Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ireland and Scotland

Before I begin this post, I'd like to make it clear that I didn't title this 'Ireland and Scotland' because the two countries are similar. In fact, they felt very different from each other. However, about half the trip was spent in either of those two places, so I've combined them into one post. After all, this title sounded better than 'Not England.'
After flying from Liverpool's John Lennon Airport (whose slogan is 'Above Us Only Skies') to Dublin the night before, Sharman and I spent our first day in August just exploring the city. We saw Trinity College, went on a famous Literary Pub Crawl, and went inside Christ Church Cathedral. Our favorite though was probably the Dublin Castle, which housed the English government in Dublin before Ireland gained independence in 1922. This was a sand sculpture outside of it. We weren't sure if it had any significance to the castle, but it was extraordinarily captivating nonetheless.

On our next day in Dublin, we went to the other side of the River Liffey, which flows through the heart of the city. Here is the General Post Office, which was the setting to one of the biggest rebellions against the British rule in the early 20th century. The statue is of Jim Larkin, a notable trade union leader during the time of the rebellion. Inside there was a small museum, about the history of the site as well as the process of mailing letters and parcels, which was surprisingly interesting. Later on in the day, we went to the Guinness Factory. It's Ireland's most popular tourist destination and I'm glad we went, but overall, my opinion hasn't changed on Guinness. Still gross.

After Sharman posted on Facebook about our trip, an old friend of hers from an English class in Australia contacted Sharman and offered to host us during our stay in Dublin. Lizzie is Malaysian and has lived in Ireland for six years, currently studying information technology. The area she lives in is called Malahide and has a totally different vibe from Dublin City. We had a nice walk through a park where people were playing cricket before heading down and along the rocky beach pictured above. Lizzie was a gracious host and gave us many tips on the rest of our journey. If you ever read this Lizzie, thanks so much!

The next day we joined a tour from Dublin to the west coast of Ireland to see the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare. Though the place was packed with tour buses and tourists like us, that didn't take away from the majesty of it. To get a scope of the size of these cliffs, take a look at the people towards the upper right corner of this photo. Gargantuan. One of the scariest things was looking across at people who sat right on the edge, posing for a photo while an inch away from falling some 800 feet. Some of the trip's very best photos came from this afternoon. 

After saying goodbye to Lizzie, we headed to a rental car dealership to get the car we'd reserved. Then and now, I feel this was the biggest mistake of the trip. As expensive as it was stressful, I took us across the island on the motorway to Galway, the largest town on the west coast. We would've enjoyed this place a bit more if it wasn't for the anxiety of constantly being lost, not knowing where to park, feeling confused about the upcoming roundabout or being just flat-out frustrated by driving on the left while sitting on the right. The redeeming part of the day was wandering into an old church called St. Nicholas' that hosted something called 'Tunes in the Church.' The two women above performed some absolutely gorgeous traditional Irish music, sung in Gaelic to a fairly small audience without any amplification. These heavenly sounds were just what we needed at the end of a long, long day. 

Despite renting the car for two days, we turned it in in Galway after one and took a bus to our final Irish destination, Killarney. Like Galway, we didn't have enough time here but managed to enjoy our handful of daylight hours in the place. I took this picture during a walk through Killarney National Park, which was so delightfully quiet and non-touristy. Only people walking around, enjoying the natural beauty. On my hometown of Bainbridge Island, seeing deer is commonplace. But after over a week of mostly urban and/or touristy environments, this was a sight for sore eyes. 

After Sharman and I flew north from London and checked in our hotel well outside the city, we still had time for a stroll around in Edinburgh. This picture was taken on the North Bridge, with giant Waverley Station and its transparent roofing below us. Being in Edinburgh during the middle of the Festival Fringe made the place a bit of a madhouse. I read somewhere that during August the population of the city triples. This made for crowded sidewalks, but also, fantastic street performers all over the place.  

We spent the morning of our only full day in Edinburgh touring the famous Edinburgh Castle. Though it seemed like half of Europe was waiting in line at the entrance, the place was plenty large enough to accommodate us all. Cannons, panoramic city views, prison cells, museums, crown jewels, chapels and more, the Castle has it all. In the afternoon, we enjoyed various musical acts along the Royal Mile and even went to see Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing in one of the Fringe venues. In the evening, we took a ghost tour through some of Edinburgh's cemeteries and seedy back alleys. Always nice to end the day with stories of gruesome murders and ancient torture devices.

On our last day in Scotland, we went on a tour to the Famous Grouse Whisky Distillery. This wasn't our first choice of tours, but we wanted to do some activity in the Scottish countryside and this one had availability and got back before our flight in the evening. Despite Sharman and I not exactly being whisky connoisseurs, we had a great time. The group of us on the bus was quite small (8-10 people) and we were able to see some stunning countryside on the drive up through the Highlands, much of which was covered in purple heather. The distillery itself was interesting as well, especially the variety of smells, which I wish I could capture for you. Of course, there was no filming inside the distillery anyway, for fear that a flash would wake the sleeping whisky or cause a dangerous chemical reaction.

Our three weeks in Great Britain and Ireland went past in a blur. Like most trips I've been on, all the sights only whetted my appetite to see more. Before long, I hope to go to mainland Europe, particularly Italy, France, Spain and the other places just exploding with cultural heritage and natural beauty. But for now, since I don't know when I'll return to Europe, I'm quite satisfied with the 18 days of non-stop amazement to reflect on. EngScotIre, fare thee well!

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