Thursday, September 29, 2011

Northern Ireland and a couple more days back in the Republic of Ireland

We're alive and mostly well after continuing our clock wise tour of Ireland through the United Kingdom and back south toward our final destination of Dublin. We have kept a pretty aggressive pace over the last week or so but have seen some really interesting sights. We spent five nights in Northern Ireland before crossing back into the Republic of Ireland for our final two nights in Ireland.

taken on the grounds of Glenveagh National Park in Ireland
Here is a run down of where we have been since last post. As we left Ireland we drove through and stopped for a couple hours at Glenveagh National Park. It is a very scenic park with a 19th century castle in it. We then continued on to cross the border into Northern Ireland and spent the night in the town of Derry as the Irish call it or Londonderry as the Unionist in the UK call it. I was somewhat disappointed with the border crossing. There is no marker that we saw that signified we were crossing into the United Kingdom. I would imagine that any sign that is put up by either country would probably be vandalized in about 15 minutes. The first indication that I had that we were in the UK and Northern Ireland was that petrol was priced in pounds instead of Euros. After a night in Derry we drove a short distance to the northeast and spent two nights in the coastal town of Portrush. The final stop in the UK was in Belfast where we also spent two nights. In Belfast we met up with one of Alethea's friends Louise who flew in for the weekend from London. After Belfast we drove back into Ireland to the town of Dundalk where we spent one night. The only way we knew we were back in Ireland was that the speed limit signs switched from being in miles per hour which is how the British measure speed (the only other country in the world that does this other than the US) to being measured in kilometers per hour. There was also a county change sign but nothing letting you know you were back in Ireland. The next day we spent most of the day sightseeing before spending our final night in Navan. On the day we left we drove down to Trim to visit Trim Castle which is where many scenes from the movie Braveheart were filmed.

infamous Free Derry sign in Derry, Northern Ireland
I'll now highlight some of my favorite sights from Northern Ireland. One of the main reasons I wanted to tour Northern Ireland was to see and learn first hand the history of the sectarian differences between Catholics and Protestants that constituted the the approx 40 year period called The Troubles. I would say that I learned quite a bit. The murals in Derry help tell the story from a predominantly the Catholic side although there are a few Protestant signs too. The murals commemorate victims from specific events such as Bloody Sunday in which 13 people were killed by the British Military back in 1972. The murals also show the desire for a lasting peace. In Belfast there are similar murals. However, we saw more from the Protestant perspective than from the Catholic perspective. In Derry the murals are all pretty close together along one street whereas in Belfast the murals and memorials are more spread out and segmented by neighborhood. In Derry we toured everything on foot. In Belfast we actually took a Hop On and Off tour. I have seen these in numerous other cities but have never been on one before. The price was pretty reasonable so we decided to do it. I am glad we did because within 90 minutes we got to see most of Belfast. We drove through Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. What stood out for me where some of the gates and walls that separated these neighborhoods that were right next to each other. Even though the Good Friday Peace Accords were signed in 1998 there was still a period of high tensions and some level of violence up until about 5 years ago. It was only then that the military checkpoints and most of the British Army was withdrawn from Norther Ireland. I understand better how and why things happened during this conflict but it will never make much sense to me. It does makes one hopeful though for other conflicts considering how much these two sides hated each other and how they eventually have come to settle their differences peacefully after so much bloodshed. I am glad we toured these areas. Unlike other parts of the world that I have visited primarily for historical reasons this part of the world is not that far removed from the actual events that give it so much meaning.

Death of Innocence mural in Derry. It is of Annette McGavin age 14, killed by the British Army in 1971
There have been other non violent conflict related highlights as well. The drive leading up to the Glenveagh National Park and the castle were beautiful. At our second stop in Northern Ireland in the town of Portrush we toured both the Bushmills Distillery and the Giant's Causeway. The Bushmills tour was neat because it is an actual working distillery unlike the Guiness and Jameson facilities back in Dublin. We got to see them make their famous whisky (they spell it without an e). They have been making whisky here for a long time. They are now in their 403rd year of production. I enjoyed the tour but was disappointed in the taste of the product. My free sample was the Black Bush that is marketed as being smooth. I didn't find it that smooth. I still say Jameson is much smoother. The Giant's Causeway area that we saw was impressive. The pictures will have to do much of the talking but they have some oddly formed rock formations that I am sure Doug can tell you all about :-). I also enjoyed walking out on a 100 ft high rope bridge over the water at Carrick-A-Rede at a stop along the Antrim Coast on our way to Belfast.

unusual rock formations @ the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland
We also visited a couple of interesting sights once we crossed back in to Ireland. Bru Na Boinne was the most interesting. We toured two tomb complexes that are at least 5,000 years old. This makes them 500 years older than the Giza Pyramids in Egypt. There are two sights to visit. One called Knowth and the other is called Newgrange. I enjoyed the Knowth site more since you can walk up on top of it and view the surrounding countryside. Newgrance does have the advantage of being able to actually going inside to see what the inner chambers look like.

Knowth tomb complex @ Bru Na Boinne, Ireland
This concludes our time in Ireland. I really enjoyed it. It has been a busy 3 weeks. It probably would have been a little more enjoyable to slow down just a little bit. I think what I will remember the most is the beautiful scenery, the sobering history of the country, and all the full Irish breakfasts we had each time we stayed at at B&B which was just about every night. I probably clogged at least one artery with all the sausage and bacon I have eaten over the last three weeks. I weighed myself in Belfast and confirmed what I felt. I have gained 5 pounds so far on this trip. Good thing we are planning on heading to Scandinavia where everything including food is expensive. I'll probably end up starving off the weight that I've gained which I know is not the best way to go about maintaining an ideal healthy body weight. I would still say that the areas I enjoyed the most were the Dingle Peninsula and Inishmore Island followed by the murals and memorials of Derry and Belfast.

final site we saw in Ireland, Trim Castle - where many scenes from Braveheart were filmed
Next up for us are the Baltic countries. First stop is Lithuania with the next two stops being Latvia and then Estonia. We plan on spending 3 nights in each country's capital city. It should be interesting. I've never been to a former Soviet Republic. After the Baltics we plan on at least going to Finland where Alethea has several former work colleagues before reassessing our options. Alethea's shoulder is causing her a lot of discomfort so we may need to come home early and allow her to rest up somewhere and probably visit a doctor. We'll see how the next week and half goes first. Anyway, hope everyone is doing well back home!

Lousie, Me, & Alethea @ a pub in Belfast
Links to Ireland and Northern Ireland photo albums:

Ireland Part I  (these haven't changed since the first Ireland post)
Ireland Part II (probably added 30% more pics to this album from first Ireland post)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Two weeks in Ireland with one more to go!

Well we've been in Ireland for two weeks and I am finally getting around to my first blog post. We have pretty much been on the go since we arrived. Each night I've been making quick notes and working on pictures or other trip related items but haven't had both the desire and the time at the exact same time to put together a post. I usually need a hour or two straight to write a post versus writing for 5 or 10 minutes at a time then piecing it all together. Who knows it may work better for me to do that instead the way I currently write posts.

Our actual first stop on this trip wasn't in Ireland. It was in Charlotte, North Carolina of all places. To get to Ireland we first had to fly from Charlotte. We had a 8 hour layover there so we arranged to meet Alethea's aunt and uncle. They picked us up from the airport for brunch. We went downtown and enjoyed a nice brunch before David and Michelle took us back to the airport where we waited a couple hours before catching our flight. It was nice to spend time with them. I even forgot for a few moments that we had a flight later that evening!

Ok now on to Ireland. Dublin was our first destination within Ireland. Dublin is a city we have both been to before so we concentrated on doing some things that we had not done before for the most part. We visited the Kilmainham Jail, the Natural History Museum, Dublin Castle, George Beatty Museum, and visited a few pubs along the way. The items I enjoyed more than others were the George Beatty Museum and the Natural History Museum. The Natural History Museum is free and the George Beatty Museum was included on our Heritage Card ( ). If you are going to be in Ireland for a week or more and plan to visit at least a couple areas where there are national heritage sites then I would highly recommend this card. It cost 21 euros per person but you quickly get your money worth. We are nearly two weeks into Ireland and have visited 52.50 euros worth of sites. We probably would not have gone to all of the site listed but we would have definitely been to more than 21 euros worth of sites and we still have another week left. Unfortunately, the card is only good for sites in Ireland and not in Northern Ireland.

Dublin Castle
After two nights in Dublin we picked up our rental car and started driving around the island. We have a black 4 door Renault that Alethea has been doing an excellent job of driving considering the steering wheel is on the right and the manual transmission is on her left. Here is a quick rundown of all the cites and towns we have been in so far. The first place we spent the night after Dublin was in Kilkenn. We then spent a night in Cashel while touring the Rock of Cashel. We drove on the next day and made short stops in Cork and Cobh before ending up in Kinsale. The next night was spent in Kenmare. The following day we spent driving the Ring of Kerry before spending two nights in Dingle. We then drove from Dingle to Galway where we also spent two nights. After Galway we spent the night on the Aran Island of Inishmore. We drove the next day to Westport before heading to Donegal for a night. As a write this post we are spending two nights in the far north of Ireland in Dunfanaghy before crossing the border into Northern Ireland.

Celtic cross @ the Rock of Cashel
As you can see we have covered quite a bit of ground over the last two weeks. I've enjoyed the beautiful scenery and places we have visited. I could go into detail on all the places but that would be one long blog post. Instead I'll highlight just a couple. One area I really liked was Dingle and the Dingle Peninsula. The scenery is breathtaking and the loop drive is much shorter than the Ring of Kerry. I like the cliffs next to the sea and the pass through the mountains. I also enjoyed a pub we stopped at that brewed the beer we drank. It also had a dog that walked around freely. It is hard to beat a pub with a dog in it. The other activity I would like to highlight is the Aran Island of Inishmore. We drove a hour outside of Galway and caught a 45 minute ferry to Inishmore. While on the island we rented bicycles and rode around the island for an afternoon including visiting the 2,000 year old Celtic fort Dun Aenghus. The fort is built on the edge of 300 ft. sea cliffs that drop straight off into the Atlantic Ocean. There is no safety fence either at the top. You could literally walk right off them. Lawyers in the U.S. would never let that happen. 

Dun Aenghus - 2,000 year old Celtic fort on Inishmore Island
I think that pretty much sums up what we've been up to over the last couple weeks. I would say so far so good. We are experiencing some beautiful scenery and visiting some interesting places. To date Ireland reminds me somewhat of New Zealand mainly because it is so green, towns looks similar at times, and distances are not that great. New Zealand's natural beauty is more pronounced though. We are eating very well at the B&B's and pubs along the way. I've enjoyed learning more about Irish history. I was somewhat familiar with but it but it is always better to experience it in person. Unfortunately, a lot of Irish history has been pretty sad and should not be romanticized. It is amazing how far they have come as a country. We have enjoyed pretty decent weather or at least nothing we didn't really expect. The high's have been in the upper 50's to low to mid 60's. It has rained some about every day and more on some days than others but that is pretty much the norm in Ireland. We even experienced a few days of high winds and at least a day of heavier than normal rain that was left over from hurricane Katia which spun over here after visiting the US.

Alethea on the Dingle Peninsula 
I would say about the only negatives so far is that sometimes the pace has been a little fast at times. I'd like to slow it down just a little bit but there really isn't anything I would change though. Ireland and Europe are not cheap. Sitting still can cost a lot. I'm glad we're taking it easy today though. Another issue has been it has proven at times to be a little tricky finding our B&Bs and other destinations. Google Maps hasn't been all that accurate. I even tried using a European site (AA) and it wasn't much better once we got into the more rural western parts of Ireland. Streets and highways aren't always mapped clearly. I miss being able to use Google Maps on my GPS enabled cell phone that pinpoint a location down to a couple meters:). In Ireland many of the B&B's just list the street they are on and rarely list a street number. Driving itself hasn't been too bad. One interesting thing to note about Irish roads is that they post the speed limit based on the classification of the road and not how the road it laid out. The speed limit will be posted as 80 km (50 mph) or 100 km (62 mph) per hour despite the road being very winding and generally unsafe for those speeds. There seems to be little thought of what the safe driving conditions should be.

Slieve League - these cliffs are amost 2,000 ft up
This wraps up this post. It has been a fun and busy two weeks in Ireland. I'm looking forward to Northern Ireland to see if or how different it may be from the Republic of Ireland. I know it is one place I thought I wouldn't visit. I remember back in high school reading about all the bombings and attacks. It has been relatively peaceful over the last ten years or so but they have had a recent uptick in events. They even had a police officer murdered within the last week or so that was attributed to the IRA. I read in a guidebook that it was only in 2006 that British Army checkpoints were taken down. Hopefully, time will heal all wounds as it has in other places but the Irish do have a long memory :-). I do find it interesting how the Irish refer to British rule as the 700 year occupation. One last note on something that I'm enjoying doing more of and that is taking short videos in some of the places we've been. You can see them all on YouTube plus they automatically post to my twitter and Facebook pages after they're uploaded so feel free to check them out. They are usually less than 30 seconds.

Here is a link to the full picture albums. They are still in a work in process.

Ireland Part I
Ireland Part II

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ireland videos

Thought I would experiment a little bit with this post. I have taken a couple of brief (~30 sec) videos over the last couple days in Ireland. I am experimenting with attaching them to blog posts. All of my videos can be found on YouTube under the user name tngl4ut. I am still working on getting our wedding videos cleared to be seen publicly. They are currently being blocked by YouTube because of the music used in the wedding ceremony. Their automatic copyright software has flagged the videos as having potentially copyrighted content and YouTube\Google is playing it safe at the moment.

One thing I wish I would have done more of on our round the world trip and that would be to take more videos in various places. The down side with doing this is that videos take up so much memory on the camera's memory card and on my laptop's hard drive. Also, in many of the places we were at the internet bandwidth wasn't always that great with uploads speeds being the typical 1/8th the speed of downloads. In many places in Europe such as Ireland they have great broadband internet access with some countries having better access than in the US. I plan on writing a thorough post within the next day or so. We've been on the go quite a bit with not that much time to write. Tomorrow should actually be a slow day.

Here is my 1st attempt to embed videos shot with my camera into a blog post. Shouldn't be a problem. They are both only around 30 seconds long. One is from the Dingle Peninsula where we stopped to take some pictures where another is from a pub in Dingle where we listened to some Irish music one evening. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tooting our own horn....

Thought I would take a minute and share a link to an article that ran in today's edition of the Tennessean about Alethea and I. If you have access to the Tennessean the story ran in the Life section. Many of you saw it posted on Facebook but there are some followers of my blog that aren't on Facebook. 

One note about the article. There is one factual error in it. The writer states that I had a career in financial management. Not sure where she got that from since I've never worked in that field. Alethea had a one hour interview with the reporter a few weeks ago and provided her with accurate background information on us. I'm sure she is busy and just got my background info mixed up with another person's. 

Click here for the article:   Groom follows bride down path less taken

We're alive and well in Ireland. I'll write more within the next few days. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Honeymoon....well not so fast.....

It has been three weeks since my last posting so I figured it is about to time to write. I think I was hoping that my next post would pick up with our honeymoon travels but those plans have taken a little longer to materialize. I'll get into those details a little later. I'll start off by highlighting what we've been up to over the last few weeks.

About the time of my last post I was helping Doug pack up his stuff for his move out to Los Angeles. For those that don't know Doug took a job at the University of Southern California. His position at Georgia Tech ended in May. He moved his stuff up to Nashville for the summer. He spent most of the summer up here in Nashville with the exception of a side trip up to the northeast and Canada. He also spent a month in Colorado working, sort of.... It was nice having Doug around this summer especially since I hadn't seen him in probably about a year. Alethea and I enjoyed his company. He came in handy as the unbiased observer when we were wedding planning. He was usually paid with beer. Good thing he works cheap.

Another activity that we did was go up to the Campbell's for a few days. The primary purpose was for a cookout that we had on a Saturday. It was an opportunity for my mom and dad to spend time with Alethea's mom and step dad while checking out their place in Orlinda. They even got to see the goats! Amy Johnston and her two daughters joined us as well. Alethea and I went home up a couple days in advance. We spent nearly all of our time working on travel research. I was glad we were able to spend time with everyone before we began our post wedding travels.

moving Doug's stuff out of storage, it probably wasn't legal or safe to drive a truck packed this way
The majority of our time over the past few weeks has been spent either on honeymoon related travel research or working on our legal checklist. The legal checklist consists of adding each others names to various accounts and updating beneficiary information. We have also updated our health care proxy forms and our wills. About the only things we haven't completed are for Alethea to formally change her last name. She is waiting until we are done traveling and get out to Portland since her name needs to match what is on her passport, driver's license, credit cards, and other key documentation. We didn't have time to complete these changes without jeopardizing our travel plans. I would hate to have to leave Alethea outside the US due to issues with her identification documentation although she might like that idea depending on the country :).

Alethea getting hungry @ Publix while shopping for dinner
ow let me get to the honeymoon travel plans. We've spent quite a bit time researching the individual countries that we want to go to over the last couple weeks. We first plotted out what we would like to do in Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. We then researched Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, & Finland), the Balkans (Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia), and the Baltics (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia). One aspect of research we did was weather related. Since we were going to be in parts of Europe outside the times of year in which they have the best weather we wanted to make sure this would not be too much of a hindrance. We know in some countries like Ireland we're going to get wet no matter what time of the year would be there. In other countries we wanted to make sure that it wouldn't be to cold. Based on our research it will be cold but shouldn't be too bad overall. Hopefully, we will be correct in this assessment.

me getting drenched @ the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland (Dec '07)
The plan we came up with is as follows. Our first stop will include spending about a month in Ireland and Northern Ireland. We'll then fly over to Vilnius, Lithuania to make our way through the Baltic countries of Latvia and Estonia. We'll then start our tour of Scandinavia by ferrying over from Estonia to Finland. We'll continue on by vising Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. This will take us into the 1st week of November. Our plan at that time is too either came back to the US and spend a few weeks in a warm weather location just relaxing and doing pretty much nothing. Our other option is to stay in Europe a little longer and head down to the Baltic region. It will depend on our budget, how we are feeling, and the weather.

During the course of establishing our route we decided to drop Scotland from our itinerary. The reasons were that it was going to be too expensive and that what we would see in Scotland would be very similar to what we would see in Ireland. The Scottish may not be happy with that statement. Also, Alethea has been to Edinburgh before. I hope to get to Scotland some day but not on this trip. Our honeymoon should be an interesting adventure. I know I am looking forward to it. The only items we have pre-booked are the flight to Dublin, the 1st two nights in a Dublin at a hostel, and our flight from Dublin to Vilnius, Lithuania. At this time we haven't even booked a return flight to the US. We plan on flying back on standby on Delta from somewhere in Europe.

We actually have attempted once to start our honeymoon travels but encountered some challenges. Our plan was to fly standby on Delta to either Dublin or Shannon, Ireland starting on the 29th August. Unfortunately, a hurricane named Irene got in our way. We were going first fly down to Atlanta and try to fly business class to Dublin. Our back up option was to fly to JFK the following day. At JFK we would have a much better shot of flying to Shannon, Ireland. Due to the hurricane closing the city of New York we decided to fly out a day earlier on Sunday the 28th and try our luck in Atlanta. Atlanta was as far we got. A lot of paying inconvenienced passengers made it impossible for us to get to Dublin. We then targeted anywhere in Europe with the idea of taking a flight, train, or even ferrying over to Ireland. We tried three flights (Dusseldorf, Brussels, and Manchester) Sunday afternoon. The attempt to fly to Brussels was probably the cruelest attempt of them all. At the last minute we were cleared for the flight. We boarded the plane, put our bags away, and buckled our seat belts only to be pulled off the plane because a passenger they thought was not on the plane was actually on the plane but in the bathroom when they paged her earlier. This meant that at least I wasn't cleared for the flight. The Manchester flight wasn't handled too well either. It ended up leaving with two empty seats in business class that Alethea and I should have been seated in. We then regrouped and looked at two flights to London and one to Dublin but the seat availability numbers looked far worse for these flights. We decided after a long day to take the next to last flight back to Nashville. Flying to Atlanta and trying to fly to Europe was worth the chances we took and didn't cost us too much since we were using Alethea mom's passes. I was a little upset though because employee incompetence probably cost us a seat on two of the flights we tried to get on.

Once we got back home and had a good night's rest we evaluated our flight options and ended up with Alethea cashing in her frequent flier miles on Continental. We'll be flying on a confirmed ticket to Dublin on Sunday the 4th. If it wasn't for the hurricane we more than likely would have made it to Ireland either on the 29th or 30th of August. It is kind of hard to plan for a scenario that has New York City being closed due to a hurricane.

That pretty much wraps up this blog post. We're both taking it easy this week before we travel. We're doing a little more travel research and working on some miscellaneous projects before we leave. We took the time to research our Portland options and purchased our plane tickets for January 4th. Once we get on the road I plan on posting more often. This will depend somewhat on what all we are doing and the level of internet access we have.