Buses, People, and Pints! Oh, my!

Dave and I left Belfast early this morning by train to Dublin, in the Republic of Ireland. For those of you who don’t understand what that means, it means the island of Ireland is actually two countries: Northern Ireland, which is actually a part of the United Kingdom (UK) and the Republic of Ireland, which is independently ruled with it’s government. We’ve spent the last week and a half in Northern Ireland, which include Belfast and today we crossed the border into the Republic or Ireland which includes Dublin. Got it? If not…Google it! 🙂

Now that we’re clear on that, Dave’s I has enjoyed train travel in Europe so much before, we had booked first class tickets for this short, two- hours ride to Dublin. We also got an awesome breakfast on the train I was able to catch up on my blog from the previous day. Duncan also came out for a visit.

Still an overcast kind of day, but it wasn’t raining when arrived in Dublin and the taxi driver found out hotel for the night at the Albany House. We were able to check in early to freshen up then we took the hop-on-hop-off bus around the city, which’s has kind of become our “thing to do” in each big city we’ve entered to get a lay of the land and layout of the city.

Our first observations are that Dublin truly exemplifies the words “bustling city”and then some. THIS is a thriving, alive city with many shops and restaurants and a LOT of energetic, young people. There are also a LOT of bicycle.

After going through every stop, we finally got of the bus at the Guinness Storehouse. You’re greeted insides the doors with the 9,000 year lease Arthur Guinness signed. There was a wax seal by his signature. The lease is inside sunken area of the floor covered in glass.

THEN there are 7 floors of wonderfulness explaining everything about Guinness from the temperature the barley is roasted at, to the advertising designs they have used over the years.

It’s all a self-guided tour and there were a LOT of people there so getting around from floor to floor proved a hassle at times. We did a great beef sandwich at one of their restaurants and then a free pint on the top floor at the Gravity a Bar overlooking the city. I loved it, but we were both tuckered out. Old and out of shape!!

Overall we loved Dublin even though we did’t get to experience much of it. I’d visit again for sure.

Guinness is good!

It’s the last day of our vacation as we fly out tomorrow (Thursday)

Rivets and Icebergs

For our last day in Belfast and Northern Ireland, we chose the Titanic Belfast attraction. Titanic Belfast is a visitor attraction opened in 2012, a monument to Belfast’s maritime heritage on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard in the city’s Titanic Quarter where the RMS Titanic was built. It tells the stories of the ill-fated Titanic, which hit an iceberg and sank during her maiden voyage in 1912, and her sister ships RMS Olympic and HMS Britannic. The building contains more than 130,000 sq ft of floor space, most of which is occupied by a series of galleries, private function rooms and community facilities.

Dave and I grabbed a taxi from the hotel and decided on the deluxe tour. We purchased the White Star Premium Pass which offered us discounts in two restaurants and gift store and entry to the attraction as well as an hour walking tour and entrance to the Nomadic, tender boat.

We had a couple of hours before our guided tour, so we were outfitted with headphones and started on the very extensive, multi-floor exhibition. They begin with conditions in Belfast in the early 1900’s and how the company was formed, how the ship’s plans were created and the how the ship was built.

There was even a gentle, but very clever ride, reminiscent of Disney ride showing the building process with narration of a riviter behind it. Such backbreaking work in the shipyard.

Each display was VERY well done going into as much detail as you wanted or as little. Every floor was crowded, but not to the point you couldn’t get to each visual and enjoy it.

Obviously, the end of that fateful cruise was looming and they did a wonderful job of showering the hard work each shipyard worker endured and how the design of the ship was created using the best materials available to them at the time.

As that fateful day neared, the rooms darkened and the tone changed from hopeful and excited to dread and fear as the alerts about icebergs were sent…ignored, then disaster as a result. One felt your heart grow heavy as you listened to first-hand accounts from survivors as you looked at some of the last photographs of the ship ever recorded frozen in time.

We had to end our tour right then because the guided tour was about to start. Libby, our guide, was a perky Irish Lass who told us about a lot of the symbolism surrounding the construction of the attraction and took us through the Harland and Wolf buildings where the designs of Titanic were drawn. Those buildings are now a very expensive hotel.

There was amazing attention-to-detail put into the design of the attraction as well as the grounds surrounding it. The wooden benches outside spelled out the last message of Morse code from the Titanic. The outline of the entire ship was embedded into the pavement where the ship sat under construction. I was a amazed how narrow it actually was, but it was very long.

There were vertical steel beams to indicate where the Titanic and her sister ship, the Olympic would has sat in the shipyard. However, they indicated the height of these beams were only about a quarter of the actual height of each ship.

Even the design of the main building itself represented the full height of the bows (front) of each ship and they were covered with thousands of steel plates representing the workers. Really well done.

Of course most everyone is aware of some of the “famous/rich” people who were on board like the Asters, Molly Brown, etc., but our guide told us about the Sage family. They had 11 members of their family on board. All went down with the ship. Only one body was recovered….a 12-year old boy from the family. All of those stories need to be told.

After the guided tour, Dave and I enjoyed lunch in one of the four cafes and had a terrific ham and cheese quiche. Then we continued with the rest of the exhibit.

They continue with the inquests after the sinking including the findings in the number of life boats which no doubt resulted in numerous deaths. The movies made about the sinking and the technical advancements in not only ship building, but underwater discoveries were also explored.

A highlight for me was the astonishing way they displayed the wreckage in the sea floor. They had a glass floor in a darkened theater and lit the scanned images underneath it as if you were in a submersible floating over there ghostly wreckage. It was brilliant and sad.

The last part of the tour was spent touring the SS Nomadic. It’s the last remaining ship of the White Star line sitting in dry dock. It was mainly used a tender to transfer passengers from ship to shore and transferred passengers from Titanic on it’s last stop in France before it sunk. The last time for many to be on dry land.

We were both pretty pooped after a long day on our feet, so we grabbed a taxi back to the hotel and decided to eat dinner in the hotel for the first time. It was great and I asked to take a piece of lemon meringue pie back to the room. They wrapped up a plate including a pitcher of cream for me to take.

Oh, and I now have Dave’s cold. Cheers!

Day 1 Scotland the Great!

Finally in Edinburgh after a couple of long flights. The fog banked that greeted us, quickly cleared revealing the beautiful history, architecture, and gardens of the city.

The weather felt much like Maine this time of year. Stay in the sun, and it’s flip flops & shorty-shorts weather. Move to the shade and the fleece and socks are more appropriate.

Our first stop was an early check-in (thank you Dave) at our hotel near the Royal Mile. The Ibis is a funky, modern spot where we will rest our weary heads for two nights. It’s a great, centrally located spot to walk the Royal Mile and other areas. The rooms are wee and a little odd (took us awhile to figure out how to turn the lights on!) but it’s a good location and the price was right. Certainly geared towards the younger modern set.

Because the weather was so stunning, we decided to venture up to visit Edinburgh Castle. We didn’t pay to do the tour as we did five years ago, but just walked in the main gates. It rain when we visit last time, so this as very nice.

Duncan keeping watch

We then headed out on the hop-on hop-off bus tour and got the tour of the city again with guided narration by a live person. We actually visited a few spots we hadn’t picked up last time. It was also a good way to rest and not exert ourselves to much as we were both pretty tired, but excited.

Our stop for lunch was at The Dome. A former bank, it now consists of several restaurants, bars, and event rooms. However, the Grill Room is by far the most outstanding. An amazing domed ceiling, huge columns, a round bar, spectacular flower arrangements (although they may have been artificial), and beautiful chandeliers. You entered another era in this building and our fleece jackets and sneakers felt very out of place, but the staff treated us wonderfully and we enjoyed some sandwiches and a drink.

Afterwards, Dave and I walked to the Sir Walter Scot Monument. Stunning architecture honoring this famous Scottish literary giant. You CAN walk up to the top, but with over 200 cement spiral steps, I declined!

Then we hopped on the tour bus again and visited the National Museum of Scotland. We chose to limit the exhibits we visited to Scottish history and REALLY enjoyed some of the amazing historical artifacts displayed there and there is a stunning atrium with a glass ceiling.

There is also a lovely terrace garden on the roof with spectacular views of the city. It was then that the dreaded jet lag hit us…and hit us hard! After a slow walk back to the hotel, we both promptly collapsed and napped for a good two hours.

After the refreshing nap, we walked down to The Royal Mile Tavern for a good pub meal. Fish n’Chips and Guinness were in order. We were disappointed they didn’t carry Belhaven ale, our favorite Scottish ale, and the fish was not that great. We’ll do better next time.

With daylight still going strong near 9 p.m., we continued to walk around the Royal Mile, window shop, and took more photos.

We saw and heard several bagpipers today and everyone we met couldn’t have been nicer. Glad to be back Scotland!

Dave and I have a taken MANY photos and if get enough energy to post them all, I will try to while we’re here, but it may not happen until we’re home from the trip itself.

Day 0 – Travel Day

I always count the day/night we fly over to Europe as day zero because we basically lose a good chunk of a day. Thankfully, the weather gods were smiling and our two bus trips and two flights went off without a hitch.

This was our first time flying with Aer Lingus. We had to wait at Logan Airport in Boston for almost an hour and a half on the outer fringes of the airport because there were no Aer Lingus employees there to staff the check in. Interesting they always tell you to get there two-to-three hours early to avoid delays. Frustrating to say the least. We weren’t able sit down and rest with our luggage comfortably and get a bite to eat because we weren’t in the actual airport where all the good stuff lived…like food and better seating.

Once that got straightened out, everything else went very smoothly. Other than not being able to understand the head flight attendant on the loudspeaker (think of the teacher on The Peanuts cartoons) and the sheer audacity of an Irish airlines to not have tea on board, we were happy with the experience. The meals were actually terrific. One drink option, then a beef meal and a yummy blueberry muffin with orange juice about an hour before landing.

Neither one of us slept on the flight. Oh, joy!

Our flight landed in Dublin at the lovely hour of 4:30 a.m. Dublin time. Our body clocks said it was about 11:00. We had a brief stay here then headed out to our walk-on prop plane to fly to Edinburgh. Although the plane looked scary, it was actually great with some incredible views over Scotland. Sadly, as we descended, the fog bank took over and we weren’t sure we’d actually SEE much of Edinburgh, but it turned out great.

We’re both so happy to be in Scotland again!