After an overnight flight from Chicago, we arrived in Dublin, somewhat weary but with enough adrenaline to get straight to the sightseeing. We took the Air Link bus from the airport to downtown Dublin, and after a bit of confusion as to which side of the Liffey we were on, we managed to find our hotel without too much trouble.
We decided to just walk around for a bit first and since our hotel was near Christ Church, we headed in that direction. Being this was our first “old” church of our trip, it was nice to see. We didn’t go inside though. Afterwards, we ambled around for a bit and ended up on McConnell Street and then the City Bus Tour offices. We ended up getting a 24 hour hop on / off pass, which turned out to be great. The drivers were all friendly and their live commentary was informative and funny.
Trinity College was our first stop. While the campus is beautiful, I was a bit disappointed in The Book of Kells. Yeah, it’s great and historical and all, but you only get to see two pages, and it’s 9 Euro to do so. And of course, no photography.
Afterwards, we went back to the hotel and checked in. Then headed across the street to Dublin Castle, we somehow got lucky and they weren’t charging admission for some reason. You really don’t get to see much, and the one tower is really the only part that even resembles a castle. But you can take pictures here, so that was a plus.
We then moved on to the Guinness Storehouse. I had bought the tickets ahead of time online, and that worked out great for avoiding the ticket line there. This was a pretty interesting place, with more information on making beer than I would ever want to remember. The Gravity Bar on the 7th floor was pretty cool, all the walls are windows so you have amazing views of the city. The guy who poured our beer was making these cool shamrocks in the foam somehow as he poured. When I went to take a picture, I knocked it and sloshed the shamrock foam over the edge of the glass. Der me. Silly American, and I was sober.
Afterwards, we headed back towards the hotel, and stopped to have dinner at a pub nearby. We met some locals who were great and it was interesting to talk to them, afterwards they took us down the street to another pub that had live Irish music and dancing. After enjoying the beautiful music and a few more Guinness, we sloshed our way back to the hotel and slept the rest of the night away.
We experienced our first Irish breakfast at the hotel and I fell in love with a piece of bacon. Not the thin crispy bacon of America, but the wonderful meaty bacon of Ireland.
Note to self – Must find store I can order this type of bacon from in the States.
The bus tour we’d bought tickets to stopped right across the street from our hotel – rather convenient! Our first stop was St. Patrick’s Cathedral. So beautiful…both the little park and the church itself are lovely. The inside is beautiful as well.
Next we went to Kilmainham Gaol, the old prison. This was a very interesting, and very sad, tour. You learn a lot of history here, certainly worth the admission price. Some of the older, worn down looking cells are downright creepy, and would be awesome if they had night tours.
Around this time, our hop on / off pass expired, so we stayed on the bus until we got to the offices and bought two tickets for a coastal tour. It was 22 Euro a person, and lasted about three hours. It took us to Malahide Castle, and included a tour of that. It was very overcast this afternoon, and the castle looked pretty neat against the dark clouds. We then got back on the bus and took a tour of some of the coastal towns. My only gripe for this is that the bus didn’t slow down much, and only stopped once. Not many photo opportunities out a bus window…
We spent our final evening in Dublin pub hopping around Temple Bar, eating ice cream and watching the sun set over the Liffey.
Dublin was great, both the town itself and the people. Of all our stops, this is the city I’d want to live in.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
We had an early flight to London. Once we got there, panic ensued…there was a Tube strike. Not a good thing since I had planned everything by getting around this way, and of course the two lines going near our hotel were down because of this. Argh! So we took the tube as far as we could, and then hiked through what felt like half of London with our suitcases. This is what happens when you are too cheap to call a cab I suppose. But then we find out, tube tickets were 4 pounds each…YIKES! That is just downright robbery! But hey...at least the Brittish are kind enough to label the streets!
Once again, we bought some hop on/ off bus tickets, since that had been so nice in Dublin. London…not so much. The drivers are friendly enough, but most the commentary is recorded, and the live people are more stuffy than friendly. One of them actually fussed at me for standing up to take a picture while the bus was stopped in traffic.
Seeing Big Ben for the first time is probably my best memory of London. It’s even more grand than all the pictures I’d seen growing up. Our bus tour came with a river cruise, so it was a good deal. The cruise was short (about 45 minutes), and we couldn’t really hear the commentary sitting outside, but it was fun. Afterwards we walked around Piccadilly Circus a bit. Then faced the How To Get Back To The Hotel dilemma. We tried our luck with the city bus. After waiting on the wrong side of the street for a bit, we finally got on the right bus, which was CROWDED, and managed to find the stop near our hotel.
Yum…English breakfast is a lot like Irish breakfast, so I was able to pig out on some more bacon. With full bellies, we got on the bus and headed to St. Paul’s Cathedral….and wow! SO beautiful inside, BUT NO PHOTOGRAPHY ALLOWED! I’m not saying I snuck any pictures or anything, but…anyway. This place quickly became known as the Stairs of Hell. I forget how many, probably because I was too tired to think coherently by the time I reached the top. But it is really worth it, the views are great. Probably even better on a sunny day.
Afterwards, it was onto the Tower of London. Oh joy…more stairs! But, this was great to see and took several hours to go through it all.
In the evening, we went on the London Eye, carefully planning our trip to coincide with sunset. It’s a bit pricey, but it last about 30 minutes, and is a pretty neat experience.
We booked a tour ahead of time with Golden Tours, so we woke up early (missing the delicious breakfast at the hotel) and headed out. The first stop was Windsor Castle, and it included a tour inside. It’s mind blowing to know that people live like this! And how cool to live in the surrounding town and have a castle in your backyard! Next, we headed to Stonehenge. So yeah, it’s just a pile of rocks, and smaller than I expected. But how cool to have a picture of myself in front of it, this is one that will be framed.
After Stonehenge, we headed to Bath. One word of advise- Don’t Drink The Water. Bleh! After the tour they will offer you a glass, but they don’t offer anything to get that mineral flavor out of your mouth. The town of Bath is beautiful, and we found some delicious ice cream to get that water taste out of our mouths.
This was kinda our rest up day, so we just spent the day relaxing in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. We then had dinner at a pub called The Goat, mostly because the name made me laugh. It was an early to bed night, because we had to be up early the next morning.
Overall, London was great to see, but no where I would want to live. Plus, everything was super expensive. And the crappy exchange rate only made it worse.
Tour to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath
St. Paul’s Cathedral
We took the Eurostar to Paris. The first thing we saw upon arrival when exiting the train station were the words SEX SHOP…welcome to Paris indeed!
The most surprising thing about Paris was how easy it was to get around. Considering how minimal my French is, and that all my husband could say was “Oui, oui” and then snicker, I expected it to be more difficult. We also bought two books of “carnets” which is a 10 pack of subway tickets, this was enough to last our whole time there.
After checking in to our hotel, we took the metro to Champs-Elysees and took the mandatory pictures of the Arc de Triomphe. We then wondered down the street, looking into windows at stuff I could never afford and eventually ended up at the Eiffel Tower. The line to buy tickets to go up to the top was about 10 miles long, so we decided to not do that. Instead we walked to the Seine and found a café to eat dinner at. Yummy…fresh cheese and ham.
After the sun set, we walked back up to the Eiffel Tower and took some lit up pics, and then the sparkly lights came on…really pretty! One down side to this was that about 10 feet down the river were some big rats digging through the overflowing trash cans…ugh. Paris was really dirty. Okay, two downsides, lots of guys standing around pushing roses into your hands and trying to get you to pay 3 euro for one.
Today started out at Versailles. Another place that makes your mouth hang wide open to think people lived like this. I think my whole apartment could fit into one of the bedrooms here, heck it might even fit into the bathroom!
Afterwards we went to Les Catacombes. I was sort of iffy on this place, and almost didn’t go. I’m so glad I did as this place was AWESOME! Nothing was roped off, and you walk in between walls of old bones. It is so eerie and spooky, like nothing I’ve ever done!
We then went to the Basilique du Sacre-Couer. Again with the stairs! Gah…Europe seems to have stairs to get to everywhere. I hauled myself up on rubbery legs to the top, and the views more than made up for the blisters I got this day. And the basilica itself is amazing…probably my favorite of all the churches we visited. We went inside and there was a ceremony going on, the singing and the sound of the organ gave me goosebumps.
Then back down the 10 million steps and onto Pigalle street and the Moulin Rouge. We didn’t see the actual show since I had read so many bad reviews on it, just snapped some windmill pics and gawked at all the sex shops.
We ended up spending about 6 hours at the Louvre. I’m not a big art buff, but it was a really interesting place. The Mona Lisa is great to see and all, but there are many more interesting pieces of art as well. As well as stairs…always the stairs….
Just a sidenote: bring your own drinks as the ones there are very pricey. One of the restaurants actually charge 4 euro for a coke…mon Deiu!
Afterwards we walked around the Latin Quarter for a bit and had dinner there and a delicious Nutella crepe for desert.
Headed to the Notre Dame and went inside there. A really pretty church, with pretty stained glass. I can’t imagine going to church service in a place like this every week.
Afterwards, went to La Sainte Chapelle, which was a “can’t miss” sight according to everything I read. I don’t know if my expectations were too high or what, but I wasn’t that impressed. It is small, and there was some restoration going on, so maybe that blocked the light, but it wasn’t as amazing as I had thought it would be. The stained glass was pretty though.
Then it was on to Cimetiere du Pere-Lachaise, where Jim Morrison is buried. As far as cemeteries go, this place was beautiful. The funny thing was all the cats everywhere. There are also some very imaginative graves.
Overall, Paris was amazing to see, but I wouldn’t consider it to be “romantic.” The streets are very dirty and it has that “city” smell. But I loved how so many of the buildings had pretty flowers in the windows, it made everything so quaint. And we never really encountered any of the stereotypical “rudeness” that I’ve always heard about with Paris, everyone was nice.
Basilique de Sacre Couer
Day 11 - 13
We took the Artesia night train from Paris to Venice. This was a good way to go. We got lucky and had some decent (and by decent I mean not stinky) people sharing our cabin. The bunks weren’t that comfortable and the food was mediocre, but it was nice to go to sleep in France and wake up in Italy.
We got into Venice around 9 am, and when you walk out of the train station, you are instantly wowed by the sights…Venice is BEAUTIFUL! I was kind of worried about finding our way around the land of water, but the Vaperetto system is not much different to figure out than a subway system. Our first day there, we had a long lunch in a café, and then took off without a map just lost ourselves in the city.
The next day we headed out to Piazza San Marco to get attacked by the pigeons. Amazing enough, neither of us got pooped on. You really don’t even need to have bird food, you just put your arms up and the pigeons will flock to you. I had one pesky bird who made himself my new best friend and sat on my head until we left the area.
By this point in our trip, we had been “on the road” for almost two weeks, and were kinda tired. So we just spent our days lazing around and seeing the city. Venice is small enough that you can see it all by walking. And one of the best parts is the food! Yeah, some of the cafes are expensive, but there is plenty of affordable food as well. There are a lot of places that sell pizza by the slice, we could get two huge pieces and a coke for about 5 euro. And then there are gelato places EVERYWHERE. Pizza and ice cream….I was in heaven. Plus, there are grocery stores, and our hotel had a little sitting area on the roof, so we ate some meals there. And one night, we bought some sandwich stuff and chips and just sat along the canal and watched the boats go by as we ate, that was memorable.
One thing we didn’t do was the gondola ride. AT 80 euro for a daytime ride and 100 euro to go in the evening, we just felt it wasn’t worth it. Especially since everywhere we looked, there was gondola congestion…not exactly the serenading romantic ride I’d envisioned! That’za NOT Amore!
There are tons of Africans around selling knock off purses, glasses, etc. Supposedly it’s illegal to buy from them, but they were EVERYWHERE, so I don’t know how the police don’t see them. If a girl were to buy a knock off Prada for say, 15 euro…who could blame her? Hypothetically speaking of course ;-)
I loved Venice – probably the prettiest place I’ve ever been. And it didn’t stink, it just had that oceany salty smell, but nothing terrible. This would be a place to return (and shop at) to if I win the lottery.
Getting lost in the city
Piazza San Marco
All the pizza and ice cream a girl can eat