed here for 2 nights.

This probably is the earliest we checked into a B&B around 4 PM. The proprietress, Nora had tea, biscuit etc laid for us and another family that came in at around the same time.

We chatted with the other family for a bit. They are a family of four from Australia, with two extremely well behaved and personable young boys. The man is originally from Ireland and they live in the suburbs of Sidney now.

Nora recommended the pub down the street, the Round O and we decided to walk to it. It was nice to have a leisurely dinner and still be back by 8:30 PM. The other family was also at the same restaurant. The food was tasty and service friendly. I decided to get a glass of Guinness for my last night, I can't truthfully say I liked it.

Finished packing and went to bed early.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wednesday 9/18 - Bushmill to Drogheda

When we walked over for breakfast, we saw a gorgeous full rainbow behind the B&B.

After breakfast we packed up and Left Valley View B&B rather reluctantly, we really enjoyed our two nights here. Valerie was so wonderfully, helpful, and friendly.

Shadow wagged her tail goodbye but would much rather have jumped in the car with us. She loves to play but unfortunately no one plays with her or has time to.

She keeps bringing her stick over to the guests with the anticipation of someone playing with her. We felt sorry for her but they do run a B&B so I guess it isn't easy.

We started working our way towards Drogheda taking the Causeway Coastal Route.

The left front tire blew out in Ballycastle and it was beyond repair. No one had that tire in town and we had to drive back to Ballymoney. We asked for directions to a tire store and found it without any problems.

It was the nicest place with super efficient mechanics that were very helpful and friendly. They changed our new tire and checked the other three in the shortest possible time. The manager came out and offered us coffee while we waited, which we politely declined.

One of them helped me pick out the best route back to BallyCastle.
Pretty soon we were back to Ballycastle and making our way down the beautiful coastal route.

Every turn revealed something new and wonderful.

We stopped briefly at the Walled Gardens, I was intrigued by it because it reminded me of The Secret Garden, a children's book I still love and enjoy reading.

We proceeded down the coast to Belfast, with more beautiful scenery and another rainbow.

The roads got pretty confusing shortly after Belfast, apparently M1 south becomes A1 in Northern Ireland, and the only M1 goes west. As has been the norm we took the wrong road and got off at the nearest exit after we realized it.

We stopped at a gas station/grocery store and a wonderful lady (we think she was an angel) told us that we should just follow and she would lead us to the freeway going to Drogheda. She took us through many narrow and winding streets and we kept talking about how much out of the way she must be going for us.

When she stopped and gave us the final directions, we thanked her profusely she said she visits her children in North Dakota and Alberta and knows how it feels. She said many people in the US and Canada have helped her and wanted to return some of the favor. What a wonderful stroke of luck.

We noticed that A1 south changed back to M1 south after we entered the Republic.

We managed the rest of the way to The Orley House easily enough. A smiling, seemingly sweet and innocent older Lady came to the door as soon as we pulled up. She introduced herself as Mary and asked if we had any problem finding the place.

We were all ready to love the place spend the two nights without having to move our luggage around.

About half an hour later, Mary came back with the next day's vouchers in hand and said we only had reservations for one night, Trish brought out her paperwork that verified we had it for two nights and also the SMS from Brenda two days back assuring us that our reservation was in order.

She went back and came back with a different story. We called CIE and they were not much help. There was nothing to so but have to move again for our last time.

This is definitely a first and hopefully an isolated and last time. We have never had a B&B not honor a reservation in all our travels to Ireland this time and previously.

Went to dinner at the Black Bull and the server tried to help us get another B&B in town but they were booked. They were extremely helpful and nice and the food was very good as well.

Came back and re packed. We never did see Brenda, whose name is on the B&B booklet as the proprietress. The whole thing is quite suspicious, we felt that they got a better offer from the golf tournament happening in town and bumped us. Oh well!!!!!!


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tuesday 9/17 - Bushmill.

Got up late to a little better weather than yesterday but still windy and drizzly.

After a hearty Irish breakfast we started our site seeing.

Armed with directions and maps from Valerie, our first stop was the Dark Hedges.

Very intriguing array of sycamore trees planted by the Stuart family.
From there we went to the Balintoy and then on to the smallest Church in Ireland in Portbradden, St. Gibban's.

An eccentric man, educated in Princeton lives next door and we had quite an adventure interacting with him and his boulders.

He later turned out to be the owner Reverend John McConnell Auld (also known as Con Auld), who, among other endeavours, is a local author and former mayor of North Down.

We stopped for lunch at a cafe in Coleraine, run by two young men who were very pleasant and helpful. We were having problems unlocking our car with the remote and there wasn't any visible signs of a manual key hole. They looked as well and couldn't find it but they did give us the phone number of the nearest Hyundai dealer. Apparently you have to pry off the stationary portion of the door handle with a sharp object to get to it. Remind me never to get a Hyundai.

I got my latte to go and processed on to the ancient Mussenden temple.

It was pouring rain and a long climb, I decided to skip going up to it and stayed in the car.

This was the west most point and from there we worked our way back to the Giants Causeway, hoping that we will catch it at sunset and the weather clears up.
Our next stop was The Dunluce Castle.

I loved the castle, it was very well preserved and looked like picture postcard view. The sky had started to clear up and we were hopeful of our visit to the Giant's causeway.

We finally got there and managed to get the last bus going down to it. It was every bit worth it and I am very glad to finally see this after 3 tries. The sky had started to clear up just enough to put a tinge of color and it was gorgeous but again, my pictures don't to justice to the beauty.

The Giant's Causeway is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. It is located in County Antrim on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland, about three miles northeast of the town of Bushmills. These are rocks are basalt, which naturally cooled to their hexagonal crystal shape.

This happened before there was an ocean there.

We didn't get to spend too much time since we had to catch the last bus going back but just seeing it was so worth it for me.

We stopped for dinner at Tartine Distillery Arms, somewhat of a snooty restaurant. They took our orders prior to getting us a table but never followed through and kept us waiting for way too long. One of us had to get up between courses and ask for the next. I did have excellent lamb shank, so soft and juicy.

We finally got out of there two hours later. Met a three women group and one of them went to Marquette, small world.

Came back and retired for the night.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Monday 9/16 - Letterkinny to Bushmill

It was nice to be able to sleep in a bit this morning. We had our usual full Irish breakfast. Eugene and Ann came out to talk to us, such a friendly and helpful couple.

They gave us couple more maps on Derry and the Giants Causeway. This was by far the best facility so far.

Our first stop was the ruins of the Round Fort. There has been a fort of some sorts since 1400 BC

The view of the ocean and the waves was beautiful but still too windy and drizzly to stay out for too long.

Pretty soon we were on our way and decided to go to Malin Head instead of directly to Derry.

This was yet another beautiful coastal route with spectacular views of the crashing waves which my picture taking ability doesn't do justice to.

There was a watch tower at the top which had been used as late as WWII. This must a popular biking area, we met multiple groups on the way up and at the top.

Shortly started on our way back to Derry and stopped at The Point Inn for lunch before entering Derry.

We found the Walls easily enough and parking was easy. It was still windy and drizzly but I did walk on the walls for a bit. It was a neat feeling of being a part of history.

We left the place shortly and due to the weather decided on taking the direct route to our B&B, The Valley View B&B, instead of the Giants Causeway Coastal route that we had planned on earlier.

The B&B was easy to find and we were greeted warmly by Shadow, the golden retriever and then by Valerie our hostess for the next two nights.

We were in the annex, where her mother in law lived on the ground floor and we had two rooms upstairs. Our room was huge, it had one Queen and two singles, with lots of space to move around and windows on two sides looking out on tranquil pastoral scenery.

A slight disadvantage of having to go to the main house for wifi, other than that this was wonderful specially since we were staying for two nights.

Valerie gave us information on restaurants in Bushmill, I was surprised that it was a good 15 mins away but the drive was nice.

We chose to eat at the Smuggler Inn more for the name than anything else. The restaurant was located quite a bit outside of town towards the Causeway.

Trish and I had the steak casserole which is the closest thing to Irish Stew that we have had on this trip. It was very good.

Came back and sat in the living room for a bit and retired early hoping for a better day tomorrow.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday 9/15 - Sligo to Letterkenny

We are a little suspicious of the housekeeping in this B&B. She had both the rooms made in record time and we didn't see any soiled linen piled on the floor as is the norm, wonder if she just tidies the sheets and not replace them.

We decided to brush that thought out of our heads, she was a pleasant enough person and the breakfast was good, so why worry about the "what ifs".

Left shortly after breakfast towards Donegal, we finally get to find our what people get all misty eyed and say "ah Donegal".

Donegal is certainly beautiful county specially along the coastal drive. At every turn there was beautiful scenery all around us.

The highlight was Slieve League, which are the highest cliffs in Ireland much less famous than the Cliffs of Moher but three times higher.

The weather was blustery with gale force winds and the Atlantic Ocean crashing on the rocks was something to be awed by.

Only Sudip and Trish braved the weather to go out of the car to take pictures, they are the true photographers or Nat Geo photographers as Dan called them.

The scenery was gorgeous all around us but very hard to enjoy due to the pelting rain and the gale force winds.

We left the area and decided to cut short our coastal route due to the weather and headed for Letterkenny where we were going to spend the night at Eugene & Ann's B&B.

We found the place easily enough and were greeted by a smiling Eugene. The rooms were large and well appointed, complete with WiFi and Eugene extremely helpful. He recommend the restaurant Yellow Pepper in town which was a short drive and an excellent choice.

We were all happy with our site seeing even though it had to be cut short due to the weather.

Made our plans for the next day and retired for the night.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Saturday 9/14 - Limerick to Sligo

Had to get up at 5:45 AM, we have a long drive ahead of us.
Our plans are to drive to Ballybunion, where Trish's great grandfather was born. We will be looking for the cemetery where the old Church was. We might also drive around town time permitting. From there will be driving on to Sligo which will be our stop for tonight.

We left on time and proceeded on to Ballybunion without losing our way. The remains of the Doon Church was easy enough to find but cemetery took a few stops and asking passersby. It was at the south end of town. Trish found some information that would help her get further on her ancestry research.

We stopped at Foynes for lunch, a friendly little village. The weather has held up very well so far. We called for reservation at B&B, and were starting to get panicky as the first 4 said that they had nothing available. Finally found vacancy at a B&B that was quite a bit out of town and rather difficult to get to.

We went passed it and couldn't find it even after further direction by calling the B&B. Finally our hostess Mary Mcgoldrick told us to stay where we are and she came an got us.

She was very pleasant and helpful but appeared distracted.

We discussed tomorrow's route and had to change our mind to go from Ardara to Letterkinny instead of to Dungloe where the only CIE approved B&B didn't have any vacancy.

Mary had a list of recommended restaurants in town but we decided to not go to far and eat the local pub, Molly Fulton instead.

The food was edible but not the greatest, the server had an attitude. In all fairness, Mary had somewhat warned us about it.

Came back tired and retired for the night.

Tomorrow we go to Donegal, Trish and I are both amazed how close we came to it the last time.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday 9/13 - Edinburgh to Shannon

We woke up to a cold drizzly morning, got ready and went to breakfast. I decided to skip the sausage and bacon and have the oatmeal and a couple of poached eggs.

The weather was still drizzly and we couldn't decide whether or not to go to the airport early or wait at the hotel.
Fortunately the weather cleared up and we decided to walk to the Princes Street Gardens.

On the way there was a great view of the castle but rather difficult to photograph.

The Princes Garden was beautiful and the flowers were colorful.

We walked around for awhile and made our way back to the hotel, relaxed in the library until it was time to leave for the airport. The taxi arrived right on schedule at 1:00 PM. It was an authentic black taxi which was neat.

We got to the airport around 3 hours ahead of time and found out we couldn't check in for another hour. We went to Costa Coffee, the same place where we had breakfast on the way in.

I had a scrumptious lemon tart with the perfect latte.

Pretty soon it was time to board the aircraft, ATR 72-500 the same type of aircraft as the one we came on. I thought the Pilot's name was Katie Hogan, but there is some dissension amongst us on that.

It was a smooth and uneventful trip with cloud cover under us most of the way. The clouds cleared up as it got closer to Shannon and we could see the emerald green below.

We landed ahead of time, collected our luggage and went to the rental car terminal smoothly and quickly. Our car is a diesel Hyundai, which is so much better than VW we had in Scotland. The luggage fits a little tight but we can manage.

We were on our way soon and following the road signs to Limerick and then following my GPS to the Savoy hotel was a piece of cake. I am beginning to think navigating/driving in Ireland may not turn out to be as harrowing.

Checked in to our hotel, it is very a nice hotel, the availability of free WiFi everywhere in the hotel was definitely a bonus. We freshened up and went to the Hamptons next door for dinner.

Dinner was very unique, the dish names were familiar but all tasted a bit different. I had the French Onion Soup and the Bang Bang Chicken both were excellent, specially the chicken.

It got pretty late so we retired for the night soon after.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Thursday 9/12 - Edinburgh

Had a leisurely breakfast this morning. The weather doesn't look too bad and certainly much warmer than yesterday.

Our plans for the day, include the Edinburgh Castle and using the site seeing bus tour courtesy of Daryl and Adeo Travels.

We proceeded on to the castle, each view of it as we approached, was grand and looming.

There were free guided tours and we availed of this opportunity. The name of the guide was Ewen and he was full of information and as always enjoyable.

In the grand room we came across James (?) Strachan giving a kilt demonstration. It turned out to be much more than that, it was a lot of history told to us in the typical humorous way. He gave the kilt demonstration on a young lad from Argentina who was a real good sport about it.

We decided to catch lunch before heading into town, and went into the Redcoat Cafe. We all wanted to choose the Jacobites but no such eating place.

The Edinburgh Castle is very impressive and definitely a must see.

At the bottom of the hill was the lonely bagpiper that we all wanted to hear and see. Granted it was not the Highlands but this will do very well.

We walked over to John Knox's house with the help of my GPS and Trish's map. I didn't have any knowledge of him but it is sure interesting history.

We finally found the stop for our City Tour bus after much walking only to realize later that there was a stop right in front of his house.

The city tour proved to be very interesting with impressive historical sites all along the 1 hour loop tour.

Went back to our hotel to rest, catch up on my blog, freshen up.

We had decided to have dinner at the Bonham Restaurant 2 doors down from us. We noticed their menu on the way back and thought it to be interesting.

It turned out to be completely false advertising. They had a very limited menu and were offering a 3 course dinner at €22.5 as the only choice. We left the place rather annoyed and decided to just go to The Larders again.

The food was good but somehow the experience was not as great as last night, perhaps because Alice was not the there the entire time. I ordered a local beer and Alice had recommended the Joker Pale Ale, not a beer drinker but had to try it. I would say once was enough!

Walked back and went to bed early. We leave for Ireland tomorrow with great memories of Scotland, the scenery and specially the people, how wonderful and helpful they were.

I have to mention Adeo Travels and specially Daryl. Adeo was the agency that streamlined our tour and made all the reservation within Scotland. Their planning was superb and basically flawless. The couple of minor problems we had were promptly taken care of by Daryl. I talked with him a couple of times over the phone, he was a delight to talk with and appeared to have a great sense of humor.

Thank you Daryl, we couldn't have done it without your help.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wednesday 9/11 - Inverness to Edinburgh

After the usual hearty Scottish breakfast we loaded up and started on our way towards Edinburgh, where we will finally be able to ditch our unmanageable VW Sharan.

We were basically going due south and passed through many scenic areas and many deer crossing signs but no sightings.

Our next stop was to be at the Scone Palace near Perth, which we found without too much trouble.

The Palace and grounds were very well maintained and of course with a lot of history behind it, some gory of course. It was interesting that the locals were welcoming the rain, since they have not had much rain this year and a drought last year.

The Palace also has the active living quarters at the far end. During the WW11 it was a girls boarding school in the part downstairs, which now houses a store, cafeteria, restrooms etc.

The cafeteria was originally servant's kitchen, we decided to catch lunch before proceeding on to Edinburgh.

We drove across the Firth of Fourth didn't get a good picture of our bridge and none of the gorgeous red RR bridge.

Arrived at Edinburgh airport, had no trouble finding a filling stations and then the rental car return. All the transactions were smooth including getting a can to our residence for the next 2 nights, the B&B, Edinburgh.

This was the residence of John Ritchie Findlay.

He lived next door while this was being built. They also had a house in the country. He campaigned for women to be admitted to the medical school and built substantial housing for his workers right behind the main house.

Upon checking in we found out that Daryl (Adeo Travels) had left 4 tickets to the city bus tour. This was unexpected and very generous, thank you Daryl.

We got our room changed since the first one was a dormer and Sudip kept hitting his head getting out of the bed. The new room was quite spacious, comfortable, and well appointed.

Trish got information from the front desk where to go for authentic Scottish food and chose the Larder. It was an easy walk and it had stopped raining by that time.

The Larder did have great food and even more so, great ice cream. The server Alice was very personable and helpful as well.

We went back to the hotel, briefly discussed the next day's agenda and retired for the night.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuesday 9/10 - Inverness

After a full Scottish breakfast we got ready and left to go on the our Loch Ness Cruise starting from Dochgarroch to Urquahart Castle and back in 2 hours.

The place was easy enough to find although we did overshoot it and had to make a u turn and come back to it as has been the norm on this trip.
The houses along the side had beautiful gardens and flower arrangements.

Our boat came in on time and we boarded quickly. We decided to sit on top until it got too cold and we went downstairs. The lake was very calm and smooth but unfortunately it was drizzly and cloudy and not a good day for picture taking.

It was a pleasant and enjoyable trip nonetheless and as always too short.
Decided to have lunch at the restaurant at the dock, uniquely named Scotland's Real Food.

The food was delicious and the quantities huge. One bowl of soup and bread was enough.

After lunch we proceeded to the Glen Ord Distillery, a little outside of Inverness in the NW direction. As usual reading road signs and asking pedestrians still got us lost but we finally managed to find the place.

It was under renovation, they are doubling their size due to demand. Their whiskey is for export to SE Asia and locally is only available at the distillery.

They gave us what they called a mini tour which was plenty information for all of us. Like the Brewmaster in a Brewery, the distilleries have "Stillman", one who looks after the stills. The tour guide was full of information and fun to listen to as has been our experience with all local guides so far.

We toasted to Kaku's memory, a wonderful man who always made everyone feel better about themselves. Technically he is Sudip's uncle but anyone who has ever come in contact with him, like to claim him as their own. He passed away 9/3/12, may his soul rest in eternal peace.

We then decided to go visit the culloden battlefields this afternoon instead of tomorrow on the way to Edinburgh. This proved to be a great decision weather wise even though we were a bit rushed for time.

I knew nothing about it and learned a lot. It was a disaster to say the least, the Jacobites were no match for the well trained and disciplined British soldiers and were basically massacred. Yet another sad chapter of history.

Came back to the Strome Lodge, freshened up and went to dinner. Ended up at an Italian restaurant, the food was okay but nothing to brag about.