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!

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