London

England has been the best part of our trip (as I knew it would be).

Trafalgar Square (above) was about a block away from our hotel. You can see Big Ben in the distance (on the left).

On our first day, without knowing where we were going (we didn’t yet have a map or an adequate data plan for our phones), we walked through this archway to St. James Park and Buckingham Palace.

The guards at Buckingham Palace started marching back and forth from their posts (not sure why).

We also visited Selfridge’s on Oxford St. (I didn’t take any pictures there). I loved seeing the famous revolving doors that were featured on the TV show.

On our walk back to the hotel, we passed Seville Row, which was mentioned often on The Great British Sewing Bee. The neighborhood was full of designer stores, like Chanel and some others that I hadn’t heard of but I’m sure are equally fancy.

On our second day, we saw Westminster Abbey but didn’t have time to go in, as the line was long and I had plans for the afternoon. Also, they don’t allow photography inside, which kind of dampened my enthusiasm.

At 1 p.m., I met my friend Yasmin for tea at The Goring (she also lives in Virginia but happened to be in London at the same time as we were). Our waiters were French (a bit difficult to understand) and always on-hand to refill our tea cups. The scones were unlike any I’ve had before (they looked almost like rolls) and broke in half; Yasmin told me that that’s the sign of a good scone. By the end, I was so full that I only sampled one of the desserts.

Cliffs of Moher

Our second guided tour was to Dunguaire Castle and the Cliffs of Moher on Wednesday. Ben almost didn’t make it. At 9:45 a.m., the tour bus started to pull out of Galway Coach Station, while Ben was still in the station (in his defense, the bus was leaving 15 minutes ahead of schedule).

After Ben was on board, we drove to Dunguaire Castle, where we took photos but unfortunately didn’t go in.

These buildings were just down the street from the castle. Our guide told us they’re more in the English style than Irish, and that the straw for straw roofs is shipped in from Poland.

After the castle, we went to the “baby cliffs” (I’m not sure what they’re called, since the stop was unplanned; our guide referred to them as the “baby cliffs”). Ben was brave and ventured out on a ledge.

Finally, we went to the Cliffs of Moher.

There were two paths at the cliffs – a more dangerous path on the left that is closer to the edge of the cliffs and an easier path on the right. We took the path on the left (not my first choice).

On the way down the cliff, I met this dog, who put his paw in my hand when I tried to pet him. He was tied up next to his owner, who was painting the scenery.

On the drive back, we visited a prehistoric grave site called Gleninsheen Wedge Tomb. It’s older than the pyramids.

Galway

On our third day in Ireland, we boarded a train to Galway.  After we checked in at the Clybaun Hotel, we ate lunch at Cupan Tae. I ordered afternoon tea, while Ben had a salad.

Galway reminds me of Alexandria, in that its small streets are full of shops and restaurants, but other than eating and shopping, I’m not sure what else you’d do.

We took an hour-long bus tour of Galway. Our Irish tour guide was very familiar with Alexandria, including with our neighborhood, as he has friends in the area. He told me that he’d visited Mount Vernon, and that he’d seen a snake there (Ireland doesn’t have snakes; lucky).

The claddagh ring was everywhere – on signs, in stores, on street art. If I didn’t already have a claddagh ring, I’d be tempted to buy one.

We ended our day as we did most days in Ireland – at the pub. I ordered tea.

Kilkenny Castle

On June 12, we boarded a Paddywagon bus for a day tour to Wicklow (where the TV show Vikings is filmed) and Kilkenny.

Kilkenny castle, built in the 13th century, was my favorite stop (and is the first castle I’ve ever seen).

The room above is the picture gallery, which I think is deserving of a more impressive name. It’s really stunning. It’s also bigger than what it looks like here; I was looking away from the part of the room that was full of tourists.

A hallway ceiling:

The drawing room:

The dining room:

A guest bedroom (I believe they said a queen stayed here):

The castle exterior:

I liked the experience of a guided tour. I learned more about Ireland than I would have if we’d gone on our own. For instance, I learned that:

  • More Irish is spoken outside of Ireland than in the country itself. When the British conquered Ireland, the Irish language was forbidden. Now the language is being taught at schools and signs are in both Irish and English.
  • Their religion (Catholicism) and the ability to own land was also forbidden.
  • President Obama is part Irish and visited his cousin (?) during his second presidential campaign.

There was more, but I seem to have forgot it!

Dublin

Ben and I arrived in Dublin at 5:30 a.m. on June 11th. After catching up on our sleep, we left The Morgan Hotel to explore the area. We stopped at Sweeney’s Pub for lunch (U2 has played there), and Ben had his first Guinness in Ireland. Since then, there have been several pub stops.

My overall impressions of Ireland so far:

  • It’s cold; colder than I expected. I wear a scarf every day and we’ve been rained on daily without fail.
  • They use cash more than I expected. Before we get into a cab, we have to ask if they take credit cards (we learned that the hard way on our first day), and when we eat out, there is rarely an opportunity to add the tip to the bill.
  • Street signs are hit or miss in Dublin. Sometimes, they’ll be on a building on the corner of a street. Other times, they’re non-existent.
  • I prefer the countryside to Dublin. The mountains and greenery more closely match what I expected of Ireland and are more peaceful, while Dublin can feel grungy and chaotic, especially in the Temple Bar neighborhood, which is full of bars and restaurants.
  • The Bueno candy bar is delicious. It’s my new favorite. I’m going to look for it at our grocery store when we’re home.

I’m enjoying my time here, but I’m looking forward to seeing the sunshine in England and wearing summer clothes.

More pictures to come of Ireland!