Thursday, June 28, 2012

Day 1: Dublin

The first day of a trip overseas is always a blur for me. I did get some sleep on the plane thanks to having an entire row of seats to myself. But I still got off the plane at about 1 a.m. on my body's time. Fortunately, our hotel room was ready when we got there that morning, and we got in a short nap before meeting up with our group.

Our tour started with a bus tour of Dublin that afternoon. We had a separate tour guide for it, so Dermot, our tour guide/bus driver, could focus on driving around Dublin. I had been to Dublin before, and it looked familiar for the most part, but it was great to have someone tell me about the city and its history. Of course with the jet lag, I slept through the last third of it. But here are some photos from the tour:

Our first stop was at Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. The Book of Kells is a very ornate and decorative manuscript of the Gospels. I couldn't take any pictures of the actual Book but here are some of Trinity College:

Next, we stopped at St. Patrick's Cathedral to take pictures from the outside:

The River Liffe runs through the center of Dublin, so it is split into the North and South by the river. One of the bridges was built to look like a harp, which is the symbol for Ireland. The shamrock is the religious symbol for Ireland, in case you were wondering.

And since they have a river, of course they have a duck tour. When I saw this, I wondered which came first, the Chattanooga Ducks or the Dublin Ducks.

Next up: Lots of green and crystal!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Trip: The big picture (hint: it was amazing)

I had a wonderful 12 days in Ireland and London. It really was even better than I had even imagined. I'm still sorting through my 800-plus photos, but there will be plenty of posts about the trip if only to document it for my memory. But here's the quick synopsis:

Ireland: The tour

When Andrea and I started planning the trip, we decided a bus tour was our best bet. Neither one of us wanted to drive a stick shift on the wrong side of the road around Ireland. Andrea did tons of research and decided CIE Tours was the way to go. We picked the Irish Adventure Tour because it covered so much of the country.

But we had no idea what we were getting into. We had no idea who would be on our tour, how the hotels and food would be, how the tour would flow, etc. I knew we had each other, but we could have easily been on a tour with two dozen senior citizens.

But it turned out that the other people on our tour were awesome, and we had such a blast. Including Andrea and I, there were six girls between 25 and 30, and then several fascinating couples ranging from my parents' age to my grandparents' age. And it was two couples around my parents' age that were the social directors getting all of us to go out to pubs after dinner several nights. Throughout the week, we ran into other tours and felt like most of them were the senior citizen tours so we definitely lucked out.

And then our tour guide, Dermot, was phenomenal. He had a story for every town we drove through and taught me so much about Irish history and British and American history. His running commentary really made the trip. And he had the tour timed perfectly. Our stops were exactly the right amount of time for the places we were, and we didn't spend all day on the "coach."

The tour basically went south from Dublin along the coast, staying in Waterford and Killarney, then around, staying in Galway, and then traveling into Northern Ireland to stay in Derry and then back around to Dublin. I saw the Ring of Kerry, the Blarney Castle (and kissed the Blarney stone), the Cliffs of Moher, the coast of Northern Ireland, Giant's Causeway and Belfast and plenty more in between.

By the second day, Andrea and I agreed there was no way to replicate the tour in a car on our own. We would have missed so many cool things.

Ireland: Hotels and food

When I studied abroad in college, I did a lot of traveling, but I was doing it for as little money as possible. So I always stayed in hostels and flew RyanAir. With my Paris trip three years ago and this trip, I realized how wonderful it is to be an adult and be able to stay in actual hotels and not kill myself trying to catch a cheap flight.

On the tour, the hotels and breakfast and dinner at the hotels were all part of the price of the tour. All of the hotels were nice. When you stay in six hotels, you obviously compare and like some more than others, but they were all really nice places to stay. And having dinner in the hotels was one of the things that made the trip relaxing. We were in a new city almost every night, and it would have been stressful to try and pick a restaurant when we got into town. Instead, we had three-course meals every night without having to make many decisions. I made a few bad decisions on the choices for the main entree early on, but I got wiser every time and enjoyed some great meals.

Returning to London

I decided that since I was buying a transatlantic plane ticket and would be so close to England, I might as well spend a few days in London. Andrea was going there anyway for the second half of her trip, so we spent three days together in London.

It was strange to be back there as a tourist, though people asked me for directions more than once. But it was amazing how it all came back to me even though it's been seven years. I relied on my map a lot, but I remembered my old neighborhood and the general location of things. Mostly, I wanted to walk the city again and see the big sites and some of my favorite spots. And that's mostly what we did. I had a list and checked it off.

It was interesting to see the preparations for the Olympics. And from what I could see, they weren't done. It felt like being in France in February when everything is being "refurbished." There was so much construction, including at our hotel. We saw several countdowns, and July 27 is not that far off, so I hope they can get it all done.

Over the couple of weeks I'll be revisiting the trip day by day, but if you're bored by lots of pictures and detailed accounts, this big picture post was for you. The rest is so I don't forget this amazing trip!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Photo post

I downloaded all the photos from iPhone and cleared it off to make room for Ireland photos. I'm taking my big camera too, but the iPhone will be nice as a smaller option, and I'll be able to share photos while I'm away.

So this a picture post of things going on lately:

J and I went to see Men in Black III at the drive-in. It was a little less scenic than the Virginia drive-in, but it the movie was good and we saw the sights in Moberly (i.e. nothing).

We saw this pick-up truck there with a couch in the back and thought they brought it for the purpose of sitting on the couch for the movie. But instead they stayed in the truck. Good idea though!

Last weekend when my parents were in town, there was a huge fire at the construction site for an apartment complex downtown. Saturday was the first time I saw the extent of the damage in person. Before the fire, there were almost finished apartments where all the rubble is in the second photo.

And I have to leave you with a picture of this sweet girl. It's been way too long since I have seen her, but I love the daily photos I get of her.

Friday, June 1, 2012


My mom and dad came up for Memorial Day weekend, and I enjoyed showing them around Columbia and just getting some good time with them. I hadn't seen them since Christmas!

My mom took most of the pictures, so I don't actually have any photographic proof they were here but they were. Here are the few pics I have:

Beautiful sunset

Enjoying the view at the winery

I did miscalculate the number of places that would be closed on Memorial Day. My brilliant plan to visit Rocheport, a small town west of Columbia, and eat dinner at the winery didn't turn out to be so brilliant. Pretty much everything in Rocheport was closed, including the dinner place at the winery. Despite the heat, we enjoyed walking a portion of the trail that runs across the state and having a glass of wine with a view of the river. We came back into town for dinner and managed to find one place that was open.

On Monday I also got a surprise visit from a friend I worked with in Charlottesville. It was fun to catch up with her briefly and hear how things were going there. While I really enjoyed some of the people I worked with there, listening to her talk about my old workplace made me so grateful for what I get to do here.