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Archive for the ‘Ireland-Scotland 2015’ Category

Day 18 Glasgow (final day)

The morning started foggy and cold but by 10:00 was full sunshine with clear blue skies (I think we’ve only had two days with rain since we arrived). We were on the streets early looking for a breakfast spot and found the perfect place at the i-café on Sauchiehall Street- really good pancakes and strong coffee…ready now for six hours of city walking.

First stop, the Glasgow City Chambers at Royal Exchange Square. We timed it perfectly for the 10:30 free tour of this magnificent building with is four stories of Italian marble, gold leaf covered carvings, Wedgewood ceilings, mosaic tiled walls and painted murals. Dating back to 1889 and officially opened by Queen Victoria, it had a construction budget of 150,000 pounds but came in at more than 600,000 pounds and today would cost an estimated 40 million pounds. it is absolutely magnificent in every way. Best of all, admission and the tour is…free!

From there we made our way to Glasgow Cathedral in the north east of the city to view the magnificent windows. This cathedral, like many others we have visited, is a historic museum and also free to the public. This one in particular has fascinating catacombs under the cathedral filled with ancient treasures all well marked for a self-guided tour. Next to the cathedral, are the burial grounds called ‘The Necropolis’. High on a hill, one gets a sweeping panorama of Glasgow while enjoying centuries old monuments to the city’s famous and less-famous dead.

From the necropolis, we made our way south to Glasgow Green to see the People’s Palace, a one acre glass conservatory filled with plants and trees that the people of Glasgow can enjoy all year round. Also on site is a museum of the history of Glasgow, the Nelson Monument (love that) and the Doulton Fountain dedicated to the four continents that Great Britain colonized in the 1800’s, i.e. the British Commonwealth: Australia, India, South Africa and Canada.

Time to start heading back toward our hotel, we strolled along the pedestrian-only shopping district of Argyle and Buchannan Streets (known as the Style Mile) passing notable landmarks like the Clock Tower and Central Station along the way. Thousands (mostly a young crowd) milled about on this very cosmopolitan part of the city. What good fun we had people watching while strolling along.

Dinner was terrific at ‘Thairiffic’ restaurant just a block from our hotel. And finally we retired to our room for a nightcap of Bushmills Whiskey (we had bought two drams a week ago on the Causeway Coast) which went wonderfully with Irish Whiskey Chocolate. That’s a perfect end to a perfect vacation. Tomorrow we are homeward bound for New Brunswick. Thanks everyone for coming along with us on this trip of a lifetime. Slán.




Day 17 – Glasgow

Leaving Edinburgh, we caught the train at Waverley Station for Glasgow at 10:00 and enjoyed the 50 minute ride across the Scottish countryside, arriving at Charring Cross station which is right beside our hotel…how convenient!

A quick and easy check-in and off we went on foot to explore the west side of the city on this beautiful sunny day (again). First stopping point was the Kelvin Grove Art Gallery which is free admission to the public and is designed to be interactive and educational for people of all ages. What a marvelous place with something for everyone from priceless paintings from all the masters to dinosaur skeletons to (best surprise of all) a full sized Harry Clark stained glass window, and so much more. The building itself is phenomenal and contains a full sized pipe organ in the Great Hall. Luckily, we caught a 1:00 recital … wonderful acoustics.

Carrying on, we strolled the beautiful park walkway along the Kelvin River for a kilometer or so until we came to the Glasgow Botanical Gardens with its multiple glass conservatories filled with exotic plants from every corner of the planet…also free admission to the public. Truly spectacular and the oxygen level inside the glass houses is invigorating.

Hungry from all the hiking and marvelling at the wonders we had seen, we found the perfect place for lunch at The Ubiquitous Chip, totally different than anything we have every seen before and very much like dining inside one of the garden conservatories at the botanical gardens… with its assorted trees and plants, glass ceilings, and silk screen wall art…it was incredible. The food was great and the service wonderful. Our waiter (German fellow) gave us some sight seeing tips for the city.

Heading back toward our hotel, we had one more stop planned… at the Hunterian Museum on the campus of Glasgow University – again, free admission to the public (that’s three free admission today). This place is like a miniature Museum of Science and Natural History and is totally fantastic – from the ancient Romans right up through the ages to modern medicine and everything in between (except for the arts).

Fully exhausted from seven hours of walking and sight seeing, we crashed in our hotel room to upload pics and blog the day’s adventures. Tomorrow we will see the city’s downtown and, I expect, will be just as impressed.

Day 16 – Edinburgh

Unbelievably, the skies today were cloudless…we’ve been so lucky. Even the locals are saying this is way beyond normal. After breakfast at the B&B, Monica and I caught the bus to Calton Hill. Only a 10 minute ride and we were there and climbed the steps to the summit of this hill with its sweeping 360 degree views all around Edinburgh. We saw the Dugald Stewart Monument (1800’s key influence on the Scottish Enlightenment), the observatory, the Lord Nelson Monument and the National Monument (looks like Greek pillars) which remains unfinished since the mid 1800’s due to lack of funds.

Descending from Calton Hill, we explored the residential neighborhood just north of the main city core admiring the architecture and occasional surprise such as the Sherlock Holmes statue. We also happened across the National Portrait Gallery with its free admission and just couldn’t say no. Nice to see these historically important works of art – for free! and the interior of the building itself is worth the visit. Our ultimate destination this morning was the National Gallery (different from the Portrait Gallery) on Princes Street also with free admission to the public. This gallery has a wonderful collection from many of the masters and we were allowed to take all the non-flash photos we wanted. Got to love that!

After the art gallery, we parted ways for the next couple of hours. Monica wanted to finish exploring the shops on the Royal Mile and I wanted to explore the west end cathedrals…so off we went in opposite directions with an agreed on meeting place later.

I discovered St. John’s Cathedral on the corner of the park with its beautiful ceiling and stained glass windows. However, it was St. Mary’s Cathedral further west that I really had in mind and I found it easily after a 15 minute walk from the city park. (it really doesn’t take long to get around Edinburgh on foot). On this bright and beautiful morning, St. Mary’s was fully flooded with multi-colored light streaming through the stained glass windows. What a thrill to see and since I was the only person in the church, I enjoyed taking my time and snapping photos. It is quite lovely but nothing yet has compared to St. Giles from yesterday…that cathedral is out of this world.

Monica and I met up as planned at 1:00 and slipped into the Black Bull Pub for lunch right under the castle. The food was good (not great) but the pub was quiet and cozy and that was grand. Back to the B&B for an afternoon rest and making plan for an evening of pub music.

It was dark when we set out to find a suitable restaurant. I thought I had the city routes memorized by now but one little mistake ended us up on a dark alley behind the castle with spooky characters wandering about and drunks passed out on benches. Yikes! Gladly, we soon came to more civilized quarters and found, by accident, The Elephant House restaurant where JK Rowling used to sit and write the chapters for her famous Harry Potter series. The food was excellent and reasonably priced. This restaurant is on top of the George IV Bridge and directly underneath the bridge is the Dropkick Murphy’s Pub (which we had discovered yesterday) so we popped down for a pint to celebrate our last night in Edinburgh. The Dropkick Murphys are an alternative Irish band from Boston and the pub here is a vibrant “late night”sports bar that doesn’t even open until 9:00 pm. We, of course, were the first and only ones there at 9:15. It was nice and quiet.

Tomorrow we’ll head to Glasgow for the final leg of our vacation.

Day 15 – Edinburgh

We afforded ourselves a leisurely start to the day since we couldn’t check into our B&B until after 10:00 am. We caught the train from the airport hotel into the city and had a 15 minute walk to find our address… eyes wide open all the way. Edinburgh is simply lovely and today was bright and sunny (we’ve been so lucky this entire vacation so far).

After checking in and chatting with the proprietor to get some sight seeing tips, we set off on foot to explore the city core. Strolling along through residential neighborhood streets we passed by George Heriots School (which looks like a castle) and soon came to Greyfriars Square and the statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby, a popular attraction with lineups of people waiting for their chance for the photo op. The statue is simply of a little dog “Bobby” who, as the story goes, came faithfully everyday starting in 1858 to his master’s grave site at the kirk for 14 years until his death in 1872.

We carried on to the colorful Victoria Street lined with its boutique shops and began the climb up the hill to Edinburgh Castle. I had been here once 33 years ago with my friend, Karen, on a post university trip across Europe and was anxious to see if my memory shots would still look the same today. I’m happy to say, they were. The castle grounds have been wonderfully preserved after all these years and we thoroughly enjoyed our tour.

Two hours later and with tired feet but still so much more to see, we started down The Royal Mile lined with shops on either side. While Monica did some shopping, I visited St. Giles Cathedral which originally dates back to the 11th century but has been expanded in more recent centuries. I could not believe my eyes when I entered. This cathedral blows all the other ones that I had seen in the past two weeks right out of the water and you might think I’m exaggerating…but I’m not. 360 degrees of stained glass windows, priceless statues and other treasures from Stotland’s past history. A minimal fee of 2 pounds gets you permission to photograph all you want and throughout the cathedral, volunteer guides are waiting and happy to explain the marvels around you. Magnificent doesn’t even begin to describe it. I took at least 30 photos and tried to choose only 4 or 5 for this blog. You really would have to see it for yourself to appreciate the beauty.

Afternoon was getting along and our feet were screaming to stop but we wanted to finish the shopping on the left side of the Royal Mile (saving the right side for tomorrow) so we pushed on to the end and got a nice look at Hollyrood Palace just before the sun went down. This is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth when she is in Scotland. Hungry as well as tired, we chose the nearest bar we could find and what a find! Kilderkin Bar-restaurant is marvelous, quiet, old and the walls are decorated with 70’s rock star ablum covers…we sat with Alice Cooper, Van Halen, Whitesnake and others. Pink Floyd was a couple of booths over but had people there so I just admired it from a distance.

We strolled back to our B&B and got there just at dusk. A totally different day from those in Ireland and totally wonderful.

Day 14 – Belfast to Dublin

Our final day in Ireland was almost surreal for several reasons: 1) the weather was absolutely beautiful with not a cloud in the sky (not your typical day here) and although the early morning was chilly, the day warmed up quickly and by afternoon it was downright balmy. 2) We saw three more cathedrals, all more beautiful and/or significant than all the previous (if that’s possible). 3) We saw three of Ireland’s most historically important landmarks.

Up at 4:30 and chomping at the bit to get started, we checked out of our hotel in Carrickfergus and headed south on the M1 highway in the dark. The early start was a calculated attempt to avoid the Belfast morning rush… that was a good idea and even at that early hour, there were lots of commuters around the city.

First destination: the city of Armagh. It was here that St. Patrick established his first church in the mid-4th century. In modern times, Armagh has become the center for both Catholic and Protestant religion in Ireland. Therefore, there are two churches here; St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland. We arrived before either of them were opened so we found a little corner café that served breakfast and good strong coffee and waited for 8:30.

The first one we visited was the magnificent Roman Catholic Cathedral with its twin spires the tallest in the county. The sun was just coming up as we climbed the stairs. Every square inch of the interior walls and floors are covered with millions of 1 inch square mosaic inlaid tiles. Then there are the stained glass windows – and there are lots of them. Then there is the statuary and the priceless artifacts and so on. It is breathtaking. I really didn’t want to leave… but the other St. Patrick’s in Armagh also needed seeing.

St. Patrick’s Church has a more square look like a castle (not really) and is somewhat smaller than the catholic church… but no less incredible inside and with more historical artifacts of Ireland (sort of museum-ish). The windows, of course, are spectacular but there is a mosaic of the Last Supper that is particularly attractive as the halos of Jesus and the Disciples are made of mother of pearl… so different and so lovely.

Leaving Armagh, we continued south to the town of Monasterboice to see Ireland’s tallest high cross. At 7 meters it is completely impressive and must weigh several tons. We timed it perfectly and got the photos just before a bus tour of students arrived for a history lesson.

From there, we travelled just 15 minutes south to “Bru na Boyne”, a 5000 year old burial tomb in the area called Newgrange. It was astounding to hear and see how simple farmers of this land built this site out of hundreds of thousands of tons of rock… 6000 years ago! No photos allowed inside but we were escorted in by our guide and marvelled at the structure and wall art carved into the sandstone rocks. Nobody knows for sure what the purpose of it was (perhaps religious or sacrificial reasons) but it predates both the Pyramids and Stonehenge. Incredible history in this place and there are more than 40 other tombs in Ireland some similar in size and many smaller.

Next door to Newgrange is the city of Drogheda (busy and bustling) where we parked the car and strolled the streets to find several gems starting with St. Lawrence’s Gate – through which Cromwell ( in 1646 under Henry VIII) invaded Ireland and “took no prisoners”. We also saw Magdelene Tower (13th century) and St. Peter’s Cathedral with its three sparkling and huge circular stained glass windows. This is the only cathedral we visited with such grand circular windows.

And then we were done in Ireland and made our way to the Dublin airport where we dropped off our rental car. In total we had driven 1800 kms. Time now to make our way to Scotland for the next leg of our journey. Slán Ireland (goodbye in Gaelic). You were amazing beyond our wildest dreams.

Day 13 The Antrim Coast to Belfast

Today we drove from Ballycastle to Carrickfergus along the beautiful Antrim Coast hugging the tight turns all the way. Very lovely indeed and not a long drive at all. What we thought would take us four hours only took one and a half hours including a couple of quick side trips to catch a view of something interesting. The sight of Carrickfergus Castle indicated our arrival to the town where we would stop for the night. We found our hotel (too early to check in) and left the car in the parking lot to catch the 20 minute train ride into Belfast for the day.

Belfast is gorgeous…big…and fascinating. First up on the agenda was a Black Taxi Tour of the city. Terry, our driver, was wonderful and so engaged in his story telling. He gave us the 90 minute history of the religious/political background that lead to “The Troubles” that we westerners know about but can’t really appreciate. He was a little boy when it all began in late 60’s. His perspective was very personal… for example, whenever there was an explosion in the streets, he and his friends would look for a way around it rather than to run away. He drove us slowly past a couple of the 40 peace walls in the city and explained some of the murals that we saw and the stories of the people and events behind them. The experience was sobering… neither Monica nor I dared say much during the tour out of respect and for fear of showing our ignorance. He was incredible and the story of Belfast and the rest of Ireland has new meaning for us now that we’ve been there.

After the tour, we set out on foot to see the rest of the downtown core with its magnificent architecture. As we walked the streets, we recounted the stories our cab driver has told us… and a two hour walk seemed like 15 minutes. Of course, there were a couple of cathedrals that just begged to be seen and rightly so… my favorite was St. Patrick’s. We also saw St. Georges Market which was packed with Sunday shoppers, got a glimpse of the Titanic Museum from across the river, Albert Clock Tower, and City Hall just to name a few of the more famous landmarks. We also slipped into the renowned Crown Bar for a glass of wine (gorgeous, opulent and expensive!). The entire city is grand and it was very difficult to narrow my photo selection for the blog down to the chosen 32 pics.

Day 12 – The Causeway Coast

Now that we are in Northern Ireland, the hearty Irish breakfast includes potato bread (first time for that and it’s really good). Leaving Londonderry, we travelled the north-eastern coast to Ballycastle which is not that far as the crow flies but it took us the entire day.

First stop of the day was just outside Londonderry to see Grianan Aileach, the sixth century ring fort. It sits high on an 800 ft hill with a 360 degree, absolutely breathtaking view of county Donegal. The main structure is a stone ringfort, once the seat of the Kingdom of Ailech and one of the royal sites of Gaelic Ireland. The wall is about 4.5 metres (15 ft) thick and 5 metres (16 ft) high. It has three terraces, which are linked by steps, and two long passages within it. We were the only ones there and were humbled by the silence of this still morning, the stunning views all around and the history of this 1500 year old gem.

Moving on, we found the Causeway Coast Highway heading east and began what would be a many-stop photo opp drive along this stunning coastline with its mountains to the south, world-class beaches, ancient castles and historical sites, quaint villages and unique topography unlike anything we had seen yet.

Highlights of the day were as follows:

Downhill Demense: a mansion ruins built in the 18th century for Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol which included the mansion, a Mussenden Temple on the edge of the sea cliffs, an icehouse and a mausoleum. Much of the building was destroyed by fire in 1851 before being rebuilt in the 1870s. It fell into disrepair after the second world war.

The town of Portrush which is seems quite affluent with its grand yachts in the harbour and stately highrise apartments.

The ruins of Dunluce Castle perched high on the edge of chalk white cliffs skirted by pristine white sand beaches.

The lovely town of Bushmills with its riverside walkways complete with salmon jumping in the river, art galleries, town tower clock and, of course, the iconic whiskey distillery. We restrained ourselved as we were on the road today. However, Monica did purchase a couple of wee drams to enjoy later.

The Giants Causeway – you read about it and sort of know what to expect but can’t really appreciate the strangeness of this place until you experience it. It was very busy here today (being a Saturday I suppose) with many bus tours arriving steadily and thousands of tourists crawling over the rocks like ants. Unexpected was the audio box you get to wear as you explore and listen to the many fascinating facts, legends and whimsical stories about this place and its people.

The ruins of Dunseverick Castle and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge (way too busy for us with a 30-minute line-up to walk the bridge…so I was happy with a photo and moved on).

The hike up to Fair Head before diner. This was something I had been looking forward to since we started planning this trip. Fair Head is a 600-foot semi-circular bluff of rock that defines the north-eastern corner of Ireland. We found the road and parked the car in a farmer’s barn yard (with permission) and hiked the 1.5 km trail up to the top. Monica was a trooper to do this with me as we greeted sheep and cows along the way. Arriving at the top one is moved at the grandeur. There are no touristy walkways, no safety handrails, nobody else except us and the view is unparalleled up and down the coast and across the sea to Scotland. Amazing.

Hungry after al that, we made our way into the town of Ballycastle and had a much better than expected meal at O’Connors Pub. Monica had the Steak and Guinness Pie and I had the Beer-battered Cod. The chips (french fries) were a meal in themselves. The Magners cider for me and Fair Head Gold beer form Mon helped it all go down. This defines “being stuffed”.

A great day on the Causeway Coast. Tomorrow we head south toward Belfast along the Antrim Coast. They say it is lovely… I can’t imagine it being any better than what we saw today.