Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Emerald Isle: Dublin to London, Oct. 2018

The Emerald Isle – not high on our bucket list but we couldn’t pass up on this opportunity to visit Ireland’s hidden heartlands.

We begin our journey in Dublin, the capital and largest city in Ireland. The heart of the city is divided north-south by the River Liffey, with O’Connell’s Bridge connecting the two parts. We had 4 hours in downtown Dublin but needed more time to take in all the history of this charming city, from the bullet holes still existing from the Easter uprising of 1916 to the great pubs and friendly people. The battle between the IRA and British Forces caused extensive damage to the O'Connell Street area of Dublin, the bullet holes can still be seen on the façade of the General Post Office building, the Daniel O’Connell Statue (an Irish political leader who campaigned for Catholic emancipation), and various other buildings. This statue features O’Connell and below him is a cross section of people from all levels of Irish society. If you look at the arms carefully you can still see bullet holes shot during the 1916 rising. Along O’Connell are also a number of monuments dedicated to political leaders, land reform agitators, union activists, etc.

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Daniel O'Connell Statue
Post Office
River Liffey

The Garden of  Remembrance:  This garden is dedicated to the memory of all who gave their lives in the cause of Irish freedom. The Garden was designed by Dáithí Hanly, it is in the form of a sunken cruciform water-feature, its focal point is a statue of the “Children of Lir symbolising rebirth and resurrection.

Children of Lir

The Spire of Dublin, also known as the Monument of Light, is a large stainless steel, pin-like monument 120 metres (390 ft) in height. This spire takes the place of the statute of Horatio Nelson destroyed by explosives planted by the Irish republicans.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, built in honour of Ireland’s patron saint between 1220 and 1260 is one of the few buildings left from medieval Dublin. It is the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland and is the largest Cathedral in the country.

Oscar Wilde’s Trinity Centre, a centre dedicated to writing, teaching and research in the Trinity College of Dublin. The Centre was originally the home of the Wilde family where Oscar was born and raised. On display in Trinity College's Old Library is the Book of Kells which is considered to be one of the greatest masterpieces in both Irish art and early Christian art dating back to around 800 AD. It contains the four Gospels of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) with more illustrations than words on each page. Unfortunately we did not get a chance to tour this facility as time was running out and the line-ups too long.

The Doors of Dublin: A story about the writers George Moore and Oliver St. John Gogarty who were neighbours on Ely Place. Gogarty had a habit of coming home drunk and knocking on Moore’s door instead of his own. Moore painted his door green so he wouldn’t get confused. Then Gogarty retaliated and painted his red. It was a domino effect from there.

Another story goes that after Queen Victoria died, England ordered Irish citizens to paint the doors black in mourning. The Irish rebelled and took out the bright paints instead. And yet another tale that circulates in Dublin is that the painting of colorful doors was started by women. Women painted their doors so their drunken husbands wouldn’t mistake other homes for their own. And wake up in bed with another woman.

The most common story and probably the most accurate one is that during the early 18th century, Dublin, rose to become one of the British Empire’s most prominent and prosperous cities. Dubliners began to build elegant new Georgian homes beyond the walls of the original medieval town. At the time of construction, all of the exterior doors were the same color. The Georgian style exteriors of these townhouses, by virtue of strict rules laid down by the developer, had to adhere to very specific architectural guidelines – they were all, to the smallest detail, uniformly built. So, in order to set themselves apart, the residents of Georgian Dublin started painting their front doors whatever color struck their fancy to differentiate their homes form others. 

While in Ireland, how could one not savour their famous Guinness stout and fine whiskeys. As time was not on our side, a quick peek into the Whiskey Museum was all the time we could spare. Reg was amazed at the variety of whiskeys available. There are 18 whiskey distilleries in operation in Ireland. So far we have only been able to locate 3 brands in Vancouver – Bushmills, Jamesons & Redbreast


Our goal is to hit a pub in each city, here it is Murray’s pub, the fare is pretty average but the Guinness is of course great!

Of course we could not leave without purchasing Ireland’s famous Aran Sweaters. Aran is a style of sweater that takes its name from the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. The original/traditional Aran sweaters were made from unwashed wool that retained its natural sheep lanolin which made the sweaters water resistant (i.e. wearable when wet). Often known as a fisherman sweater, they are distinguished by their use of complex textured stitch patterns handed down over generations. Today many of the knits are mixed with merino wool to make them softer.

This evening we were treated to an Irish Cabaret at Taylor’s Three Rock Pub, Ireland’s largest thatched pub. The name Taylor’s Three Rock is derived from two sources; The Taylor Family Homestead and Three Rock Mountain. Taylors served a 3 course dinner with a snifter of Irish whiskey and Irish coffee to finish off the meal. They also put on a superb 2 hour action packed show with traditional Irish dancers, table top tap dancing,  Dublin traditional Irish musicians, comedy; Rob Vickers, an Irish Tenor who has performed on London’s prestigious West End, Europe & North America, also in Les Miserable in London’s west End. A beautiful performance by Rebecca Murphy, a superb soprano & harpist singing “Hallelujah”, one of my favourites. It took my breath away! This certainly wasn’t your average Irish dancing performance we see in North America.


Rebecca Murphy

The next day we head to the west coast city of Galway, a city situated at the Bay of Galway on the River Corrib and capital of County Galway. A walk through the heart of Galway’s historical town centre shows a rather quaint little place with its labyrinthine cobbled streets, colourful shop façades and busy cafés, bars, street performers and buskers. Supposedly Galway has the best buskers in the country. We come across the statue of Oscar Wilde, sitting on a bench in conversation with Estonian writer Eduard Wilde. Galway is famous for its Claddagh rings believed to have originated in the fishing village near the “shore” or “Claddagh” of Galway Bay during the 17th century. The ring shows two hands holding a heart which wears a crown. The ring represents love, loyalty, and friendship.

Note that Christmas decorations go up in October in Ireland!

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Oscar & Eduard Wilde

Latin Quarter

Claddagh Ring

Our pub of choice is the Front Door Pub, located in one of the medieval laneways in the heart of Galway City’s Latin Quarter. This area contains many relics of 16th & 17th century architecture. We had delicious pan fried filet of hake and soup for lunch. This was definitely rated the best pub food during the whole trip.

Wearing our Aran sweaters
A quick stroll along the promenade, we pass through the Spanish Arch (built in 1584) which stands on the east bank of the Corrib River where Galway’s river meets the sea. The Arch was originally part of the medieval wall of Galway.

Not a lot of time in Galway but it gave us a taste of this lovely, quaint city.

About 30 minutes out of Galway, along Galway Bay we stop at an area called The Burren, meaning “great rock”. This area is 350 sq. km in size and looks like a lunar landscape. The Burren is home to one of the biggest karst landscapes in Europe. Karst is defined as a landscape formed (millions of years ago) from the chemical dissolution by rainwater of soluble rocks including limestone, dolomite and gypsum and is a rare and precious land form.

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This picturesque Atlantic coastal drive called the “Wild Atlantic Way” leads us to the famous Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs stretch for 8 km and reach 702 ft in height at their highest point. These cliffs are formed by sedimentary rock, some parts date back to over 300 million years. The Coastal Walk runs for 18 km, from Hag's Head to Doolin, passing the Visitor Centre and O'Brien's Tower, a round stone tower near the midpoint of the cliffs, built in 1835 by Sir Cornelius O’Brien. There are an estimated 30,000 birds living on the cliffs. The winds are very high here, we hang on for dear life!.

O Briens Tower
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From here we head to Limerick, the 3rd largest city in Ireland, situated on the River Shannon. Former US President John F. Kennedy’s great grandfather hails from Limerick, so does Richard Harris. Our stop is at Bunratty Castle before he hit our hotel, the Limerick City Hotel. Bunratty Castle, located in County Clare between Limerick & Ennis was built in 1425 and restored in 1954. In the walled gardens of the castle is a recreation of the village as it would appear during that century. Bunratty House, one of the original cottages built in 1804 has since been refurbished.

Here we partake in a medieval banquet. A butler in full century attire welcomes each person at the castle steps after we cross over the drawbridge. We then enter the great hall furnished with 15th & 16th century tapestries and works of art, we are presented with a goblet of mead by one of the ladies of the castle. The Castle’s history is related followed by a medieval Madrigal. We then descend via a very narrow winding staircase to the banquet hall where bench seating, candle-light and long oak tables reflect the banquet style of the medieval era. A 4-course dinner with wine is served with only a steak knife as a utensil. Entertainment is a selection of Irish medieval and traditional songs by the ladies and gentlemen of the Castle accompanied by Irish harp and fiddle. Overall a tad gimmicky!!

Bunratty Castle

The only morning we experienced a small rain shower was from Limerick to Adare. This lasted a short time, then it was back to blue skies again. Adare, located along the Maigue River in the County of Limerick is one of Ireland`s prettiest villages. Lovely thatched cottages line its wide main street.  We also pass the Trinitarian Abbey, built in 1230, restored in 1811 & 1852, and the ruins of the Norman built King John's Castle, dating back to the 12th century.
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Trinitarian Abbey

Our next journey leads us to County Kerry and the start of the famous 175 km circuit of the Iveragh Peninsula also known as the Ring of Kerry. Here we stop at Kerry Bog Village which gave us an insight into how people lived and worked in Ireland in the late 18th Century. The Village is located on the main Ring of Kerry Route. A stroll through Bog Village Museum  showed how peat was cultivated for fuel, rural farm equipment used, customs and living conditions through the famine years and late 19th century; plus thatched cottages furnished with authentic antiques. Two sleepy Irish wolfhounds, used for hunting wolves, elk and wild boar lay quietly in a pen; and the Kerry Bog Ponies, a smaller, faster native breed used for transport and farm work. We finish off at the Red Fox Inn, an old traditional pub for a complimentary glass of Irish coffee.

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Irish wolfhounds
Bog Ponies
Red Fox Inn
Red Fox Inn
Then a quick photo shoot of the River Mains near Currans, a small village in County Kerry where we pick up some souvenirs from local road side vendors.

Our first major photo shoot along the Ring of Kerry is at the Statue of the Virgin Mary which stands at a viewpoint between Caherdaniel and Waterville overlooking Ballinskelligs Bay. We continue on this 100 mile picturesque coastal drive of sparkling landscapes, seascapes, mountains, meadows dotted with colourful farmhouses, sheep and cattle, passing through three major peninsulas – Dingle, Ring of Kerry & Beara (Ring of Beara). 
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Lunch was at the Scarriff Inn where we had the best Irish stew yet. The inn, half way round the Ring of Kerry boasts majestic views of Derrynane, Kenmare & Bantry Bays


We continue on this panoramic route with portal to portal blue skies all the way passing through stunning Dingle Bay, Killorglin where the sculpture depicting Saint Brendan, who according to Irish legend sailed with monks to North America and discovered it centuries before Christopher Columbus. Waterville, this town was the favourite holiday spot of Charlie Chaplin, a statue of him stands in the center of the village in his memory. We get a glimpse of Valentia Island, one of Ireland`s most westerly points and the Skellig Islands where the final scene of Star Wars, The Force was filmed.

Sculpture of Saint Brendan

Also along the Ring of Kerry are Ring Forts built between 600 to 1000 AD which are circular fortified settlements made of stone, some of these forts were supposedly enclosed farmsteads.

Ring Fort

We enter Killarney Park which is 12 miles from the town of Killarney. In the heart of this park are panoramic views of Killarney Valley, lakes and hills, including Black Valley, the Upper and Middle Lakes, McGillycuddy Reeks and the Gap of Dunloe. This scenic point is called Ladies View. The name stems from the admiration of the view given by Queen Victoria`s ladies in waiting during their 1861 visit. Deer and stags were quite prolific along this route. 

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Ladies View


After a long day we finally reach the historic town of Killarney, located on the shores of Lough Leane in County Kerry. We stretch our legs and explore this quaint town before hopping on one of the Jaunting Cars (horse drawn carriages) for a ride along the national park lakeshore to Ross Castle, a 15th century tower house. Our stay here is at the Killarney Court Hotel.

Jaunting Car Ride
Ross Castle

The next day we move across the Kerry Mountains through Cork County to Blarney, famous for its magical Stone of Eloquence. This is the coldest day throughout our trip, with frost on the ground, the day we failed to drag out our woollies and nearly froze our butts – but still a glorious sunny day. We explore Blarney Castle & Gardens. The castle is a medieval stronghold. The original castle dates back to 1200, the castle was besieged and seized during the Irish Confederate War in 1646, rebuilt in the 1690s. The castle has changed hands a number of times, it is now a partial ruin with some accessible rooms and battlements. At the top of the castle lies the Stone of Eloquence, better known as the Blarney Stone. To kiss it, one has to lean backwards (holding on to an iron railing) from the parapet walk. It is said that once kissed, the stone bestows the gift of eloquence (I didn't see much improvement in Reg – he already has the gift of gab!). Surrounding the castle are extensive gardens.

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Reg kissing the stone
From Blarney we head to Waterford, a seaport and the country`s oldest city. It was founded by Vikings in 914 AD, part of its ancient walled core remain. The Church of St. Anne, Shandon is quite prominent as we enter the town, the clock on the tower is known as "The Four Faced Liar" because, depending on the angle of the viewer and the effects of wind on the hands on a given face, the time may not appear to correspond perfectly on each face. Built in 1773, Christ Church Cathedral stands at the site of an 11th-century Viking church. In 1170 it was the venue for the marriage of Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke ("Strongbow") and Aoife  Ni Diarmait.  A bronze statue, along with his wife sit together on their thrones in front of the Cathedral. Waterford is the home of the world renowned Waterford Crystal established in1783. As this was a quick lunch stop, we managed to take a quick peak of the town and enjoyed scrumptious bowls of chowder at the Gingerman Pub, then a visit to the House of Waterford before heading to our last stop of the day, the beautiful seaside town of Tramore.

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St. Anne Clock Tower

Christ Church Cathedral

the "Boy Soldier" monument of the youngest known casualty of the Battle of Ypres

Waterford Crystal showroom
Tramore was once a small fishing village transformed into a popular resort area. A quick stop and refresh at our hotel, the Majestic Hotel with lovely views over Tramore Bay, then a drive to Dunmore East, a charming little fishing port and seaside resort on the southern coast near the mouth of Waterford Harbour. We were given a guided tour of the harbour area by Richie Roberts of Aggie Hayes Pub – lovely views of coves, hamlets and coastline from the original harbour wall can be seen from this point. A Romanesque lighthouse guards one side of the Barrow, the other side is watched over by Hook Head, a lighthouse situated at the tip of Hook Peninsular

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Majestic Hotel
Tramore Bay
Dunmore East

He then escorts us to Aggie Hayes Pub, a traditional Irish pub located at Killea, just outside the Village of Dunmore East. This area also has several lovely thatched cottages. Aggie’s tiny bright yellow thatched roof pub has been owned and run by the same family for over 300 years. Richie, a traditional Irish folk singer then entertained us for a couple of hours before our return to Tramore for dinner at the hotel.

A really early morning start takes us to Rosslare for a 4 hour ferry ride to the Port of Pembroke, Wales. We found the ferry to be very comfortable, lots of seating, very good service from staff that are mainly immigrants and the food was surprisingly good. From Pembroke our journey takes us to Cardiff, the capital of Wales.
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entering Pembroke, Wales

Cardiff is located on the Bristol Channel at the mouth of the River Taff. In Cardiff, we were given time to explore the city - what a fascinating city. Queen Street is in the heart of Cardiff with its graceful Victorian & Edwardian shopping arcades that date back to 1858; and stately modern and historic buildings. We picked up some delicious Welsh cakes in Cardiff Market.  Nearby is the world-famous Principality Stadium, the home of Welsh rugby and football. The majestic Cardiff Castle, built in 55AD, a medieval castle and Victorian Gothic revival mansion dominates the city centre. The castle is steeped in more than 2000 years of history. Its ornate Clock Tower with its colourful artwork rises majestically above its walls. The castle’s “Animal Wall” built in 1890 is a sculptured wall depicting 15 animals in the Castle quarter - quite intriguing. Unfortunately, we did not have time to tour the castle. 

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City Hall

Principality Stadium

The Welsh flag features a red dragon with wings, spikes and a pointed tail, placed on a green and white background. The dragon has been associated with Wales for centuries, though the actual origin of its connection to the country remains shrouded in myth and legend. The background is thought to have come from the Tudors, a Welsh dynasty who ruled the English throne from 1485 to 1603, and whose official colours were green and white.

Castle Arcade
Cardiff Castle

Animal Wall
Our stay is at the Park Inn by Radisson and our dinner tonight is at the beautiful, ultra modern arts centre called the Millennium Centre. This centre hosts performances of opera, ballet, dance, theatre comedy and musicals. We were treated to a 3-course dinner (the best dinner we’ve had during the whole trip!) and entertained by Cardiff’s finest welsh talent presenting music, poetry, stories and beautiful harp music.

An early start takes us across the 972 m span Severn Bridge which links Southern England to Wales over the River Severn to Bath, it is still a little foggy when we get there

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Severn Bridge
Bath is an elegant Georgian City famous for its Roman relics. Set in the rolling countryside of Southwest England it is known for its natural hot springs. Honey coloured bath stone has been used extensively in the town’s architecture. Bath is also well known as the home of the literary legend Jane Austen. In the heart of the city is Bath Abbey, founded in the 7th century, reorganised in the 10th century and rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries, it is now one of the premier examples of Norman Perpendicular Gothic architecture. Close to the Abbey is the Roman Baths. Around 70AD the Romans built a magnificent temple and a grand bathing and socialising complex, this is one of the best preserved Roman remains in the world, where 1,170,000 litres of steaming spring water still fills the bathing site every day. 

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey
Roman Baths

Lobby of the Roman Baths

One of Bath’s most iconic architectural landmarks is the “The Circus”, built between 1754 and 1768 consists of 3 curved sections of elegant townhomes (totally upscale - definitely not in our budget), forming a circle with 3 entrances. The townhomes are of Georgian architecture and detail on the stonework are of serpents, acorns, and nautical symbols. When viewed from the air the Circus forms a key shape.

The Circus

Aerial view of the Circus
Another historic venue is the Pulteney Bridge opened in 1770, with its sweeping horseshoe-shaped weir. This is a historic shop-lined bridge spanning the River Avon and one of only four bridges in the world to have shops across its full span on both sides. Another example of Georgia archictecture.

Pulteney Weir

Pulteney Weir
We fell in love with Bath, certainly a city to spend more time in. 

Onward we go to a place that needs little introduction and which is one of the best known ancient wonders of the world – Stonehenge. We travel through the beautiful, peaceful  Wiltshire countryside to visit these magnificent stones only to encounter loads and loads of tour buses. Then there is the wait for buses to transport long lineups of tourists to the site about 2 km up a narrow road. Thank goodness our wait wasn’t too long. The nearest one can get to the stones is about 10 yards (not bad at all), the monument is roped off by a low barrier. This 5,000 year old unique stone circle became a World Heritage Site in 1986. Despite numerous theories, no-one knows for certain the reason why Stonehenge was built. As it was a beautiful, warm day, we decided to walk back to our vehicle passing several Barrows (bronze age burial mounds) in the hillsides.  At the visitor center were several exhibitions showing archaeological treasures found buried at the site, Neolithic houses depicting how people lived 4,500 years ago. "Standing in the Stones", an audio-visual 360 degree view from inside the stones showing what it feels like to stand in the middle of Stonehenge at winter and summer solstice.  

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Here's a pesky tourist who spoiled my shot!
the Barrows

Our amazing and extremely knowledgeable guide Kevin has done an excellent job on our journey throughout Ireland and Wales. 

Our final destination is the grand city of London. Our stay here is at the Novotel London West in Hammersmith, a ½ hour from downtown. We are on our own tonight so we explore Hammersmith, stopping for dinner at the Edwards Pub, another bad meal, but managed to find better fare across the road at a Turkish restaurant. 

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A morning tour with Sean as our guide takes us past Kensington, House of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Downing Street, Piccadilly Circus, St. Paul’s Cathedral & Buckingham Palace where we were fortunate enough to watch the Changing of the Guard. Another gorgeous day in London.

Buckingham Palace
Royal Courts of Justice
St. Pauls Cathedral
St. Paul's Cathedral
Royal Albert Hall
Parliament Sq. Gardens
Paternoster Square Arch
Paternoster Square & London Stock Exchange

Piccadilly Circus
We then head off on our own to further explore areas we did not touch on the last time we were in London.

Shaftsbury monument at Piccadilly Circus
Wellington Arch
Kensington Gardens
Hyde Park
Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace, Queen Victoria Monument
Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace
Burlington Arcade
Burlington Arcade
Tonight is dinner at the Silver Cross Tavern in Westminster before a leisurely cruise on the Thames River taking in the beautiful lights of London.

London Bridge

London Eye
St. Pauls Cathedral
Tower of London

We find London totally fascinating, steeped in history, amazing architecture, very cosmopolitan, easy to get around in and could spend weeks there.

Our last day before our flight out at 6:55pm is spent exploring Hammersmith, an artsy riverside district of London. We stroll along the north bank of the River Thames, an easy walk on a beautiful sunny day, past quaint pubs - the Blue Anchor and The Dove, brightly coloured old houseboats moored up on the north bank, modern condos and heritage homes, parks, etc. We reach the Hammersmith Bridge, opened in 1827, it was the first suspension bridge over the Thames. The bridge features 7 coats of arms – quite a piece of architecture! We head back for a quick lunch before heading off to Heathrow.

Hammersmith Bridge

In Summary 

The combination of friendly people, gorgeous scenery, conviviality and touching base with our history can`t be beat. You will be entertained with their humour, music, handicrafts and quaint architecture. The cities are a delight needing more than just a quick trip but a sensible few days to explore the range of architecture and hidden treasures around every corner. We came away thinking that we will definitely return to Ireland to have a more in-depth visit to better enjoy all the delights it has to offer.

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