UK and Ireland in 7 Days


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Europe » United Kingdom
May 17th 2013
Published: May 21st 2013
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UK Route

Drove from London to Edinburgh, then flew to Dublin

The London EyeThe London EyeThe London Eye

Basically a giant Ferris wheel
As a structural engineer, I'm usually either super busy or not busy at all. Working on Federal Government jobs leads to intense periods, followed immediately by waiting periods. After a horrid February and March of 12 hour days working to get the 90% construction documents done for my embassy project, I decided I would definitely need a week off during the down time in April. I guess working on a building in the UK got to me, and I decided it was time to finally go across the pond to the land of our former overlords.

Planning the trip was a bit more difficult than usual, due to the fact that I was using my American Airlines reward miles and in order to avoid the hefty taxes that European airlines charge to go overseas I had to actually fly an AA flight, not one of their partners (seriously, $693 for a "free" flight using British Airways, no thanks). I ended up finding a flight from DCA to JFK to London on a Thursday morning and back from Dublin to Chicago to DCA the following Friday. Using only AA planes, I was able to get my "free" flight for only $53.
New ConstructionNew ConstructionNew Construction

Some skyscrapers going up in London
Suck it British Airways.

So Thursday April 4th; I'm up at 3:50 AM ready to get to Reagan National Airport for my 6:00 AM flight to New York. Not having been to DCA for a 6 AM flight before, I was expecting it to be more like the chaos of McCarren Airport in Las Vegas, where everyone and their uncle is trying to fly out early in the morning after a long night of drinking. So of course there was absolutely nobody there and I checked my bad and would have breezed right through security had it been open prior to 4:30 AM. Had to wait a few minutes, learning to never get to DCA so early again, even if your final destination is international.

I slept the entire way to New York. Yes, it's only an hour, but did you hear the part about how I got up at 3:50 AM. That hour was amazing. I bought some overpriced omelette at JFK and waited the two hours for my 9:30 AM flight to London. Before booking that flight I wasn't even aware that you could get a morning flight to Europe. I thought they were all overnight. Guess I was wrong.

The flight wasn't bad, just under 7 hours, a couple of decent breakfast meals, and some terrible movies. We arrived at Heathrow at about 9:30 PM. After going through customs I paid the 20 pounds to take the express train into the city that dropped me off right near where my hostel for the night was. It was almost 11:00 by that time, and not a whole lot seemed to be going on that night in the Paddington area. I went for a beer at a bar nearby but it was just about to close so I headed back to the hostel after that and hit the sack.

Up early the next morning (and yes 8:30 is early for me on a day I'm not going to work), I had mapped out a run around Hyde Park. Of course it was like 35 degrees, overcast, and windy as hell. Just a typical spring day in London! I was glad I got some exercise though and got to see some of the city at the same time. After I checked out of the hostel I headed over to the Tune Hotel Paddington across the street where I was to meet my mother for the rest of the trip. She found a nonstop from Dulles Thursday night and had just got in. After we met up we paid the 15 pounds they required for early check in and went to the room to relax for a minute.

The first stop of the day was the London Eye. Originally planned to be a temporary ride, the Eye was so popular that they just kept it. And now it must bring the city millions upon millions of pounds. At about 30 pounds a pop, it's a gold mine. We had to wait about 30 minutes in line with seemingly every high school class in the entire country of France. It must have been spring break, because London was just full of organized high school and middle school groups, mostly speaking French. But I also saw groups from as far away as Paraguay. That made me wonder why my school never sent me to Europe, those cheap bastards. A group of about 30 or so piles into one of the cars of the London Eye and soon we're slowly making our way up to the top, which gives
The Tower of LondonThe Tower of LondonThe Tower of London

We didn't actually go inside unfortunately
a great 360 degree view of London. Link to the London Eye website: http://www.londoneye.com/

From atop the Eye I see all the sites: Buckingham Palace, Parliament St. Paul's Cathedral, etc. But the thing that really strikes me is the contract of new and old. In London you have buildings from medieval times right next to giant glass towers still under construction. I couldn't believe how much construction was going on. Here a crane, there a crane, everywhere a frikin' crane. But hey, construction in London is one of the only reasons I still have a job so hooray for London construction! Though as happy as I am for all the new construction, I just cant help but think it looks a bit out of place among the classical look of old London. I decide to remain indifferent to the contrast as the ride ends. I just can't wait to get away from all the damn high school kids....

After the Eye we make our way to St. Paul's Cathedral, a little over a mile away. Side note: I had no idea the UK uses miles, yards, and feet as measurements. They also use metric, but all road signs are in yards and speed limits are in miles per hour. It's kind of crazy. I though we were the only wackos who used imperial units. St. Paul's cathedral looks strikingly similar to the US Capital Building, like almost identical from the outside, which makes me think that our capital was modeled after it, since St. Paul's has been around since the 15th century. It's an incredibly impressive structure (I'm a structural engineer, remember?) and I can't fathom how they built it in the 1600s before things like cranes and modern construction technology. However they did they did a damn good job. We pay the 16 pounds for entry and we're given this little audio guide you're supposed to listen to instead of taking an actual tour. I hate these damn things. This is the first of many audio guides we'd be given in the UK. I refused to listen to any of them. I just find them very annoying. So I make my own tour of the cathedral.

I'm not big on churches, being a nonreligious as you can get, so I was most interested with climbing the steps to the top of the dome. It was about
Parliament BuildingParliament BuildingParliament Building

View from the top of the London Eye
500 steps, and it took a while, but it was worth it, as you get another great view of the city from the top. And lots of exercise. There was one portion of the passageway to the top that was so narrow that someone with broad shoulders or someone who weights over 300 would not have fit through. That would suck, getting all the way up there just to get stuck!

After St. Paul's it was getting kind of late so it was time to head back to the hotel before dinner. I guess this is the part where I tell you another reason why I decided on England for my vacation. A few months earlier I had discovered the progressive metal band Haken (http://www.haken.fr/index.html). For a long time my two favorite bands have been Dream Theater and Symphony X. I'm a prog rock guy. And when I first heard Haken it was like someone had mated DT and SX and produced an incredible prodigy child. I immediately added them to my favorite band list and consider them just as talented as DT and SX. With only two albums currently, they are still getting started and have very few
Buckingham PalaceBuckingham PalaceBuckingham Palace

Looks an awful lot like any government building in DC doesn't it?
fans. They only have like 11,000 fans on Facebook. In contrast, Nickleback has almost 40 million. Yeah, that's depressing. Haken doesn't really play in the US, being new and small and not rich. They had played at Prog Powerfest in 2011 in Atlanta, but just that one show in the US is all I know of. Thus, being from London, most of their shows are in Europe. Turns out they were playing a show in London on April 5th, right during my down time at work! It was perfect. I bought tickets right after my flight was booked. Even my mom went. I promised her she wouldn't be the oldest one there... she wasn't.

We went to dinner at this little place in Islington that was actually really good. Don't remember what it was called, but I remember what I had: ox. I had never eaten ox before so I had to try it, and it was awesome. Tastes a lot like lamb. I highly recommend it if you ever see it on a menu in England or elsewhere. After the ox we walked down the street to Islington Assembly Hall where the concert was. We caught the tail end of the Barbecue Barbies, an all girl rock band from Finland. They were actually pretty good. But I didn't come here for them. Haken took the stage at about 8:15 and proceeded to rock out for about 45 minutes. However, when you're average song is 10 minutes long, that doesn't give you a whole lot of songs to play. They managed to fit in 6 of their shorter songs: Drowning in the Flood, Endless Rain, a new song I don't remember, Mind's Eye, Portals, and Shape Shifter. There were only about 150 people at the theater and I was able to get right up to the front. It was a hell of a 45 minute show and Haken rocked the roof off. I didn't even stay for the headliner, I was satisfied. I only hope to be able to see them again one day.

Saturday morning we were up pretty damn early, like 6:30 AM. We were taking a city bus tour in the morning. Once again it was just above freezing outside, so the whole open top double decker bus idea didn't seem like such a good idea at the time. But we had already paid for
The Longest MatchThe Longest MatchThe Longest Match

Commemorating the epic battle between Mahut and Isner in 2010. I remember watching it at work, we were all in the conference room glued to the TV for almost 2 straight days.
it and wanted to see the sights so we weren't going to skip it. The tour didn't actually start till about 90 minutes after we got picked up, which was pretty annoying. They herded us to this huge bus terminal that was absolute chaos, and that's where we found out that we had to go back to the same bus that had picked us up after we were made to get off of it. So I'm not having the greatest time so far. It's 8 AM and this damn bus has no heat so I'm using all my energy to prevent hypothermia. OK that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it was frikin' cold.

My spirits were lifted a bit when I saw that the two tour guides for my group were young, attractive females. Then my spirits were once again shattered when they told us that they don't actually talk and handed out headphones for us to plug into the side wall of the bus that had an audio narration. As I've mentioned, I hate audio guides, and I hated this idea even more. On top of that they handed out those ear piece headphone that
Court 18Court 18Court 18

Where Isner and Mahut played
you have to stick in your ear lobe. I don't know what's wrong with my ears but I've never been able to fit those damn things in my ear lobes. They just fall right out. So even if I wanted to listen to the narration I couldn't have. The guides just sat in the back of the bus looking pretty while we rode around the city freezing our asses off. We did stop a few times to get off the bus and one of the girls did speak during those times. We stopped at Westminster Abbey for a hot sec, the Tower of London, and at Buckingham Palace. We didn't go into the Tower but it looked pretty impressive from the outside. If I go back to London I'd do the Tower tour. At Buckingham Palace we lined the road with the thousands of other people to witness the changing of the guards. There's all sorts of history behind this - why it's important and whatnot. But I think even a Brit will admit in this day in age the whole show is pretty silly. There's a band and marchers and they close the road. Then as soon as it
Mom and I at Centre CourtMom and I at Centre CourtMom and I at Centre Court

As close as I'll ever get to winning Wimbledon
starts it's over. The guards have been changed and everybody shuffles out. Same time tomorrow.

By that time we had had enough of the tour and told the girls we were just gonna do our own thing and not get back on the bus. I think there was only one more stop at that point, but we were downtown and wanted to be in that area. The moral of the bus tour story is don't waste your money on one of these. Maybe try one of the hop-on-hop-off buses. They are a bit cheaper and they run all day and you can make your own schedule. Lesson learned.

Next up was the Churchill War Rooms. My mom was really excited to see this one. The line was out the door (damn you again French student groups) but we waited without totally freezing our asses off for about 30 minutes. The war rooms were pretty cool. It was also a museum dedicated to Winston Churchill and you learn a lot about him down there. It's definitely worth a visit and you can do the whole thing in less than an hour.

Next up was something that the vast majority of people who visit London don't do. As a huge Roger Federer fan I had always wanted to go to Wimbledon, though I knew the chances of me actually getting tickets and being able to go during the tournament was probably not very good. So I figured the next best thing would be to visit the All England Club when the tournament was not going on. So we hopped on the green line and took the subway out to the suburbs where Wimbledon is located. A quick walk from the train station and we were greeted by the towering Centre Court stadium at the All England Club. We had pre-booked the 3:30 Wimbledon Grounds tour and got there early enough to check out the shop and get some food at the cafe (I ended up buying an official Wimbledon towel for an absurd $20 but I use it every time I play tennis now).

I thought the tour was awesome. We got to get right down to Centre Court, see the interview room, walk the route that the players take, and go out on the court where John Isner and Nicholas Mahut played that epic 11 hour match
The Man, The LegendThe Man, The LegendThe Man, The Legend

Roger Federer
in 2010. One thing about Wimbledon though is that they do not let you stand on the grass. So you can't actually step on the courts. Their grass is basically sacred and I'm pretty sure they shoot you on spot if you step on it. OK maybe not, but don't step on it. We also got a great view of downtown London from Murray Mound. I'd recommend visiting Wimbledon to any tennis fan (I've also been to Melbourne Park and gone to a few US Open matches, just need Roland Garros now).

Dinner that night was a quick meal at an English pub. It wasn't bad, but it took us a while to realize that English pubs do not have table service and that we had to order everything from the bar. I guess we were expected to know that. After dinner I headed out to meet a pub crawl in the Camden area while my mom went to bed early to catch up on sleep.

For 12 pounds it wasn't bad, we got a lot of cheap drinks and free shots. Though I'm pretty sure 75% of the 100 or so people on the pub crawl were American students studying abroad. And they were all like 19 and 20. So I felt old. I gave some advice on life and ended up getting really drunk with some girl from New York. Good night out in London.

Sunday morning I'm up at 9 AM, luckily with no hangover whatsoever. Which is good, since I have to go pick up the rental car for the drive to Stonehendge. I've never driven on the left side of the road before so I'm a bit nervous. They give me a Mercedes, even though I rented an economy car. I've never driven a Mercedes before, so I sure as hell don't want to mess this car up. The first turn out of the parking lot was shaky, and I might have ran over the curb. But after that I was able to focus enough to not make any mistakes as we tried to get out of downtown London. Of course we got lost and couldn't figure out how to get on the highway. Eventually we figured it out and I was on the M4 heading east in my fancy Mercedes.

On the highways in the UK the speed limit is
stonehendgestonehendgestonehendge

Stonehendge
technically 70 mph. But that's not posted anywhere. I had to look it up online. So for that first day I was under the impression that there were no speed limits on the highways, since I'm doing about 80 and everyone in the right lane is flying by me. Some people must have been going 120-130. I thought this was awesome, as I think speed limits are a load of bull. I stayed between 80 and 90, which seemed like a safe speed to me, even driving on the unnatural left side of the road.

Before Stonehendge we made a quick stop at the Avebury Stone Circles, a nearby ancient stone site that is very different from Stonehendge. The rocks are spread out, about 20-30 feet from each other, and the circle is huge, about a half mile in diameter. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for the size of the stones, as they are all different shapes and sizes. It was quite mysterious. Definitely worth the quick stop and 5 pounds for parking. Check it out: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/avebury/

A quick jolt down the road and we see Stonehendge on our left (and about 8 billion tourists). We wait in line as huge groups of student groups come and go. Have I mentioned how annoying the student groups were yet...? It really is in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing around us but a 2 line highway and green grass. Then there it is, one of the wonders of the ancient world. To this day nobody knows what its true purpose was. The stones are bigger than they seem in pictures. The whole thing is quite impressive. How did they move these stones from the quarry, which historians think was at least 50 miles away? There are a number of mysteries around this site, and I'm glad I got to see it. You can't walk into the circle itself, as they don't want people touching the stones and destroying them. We walk around the site and try to avoid the high school kids. I am able to get a few good pictures that only have a few people visible in them. The whole stop takes only about 20 minutes. Once you see it and stand in awe of it for a while you're ready to get moving. And we still have a big day ahead of
The Great BathThe Great BathThe Great Bath

the main bath at the site
us. Next stop: the city of Bath.

We don't get into Bath until about 4:30 so time is of the essence. We want to see the Ancient Roman baths. I type roman baths into the car's navigator system and it leads me down the narrow jam-packed streets of downtown Bath. After we park the car we essentially have no idea where we're going, but we find some signs and eventually come to the baths. It's about 4:50 at that time and it closes at 6. Do we still want to enter (it's a self guided walking tour), asks the clerk? Well I didn't drive all this way to say no just because I only have an hour to spend. We can walk and read fast.

England was the northern end of the Roman empire 2000 years ago (more on this later). And Bath was quite the thriving little city back then. The Romans really liked their baths too. The site is unbelievable. The original 5-star spa. Almost perfectly preserved under the city. Much of the original stone still remains. You can learn more about the ancient baths here: http://www.romanbaths.co.uk/

We don't spend too much more time in Bath, as it's getting late. We walk around a bit before heading back to the car. As we leave Bath I kind of feel like going to a spa.... Definitely worth the detour, the Roman Baths are one of the coolest parts of the whole trip. If you are in England you need to see these things to believe them. Darkness is starting to set in, helped out by the fact that the sun hasn't been out in days now, so we've got to get on the road. We are staying in Cardiff for the night. Neither of us has ever been to Wales before so we're looking forward to spending a night there.

We arrive in Cardiff later than I would have liked, it's about 8:00 before we get to the hotel, a Best Western downtown. I had planned a run around Cardiff but it's too late for that. Luckily I had done a lot of walking over the past few days. By the time we get settled in the room and get out to go to dinner it's almost 9:00. And let me tell you Cardiff on a Sunday night at 9:00 is DEAD. We struggled to find a place that was open for dinner past 9 but eventually found some Italian place that would feed us. We were right on the main drag in downtown Cardiff. It's a walking street, and it looks like it would be really nice during the summer on a Saturday night. But once again it's just above freezing with a wind chill of probably 25 degrees, so no one is eating outside to say the least. There are lots of bars and clubs on the drag but just about all of them are closed on Sundays. After dinner we head back to the hotel with plans to get up in time to see Cardiff Castle before checking out of the hotel.

Monday morning is as cold as the day before and we get to the Castle right when it opens at 9:30. We even beat the student groups. Take that French high school kids! The castle is pretty cool and we learn a lot about its history. It was even used in WWII as a bomb shelter. If you're in Cardiff it's definitely worth a stop. After the castle we are back on the road. We've got a long day
Downtown CardiffDowntown CardiffDowntown Cardiff

typical gloomy day
ahead of us, eventually trying to get up to Windemere in Lake District National Park, a good 260 miles north with a few detours along the way.

Our first detour was Breken Beacon National Park, about 50 miles north of Cardiff. I had looked up a hike that looked pretty good and decided we had enough time to do some of it. We set out up a mountain in the middle of the park and hit snow less than halfway up. After trekking through the snow a while we realized that we probably didn't have enough time to reach the summit if we wanted to make it to the Lake District later. And this park wasn't too scenic so we were okay with cutting the hike short.

By now I was completely comfortable driving on the left side of the road. It was almost as if I'd been doing it forever. And that was good because the route back to the highway led us through some windy and narrow roads as we drove north through Wales back into England. I had originally wanted to stop in Manchester to go to United's stadium, but we ended up not having time for that. Luckily I got to see Man U play in DC in 2011 when they faced a Messi-less Barcelona. Back on the highway we sped up and made it into Windemere around 6:30. I had never stayed in a bed and breakfast before, nor had my mom, who's in her 60s, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but it was a pretty nice place. The location was good, right in the heart of little Windemere.

After settling in we set out to find somewhere to eat. After checking out menus we decided on a place called "The Albert Robinson," (no known website). They advertised a three course meal for 15 pounds so we both decided to do that. I had rabbit for the appetizer, a rack of lamb for the main course, and a cheese and fruit plate for desert. It was all outstanding and I definitely recommend that place. I also had a few beers. This was remarkably the first place in England that I actually saw English beers on draft. All the bars in London had Hieneken, Fosters, Budweiser, Guinness, Carlsburg... pretty much anything but English beer. At least this place had some English beers to try. Though I will say that I am actually not the biggest fan of English beers. I don't really care for their ales, but hey I wanted to try them. An interesting thing about English beers is that they are all very low in alcohol percentage, typically between 3.8 and 4.5% ABV. Compare that to Bud Light at 4.2, which is considered water by American beer standards. Your typical craft brew in the US is usually a minimum of 5% and probably more like 6-7%. I found it crazy how the English IPAs were 3.8% alcohol. I figure English people must get absolutely trashed when they order IPAs in the US and don't realize their drinking a beer that's twice as strong as what they're used to!

Tuesday morning we were up at around 8 for the breakfast part of the bed and breakfast. We got a "full English breakfast", which consists of eggs, sausage, Canadian bacon, mushrooms, some beans, and something called black pudding, which was not at all like pudding, and was not at all good. But everything else was excellent. It was one of many full English Breakfast's I have on the trip.
Snow on the TrailSnow on the TrailSnow on the Trail

Hiking up a mountain in Breken Beacon National Park in Wales
When we checked out we were greeted by something we hadn't seen a whole lot of outside: the sun. But that pesky mother nature wouldn't dare bless us with a beautiful day. The blistering winds hit us like a ton of bricks. The wind chill must have been around freezing, but I had a hike to do in the Lake District so I just had to suck it up and deal with.

I had already picked out a hike to do in the Lake District. We drove from Windemere through the park up to Keswick and then south from there down to a little tiny village called Grange. The hike began at the Borrowdale Gates (http://www.borrowdale-gates.com/) and weaved a couple miles through some farms and forest as we slowly started climbing into the hills. There were multiple forks in the road, so we decided to head up to the summit of Castle Crag mountain. It was a steep ascent, but not too long of a distance. If my mom can do it you can do it. We were greeted at the top by even more blistering winds, but an absolutely wonderful view of the Lake District. It's a quite majestic place. And most tourists to England never make it there, probably since it's a bit out of the way and you need a car to get around. When I think of England I don't think of jagged rock mountains and 2000 foot cliffs. But that's what the Lake District was. They weren't particularly tall mountains. I think the tallest one is only about 4000 feet, but they were impressive nonetheless. Far more beautiful than the 4000 foot "mountains" we have on the east coast of the United States that I call hills.

We were both really happy with our decision to visit the Lake District. I actually got the idea from my Life magazine book "Heaven on Earth: 100 Must-See Destinations." If you're in northern England it is definitely worth a visit. And if you're into the outdoors it's probably the best place in England to be.

After we left the Lake District we started on our way to Scotland. But first was a little detour to Hadrian's Wall (http://www.english-heritage.org.uk), a stone wall that was once similar in size to the Great Wall of China that signified the northern border of the ancient Roman Empire. Unfortunately, most of the wall has been destroyed over the years, and no sections remain as tall as they once were. But there are some long spans of the ruins off of the A69 highway as well as some ruins of ancient Roman forts. We didn't spend too long there before it was off to Edinburgh.

Driving into Edinburgh it struck me just how small the city was. My GPS was telling me I was only 8 miles from the hotel we were staying at, which is right in the heart of Edinburgh, but looking to my left and right all I'm seeing are sheep farms. There's no way we're only 8 miles from the city center. The only thing here is farms! But sure enough we round a corner and see the first hint of civilization, about 6 miles from downtown. And before we know it we're at the hotel. Everything in Edinburgh is really centralized and it's not spread out at all. You can live on a farm and still have a 10 minute commute to your job downtown!

After an epic struggle to find somewhere to park we found the hotel. The moment we walked in, we had to go up two steps. Then down a small hall and up a full flight of steps. Then up another flight of steps to get to the lobby. No elevators. Normally this wouldn't be a problem but we had big suitcases and my mom can't carry hers up stairs. It was clear to us that the UK has no equivalent to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Thinking back, the vast majority of the subway stations in London didn't have elevators or escalators either. Tough luck if you're in a wheel chair I suppose.

Luckily the main tower of the hotel did have an elevator. We settled into the room and headed out for dinner, another late one, around 8:30. We ended up eating at Deacon Brodie's Tavern (http://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/deaconbrodiestavernroyalmileedinburgh/) which was excellent. By the time we finished dinner and a few beers it was almost 10 so we went back to the hotel to call it a night. The next morning our first stop was Edinburgh Castle, one of the most famous and largest castles in the UK. It stands on a hill and overlooks the city. The castle itself is a combination of buildings, making it almost like its own little city within a city. There are tons of museums in the castle and lots of places to walk around and explore. We spent a few hours there then decided to kill the rest of our time at the Scotch Whiskey Experience (http://www.scotchwhiskyexperience.co.uk/) down the street from the castle. The tour took about an hour and we both thought it was awesome. We had been to Jim Beam before but didn't really know what made Scotch different. Nor did we know all the different regions and associated flavors of Scotch. My favorite was the charcoal flavored from the island of Islay. We couldn't believe how many distilleries there were in Scotland. I had never really had Scotch before. But I kind of liked it. If you've got time I definitely recommend hitting the Scotch Whiskey Experience. Unless you don't drink, then it might not be too interesting...

After almost 700 miles on British highways, byways, and country roads it was finally time to give back the Mercedes. I had a one way rental from Sixt Rental Car from London to Edinburgh. The amazing thing was the price was only about $200 US including the one way fee, the navigation system, and the automatic transmission. Compare that to Norway where it cost me over $250 to rent a car for one day! Sixt is definitely the way to go in Europe I think, having used them a few times now. I always get a nice car too.

We had a 3:30 flight to Dublin on Aer Lingus, the Irish airline. This was the first time I had ever seen an airline charge for soda and coffee. No thanks Aer Lingus, I'll withstand the 45 minute flight without a beverage. I'm curious to know what they give you on overseas flights....

After staying in small European hotels up until this point, I was excited to get to our apartment in Dublin. I found a hell of a deal on hotels.com for StayCity Serviced Apartments in downtown Dublin. Typically about $350 per night, the sale was for $150. The apartment was huge. It had two bedrooms a big living room and a full kitchen. It was nice to finally have some room to spread out. But the best part was that we were right on the River Liffey in downtown Dublin. We walked around a little bit trying
Acropolis?Acropolis?Acropolis?

An unfinished Parthenon atop a hill in Edinburgh
to find a place to eat and eventually ended up at a place called The Bank on College Green on Dame Street ( http://www.bankoncollegegreen.com/) which turned out to be another excellent choice. The beef and Guinness stew was fantastic. I could have ate two of them.

It was raining the next morning when I woke up, so instead of going on the run I had mapped out around Dublin I ended up just doing a little body weight workout in the apartment since I finally had some room to do a push up. After breakfast we headed over to Trinity University, which contains the Book of Kells, the oldest known copy of the Bible. Being nonreligious I wasn't too interested in it but it was cool to see the writing and the sketches from a document so old, believed to have been transcribed around the year 800. We also went into the old university library, that housed books that looked as old, if not older, than the Book of Kells itself.

By that time it had basically stopped raining and we walked around the the city for a bit, stopping at Dublinia (http://www.dublinia.ie/), a viking museum that my mom really wanted to see. Having been to Scandinavia I could have skipped this but my mom hadn't learned about the vikings before so we went inside. I actually had no idea that Dublin was founded by vikings, so it turned out to be a pretty worthwhile stop. After that we headed back across the river to the Old Jameson Distillery, where we learned about the making of Irish whiskey and the different between Irish, Scotch, and American whiskey. It has to do with the distillation process. I encourage you to do some research about it if you are interested. After visiting one of each type of distillery I am personally partial to Scotch. But I didn't tell that to the Irish guys....

After Jameson it was off to one of the most famous breweries in the world, the Guinness brewery. 16 Euros gets you a self guided tour of the facility that was once the main brewery. They now have multiple breweries around the world, with most of it made near the old brewery grounds. You don't actually get to see any beer being brewed, but they have all sorts of old machinery from the early days of the brewery. You also get to learn the story of Guinness, like how everyone in the late 1700s was brewing ales and lagers and Arthur Guinness wanted to do something different so he created a stout. There is a lot of history in Guinness and the old brewery deserves a stop if you're in Dublin. At the end of the tour you get to go up to the sky bar for a free pint and a 360 degree view of Dublin. Of course it was overcast (the sun didn't shine the entire time we were in Ireland) but on a nice day I'm sure it would have been a great view.

The rain continued to come down as our last day in Europe wound to a close. We walked down Tempe Bar to find a place to eat and settled on a small place called The Shack, where I had lamb shank, one of my favorite meals to get anywhere. I was actually quite impressed with the quality of the food in Ireland. I would say it was a step above the food in England, though we did like everywhere we ate in the UK. Tempe Bar is not
Scotch CollectionScotch CollectionScotch Collection

The Scotch Whiskey Experience is home to the largest private collection of Scotch in the world.
a bar, but a pedestrian street lined with bars and restaurants, similar to Bourbon Street in New Orleans, scaled down a bit. After dinner I tried to find a pub crawl but didn't have any luck. I ended up going in and out of a few of the bars drinking Guinness and Smithwicks. After being told how expensive London was going to be, I found Dublin much more expensive. I thought London was reasonably priced, no worse than DC or San Francisco. But Dublin was much pricier than I expected, even with our dollar doing better against the Euro than it has in a long time. A beer at a bar was usually around 5-6 Euros, or about $7-9. But then again I was on the main tourist drag, so maybe it is cheaper somewhere else.

I stayed out until I spent my last few Euros at about 11:00. Having an early flight back to the States the next morning I figured it probably wasn't a bad thing that I didn't get really drunk. That would have also been quite expensive.

As the sun hid behind the clouds on my last morning in Dublin I reviewed the trip in my mind. I partied in London, stood on Centre Court at Wimbledon, got a front row spot for one of my favorite bands, hiked up jagged mountains, ate some damn good food, explored ancient Roman ruins, stood in awe at Stonehendge, learned about Scotch and Irish whiskey, and drove over 700 miles on the "wrong" side of the road, to name a few. I think about some of my friends and colleagues who have weeks upon weeks of vacation stored up who just never use them. I saw more and did more in 7 days than they will in 7 years. It's not a coincidence that this trip was just me and my mom. I couldn't get anyone else to come. On top of Mason and Richie, my two travel friends from college, and Jason, my only friend in DC that seems to want to go on international adventures, my mom is the only one interested in going new places. As I write this we are less than 6 weeks away from our summer trip to Alaska, where we are meeting a friend of mine from graduate school for a road trip across the Last Frontier.

It doesn't really bother me though, that my friends won't come on these trips with me. I would have gone to England alone if my mom didn't come. I am fine with traveling alone. You always meet people who share similar interests, and hey they are probably traveling alone too. I live for the experiences, and I'm going to get them one way or another. I consider this trip a great success, even thought the weather did not cooperate at all. But as I board my flight from Dublin to Chicago I know that Monday morning I'll be back at the office, back to the hustle and bustle of life in DC. Back to reality. It's April 12 and I'm not leaving town again till Memorial Day weekend. It gives me something to look forward too, though. The passport won't be locked away for too long. Next stop: Toronto!


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