Spring Break in Seattle

Last month, Tim and I added a new city and a new state to our lists: Seattle, Washington! Since Tim has been living in California, we’ve been exploring more of the west coast. Last summer, we drove from Las Vegas to Palo Alto and got to see central California (hello Bakersfield!). In the fall, we ventured down the coast to Monterey and Big Sur, and back north to the Napa Valley. And this spring, we headed up to the Pacific Northwest!

We had so much fun eating, drinking, hiking, and exploring Seattle. Here are some of the highlights:

Food

Trying new restaurants is our favorite part of traveling, and Tim’s friend Christoph, who had lived in Seattle, gave us an epic spreadsheet of all the restaurants in the city he’d been to. Our first dinner was at Crow, a little restaurant not too far from the apartment we stayed at in Queen Anne. We sat at a cozy table in the back and I had a delicious Washington state red wine blend. Ever since I took a wine tasting course I’ve been wanting to try Washington wines, and this did not disappoint. Tim had swordfish and I had lasagna (one of my all time favorites).

An important part of our relationship is breakfast food. We share a Leslie Knope level love of breakfast food, and a lot of the time when we’re traveling, we have a big breakfast instead of lunch, which is exactly what we did Sunday (and Tuesday and Wednesday) morning! We walked to a little coffee shop/restaurant not too far from our apartment called Citizen and liked it so much that we went back a second time on Tuesday. Tim had the french toast and breakfast tacos; I had the house omelet and “Korexican” tacos. Side note: I am from Texas, so when I’m at a breakfast spot I expect all tacos to be breakfast tacos unless otherwise told. Well…I was not otherwise told and the Korexican tacos ended up being regular tacos from the lunch menu. I definitely felt silly when they arrived sans scrambled eggs. They were still delicious though! Our Airbnb host recommended 5spot, another place in Queen Anne, and we stopped in there for our last breakfast. Tim had biscuits and gravy, and I had the Sonoran scramble aka eggs with avocado and salsa verde and a tortilla. They had migas on the menu but I maintain a pretty heavy skepticism of Tex-Mex food outside Texas.

On Sunday night we made our way out to Ballard to try The Walrus and the Carpenter, an oyster bar that was a recommendation from Christoph. Tim loves oysters but I’ve only tried them once at a restaurant in Waco, TX, and did not enjoy that experience. I thought I’d give it another shot with oysters that are presumably fresher than the ones in Waco…I didn’t hate them, but I also don’t get the big deal! Luckily, there were plenty of other non-oyster items on the menu, including kale (my favorite) and scallops.

Our last fancy dinner in Seattle was at How to Cook a Wolf, another cozy restaurant in Queen Anne. This was another small plates restaurant, so we chose several to share: broccoli, beef carpaccio with brussels sprouts, bread, pork belly, and potato gnocchi. And cannoli for dessert! Definitely the best meal we had the entire trip. I hope we go back to Seattle again one day, if only to have a dinner like this again.

Drinks

Local breweries are another one of our favorite things to do while traveling (you can read about the quaint brewery we found in Ireland here). The first night we were in Seattle, we stopped for drinks at Mollusk, a restaurant/brewery near our apartment. I tried a coconut wheat beer and Tim tried something much darker in color. We were there during March Madness, the only sporting event I actually pay attention to (Go Heels!) and before our dinner in Ballard, we stopped at Ballard Loft to watch the UNC/Notre Dame game and have a few beers.

On our last night, we went to the Fremont Brewing Company, which has the best slogan ever: Because Beer Matters. It was a beautiful sunny day and the brewery was packed-surprising for a Tuesday, but spring weather is a great motivator to get out and have a pint. Tim tried their stouts and I tried a wheat beer and a pineapple cider. We also ran into a group of people we’d met at the top of Mount Si! It was really random, and also fun, to have some new friends just for the night to enjoy beers with.

Uphill

Each time we travel, I learn a major travel skill. This time it was how to best rent a car.We knew we wanted to go hiking outside the city but every time we’ve rented a car it’s been way more expensive and way more of a hassle than we thought it would be. Example: the car in Ireland was twice as expensive as it said it would be online (thanks Kayak) and in San Francisco, we had to drive all the way back to the airport to return the car. Before the trip, I called about 10 different car rental places and finally found an Enterprise agency downtown that had a good price, reimbursed us for the Uber we took to get there, and let us return the car after hours! So we took our little Nissan and headed east to Mount Si, a 4100 foot tall mountain in the northern edge of the Cascades.

I’d looked up info about the hike online (and wisely purchased a Washington state park pass ahead of time) so I knew what we were going into: a lot of switchbacks, mainly. Well, that’s what I thought. Driving in, we could see snow covering all the mountains, and I figured there would be some snow on our hike, but I had no idea how much. The answer is tons. Actual tons of snow. The first 2.5 miles, the trail was normal dry dirt. Just past the halfway point, we turned a corner and saw a little pile of snow. Snow, we said! How quaint. I wonder if we’ll see more. The trail started getting muddier and muddier until eventually it was covered with snow. We were both wearing hiking boots, but it was still super slippery and icy for the last mile up. Towards the end I was using the trees along the trail for support!

When we finally made it to the top, we were rewarded with spectacular views of Mount Rainier and the city of Seattle. The city looked so tiny off in the distance-it doesn’t really even show up in the pictures! We relaxed at the top for awhile and ate the spicy lentil wraps (my favorite hiking food) we’d packed, then carefully scrambled up a few rocks to take some pictures. The first mile down took a long time-we were doing an awkward combo of ice skating/hiking/rock hopping-but once we got past the snow, it was quick. I’ve done a lot of hikes (including the Grand Canyon) and can assuredly say that Mount Si has been the most challenging! Mount Si also had the most interesting trail people, including a random guy who had brought no water, a guy who was barefoot, and an old man using a pickax as a hiking stick.

On our way back, we stopped at the original REI, which was massive and fancy but also did not have the socks I wanted. Tim bought a travel pillow and I bought a magnet to add to our collection (we get a magnet in every new city we visit). We also explored a few of Seattle’s parks: Gas Works Park, and Kerry Park. Gas Works Park was super cool-old machinery and pipes that kind of looked like toys now that the area had been converted to a park. It was right on the water and reminded me of Houston’s Buffalo Bayou park (although the water in Lake Union is considerably less muddy than the bayou). Kerry Park is at the very top of Queen Anne Hill and the hike up to the park rivaled the hike up Mount Si. We went at night and saw the city lit up and twinkling.

 

North of the Border

One of my favorite days of the trip was when we took the ferry north through Puget Sound to Victoria, British Columbia. The ferry ride itself was stunning-beautiful coastline, the San Juan islands, and views of the Olympic Mountains and the Seattle skyline. I’d booked us tickets to ride a bus to the Butchart Gardens, a botanic garden about 40 minutes north of Victoria. We had some time to kill when we got there, so we walked around the Victoria harbor and the lawn of the Parliament building enjoying the warm, sunny, non-Canadian weather.

When it was time for our tour, we got on the bus and had a very informative ride out to the gardens. By that I mean our driver talked the entire time, pointing out every little thing. Some were interesting, like the neighborhood pubs and different architecture around Victoria. Some were not, like the petrol stations and the signs with the temperature in Celsius.

The gardens, however, were fantastic! We had a quick lunch at the cafe and took our time walking around the gardens. Everything was in full spring bloom and the weather was perfect. My favorite was the Italian garden and the sunken garden at the very end. I took about a million photographs, especially anytime I saw pink, purple, and white tulips together.

I’ve only traveled to Canada once and had a harrowing experience with border patrol, so I was really nervous this time. They asked us a bunch of questions, like what kind of work we did, where we were from, and what we were going to Canada for (okay, I guess these are pretty normal border crossing questions). On our way back into Washington, however, the US border patrol agent asked “what is the nature of your relationship?” !!! We both looked at each other and said “uh, dating?”, which was apparently the right answer, because they let us back in!

Uber

We spent most of Sunday exploring the city on foot (and in many, many Ubers). One of our Uber drivers had recommended Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour, which is a walking tour of Seattle’s tunnels. Did you know Seattle had tunnels? I didn’t! In the late 1800s, much of downtown Seattle was destroyed in a fire. This combined with tidal floods prompted the city to rebuild everything one level higher-so the second floor of all the buildings became street level. The tour took us around Pioneer Square and into the actual tunnels, which are mostly in ruins now. It was a great way to learn about the history of the city, both how the city started, and how parts of it were revived in the 1950s. Neither of us knew much about the history of Seattle, or the Pacific Northwest, and we were surprised to learn how much influence the Alaskan gold rush had on the development of the city. Afterwards we checked out Pike Place Market and (of course) had coffee at the original Starbucks. I also bought some artsy postcards at Pike Street Press-postcards are my favorite!

It was rather rainy and cloudy on Sunday, so we decided to skip the Space Needle. I know, I know-the icon of the city! Instead, we checked out the Chihuly Garden and Glass, which was AWESOME. Rooms full of beautiful, intricate, colorful glass blown art. I took another million photographs to go with all the ones from the Butchart Gardens-I guess I’m drawn to colorful art!

Leaving Seattle was hard, partially because I wanted to stay and see more of the city, but mainly because Tim and I had to get on separate planes to go back to our separate cities. I knew the journey home was going to be glum, so I brought a new book just to read on the plane. On our way back south, we had a crystal clear view of Mount St. Helens and the Cascades volcanoes, so I got to do a little airplane geology! Seattle was the perfect spring break trip, and I can’t wait for our next trip west.

Spring Break in Seattle

Ireland Part 5: Dublin

On our last morning in Killarney, we stopped by a bookstore and I bought a paperback copy of Tana French’s latest book, The Secret Place. Her books take place in and around Dublin, so I was looking forward to heading to the Irish capital to see the setting of some of my favorite novels! I wasn’t alone in reading Irish novels. Tim had bought Ulysses earlier in the summer and had impressively been making his way through. A literary bunch, the two of us!

We said goodbye to Killarney and made our way across Ireland, with two stops planned: Cashel, another recommendation from my aunt and uncle, and the Wicklow mountains, south of Dublin. When we got to Cashel around lunch, the parking lot of the Rock of Cashel (the fortress we’d come to see) was full, so we parked in town and had lunch (well, we both ate breakfast food) first. The fortress was built in the 12th century-like Ross Castle, it was fascinating for me to see a manmade structure that old (we just don’t have those in the US). The fortress was pretty crowded, and under construction, so we didn’t linger too long.

Our last stop before Dublin was the Wicklow Mountains. This was also one of the rare times we got a little lost. Navigating on the main roads was easy, but finding our way around the country lanes with no guide other than some screenshots of Google Maps was challenging! We eventually found our way to the park and Glendalough, an ancient monastic site. Like Cashel, it was so interesting to see something that old-the entire site dates back to the 6th century! We walked on the trail from the monastic site to the upper lake-apparently there are some ancient mines on the hillside but we couldn’t really figure out how to get to them. The hike and the views of the mountains were beautiful enough for us anyway. On the way, we saw one of the funniest-yet extremely serious-signs I’ve ever seen. The whole trip, every Irish person we’d met had been so polite, except for the author of this sign!

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Strongly worded sign

Having the rental car was nice, and our trip would not have been possible without it, but by the time we got to Dublin, we were glad to turn it back in! We drove to the airport and stopped at a gas station to fill up and do a quick clean up of the car (amazing how dirty it got over the 5 days we had it…and how quickly we managed to get it in passable shape), then turned it in to the rental agency and got on a bus to Dublin!

Dublin! My first European city! Driving in, it reminded me a lot of New York or Boston (which, duh). I think I expected it to look like the charming parts of London you always see in movies, which it did not. Our hotel was in the theatre district, one block north of the River Liffy, just off O’Connell street. The general post office is located on O’Connell street, which played an important part in the Easter Rising in 1916. It is also where I bought stamps and mailed postcards to all my friends! The post boxes around town were green and had two options: Dublin, or the rest of Ireland. Puts the size and population of the country into perspective!

Our first night in Dublin, we had another pizza dinner and drinks at a bar across the river. When we checked into the hotel, they told us that there would be an event on the second floor both nights we were staying, and that they’d given us a room on the 5th floor so we wouldn’t be disturbed. At the time, I didn’t think much of it-how could we be bothered by something going on three floors below? Well, those two nights turned out to be the loudest nights EVER. Good thing we were worn out from several days of travel and were able to fall asleep despite all the noise!

My favorite thing we did in Dublin was tour the Kilmainham Gaol, a prison that was used to hold political prisoners during the uprising. The foreboding prison was the perfect place to learn about, and fully appreciate, Irish independence. The tour ended in the yard where prisoners were executed, on a solemn note. Until that point, we’d spent all our time on the western coast of Ireland, which was somewhat removed from what was going on in the capital. A few of the coastal towns we stopped in were Irish speaking, but the larger cities like Galway and Killarney were almost entirely English speaking-even the inscriptions on the tombstones at the cemeteries we saw at the Rock of Cashel were in English. We’d noticed that the car license plates and all the road signs were in English and Irish and learned that the Irish language had been brought back for official use not too long ago. Touring the prison gave us a much better understanding of what makes Ireland the country it is today.

Another way to fully appreciate Ireland was to drink some Guinness! The tour of the Guinness storehouse (not the actual brewery) was very flashy and basically a giant advertisement for Guinness. There was actually a whole exhibit on Guinness commercials! The best part, of course was the Gravity Bar on the top floor, where we enjoyed a pint of Guinness and a perfect view of Dublin. I generally prefer my beer several shades light than Guinness so I’m impressed with myself for drinking the entire pint. We went back to the hotel and relaxed for a little bit before having a pub dinner (more lamb stew!) and meeting up with Tim’s soon-to-be roommate Connor, who was in Dublin on a work trip. I’d never met Connor before so it was fun to have drinks and chat-although the bar we went to was more of a club. There was another room upstairs with a band-I’m pretty sure it was a Daft Punk cover band but I could be misremembering.

On our last full day in Dublin, we toured some of the museums-by that time, we had museum fatigue and kind of just wandered through the exhibits without really taking much in. Tim did find a case full of rocks and minerals, which he quizzed me on (one of his favorite things to do). There was a street performer festival going on at one of the local parks, so we sat down and watched a guy who did soccer tricks. We also spent some time wandering around, while Tim pointed out some of the Ulysses landmarks, like the maternity hospital and the national library. We ended up walking along the river almost to the port so we could see out to the Irish sea! This part of town-the Docklands-was brand new and shiny compared to the rest of the city-a convention center and a bunch of corporate office buildings. While we were walking back to the hotel, two people stopped us to ask for directions. As soon as we opened our mouths, we could tell they were so embarrassed for having asked American tourists for directions! I was just glad we looked like we fit in!

Since we were staying in the theatre district and it was our last night in Ireland, we decided to see a play: The Shadow of a Gunman, about a man who plays into his neighbors’ theory that he’s an IRA member. The play was excellent-beautiful theatre, good acting, great story, especially since we’d just learned so much about the Irish revolution. We had a final pint at the hotel pub and were off to bed!

The next morning, we had one last full Irish breakfast (well, Tim did. I think I had oatmeal) and took the bus back to the airport. Our flight had a 7 hour layover in Washington, D.C., and since we’d cleared US customs in Dublin, we had plenty of time when we got back to the USA. We took a bus to the air and space museum in Fairfax, VA, and looked at the space shuttle (go America!). The museum was about 10 minutes from where I lived as a kid, so we took another bus into a local shopping center and ate dinner at my family’s favorite Mexican restaurant. After a week in Europe we’d gotten really good at finding buses to take us places! We finally made it back to Houston late that night and went straight to sleep. I had to go to work the next day which was a huge struggle, but I forced myself to stay up until about 9 pm so I adjusted to the time change pretty quickly. Our trip to Ireland was so much fun and I can’t wait to see where we go next!

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Ireland Part 5: Dublin

Ireland Part 4: The Kingdom of Kerry

After driving around Ireland for a few days, we learned that the roads had 3 categories:an M road is a major highway, an N road is a smaller highway, and an R or L road is a country road. After Galway, our next stop in Ireland was Killarney, County Kerry. We packed our little red Toyota, took some Google Maps screenshots (21st century navigation), and headed south along the rugged Atlantic coast. We ventured down a lot of Rs and Ls during our travels around Kerry! Some of the lanes were so narrow we had to pull onto the shoulder to avoid being run off the road by buses. Driving on the opposite side of the road and sitting on the opposite side of the car was so disorienting!

On the way to Killarney, we stopped to see the Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs are about an hour and a half south of Galway and look out at the Aran Islands, where we’d been a few days before. It was cloudy, windy, and rainy when we got there (of course), so we didn’t stay long. I wasn’t too upset about the dismal weather because we’d had such beautiful weather and clear views at the Aran Islands. I did get a postcard in the gift shop with photos taken on a sunny day though! After walking around on the cliff edges and narrowly avoiding being blown over by the gales, we got back in our Toyota and pressed on to Killarney.

We got to Killarney and checked in to our hotel, Murphys Inn. One of the cons of having a car was figuring out where to park it. We were lucky that the hotel in Galway had a garage attached to it. We weren’t that lucky in Killarney, however. I had emailed the hotel before to ask where to park and they gave us the location of a car park where we could leave the car overnight. Somehow during our entire stay in Killarney, we never could find that exact car park. We did find another place to park it, but before dropping it off for the night, we drove through town to Killarney National Park to visit the Ross Castle.

Ross Castle was my first castle! It was built in the 15th century and had all kinds of cool castle features, like a backwards spiral staircase (designed to make invaders trip), tiny windows, and lookout points where castle guards could drop rocks or boiling oil on attackers (seriously). The castle’s original occupants, the O’Donoghues, all slept in one room on straw mats. They also had a long narrow chamber for the bathroom, where they would hang their clothes to be purified from the gases releasing from the waste…gross! The windows were very small, partially as a precaution from attacks and partially because glass was expensive and subject to taxation, so very little light was let in. At night, they used candles (I can’t remember exactly how they were made but I know they involved the rushes from the nearby lough) that only burned for about 10 minutes each. After touring the castle, we went back to town and had pizza for dinner and ice cream for dessert-a refreshing change from all the pub dinners.

We also stopped by a local pub, called Courtney’s! I’d read about Courtney’s in the guidebook and was instantly excited. Apparently Courtney is a surname in Ireland-who knew! I got some awkward pictures outside (for some reason I felt very self-conscious standing outside a bar having my picture taken) and asked for all the Courtney’s swag they had. Tim has a whiskey flight and we bought two whiskey glasses with the Courtney’s logo on them!

The next morning we had a quick breakfast at the hotel and headed back to the park to tour the Muckross House. The owners of the Muckross House in the 1850s did extensive renovations and improvements to the house in preparation for Queen Victoria’s visit to Ireland in 1861. Unfortunately, all the money they spent improving their house sent them into financial ruin! The house was beautiful to tour though and a firsthand example of how important it was for the Queen to have visited Ireland back then. We walked around the grounds and gardens of the house and of course had a scone snack in the cafe. We also hiked through the park to see a waterfall!

One of the most popular tourist destinations in Ireland is the Ring of Kerry, a loop you can drive around to see beautiful views. We decided not to drive the ring because we didn’t want to spend that much time in the car (as entertaining as Irish radio was) and because we wanted to go to Dingle, a little fishing town on the Dingle peninsula. We left Killarney and made the drive to Dingle, which offered plenty of beautiful views! When we got to Dingle, we found a car park and wandered along the main road for a few minutes (one of the fun parts about not having Google Maps is all the time you spend hoping you’re walking in the right direction!) until we found the Dingle Brewing Company. Tim and I love touring breweries so we’d been looking forward to this the whole trip. The tour was self-guided so we walked around and the exhibits and then went back to the bar for the real reason we’d come: the beer! Their beer was called Tom Crean, named after an Arctic explorer who was born in Kerry. We had a fun time talking to the bartender, who had lived in Houston for many years. We walked through town to the marina and had a delicious seafood dinner at The Boat Yard. Our waitress told us that all the seafood was caught or farmed locally. We enjoyed the late sunlight and made a quick stop at Inch Beach to watch the sunset on our way back to Killarney.

After several lovely days in the Irish countryside, we were ready for the last leg of the trip: Dublin!

 

Ireland Part 4: The Kingdom of Kerry

Ireland Part 3: Connemara

Where’s the farthest north you’ve ever been? South?  It’s a different way to think about the world and how much-or how little-of it you’ve seen. I added two new superlatives on my trip to Ireland: Leenaun for the northernmost and Dublin for the easternmost.

Leenaun is a tiny village in the western Irish region of Connemara, home to Ireland’s only fjord (well, depending on how you define fjord) and my new favorite place in the world. Our only firm plan for Connemara was to visit the Kylemore Abbey, which had been recommended by my aunt and uncle. We found a Connemara road trip itinerary online and headed off from Galway (after taking about a million screenshots of Google Maps, of course).

The drive from Galway to our first stop, Leenaun, was beautiful. The rain and fog had set in so we had picturesque views of green mountains shrouded in fog and covered with sheep. Sheep! There were sheep everywhere! The landscape reminded me of southern Montana, where I spent a few cloudy and rainy weeks in college. I should have taken some pictures of the drive but I think taking pictures from the window of a moving car is pretty silly. We arrived in Leenaun around lunch and ran out in the rain to look at the fjord. It was so foggy that we could only see a few feet, but the views were still awesome. They have boats that will take you on a harbor tour and I hope to go back on a sunny day to take one! We had lunch at a local cafe (Tim=full Irish breakfast, Courtney=chicken soup and brown bread), then walked across the street to the Sheep and Wool Museum.

The sheep and wool museum was fascinating! Wool used to be a major industry in Ireland but has largely died out. Our tour guide at the museum had a small herd of sheep and she told us it cost more to have the sheep shorn than she could actually sell the wool for. Most of the wool she sells goes to China to make carpets. The museum had an old Connemara spinning wheel, which is apparently only one of few left. We also got to practice carding wool and learn about the dyeing process-I loved reading about the different materials they used to dye wool, like flowers and plants. I bought some yarn made from Donegal wool and knit a cowl! Of course, I haven’t been able to wear it much since the winter in Texas was nonexistent.

We headed southwest along the N59 to Letterfrack to visit the Kylemore Abbey. The Abbey is one of the most stunning houses I’ve ever seen, especially with a background of emerald green hills and mist. It was built for a weathly Englishman, sold to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester, and soon after sold to Irish nuns. The Abbey was used as a refuge for Belgian nuns who had to flee during World War I and served as a school until 2010. We only got to tour a few rooms on the first floor, which was a little disappointing, but that meant we could spend more time wandering around the grounds! There are still some nuns who live there and they make chocolate, which we bought some of in the gift shop. They were cute chocolates shaped like sheep!

After touring the Abbey and gardens, we headed down the road to Connemara National Park. National Parks in Ireland are the equivalent of state parks here in size/amenities. We got there right when the visitors center was closing, just in time for the staff to point out the trail to Diamond Hill, the small mountain in the park. What they call a “walk” is what we would call a trail here! It was cloudy and a little rainy, but we headed up the walk anyway, aiming to make it to the top of Diamond Hill. Well, the weather got worse and worse as we made our way up. We were almost to the top steep part when we decided to turn back (well, I insisted we turn back) because it was so windy I could barely walk without being blown over. Tim really didn’t want to turn back (“I didn’t come all the way to Ireland to turn back before making it to the top of Diamond Hill!” he said) but I’m glad we did, because the next day on the radio we heard about some high schoolers hikers who had to be rescued from the top of a nearby mountain by helicopter!

We headed back south and stopped in Clifden for dinner at a pub. Tim had the local delicacy, Connemara smoked salmon, and I had one of many lamb stews. The rumors are true-everything in Ireland is served with potatoes, and I loved it. On our way back to Galway, we stopped for petrol in a tiny town along the coast and had our only experience with a language/culture barrier. We didn’t know how much petrol the tank held, or how much the petrol even cost (the prices were displayed in euro cents…I think), so we didn’t know how much cash to prepay with. Well, we learned that in Ireland, if you want to pay with cash, you just fill up your car, then go inside and pay. Crazy! We heard stories on the radio later in the trip (we obviously listened to the radio a lot on this trip) about someone who had been caught and convicted of stealing petrol-I guess the reason they’re so trustworthy is because if you get caught, they’ll tell everyone in the whole country on the radio! Tim also asked the clerk where the bathroom was and he looked really confused-I think we should have said “toilet” instead but that feels so weird! It’s funny how something we’ve been doing since age 16 can be so confusing in another country, but there you have it.

When we got back to Galway, we went out for one last Galway pint (we drank a lot of beer on this trip too) and headed to bed. Next stop: Cliffs of Moher and Killarney!

 

Ireland Part 3: Connemara

Ireland Part 2: Aran Islands

In total, we took 6 different forms of transportation during our trip: plane, car, bus, ferry, tram, and bike. Well, 7 if you count our feet. The only time we had an issue was on the Aran Islands, when Tim’s bike tire had a blow out!

We started the day on a bus to Rossaveel, a coastal town about 45 minutes from Galway, where we boarded the ferry to Inishmore. Inishmore is the biggest of the Aran Islands, a sparsely populated group of islands off the western coast of Ireland. There are only a few hundred residents on Inishmore, many of whom speak Gaelic instead of English. All the road signs in Ireland were in both English and Gaelic, but a lot of the places along the western coast were only in Gaelic! It was interesting to see throughout the trip where Gaelic was more common-and conversely, where it was absent. More about that later!

The main attraction on Inishmore is the fort on the northern end of the island, Dun Aonghasa. When we got to Inishmore, we rented bicyles and made a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up provisions for lunch. Then we started up the island to Dun Aonghasa! The weather was beautiful, sunny and warm, and the island was crowded with other tourists and high school travel groups. We passed a giant group of high school students from Spain (I think) and hurried up to the fort so we could enjoy our picnic lunch in relative peace and quiet before they got there.

The views from the top were stunning-sparkling dark blue Atlantic ocean, massive limestone cliffs,and an ancient fort. We wandered around Dun Aonghasa for awhile (and took about a million pictures) before heading back to the southern end of the island to the blow holes. Instead of biking along the main road, we decided to follow a trail through the island. This was really fun, because we got to see all the houses, farms, and sheep, but also incredibly bumpy and hilly! We made it all the way to the opposite end of the island before realizing that Tim’s bike tire was flat. We hung out at the blow holes for awhile and enjoyed the view, then walked our bikes back on the main road into town (fortunately a short walk). A few people, including one of the local Garda (police), gave us strange looks for walking our bikes! We walked around in some of the shops for a few minutes, then boarded the ferry to go back to the mainland.

When we got back to shore, several ferries had docked at once, so there were tons of people milling around, waiting to get the bus back to Galway. This was one of the times when not having cell phones was kind of scary! The bus that we were supposed to catch was late and when it got there, it filled up immediately. They told us another bus would come soon but it took a lot longer than soon for one to come. We (well, mainly me) definitely had one of those panicked “are we going to be stranded here in this ferry terminal with no way to call a cab, bus, or uber” moments. We made friends with a girl from Germany who was also waiting for the same bus and collectively rejoiced when our bus finally showed up.

The Aran Islands were one of my favorite stops on our trip. I loved biking around in the sunshine (amazingly, I managed to get a sunburn)-I think we biked over 20 miles total! The islands are definitely a tourist attraction now but it was fascinating to see glimpses of what life in Ireland used to be like. Small, modest houses with sheep everywhere. So different from my hectic life in Houston. Back in Galway, we had fish and chips for dinner. Funny story-when we ordered our meal, we forgot to ask for tartar sauce. As soon as we sat down, the line got really long, so we didn’t want to go wait in line just for a little cup of tartar sauce. Also, tartar sauce cost 60 cents and we did not have any cash or coins and definitely did not want to use our credit cards for a 60 cent charge. Soooo we had bland fish and chips! Lesson learned: carry cash. Or just remember to ask for tartar sauce when ordering.

After dinner, it was time for one more pint, and then off to plan our trip to Connemara!

Ireland Part 2: Aran Islands

Ireland Part 1: Galway

I love reading, especially crime novels/psychological thrillers, and when I first discovered Tana French in 2013, I became obsessed. Her books follow the Murder squad of the Dublin police, each focusing on a different murder, and are the kind that stick in your mind for days after. The books take place in both Dublin and the Irish countryside, and when my boyfriend and I were planning a vacation for the summer of 2015, Ireland immediately jumped to mind. Idyllic landscapes, Guinness, castles, whiskey, sheep, cider, and a decent dollar to Euro exchange rate! We took advantage of the Independence Day holiday from work (sorry America) and headed to the Emerald Isle on July 3rd, 2015!

After spending months reading the Lonely Planet Ireland guide and talking with friends/family who had traveled to Ireland, we decided on three main stops: Galway, Killarney, and Dublin. Galway was our first stop and our home base for the first few days of the trip.

We landed in Dublin in the morning on Saturday July 4, 2015, a little tired, dehydrated, and ready to explore! I was surprised/amused to see that the airport was decorated for Independence Day-I guess in Ireland they celebrate July 4 like we celebrate St. Patrick’s day here?? We got our little red Toyota and some Euros and headed off (on the wrong side of the road-so weird!) towards Galway. Now, I grew up in Houston, so I’m used to massive highways, crazy drivers, debris on the road, and ridiculous signage, but the highways in Ireland were the total opposite! We were nervous about having to navigate without Google Maps, but really had no trouble on the way from Dublin to Galway. We stopped in a little town to get some water and Diet Coke (I’ve stopped drinking Diet Coke for the most part but just had to try some European DC to see how it compared), and made a lunch stop in Athlone, about halfway between Dublin and Galway. We had sandwiches and coffee and pressed on to Galway!

We debated for a long time about whether to take a bus/train or rent a car. Cons of renting a car: expensive, driving on the other side of the road, most cars in Europe are stick shift, parking, etc. Pros: we can go where we want when we want, adventure, flexibility, roundabouts (just kidding, those still confuse me). I’m glad we decided to have a car for the first part of our trip-we planned a spontaneous trip to Connemara (which I’ll write about soon!) and we had SO much fun listening to Irish radio. Again, I’m used to the majority of the radio stations being rap, Spanish, or traffic reports, so it was fun and refreshing to listen to the equivalent of  small-town newspaper on air.

Galway! This fun university town on the western coast of Ireland did not disappoint. We stayed at Jurys Inn and had a lovely view of the River Corrib. As soon as we got to the room, I wanted to go to sleep, but instead we had more coffee and tried to get on the local time zone. That first night, we wandered around Galway, touring the Spanish arch, the Galway city museum, the local Cathedral and the High Street. The High Street was exactly what I imagined an Irish street to look like-narrow, winding, and full of pubs! Our first dinner was a delicious seafood meal at Oscar’s Bistro-we got to the small restaurant just in time to snag a table. We loved the late sunsets in Ireland (10 pm in the summer) and took advantage of the extra daylight to explore Galway and of course have a few extra pints. Before dinner, we saw some funny Americans in the lobby of our hotel drinking Bud Light and wearing ridiculous USA gear, and they were still there when we came back that night. Sigh.

 

We slept well our first night in Galway and got up early the next morning to catch the bus to Rossaveel to catch the ferry to the Aran Islands, which I’ll talk about next time on the CB Radio blog!

Ireland Part 1: Galway

Welcome!

Hello and welcome to the CB Radio Blog! This blog actually has nothing to do with radio, and everything to do with my life as a mid-twenties geologist living and working in Houston, Texas. I’m starting this blog as a way to share some of my life’s adventures in a format longer than Facebook/Instagram, and as a way to reconnect with one of my original loves-writing! Hope you enjoy!

Welcome!