Sunday, October 31, 2010

Paris: Day Two

Day two began with sleeping in after a long day and a hard time sleeping.  Then, a pleasant surprise: we had gained an hour of sleep thanks to day light savings.  We wandered outside to find a place to eat breakfast and on the way, passed by the Ecole de Militaire and the Eiffel Tower.  Spectacular!  I have about 250 pictures just from today (and a few from yesterday), and I'm pretty sure half of them are of the Eiffel Tower from slightly different angles.

After breakfast, we were off to the Eiffel Tower.  We bought a ticket for a hop on, hop off tour and we were off on a whirl wind tour de Paris.  We didn't hop off the bus this time, and it was a fast paced tour.  Unlike London, Paris streets weren't packed with traffic, so we barely stopped in front of any of the sights.  I took dozens of photos, hoping a few might turn out.  Fortunately, for just 24 euro, we got a pass that is good for two days instead of just one.  So, we'll be hitting the tour again tomorrow and getting off at a few choice locations.  We're hoping too that the lines for the museums might be a little shorter on a Monday morning as opposed to a Sunday afternoon.  Fingers crossed.

Along the tour, we saw, among others: Champ de Mars (we actually walked up this to get to the Eiffel Tower and buy our tour tickets), Ecole Militaire, Musee de L'Armee, Hotel des Invalides, Musee d'Orsay, Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Opera, Champs Elysees, Arc de Triumph, and the Grand Palais.  Tomorrow, we're hoping to hit the Louvre, maybe stop at Notre Dame, and see what we can see!

We picked up souvenirs today too; just one less thing to try and squeeze in tomorrow.  Soon, we'll be off to find some wine and dessert to substitute for a real dinner.  Then, the Eiffel Tower at night!  Loving it here.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Paris: Day One

We landed in Paris today.  We could see the Eiffel Tower from the runway!  The flight wasn't as nice as the one into London, but there was still complimentary alcohol (or other beverages) and snacks.  We got our bags and directions to our hotel from the information desk.  Looking back, the second stage was maybe not the best idea.

We took the Air France bus to the Arc de Triumph and then took the metro to the Eiffel Tower, which we were told by information was a short walk from our hotel.  Yeah... right.  After walking (with a small rolling bag each) for many blocks and asking for directions many times, we were finally on the right track to get to our hotel.  Several more blocks later, we finally found our place.  To give you an idea, our plane landed at 12:30 and we didn't get to the hotel until 4:00.

The hotel, like the flight, is not as nice as London, but it's a really charming French hotel with plenty of room, considering the era in which it was probably built.  The hotel is named Hotel Muguet, and in case you forget, it's on the soaps and the towels too.  After dropping off our bags, we took off in search of food for dinner.  What we found completely made up for the long journey to the hotel.  A little restaurant called Comptoir du Sept served my mom and I a small pizza Margarita along with tomato and mozzarella slices with olive oil and basil, sliced chicken, and salad.  Dad got caviar on bread, salmon on bread, and a salad with sardines and shrimp.  For dessert, I had cafe americano and shared creme brulee with Mom.  Dad had a cafe as well along with a miniature version of chocolate lava cake, tiramisu, and a strawberry and mango cup.  Absolutely amazing.  We all also had wine with our meal and it was less than a typical lunch in England.  Tres bien!
Our charming hotel room

On the way home, I picked up some fabulous postcards of old Vogue covers that I plan to frame as well as a Parisian Vogue magazine that I plan to read and reread (or rather, look at the pictures a bunch since it's in French).  Tomorrow, possibly another bus tour so we can get the most of the city.

Friday, October 29, 2010

London: Day Three

Day three in London we woke up a little earlier and headed out to our new breakfast spot.  When the waitress came over, she said she had already started our drinks and then proceeded to say what we had the day before, asking if we wanted the same.  Great start to the day.  Then we were off to take our boat trip.  Unfortunately, the boat was packed and we didn't feel much like standing for the three hours it would take for the boat to go up and down the river.  So, we went off the the London Eye, conveniently located about 50 steps from the boat dock.  Unfortunately (again), it was a boat load of money to go on the London Eye.  So, we had ticked two things off our to do list without doing anything.

Onward to the London Aquarium, success this time.  We wandered through, and it was pretty amazing.  I got some great photos of some of the aquatic life.  There were a few moments when I wanted to throttle a stranger's child (screaming children, shrieking at the tops of their lungs), but I made it through with my sanity, without a headache, and without harming anyone.  After the aquarium, we shared a crepe, which was hot and delicious.  Then we were off to wander around Westminster Abbey.  Took a bunch of pictures there and made our way back.

We've also done a little shopping today (and I picked up a few more gifts for folks back home) and found a quiet little garden with an unusual history too.  St. Johns' Garden is a short walk from the hotel and is a quiet respite from the busy streets.  Sitting on the benches though is a little eerie with the knowledge that thousands of bodies are buried under the garden.  It used to be a graveyard and was so popular that they would bury people on top of other graves because of the high demand.  During the 1700s, the graveyard was guarded at night to protect against body snatchers who wanted something (someone) to dissect.  Spooky!

After relaxing in the garden for a minute, we headed back to the hotel for the evening.  Dinner in the lounge and a relaxing night of packing and getting ready for our departure.  Tomorrow we leave for Paris!!  I cannot wait!!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

London: Day Two

Day two was a whirlwind in London!  We began by sleeping in.  But then, the laziness was set aside and we were off to find breakfast foods.  We found a great little neighborhood cafe near the hotel with excellent prices and food.  Planning to return tomorrow.  Then, it was back to the hotel to write and send postcards (John, Dan, Kathy, check your mailboxes!).  While I think we picked postcards with pretty good pictures, the stamps were the best part.  Unlike the stamps I got at the Dublin post office, these had great pictures of London attractions like Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the London Tower.

After sending off our postcards, we hopped on a hop on, hop off tour bus to begin our big adventure.  Along the tour, we saw countless attractions including: Buckingham Palace (where we arrived just in time to see the changing of the guards), the Marble Arch, Baker Street, Regents Street, Picadilly Circus, Harrod's, Kensington Park, Hyde Park, St. James Park, Speaker's Corner, Langham Hotel, Her Majesty's Theatre, Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square, St. Clemens Church, the Royal Courts of Justice, St. Pauls Cathedral, the Tower Bridge, London Bridge, and London Tower.  Phew! 
Picadilly Circus

At Harrod's, my folks purchased some teas and coffees (and a tea trivet that says Harrod's) and I bought Burberry's Brit eau de parfume.  My one and only London souvenir. :)  I also picked up a few gifts at a more touristy shop.

The tour was great, but towards the end we had hopped on and off so much that we were riding around at night.  It made for beautiful sights, but very cold sight seers.  Once we got back to the hotel, a hot meal at the lounge and a cocktail (or two!) sounded (and tasted) fantastic.  All in all, it was a very busy but fantastic day filled with more than I think I could soak in.
St. Paul's Cathedral by moonlight ;)
 Tomorrow, we are going to wander around Westminster Abbey, check out the aquarium, take a spin in the London Eye, and possibly catch a boat ride.  A little less on our plates, but great fun nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

London: Day One

Tuesday night, we were in Dun Laoghaire, packing and getting ready for our Wednesday flight to London when disaster struck: my parents realized they reserved the London hotel for the wrong dates.  We had no hotel.

Our London hotel informed us that no changes in reservations could be made until 9 am the next day when the registration desk reopened.  Mild panic.  Wednesday, we awoke, packed our things and headed down to the front desk to see what we could arrange with our London hotel.  We were able to cancel our wrong dates, but unfortunately, there were no rooms available for the days we needed.  Increased panic.  Dad and I stood at the registration desk with him on the courtesy phone to London and me frantically searching the internet.  Call to hotel #2: sure, they had rooms available!  But, tonight's room would be 700 pounds.  Big time panic.  9:50 am we were trying to book at hotel #3.  The bus to the airport was scheduled to arrive at 10:00.  Massive panic.  Finally, we reached hotel #3 and booked a room for just one night, figuring we could book somewhere else later since they didn't have availability the last night of our stay.  Panic slightly subsided.

The bus to the airport went well, check in went grand, and we were soon in the air for the one hour flight to London.  Then, things took a turn for the fantastically better.  We were given more food and drink for our one hour flight than is typically given on a flight from Arizona to Minnesota.  Free drinks (pop, juice, wine, beer, hard alcohol), and a choice between a snack (cracker and pretzel mix and two cookies) or a sandwich (chicken or cranberry brie).  It was delicious and a drink was much needed after the morning's chaos.
Navigating the tube
We landed and successfully navigated the London tube to our hotel.  It is glorious.  The lobby is stunning.  Our room is massive.  They gave us each a free drink in the hotel lounge.  After seeing how great it all was, we decided to try and book at least the next night and cross our fingers that something was available.  Amazingly, they had our room available for all three nights!  So, we are able to stay at this hotel without moving rooms at all.  Panic completely subsided.

Our satisfaction with the hotel didn't end there.  We decided to go for a stroll to see what was around.  Twenty paces of walking and there we were at Burberry.  Not the store, the brains of Burberry.  I had a moment.  Forty paces further and we were at the Thames.  Turning to the right, we strolled past the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and could see the London Eye.  We are in the middle of everything.  Did I mention we're (practically) next door to Burberry??
Tomorrow we're going to do a hop on, hop off tour of the city since we're here such a short time.  Everything is coming up roses!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Family's in Town!

It's been a bit since my last post, but with good reason- my family is in town!  Actually, the more accurate reason is that I have had absolutely no luck connecting to the internet at our hotel.  Apparently, the wired internet is not functioning on my laptop.  But now, since I'm in class I figure it's a perfect time to post an update of some of the highlights of the visit so far.
Mom and me outside of our Dun Laoghaire hotel

Mom and Dad arrived safely, though two hours late from New York.  We made it into the hotel in Dun Laoghaire, had some lunch, and spent the day getting settled.  Saturday, we were off to Malahide Castle.  Unfortunately, we didn't get very far.  The train that typically runs to Malahide wasn't running past the city center due to construction.  So, we altered plans and headed off to the city center instead.  There, we wandered through St. Stephen's Green, saw Dublin Castle and the surrounding grounds, and shopped on Cows Lane.
In the inner yard of Dublin Castle

The next day, we rented a car and drove to Gort, a town in County Galway.  On the way there, we stopped at Clonmacnoise, the beautiful ruins of an old monastery.  It is located almost exactly in the middle of the country and has a large cemetery with beautiful old head stones.  It's also on a river (the River Shannon, I think) and provided spectacular views.  From there, we headed to Gort to meet up with a work acquaintance of my dad's.  It was a winding, bumpy road, but we got there eventually.  We met up with Michael, his wife Angela, and children Isabell and Orrin (4 and 2), and then got right back in the car to follow them to the Cliffs of Moher.  Another winding, bumpy road, but (again), we got there eventually.  I cannot even describe how spectacular the views were.  I took a million pictures, but I'm sure they don't even do it justice- not even close.  What was even more amazing was the drive out of the cliffs.  We took the coastal road back to Gort which gave us astounding views of the sunset over Galway Bay.  Once the sun had set, the moon came out: low, full, yellow, and huge, it was absolutely beautiful reflected over the waters.
Cliffs of Moher

Sunset over the burren

Michael and Angela's home was stunning and their hospitality was just great.  We stayed the night and had a huge breakfast in the morning.  The most exciting part was the black sausage.  Black sausage is also known as blood sausage (eek!).  But I was very brave and gave it a try anyway- and it was delicious!  I even had a second slice.

It was so nice there that we didn't want to leave, but not wanting to overstay our welcome we headed off to Galway City for some shopping.  Again, an amazing time.  The highlight of the trip was a store called O'Maille's.  They sell woolen goods, many of them hand knitted by the shop's owner, a lovely woman who teaches knitting classes all over the world.  Dad and I both bought scarves there- I got two and actually got a discount somehow!  100% lambswool and 100% beautiful.  (Mom also made a purchase there, but it's a gift for someone who might happen to read this, so it'll stay a secret)  We chatted with the woman and found out that the shop had actually made all of the costumes for The Quiet Man, a John Wayne film that was filmed in Galway.  They even had the Singer sewing machine that had made Maureen O'Hara's costumes still in the store.

All in all, it's been a fantastic time- despite the bumpy, car sickness inducing, roads.  Today, Mom and Dad are adventuring on their own in the city center while I'm stuck in class (blogging).  Tomorrow, we're off to London and then Paris!  I'll be bringing the laptop with me, so hopefully I'll be able to post a few updates of our new adventures. (pictures to come)

Monday, October 18, 2010


On Sunday, I went to McDonald's for lunch.  I know, I know!  But when I went to fill my head injury prescriptions, the pharmacy wasn't yet open, so I thought I would grab lunch and McDonald's was right next door.  As you no doubt would suspect, there is a lot that is different about Irish McDonald's from U.S. McDonald's.  First, the prices.  It's not outrageous, but it's still a good deal more expensive.  While you can get a hamburger for a euro, if you want a Big and Tasty meal, it's going to cost you over 8 euro.  They also have bendy straws, fish sticks as a kid's meal option, and Rolo McFlurries (maybe this is in the states too by now, but it looked delicious).

I ordered a hamburger and some cheesy bites (little rounds of deep fried cheese- I couldn't say no!) along with a small sprite.  The small sized drink is actually a small- think McDonald's kid's size in the U.S.  The hamburger was fine, but it didn't have that same taste to it- probably a lack of grease all over the bun.  Unfortunately, I had to wait for my cheesy bites to be made.  After standing for a few seconds by the counter, the cashier told me to go and sit- they'd bring them out to me!  Table side service?  At McDonald's?  I was beginning to forget where I was until a pair of grandparents came in with their grandson, who proceeded to run around the restaurant screaming, barking, yelling, and acting downright  . . . American.  Ah, yes, some things are the same no matter where you go.

As for me, I finished my cheese bites (delicious, but there were only four), got my prescription filled, went home, and went to bed.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Tumble on the Tumble Track

So I went to trampoline club on Friday, which is the gymnastics day.  On this day, there are no massive Olympic trampolines, only a small tumble track.  For those non-gymnasts out there, a tumble track is like a bouncy padded floor on which you can practice cartwheels, round offs, hand springs, flips, etc.  Ours is assembled for each practice and consists of a bottom layer of large metal springs on top of which are boards that link together to form the track.  Then, on top of all the boards is a long, red carpet-like, thin, but dense, foam pad.  And so gymnastics practice began.

It was meant to last two hours, but I left after one- I had whacked my head pretty hard on the tumble track and felt a little dizzy/nauseated.  Sadly, I was not performing a death defying act of gymnastics brilliance.  I was simply attempting a backwards somersault.  Yes, like the ones most kindergartners can do.  (In my defense, it was a slightly higher difficulty as we were starting from a standing position and not using our hands.)  At any rate, the thought of spinning and rolling around any more was less than appealing and I walked (slowly) home and spent the rest of the day in bed.  This morning, I awoke feeling basically the same and decided that a trip to the E.R. might be in order, and so I made my way to a local hospital.  Sadly, their E.R. (called the A & E here, no idea why) is closed on the weekend and I had to taxi to another nearby clinic.  And thus, I got my introduction to the Irish medical system.

At the clinic, I was informed that they didn't know what my insurance was and that I would have to pay them directly (120 euro for the consultation, plus any lab work) for all services and then make a claim to my insurance.  This prompted an emotional breakdown from the tired, head achy, dizzy American.  But I pulled myself together and filled out my forms the best I could (what address do I use?  what's my phone number again?).  After only a few minutes of waiting, I was called back by the nurse, given an brief exam, and was shortly thereafter visited by the doctor.  He recommended not only a brain CT scan, but some neck x-rays as well since I had hit the back of my head.  My only thought: Do I have to pay for all this??  Another near emotional meltdown.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there is a 480 euro cap to any hospital visit!  On an even brighter note, the receptionist seemed skeptical that I would even hit the limit.

So, off I went to get my brain scanned and my neck x-rayed.  Then, I hit a wall in the so far speedy Irish treatment.  A few patients came in while I was being x-rayed who were in much more serious conditions, so I was put on the back burner.  It appeared that there was only one doctor (though several nurses) on duty at the clinic.  Finally, the verdict came in: brain and neck were fine, no bleeding or fractures going on.  However, the doctor thought I had a bit of a concussion and prescribed me some pain killers and muscle relaxers to help my head and my neck.  And, since there were no late night chemists (pharmacies) open in Blackrock, he sent me home with a few to tide me over.

Total time at the A & E: 5 hours.  As far as the total bill, well, I hit the limit.  But considering the same procedures in the U.S. would have racked up at least a thousand dollars for the uninsured, I think I did okay.  Here's hoping my insurance (which purportedly covers $500,000 of medical expenses) reimburses me with relative ease.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Glory and Freedom for Birthday Cake

There is a fantastic Chinese restaurant in Blackrock that does take away called Glory.  It is the perfect food for when I'm feeling a little homesick or nostalgic because, unlike the "American" fare served some places, the Chinese food at Glory tastes just like Chinese food in America.  I have always walked to the restaurant and ordered my take away there, but it's good to know in case the weather is bad that they deliver.  Not only that, but they do catering as well.  Their take away menu advertises proudly at the bottom: "We also cater for parties and free a birthday cake!"  This, I think, is great because birthday cakes are too often treated like caged animals.  It's about time someone took a stand and freed a birthday cake.

I went to Glory today because I was feeling a little lonesome after Kim and Brent left for home this morning after their wonderful visit.  That, and I've eaten out so much with Kim and Brent that I feel like I need to ween myself off of it slowly.  Glory seemed like the perfect solution.  All in all, their stay was a fantastic one.  It was so nice to have people here I've known for years and to get to just hang out.  The tours and sight seeing we did was great too, and gave me a lot of good ideas for when I have other visitors.  So while I'm sad to see them go, it's just a little over a week before my next round of visitors begin.  And in the meantime, I'll have Glory to tide me over.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Literary Pub Crawl

Last night Kim, Brent, and I embarked on Dublin's literary pub crawl.  It was a great time, despite it's after effects this morning.  We started the evening off with dinner and then ventured over to The Duke, where the crawl was slated to start.  We bought our tickets and a pint and waited for the event to begin.  We were in a small room on the top level of The Duke that was packed mostly with what looked like retirees.  One pub crawler, however, was a woman out celebrating her 90th birthday.  We'll see what I do for my 90th.  The tour guides, Frank and Derek, introduced themselves as actors and proceeded to perform a selection of Waiting for Godot.  It wasn't amazing, but it was certainly entertaining.  They also filled us in on some history pertaining mostly to Joyce's Ulysses.  Then, they posed some quiz questions, which we were to keep in mind for the end of the tour.

After The Duke, there was a stop at Trinity College for some more information about the literary culture in Dublin.  Frank put on a performance adapted from a letter written by Oscar Wilde about his trip to Colorado.  Apparently, he was asked to lecture there on arts and aesthetics.  The locals of the silver mining town were none too impressed and decided that they would get revenge for their wasted evening by inviting Wilde to dinner, but take him down a mining shaft instead, get him drunk, and leave him there until morning.  Well, they got him down the shaft and proceeded to serve up three bottles of whiskey among the group, amounting to what Wilde called a three course dinner.  Wilde drank them all under the table.  Legend has it that the miners were so drunk that it was up to Wilde to figure out how to operate the machinery to get them all out of the shaft.  After getting the group out, Wilde reportedly told the men that if they were going to invite an Irishman to dinner, they had best make it at least a five course meal.

After Trinity College, we went to O'Neill's for another pint (or a half pint for myself and Kim).  Then a brief stop outside of Dublin's Tourist Center for a lesson about James Plunkett.  From there, we made our way to the Old Stand which was once known as The Monico and was a favorite pub of Michael Collins, Irish revolutionary leader.

Our final stop was Davy Byrnes, the most famous literary pub in Dublin.  Before entering the pub, however, was the quiz for which they had been giving questions at every stop.  The quiz was essentially the guides asking the questions again, but this time you shouted out the answer if you knew it.  I was gunning for the first place prize of a free Dublin Literary Pub Crawl t-shirt.  Unfortunately, I did not know that Oscar Wilde was once a boxer.  So instead, I took second place and won a small, airplane sized bottle of Bushmills whiskey.  Or, as our guides called it, Bushmills mouthwash.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Guinness Brewery

So, today I met Kim and Brent at the H'Penny Bridge.  We walked down the River Liffey to the James Joyce Bridge, then went up to the Guinness Storehouse for a tour.  At first, I was disappointed to find out that it was not a guided tour.  However, the signs, videos, and audio along the way made it really informative without you feeling stuck in one spot longer than you wanted to be.  It was an amazing experience with lots and lots of pictures taken.

First, we learned what Guinness is made of (barley, hops, yeast, and water), with lots of information and even tactile exhibits of some of the ingredients.  Then, we learned how Guinness is made.  The barley gets it the worst, being roasted, milled, and mashed.  After the tutorial, we got little samples of Guinness and then it was up up up to look through various Guinness displays of paraphernalia- old bottles, advertisements, labels, and even an old harp that has been adopted as an official Guinness symbol.  From there, it was up up up again to the Gravity Bar at the very top of the storehouse.  Here, we got to cash in our tickets for a complementary Guinness and there were spectacular views.  We all agreed that it would have been worth the ticket just to go to the Gravity Bar.
Gravity Bar

After the brewery, we made our way back toward the river, finding a great restaurant in the Temple Bar area called the Porterhouse.  They had delicious food and brewed their own beer.  I really enjoyed my shepard's pie and chips, and they very obligingly brought Brent nearly a trough's worth of ketchup on request.  We picked a good time to get dinner because soon the restaurant filled with people there to watch the Ireland-Russia soccer (er, football) game.  Sadly, we only stayed long enough to see Russia score two goals.  Not quite the experience we had hoped for.

Post-dinner it was time for me to make my way back to the train.  We made plans for a literary pub crawl tomorrow- can't get too much better than books and brew in my opinion.  On the train ride home, I had a lovely ego boost.  After an Irish man, who obviously didn't speak a lick of Spanish, pointed out Aviva stadium to a large family of very loud women from Spain, they rattled off copious questions to him in very fast Spanish.  He got off the train and I explained to them that it was the Irish-Russian futbol game.  Sadly, I couldn't tell them if it was a World Cup game or not, not for lack of vocabulary, but I just didn't know.  They asked about my Spanish and I said it had been MANY years since I studied it, but they said it was very good and even offered for me to sit with them and practice.  I would have loved to, but my stop was next, so I said gracias and adios.  A good end to a great day!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

My First Visitors!

Well, it's been a week since my last post, and frankly nothing much has happened.  BUT, now Kim and Brent are in town!!  It was so nice to see friendly and familiar faces when they arrived at the airport, but Kim's hair has gotten so long that I almost didn't recognize her!

First things first, I asked Kim to be one of my bridesmaids (I had to wait until we were together in person- it was so hard not to ask her over g-chat!).  Once that was settled, we took the airport coach to their hotel, the Burlington Hotel on Upper Leeson.  The hotel is gorgeous (they got it in a package deal with their airfare on travelzoo) and fortunately, their room was ready.  They checked in and I hung out in the room while they took turns freshening up from their long day of travel.  Then we left the hotel in search of food.  We cut through St. Stephen's Green and got a bite to eat at Sheehan's.  Pretty good fare- I had a toasted sandwich with cheese, pickles, and tomato which was surprisingly yummy.  Brent had (of course!) a Guinness, and Kim got some traditional Irish Stew.  We then took a more serious stroll through St. Stephen's Green, taking pictures by the Joyce and Yeats statues, until Kim and Brent decided they needed a nap.  So, they went back to the hotel and they napped while I got some serious reading in Ulysses done (I'm now proudly 100 pages in).

After nap time was over, we wandered through the city center and just caught up on life.  We looked around Grafton Street and went into a couple of shops.  We walked up the River Liffey, over the Ha'Penny Bridge, which I was informed Yeats hated, and finally ended up in Fitzgerald's on O'Connell for dinner.  Kim and I split the fish and chips special and Brent had what looked like a really delicious steak.  By the time we left, it was time to call it a night so the weary travelers could get a good night's sleep.  So absolutely wonderful to have friends in town!
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