En route to Dublin, Ireland

Our last day of adventure in the Irish countryside finally caught up with us. Much too soon for my liking, but after a quick chat with our B&B host that went something like this:

Him: Where in the US are you from?

Me: Texas. Austin actually.

Him: Oh, like JR Ewing?

Me: Close, he was from Dallas.

we left in high spirits despite the cold, rainy weather that awaited us outside.

DSC00812Because this was a driving day, the rainy weather didn’t bother us much and since we didn’t really have any sights planned to stop at we focused on making good time.

Then, about halfway to Dublin, we hit a break in the rain and took a detour to Birr Castle.

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Birr Castle is home to the 7th Earl of Rosse so we weren’t able to go inside; however, the grounds were open to the public and we took the opportunity to explore them, despite sporadic rain showers and wind.

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Once we had enough of the cold wind and rain we made the final leg of our drive to our hotel in Dublin and what would our last drive in Ireland be without a rainbow?

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After dropping our bags at the hotel and taking our car back to the airport we headed into Dublin for our first night in the city.

It was FREEZING, super windy, and rainy so we didn’t veer very far from the Temple Bar area, but we did manage to peek in and catch a glimpse of Trinity College at night, which was gorgeous.

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DSC00878By this point I was getting cranky, because I was cold and hungry and wet so we ducked in the nearest tourist trap we could find – Hard Rock Cafe – where they sat me, uh I mean us, in the Sting booth.

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If you know me, you know how big of a moment this was for me. After our very American dinner, we headed back to the hotel to chill, the next day we had to hit the ground running as it was Adam’s last day of sightseeing before the business end of this trip began.

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Cliffs of Moher & Galway, Ireland

Leaving Dingle was hard.

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I mean, who would want to leave when this is the sunrise view from the front porch of your bed & breakfast?

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But, more of Ireland was just waiting to be explored, and we had to get an early start.

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One perk of the morning was that we got to drive Conor Pass one last time.

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Let’s be honest, there was no “we” in driving – Adam was the sole driver and I just played naviga-ooh look pretty views, pull over.

Our route today was pretty straight-forward, primarily driving north, along the coast, and taking a ferry across the River Shannon.

Our first stop this day was the Blennerville Windmill which was built in 1800 an recently restored after years of neglect.

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Then we took the ferry across the River Shannon and ate lunch in Kilrush.

While eating the most amazing baked potato of my life (topped with mozzarella and bacon!) a kind older couple chatted with us and insisted we drive out to Loop Head. It was a slight detour on our route but they promised cliff views that rivaled the Cliffs of Moher.

THEY WEREN’T KIDDING.

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We absolutely lucked out on this recommendation not only were the cliffs FREE (Cliffs of Moher charged 6 euro per adult) there were no other tourists there and they remained virtually untouched. The only signs of visitors were worn trails in pastures along the cliff line.

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We walked along the cliffs for close to an hour and could have stayed longer, but knew we still had to book it to make it to the more famous cliffs before sunset.

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And then we pulled into the parking lot at the Cliffs of Moher right at the start of the “golden hour”, which led to spectacular lighting for pictures (Adam’s are amazing).

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We spent another hour or so walking along the edges and taking pictures before it got so dark that we needed to head back to the car and finish up our journey to Galway.

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While we enjoyed the Cliffs – the views from and stature of them were quite impressive, it was the first time on our trip that we were crowded by other tourists and realized just how spoiled we had been up until this point.

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Galway. Oh, Galway. The first time on our trip where our GPS led us astray, not once, but 3 times. But finally, after an hour driving around the city, we found our bed & breakfast – Marless House. Once we parked the car and took our bags to our room, we asked the host for directions to food and pubs – the most important parts of any Irish evening.

We strolled to Salthill about a half mile from the B&B and found ourselves eating in a very popular (and delicious) pizzeria, Da Roberta. After dinner, we walked a couple of doors down to O’Connor’s Pub for a drink.

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This pub was very eclectic and quite busy.

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I loved that we sat on an old church pew and our “table” was an old Singer sewing machine table.

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 After 2 drinks each, we called it a night and headed to bed, for tomorrow we were off to Dublin!

Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland (Part II)

Annnnd I’m back with Part II of our day in and around Dingle…

After a late and tasty lunch in Dingle, we set our sights on driving Conor Pass. Conor Pass is Ireland’s highest mountain pass and, as we soon found out, quite curvy and narrow. So our full attention was on not wrecking our rental car, but, the views we got while driving it were incredible.

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We also decided to video the road as we drove it so that we could show off this awesome road to family and friends.

After driving the Pass, we went back to our B&B to rest for a bit before hitting the pubs of Dingle.

We talked with our host about pubs she recommended we visit and went in search of those in addition to stopping in at others that struck our fancy as we walked through the higgledy-piggledy streets. I LOVED Dingle and the more we explored and the more people we met the love just got stronger. It’s an adorable little town full of character and friendly people who enjoy nothing more than chatting about their life with you.

Our first stop of the night was Dick Mack’s Pub.

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It opened in 1899 and is still in operation 2 generations later. It’s full of reminders of the past, from tools and nails and tea and sugar bins stamped with the family crest and motto, “As you like it,” which fill the shelves surrounding the bar.

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Of course, I had to continue my whiskey drinking ways…

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…while Adam had himself a pint.

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We had lots of fun talking to the locals who were bellied up to the bar swapping jokes (What’s the difference between a house and a home? A home is where old people go. What’s the difference between an outlaw and an in-law? Outlaws are wanted.) and stories about their day/week/life. It was so laid back and easy we could have stayed there for hours (which if we ever come back to Dingle, I plan to do).

One of the charms of Dick Mack’s were the stars placed on the sidewalk in front of the pub. The stars represent celebrities that have visited the pub. Which means that DOLLY freaking PARTON has been there, and given the limited number of seats in the pub the chances that my bottom sat where her bottom sat are quite high.

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Speaking of Dolly, Ireland is obsessed with her. She’s having a concert there next summer, but it didn’t stop the radio station from advertising it almost once each hour. In addition, just this morning as we were headed to drive the peninsula, they had a live radio interview with her. Of course I made Adam listen to it with me – Dolly’s my hero.

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After leaving Dick Mack’s, we walked down to the pier to have dinner before heading to our final pub of the night. We had planned to stop in at least 3 pubs, but time and sleepiness got the best of us.

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O’Sullivan’s Courthouse Pub was highly recommended to us by our B&B host because of its great live music. And boy did it not disappoint. Notice that I am in fact taller than the entrance to the pub. And that height difference? Also stayed in place around the bar, which did result in Adam ramming his head into the ceiling once when he got up to get more drinks. The locals then told us it happens all the time, while I was busy laughing. I’m so thoughtful.

We had about 45 minutes to burn before the music began and spent it talking with the locals who had already packed themselves in around the bar. More drinks for us!DSC00635

Around 8:45, kids in costume showed up to trick or treat in the pub. You guys! Did you read that? Parents take their kids trick or treating in the pubs!!! Can we get this started in the US please?

And by trick or treating, I mean singing and dancing in traditional Irish fashion for their candy. These kids were adorable.

Then the live music started and the artists, Caroline Keane and Matt Griffin, were exceptional. Now I want to learn how to play the concertina.

We had so much fun during our night out on the town in Dingle!

Driving the Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry, Ireland

Day 3 in Ireland is hands-down the most incomparable day of my life.

We started off with a wonderful breakfast at our B&B, Lighthouse, which our host Mary prepared for us and then we got on the road. Since we were staying 2 nights in Dingle we had plenty of time to really appreciate the views, take some side trips, and soak up this beautiful area of Ireland.

Again, we asked at the B&B what to see, in addition to our plan of driving the Dingle Peninsula/Slea Head Drive, and were told by the couple next to us that we had to drive Conor Pass. Luckily, Dingle sits right in between these two drives so we did the peninsula first, came into town and ate a late lunch then headed up the Pass.

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We didn’t really have a plan once we started driving the peninsula other than to pull over whenever we saw a view or road that looked fun. This turned out to be the best way to go for us. Again, we were so glad we opted to hire a car rather than join a tour group because we could stop whenever we wanted and spend as much or as little time as we wanted at each stop.

Our first stop was the Dunbeg Fort, built in 500BC, and its spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding cliffs.

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As was the norm on the coast, the wind was insane, but not selfie preventative.

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Next up, was a random roadside pull off stop to soak up more amazing views…

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…then trespassing on some poor farmer’s land because we wanted to get closer to the coast.

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We got back in our car and drove just a bit further, when saw a narrow road which looked like it led to a beach at the base of the cliffs. As any inquisitive tourist would do, we turned down the road fully ready to meet a gate or something blocking our way. Instead, we were able to drive down and park on the beach at the base of the cliffs at Coumeenoole.

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We were the only people on the beach for at least 15 minutes, then other brave souls began driving their cars down and parking next to our rental.

Adam and I LOVED this beach, and in typical photographer fashion, we were the first to arrive and last to leave.

After we drove back up the cliff, we turned left and MY DREAM CAME TRUE!

I had told everyone that the only thing I wanted to do in Ireland was drive down a road and be blocked by sheep. On this day IT HAPPENED and I was entirely too giddy about this; but, I wasn’t the only one. There were two other cars of tourists also exclaiming that it was their dream to be stopped in the road by sheep which actually caused a line of tourists freaking out and insisting on getting their picture taken with the sheep in the road.

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Of course, we had to join in.

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For the rest of the day, I was annoyingly happy that my dream came true.

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After the sheep were ran into a nearby pasture by their dog and human, Adam grabbed me by the ear and threw me in the car before I took a sheep home with us and I headed off in search of our next Irish adventure, which included more stopping at pull offs on the road and trespassing on farms.

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That is, until we came upon another road that appeared to lead to the bottom of more cliffs.

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We started driving down the road but at the last minute decided to pull the car off into a makeshift parking area right before the final bend to the water.

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Thank God we did that, otherwise our car might have been lunch for the Atlantic, because  it turned out to be an abandoned pier with quite aggressive waves and no place to turn around once the car got down there.

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But this pier? Was AWESOME. Not as serene as the beach was, but exciting and invigorating. We experienced the power of the Atlantic right in front of our faces and nothing will ever compare to it again.

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Huge waves would crash onto the pier or the rocks nearby and swells would force us to run up against the cliffs a few times, but it was such a once in a lifetime experience.

Stay tuned for Part II of Day 3….

Killarney to Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland

Waking up on day two in Ireland we were greeted with rain and wind, but it wasn’t enough to dampen our spirits. After a few cups of tea and coffee and bellies full of breakfast, our host at Sika Lodge apologized for the rain, wind and cold weather. We told her we didn’t mind and loaded up the car for our drive to Dingle.

We were in Ireland, for goodness sake!

Originally, our route to Dingle was driving through the Killarney National Park to see the Muckross House and Gardens and the Torc Waterfall, then drive the Ring of Kerry. During breakfast, we asked our host about our plan to see if she had any additional recommendations and she suggested that we also extend our Ring of Kerry drive to include the Skellig Ring – what a great little addition!

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We planned to take a tour of the Muckross House and walk the gardens surrounding it, but when we got there it was very windy, rainy, and cold and the next tour was not for another hour and 45 minutes. Instead, we bundled up and walked around a bit before calling it a wash (literally) and got back in the car to dry off and warm up.

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Then we drove a few more kilometers through the park to the Torc Waterfall and it was magnificent – very full thanks to the rain and the heavy woods surrounding it helped to keep the rain a bay a bit so we could enjoy the scenery.

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A few times while we were there the wind would pick up and a flurry of autumn leaves would fall around us. It was breathtaking and I could have stayed there forever had the rain not been a factor.

We got back in the car and cranked up the heat, hopeful we would dry out just as we arrived at our next location, Ladies View, which is a car park with a spectacular view of the National Park next to a coffee shop. I’m sure on a clear day it’s absolutely gorgeous, but Adam and I agreed that even in dreary weather Ireland is a stunning country.

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Next up, the Ring of Kerry and Skellig Ring…and also a stop at a handmade chocolate factory complete with free samples. Our favorites, which I might have to start getting shipped to Texas, were the Dark Chocolate Vanilla Ganache Truffles, White Chocolate Citrus Truffles and Marshmallow Clusters. So good!!

One thing we loved about having our own car, was getting to stop off wherever we wanted. This led to us crossing a bridge in a quaint village and me essentially yelling at Adam that we had to get out and walk around. And take pictures, of course.

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Our host back at Sika Lodge warned us that many of the little villages on the Ring of Kerry will have closed up for the winter, which couldn’t have been more evident than in Waterville. We saw hardly anyone out and about, and no shops were open.

This didn’t stop us from taking a picture of Charlie Chaplin’s bronze statue. Apparently Waterville was his favorite holiday spot.

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A bit further up the road, we came upon the Kerry Cliffs and paid the 4 euro each to walk out to the nearest point from which to view the Skellig Islands.

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We finished up our second day in Ireland on the beach in Inch at sunset.

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Perfection!

And so it begins…

A year and a half ago, my Mom, Sister, and I traveled to Finland to visit an “old” exchange student and meet his family. I’ll post my reflections in reverse so that you can easily click through and read them in the order in we experienced Finland. Enjoy!

My trip to Finland began at 1:30 on the afternoon of June 17, I had just quit my job and was in an empty state of mind. No stresses to think about, just excitement about the journey ahead.

My flight didn’t leave for a couple of hours so I took time to people watch in the waiting area of Gate 1. I saw families heading to vacation, business people making phone calls and checking emails, students reading textbooks, and a Texas Longhorn fan. I say the latter of that group had a death wish, proclaiming his love for the all things Longhorn in an Arkansas airport, but my boyfriend begged to differ.

In the plethora of personalities that surrounded me, one specifically stood out. An older lady wearing a brown linen tunic and khaki pants was traveling with what I assumed were members of her family. (For most of my trip I think I’ll be with them, I just heard them mention going to London.) This lady was striking. She was talking about all of the traveling she had done, the types of coins she had in bags at home, and a fleeting mention of 200,000 frequent flyer miles. She seemed so full of life that she reminded me of someone. It wasn’t until I was on the plane at our cruising altitude somewhere above Arkansas that I realized who I was being reminded of.

Ottie, my late grandmother (Dad’s side), was one of the dearest souls I knew (and know to this day). Ottie loved to travel. She was in Switzerland in a gondola above the Swiss Alps on the day I was born, had been all across the US with the “Trailblazers” (a group of retirees from my hometown that took twice yearly charter tours), and had taken an Alaskan cruise, among other trips.

She was also an educator, gardener, and inspiring Christian. I often find myself wishing Ottie was still with us, that I could call her and tell her all about my life, my travels, and my hopes. But, in this moment, on this journey, I know she is with me and smiling.

Finnish Countryside

Everything is so green and fragrant, I just had to be a part of it.
[10 points to the person who can first name the movie that quote comes from.]

Since arriving in Finland it has been made apparent that it is a very green country, in every sense of the word. Not only is it the 7th most expensive country in the world, with things costing the same in Euros as they do in American dollars (plus conversion), but the countryside where we are staying is the most vibrant and natural place I’ve ever been.

I’m sitting under the arbor off the back deck of the guesthouse and for a very brief moment I think I’m in Arkansas, then I realize it’s June and Arkansas would never be 60 in June. Ever. Off in the distance I see a lake with pine trees going up a small hill on the other side. The field in front of me hasn’t been mowed in years I would assume, but it is full of many beautiful and colorful wildflowers. Ivy is creeping its way up the lattice work to my left and African Violets line the inside of the window behind me. A light breeze is blowing and I’m becoming more and more peaceful as I sit and write in this natural setting. The scent and buzzing of bees coming from the flowerbed to my right is more proof I couldn’t be further from the city…

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I had my doubts about Finland for the first few days. Sure, the natural atmosphere is worth raving about and taking pictures of, but I wanted to see things. Magnificent, old things. Enter Helsinki…

We arrived in Helsinki for a day of touring and after parking our car in a garage we set off on foot. The city first appears somewhat different than other European cities I have visited, mainly due to the juxtaposition of the old with the new. But we soon turn a corner that completely changes my mood.

We begin walking alongside cobblestone streets made of granite, then realize that the sidewalks we are walking on are also granite. The slim alleyways and streets make me feel very European and confident. We walk past the Parliament building, through some parks, and eventually get to be at the harbor of the Baltic Sea.

Every block or so greets us with another ornate church or unique building that has surely been standing for hundreds of years. I have to pinch myself to prove it’s not a dream.

London & France…

I decided today that I would wear my favorite and most comfortable outfit, a black knit dress that literally feels like an old t-shirt. Unfortunately, the day turned out to be one of the windiest days yet.

We went into Tampere so that I could get some last minute souvenirs and to go up in the observation tower overlooking the entire city at Särkänniemi, an amusement park. Särkänniemi not only held the tower, but also a fabulous modern art museum that held one of Picasso’s many violin paintings. After visiting those sites, Maddie, Jesse, and Heidi decided to ride the “Tornado” roller coaster, leaving mom and I with their belongings.

I was given the task of photographing them while they were on the ride so I moved to the sidewalk nearest 2 of the big loops of the coaster, putting me on a downward slope. I was practicing the timing of the shot when a strong gust of wind flew under my dress. I thought I had kept a good tight hold on it that nothing had been revealed until my mom said, “I see London, I see France, I see Meggie’s underpants.”

I’m just glad that we saw the World’s Largest Plumber Crack moments later, provided by a woman squatting to help her child. At least 4 inches were on display and she didn’t seem to care or to notice…