Thursday, August 30, 2018

Ireland - Day 5: The Cliffs Of Moher

Of all the sites I'd been told about, the Cliffs of Moher were mentioned more than any other. This was the first of two guided tours we'd be taking on this trip, although Mom elected to sit this one out as it was going to be a lot of walking. Instead, she enjoyed a day of rest at the hotel while my brother Greg and I went on the tour.

We woke up early and caught a taxi into downtown. After checking in (we'd already purchased our tickets) we grabbed some coffee and got onto our bus. This was a nice air conditioned motor coach, and the ride was going to be more than three hours. If you do one of these tours and you like staying connected while you do, be sure to check to see if your coach has WiFi. Many of them do, but ours did not. We did have USB ports, though, so we could keep our phones charged.

A panoramic view from the very back of the bus...

About halfway through the ride, our guide came over the PA system and informed us that we would be stopping at a rest area for 15 minutes. He then proceeded to inform us that the rest area was named after our esteemed 44th President. Yup, Barack Hussein Obama has a gas station named after him in Ireland. Apparently Obama's great-great-great-great grandfather was from Moneygall (which is where the plaza is located) and his eighth cousin allegedly lives there.


Yup, really. The Barack Hussein Obama Commemorative Gas Station...

Greg could barely contain his excitement: "It was like he was right there!"

Whatever. We got a pretty good laugh over it and, before long, the Barack Obama Memorial Gas Station was behind us as we headed towards the Cliff of Moher.

To be sure, the cliffs are an impressive sight. At their southern end, they rise about 400 feet above sea level. On the northern end, the cliffs are closer to 700 feet. Take caution. Many areas of the cliffs have absolutely no barrier between you and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Cliffs of Moher. O'Brien's Tower, the highest point of the cliffs, is in the distance on the right...

The cliffs are comprised of Namurian shale and sandstone, and 300 million year old river channels can be seen along the base of them. As you might suspect, the Cliffs of Moher are just about about the most popular tourist attraction in all of Ireland. Over 1.5 million people visit them annually, and that's just the number that passes through the visitor center. The cliffs can be accessed at numerous spots along their 14 kilometer length.

The Cliffs of Moher, looking south...

The Cliffs of Moher, looking north...

Had to try it in black & white. Not sure if I dig it or not...

Not far from the visitor center is O'Brien's Tower. It was built in 1835 by Sir Cornelius O'Brien as an observation tower. It does afford a bit of a better view than the ground level and, if you have the €2 to pony up, you can climb the stairs to the observation deck. Be forewarned, though: There doesn't seem to be a limit to the number of people they'll allow up there, so it gets very cramped very quickly.

O'Briens Tower, which is located at the highest point of the cliffs...

Cliffs of Moher, looking north...


Greg and I in front of O'Brien's Tower, courtesy of a somewhat temperamental Bluetooth selfie stick...

Me and Greg and the Cliffs of Moher...

The downside of this is that. because we were on a tour, we had a limited amount of time to explore. We would've loved to have spent more time checking out the cliffs, but we made it through the gift shop in just enough time to get back to our bus. Our tour wasn't ending quite yet, though. We would be making a stop in the sleepy little coastal village of Doolin, just a few kilometers away.

Doolin is a small (and I mean SMALL) village. It consists of one street: Fisher Street. There are some pubs and restaurants, but if you want to stay here you won't find any big hotel chains. It's either a B&B or a hostel. Also, if you go, be prepared, money-wise, and have either a credit card or cash before you go. There are no ATM's in Doolin.

Some of the local Doolin wildlife...


My brother's new drink of choice, Tullamore Dew...

Ol' Gus opened his bar in the year 1832...

A random shot along Fisher Street...

Inside Gus O'Connor's Pub...

This is an unusually large house in Doolin...

We had time to have a pint (well, I had a pint) and walk around a little but, once again, the fact that we were on a guided tour came into play again as it was soon time to climb back aboard our coach. And, once again, we would make yet another stop at the Barack Hussein Obama Commemorative Gas Station on our way back to Dublin.

If you do find yourself at the Cliffs of Moher, be sure to wear very comfortable shoes. It's a lot of walking on uneven terrain. It's also very windy, so be prepared for that. A light jacket, at the very least, is a must...

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Ireland - Day 4 (Can You Say "Guinness"?)

I would be lying through my teeth if I said I wasn't ridiculously excited to get out of the hotel Sunday morning. We'd been looking forward to visiting the Guinness Storehouse since we arrived in Ireland, and this would be the day. 

A true pilgrimage would be made this day.

In 1759, a 34-year old Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease on a little used property in Dublin and started to brew his ale. The cost? A whopping £45 per year. Ten years later Guinness saw its first export: 6-1/2 barrels to England. Guinness wouldn't make it to the United States for another 48 years. 

So, it was off to the storied St. James Gate for us, and to the Guinness Storehouse.

Black gold...

I'm happy here. Can you tell I'm happy here? Because I am. I'm happy here... (photo by Greg Parr)

The Storehouse is, as you might imagine, one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Ireland. They brew over €2 billion worth of beer annually and, in the 1930's Guinness was the seventh largest company on the planet.

We were a bit concerned with whether or not Mom would be able to do the entire tour (it's a seven story building), but we learned that there are both elevators (aka "lifts" and escalators so, thankfully, that wasn't a concern at all.


Mom is all ready to go with ticket in and. She developed quite a taste for Guinness during this trip!

While you can get into a guided tour, we opted for the self-guided tour. This way we could linger and look at those things which interested us and move on from those things that didn't.

One the st things which struck our interest was the Guinness waterfall. While it's located inside the confines of the building, I'm pretty sure it's just for show. There are too many "coins in the fountain" for it to be used for anything having to do with the brewing process. Still, it was pretty cool.




The tour doesn't take you through the actual brewery, but through a series floors containing exhibits of the brewing process. Many of the "stations" have video monitors which show the various steps of the brewing process. As popular as a destination as this is, it's not surprising that they don't try to take people into the actual brewery.



A mere 30,000,000 bubbles...

This is what those 30,000,000 bubbles might look like if you were inside a pint of Guinness. Or if you were on LSD...

Or roughly 495° fahrenheit. This is vitally important because. if they roast it any cooler, they won't achieve that famed Guinness color and flavor. If they roast it any hotter the hops will catch fire...

Someone actually gets paid to taste test Guinness. I want this job...

One of the antique rail cars used in the Guinness compound...

One of the seven floors at the Storehouse. You can rest and grab bit to eat here...

You might expect everyone working at Guinness be Irish. Well, meet Doug. He's from New Jersey...

I really like the old advertising campaigns that Guinness used, and there's an entire area dedicated to the various advertisements used over the company's history.


The Guinness ostrich, with its head in the proverbial sand...

"My goodness, my Guinness" debuted in the 1920's...






Of course the highlight of any visit to the Guinness Storehouse is a visit to the Gravity Bar, located on the 7th floor. A quick elevator ride and there we were along with about 300 other people. This is where you traded your ticket for a pint of Guinness. I was skeptical, given the number of people there, but the folks at Guinness have this down to a science. We were enjoying our pints within just a few minutes.

The gravity bar offers a 360° view of the greater Dublin area, and it's awesome. And, if you're lucky enough visit on your birthday, you just might get serenaded by 300 of your closest friends.



As the day drew to a close, we decided to hit the Guinness gift shop, which as incredible. If they didn't have it here, Guinness doesn't sell it. I took it easy on my wallet and only picked up a magnet, a pen and a book (like a Guinness journal), but that was about it.

As we were leaving, we came across a rather impressive collection of ancient Guinness bottles, which is referred to as the "Archive".






W were making  it an early night, as Monday morning would be coming very early for Greg and me. Our usual quick, €20 taxi ride, however, would not be realized. We found ourselves sitting in traffic as 85,000 Irish sports fans emptied out of Croke Park, the local sporting venue.  By the time we got to the hotel (75 minutes an €55 later!), we were done.

But, tired as we were, one thing was clear: No visit to Ireland can be considered complete without a visit to the Guinness Storehouse, so do not miss it. Just don't.

You're welcome...

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Ireland - Day 3

Despite the late hours kept the night before (I think we got in around 3:00am), we managed to find our way downstairs for breakfast before heading out on our third full day in Dublin. We were done with the hop on/hop off experience and, instead, would venture out into the Irish wilds of Dublin in a taxi.

We decided to visit Trinity College, which was founded in 1592. 

The grounds of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland...

Trinity College features some amazing architecture, so my "photo jones" was easily satisfied. Aside from that, however, Trinity houses an incredible library which is also home to the Book of Kells. Believed to have been created in the year 800 AD, the Book of Kells has been housed at Trinity College since 1661. It's an illuminated manuscript, of some 340 "folios" (or leaves) which contain the complete text of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and the Gospel of John through John 17:13. The entire collection is never displayed at the same time, and photography of the actual manuscript is strictly forbidden.

You can read more about the Book of Kells here: The Book of Kells


The line outside the Old Library at Trinity College...

Enlarged folios of the Book of Kells on display in the Old Library...

An illustration from the Book of Kells...

An illustration from the Book of Kells...

The Book of Armagh, also known as Codex Ardmachanus...

A ridiculously ornate page from the Book of Kells...

I have to be honest here. I wish this had been a better experience. While they were controlling the number of people admitted into the exhibit, the powers-that-be didn't seem to be paying too much attention to how many people weren't exiting the exhibit. It didn't take too long at all for it to become almost impossible to move inside the exhibit. Additionally, the actual manuscript which is on display is a relatively small book in a relatively large, lighted glass case. People were standing seven deep at times just to get a quick glimpse of it. I was also surprised that strollers were allowed. I was hit in the ankles four times. They also permit strollers into the "Long Room" of the Old Library. But, since there are no elevators in the building (or restrooms, for that matter), people had to carry the strollers up the stairs. It was just an unsafe scenario in my mind.

So, up those aforementioned steps we climbed, into the Long Room of the Old Library.

The Long Room, which measures 213 feet long, was built between 1712 and 1732. It houses some of the rarest books in the world, and the total number of books contained here exceeds 200,000.

The Long Room in the Old Library...

Some of the books in the Long Room...

Once we got done, my Mom and brother were both still busy in the library gift shop, so I decided to walk around a bit. I came across this cool sculpture outside the college's Berkeley Library, entitled "Sfera con sfera" or "Sphere Within Sphere" by Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro. 


Sphere Within Sphere at Trinity College...

Sphere Within Sphere at Trinity College...

If the sculpture looks familiar, that's because there are examples of it in various places around the world, including the University of California at Berkeley, the Vatican Museums in Rome and the entrance to the United Nations in New York, It can also be found at about a dozen other locations, a total of nine of which are in the United States.

We decided we'd make it a short (well, short-ish) day and head into Temple Bar for dinner before heading back to the hotel. We walked around and did some shopping for a bit before opting for Quays Irish Restaurant for dinner. Of course, we had to start the meal off with a Guinness, but the food wasn't far behind.


The Slow Cooked Beef & Guinness Stew was stunningly good...

We were all pretty spent by the time we climbed into our taxi but, as with every other cab ride we'd had thus far, we enjoyed how the driver educated us on everything from "hurling" (no, it's not the result of too many Guinness) to the difference between being British and being English.We arrived at the hotel, drained and arms full of shopping bags, and retired to our rooms to rest up for the next day...



Ireland - Day 2...

We woke up on Day 2 and decided to grab breakfast at the hotel restaurant. We'd paid €10 per person upon check in for it and, I have to say, it was worth every euro. It was a traditional Irish breakfast everyday, which means it included things like stewed tomatoes, grilled mushrooms and baked beans, but it also had the makings of a traditional American breakfast, too. Eggs, sausage, waffles, toast, cereals; and it was all excellent.

Breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Dublin. I now buy Irish butter at the grocery store. Yeah... really...

Now, for those of you who might not know, my brother's a biker. He's not a biker in the Sons Of Anarchy, never-take-a-shower mold, but he rides a Harley Davidson Street Glide and is pretty serious about it. Anyway, he brought a couple t-shirts and poker chips from Adamec Harley Davidson in St. Augustine (his girlfriend's the manager there) to trade out or gift to other bikers he might see during the trip. He'd met a guy in the hotel bar who was sitting with his girlfriend and friends, and he gave the guy a poker chip. The guy was all happy and Greg felt good about it and all was right with the world.

Well, the morning of our second day, we step outside the hotel and here's this guy and his friends, and he's wearing a Prague Harley Davidson shirt. Greg walks up to the guy, reaches into his back-pack and hands the guy an Adamec Harley-Davidson t-shirt. How does the guy respond? He takes the very shirt he's wearing off his back and hands it to my brother. It was one of the cooler moments of our whole trip.


My brother and his new friend, who is from Holland...

So, after the conclusion of the international Harley-Davidson t-shirt swap, we grabbed a cab into downtown to pick up our hop on/hop off bus for Day 2.

Before I go any further, I would be remiss if I didn't point out how good a choice the hop on/hop off bus is for getting around Dublin. There are a number of companies which operate these buses. We opted for City Sightseeing Dublin, but I would have to imagine that they're all pretty comparable. Also, go for the two-day pass. It's only a few more dollars than a single day pass, and there's no way in Hell you're going to see everything you want to see in one day. Hell, there's probably no way you're going to see everything you want to see in two days, but at least you'll not see less.


Now, the Irish are big on their churches, primarily Roman Catholicism and the Church of Ireland running a close second. Christ Church Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity is officially the seat of both the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic archbishops of Dublin.

After our cab ride into the city, we took the bus to Christ Church Cathedral. One of two medieval cathedrals (the other being St. Patrick's Cathedral), it was founded in the year 1030 and, while it has gone over many changes over the ensuing (almost) thousand years, the history contained within its walls is undeniable and almost crushing in its weight. Christ Church Cathedral, which was founded in the year 1030, is enormous, and is only one part of a larger complex which also houses the Dubliana exhibit. While the exhibit is more museum than anything else, it remains a part of the Cathedral.

Now, I'm not the most religious guy you're ever likely to meet but, as a photographer, I can say that there are few forms of architecture that are as awe-inspiring as a really big, really old church. People have been coming to worship at Christ Church Cathedral for nearly 1,000 years, so it definitely has the "really old" part covered. The "really big" part? Well, you be the judge.


Christ Church Cathedral...
Christ Church Cathedral...
 

Christ Church Cathedral...

Christ Church Cathedral...

Christ Church Cathedral...

Christ Church Cathedral...

Christ Church Cathedral...

Of course, Christ Church Cathedral isn't the only game in town when it comes to impressive houses of worship. St. Patrick's Cathedral, which is within walking distance of Christ Church Cathedral, is another grand example. It's also the final resting place of writer and poet Jonathan Swift (Gulliver's Travels), who also served as Dean of the church from 1713 until his death, at age 77, in October of 1745.

St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland...

St. Patrick's Cathedral...


St. Patrick's Cathedral...

St. Patrick's Cathedral...


Jonathan Swift's grave...

After a full day of walking and exploring old churches, we decided to head back to the hotel and think about grabbing some dinner. We opted for the Gourmet Food Parlor, which was just a brief walk from the front door of our hotel. We thought we were going to be in trouble when the hostess asked us if we had a reservation (we did not), but she got us seated in pretty short order. The service was quick and the food was pretty damn tasty. I went with their "Signature Burger" which, for €16.00 may have been a bit spendy but, damn, it was good.

The €16.00 "Signature Burger". It was pretty amazing...

I couldn't help myself...



We walked back to the hotel and Mom was calling it a night. My brother and I, however, were far from done. We decided we'd extend our evening and head down to Temple Bar for a few drinks. Temple Bar is probably best described as Dublin's Bourbon Street. The joke among the locals is that you'll never see the Irish there. Whatever; it was a lot of fun for us!



Ha'penny Bridge...

The Palace Bar...

The Dublin Hard Rock Cafe...

Bars and restaurants abound...

Tattoo shop in Temple Bar...

It's true; This was one bad ass bar...

This guy was advertising for €5 lap dances...

The main drag in Temple Bar...

We're not sure if they lost a bet or are just big "Where's Waldo?" fans...

Of all the bars we hit that night, Merchant's Arch was, by far, our favorite...

Here's Greg wasting little time in getting into Merchant's Arch...

The man is like a ghost...


What I found more amazing than just about anything else in Temple Bar were the crowds that turned out for the entertainment that was on hand. In the United States, if you want to pack a bar with people, you bring in a band. In Ireland, though, you just need a couple of guys with a couple of acoustic instruments and they'll own the joint. That was the case at every bar we visited, and I thought that was really cool. Above is a video clip that I shot at Merchant's Arch in Temple Bar.

So, with a full day of playing tourist and several Guinness' (Tullamore Dew, too) behind us, we found our way into a cab for the trip back to our hotel. If anything, the evening out in Temple Bar told me that this could be reason enough to come back...











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