Margaret, Queen of the Roundabouts!
I had heard so many times how beautiful Ireland and Scotland are and how nice the people are and how because they speak English (says who?!), it would be an easy country to drive around. Of course, they failed to focus on the fact that the roads are glorified bike paths and the steering wheel is on the opposite side, it’s a manual stick shift using your left hand, and you drive on the left.
I’m known for joining group tours that are super inexpensive (oh, how I missed you Gate1Travel . . . snif) but this time I decided that I would put my big girl travel pants on and wing it. I was also told that bed and breakfasts are abundant and it’s easy to just show up in a town and get a room. That’s great unless there is something called “The Gathering” going on where every person with any Irish roots decides to travel home to Ireland for festivals in each and every city.
Now, enters Margaret Fox. Most who know me know that Margaret is 100% responsible for getting me into Florida Power in 1987. I had dated her son for a year or more while in high school and Margaret and I became great friends and she’s been like a mom to me (yes, I’m very adoptable – you’ve heard it takes a village; I have like 5 mothers including the real one Elena.) After her mentoring me for most of my 26 years, Margaret is now retired, traveling the world and decides that she wants to go with me to Ireland. Silly woman. I explain that I was intending on using a buddy pass on Delta which means standby traveling which I told her is the equivalent of being on the Amazing Race and part of the adventure.
Dear Anna from Delta gets our passes in order flying from Tampa to Atlanta to Dublin on August 6th and back on August 22nd. She knows to put us on the earliest flight to Atlanta for two reasons – 1) to give us enough time/options to make the flight from Atlanta to Dublin and 2) to give me a chance to drop in on my Nana and family! We made the 8:20 am flight (coach) and rented a car at the Atlanta airport, heading to see the family in Douglasville. Nana was doing okay but hadn’t gotten out of bed yet so I just crawled into bed with her. I was so happy that everyone got to meet Margaret and she was able to meet them. They had all heard about each other for so long so it was about time. Around 3:00 pm, I hugged and kissed Nana and the family and we headed back to the airport.
Margaret and I get our standby seat request boarding cards and head for the gate. I’m truly proud of her because I talked her into only two carry-on bags for 16 days. One that rolls and a duffle bag. The duffle bag she cursed the entire trip because it was heavy but she made it work. (Along the way she wanted to buy a bigger rolling bag and I would say “Mar-gar-et”) Arriving at the gate and they aren’t showing the standby passengers yet. So naturally we went to the closest bar. We met Katie who was also flying on a buddy pass to visit her son who lives in Ireland down by Waterford. She used my phone to log in and check the standby list. A bit later, we were just cashing out from the bar and Katie comes by and tells us that the standby list is up and head to the gate. When they called us to the desk and handed us the first class seats, Margaret did a little hip shaking dance and high-fived me. See how easy that was!
We managed to stuff ourselves with all the food in first class. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing sometimes. I didn’t sleep very well but it was a short flight compared to most trips I’ve taken. Only 7 ½ hours. There was a little girl flying with her parents and her nanny who was sitting next to me who wanted to play all night. She was too funny. What a life though! She was telling me that they have a driver meeting them at the airport who will be taking them around the country. Looking back, that didn’t sound like a bad idea.
We get to Dublin on the 7th and the sun is shining bright. I’ve always heard stories of how much rain Ireland gets which keeps it so green but lucky us to arrive in the warmest summer on record which also means we can’t use half of what’s in our luggage. (My dad used to always say that when he was in Ireland and Scotland, it rained non-stop. When the sun came out for one day, the photographers came out and snapped all the postcards.) We hop on the bus to City Centre which drops us right in front of Trinity College and drag the luggage about two blocks to the Blooms Hotel in Temple Bar. The reviews for this place were great but all warned about the party noise each night. I told Margaret that I sleep with ear plugs and due to my snoring, so will she, so we ended up never hearing the party that was happening outside on a Wednesday night.
Ireland doesn’t have A/C since they generally never get over 70 degrees so arriving to our room and realizing how hot it was, we called the front desk to see what they could do and they immediately ran up an osculating fan which would we could have never made it without. The two of us agreed that a nap was in order so we put in a wakeup call for noon and got in our beds. Then it was time to get something to eat and check out Dublin City.
Walked a bit and found the famous O’Neill’s and split a pork steak and some potatoes. They had the little single serving size bottles of wine all over Ireland which was great because you never worried about the wine being bad from sitting in the bottle. I was thrilled to see that they had Shiraz and Malbec and Rioja. So I grab a little Rioja. We sat next to a nice British man and were talking about our trip. I was so exhausted that instead of grabbing the Worchester sauce to sprinkle on my food, I grabbed my little bottle of red wine and proceeded to dump it all over my pork chop. Margaret didn’t even blink so I think she was tired too. The guy next to us of course thought we were three sheets to the wind already. Lovely.
After lunch, we picked up the On/Off Bus Tour of Dublin. We decided to ride the bus around the entire circuit once to see what our options were and then go from there. The weather would go from hot to cold and we’d bundle up. We heard the famous phrase which states “If you don’t like the weather, stick around for ten minutes and it will get better.” They weren’t kidding.
On our second lap of the city we decide to hop off the bus and go to the Dublin Castle. Just before the entrance gates is a little French restaurant called Chez Max so we stop to sit and grab a drink. Margaret had the Irish coffee and I had the house wine and we split a meat and cheese tray which was divine. When finished, we walked to the castle and found out that it closed at 4:00 so we toured the courtyard and found some fabulous sand sculptures on display. Then we went to the castle gardens and just relaxed for a bit. Margaret was in love with all the flowers all over the city.
We decided to walk off our little snack from the French restaurant by walking down Grafton Street. Besides being lined with souvenir and other shops, there are all these street artists performing along the way straight down to St. Stephen’s Green.
Not wanting to overdo it on our first night, we decide to head back to the hotel, change and eat in the pub attached to our hotel called The Vat House. We pull up to the bar where Dominick is tending poorly to us (something about the cook going awol but other people placing orders around us?). We decide to try Guinness for the first time. Margaret got the small portion and I went aggressively for the pint. First sip, I knew I was in trouble. It was like eating a loaf of bread from a glass. The aftertaste was so bitter. Margaret gave up about three sips in and switched to Bailey’s. That a girl! I hate being beat by the boys so I stuck with it. We order some dinner which was huge and we decide we need to start splitting meals going forward. Margaret finished hers and then headed for bed. I was still suffering through my beer. Finally I polished it off and head upstairs for the night. What’s funnier than two women known for talking too much? Two women who talk too much with ear plugs in and can’t hear each other.
Thursday, August 8th – Set the wakeup call for 8:00 but both of us were up before that. Decided to head to Starbucks just around the corner for breakfast because Margaret loves me and knows I need my Starbucks hot chocolate. Then we decide, just like everyone else in the city it seems, to head to Trinity College and line up for the Book of Kells. The line wrapped around the courtyard of the campus but we had excellent company. We managed to get into the middle of a tour from Italy. We met Daniela, Alice and Fabio from Sicily. Margaret was chatting with a couple in front of us from Baltimore. Helped the time pass and before we knew it, we were quickly exchanging emails before splitting off. The Book of Kells was amazing and we had to fight through the crowds to be able to get a glimpse of it. One tour would leave and another would come rushing in. I grabbed Margaret’s hand and pulled her to the case so we could see it before being pushed out. The color is amazing. Such detail. But for me, that wasn’t the best part. It was walking into the Library. Absolutely beautiful architecture and original books dating back a couple hundred years. The Library also held Ireland’s oldest harp.
In true Disney World style, as we exit the Book of Kells / Library tour, it dumps us right into the gift shop. Margaret was looking for bookmarks for her boyfriend, Murphy and I was looking for wine toppers. In the college courtyard there was an art piece that I actually saw in 2002 when I was in Rome, Italy. It’s a sphere with another sphere looking mechanical coming out from the center.
We bought some post cards and then head for the Post Office. The directions were “just across the bridge to the right”. Of course, there are five bridges I think so we crossed one and then followed some signs. We finally had to stop and ask and it was a massive government building just down O’Connell Street (across the O’Connell Bridge which would have been good to know). While we were on the bus on day one, we passed St. Patrick’s Cathedral and there was a lovely park just next to it so Margaret suggested that we grab some lunch and picnic in the park. Just off O’Connell Street we found a Deli and grabbed a couple roast beef sandwiches and some waters and hopped on the On/Off bus heading for St. Patrick’s. When we got there, the sun was out and people were lying out in the park enjoying the day. We found a park bench and sat there eating our lunch watching the soccer match of all time. Four boys had used empty bottles and shoes to mark off the goals on either side and were playing an innocent game of soccer. That is until we clapped for a goal. Then it was on. They had an audience. It was funny watching them shoot for a goal, score and turn to us to see if we were watching.
After lunch we went to St. Patrick’s for a tour of the cathedral. I love the history and architecture. It’s so funny the stories that come out. My favorite is in one of the arches, there was carved a “hooligan” or as we know it, a leprechaun. Mischievous little character. It proves that pagan stories still find their way into churches (like gargoyles). They had a display case with publications from the famous writer Jonathan Swift including his face mold and a cast of his skull. We left the tour a bit early because we wanted to make it to the Dublin Castle for the inside tour which was definitely worthwhile.
While walking to our hotel from the tour, we came across the Arlington Temple Hotel which we had tried to buy tickets for the dinner and Irish show but it claimed was sold out on-line. We stopped in at the front desk and they sold us two tickets and we went to the bar to have a drink and wait for the show. I noticed they had a showcase full of miniature cool liquor bottles from all over the world. The more I looked, the more I saw. I laughed at my small collection of bottles from around the world full of sand home in my living room.
While at the bar we met this interesting woman who turns out to be a writer and a Reverend. She was meeting a guy who is a publisher and when he arrived, I was trying to be cool and pimp out my own writing but before I could say anything, Margaret, “my new publicist” starts bragging my stories. They joined us at dinner. A 3 piece band came out singing classic Irish tunes and in between songs they would take pieces of paper with either requests or birthday/anniversary wishes. The leader mentioned that the young cute guy who plays the accordion was going to be heading to Somerville, Massachusetts in a couple weeks which is exactly where my mom’s family grew up. Talking with him later, he was going to a friend’s wedding. The music, dancing and food were fabulous. I loved that lamb was cheaper in Ireland and Great Britain so I ordered it as often as I could. We met a couple from Australia celebrating their anniversary that was very nice but my book agent got away without my details. (sigh)
We started walking home and about half way to the hotel Margaret had to pee so we slipped into the first bar we saw thinking we could just use the bathroom and scoot out. We did successfully but after the emergency potty visit was over, we realized we were in a gay bar – wall to wall boys and one beautiful blonde girl who we assured that Margaret and I were not a couple – no matter how cute Margaret is.
We decided to walk to the River Liffey, cross the bridge and walk down to the modern section of Dublin’s waterfront. Fabulous modern buildings of glass with fluorescent lights lining the waterfront. It was much farther than we thought it was so by the time we got to the buildings to take pictures, I had convinced Margaret to take a taxi back to Temple Bar. Two days in Dublin down and tomorrow . . . the fear that is driving on the opposite side of the road!
Friday, August 9th – Check out of Blooms Hotel and head to Starbucks for breakfast and then to take a taxi to the rental car agency. Margaret had done a bunch of research and even called Travelocity to get more information. Finally she gets a quote for a car in the City Centre for 277€ (Euros). When we tell the taxi driver where we were going, he laughed because it’s just on the other side of Trinity College which I pointed out was a huge campus and we both had two pieces of luggage and no intention of dragging it through the city.
We get to Europcar and to the counter. The lovely young lady behind the counter was so friendly and couldn’t wait to help us. So she pulls up our reservation, adds an additional driver, a GPS rental, upgrade to Diesel “to save you money in the long run on gas”, full coverage since NO credit card in the planet offers coverage in Israel, Jamaica and Ireland (lovely – that doesn’t scare anyone) and finally, the total is . . . . 974. Mouth drops to the counter. What can you do? So off we go and pile our luggage into our little white Hyundai Blue. I snapped pictures of all sides for insurance (that seemed foolish later). Margaret wins the coin toss to drive first. Plug in the GPS and it has no idea where Newgrange is. We are convinced that no tourist had our GPS before us. It was more like a Tupperware salesman had it. Not one helpful place loaded. Finally find something close and off we go. Margaret does a great job getting us out of the city, working the clutch and staying on the left side. Then we hear those famous words with a British accent – “enter the roundabout and take the 2nd exit” People warned us and we were terrified of getting stuck but straight through we went, yielding along the way and popping out at the exit our little voice instructed us to take.
Along our way, I pull out the rental car receipt because it dawns on me in a very scary way that the lady said 974 and was speaking of Euros. We thought she meant US Dollars. Reviewing the receipt, I almost passed out! It was $1334.00 USD! I told Margaret, “We didn’t rent a car! We bought one!” That’s when I had the idea to take the car straight off the Cliffs of Moher very “Thelma and Louise” style and call the agency and tell them where it landed but Margaret wasn’t having any of that.
As we get to the countryside it becomes a bit more hairy. The curbs seem much closer, the shrubs on the side of the road brushing the car lightly. I was literally pulling my entire frame of my body in each time we got close to the left side thinking I could will the car smaller and away from the scratches and dents. I would calmly (on the outside) say, “Right, right, right” and motion to move over more to the center but Margaret was looking straight at the double lines explaining that she couldn’t go over any further. We both laughed at the idea that we were doing Abs exercises the entire trip from holding our breath and sucking our tummies in due to the stress of watching the other one drive. When it was my turn to drive, Margaret (who is very expressive – she’s hilarious at movies when she starts flailing her arms about during the action scenes) starts grabbing the side door with one hand and the dash with the other. I explained that I knew it was close since I was sitting there earlier and she needed to show a bit more confidence and not use the “mom arms and feet” when I drove – you know, when the mom is bracing herself and pushing the make believe brake pedal on her side.
Finally we arrive at Newgrange thanks partially to the GPS and also to the lovely brown information signs along the way. Now, the night before we left for our trip, I was lying in bed, not able to sleep like always before I travel and I remembered my favorite coffee table book that I “borrowed permanently” from Charlie and Rene Meade. It’s Charlie’s dad’s book but he knew how much I fell in love with it because it’s a book of World Wonders. So I jump out of bed, crack it open and look for wonders in England, Wales and Scotland and stumble right across Newgrange, located just 30 miles north of Dublin in Ireland. Older than the pyramids in Egypt at over 5,000 years old, it’s a gigantic tomb passageway built up from the ground with heaps of stones and earth and then faced with quartz pebbles surrounded by a circle of tall stones and then covered with grass. At the solstice, the sun shines into the chamber doorway and into the tomb. Cremated ashes were found here and dating showing the tomb being used back to 3200 B.C.E.
Once at the World Heritage Site, we find out that there are actually two tombs we can tour. One called Knowth and the other Newgrange. I was hoping to swing in, take a photo and head on our counter clockwise tour of Southern Ireland. We ended up buying tour tickets for both locations and it was very cool. Along the way, we met a lovely family from England???? Mom, Dad, two daughters and one of the daughter’s boyfriend. As we finished the tour we took a group picture together and then exchanged emails. As we were doing so, I hear someone call my name. I looked around and a lovely young lady that I used to work with was standing there with her brother and family ready to take the tour of Newgrange. I was so freaked out that I literally forgot her name. When she reminded me it was Annie, I just laughed in shock. No one believed that we ran into each other. I had to take a picture and post it on Facebook. It took a while for the excitement to settle down but then back in the car we go heading to Galway.
We get about 15 miles from Galway and decide to pull off, find a restaurant/bar with internet and look for a hotel or bed & breakfast in Galway. The place we stopped had terrible reception but the bartender kept going to a back room and coming back. He said his wife was looking up hotels and B&B’s in the area but none were available. Galway was having a Poker Tournament as well as a Triathlon of some sort and most places were booked. So then they tried the next town closest and nothing. Finally, they called locally in Athenry where we were standing and found us one B&B just down the road with a room for only one night (we were needing two nights but we would deal with that later since we were tired and hungry and desperately needing a drink after the day’s drive). After they confirmed the room for us, they walked us down to the B&B (New Park Hotel) where we checked into a lovely room with one double bed and one single bed and pictures of Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe decorated the wall. We dumped our bags and headed down for dinner. I was already over Fish & Chips and decided to go with the Chicken Curry which was delicious. Margaret had the pasta which I also sampled and loved. We loved the little hotel but they were all booked up for the next night. The lovely blonde waitress offers to call around and find us a place and ends up getting us a room at the Raheem Hotel just outside Athenry that includes breakfast. We couldn’t get over how helpful the people were in Ireland!
Then we tell her about our drive to Clifton the next day and she double checked with a man who must have been a regular there. He said we were wasting our time heading all the way to Clifton and suggested a few other places. While we were talking, Margaret shoots straight up and says, “I don’t feel well. I’m going to head to the room.” It caught me so off guard. She was trying to insist that I stay and talk to the man but I reminded her that we were poking fun at him earlier because he waltzed in and sat down with his shirt unbuttoned to his bellybutton looking ridiculous. I was ready for bed myself so we said goodnight and went up to bed. Margaret had a bit of a sore throat from the beginning of the trip and would be fine until the evening. Next morning she was great.
Saturday, August 10th – We go down for breakfast and the owner is a lovely lady who is preparing our breakfast and telling us about beating cancer and running the hotel. She was so nice. She brings our breakfast and there are two large sausage links, bacon looking like a slice of ham, eggs, toast and white and black pudding. I knew something was up with the black pudding and didn’t know what it was made of but I avoided it because I was full mostly but knew there was blood involved to make it that color. The white pudding was kind of bland so I just avoided them both.
Now, we check out and load up in the car and head to Clifton anyway. We decided to check into our next hotel first since we weren’t sure how late we were going to be out and didn’t want to lose the reservation. The GPS starts taking us one way and the brown information signs are pointing another way so I tell Margaret to just follow the brown signs. Finally we come upon a closed road. There is a red and white gate blocking us and then we realize there are train tracks. I get out of the car and look way down the tracks and there is a train coming alright. We wait for it to pass and then a man walks out of a little shed and manually swings the gate to open the road. Can you imagine that job? Off to the hotel to check in and it’s gorgeous. Can’t wait to get back later that night.
We figured we’ll drive as far as we can and then turn around and come back the coast to Galway. Using the GPS and the map Europcar provided us, we start driving to the Connemara National Park towards Kylemore Abbey. I had mirrored a tour that Gate 1 Travel had as a template and was so glad I did. The scenery along the way was gorgeous in spite of it raining off and on. The hills dotted with sheep spray painted on the butt with red or blue or green to identify the owner’s sheep. Then we found some sheep that obviously belonged to an Indianapolis Colts fan. They had blue horseshoes spray painted on each of them. I made Margaret stop so I could run up and grab a picture of them.
When we arrived at Kylemore, the sun was out and the abbey and grounds were stunning. I took pictures of the abbey reflecting in the lake in front and then we bought our ticket to tour the grounds and inside the abbey. They sent us first to the Chapel because there was a group from USA performing inside. They said it was at 12:15 but when we arrived, we caught the last two songs and it finished at 12:15 (oops). We were glad to catch some. The group was from New Jersey. I thought it odd though that they would come all the way from the States and be dressed like a bunch of tourists while performing. I would have worn something nicer but they sounded good. While touring inside, we came upon an English tour in progress and I heard the guide say that just behind the double doors from the dining room was the Turkish bath! I asked if we could see it but she said there was a fire that destroyed the bath and they are still renovating parts of the abbey. Drats!
We decide to make Kylemore Abbey our turn around point and head back towards Galway. There was a bicycle race going on and as if it wasn’t bad enough that we were driving on the left on these awfully narrow roads, it was raining off and on, and now there are bicyclists we were terrified to pass. If we never saw another bicyclist again, we would be happy.
Heading back to Galway to check out the city and have dinner and the GPS couldn’t find it. We ended up in the middle of a neighborhood on a street when we put in the Salt Hill Oyster Festival that popped up when we typed Galway as the city. So we decided to try to find something else and literally popped out a block later to the waterfront of Galway. Managed to find a car park and jumped on a train tour of Galway city. Did one lap around and then on the next lap had the driver drop us in the city center on a pedestrian street full of restaurants. Margaret stopped in a pharmacy that was literally just closing but we talked them into getting her something for her throat – some antiseptic throat lozenges. I made a deal with the owners that I would stand guard at the door and turn people away while they rung Margaret up. (The owner had a ton of makeup on and a dress so I asked if she had a hot date and she laughed.)
We walked up and down the street looking for a place to grab a wine and something light to eat. I stopped in a shop that had the Irish Claddagh rings and found fireman patches on the wall. I asked the guy about it and he’s a councilman for the city and supports the local fire department. He didn’t have any patches to trade but I gave him one EMT patch with the state of Florida on it and one St. Petersburg Fire Dept patch with a pelican on it which he pinned to the wall.
Continued walking and we came upon Murphy’s Bar. Margaret got a picture in front of it smiling big and missing her man Murphy. We went inside to have a drink but there were a bunch of guys sitting around and we felt like we just walked into a boy’s club uninvited. Took a few pics and decided to find something were we could sit outside and watch the people. We ran into a guy carrying a giant cake with aluminum foil. He stopped and told me to check out the cake he just made for a friend and it was a giant remote control! Loved it. We covered it back up and off he went.
We ended up sitting outside at a wine bar restaurant and ordered a cheese tray and the crab spread with crackers and some wines. It was good to relax but Galway was overcrowded with a foot race and tours walking through. Some drunk guy walked by and picked up a guy’s beer on the other side and started walking off drinking it. The guys went after him and he slammed it down onto the ground and then the police showed up. Time to go. We walked to the fire station and no one was home so we hailed a taxi and headed for the car back on the other side of the bridge to Salt Hill.
All along the trip, every other day or so, I would say to Margaret, “Do you still love me?” and she would laugh and say “Yes.” Some days she wouldn’t laugh but just say “Yes.” I had to make sure because the driving was so stressful and spending that much time together, I would die if we irritated each other and ruined our 30 year friendship.
We drove to the hotel and ran into some folks all dressed up for their daughter’s wedding. They kept insisting that we join the party but we declined as we weren’t dressed for a wedding. Margaret and I went to the bar to grab another drink and there was a bunch of folks from the wedding at the bar too. Margaret decided to head to bed and I stayed to listen to the guy singing for a bit. He even performed a song about Athenry for me. Next thing I know, one of the wedding party comes over and drags me off to the reception. Green linen slacks, a grey tank top and my paisley scarf. People were looking funny at me as I walked in until the mom and dad see me and throw their arms up in celebration that I made it. Before I know it, I’m dancing to the live band with a 9 year old I found sitting by herself. I loved when they started playing “Rock the Boat” and all the guests and the bride got on the floor in a chain like rowboats swaying front to back. We had a great time and finally I had to say goodnight at around 3:00 am and head to bed. I was the first to leave the party.
Sunday, August 11th – Sunday morning came way too quickly. When the alarm went off, I hit the dismiss button and went back to bed. At around 8:00 am, Margaret was getting up and moving around so I figured I would to. I was slow moving. We head to breakfast and I’m trying to keep my stomach from churning from the excess wine I drank the night before. We found some of the wedding guests sleeping on sofas in the 2nd floor lobby area and the server at breakfast said they didn’t finish until 5:00 am. Ick!
We got on the road heading for the Cliffs of Moher. I had heard about a 17th century castle called Dunguaire that has a banquet each night but we couldn’t get tickets for it. While driving south, we passed by and at least got to take a few pictures of it before continuing on. Also along the way, we came across the Burren which is a rocky wasteland that they actually put seaweed on to give some soil so that something could grow. It has a very moon-esque look to it.
Finally we get to the Cliffs of Moher visitor center and parking. The wind is really blowing off the Atlantic and it forces us into our luggage to layer up with some warmer clothes. I changed into a pair of jeans and put a sweater on over my tank top and put my pullover on top of that and finally wrapped my scarf around my neck. It started sprinkling as we walked up to the center. The cliffs were amazing but the rain drove Margaret inside. I decided I would walk up a little ways north. You finally come upon a sign that says, “Warning! The Cliffs of Moher Visitor Center ends here!” In other words, once over the fence, if you fell off the unprotected cliffs to your death it was on you. So naturally, wearing my 3″ heel black wedge sneakers, I jump the fence and walk along this very precarious ledge. I made sure to at least stay on the small path that had been worn and not go too close to the edge. At one point, a beam of sunlight poked out from the clouds and me and some other travelers watched it drift across the cliffs like a flashlight lighting up brilliant patches of green. Too scary for me, I headed back to the actual visitor center and waited patiently for the clouds to fly by and the sky to open up and shine down for my photo ops. I found a patch of yellow flowers that I could squeeze into the right corner and then the sun popped out. I took too many pictures of course but don’t fret, I’ll pick the best ones and can the others.
Margaret had told me she would meet me in the cafeteria but then when I was walking to the visitor center, she was waiting at the front. Turns out there were two cafeterias. She’s so smart that she sent me an email just in case I came in a different entrance and couldn’t find her. Cliffs of Moher – check! On to Bunratty Castle!
We decided we were hungry so we pulled off just to this little town south of the Cliffs right on the Atlantic with a beach. We had a wonderful lunch at Waves Restaurant in spite of the twin kids sitting next to us. Now, during this trip, anytime there was a baby or toddler, Margaret was immediately grandma. They were just attracted to her. So this little blonde girl (her twin sister was a brunette) twisted around in her chair and just started at Margaret. She had food everywhere including her face which was slightly grossing this non-mother out. The only kids I ever picked food off their face were Dana and Jessica and Nicholas. Everyone else was handed to their mother.
I ordered the crab pasta which was delicious and Margaret ordered the mussels of which they brought her every muscle ever found in the ocean so she was happy to share with me. We ate while looking out over the ocean watching the surfers and kite surfers. After lunch I ran down to the beach and collected some sand to fill up the miniature bottle of Jameson that I bought in Dublin. I had to empty the bottle first and dry out the rain drenched sand. Will work on that later. On to the next stop.
I must be too used to Disney World hours because we arrive at Bunratty and its closing. We had found the friendliest of friendly people in Ireland . . . with the exception of the lady at the Bunratty Castle Admissions Desk. She shortly told us that they had to close at 4:00 to get ready for the evening performance/dinner held in the castle. So we asked about tickets for that and they were sold out. She did say, “You can each pay 7€ to walk around the outside park but you only have 45 minutes.” No thank you. So we blew that one. Trust me; by the end of the trip, there were no shortage of castles.
Off we go to Killarney. We had found on Hotels.com a B&B called Victoria House just outside of the city centre of Killarney and it was lovely. It had a huge Jacuzzi tub in the room which I made use of happily the first night. My back was one big knot from driving or watching Margaret drive. Before that, we decided to have dinner at the hotel there. We were going to split something but then I saw they had lamb which I love and Margaret doesn’t. I almost hugged the waitress when she informed me that I could get a half portion for half the price! Yeah! Margaret also got a half portion of what she wanted. I posted on Facebook that I was having lamb again and my uncle Paul commented “Mary had a little lamb”. I replied, “SHE DID!” (Insert evil grin here)
Monday, August 12th – The tour groups all get up early on this day and head for the Ring of Kerry. My friends Karl & Carolyn Wieland told me that it wasn’t that big of a deal and the roads are crowded with tourists and buses. So Margaret and I decide that we will do a circle of the Dingle Peninsula since everyone raved about it along the way that lives there. We start off and come across the most beautiful countryside meeting up with the beach and the Atlantic Ocean. The sun came out and made for gorgeous pictures. We found people riding horseback on the beach, campers and tons of cattle and sheep. We stopped for a cup of hot chocolate and coffee at a pottery place and then continued around the loop. There were so many scenic overlook stop points that we took longer than we thought we would. At one point, I saw all these lovely little purple flowers in the bed of green grass so I, the genius, thought I would lie down and have Margaret take my photo. Unfortunately, the grass was full of thistles and with each movement, I was literally being stabbed all over. Margaret was trying to take the picture and was laughing at me.
Continuing along, we came upon this lovely restaurant called the Seven Hogs named for the island chain just off the coast. I had a burger with brie that almost made me cry. Margaret had one too. They love their brie over there. Finished with lunch and decide to take a faster route back to Kerry because we actually decided we would do the Ring of Kerry in the late afternoon without all the traffic. We plug in Ring of Kerry on the GPS and it tells us to take a right turn onto this non-existent dirt road. As we drove along, we literally had to pull over and stop a couple times just to let someone by. One time I had to get out and back Margaret up to a wider part of the road because a truck pulling a horse or cattle trailer was face to face with us. The best one was when we were driving down this steep slope on the other side of the mountain with the ocean right in front of us and a car with a women driving, her Chihuahua in the passenger seat and two kids in the back. I had to get out and guide Margaret over to the side as far as she could go so the lady could pass. Naturally she wanted to know if we were lost and we told her no . . . or were we? I think that’s about the time we might have put the lovely scratch in the front left bumper. But hey, we have full coverage.
While we were driving, the display showed that we had a certain amount of kilometers to go before we needed diesel gas. The lady at the rental car counter wasn’t kidding because we drove this car forever it seemed and it barely used any. So now we are getting to the 200 kilometer range and decide we need to get gas soon. Driving along we don’t see any gas stations so finally the display says 58 km and then a second later, it drops to zero and starts flashing! We plug in nearest gas stations in the GPS and it’s five miles. We have to get off the interstate, take this side road for what seems forever and finally end up in this little town in the middle of nowhere. It’s so out of the way that we had to drive 5 miles back to the interstate. We were sure we were going to run out. Stress!
Finally getting close to the Ring of Kerry and traffic comes to a stop. Turns out the Annual Puck Fair is going on in Killorglin. We inched our way around it and headed for Kerry. It was a pretty drive but after the Dingle Peninsula, Kerry didn’t really match up. I did love that we found on the map an abandoned 16th century castle called the Ballycarberry Castle and I went into full out kid mode and started climbing all through it. The floors and roof were missing but the stairwells were mostly there and it was four stories. I stuck my head out of a window near the top and screamed “Romeo, Romeo, where for art thou Romeo” and Margaret took my picture. My friend Russ McIntyre asked on Facebook if I was Rappunzel.
We continued around the ring at a pretty quick pace and passed through the Killarney National Forest and found the Torc Waterfall. We had to walk about 10 minutes but it was worth it. I would have gotten a great shot of it but these college guys from Saudi Arabia decided to make it their own personal photo shoot. They would pose on the rocks right in the middle, then examine carefully the shot and then queue up for another one. So I finally just took a picture and we left. We made it back to Killarney Town and decided to try one of the other B&B’s restaurants. We pulled into one but there was only one parking spot and there was a bicycle blocking us. So I hopped out and moved the bike so Margaret could back in and we went inside for dinner. Just before we left, we watched a rather scraggly looking man walk through the bar with a traffic vest on. He obviously had a bit too much. I said to Margaret “How much you want to bet that guy gets on the bicycle?” We walk outside and sure enough, he’s on the bike. We are trying to not laugh too loud and Margaret had a couple glasses of wine so I told her to watch herself or I was going to get her a vest. We followed him a bit while he weaved down the road on his bike.
When we stopped for gas earlier that day, we bought a bottle of Coke Zero because we had to empty my little Jameson Whiskey bottle (smile). So we asked for two glasses with ice and split the whiskey with coke and went to the parlor area to check emails. There was a nice man sitting there with his young son and he was checking emails too. He explained that they were waiting for the annual meteor-shower hoping it would be dark enough and not cloudy. He and his family live in Saudi Arabia for his work and were there on vacation since his wife is Irish. It was good to relax, chat and drink whiskey!
Tuesday, August 13th – Checked out of our hotel and headed for the Blarney Castle just 45 minutes away. We both joked that we already have the gift of gab so kissing the Blarney Stone wasn’t going to happen. We also heard that they have really long lines and that the Irish do nasty things to the stone when the tourists aren’t looking like pee on it. When we get to the castle itself, the line is pretty short so I decide we’ll go check it out. Winding up 100 or so stairs with both of us being super claustrophobic, we finally pop out at the top and there is an older man who has you lie down next to him and he holds your arms until you get a hold of the bars they put in place to keep you from falling 50 feet to your death and you arch way back and kiss this large rectangular overly polished stone. Just before it was my turn, I overheard the guy say that they clean it every morning, afternoon and evening and that the only nasty thing they find on the stone is the color stay lipstick that they can never get off the dang stone.
Before we made it to the castle, we decided to walk through the gardens and we came across this lovely British mom and her daughter and the mom’s sister. The daughter was priceless. Chatty! They said they were keeping her far away from the Blarney Stone. She was going on and on about the witch that lived in the garden with her cute accent. After we went through the castle we walked through the Poison Garden which was interesting – especially the pot plant. Someone said “that’s not poisonous” and I replied, “It ruined my brother’s life”.
We finished up with the castle and started driving to Waterford. We would just get to the main town and grab a B&B. Nope! The main town didn’t have any and the directions we got to the Waterford Crystal Factory took us to a place that had been closed down for two years. We finally got to the river water front and stopped at an Australian restaurant kind of like an Outback. The waitress there let us user her phone and had us call the Woodlands Hotel which just happened to have one room available that night – their last room. By then, my perfectionist nerves were shot. I’ m so used to an organized trip and no worry vacations that the hunt for hotel eating up our evening was taking a toll on me. I handed the keys to Margaret and ordered a wine. We tried to give the lady a tip and she wouldn’t take it. We kept inviting all those who helped us along the way to come to Florida. I can’t wait when they take us up on it. She being one of them.
Four roundabouts later, we are at our hotel. It’s lovely. Check in, dump the luggage and go catch a taxi. Turns out that on a Tuesday night in Waterford, Ireland, the entire place shuts down at 6:00 pm? The driver takes us to this pub called Geoff’s and tells us it’s the best food which he was right. Just as he dropped us though, he mentions that within walking distance of our hotel is another great place. GRRR! But we had Chicken Madras (Indian) and it was delicious. Of course I mentioned to the waiter that if he brought me any “chips” I was going to punch him in the face and he laughed. I told Margaret about a drink I had in Bermuda called a Shandy. Its half beer and half sprite or lemonade. So we tried one and she liked it. She was thrilled that she found a beer she could drink. A guy next to us mentioned that he can’t drink Guinness plain but has to put the British black currant drink Ribena in his Guinness.
When we were finished, we called the taxi driver and he came back for us. He dropped us at Beckett’s, the bar just near the hotel. I had a glass of wine but Margaret was not having anymore. I told the bartender about the Guinness with Ribena that they guy told us about and the bartender says, “Were you in a gay bar?” I had to laugh. We chatted with some of the locals and finally walked back to our hotel.
Wednesday, August 14th – The taxi driver showed us how easy it was to get to the Waterford Crystal House while taking us to Geoff’s. Naturally, we check out the next morning and head the direction he tells us and can’t find it. Finally we get something on the GPS that brings us to the factory. There is also the Hibernian House which sells Waterford Crystal cheaper and has food being served so we decide to have breakfast there. After we eat, I look around the shop to get a price comparison if I find what I’m looking for. I wanted a Waterford Crystal shoe. They had one but it was a large glass slipper and not from Waterford. We go into the actual factory store and I’m looking at these pricey wine glasses and realize I don’t trust myself or my friends with this glass and decide to pass on buying one. Head back to the Hibernian House and find a few trinkets there and then the sales girl asks if we’ve seen the magic clothes? She brings us to these tiny little plastic wrapped boxer shorts and matching t-shirt that has been severely shrink wrapped to this 3″ by 1 1/2″ size. I bought one for me and one for my dear friend Iesha. Can’t wait to try them out!
Back on the road and now heading to the Kilkenny Castle. We pull into the town and follow the signs for parking which seems to be only on the street. One block, two blocks, . . . finally we turn right on a side street and go a couple blocks and find a spot. No big deal – we could use the walking after all the “chips” we have been eating. We did a tour of the castle and then hunted for the Italian Restaurant that one of the young ladies at Hibernian House recommended. It was a great place but we sat inside and it was really warm. We had a glass of wine and some pasta and then started the walk to our car. It was the first time that it started raining heavy so we pulled out our umbrellas and kept walking. Along the way, we found a cool stone building looking like the castle guest quarters or something and upon closer look, it was an Insane Asylum. So naturally I made Margaret go inside and get behind the bars. Then the wind picked up as we walked the last couple blocks. I looked over and Margaret’s umbrella suddenly flipped completely inside out. She turned into the wind so the umbrella would right itself and sure enough it did but while doing so, all the water that it had collected was dumped on her as the umbrella popped back into place soaking her. I held my breath watching all of this until she looked at me and we both busted out laughing.
After lunch we start cruising towards the Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough “glen of the two lakes”. We were thinking of finding a bed and breakfast in the mountains but decided we would get back to Dublin a day earlier, turn in the rental car and get the ferry to United Kingdom a day early. The drive through the mountains was very pretty though and we ended up getting stuck behind a cattle herder, his dog and his cattle. It was fun watching the dog nip at the heels of the cattle and get them running. A couple times the cows would kick back at the dog who dodged each kick. Margaret was more worried about running over the dog than hitting any cows. Dumb dog kept running in front of the car as it snuck along behind the procession. Finally, she lowered the window and asked the guy how far he had to go and he said, “Just about a ½ mile up the road.” So we patiently followed him until they made their turn into the fenced in area and on our way we went.
We made it into Dublin and to the rental car agency about 5:30 pm (it closed at 6:00). Started cleaning out the car from the mess we created of living out of two different suitcases for nine days. We had bought a 24 pack of bottled water and didn’t want to leave it so Margaret and I shoved about 10 bottles each into our bags which made them even heavier. The guy from the agency came out and was inspecting the car. He says, “Was that scratch on the front right bumper there when you took it out?” I looked at him like, “Are you serious?” and then said, “I have no idea but we have full coverage so it doesn’t matter.” He just laughed. We got one day refunded which brought the grand total from $1337.54 to $1151.73. We took pretty good care of the car in spite of the fact that we didn’t have to.
We had them call a taxi to take us to our hotel close to the Dublin Ferry in Clontarf. We booked a hotel on Hotels.com called the Brahm Stoker Hotel & Bar. Brahm Stoker was a Dublin native and the hotel had a mini museum to him. We get to the cute little hotel and it has all this Dracula paraphernalia on the wall. I thought it was funny because the On/Off bus tour took us past the church where he was baptized and married so I guess his faith didn’t find his love of the occult inappropriate?
We get to the room and it’s pretty decent and then head down to grab a bite to eat. Margaret and I decide to sit out on the patio since the hotel/restaurant is right across the street from a waterfront park. We could actually see the Ferry we would be getting on the next day. We order and get a couple wines. The internet was sketchy so I stepped inside for a moment to post a photo. There was a couple sitting in the side of the bar in a booth and they were looking at me and laughing. I walked back to the table and a bit later when I went back inside, they are all smiles and I finally say, “So what’s so funny?” and they proceed to tell me I look just like one of their friends and they can’t get over it. Before we know it, Frank and Tina are joining us at the patio table outside until we finish dinner and then we join them back inside when it starts to cool down. Frank reminds me too much of my father. I was telling them stories about my dad while he was in Ireland and the crazy stuff he says now living in Florida and we were all laughing hysterically. Margaret ended up heading upstairs to the room to pack and I hung out with the couple for a bit longer. Frank kept buying me wines and finally I had to decline because we had to get up at 6:00 am to make our ferry the next morning. Hugged them goodbye and headed to bed.
Along the way, since I picked up the wet sand from the beach by the Cliffs of Moher, I had been spreading it out at night in each hotel along the way and in the car while we were driving in a Ziploc trying to get it to dry but the humidity must have been too much because it was still wet lumps of sand four days later. So I finally just pushed the air out, zipped it up and threw it in my luggage. I tried putting wet sand in a bottle once that I thought was mostly dry and it mildewed which was not nice so I learned that lesson.
Thursday, August 15th – We got up early, packed our overly heavy carryon bags and took a taxi to the ferry terminal. No security. Just buy a ticket and get on the boat. They handed us bag tags which we managed to put on the luggage and send on the conveyer belt until we realized that we forgot to tear off the matching ticket that we are supposed to keep. Panic ensued and we looked like an “I Love Lucy” episode trying to rush up the conveyer belt after our bags. Finally, the guy motioned to us to go through this side door and the belt literally took the luggage into the next room where it sat. I was prepared to crawl on the conveyer belt to get it back. We grabbed our claim tags and got on the ferry. Straight for the dining room because we needed breakfast. These people eat too much food. We asked how it worked and they said you could have 5 items, 4 items or 3 items. I opted for the 3 items and they rang it up as a Child’s plate. Margaret and I grabbed a seat by the window, ate breakfast and I started to doze off. I ended up laying down taking a nap and Margaret went to find a paper and walk around the ferry a bit – it looked like a mini cruise ship. When I woke up, there was a little old man sitting in Margaret’s chair. Okay… So when she came back she looked at me kind of funny and I just laughed. She grabbed one of the other chairs away from the window and just let him slide.
Before the boat docked, we decided to look in the Duty Free shops a bit. I found my Jean Paul Gautier perfume with a new bottle. He’s getting lazy in the USA because I can’t find the new bottles anywhere. They had a green bottle for men with a silver breastplate that I loved but it was 75€. The one I got was a bottle with a sailor style dress. The good news is as expensive as it is, I use that perfume. But now, I will definitely have to check a bag home as it’s more than 3 ounces.
The ferry lands in Holyhead, Wales around 11:30 pm. When we were in Waterford and realized we would be getting to Holyhead on the 15th, I went ahead and tried to reserve a car but it kept saying that the cars were all gone in that entire area. The only thing that saved me was I had earlier in the trip put in a request for a quote for a car on the 15th but assuming we would be arriving later in the afternoon. When I couldn’t get them to find me a car, I pulled up that email and hit submit for the quote to be saved as a reservation. It was the longest five minutes waiting for a confirmation response. Finally it came in and I told Margaret that the worst we would have to do is wait around for a car to be turned in if they didn’t have one available when we arrived. But getting to the Hertz window, she says she has one car left. Unfortunately, it’s Petrol; not diesel so it would require more fill ups (they were not lying!). Then we added the additional driver. No problem. Then we requested the GPS device. Problem. They were out. So she gives us verbal directions for a mile away to an electronics store to buy a GPS which turned out to be cheaper than the one we rented in Ireland and the one we would have rented in UK.
There is no ATM in the Ferry terminal (what?) so we figured we would just stop and get pounds when getting the GPS. (We were pounded by the pound!!!! England!? What makes you so expensive!!!?) Purchase the unit for about 49£ ($71) and ask about ATM’s and the sales clerk isn’t sure if they have any. Then we realize that Hertz didn’t even give us a map of UK so we stop at a gas station to pick one up. They don’t have any. A lovely young lady overhears Margaret asking about exchanging money and maps and instead of giving directions, tells us to follow her and takes us around the way to a post office because it was closing for lunch soon and she didn’t want us to miss it. The post office exchanges some money for Margaret but doesn’t have maps so they sent us to a newsstand. They had a huge atlas of UK that we found out later, was the only map of Wales, England and Scotland. We passed two ATMs but I had left my ATM card in the car so we just went with Margaret’s money for now.
I plug into the GPS – Pont Cysyllte Aqueduct. Nothing. I plug in Froncysyllte which is the town it belongs in. Nothing. So then I put Llangollen in and find it. My book of Wonders gave directions that it was east of Llangollen (however the hell you say that). We were both hungry so we decided to drive until we saw a cute café to have lunch. It was too cool to eat outside so we went inside. You could tell it was a local’s café for the town. I ordered a hot chocolate and Margaret ordered a Cappuccino. The son was making the drinks while the mom made our Brie and Black Olive Panini’s (yum). He turned the steam up too high and scalded his hand. I think it would have taken a half hour to get our food whether he scalded himself or not but after he put ice water on it and attended to it, he got us our drinks (mine had whipped cream and marshmallows on it) which we finished before our food showed up. We ended up being there for about an hour and a half which was really cutting into our schedule. I asked the guy if he knew where the aqueduct was and he never heard of it. Wales is about the size of Rhode Island. How do you not know about the only World Wonder you have? Moving on…
We finally pass Llangollen and the GPS is repeating over and over “You have arrived at your destination.” We shut that thing off and start looking for signs. Finally Margaret see’s an arch bridge across a valley that looks just like the picture. I stop and take a few pics not really impressed until I find out that is the train bridge and not the aqueduct. So we finally see a sign and follow it to a park and it starts to rain. Margaret and I start following the signs and asking folks along the way how far to the aqueduct and this one boy says “it’s at least a mile and a half.” We assume he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and for young people it must seem far. We start hiking this trail past horses and cows and pigs and off into this giant field that follows a river. Not many people around. After about a mile walking we realize the kid was right. Finally we see it and it’s off in the distance but we can see the boats moving back and forth across the valley in this aqueduct. I zoom in and take a couple pics and we decide to hoof it back to the car because it’s getting late. Once to the car, I tell Margaret, “There has to be some entrance to that aqueduct more than walking to it for a mile and a half. Let’s go left for a bit and see what we find before heading to Bath.” We go left, through a residential area and come upon this park with the brown information sign Pont Cysyllte. Park quickly and run up to the docked boats and find out that they just ran their last boat across. (snif) There is a walkway though across the whole aqueduct so I start walking to the middle to snap a picture looking down 175 feet to the river below. Margaret struck up a conversation with a guy who was struggling to walk and told her that he has blown out discs in his back and is only 37 years old. His name is Gavin and he was there with his wife and daughter. We chatted with them for a while and finally said goodbye and headed for Bath. We didn’t book a hotel because we weren’t sure if we would make it that far so we wanted the option of booking along the way.
Around 7:00 pm, we stop for dinner. The stupid GPS said there was a Thai restaurant just off the interstate so we hopped off only to find out that it was now a Chinese restaurant (ick). We asked at the pub next door and they sent us to this Indian restaurant just around the corner that everyone loves. It was beautiful when we walked in and they asked if we had a reservation. Nope. So the ended up seating us at a table anyway. I love Indian food and the hotter the better usually but the menu was a little different than I’m used to and we were traveling so I didn’t want to overdo it. I got medium and Margaret got mild and we tried each other’s which both were delicious. They didn’t have free wi-fi so trying to book a room for the evening didn’t work. We just got back on the road and figured we would look for a Starbucks or McDonald’s at a service station that has internet always. Get to a truck stop and get internet. Mind you, we had just checked out of Brahm Stoker’s Hotel that morning. The hotels in Bath were not available and if they were, they were super expensive. Then we found a B&B in Bristol just west of Bath for a great price. I looked at the details and started laughing. It’s called the Old Court House and the room that was available was called the Jack the Ripper jail cell. Why not! So we booked it and plugged in the address heading that way.
Heading south on the M6 coming to Bristol, there is a sign that says Bristol exits closed. So we end up passing the exit and the GPS takes us off the motorway, through a roundabout and back on the motorway going back north to the exit for Bristol. That one is closed to. Nice, you idiots. Close both exits why don’t you! Finally realizing that British Mary is going to have us loop the interstate until they reopen the exit, we stop and find a gas station. Margaret buys and Atlas and the guy helps give us directions to Avonmouth which will then let us follow the coast down to Bristol. We had the guy call the hotel to let them know we were coming and why we would be late and the number was wrong on hotels.com. Lovely.
We are following the kid’s directions, in the middle of nowhere, thankful for the Atlas that at least is giving us a clue. Finally we get to Bristol and plug in the GPS. The thing takes us through Bristol City Centre, out the other side, up a dark mountain into nothing. Isn’t this how scary movies start…? We are questioning the GPS all the way and it’s now almost midnight. Finally the GPS says that we have arrived at our location but we don’t see anything. (Side note – House numbers are very useful people of Ireland/UK – give it a shot. Don’t just put your damn street and city and make us find it like “where’s Waldo”.) We overshoot it according to Mary so we turn around and see a young kid walking down the street at midnight. We pull over and I stick my arm out the window to wave him down and say “We are trying to find the Old Court House Inn.” He says he doesn’t know that place. So I show him a picture and he says, “Oh! That place! Yeah, it’s right up the end of this block, turn right and its right there. They have two huge dogs but they are very friendly.” Great. We thank him and tell him to not talk to strangers and he laughs. Get to the end of the block, nothing. Turn right, finally see a dark sign barely lit up by our headlights. We pull into the driveway and there is no place to park. There is a note on the door welcoming us and to call when we arrive. Margaret pulls out her global phone and calls waking this woman up. When we get to the door, there is a man (her husband) and a teen (her son) who were both up and didn’t answer the phone. They didn’t help with the luggage but watched us struggle with it to the room. Finally, the man who has white hair and vampire-like pointed teeth on either side smiles strangely and says, “Are you ready to go to jail?” I’m like, “Mister, its midnight, the interstate was closed, your phone doesn’t work, and you have no light on to identify your place! Get away from me!” But I smile nicely and we follow him through the house. He opens the door labeled “Jack the Ripper” and it was hard not to laugh out loud. There were two single beds with maybe a foot between them leading to a partition behind each bed. One portion blocked the toilet with no door and the other blocked the shower with no door. I looked at Margaret and said, “Well, I guess I shouldn’t have had Indian food tonight. Sorry.” She laughed.
We were like a couple of kids at camp after he left and we closed the door. We were looking around at the room and giggling uncontrollably. The floor boards weren’t tight together so you could see through them – well into a dark space. Margaret says, “Did you see that guy how weird he looked?” I said, “Did you see the fangs? Nice.” We couldn’t get over the fact that they let the wife who was sleeping answer the phone and then not help us.
Ear plugs in, we crawl into the surprisingly comfortable beds. Five minutes in and Margaret hops up jumping around the room. I flipped on the light and she explains that something crawled down her night shirt. I’m trying desperately not to laugh and sweeping the back of her shirt making sure whatever it was, it was just passing through. Now, no one will sleep. Back in bed, lights off. I had some weird dream that Margaret was gone so I literally got up from my bed and reached over to where she was and felt her leg which reassured me but woke her up. I said, “Sorry, sorry, go back to sleep.” And she did.
Friday, August 16th – All along the trip, I would let Margaret get up and take a shower and that would give me an extra 15 minutes of sleep since it took me only about 30 minutes to get ready. This morning was no different but also more of a necessity because there was no room for two people to move. Margaret gets up and I close my eyes so she can get undressed and slip into the shower stall. After she’s in, I’m sitting on my bed leaning against the shower wall and I stuck my hand back behind me and said, “Hey, do you want me to get your back?” We were laughing so hard that I’m sure we woke someone. She comes out and it’s my turn. Claustrophobic so I barely rinsed off. As we were getting dressed, I confess to Margaret that I woke her up in the night because I had the dream that she went missing. She is laughing even harder now because she had a dream that I touched her leg. I said, “Nope, it wasn’t a dream. Sorry.” She said that she went right back to sleep and didn’t even realize it.
As we are heading to breakfast, we notice that the door to our room has a 2″ x 4″ hole cut out of it and a metal plate that swings to the side FROM THE OUTSIDE so that you can look in the room. Now we have visions of the creepy hotel owner staring at us while we slept. We pack our stuff for a quick get-a-way after breakfast. The guy told us that his wife was American from Tennessee so we were looking forward to meeting her at breakfast. We walk through the house until we find her in the kitchen. She pours Margaret a cup of coffee and is working on breakfast. Outside you see these giant white and grey dogs walking through the courtyard. They did look like they would lick you to death but we didn’t want to find out. I stepped towards the back of the kitchen mainly to get out of the way and saw a room with a dining table and two fluffy Persian cats sitting on the table with cat food all over in front of them just starting at me. Maybe we’ll get breakfast on the road?
She then shows us the dining room where there is another couple sitting already. She says, “If you want a tour of the house, you better do it now because I don’t have time to show you.” Okay. So we walk around the house which used to be an old courthouse. It’s done up lovely. We get back to the dining room and she says, “Well, you lost your space at this dining table so you’ll have to eat upstairs.” I felt like we were being punished for not sitting down.
Then she asks us what we are going to do that day. I said, “We are going to drive through Bath (which was on the way), head to Stonehenge, Windsor Castle and up to Manchester.” She freaked. “You can’t do all that! It takes a whole day to see Bath! You need to stay here another night. I mean, I don’t need the money but you guys really are doing too much!” So I said, “Our main goal is Stonehenge. Everything else is on the way and extra and if we don’t make it to Manchester, Bristol is too far out of our way to come back so we’ll just find a place along the way.” She wasn’t having it. She shows us to this large dining room on the 2nd floor where we sat by ourselves and waited for her to bring the food. She took forever and when she shows up, she says, “I told the others what you were planning and they laughed at you!” I said, “Well, then it’s a good thing I’m not still in high school or I’d be really upset about that.” I looked at Margaret like, “put the food in your purse and let’s go!” We finished, grabbed our luggage and ran out the door. Kooks!
So just because she made fun of me, we were going to make my schedule. (Insert crazy laughter here) We set the GPS for Bath City Centre and drove through. Nice town but nothing that made us want to stop. Saw they had the On/Off Buses but we have no plans or time for that. Once through Bath, we set the GPS for Stonehenge which SURPRISE, SURPRISE was listed! Of course just 3 miles to Stonehenge, the motorway backed up forever it seemed. The GPS was telling us to go through the roundabout and continue straight on this roadway that was backed up but as we got to the roundabout, we see a brown sign shooting off to the left that says Stonehenge. We turn and thank goodness we did. The exit that the GPS wanted us to take was closed and they were making a new entrance. So we followed the signs and came to a temporary parking lot that was set up. Parked, used the bathroom (common occurrence every stop we made) and went to get our ticket. When we got up to the window, we realized the line was heading off behind some bushes so we had to walk to the end of the line which was almost where we started. Sigh. Finally get our tickets. Margaret was so excited to have exact change until they lady at the ticket booth informed her they don’t take Euros. One slipped in. Of course I had a 5€ and she shot me a dirty look (missing the Irish!).
I was shocked to see that they had free audio tour guides that you could just pick up and take. So I grabbed one and started my way around the site. I loved seeing Stonehenge but the traditional expected British weather was cloudy and grey. I had made it half way around the site when I saw a beam of light peak out. I looked at the sky and sure enough there was a big patch of blue coming through. I ran like a salmon back through the crowd to get to the beginning which I felt was the best shot. I sat there with my camera and people were wondering why I wasn’t moving along. So I would just point at the sky and they would laugh. Finally, the clouds broke and the sun lit Stonehenge up. I took 100 more pictures and then continued around the site taking other angles. I’ve had some people say to me that there isn’t much to see at Stonehenge but they are missing the point that these rocks are over 5,000 years old and not from that location and oh, by the way, they are set up perfectly for the solstice – all done without cranes or computers. (See Eddie Izzard “Dressed To Kill” – hilarious!) Stonehenge – Check!
That out of the way, we set the GPS for Windsor Castle. Naturally when we get to the city, the brown information signs take us another way so we follow those. It’s kind of hard to miss the castle. We arrive at 4:00 and I nab a parking space right near the castle! I needed a shoe horn to get the car into that space but by God I was doing it! Very proud until I went to get the pay for parking receipt and it only let me do one hour. So I bought two and displayed them both hoping the traffic cops would give us a break.
We run up to the castle, pay the 17£ entrance fee. They inform us that St. George’s Chapel is closing at 4:30 so we need to run to see it. Margaret and I are literally running through the castle grounds and come to a door for the chapel that says EXIT. GRRR! So I run to the next exit and the guy just lets her and I in and then puts the red rope up signifying it’s now closed. We were able to walk through the chapel and see all the tombs. They have various royalty buried there but what I found interesting was King Henry VIII, Lady Jane Seymour (Henry VIII’s 3rd wife), Anne Bolin’s still born son and Charles Brandon (Henry Cavil plays him in the Tudors – yum yum!).
Finally we make it through the chapel and as we exit, the lovely lady in the courtyard who works there says, “Didn’t you love it!?” to which we said yes. Then she says that we need to run to catch the staterooms before they close next. So off we go (Amazing Race). Poor Margaret has to pee but I tell her “No time for peeing!!!” and try not to make her laugh. We get inside and see the doll room which has a huge doll house completed in 1924 that Queen Mary played with and all of her dolls and clothes. I loved that the doll house had a garage for the fancy cars and also a crown jewels’ room. We managed to work our way through and as promised got Margaret to the bathroom. We walked around the courtyard of the castle after that and relaxed a bit more. We stopped in the Starbucks there and I bought some little demitasse mugs of London and England for my collection. Back on the road, no parking ticket on the car, heading for Manchester.
In 2005, I was in Havana, Cuba (shhh, don’t tell anyone) and met Dave and Colin from England. We became friends and Dave came to visit me in St. Petersburg, Florida in 2006. When I checked with him recently telling him we were coming to England, he informed me that he was married and living in Manchester. So we asked if we could stop and see him along the way and meet his new family. So now we are on route to Manchester to see Dave and his wife, Michelle, who were waiting for us to go to dinner. He wanted to take us to Curry Mile which I couldn’t wait – as long as they had a door on their bathroom. We get in around 8:30 and they say that they have shipped Michelle’s kids off to their grandmother’s for the night so Margaret and I had a place to sleep.
As soon as we arrived, we piled in Dave’s truck and headed to Shah Khan for dinner. Dave told them he wanted a reservation at nine. The guy understood the he wanted a reservation FOR nine. Nope, just us. We ordered our favorites and the manager decided he wanted us to try something else so he sent that to us on the house. We caught up and got to know Michelle a bit more and her us. By the time dinner was finished, we were exhausted. Back to their house and I forced myself to stay up a bit longer because I wanted to see their wedding pictures and Dave showed me and Margaret the pictures from his trip to Florida. I had forgotten how funny they were. Finally, completely wrecked, we head to our rooms. I took Holly’s room with the Hello Kitty design and Margaret took Jordan’s room – teenager style. I pulled the sand out of my bag, opened the Ziploc and stuck it on the window sill to continue the drying process, washed my face and crashed.
Saturday, August 17th – woke up around 8:00ish and headed to say good morning. Dave had gotten Margaret a cup of coffee and then told us (which Margaret loved) that he was going to “nip up and get the kids”. We wanted to meet them and spend some time with them. So he went to get them and we chatted with Michelle. When he returned, Holly, the seven year old performer that we had seen multiple videos of her singing and dancing, was hiding behind Dave. Jordan came across shy too but we were going to fix that. We were going to head to breakfast at this little place near them but when we got there, no seats were available. There was one lady sitting by herself at a large table and I was tempted to ask her to move but didn’t. Then they mentioned McDonalds to Holly’s delight! So off we go to McDonalds. I’m up at the counter ordering my breakfast and then we realized Holly didn’t have a drink so I took her back up with me to get one. She was so funny and started getting comfortable with us.
After breakfast, we went to Manchester United’s Stadium at Old Trafford. We didn’t do a tour inside the stadium but did walk around the outside taking pictures and walked the Munich Tunnel which was a memorial from the plane crash that killed eight players in 1958 (23 fatalities overall). Very impressive stadium. I promised to pick my dear friend Luis up a soccer ball and scarf from there. Margaret wanted to get jerseys for her grandsons but they were so expensive at the stadium. Dave took us running around to other sports stores and she was able to find one for each of the boys. It was funny after we left the mall because I looked at Margaret and said, “I must really like Dave and his family because I’ve been two places that I hate today just so I can spend time with them – McDonalds and the Mall.” (smile)
Of course by the end of the afternoon, Holly was holding my hand and chatting up a storm with me and Margaret was asking Jordan about school (he’s a genius) and we had a great afternoon with them. We stopped and picked up some KFC to bring to the house and have a late lunch before getting on the road to Scotland. Dave helped us located a hotel in Gretna just across the border of Scotland. Gretna is famous for couples getting married. Turns out that in the old days, English folks had to be 21 to be married and Scottish folks could get married at 16. So, many English would come across the border and stay for the designated 28 days to be considered Scottish citizens and they would get married.
We piled all the luggage in the car including the newly laundered clothes Michelle did for us (thank you!). We hugged them all and as we were leaving, Holly would say, “Goodbye Margaret! Goodbye Helene!” and a few seconds later she would repeat it. And again. You had to laugh at how cute she was. We made them promise to come visit us and we’ll take them to Disney World. Hopefully soon.
Now, on the road and heading north. We cross the border into Scotland and then through some crazy countryside and dirt roads and finally come upon our hotel – the Surrone Guest House. Of course, we passed the entrance and I told Margaret to just pull into this driveway and back out. That is until we realize it’s a police station and there was an officer standing there watching us who shook his finger “no” and motioned to come into the lot and turn around. “Yes sir!” Back to the entrance and the place is lovely. The husband and wife team that run it are wonderful. The husband greets us at the door and helps with our luggage and then asks if we’d like to eat dinner there. We decide that’s a great idea. After we settle into our lovely room we head downstairs and the wife meets us, gets us a glass of wine and shows us to the living room with a fireplace and TV and tons of books. The carpet was a little crazy but it was super cozy. We checked emails and drank our wine and waited to be called for dinner.
Once in the dining room, we saw there was just one other couple. They were sitting without speaking to each other and I think one if not both had some kind of disability or issue but they just sat there quietly eating. Maybe it was the stress of driving, booking hotels last minute, the weirdoes we met along the way. . . I don’t know but Margaret and I started talking about the trip up until now and couldn’t stop laughing. I finally confessed that the night at the “jail cell” the Indian food was getting to me so I had to run to the car and get something I forgot. Once outside the house, I sounded like a motorcycle going through the parking lot. That was it. Couldn’t breathe from laughing, tears running down our face, holding our sides. Margaret said she doesn’t remember ever laughing that hard. I slowly turned to see if we were bothering the couple and they didn’t even look up. Okay. We finally stopped laughing in time to enjoy our dinner. I never eat dessert but when they brought the menu and I saw Pear Helene listed, I had to have it. It was delicious. Pears, vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. Perfect!
After dinner, we head to the room and I decide I want to take a bubble bath. They had a gorgeous marble bathroom with a big tub and purple bath gel like they knew I was coming. I grabbed a glass of wine (I bought a bottle at dinner which could explain some of the laughter) and soaked in the tub for about 40 minutes. When I came out Margaret was watching a movie but we both ended up falling asleep before it ended. Man we have been running.
Sunday, August 18th – got up and went down for a lovely breakfast. The older couple showed up again – still barely said a word which is why I almost jumped when the man said, “The fortnight went to fast.” Luggage back in the car and we head to the Barony Castle and Spa to check in for the 18th and 19th. I had booked it ahead of time for a great price and knew we were going to be driving a bunch this day and didn’t want to lose the room because of late check in. Put the address in the GPS, more back roads, beautiful scenery and finally we come upon these black wrought iron gates that we pass through and there is our castle. 16th century tower house. I was so excited. We checked in and I asked about a massage the next day but she said the spa wasn’t open yet. So they had me call and leave a message and wished me luck.
Now we plug in Loch Ness, Inverness, Highlands, Scotland to the GPS. It was going to be a long drive but the scenery was so worth it. I had the atlas and Margaret was driving. Along the road you would see these little reds marks on the atlas indicating something of interest. I was watching the road signs and matching them up to the map so we knew how far we had gone. I almost spit my water into the windshield when I saw the sign for the town of Atholl. I had watched the movie “Maid of Honor” with Patrick Dempsey and I love the part where they are at the rehearsal dinner and the future Scottish groom tells his fiancée Hannah that they have to name their first son Atholl. I couldn’t believe they had an actual town named that. So I giggled for the rest of the afternoon. We found the Blair Atholl Castle which had this very long road lined with beautiful trees leading up to it. When we got to the end there was someone taking money for the entrance. We were about four cars back so I jumped out of the car, walked up a bit and snapped a photo of the castle and then jumped back into the car and had Margaret do a U-turn quickly and get us out before they charged us.
It was cooler in the Highlands so we decided to stop in the town of Atholl and have a bite to eat. We mostly had to use the bathroom so after we did that, we sat down in this old restaurant booth looking right out of medieval times. We looked over the menu and saw Haggis Nachos. Sounded good so why not. Ordered a wine for each of us and the nachos. When it arrived, I took my traditional picture and Margaret and I dove in. It was delicious! It was haggis (whatever that is), cheese, salsa, sour cream, guacamole and jalapenos. We ate every piece and cleaned the bowl. Full up, I tell Margaret that we need to get out of Atholl and giggle and start driving north to Inverness and Loch Ness.
Finally we arrive in Inverness and it’s a cute town but we decide to just drive through and go see Loch Ness. There were the little brown information signs with Loch Ness and a picture of a Loch Ness Monster which was just funny. We come upon the lake and it’s really windy and cold outside. After we pulled up to a scenic point that had a staircase leading down to the lakes edge, I grabbed a water bottle, dumped the water and ran down to pick up some sand/rocks. Margaret took a few pictures and before we froze, we ran back to the car. And of course, we had to pee so we find a restaurant, sneak in and out and get back on the road heading back to Edinburgh and our hotel.
Because we haven’t driven enough, Margaret had mentioned that someone asked her if we got near St. Andrews, to grab him a golf tee so we thought, “why not, it’s sort of on the way home”. Tried to put it in GPS and nothing. Finally I grab the map and find a town near St. Andrews and type that in. It finds it and then had the nerve to pull up St. Andrews Golf Club. It’s about an hour out of the way so we decide that we’ll head that way and grab dinner and then return to our hotel.
Now we’ve filled up the petrol gas tank already like four times but it’s getting low again. So I say that we’ll stop when it gets down to ¼ tank and refill it. Driving on the motorway, we don’t see any service stops. Get off on the road leading to St. Andrews – nothing. Finally we are down to one block in the display for the gas. Definitely interested in finding gas. Every little town we would go through wouldn’t have a station. How do you people exist? Now the little block is blinking. Uh-oh! Each little town we pulled into disappointed us with no stations. We finally found one and it was closed. We continued along and were driving through farmlands as far as you could see. Now, the little last block is gone and the entire gas display including the gas icon is flashing. Thank you because we weren’t panicked enough. We roll into this town and there are a few people walking about and we stop to ask this one guy. He says, “Well, it’s not close but it’s the closest one. Drive to the end of this street and take a right. Follow the iron fence until it ends and then you will see a gas station on your left.” If you could will a car to continue without gas, we did it that day. Finally we see the station but I managed to miss the entrance so I pulled into the next street (hoping I don’t have to push this car). I was so focused on the gas icon blinking that when I pulled back out into the street, it was in the right lane looking right at a car. I corrected quickly and we coasted into the station. Not cool. Filled up the tank and continued to St. Andrews.
When we arrive, Margaret keeps saying how everything is closed because it’s Sunday. I said, “Margaret, if you say that one more time, I’m dropping you off” and she laughed. The town was beautiful. We found some golfers who were coming from a driving range and asked directions. The pro shop was closed (because it was late – not because it was Sunday). We decided to pull down this little side street and grab dinner at this cute Italian restaurant.
The waitress was from Pittsburgh but had come to St. Andrews to attend college and then met her husband who is Scottish and never went back. We told her of our plight of trying to find a golf tee but everything was closed. A man at the table next to us got up and walked over and handed us a bright lime green tee that said St. Andrews on it. (Later we heard they litter the city with them.) We ordered dinner which was fabulous. Had a glass of wine to calm our nerves after the no-gas scare. The waitress heard that my birthday was the 19th and brought me a brownie. Just before then, six handsome guys walked in and sat down right next to us. I didn’t know if I was tired or just getting old but I told Margaret that there was a time when she and I would have been sitting right in the middle of those guys. I think I’m losing it. Thanked our waitress for the wonderful surprise evening and we headed to our Barony Castle in Eddleston just south of Edinburgh. This was the first time we were really driving in the dark with no street lights in very narrow roads. But the moon was full and sitting low in the sky to help us out and when that didn’t work, the high beams did.
When we arrived at the hotel, we were greeted by Rudy from the desk and Ian helping with the bags. My wi-fi on my cell phone stopped working so I had to use the computer at the hotel. I was complaining to Rudy and he had them bring me a glass of wine. Then he said, “It could be worse. You could have a tour showing 24 people arriving tonight and have 34 show up!” You win! Now I’m really glad we checked in early that morning. And then Rudy handed me a note from the Spa saying that I had a 9:30 am massage scheduled for the next morning!!!!! Yeah!!! Checked emails and there was an email from Dave asking if I “left a zippy with sand or something in it in Holly’s room on the window sill?” DAMNIT!!! I told him it was sand (not drugs) and that I would try to swing by and get it on the way back to the ferry or have him mail it. I updated Facebook and went to bed for the last day as a 43 year old.
Monday, August 19th – So thanks to the massage I have pending, I pop up at 8:00 and get myself showered and ready so we can grab breakfast first. We head down to breakfast and there is a buffet but I’m not in the mood for all you can eat. I’m already feeling pudgy enough in all my photos – the 40’s haven’t been kind – so I decide to order off the menu. They had Eggs Benedict which is my favorite. When it arrived, it had pesto sauce with it and was definitely the best Eggs Benedict I’ve ever had. Now, 9:30, off for my massage. I get to the spa and meet Noreen who is going to take care of me. She asks if there is anything she should focus on. I say, “Yes, I’m normally this wide (and I stretch out my shoulders proper) but thanks to driving on the left in narrow roads, I’m currently this wide (and I scrunch up as small as possible).” She laughed and said she would fix that.
When finished, we exchanged emails and I met up with Margaret to get ready to head to Edinburgh. Rudy had warned us about the parking and driving situation in the city. He told us about a park and ride option. When we got to the parking lot (not so bad no thanks to the GPS), we went to catch the bus and the wind was howling and super cold. We decided to grab our jackets and scarves. While waiting for the bus, there was a family with two young teen daughters. Both had pin-up makeup on to the 10th power, high knee socks, low plunging necklines and cutoff shorts with their behind hanging way out the back. If they were my kids, I wasn’t sure which part I would have beaten them for first. Finally the bus comes and the driver (Mr. Pleasant) is of no help so I take pictures of some signs around us to show the next driver where we need to get off.
The bus gets to the city and there was a nice blonde lady who was helping all visitors on the bus so she guided us in the right direction. We found a Starbucks and I saw my cute little Demitasse mugs with Edinburgh and Scotland on each but decided I would grab them on my way out so I didn’t have to carry them. A little farther down we found a souvenir shop and I found a wine stopper, some post cards and the only Scottish thing I could afford – plaid tights. The kilt that I wanted was almost 70£. I’ll buy a knock off in the States.
We then went to the On/Off bus for the city and bought a ticket for the bus and the entrance to the castle. We were hungry so we decided to grab a bite to eat before getting into the castle or on the bus. Along the way we found a bagpiper and I went up to take a photo with him. He asked what my favorite song was and I said “surprise me with something”. He started playing and I laughed so hard. It was “Yankee Doodle Dandy!” Now, off to lunch. We found this cute pub and went upstairs to have a bit of a view of the city. When they brought the menu, we saw haggis. So I said, “Ooh, Haggis. What meat is that anyway?” and the server laughed as she said “sheep innards”. I thought it was sheep but didn’t think it was guts. Gross! Margaret and I laughed thinking about how we scarfed down the plate the day before. So we went with the burger with brie to split and the caprese salad.
Now full (and completely grossed out about what we ate the day before), we take the on/off bus to the castle. As we pulled up to the front, I saw a place called Thai Orchid to the right of the entrance and told Margaret that I wanted to eat dinner there. Now, walking into the castle entrance, there are stands set up on either side. A day or two before someone asked if we were going to the Tattoo. I told them I’m not interested in tattoos and they said, “No, it’s a bagpiper performance that they do in the castle every year in August for 3 weeks during festival.” Oh. That Tattoo. We looked into getting tickets but they were expensive and even if we could afford it, it was sold out.
There was a sign saying “Tour begins at” and it was ten minutes away. We waited and David, an Irishman, showed up plaid pants to lead our tour. Looking from the castle walls you could see land off in the distance and it was funny when said some tourists have asked if it was 1) United States, 2) France, 3) Ireland, or 4) Sarah Palin’s Russia. He had great stories he told along the way and made for a fabulous tour. We walked around by ourselves after for a bit and then went to catch the bus.
Margaret’s feet started hurting her so I had her sit down while I looked for the best route to the bus. Normally you would just pick it up where it dropped you off but they closed off the street for the Tattoo. What a mess. So I found some stairs straight down the hillside to the bus where we first picked it up. Get on the bus and finish the tour of the city. We went around twice trying to figure out the best way to get back to the Thai restaurant. Finally the driver helped us and had us get off at one stop, walk a block or two and then we’d be at the restaurant. Found it! As we walked in, they said we needed a reservation. I stuck my lip out as far as I could and told her we would wait. Finally she told us to come back in 20 minutes. Across the street was a tiny narrow shop built right into the castle wall selling scarves. I found one that looked most Scottish and then I found one that was tan and the owner told me that the scarf was Clan Thompson. Perfect! Iesha’s (Thompson’s) present for helping my roommate move in while I was away! Back to the restaurant and they sat us pretty quick. The food was exactly what I wanted. I had a glass of wine and Chicken Penang Curry but this one had pears, peaches and pineapple instead of peppers which I can’t eat anyway.
Full and satisfied we head back to the Starbucks to get my mugs and head home. As we walk Princes Street, we can hear the Tattoo and see the colors lighting up the castle from green to blue to purple. We took some pictures as we walked and finally come to Starbucks . . . and it’s closed. I looked like a kid with my face pressed against the window hoping they would open back up but they didn’t. I was upset. We get to the bus stop and I remember there is another Starbucks a couple blocks away and so I let Margaret sit for a minute and I run down there. Nope. Closed. Finally the bus arrives and we head back to the car park and then drive to our hotel again in the dark. We both crashed as soon as we got there. The trip is finally taking a toll. Did I mention Margaret will be 68 in September? That woman can hang!!!
Tuesday, August 20th – Wake up at the Barony Castle and I insist before we start our drive that we have those eggs Benedict once more! Rudy was working that morning so I explained my dilemma of Starbucks being closed and said, “Here’s $60USD. If you can get someone to pick up my two little mugs and ship it to this address, they can keep the change.” He said, “I’ll be glad to do that for you and will even stick whatever is left over inside the mugs when I send it.” Love that guy! The funnier part is when he was running my credit card for the breakfast charges, he says, “Do you guys have chips in America?” I said, “Yes, but we call them fries.” So he looked at me oddly and said, “Fries?” And then I realized he was talking about in the credit card and we both laughed hysterically. I was so embarrassed.
After that, we loaded up and headed for our longest ride of the trip. We decided that we would swing through Manchester which was only about 30 minutes out of our way to pick up my bag of Irish beach sand from Dave and have lunch if we had time and then cruise casually to the rental car place, drop the car off and start drinking heavily because we wouldn’t be driving the rest of the trip. We left a little later than planned but were making good time . . .until . . . we get to a spot that has come to a complete standstill. Parking lot. There was a sign that said congestion between Exit 27 and 28 but no one was moving. So, me reading the map and Margaret driving, I talk her into getting off at the next exit and we’ll try to go around it. No good. It was city driving and tons of traffic through this little town. We finally decided to get back on the interstate and just see what happened.
As we got on the entrance ramp, it did manage to pass many of the cars and then we just drove in the emergency lane for a bit, went as far as we could go and then just when Margaret could get over, I held up the map with my staged “we’re not from here and so lost” look on my face which worked fabulously because the guy next to us took pity on us and let us in. Margaret and I were thinking about how much we hate when people are driving across the Howard Franklin Bridge from St. Pete to Tampa and they cut in at the last minute for the Airport exit but this was an emergency. Crept along with the others and finally it broke up (it was just two interstates merging very unsuccessfully). We finally found a service station and let Dave know that we were super late and had to grab the sand and run. We also had to fill up again (stupid petrol car!). It didn’t take us that long to get to Dave’s but when we pulled up to his house, we both ran passed him for the bathrooms and then grabbed the sand, hugged him and ran back into the car like a Chinese fire drill. We barely had time to take a picture of the guy riding his bike in front of us with his whole butt crack showing! Too funny to let slide.
Back on the interstate and moving along. The GPS is telling us that it will be 2 hours and 30 minutes. I said, “Margaret, screw the speed cameras! We aren’t missing that ferry. The next guy that flies past us, we are going to get right behind him and make up time!” Every time she would slow up, I would say, “Faster, faster!” After about 1 ½ hours of that, I promised her that she could punch me in the mouth the minute we dropped off the car for pushing her to speed but we needed to move. I also promised to pay any speeding tickets that were sent to us lovingly by the United Kingdom Government. The more she sped, the less time was showing on the GPS so it was working. I had bought a Cadbury Fruit and Nut Chocolate bar earlier in the trip and when we saw we didn’t have time to stop for lunch, Margaret and I split that candy bar. It must have worked and given her a good sugar high. When we started out, we were going to have 15 minutes to drop the car, get our boarding tickets, check luggage and get on the ferry. As we got to Holyhead, we ended up with 45 minutes! Go Margaret!!!!
We even had time to stop to fill the tank and then when we followed the signs for the rental car, it took us the wrong way but this lovely man Peter from Hertz told us to jump in the back of the car and he drove us to the curbside, helped us unload our bags and took the car for us. What a guy! We asked if they wanted to buy the GPS and they declined so I threw it in my bag thinking I’ll keep it for home or sell it on eBay. Margaret checked in the car with the Hertz counter while I was getting the tickets at the Irish Ferries counter.
We dumped the luggage with this funny guy loading the bags. He says to me, “Do you know what you give a girl who has everything?” I said “No”. He says, “Penicillin!” I laughed so hard and just shook my head as I walked away. While waiting on the bus to shuttle us to the ferry, I pulled out this bottle of wine I had from a day or two before and just started drinking right from the bottle. Stress! Margaret and I got on the ferry and found a chair. This ferry was the Jonathan Swift and much faster than the cruise style ferry we had coming over. Unfortunately, small and faster meant it was rocking pretty well. I made the mistake of going to check out the Duty Free gift shop. You had to dive from one display to the other and grab on. I found a 20th Anniversary bottle of Jean Paul Gautier so I went ahead and picked that up. Margaret was not loving the rocking so she had to go sit down. When I joined her, I thought it was crazy how many older people were trying to walk around. We had to almost catch them as they came by.
Arrive back in our new home town of Dublin, Ireland and grab a taxi to the Clontarf Castle. The driver said he was dating a girl once that he took her to this hotel for a weekend and it was the most he ever spent on one woman. Walking in to check in and the place is gorgeous! The pictures didn’t lie. I tried not to hop up and down in the lobby. They gave us our keys and we went up to our room. As soon as I walked into the room, the phone was ringing. It was Marton! My dear Marton and his wife Kate and their daughter Leila just happened to be in Ireland for their honeymoon (they never really had a chance until then with their schedules). They arrived on the 19th and were going to drive around Ireland until the 27th and return to Boston. Mama and baby were in for the night but Marton had called me to see if I could meet him in town for dinner. He had rented a car but was afraid to drive in the city by himself which I don’t blame him. As we are talking, there is a knock at the door and someone from the hotel is standing there with a dessert on a plate with “Happy Birthday!” written in chocolate. I had a bit of sensory overload going on. Finally Marton and I decide to meet at the Starbucks in Temple Bar area.
Margaret was going to order dinner in and just relax but was afraid they wouldn’t let her order any wine because it wasn’t on the menu. I grabbed the GPS (for United Kingdom and Ireland!), an unnecessary jacket since it was beautiful out and ran to the hotel desk to get a taxi. I said to them, “Can you do me a favor and send a glass of Sauvignon Blanc to room 218 and get me a taxi?” She smiled and got right on it. The driver dropped me right at Starbucks the same time Marton was being dropped. It’s been exactly a year since I’ve seen him since I spent my 43rd birthday in Boston with him and Kate (and the poppy seed was still in the belly).
We walked around trying to find a place that we could talk but that area has a lot of live music so we finally settled on an Italian restaurant where we could actually hear each other. I ordered a glass of wine and a pizza that I made him share with me even though he already ate dinner. He said he wanted to buy dinner since he might miss our anniversary this year. (I love this man because even though he’s married to a beautiful, smart, funny – tolerable – woman with a fabulous new baby girl, he still remembers our anniversary of when he moved in as my roommate in October, 2004. Two years ago, he and Kate took me out for our anniversary. Good man!) We talked about the baby and how much she’s grown and work and our friends and then I remembered the GPS! I whipped it out and told him it was his honeymoon present. At least we’ll get more use out of the money we spent on that dumb thing and it truly saved us along the way. We were both so tired so we hugged and said goodbye and took our taxis in separate directions. I was so glad to see him. We still can’t believe we pulled that off.
Back to the hotel, there is a high school prom of sorts going on except all the kids are drunk. One girl was wearing these huge platform stiletto chunky shoes and her date was trying to hold her up but was unsuccessful. When she fell, her shoe came off and watching her trying to put the oversized shoe back on and get up in a beautiful ball gown just made me sad. “Ladies! If you can’t walk in them drunk or not, don’t wear them!” Up to the room and Margaret is still up. I filled her in on the evening with Marton and when I went to get into my single bed, it shot across the room. Margaret and I were laughing because she had to push hers back against the wall too. When she needed something, I would scoot the bed across the floor towards her and then scoot it back. The room was great though and we looked forward to just sleeping in the next day with no agenda at all!
Wednesday, August 21st – Slept until 9:17 am. It was great! We got up, dressed and decided to take the city bus into the city centre and go walk through St. Stephen’s Green. There was a cute family from Ireland that was on vacation in Dublin because they didn’t realize their daughter’s passport was expired and couldn’t do the vacation they planned. We chatted with them and their two cute kids. The daughter was very chatty and the father kept repeating “shhhh” in a very low voice to no avail. We all hopped off in town and went our separate ways. Margaret and I decided to hit Starbucks for a quick breakfast and then walk a bit. We walked Grafton Street and this time I was in and out of shoe stores but I didn’t find anything that fit and was in my price range or that jumped out and screamed at me to come home. At the end of the street is St. Stephen’s Green and it’s a beautiful park that takes up a couple city blocks. We walked the entire outside of it and then relaxed for a bit at the center admiring all of the flowers. Potty break needed so we pop into a Pub, use the facilities and then ask the server to bring us a Guinness and Champagne which we heard was called a Velvet Elvis or Black Velvet. Margaret says, “I don’t think she understood us.” Sure enough. She walks up with a full pint of Guinness and a bottle of champagne and a glass. So I took a few gulps of the Guinness for the team and then poured the champagne in. It was actually pretty good and Margaret agreed that we could indeed drink this!
Leaving the pub, we start walking down other streets we hadn’t walked before and came upon this Thai restaurant and decided we would eat there. I ordered my chicken Penang medium hot. Even adding the rice to it, it was by far the hottest Thai I’ve ever had. My face was sweating and my tongue was burning but it tasted good so I finished it like an idiot. For the first time in 44 years of life I experienced that what goes in that hot and burning will also exit in the same fashion. Not enjoyable. But the food was great and the owner talked with us for a bit and invited us to come back soon (which each day doesn’t seem like such a bad idea).
We decide that we’ll head back to the bus, get back to the hotel, pack and just relax in the castle and maybe eat dinner in the bar. Seemed like such a nice plan to end our trip. When we get to the bus stop, the family from that morning was there waiting! We asked them about their day and chatted the entire ride back to the castle.
The bus lets us off right around the corner from the castle but the family decides to go into a cemetery that is right there. We think they were imagining that the cemetery would lead to the castle or something so Margaret and I followed them. She and I stopped to check out some of the tombstone names and dates. It looked just like a scene out of the Haunted Mansion at Disney World. As we walked, we noticed that the family must have just walked through since we didn’t see them up ahead but didn’t think anything of it.
Finally we end up circling the cemetery and come back upon the wrought iron gate to find it chained tight with a deadbolt lock! Margaret was sure that wasn’t where we came in but the more I looked at the tombstones around us, it WAS the entrance! I started looking around super confused as to why someone would just lock up and leave like that without calling out to us and then looking to find another exit but there were 6’ castle stone walls all around the cemetery. Panicking on the inside and staying calm on the outside, I call out from the gate and a man walks up. He’s a bus driver and said he saw the guy lock it and leave. Then he tries calling the number on the sign for the cemetery and it doesn’t go through.
A woman on a bike had stopped to get directions and was talking to another bus driver when they realized we were locked in the cemetery. The first bus driver had to leave so we started strategizing with the 2nd driver and the woman on how to get out. The driver pushed the gates as far as he could which provided about a 2″ opening and I looked at him like, “Yeah, that’s not going to happen!” Finally I see towards one corner that the grass is a bit higher so I run there (in my fabulous orange wedges), hand Margaret my stuff to hold because I want to see if I can at least get up on the top of the wall. I manage to step on a broken tombstone leaning against the stone wall and lift myself up to the top of the wall which is about 2 feet thick. The bus driver and woman were on the other side and said that if I could swing my legs around, each of them would grab a foot with their hands interlocked and lower me down which worked. I hugged them both and then had Margaret throw my stuff over the wall to prepare to do the same thing.
Let me remind you that she is 67 (although no one believes her) and I’m sure her boyfriend and her son are going to kill me when we get home for trying this. So Margaret steps on the broken tombstone (and I took her picture), lifts herself on top of the wall (and I took her picture), swings her legs over (and I took her picture) and then I got behind the other two as they lowered her down. I said, “NO ONE IS GOING TO BELIEVE THIS! YOU ARE A NINJA MARGARET! I’M SO PROUD OF YOU!”
We introduced ourselves to Peter the bus driver and Dragana the bicyclist, and then took our heros’ pictures. Dragana was laughing because as she hugged me, she could feel me shaking. I was trying to calm down and finally said, “Margaret, you just can’t make this stuff up!” We exchanged emails with the two rescuers and invited them to the castle for a drink. Peter had to work or he would have joined us. Dragana was visiting a friend at the nearby hospital so she said she would come by after. Margaret and I walked up to the castle just shaking our heads and laughing. How on earth did we get locked in a cemetery?! The caretaker for the cemetery even came a half hour early because it was supposed to close at 7:00. Closing early and YOU CAN’T CALL OUT TO SEE IF ANYONE IS INSIDE! (The next day, Peter confronted the retired man in charge of the cemetery and told him “Two American women, guests in our country were terrified that they would have to spend a night in a cemetery, all because whoever was locking up, never bothered their barney – as we say here – to check if there was anyone in the graveyard. Oh, rest assured Helene I sent the old guy away with a flea in his ear! Now he did apologize and asked me how I rescued ye from your imprisonment and said he’d make sure to check in the future.” Turns out that the old man was away that day and had asked his son to lock up for him. Peter, on his route the next day took a picture of the wide open gates, posted them on Facebook renaming them the Margaret and Helene Gates.
Seriously though, Margaret is my hero and made 1,000 cool points. For anyone sitting close to us, we would show them the pictures and they just laughed in shock at our feat. The front desk, the bartender, a random man sitting next to us in the lobby. We decided to post the picture of Margaret lying on the wall and ask “Just guess what’s happening. . . “ The replies were hilarious. “Planking”, “Kissing the Blarney Stone”, “She’d fallen and can’t get up”, “Too much to drink and hoped her clothes weren’t dirty (thanks Janel!)” We didn’t tell anyone because we wanted them to read it in this story. Hope it was worth the wait!
Now we are drinking in the bar and Dragana shows up. There was a small room with three big chairs and a table and the lady sitting there left so we grabbed it. Margaret took our orders to the bar and the lady said, “Oh, you are in the dungeon. No problem.” We ordered a bottle of wine and Margaret and I split some Fish and Chips. Dragana is from Serbia, married an Irishman and even though she’s no longer married, she still lives in Dublin. She and I started to plan our future travels together. She would tell me about her recent trip to Italy and I would tell her about Turkey. She had the best laugh and we were all a bit slap happy anyway. After we finished dinner, we said goodbye and Margaret and I headed upstairs to pack. We would just keep looking at each other and laughing. What a funny day.
Thursday, August 22nd – Up early and get a taxi to the airport. We are going to fly standby to Atlanta and then on to Tampa. Well, that was the plan. There were plenty of seats originally but the day before, a JFK flight coming in had a jet engine on fire so they naturally didn’t load it up and send it back. Understandable. But that caused Delta to cancel the flight and stick the full roster of passengers on the other flights. And in Dublin, you go through security, US Customs, security again and then go to the gate so they hold the standby passengers until they are sure they have a seat. We watch every paid passenger go through the line, drop their luggage and head to the gate. Finally there is a list of standby passengers and this lovely Delta employee named Vivian. Vivian asked us to wait by the window away from the counter and when she confirmed a seat was open, she would run up to us, call the passenger and rush them through. It wasn’t looking good because there were a bunch of us standing there.
With 40 minutes before the plane departs, Vivian comes up and asks for Mako/Fox and then says, “Will you be willing to split up?” Before she finishes I say “YES! Fox, Margaret” and push Margaret towards her. Margaret starts to cry and I tell her that I’m a professional standby passenger and at this point we just need to get back to the states. There were two JFK flights that afternoon so I would try to make one of those and then buy a ticket if I couldn’t. Vivian grabs her and brings her to the counter, processes her ticket and then hands her a FAST TRACK pass for security and customs. I hug her and tell her to run and then they close the flight.
The others who didn’t make it start talking and some have been waiting a couple days and others came from Heathrow because they couldn’t get out there. One guy was traveling with his mother and his brother who is an employee and was able to get on. The reason Margaret was able to get on was because the first brother (non-employee) didn’t want to leave his mother but then he realized he could have just sent her by herself. Oops.
One couple, Bob and Lucy, and I decided to grab breakfast and wait for the next two flights. Around 11:00 we went back down to the gate area and watched as Vivian ran back and forth clearing the revenue passengers and then she started calling the standby and only the one brother and his mom were called and the flight was closed. The next flight was leaving later that day but she told us it was very oversold and the next day didn’t look good either. I spoke up for the group and said, “Vivian, whether any of us get on a plane today or not, we just wanted to thank you for the way you treated us today.” We actually watched her realize that the bag conveyor belt had stopped working and ran someone’s luggage to the back. All agreed that she was the best example of customer service even toward non-revenue standby passengers.
So realizing I wasn’t getting on, I tried to use the airport internet computers which were useless and book a flight using Travelocity. They wouldn’t take my credit card so I had to convert a $20 to Euros and use those. The flight price from Dublin to USA to Tampa jumped considerably and I realized it would be much cheaper to just hang overnight in Dublin and buy a ticket for the next day home. It was only $1180 but when I hit submit, the wrong dates were chosen. I was so busy looking at the time left on the internet and trying to finish the ticket that I didn’t notice I grabbed the wrong times. I got another Euro and went back in trying to change the flight but it said to call Travelocity. I emailed Jeffrey and asked him to help but then the computer shut off. GRRR! Finally Aer Lingus gave me a toll free number and let me use their phone. I was able to completely cancel the reservation and then booked direct with Aer Lingus. I went online and found a hostel in the city centre called SkyBackpakers just off O’Connell Street Bridge for 15€.
Very annoyed and then proud that I pulled it off, I exchanged another US $20 for 12.50€ and I had a few Euros left from the last $20 I exchanged, and then I headed for the bus to city centre. Only had to walk about three blocks until I found the hostel but I was on the 4th floor with no elevator. I had them lock up my larger carryon bag in storage and carried my other bag upstairs. When I get to the room, there is a guy sleeping in one bunk bed and a girl sleeping in another across from the one I had. I’m used to having girls’ only dorms. Oh well. Locked my bag and stuck it on my bed and headed downstairs.
The girl at the front desk tells me about the internet I can rent which is much cheaper than the airport and then says that they have free phone calls to the USA. Great! I grab the phone and Skype Call Jeffrey. He tells me that he cancelled my reservation and rebooked it. WHAT!? Crap. So I ask him to call back and cancel the second reservation since I already booked direct through Aer Lingus. He wanted me to cancel mine because his was cheaper but at this point, I would rather pay the extra $60. He also checked and saw Margaret on the flight to Atlanta and said that the next flight at 1:43 looked good but not the one at 2:50 that she was scheduled to take. He said that he had to pick up some friends flying in from Bermuda later that night so if Margaret didn’t make it, he would bring her to the house to spend the night. (I love my friends/family!)
After we hung up I sent an email to Margaret saying “READ ME FIRST” and told her about the flight. She was scheduled to land at 12:30 and didn’t have a lot of time. When it was about 1:30 EST, I used the Skype phone and called her. She was standing at the gate for the 1:43 and was #13 on standby. I told her to stay close to the counter in case they called her and watch the screen and if they called her to just hang up on me because I didn’t want her trying to say goodbye and miss the seat. As we talked, she tells me that they moved her to #8 and then #3 and then the phone goes dead. LOL! I guess she got a seat but I love that she listened to me.
She sent me a message that she was on the plane and I told her I was going to go out and grab a wine and dinner. She was worried about me being alone but you guys know better than that! I love the adventure of walking around a city by myself. I loved being with Margaret but was actually thrilled to have one day to myself and relaxed knowing she would make it home safe and sound.
I walked to the Arlington Hotel O’Connell Street (the sister hotel to the Temple Bar hotel that we watched the show at in the beginning of our trip), sat in the open window café/bar watching people walk past drinking a wine and eating cheese. After that, I walked the bridge over to Temple Bar area. I ended up sitting at Arlington Temple Bar wanting to order a wine and the show had started. The bartender says, “Weren’t you here last week with your mom?” I laughed, “My friend Margaret! How did you remember us?” and he just smiled and got me my wine. I listened to the band and had a liver pate with crackers. Then the server we had that first night comes by and says, “HEY!” I loved it. How do they remember when they get new people every night? Margaret and I must be one of a kind.
Finally I went to Fitzpatrick’s and there were Irish dancers and a two man band playing music. I found a seat by the window so I could listen and watch the crowds outside. I ordered a wine and some chicken wings (no more chips or breaded fish or haggis!). There were these two guys with an older woman sitting next to me and we started talking. Johan and Martin were there with their mom for her 60th birthday and they were having a blast. I took pictures of them and we exchanged emails and I warned them that they would be in the story. Johan said he would dance salsa with me but needed a few more lessons. I was willing to give him a couple but he declined. I invited them to Florida and they invited me to Sweden. Mom lives in Southern Sweden and the boys live in the middle. I said, “Do we have any family in the north?!” I also told them to never invite me unless you really mean it because I show up.
We hugged and they left since they were also flying out early the next day. As I was finishing up my wine, the Irish band left and a solo guitarist came in singing popular American songs. I was somewhat disappointed because I loved the Irish music but then I figured I would make the best of it and requested him to play Bryan Adams “The Summer of 69″, my song since I was born August 19, 1969. He did a great job and all in the bar were singing along with it. Finally I was tired from the stressful day. I walked back across the bridge stopping half way to watch the moon over the River Liffey and dropped all my remaining coins in a cup for a homeless guy sitting on the bridge. Back to my hostel thriving with kids in their early 20’s maybe all hanging out in the common area and I headed up to bed. I stuck in my ear plugs and fell asleep with a 7:00 am wakeup call coming.
Friday, August 23rd – I never sleep before I fly so naturally I woke before my alarm probably to the liking of my roommates. Headed to the bus for the return trip to the airport, dropped off one bag at the counter check in, wheeled the other through security once, US Customs and then security again. There was an older couple in the line next to me and their bag fell over and a bottle of liquor broke. The poor man picked it up as the liquor was slowly pouring out of the corner of the bag. He wasn’t sure what to do with it so I suggested passing the bag around to everyone’s amusement. He ended up throwing it away and a man behind me said “I liked your idea better.” I tried.
Waiting near the gate, I was charging my phone and borrowed the phone of a sweet young lady next to me because my stupid wi-fi still isn’t working (APPLE!). We are chatting away and checking emails and then I see that it’s 11:05 and my flight is supposed to leave at 11:25. I thanked her and tossed her the phone, grabbed my stuff and ran across to the gate apologizing for being late as I see “Final Boarding” flashing on the display at the gate. I slammed a glass of wine I bought (yes, it’s 11:05 am – don’t judge me!) and the agents say “No worries. We are still missing almost 100 people who are stuck in US Customs.” Great. So I cruise back, get in my seat in the last row of the first section of the aircraft right next to the toilet but I’m on. Some 45 minutes later, we finally take off and Aer Lingus informs me that the wine is FOR SALE! International flights are always free. WTH! Like Ireland doesn’t have enough of my money! So I bought two for the 7 ½ hour flight and watched three movies and kept my mouth shut.
I end up with a five hour layover in Chicago so I grab a bite to eat and a mimosa at a bar watching Little League World Series (I don’t have kids so you know how I feel about this). Finally, at the gate for our flight, board and they explain that we will wait for one person who is coming from the other end of the airport. Is this new? This whole “waiting” for passengers thing. Seems very kind except for all the others being delayed. Not joking – 40 minutes later, this lady walks on and says, “Sorry, not my fault!” Sit down. We land in Tampa at 11:30 pm and Margaret is coming to pick me up. I call her and she tells me Murphy is with her. I say, “Crud! Is he going to kill me?” She says, “Why?” and I remind her that I had her locked in a cemetery and scaling walls at 67. She laughed. And then I said, “Do you still love me?” and she said, “Yes.”