Saturday, December 12, 2009

I Love Roundabouts!

One of my brother's graduation presents (from a few years ago) was enough miles for a trip overseas. Earlier this year he decided he was ready to cash in the miles and asked if I wanted to go to London. London? Are you kidding me? I'm so there. My brother loves London probably as much as I do. We decided to go to Dublin first, and then spend a few days in London.

The plane ride over was fairly uneventful, despite the pilot warning us it was going to be a bumpy ride. We landed and several hours later we boarded the plane for Dublin. If its possible to get seasick on a plane, it was on this flight. It swayed from side to side, especially on the take off and landing. But finally we were on the ground, with our luggage and making our way to the rental car. The rental car was a Toyota Corolla, so much for a European car. At the last minute, we decided to get a GPS unit which was a fantastic decision. A few roundabouts later, John was comfortable driving on the wrong side of the road.We got to the hotel just in time for the rain to start pouring. After getting situated, we set off in search of food. Fortunately the rain had subsided and we walked into town, and discovered Trim Castle was literally across the street. We ended up at a Chinese restaurant, which served margherita pizza. I didn't chance a margherita pizza at a Chinese restaurant, and instead had sweet and sour chicken.

We woke up the next morning after having listened to the wind howl all night long. After breakfast, we walked over to Trim Castle and explored. Next we set the GPS coordinates and made our way to Kells to see the High Crosses. We tried to find another castle but it wasn't in the listed in the GPS so we continued on to Newgrange. However the GPS had the wrong coordinates for Newgrange so it was back to the map. Finally on the right track, we ran into a detour. The road was flooded. But we arrived at Newgrange just in time for the tour. It started to pour as we arrived at Newgrange. Stepping inside the narrow pathway, it was amazing to think this was built prior to the Great Pyramids. And the ceiling, which was over 5,000 years old had never leaked. The ancient people (as the guide called them) had even carved gutters on the roof to drain away the water. Amazing!! Lunch was at the Newgrange visitor center cafeteria. Leaving Newgrange, we missed the detour sign and ended up going through the massive puddle of water covering the road. And then we came to the next giant puddle. Not sure if we could make it, we waved the people behind us through. They pulled up and told us they thought we could make it. After watching them go through (and their car was about the size of ours) we decided to chance it and made it through. Whew. Our next stop was the Hill of Slane, where St. Patrick lit a fire to celebrate Easter which reportedly ushered in Christianity in Ireland. Quickly running out of daylight, we hit two more ruins - Mellifont Abbey and Monasterboice, which had several high crosses. It was then time to head back to Dublin. Finding the car rental return was a bit challenging but we made it. We caught the bus into Dublin, getting off right near our hotel. Due to the late hour, we ate dinner at the hotel. I had Irish stew, which was quite yummy!

We set off the next morning, making our first stop at Christ Church Cathedral. In the crypt, there was the mummified remains of a cat and a mouse. The cat had been presumably been chasing the mouse when they got stuck in the organ and were mummified. From there we went to Dublin Castle. One of my favorite rooms was the Ladies Drawing Room, which was gorgeous. During a ball, the single ladies had to hang out in the Ladies Drawing room until they were asked to dance. We also learned about the whistling corridor. They were worried about servants stealing food and so between the dining area and the kitchen they had to sing or whistle to prove they weren't stealing. We had lunch at a pub near Trinity College. I was all set to have a traditional pie, but then I saw they had a cranberry and brie sandwich. Once upon a time, when I was working in London, the cafeteria had a fantastic cranberry and brie sandwich. This one wasn't as good as I remember the other one, but it was still good. John had corned beef and cabbage which made him quite happy. After lunch we headed over to Trinity College and saw the Book of Kells, which was neat, after having been in Kells the day before. Next up was St. Patrick's Cathedral before making our way over to the Guinness Brewery. At Guinness, besides learning about beer, we were able to learn how to pour a glass of Guinness from the tap. Dinner was in Temple Bar - we found an interesting place - it had a little bit of everything, including margherita pizza. This time I did have it! It was good, not the best, but still good. And after dinner? Why gelato of course, even if it did feel like it was two degrees outside!

We started off the day making our way over to Number 29, a town home decorated in the Georgian style. On our way over we passed by numerous dissenters who were on strike. We got to Number 29 and had a few minutes before it opened and so I was able to walk around the square and take pictures of doors! Not every door, but a lot of doors. The tour was interesting and on it we learned that the style back then was fairly uniform and the place where people could express their individuality was on the doors. Finishing up the tour, we walked over towards the Natural History Museum only to find it was closed for renovations. By the number of strikers around the nearby buildings, it was doubtful we would have been able to see it anyway. John wanted to have lunch at the self proclaimed "oldest pub in Ireland" so we walked towards it, doing a little shopping on the way. After lunch (of stew) we headed towards the Jameson Distillery where John volunteered to be a taster. On the tour we learned that one of the important distinctions of Jameson Whiskey is that it is distilled three times. One of things I had wanted to do was to go to one of the suburbs outside of Dublin and walk along the cliffs. Not knowing if we'd have enough time, we left it as a possibility. Coming out of Jameson, we were nearly blown over by the gust of winds. It was probably a good thing we didn't go out to the cliffs as we might have been blown over! The last thing on our list was to visit Kilmainham Jail. Deciding to chance that it would be open, we set off. The jail was outside of the city center and a bit of a trek. As we started out it started to absolutely pour down rain, along with big gusts of wind. We were almost there when we passed by another closed museum, with the now familiar picketers out front. Still holding out hope, we went to the entrance and were greeted by a locked gate, but no picketers. Our hypothesis was that the picketers were at the museum across the street as it was on a bigger street, and had some cover from the elements. Oh, well. We stopped back by the hotel to change out of wet clothes before heading out to dinner. Since it was our last night in Dublin, I had Irish Stew. Yum! And after dinner, even with the rain and the cold I stopped for gelato.

We woke up to a bright, beautiful, but very windy morning. We checked out, caught the bus, and were on our way to the airport. Heathrow was backed up, so to avoid circling endlessly, we sat at the gate. But finally we took off, you could definitely feel the wind as the plane swayed from side to side. Even with the precaution of waiting in Dublin, we still circled several times around Heathrow before landing. We checked into our hotel and headed for one of my favorite places in London, The Muffin Man, for a late lunch. Then we headed over to Buckingham Palace before going to the Cabinet War Rooms. And then it was on to the London Eye. They added a 3D show to the beginning, which was a little random. And then it was time for our flight. I love the London Eye! It's like the Peter Pan ride, only better! :) Dinner was at a pub where I had steak and ale pie and sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Yum!!

We woke up to a sunny but windy day. Breakfast? At the Muffin Man, of course! And then it was off to Dover Castle. We arrived at the bottom of the white cliffs of Dover and began the climb up. Hills, stairs, and more hills and we were finally at the entrance. We had lunch at the cafe before exploring the grounds of the castle. The Great Hall was really neat! It was decorated in medieval style. We toured the secret wartime tunnels, which are not so secret anymore. These tunnels were originally built for the Napoleonic Wars, and then were remodeled to be used for WW2. Operation Dynamo, to rescue the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk, was directed from the secret wartime tunnels. After the tour, we finished exploring the castle, visiting the remaining lighthouse from Roman times and the church originally built by the Saxons. Back in London, we finished the day by visiting Harrods, which was all decked out for Christmas.

Another sunny, windy day and the Muffin Man for breakfast (sound familiar?). And then it was off to Stonehenge! We alighted from the train and caught the bus to Stonehenge. If I thought windy before, it was nothing compared to the wind at Stonehenge! Bone-chilling wind! What was interesting was seeing Stonehenge after seeing Newgrange as they were built in similar time periods (5,000 or so years ago). The rocks are so immense, it boggles the mind how these stones got here. Finishing up at Stonehenge, we got off the bus at Old Sarum, the original town of Salisbury which was abandoned. Not much was left as the stones and other building materials were re-appropriated. Back in Salisbury, we walked around the town and the cathedral. The cathedral has one of the tallest spires in Europe. It also houses one of the original copies of the Magna Carta. Back in London we visited King's Cross and platform 9 3/4 before heading back to the hotel to pack.

Last day, last breakfast at the Muffin Man and then it was time to leave. Farewell London, I'm hopeful I will be back soon.

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