Ireland 2013

FRIDAY JUNE 14, 2013 KIEV > KILKENNY

In two hours I will touch down in London for a layover on my way to Dublin. Today is Friday and El arrives on Sunday morning. At the end of Peace Corps service you are given the choice if you want to receive an airplane ticket directly home or if you would like the cash for that ticket to get yourself home. Most volunteers choose the cash and opt for travel on the way home instead of the direct route. I am one of those. Most travelers go with at least one other volunteer and I, again, am no different. You see, I had a timing issue. My Ukrainian residency visa expired today on Friday June 14, yet El couldn’t get vacation time until starting on Saturday June 15. So, here I am living the bartender’s mantra, "you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here". El coming to Europe usually requires an overnight flight from NYC and if she couldn’t leave until Saturday June 15, she wouldn’t arrive until June 16. I weighed options of where I could go by myself. Then I talked to some friends who were Ireland bound. In Peace Corps my training cluster was Patrick, Amy, Sara, Noelia, and myself. We have all remained friends throughout service and when Sara, Patrick, and Noelia told me they were going to spend a few days in Dublin, I asked if I could join. They welcomed the request and I made my plans. Tonight Patrick and I will grab a bus from Dublin Airport to the small city of Kilkenny where we will meet up with Sara, Noelia, Andrea (another RPCV), and Jen (Sara's friend from the U.S.). This is the beginning of the last hurrah.

We land at Heathrow with a smooth two hour layover. We laugh and joke at our luck to have the time to get to our next gate- how hard can it be?? We see a sign that says "international transfers", I mean we are on a layover to Dublin. We wait in the line that thankfully moves at a respectable speed. Getting to the front we hand over our passports and boarding passes only to be told that we are in the wrong terminal! This is the line for international transfers on British Airways ONLY, all other international transfers are from Terminal 1 which is a 10 minute shuttle away. We are still fine on time and head downstairs to the shuttle stop. We think that it should have been made a little more obvious. We get on the bus still joking now that the buses actually have garbage cans on them and that [gasp] people are using them! A concept that has been largely and sadly missing from our lives for the past 27 months. We get to Terminal 1 and follow the signs for international flights. We come upon a hall with signs for UK nationals and “other” passports. We walk through the, again, fast moving line and as we get pretty close to the front it starts to dawn on me that this is the customs and passport control line to enter England and not actually the passage to our connecting flight. Before getting to the front I ask an agent if we are in the right spot. Of course, he says no and points us down the hall for international flights. Now the only joking we are doing is wondering how the most difficult part of our trip so far has been in an English speaking airport. We pass a desk with landing cards on them. I wonder if this is something we need to fill out. Patrick says “no” because he specifically asked that question on the Kiev to London flight. As we get towards the passport control I see signs that indicate differently. I ask another agent who confirms that we do indeed need to fill out the form including an address of where we will stay in Ireland. Luckily I had that information on me and as we get in line we realize that our comfortable lead time is shrinking before our eyes. After answering questions about our vacation plans, we pass to biometric scanning. The UK has a policy to photograph all passengers on their flights. The process does not take but a few seconds and we are off- only until our next stop, this time for security check. Assuming we had already been cleared having come from another flight, we stand in line after seeing there is no other option. Having gone through the full security check in Kiev without incident I was a bit surprised to hear myself set off the walk through detector even without metal on me. This requires a full body scan. Again only a few seconds and I get waved on. I go to the end of the conveyor to pick up my pocket contents and laptop. However, I do not see my backpack that went through at the same time. I look around to learn that because of the amount of electronics inside, my bag has been selected for luggage equivalent of a full cavity search. The full inspection includes removing every single item from my pack and then opening every bag inside. Then swabbing every item and the inside of the bag itself. My cooperation made the process more painful for the bag than for me, but it still took about 20 minutes from zip down to zip up. Evidently, according to Patrick, the real show was the woman next to me who had been flagged because of the sheer number of liquids she was trying to bring with her. "She must have been an Avon saleswoman or something" he hypothesized and as we exit the security area there is a mini kiosk with a sign that asks what your satisfaction level was during the screening process. There were four buttons ranging from a green happy face to a dark red angry face. I guess you just press a button as you walk past. The woman packed her bag after the screening, walked to the machine and threw the red face a punch that should have cracked it. His laughter was contagious as he told the story. We make it through and then need to walk what seemed like the longest intraterminal walk in history. Finally reaching the section with our gate we see that it is already boarding. We step it up to get to the gate only to have to go through yet another biometric scan and passport check. We eventually get to the plane and board with only a few minutes to spare!

Coming from Kiev where it was hot, wearing our shorts and t-shirts we are welcomed to Dublin with 11Co/51Fo temperatures, downpouring- sometimes sideways blowing rain, and they lost one of Patrick’s bags. Welcome to Dublin! The girls meet Patrick and I at the bus stop and we walk with our bags to the hostel just a few blocks away. We head out for a night on the town to a place for dinner and drink. Sadly, the kitchen is closed so we head to a kebab place first. Not realizing that the bars all close at 2:00am, we spend more time eating than we should. We wind up at Kytelers Inn where we get a seat in the back room to be able to talk to each other. It is a fun night with many toasts and good conversation. It is all quality time. We are the last to leave at 2:01. Patrick and I walk back to the hostel with a plan to meet at 10:00am for a “traditional Irish breakfast”.


4/5 cluster reunion in Dublin [L-R Sara, Noelia, Patrick, me]


SATURDAY JUNE 15, 2013 KILKENNY

We sleep solidly, but awake early. We check emails and meet other travelers in the hostel’s kitchen. The weather is leaps and bounds better than yesterday. Sunny and cool, not windy and rainy. Not sure if it will last the day, but we are enjoying it now. We are letting Andrea set the plan, especially in Kilkenny, since we don’t even know what our options are. First stop is the same bar from last night for "traditional Irish breakfast". As we stand in front of the door, we realize they aren’t even open yet. We switch to the place across the street called Marble City Tea Room. We order the breakfast tower which includes bacon, sausage, egg, potato farl (like a mashed potato patty fried like a pancake), black and white pudding and tea. It costs €8.50 and is worth it. I question if the inclusion of blood is the only difference between the black and white sausages, but the waitress is not sure of any of the ingredients and promises to check with the chef. In fact everyone at the table and the waitress seemed surprised to hear about blood in the black sausage at all. The breakfast is good. Very meaty. A bit salty, but tasty and a nice introduction to the “Irish breakfast” experience. It has started to rain on us. Sometimes hard so we decide to go to Kilkenny castle to get out of the rain. €6 entrance. No photos inside. I do not think the money for the inside was worth it, but it did keep us out of the rain, so that counts for something. However, when NOT raining, photos outside are recommended.


Kilkenny Castle in a moment between rains

Next, with the weather clearing for a moment we head to St. Canice's Church to climb up the round tower. There are about 111 steps up and the tower is very narrow. The tower is small and the view is good. We take a few pictures and head to a bar called Brewery Corner which offers plenty of local beer selections. It is a nice quiet place with good music. We sit and have a rest. After beer we head back in two cars to Andrea's aunt and uncle: Anna and Andy. Anna and Andy are the epitome of welcoming hosts. There is no way to feel uncomfortable after meeting them. Sincerely good people. They prepare a meal of chicken, potato, and veggies that stuffs us all beyond reasonable limits. The dessert is disparaged continually by Anna, who obviously hasn’t tried it, since it is really wonderful. After dinner we try to digest, but wind up getting a taxi back to the center to get a start on our evening. El arrives in the morning and I don’t want to make it a long night. We start off at a place called Hole In The Wall. I have some whiskey and some great conversations with patrons. We are all having an issue feeling like we have eaten too much and need some time to digest. Around 10:00pm a DJ comes in to set up for his set. We decide as a group to hightail it out of there and head a block over to Andrew Ryan's Pub, but with El arriving early tomorrow, I need to call it a night and head back to the hostel.

SUNDAY JUNE 16, 2013 KILKENNY > DUBLIN

With a landing from NYC at 5:10am and then the bus to Kilkenny, I expect El around 8:50. I get up and out and get some photos of the early Sunday morning streets of Kilkenny.


 Kilkenny early on a Sunday morning

Having no preconceived notions about Ireland or its people, and having been in town for just 36 hours, I am impressed by the friendliness of the people. Every encounter has been great so far. As for the convenience, I am reserving judgment at this point. The bus from Dublin to Kilkenny only runs about every 3-4 hours or so. Coming from Ukraine where local buses ran on an incredibly frequent rate, this is one of the first speedbumps that reminds me I am in transition from one country to another. Today we have been invited to early dinner at Andrea’s family's house, then we will train back to Dublin for a night out- our last with Sara and Patrick. So far today has been all about spending time with family and friends, leaving the sightseeing for another day. It was a wonderful way to spend our time in this sleepy little city before heading to Dublin for some real action. The trains from Kilkenny to Dublin run five times a day on weekdays and Saturdays. Four times on Sunday with the last being 6:43pm. The ride is 1h50m and costs €25. The train arrives to Heuston Station on time and we need to find the bus or LUAS (like a tram/metro combo) to get to the hostel. It looks like our bus does not run on Sundays. Luckily the LUAS is next to the bus stop and cheaper than the bus so we take it two stops to Smithfield. The hostel is near the Old Jameson Distillery and is impressively large and well equipped. After we get checked into the hostel, we all meet at the hostel bar and take the LUAS to Temple Bar. I learn that “Temple Bar”, in addition to being the name of a popular a pub, is also the name of the section of the city. The natural thing for us to do is to start our evening at The Temple Bar Pub in the Temple Bar area. It is crowded and difficult to move towards the front. Towards the back it thins out enough and we are lucky to score a table for seven standing. We each order our own drinks and speak about the next phases in our lives. At some point a youngish man walks by Noelia and comments on the smell of her hair. Before we know it the man and his friends are chatting with Noelia and her friends. He keeps talking about hair smells and as a joke I comment that I too showered today and have wonderful smelling hair. The comment gets a laugh...until he takes me up on the offer to smell my ponytail! It was a little weird, but I had to hand it to the guy for pulling off an effective introduction line, even if it included smelling my locks. Hungry, we move on to the next place. One of the problems with traveling with seven people is that decisions are harder and take longer to make. There is a lot of "where do you want to go?" followed by "I don’t know, what are the options?" followed by "I don’t know, let’s just walk and see if we can find something." No one wants to make a commitment or pick the place, but everyone has an opinion about a place they have never been to. It is raining on and off and causes us to make some decisions quicker than if it were clear skies. We wind up eating at the Old Storehouse Restaurant and Bar. It is late and the kitchen is closing. We are listening to a live band playing classic rock songs in an Irish style. I get the fish and chips (which I think may be more of a London thing than a Dublin thing). It is OK, but probably not worth the €12 for the plate. We walk out to the street and into the rain. We have no destination and so starts the "where to next?" conversation. I suggest a recommended bar without knowing how far it is. I say the name, someone says it’s a little far but doable, and some agree to head that way. Except for those that say "I don’t want to go there" but fail to offer an alternative. We walk in the rain for a few minutes and then I decide to try the next pub we see which happens to be Buskers Bar on Fleet Street. It is more of a sports/live music bar than a dingy pub, but everyone gets something to drink. The live music is loud and the sport on TV is golf. I pull out my pub guide and choose another, final stop called The Palace Bar. It is a pub that looks like it caters more to the silver haired, cigar smoking, fine Irish whiskey sipping crowd. We blend right in. The LUAS stops running at 11:30pm, and we are resigned to take a €9 taxi back to the hostel. Once back at the hostel, some call it a night for an early morning, while others head down to the bar in the hostel. It was a nice end to our first hours in Dublin.



Group photo in Dublin
 

MONDAY JUNE 17, 2013 DUBLIN

Sara and Patrick leave before everyone gets up. The rest of us meet in the hostel lobby. I have found that getting five people to do the same thing at the same time is proving to be quite difficult. Some are early risers ready to hit the city, while others need more time to just roll out of bed. We are finally collected and moving in the same direction around 11:00am. We want to see the Book of Kells, but it doesn’t open until 2:00pm today due to a morning visit by Michelle Obama. On the way we decide to stop and take the Jameson Distillery tour.


aging barrels at the Old Jameson Distillery

The tour is €14 and lasts about an hour. The distillery is not operational today (this is the "old" distillery, the new one is near Cork) but the tour is fine. After grabbing some food and taking the tour which includes a sample of Jameson worth €5, we take the LUAS to the O’Connell St. stop and walk to Trinity College (where the Book of Kells is located). Michelle Obama is leaving as we arrive. We get there in time for the 2:00pm student guided walking tour of the campus. The tour costs €10, but includes the €9 entrance fee for the Book of Kells. There is quite a bit of historical information and our guide seems pretty knowledgeable. The tour lasts about 35 minutes and ends at the Book of Kells. Besides the name, I have no idea of what the story behind it is. At the end of the tour the guide gives a brief history of the book and some of the anecdotes associated with it being stored at the college. It really is a beautiful campus.


campus of Trinity College

sculpture on the campus of Trinity College

waiting on the campus of Trinity College to see The Book of Kells


our last day together in Dublin [L-R El, me, Andrea, Noelia, Jen]

We wait in line for about 25 minutes to see the Book of Kells and the gallery which has panels with enlarged photos of the book and more detailed information about the people who wrote the pictorial depiction of the Bible. There is no photography allowed and the book itself is a little anticlimactic. Not bad, but will admit to having a little bit of an "is that all?" reaction. After the book, we head upstairs to the "long room" where photos are without flash. I am still shocked when you do go to an exhibit that prohibits photography of any kind, to see many patrons reaching for their cameras. Amateur photographers who can’t resist breaking the rules. The long room is interesting to look at and El takes some great pictures.

The "long room" library. Books are sorted by size, NOT Dewey decimal system

The "long room" library

The "long room" library

After the museum we head to get food and beer. We walk to Grafton St. which is a pedestrian walk. Stopping at a restaurant called Bewley's Café. We discuss our next steps and the possibility of drinking. I order a roast beef sandwich and a cider. The food is a little on the underwhelming side. A little bland, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a little mayo and ketchup. The lunch is filling and we plan to hit a bar in the area afterwards. We head to Bruxells to get a photo with the Phil Lynott statue. We arrive to a posterboard announcing that the statue of Phil is "out of town" and will return “shortly”.
Phil wasn't having visitors when I was there

We enter the bar to the tunes of Bruno Mars and there is no wi-fi. This is a disappointment. We down our beers and head across the street to McDaids Pub. I decide to move from beer to an Irish Whiskey taste test by ordering one shot of Paddy and one Jameson to compare. We stay for an hour and then head towards Merrion Square Park to see the monument to Oscar Wilde. I don’t know much about the guy, but do find some of his wit very funny.

Oscar Wilde quotes etched on pillars in the park

Oscar Wilde memorial statue in the park

Oscar Wilde quotes etched on pillars in the park

The sky is deceptively light and it is later than we think. We lose three more of our group tomorrow morning and they need to pack before going out tonight, so El and I head out first. We walk around the corner from the hostel to the Cobblestone Pub and walk into a real "trad sess" [traditional session] which is sort of like an open mic/jam session for traditional Irish music. One person shows with a banjo or fiddle and another guy whips out his penny whistle and another will just start singing and the snowball effect continues until all who want to join are playing. There are probably 15 people in the band with several different instruments.

Everyone brings their instrument and just joins in. Fun to witness.

They sometimes take longer to find a song they all know than actually playing the song. I was told that this place was "the most authentic Irish bar in Ireland". This may be true, but it’s kind of a dump. Part of the charm I suppose, but it’s not exactly the face I’d put on a "traditional Irish pub". With some having to be up and out early, we don’t make it a late night and are retired around midnight.

Noelia and I on our last night together in Dublin

TUESDAY JUNE 18, 2013 DUBLIN

El and I are up and out around 8:00. Noelia and Jen are gone when we leave and Andrea is on her way out with us. El and I find a free walking tour from the hostel at 10:30am so we go for a small breakfast and cursory day planning in the meantime. We are still getting acquainted with the layout of the city and figuring out what can be done sooner because it is nearby, versus what is better to push to another day. Our breakfast of tea and scones hits the spot and the “Irishness” of it reminds me I am not in Ukraine anymore. Having never read James Joyce's novel Ulysses, I have read about Bloomsday (a day, June 14, when fans of the book come to Dublin to retrace the steps of the story). Being that today is the 18th of June and I never read the book, it doesn’t matter much to me. However, Bloomsday is on our list of 1000 Places To See Before You Die, so we agree to find one stop on the tour to be able to check it off the list. After the tour we will try to find a place called Davey Jones Pub. We take the walking tour which starts on Dame St. across the street from the Olympia Theatre and lasts 3.5 hours. I hope the weather holds up. The tour starts with a historical background of Ireland. Our guide, Robbie, is in good spirits and is a bit funny. The history starts around the time of the last ice age and goes all the way up to modern day. We are learning things like that in Ireland St. Patrick’s Day is a religious holiday and that ironically until just 30 years ago March 17 was one of only three holidays of the year that pubs are not allowed to open. We go to the Dublin Castle and the president’s helipad. Next stop is Christ Church Cathedral that includes a funny story about a mummified cat chasing a mummified rat. We head down to Temple Bar and get some history of this area. We hear the retelling of the story when U2 won a battle of the bands in Dublin in 1978 and went across the street to celebrate at a bar where they were refused service and famously vowed to return one day and buy the bar. They made good on their promise and today own the Clarence Hotel and the Octagon Bar. We take a pit stop at the bar called Badbobs. It's fine enough, but we only stay 20 minutes. A shot of Jameson and small pack of peanuts should hold me over until proper lunch. We walk through Temple Bar to the Ha'penny Bridge a/k/a Liffey Bridge. 


Ha'penny (pronounced hape-knee) Bridge a/k/a Liffey Bridge over the River Liffey

The joke being that it was renovated by Harland & Wolff, the company who built the Titanic. We continue on to the Trinity College campus. We hear a lot of the same information as we heard yesterday on the student tour. We are told that the “long room” library was the basis for the Jedi library in the Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and Harry Potter films. We walk on to St. Stephen’s Green and saw a remembrance monument to the Irish Potato Famine, although history says that the situation was more like an engineered starvation instead of a famine which would have been just a natural lack of food.



Memorial to the victims of the "potato famine" in St. Stephen's Green

The tour winds down in the park and we get a last push of historical information before the end. After the tour we are hungry. We look at our list of things to do and go back to Leo Braddock for the fish and chips recommended by Anthony Bourdain. We had to try it. The thing is that they offer no seating and many people take their food to go and eat in the Christ Church Cathedral, which is exactly what we do. The fish and chips are acceptable, but not the best I have ever eaten. 


Recommended by Anthony Bourdain. Approved by Sim and El.

My fish and chips lunch

great desserts this place


After lunch, El and I head to a café called Queen of Tarts for a Bailys cheesecake and hot chocolate. We have a couple more stops to make before we head back to the hostel. What do I know about James Joyce? Well, let’s just say I’ve been calling it “Davey Jones Pub” all day until we come upon the joint and learn it is, in fact, “Davy Byrnes Pub”. The Bloomsday special is a gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of Burgundy. I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that my pint of Smithwicks is enough for me to be able to check it off the list and be one more step towards my last. After taking our pictures and talking to the waitress about the craziness of the crowd on Sunday (actual Bloomsday) we move on.


Not fans of James Joyce

It is about 5:30pm. We are very full and tired. We agree to make one more stop at a place called The International which is a quintessential dive bar. Being so full, I get a shot of Powers whiskey and nothing more. We walk back to the hostel to prepare our bags for our trip tomorrow to Belfast. We decide to make it an early night instead of resting now and leaving later, we go out now and plan to return early for resting. One of the bars recommended for me is called Fibber Magees. It is a heavy metal bar and we get there early enough that there are plenty of free tables. The music is loud and the beer selection is great. We walk into a few Motley Crue songs, followed by Metallica and Sepultura. There is a Motorhead mural on the wall. I really like this place so far and expect that El will be tired of it soon, if she isn’t already, but she humors me and we catch up on journals and emails as we drink our last few beers in Dublin before heading to Belfast tomorrow morning. Around 11:00pm we call it a night. We spot several pubs between here and the hostel, but agree it is better to get the early start to our day tomorrow and call it a night.

Always the sign of a good bar

I really liked this place

WEDNESDAY JUNE 19, 2013 DUBLIN > BELFAST

We have an 11:00am train to Belfast. I have been told to allow 30 minutes and awake accordingly. I am not sure if El and I are cut out for hostels yet, but we should know after this trip. I have booked the train tickets online. I know we need to walk to the LUAS, get into Connolly Station, find out how to get our tickets printed, and get to the track 20 minutes before departure. Not sure if I failed to ask the right questions or if luck was on our side, but after getting up at 8:00, we are showered, checked out, at the station, have our tickets printed from the dispensing machine and sitting in the waiting area by 9:15. We are glad that we are earlier than late, but still, we have a lot of time to spare. We start sorting through the papers we have for information on Belfast. Knowing we would spend most of our time in Dublin, we bought a Dublin guidebook, which excludes other cities (like Belfast and Cork, the other city we will spend a day in). One of the things we would like to see is the Giant’s Causeway, which we are learning, is 75 miles outside of Belfast. We think our first stop in Belfast will be the tourist info office, but for now we wait for our train to depart. We will have half a day today, all day tomorrow and then only the early morning on Friday in Belfast. There are group day tours up the coast and including the Giant’s Causeway. It leaves in the morning and gets back at 7:00pm. The trick now is to figure out how to do as much as possible during the time that is not going to be spent on the bus ride tomorrow. Our first stop in Belfast after checking in to the hostel is to go to the Titanic museum. We have some restaurant and pub suggestions that should be enough for tonight. We shall see how it works out. The train between Dublin and Belfast is quite scenic as we ride along the Irish coast. It is difficult for me to get many good shots considering our seats and the bumpiness of the ride. I expect that there are some good photo spots on the day trip to the Causeway tomorrow. We arrive punctually into Belfast. 

Trying to get a good shot from the moving train was tough

It is kind of disappointing that we cannot, for the life of us, find directions to the hostel from the train station on their website. We know they are near the Botanic Station but how to get there we are clueless. We ask in the Central Station and they help us with directions and tell us there is a train to Botanic soon and that it is a free transfer with the train ticket from Dublin. It is only one stop and takes only minutes. We walk a couple blocks to the hostel and check in. We sign up for the Causeway tour tomorrow and get directions to the Titanic docks and museum. At stores and other points of sale I am starting to get offers more and more if we want to charge in euros, pounds, or dollars. I need to do some internet research to see if there is a hidden scam afoot (like inflated exchange rates). The train to Titanic docks is £1.60 round trip. We arrive with seconds to spare for the walking tour which costs £9 and takes 1.5 hours.
 

our guide shows us actual photos of the Titanic in the dry dock taken from exactly the same spot

The dry dock where they floated the Titanic (and many other ships) in and then pumped the water out in order to finish building them


the actual room where the Titanic architects designed the ship

We also buy our tickets for the museum which is not connected to the walking tour. The tour is quick moving with some interesting information. A lot of it is pointing to run down rusty things and telling us to imagine the spot in its heyday. There are a lot of photos from that era but I am interested to see how much repetition is on the museum tour. The tour is fine overall, but seems a bit steep at £9 each. We see the pump house and the dry dock where there are a lot of cheesy sounds as if you were standing in the shipyard. The sounds just seemingly random are more distracting than authentic sounding. After the tour which included a woman who could not stop talking about herself and details of her family- god, she would NOT shut up, El and I go to the museum. This too takes about 1.5 hours and costs £28. There are some interesting exhibits, but mostly just enlarged old photos and models. We go through and agree it was sort of interesting, but when we realize that we have just spent £46 and almost four hours, I am not sure it was worth it. I look at it this way, if you are a Titanic enthusiast (which there evidently are) then this is the place for you. But, if you are like me and did not know until 24 hours ago that the Titanic was built in Belfast, then you might want to see other things in town instead. 

The Titanic museum in Belfast

A sculpture in front of the museum

El and I in the Titanic sign

We are both very hungry and ready for beer. I have an address of another Bourdain recommendation called the Crowne Saloon. In fact when I asked a guy in the museum for the best way to Great Victoria St., he suggested I find a place called the Crowne Saloon to get a pint. Then I looked at the name and realized he was sending me to the same place. That is promising. I have also been informed of something interesting. As I want to pay for a bottle of water I noticed that I had paid with a "Bank of Ireland" pound note and then received a “Bank of England” pound note as change. I asked what the difference was and she said that every place in Northern Ireland takes both the BoI and BoE notes, but that BoI notes are harder to spend in England. "They don’t really like them" is what she told me. El and I walk back to the train station and head back into the center. We need food and the next train is in 8 more minutes and can’t come quick enough. FYI, if you ask to be charged in US dollars, there is a 3.5% fee. Better to get a card with no fee and then charge in local currency. We walk out of the Great Victoria St. Station and sure enough the restaurant is right in front of us. The bar is packed, but the upstairs dining room seats us immediately. I order a beef and Guinness pie, fries, salad and a pint of beer. Did I mention we are really hungry? The place does look a classic old bar. The dinner is decent. The pie is tasty. A small, but filling portion. The fries were nothing to write home about, but here I am writing home about them. The salad and dressing was weak as were the string beans. The beer strong and a precursor to the evening. We will try to hit a few pubs in this area before calling it a night and decide if we need to come back to this area tomorrow or just stick to the local neighborhood. 

The Crowne Saloon

After dinner we pass on dessert and head next door to Fibber McGees which might just be a popular name for bars because it is nowhere near the metal vibe as the one in Dublin since this one is way more of a traditional Irish music offering. The place is rather empty, so we just get a drink and plan to move to another in a few minutes. On the five block walk to a place called Filthy McNasty's, El confides she needs to pee. I question her choice of waiting until we get to a place callled “Filthy McNasty's” to go, instead of taking care of things at the last bar we were at. We are not sure when the trains stop running and opt to make this the last stop in this area for the night. We will head back to Botanic (where the hostel is) and maybe grab a dessert. Otherwise we will call it a night in preparation for our long tour day tomorrow. One thing is a little strange for us is the fact that at 10:00pm the sky is perfectly light. Not like sun shining light, but like the longest dusk you have ever experienced. I switch up to cider- which usually isn’t my favorite drink, but it is really popular here and I choose a brand I haven’t had before now. This bar is pretty crowded and we find a table for two upstairs in the outdoor courtyard and has heat lamps for comfort. I am getting tired and am sure we will head back after this one drink. We sit in the bar playing Scrabble. We talk with the table next to us who advise us we can walk back to the hostel from here without taking a train or taxi. The walk home is short and the hostel is quiet enough, except for a few late night door slammers. We settle in for the night.

THURSDAY JUNE 20, 2013 BELFAST

We are up at 7:30 to get ready for our day to the Giant’s Causeway. We grab some free breakfast at the hostel and wait for our tour pickup. The hostel is pretty good with clean bathrooms and common areas, but the circulation in the rooms is a little lacking and it makes for a warm sleep. So far, like Dublin, Belfast seems to be easy to walk around. I don’t think I will be disappointed in the short time we have here, and doubt I will long for sights missed. It is the first day that I am feeling anxious about being unemployed when I get home. Let's hope that feeling goes away. Our tour bus is on time to pick us up at the hostel. The tour tickets are £25 each and the tour runs all day. When we get on the bus they immediately tell us that the Bushmills Distillery is closed, the bathrooms on the bus don’t work, and the lunch stop they routinely make is closed too. We also have to make a decision in 10 minutes if we want to buy discounted tickets for £10 for entrance into two of the stops on the tour. Biggest problem for me is that there is a rather large group of Asian tourists on our bus who either don’t understand, or don’t care to listen to the tour guide, so when he gives us information over the speaker system, they just continues to speak at full volume amongst themselves making it difficult to pay attention to the info he is giving. The sky is grey. I hope the rain holds off and clouds dissipate. This should be a day filled with photo opportunities. Our first stop is at Carrickfergus Castle. 

William of Orange in front of Carrickfergus Castle

I hate cheesy. And the wooden cutouts painted to look like soldiers defending the castle is cheesy to the hilt. We are told to go to the bathroom here since there will be no opportunity for the next two hours. I find it interesting that all distances are given in mi./ft./in. where I expected metrics. I think someone (I swear it was not me!) complained about the noisy Asians, and they have quieted down. We drive a sleepy bit along the coast. Seriously, most people are sleeping. The driver gives some info to those who are awake. We start to pass some of the scenery we expected to see on the tour. At one point we are just 15 miles away from Mull of Kintyre, Scotland and the driver reminds us of the Paul McCartney song. At one point we need to leave the coastal road due to the size of the bus. There certainly are some picturesque views, but the bus does not stop. We take several photos, but don’t expect them to do the views justice. We see a vanishing lake where the water table is at or near surface level. Therefore it can rise or go dry very quickly regardless of weather conditions. We stop at the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge for 1.5 hours. We had decided it was best to just buy one discounted ticket for the rope bridge crossing. I expect it will be me doing the crossing as El can get a little skittish about heights. We make the 1km trek to the actual bridge. It is free to walk to see it, but you have to pay to cross it. Upon seeing the bridge, El decides to take the camera and make the walk herself 30 meters above the rocky sea inlet. I stay behind and journal as she exercises her photography skills. Now the Asian tourists are pissing off the bridge attendants by either jumping up and down on the bridge to cause it to sway and/or stopping for too long to take photos of each other on the bridge while others are waiting to cross. Hey, at least they were quiet on the bus! The rain is sprinkling and the wind is minimal. The cliffs are nice to look at, but nothing we haven’t seen before. Our next stop is the Giant’s Causeway.


El decides to brave the rope bridge and stops to have her photo taken

...more photos on the bridge

on the cliffs overlooking the rope bridge


After an hour and a half it is time to move on. The rain is getting a little steadier, but we do have our raincoats with us. The bus ride to Giant’s Causeway is only about 20 minutes. We exit to rain and with only one ticket to the visitor’s center. I can buy another for full price, but decide against. We choose to walk down to the Giant’s Causeway first and get our photos. The whole legend that goes along with the Giant’s Causeway makes the audio guide very cheesy with reenactments of conversations between mythological creatures etc. We walk down about 1km to the actual Giant’s Causeway passing some of the remarkable rock formations along the way. Once you get to the actual steps, I will admit that I had an "is that all" moment. I mean "Giant’s Causeway" makes me think grand on the scale of Grand Canyon or Grand Teton’s, this however is grand on the scale of something much less grand- like Bally’s Grand Casino. It is approximately 40,000 interlocking volcanic hexagonal rocks that protrude into the sea. It looks like a giant honeycomb. Then we return to the visitor’s center for El to take the tour, but based on time and interest, she decides she has had enough Giant’s Causeway and ready to head back to the bus. 

at Giant's Causeway

at Giant's Causeway

at Giant's Causeway

at Giant's Causeway

at Giant's Causeway

at Giant's Causeway


She was able to get an audio guide included with her ticket which was pretty helpful at pointing out rock formations of interest. On the way back to Belfast we do a drive-by of the Bushmills Distillery and a photo stop of a castle that lies in ruins. Having done the scenic route this morning to get here, the bus takes the faster route home. The ride back is 1.25h and the driver tells us he has no more info and remains silent for the duration of the trip. I sleep most of the way. El reads through the guide book and thinks we should do a self-guided walking tour of the murals and other things dedicated to or as a reminder of the struggle that has been part of this city for so long. I suggest early tomorrow morning, but she counters with when we get back tonight. Either way I am happy to do it. We have a guided walk in the guidebook and I also stop into the visitor’s center to see if they have anything for us. They give me a good map and we start the 2 mile walk which includes iconic images such as the fist mural, the Sinn Fein headquarters, and the Garden of Remembrance. 

wall of murals on Falls Rd.


the 18' "peace fence"

mural of Bobby Sands

mural to the people killed by rubber bullets




The first stop, though, is an 18 foot high chain link and razor wire "peace fence". We follow the map down Falls Rd. and eventually work our way over to Shankill Rd. (these were the frontlines of “the Troubles”, the political strife that ravaged Belfast from the 1960’s until the peace accords in 1998). As we make our way onto Shankill Rd., we realize that all of the cross streets that connect the two have been closed to pedestrian and car traffic. We then have to walk way out of our way to get back to where we started. It is getting on 9:00pm before we can find the bar we have wanted to go to and sadly their kitchen is closed. El goes to Yelp to find a restaurant in the area. We find a place called Made In Belfast which is packed, but given the hour they are able to fit us in. I order an Irish sirloin with mini steak and Guinness pie. We share a bottle of cider. We are really glad we did that walk. We are tired and ready to eat our first real meal of the day. We start with something called Irish cheddar bread which is kind of like a focaccia with cheese and grilled vegetables on top. The sirloin is a little overcooked for my liking. The steak pie is good. The fries and onion rings served on the side seem redundant. The room is a little loud but we like the place overall. We will head back to John Hewitt Pub for an after dinner drink as we are too full for dessert here. We get to John Hewitt and as we are approaching the entrance, we can hear the live music from down the block. It's just a cover band, not like a “trad sess” or anything. The room is medium size, but the band is loud. We opt for a small order to be able to say we had a drink here and then moved on. In our detour to get back, we were able to see the artwork on the street level of the peace fence. It was nice to see so many messages of peace for all. The experience was enough for me to want to learn more about what the artwork is commemorating exactly. It looks like a lot of people died fighting, but I don’t know who the sides were and what exactly they were fighting for. It is after 10:00pm now and we do have a morning train back to Dublin. I think it is safe to say we have experienced a taste of Belfast. As El usually reminds me, we have probably done more than many other people with the same amount of time. We will probably head back to the hostel neighborhood to finish off our night. We are both extremely tired, we call it a night after walking back to the hostel. It is about 11:00pm on a Wednesday and I am a little surprised at the number of public drunkenness we see. We are not harassed, but it seems that single females could find it uncomfortable to walk here at this hour. We want to get an early start to our day tomorrow, so we call it a night.

Observation: people who have visited Ireland usually talk about how green it is, and after driving up the coastal highway yesterday, I see what they were talking about. The only thing, for me at least, is that I am not overly impressed by grass. I am more impressed by feats of architecture and points of interest. I was way more interested in the wall murals last night than the rolling hills of the Irish coast.

FRIDAY JUNE 21, 2013 BELFAST > DUBLIN

We wake naturally 15 minutes before the alarm. We are out pretty quickly- if there is one thing I have learned about hostels is that most people are awake either really early (for the airport) or really late because they got in very late. So, 8:00am is actually a good time to get out with reasonable speed and hot water in the shared water tanks. We do a money count as this is our last day for pounds. We have enough for a sit down breakfast and NO Bank of Ireland notes. We spot a cafe between the hostel and the train station called French Village. At 8:30 the place is virtually empty so we are seated and order quickly. Not knowing when we will eat again today, I go for the big breakfast with a cup of hot chocolate. Our train is at 10:45am, so we are good on time...provided the train is. When arriving to Belfast from Dublin on the train or going to Dublin from Belfast if you present your ticket, the fare for the connector is free. Since we already have our return tickets, our train to Central Station is also free saving us the money for the train ticket to the station out of town. The trains are really clean and smooth and cost €30 each for the roundtrip. They are all comfortable. All opposites from the Ukrainian trains I have used so much the past 2 years! In Belfast they have people checking your tickets at the exit of the train station. Our train departs on time. A couple of hiccups involving a mislabeled train car and a drink cart operator who does not seem to grasp the concept of a large bag of luggage and a drink cart not being able to occupy the same space at the same time. We start our journey back to Dublin. As I leave Belfast I wish I maybe had 1 more day here. If for nothing else than to take a walking tour of the city. Also, there are things called "Black Taxi Tour" which can give you a more detailed and informational tour about the West Belfast area where “the Troubles” were centered. We arrive to Dublin on time from Belfast around 1:15pm. We are trying to decide if buying a bus pass would make financial sense for us, but after looking at how far the hotel is from the city center and how much we think we will use it, we vote against and instead choose to a la carte it for public transport. For the sake of time we take a taxi to the hotel which is seemingly miles from the city center. It costs €15, but also means we didn’t have to drag our luggage on the public transport. We get checked in to the hotel and are on our way back to the city center on the bus soon thereafter. We only have two more non-pub stops to do before we leave: the Guinness tour and St. Patrick Cathedral. We are on our way to a pub now and will try to book our Guinness tour online. The bus is €2.40 coin only, exact change only. Once getting into the center, our first stop is the tourist info center to ask about some guidebooks El had heard about. Our fist pub stop is the Stag's Head on Dame St. It is an old style bar and the food is supposed to be great. We are pacing ourselves though and only get a pint and cup of soup. We may try for St. Patrick’s Cathedral after this and then continue pubbing around temple bar before heading back to the hotel. While we are at the Stag’s Head we see that St Patrick’s closes in a half an hour. We instead decide to head to Christ Church Cathedral which closes at 6:15pm this time of the year. El is disappointed to learn of the €6 entrance fee to the church. I have no interest so I stay outside to journal while she does whatever it is that she does in churches (photos mostly). Walking here though I am reminded of our walking tour when they told us of when they found a completely intact Viking settlement in Dublin (behind the church actually) and instead of preserving it, a group of archaeologists were asked to excavate what they wanted and the rest would be covered over- thereby destroying the ruins. There is a museum of Viking history here in Dublin, but with our trip to Norway next week, I will plan to spend my allotted Viking history time and money there. After this church I expect to hit some more bars. As for Christ Church Cathedral, the story we were told on the tour was that at some point in history it was noticed that the organ was not sounding proper. They called someone to come and look into the problem. He identified the pipe with the problem and reached up and pulled out a mummified cat that had gotten stuck head first in the pipe. Thinking the problem was solved they tried the organ again, but the sound was still not quite right. He again reached into the pipe and this time pulled out a mummified rat, also head first. The organ then played fine and the cat and the rat were placed in the basement of the church, forever enshrined in the classic Tom and Jerry pose. 


inside Christ Church Cathedral

inside Christ Church Cathedral

Tom and Jerry

Around the corner we go to the Brazen Head Pub for a pint. Then onto Foggy Dew which has consistently good music. It is about 8:00pm and we have just been snacking. We book our Guinness tour online for a discount. El chooses our next stop called Hogan's. It is cool, but seems to cater to a younger crowd. We are able to get a table, but the atmosphere is a little weird. It seems more like a lounge than a bar. It’s getting on 9:00pm, so we stop at just one more bar on the way home After Hogan’s we plan to stop at Gypsy Rose on Ashton Quay. This is a good rock bar with cheap drinks. Not a metal bar per se, but a rock and roll bar of the sweaty, dirty, divy kind, and I love it. Without food or wi-fi, we probably won’t be here more than a drink or two. We make Gypsy Rose the last bar of the night.  We walk up to O’Connell St. and find our bus stop in front of McDonald’s. I love the bus stop signs that give real time updates for approaching/expected buses. Ours is 19 minutes away and we decide to grab a McDonald’s in the meantime. The bus comes as expected and we are back at the room 15 minutes later. We end our night around 11:00pm.


El getting creative with her photography

the ceiling of Gypsy Rose Pub

Anecdote: On our walking tour of Dublin, we were asked if we had been through Connelly Station. We had and confirmed that we had noticed the breeze that flows through the station. There are a lot of open track platforms and a design that creates a wind effect. The guide asked if we had ever been in the New Delhi, India train station. We have not and are told that it is one of the hottest, stuffiest buildings with the least circulated air in all of India. The reason, he says, is that the same architect designed both stations in England and sent the plans off the be built, not expecting that they would have gotten switched at some point allowing Dublin’s station to be built in India and New Delhi's station to be built in Ireland.

SATURDAY JUNE 22, 2013 DUBLIN

For our last full day in Dublin we have the Guinness Storehouse tour and St. Patrick’s Cathedral on the agenda. Getting nervous about my baggage being overweight, I decide to mail a package back home. Our first stop is the main post office on O’Connell St. where I mail 2kg, throw some stuff out, and decide instead of throwing all of it away I would find a charity to donate some clothing to. The weather is changing rapidly and goes from bright sunny skies, to violent downpour. We stop at the tourism information and ask a question I am pretty sure they never get asked…”where is the closest OxFam (like Salvation Army- a charity fueled by donations)?” She gives me a map with directions and I hope someone has luck with the blazer and tie I hand over. By the time we are ready to head off to Guinness, it is back to bright skies. It should be about 20 minutes from the center. There are podcasts that you can download from their website- one a walking tour to Guinness, and one for inside the storehouse. The podcasts aren't necessary, just extras for those who want them. The directions are easy enough. We get to the storehouse and want to eat first. We both get small portions, but the food is so heavy, it eats like a full meal. Afterwards we start the tour. El uses the podcast to add some extra fun facts to the tour. As we go through, I am reminded how much I dislike Guinness stout. The storehouse is pretty crowded and booking online definitely saved us some time waiting in lines. Arthur Guinness signed a very famous lease for 9000 years. At the entrance you can see a copy of the lease. Most of the tour is recreations or displays in need of imagination. On the fourth floor you have the option to pour your own pint. We take our group class on how to pour the “perfect pint” which is a 6 step process. It takes 119.5 seconds to pour the perfect pint of Guinness and we now have certificates saying that we can do it. 


at the Guinness Storehouse

El pours her first part of her Guinness

Now it is ready to serve

A perfectly poured pint

view from atop the Guinness building (the world's largest pint glass by the way)

St. James' Gate

After the pouring class we take or pints upstairs to the 7th floor where you can drink at the bar overlooking the city with a 360 degree view. We decide together that we are about done here and choose to press on. The only other thing we want to see today is St Patrick’s Cathedral and I think they close at 4:00pm. We follow the map, but we get a little sidetracked. We arrive around 4:30 and see that the cathedral is open until 5:00. Afterwards we will probably hit a few pubs and eateries trying to get back early so we can get up early and head down to Cork tomorrow morning. El goes into the cathedral as I wait outside. There is a €6 entrance fee and I choose to hang back. I have the maps and chart our evenings worth of pubbing. I think we will go to an area we haven’t visited yet and try that new experience, keeping our eye out for dinner options. First stop is O’Donoghue Bar on Merrion Row. The rain thing is really strange. I mean one second raining hard, the next moment sunny. In fact at one point I was standing and it was dry, but El was just 10ft ahead getting rained on. I could see a wall of rain between us. Anyway, we have decided to switch to half pints for the night. It should be considerably cheaper. We order the only food on the menu, a ham and cheese on toast for €4. We won’t stay here long, but want to try to time our departure between rainfalls, if that is even possible. Our next stop is a pub that is highlighted in the 1000 Places to See Before You Die called Doheny and Nesbitt. It looks like a shrine to many soccer players. Another old style pub. Here we order an appetizer of chili wedges and I choose to do my Jameson/Bushmills taste test. El and I agree that Jameson is smoother and an edge better. Next stop is across the street called Toners. Toners sign reads "pub and tourism office" and I figure what better place to ask about the Rock and Stroll tour, which looks like a walking tour in the city with all rock and roll related history. Sadly, no one seems to know what I am talking about and I cannot find much about the route map online either. I assume it is either too new, or really old and has gone by the wayside to make way for other tours. I saw the church where the Chieftains played their first show, but nothing with Thin Lizzy, Sinéad O'Connor, or Gary Moore. I read online that there is a memorial plaque to Phil Lynott at a place called Merchants Arch. On the way we stop at the last on my list for the night, a bar called The Cellar. However, my list does not usually give an indication of how "divy" the bar is. It turns out that the cellar in this case, instead of as in a dungeon, it is a cellar as in wine cellar. Although we would probably not be refused for our attire, we would certainly get some looks. The menu assures me that any money we have saved tonight buy drinking half pints would have easily been spent at this place. We decide to take a pass and head over to Merchants Arch which is located just near the Gypsy Rose from last night. As we pass Gypsy Rose they are playing Deep Purple and Rainbow. On the walk to the next bar we decide to call it a night. We get to the bus stop and see that we have 25 minutes. We spot a Chinese restaurant called Penang across the street and get some dinner to go that we can eat in the room. I suspect we will not be bar hopping in Norway. I am, now, full of beer. Wow, I feel full. It is 9:10pm and I think we made the right choice. We are in for the night before 10:00pm and set the alarm for 7:00am.. We are Cork bound in the morning.

SUNDAY JUNE 23, 2013 DUBLIN > CORK

Well, of all of the research I have done and all of the things I have prebooked online, one of the only things I neglected was the transport from Dublin to Cork on Sunday morning. After a discussion with El about setting alarms (I like to, she does not) we agreed to set one for today. We checked the train schedules and see that the trains run every hour on the hour between the two cities. We have tickets to see Elton John in Cork tonight but that is the only thing we have scheduled. We know the Blarney Castle is near Cork and think we may try to do that if time allows. We are up at 7:00am and shower and get our bags downstairs we hand in the hotel room keys and walk with bags training to the bus stop. We asked yesterday for the frequency, and were told about every 10-15 minutes. We aren’t at the stop 2 minutes before El notices a bus schedule on the wall that clearly states the buses first run begins at 9:20am on Sundays. 9:20?! It is 8:00 now. Should we wait in this chilly morning air the 1h20m, or bite the bullet and take a taxi? We opt for the taxi hoping to get the 9:00am train. While sitting in the lobby waiting for the taxi we decide to confirm the train station that the trains to Cork leave from. We were correct, it is Heuston, but studying the schedule again reveals that the every hour on the hour schedule is for weekdays and NOT Sundays. There is an 8:30am to a nearby station to Cork, and the next direct train is at 10:00am getting to Cork around 1:00pm. I buy the tickets at the vending machine. They are €62 each and I am glad they take credit cards. I look at the departures monitor and learn that the 8:30am to the nearby station is getting ready to leave. I ask a station attendant if I can get to Cork on that train with my ticket and he says “yea”, but, at 8:28am I only have 2 minutes to catch that train. El and I run and learn that once you get to the nearby station, you have to switch trains for the last leg of the journey. Our next stop is the hostel which is about a 4 minute walk from the train station. It is actually located in a pub, and called Bru Bar and Hostel. It is 11:30ish and we cannot check in until 1:00. Instead of waiting, we do three things that we need to do, find directions to the concert tonight, find the airport shuttle pickup location for tomorrow morning, and find out how to get to Blarney Castle. In a matter of minutes we have done all three. The hostel is in a great central location. The buses to Blarney Castle are by public transport. You buy a ticket at the bus station which costs €6.60 each roundtrip. We leave our bags and grab our cameras and go. El gets a bus schedule which shows that they run to and back from the town of Blarney about once an hour...even on Sundays! It takes about a half hour for the 8km ride. The Blarney Castle admission is €12 each (cash only). We plan to spend only an hour here, but it winds up being closer to two. There are several points of interest on the castle grounds and obviously the Blarney Stone is the main one. That is our first stop. It is a nice and leisurely walk up the steps to the stone. Because of the germ factor, I think I will not kiss the stone and El thinks she just wants to touch it, again without kissing it. However, after standing in the slow moving line, we both cave and assume the position. Sadly, I go first and El is not expecting the camera to be in the off position and fails to get a photo of me kissing the stone. I get up and she hands me the camera, I turn it on and take some shots of her doing it. Not about to spend €10 on the professional photo of the moment, you will just have to take my word that I did it too. After we are done at the stone, we collect our things and straighten our clothes. The girl behind us in line is also having concerns about the “germ factor”. The worker instinctively pulls out a spray bottle of disinfectant and puts her mind at ease. Laughing, I ask the guy “why didn’t you do that for me?” To which he said “you didn’t ask.” Touché. After the stone we head down to the Poison Garden which is a collection of deadly and/or otherwise flowers and plants. It was pretty interesting to walk through the garden seeing specimens of ricin, deadly nightshade, and opium poppies. There was a sample of poison ivy and marijuana, but also plants that you couldn’t even stand near because it will affect your breathing if you inhale it. The grounds also include a fern garden which was pretty, but not being a botanist, I just walk through without many stops. 


Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle


walking up to the stone

El kisses the stone




El and I surrounded by deadly flora

they keep the canibus behind a cage


in the fern garden

El wants to shop for an Irish sweater and I want to get food. The buses run every hour at :38 so we have about 40 minutes until we need to be at the stop. She shops while I journal. We have tickets to see Elton John tonight at the Marquee in Cork. We can walk to the venue from the hostel and back again. We have a 7:00am bus to the airport and need to plan accordingly. El buys what she needs at the woolen mill. Our next bus is at 3:38. Our bus is running a bit late, which seems odd for this country. At least we aren’t the only ones waiting. We see the bus pass going the opposite direction, so he just needs to go one more stop and then turn around. How long can that be? We are still on time for things tonight as it is an 8:00pm show. We get back to the city center and get checked into the hostel. We are told it should take 30 minutes to walk to the concert. We will plan accordingly. We spot a place called the Gourmet (Burger) Bistro. It is a small place with a good looking (if pricy) menu. The place is doing good business for a Sunday at 5:00pm. We hope that the service can keep up. I seem to be having a bit of a relapse on my pinched nerve problem from last October. I have all of the pain without any of the numbness. It has been bothering me for a couple of days, but last night was my first interrupted sleep because of it. I hope some ibuprofen helps, however I think that my moving luggage up and down stairs has been aggravating it. We leave a little early to walk to the show. They say 30 minutes, but you never know. Anyway, after dinner, we grab our stuff from the hostel and start walking. It really does take about 30 minutes and we are pretty early arriving, which only means one thing to those of us in the standing room/general admission...front row seats! Well, maybe not the front row, but we were able to get closer to Elton and his band than most bands we see at the bars. The show is as expected- Elton always gives 100%. I think I prefer seeing him without the band, but that is just an opinion. Not that the band is bad, but I usually see the band, so he plays many of the same songs, whereas with the solo show you get different songs or different versions of the songs he plays with the band. After the show, which appears one song longer than the one he played the night before, we walk back to the hostel. We had trouble connecting to the wi-fi in the room and so to check email, we bring the computer down to the bar. We each get a cider and do what we need to do. We set the alarm for 5:45am to catch the Aircoach to Dublin Airport- as we go to Norway tomorrow. We go to bed tired and we wake up tired.

Elton John: Marquee, Cork, Ireland June 23, 2013
The Bitch Is Back/Bennie And The Jets/Grey Seal/Levon/Tiny Dancer/Holiday Inn/Believe/Mona Lisa’s And Mad Hatters/Philadelphia Freedom/Candle In The Wind/Goodbye Yellow Brick Road/Rocket Man/Hey Ahab/I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues/Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding/All The Girls Love Alice/Sad Songs Say So Much/Daniel/Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word/The One/Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me/I’m Still Standing/Crocodile Rock/Saturday Night’s Alright/Your Song/Circle Of Life

MONDAY JUNE 24, 2013 CORK > DUBLIN AIRPORT

We check out of the hostel at 6:30am. There does not appear to be any open coffee shop on the street we are staying on. We walk over to the airport bus. We are told specifically to print out the email confirmation and bring it to the driver. We get on the bus and are asked for our name. We tell him and he waves us on. No collecting of email. Just a waste of paper. The bus leaves on time at 7:00 am directly to the Dublin Airport to arrive at 10:25am. Our flight to Oslo is at 1:00pm so we do not anticipate any issues. After a 3.5 hour ride we get to the airport within one minute of scheduled arrival. We check in fast and are through security in a flash. We are 2.5 hours away from our flight time. This gives us time to look up transportation options to get to our hotel from the airport in Oslo. The reality of just how expensive this city is starting to show itself. El is in charge of looking up transit passes and options for transport/museum entrance combos.

our final minutes in Cork

Conclusion: As we leave Ireland I have to admit that all in all, I had a better time than I thought I would. I had heard good things about the people, the scenery, and the pubs. That said, the people came through in spades. Everyone from the people who hosted us in their homes, to the strangers who lent me their cell phones to call my friends, to the drunk guys on the street that helped us with directions. Everyone was as nice as they were purported to be. Scenery, well that is another thing. Ireland is known for being green (no doubt due to the weather) and it is pretty, but I did not find it remarkably pretty. It was nice. Not thrilling, but nice. There were some nice spots on the coastal ride up to the Giant’s Causeway- but I doubt that is the scenery that everyone speaks of. Lastly, are the pubs. I love pubs. Always have, always will. We found clean pubs, old pubs, historical pubs, famous pubs, and heavy metal pubs. I liked them all. I cannot explain why Ireland has never been on the top of my list of places to visit, but it wasn't bad. Once again El and I proved that we travel well together and if I was going to see Ireland with anyone it would have to be her. There were two places that topped her list that weren’t really on mine at all: Istanbul, Turkey and Ireland. Two of the places on my list not on hers were Norway and Odessa, Ukraine. In the past two years we have done all four. I know I enjoyed Istanbul more than I thought I would and she liked Odessa. I liked Ireland, and now let’s hope we get a 4/4 with Norway.

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