Friday, June 6, 2008

Visit to Scotland and Ireland

Sorry for the long break since the last update. But I am still busy as ever at work. I have been putting in 10-11 hours during weekdays, and 6 hours on Saturdays and Sundays. But my two week break and visit to Seattle is coming up.

On Memorial Day Monday, I returned from a 10 day visit of Scotland and Ireland with a colleague from work. We had a blast. I have always wanted to visit these two places. This trip definitely was a good introduction to exploring these two countries even further in the future. We stayed 4 ½ days in Scotland and 5 ½ days in Ireland. I hope to come back and explore more of Scotland, especially the Highlands area; this is true as well for Ireland – I want to see the west coast of Ireland.

The trip started in Scotland. Our first stop was Edinburgh – spent two days exploring the city. Then we proceeded to Falkirk, via train, with a day trip to Stirling, by bus. From Falkirk, we took the train to Glasgow. Edinburgh still has a historic charm with its old buildings, while Glasgow has a mix of modern and old style architecture. From Glasgow, we flew to Cork, Ireland and spent two days there. While in Cork, we did a side trip to Blarney to visit the Castle and its famous stone. From Cork, we took the bus to Kilkenny and spent a day there. We rode the train from Kilkenny to Dublin. We spent the last two and half days in Dublin. Dublin is a very lively city; it is definitely a city worth visiting again.

Scotland was a bit expensive compared to the other European countries using the euro currency. In Edinburgh, we spent a lot of time seeing the sights by walking around the city, toured the Edinburgh castle, did the Whisky Experience tour, and enjoyed haggis for breakfast. Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish containing minced lung, heart, and liver of a calf or sheep mixed with oatmeal, onions, and seasonings. The mixture is stuffed into a slaughtered animal’s stomach and boiled. The haggis I had for breakfast was lightly fried. So my guess is that after it is boiled, it is sliced into pieces and pan fried. Prior to the trip, people at work had kidded me about at least trying the haggis. I had insisted that no way was I going to eat this. I had pictured in my mind what a haggis would look and smell like: as the freshly cooked stuffed stomach is being sliced open, putrid smelling steam would drift through the surroundings. So I had no intentions of trying out this food. But the haggis that I was served came with eggs, bacon, potato pancakes, baked beans, and toast. It did not look or smell as I had imagined. It was not bad; it’s similar tasting to canned corned beef. The highlight of Edinburgh was a tour of the castle located near the city center. During our day trip to Stirling, we visited the castle and the Wallace Monument. Stirling Castle was where the kings and queens of Scotland held magnificent feasts and celebrations. The Wallace Monument is a memorial honoring Sir William Wallace, patriot, martyr, and guardian of Scotland. We had stayed a day in Falkirk for two reasons: it’s a good springboard for a day trip to Stirling and to visit an engineering marvel, the Falkirk Wheel. The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift connecting two separate canals. The function is similar to a navigational lock, but the method is completely different. We had about a day in Glasgow. Our tour of the city consisted of the “hop on – hop off” excursion on a double decker bus and a little bit of walking around the city. It’s was a nice way to see the major sights of the city.

I had a camera mishap on our last night at Edinburgh. We had befriended a local at a pub who wanted to talk to Americans. At the end of the night, as we were waiting for our bus to take us back to our hotel, our Scottish friend insisted that he take a picture of us with the brightly lit Edinburgh Castle in the background. I handed him my camera to take a picture of us, but I think he accidentally changed a few of the settings on my camera. I could not figure out how to get it back to the original settings. I also did not have the camera manual with me. Most of my pictures after Edinburgh are somewhat grainy. The clearer ones are photos taken by a coworker who joined me on this trip. The following are few pictures from Scotland:

View of Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street Gardens below.

While walking the streets of Edinburgh, I found this fast food place with my name. A worker there tried to convince us to try their food, but we were not looking for fast food fare.

This is a portion of the Royal Mile, a popular tourist walking area with the Edinburgh Castle at one end and the Palace of Hollyrood House on the other end.

I am not into hard liquor but what the heck, I am there so let's do the "Experience Scotch Whisky" tour and try some genuine Scotch Whisky.

Above picture is inside the compounds of the castle in Stirling.

The Wallace Monument - it commemorates Sir William Wallace, the 13th century Scottish hero.

The Falkirk Wheel - a modern version of a navigational lock.

On a double decker tour bus in Glasgow.

The prices in Ireland were comparable to Germany. Heavy rain and wind welcomed us during our arrival at Cork airport from Glasgow. But that was the worst of it. We were able to walk around the city later that afternoon and evening. During our first night at Cork, we had dinner at a pub while watching on tv the UEFA Champions League championship between Manchester United and Chelsea, played in Moscow. The pub was quite crowded as soccer is very popular here even if the teams playing were from the English Premier League. A majority of the crowd in the pub were Manchester United fans. The crowd in the pub went a little bit crazy after United’s win in the shootout. I guess for the locals, it is similar to watching the Super Bowl. The next day, from Cork, we took a day trip to Blarney. We visited the Blarney Castle, the Blarney House (a private mansion nearby), and the Blarney Stone. On top of the castle is the stone. I had thought that I probably would just skip the kissing of the Blarney Stone. What’s the big deal anyway? After a long, steep climb via winding steps to the top of the castle, you can’t just stop there. Since you are there anyway, what’s another 10-15 minutes waiting in line to kiss the stone. Yes, I kissed the stone and purchased the requisite photo doing it. Legend has it that by kissing the Blarney Stone, it endows the kisser with the gift of gab, great eloquence, skill at flattery, or some other blarney (local term for b.s.). Well, none of these attributes were imparted on me after the doing the feat. What I got by kissing the cold rock was the slobber on my lips of the many people that kissed the stone before me that day. Kissing the stone is a difficult feat. To kiss the stone you must lie down flat on your back, a man provides assistance by supporting your back and legs as you hang upside down over the edge of the castle 90 feet up (I recommend tipping this man well before you do the feat), you lean far back and downward into the abyss while grasping iron rails, and then you lower yourself until your head is even with the stone to be kissed. It’s amazing that I did not pull any muscle while doing this. In the past, to kiss the stone people were hung by their heels over the edge. I am glad that iron bars are now placed in the opening to prevent anyone from falling.

The traditional Filipino method of getting younger kids to be talkative is much easier. They are fed a certain part of an animal (not sure if it’s a pig, goat, or maybe either one). I won’t tell what part of an animal it is. You can ask a Filipino oldtimer. But I digress…

From Cork, we took the bus to Kilkenny. Kilkenny is a small town, about halfway from Cork to Dublin. We had a great dinner at a restaurant there and enjoyed the music of a local band at a pub. From Kilkenny, we took the train to Dublin. In planning for this trip, I had a tough time looking for a hotel in the center of the city unless we were willing to pay exorbitant price. As it turned out, some reasons why the hotels were booked for that weekend was because of big venue concerts by Bruce Springsteen and a “friendly” soccer match between the national teams of Ireland and Serbia. We ended up finding a hotel near the airport, a nice hotel which was priced reasonably. The hotel was also located near a bus stop for buses headed directly to Dublin city center. So it worked out great. We purchased a 3-day pass which covered buses to and from Dublin and the “hop on and hop off” double decker bus tour of Dublin. The bus tour is the easiest way to get a good overall understanding of the layout of the city. Also, since we had multi-day passes, we had used the tour bus to get to some sights we wanted to visit instead of walking. In Dublin, we did the Guinness Storehouse tour, ate traditional Irish food at nice restaurants, visited several pubs and bars, and walked throughout the city. As Scotland has the haggis, Ireland has the black pudding. Like the haggis, black pudding is also a breakfast fare. Black pudding is made from pig or cattle blood with meat, bread, barley, and oatmeal as fillers. It looks like a regular cut of sausage. I guess the black pudding is more palatable when served with the other more traditional food. The traditional Irish breakfast consist of black pudding, egg, regular sausage, baked beans, and bread. Not that I like either one that well, but if I had to choose, I would select haggis over black pudding.

The following are few pictures from Ireland:

In front of a bookstore, next to a cut out of James Joyce, in Cork.

A gray and wet day in Cork.

Me kissing the Blarney Castle. I don't think any gift of gab rubbed off on me; for sure, I got a bit of the slobber of many people who kissed the Stone before me that day.

Blarney Castle - the opening near the top on this face of the castle is where the Blarney Stone is located.

Brightly painted doors in Kilkenny.

A great view from an alley in Kilkenny.

Elvis lives on!!! While walking around Kilkenny, we came across a private yard paying homage to Elvis.

In front of the Temple Bar in Dublin.

A visit to Dublin would not be complete without visiting the Guinness Storehouse. It is not the typical brewery tour since there are Irish regulations about being in an actual brewery, but the tour takes place within the large Guinness Brewery compound and shows the history of Guinness beer, the brewing process, and at the end you get a pint to enjoy at the Gravity Bar, at the top of a the storehouse, with a great view of the city.

The back part of Dublin's St. Patrick Cathedral.

The Wall of Fame located in Dublin's Temple Bar area.

Pictured above is a typical Irish breakfast - eggs, bacon, sausage, hash potato, baked beans, sauteed mushrooms, tomato wedges, toast, and the two dark colored discs in the center are black pudding.

Dublin, and for the most part the places I visited in Ireland, is very colorful. Storefronts, doors, and many buildings are brightly painted.

The entire trip was great. And as I mentioned previously, I would love to visit again. Next time I would like to visit the Highlands of Scotland, the west coast of Ireland, and definitely, Dublin.

On another subject, Wiesbaden is having another festival, out of the many festivals throughout the year, taking place this Friday and Saturday. They closed off a major street near where I live; the festival also encompasses a park nearby. Food, beer, wine, and art and crafts vendors are everywhere at the festival site. There are several music venues with a host of bands playing a variety of music. I believe this festival is an art related festival. I guess any reason for festival is good. I was able to check it out Friday evening and today, Saturday, after work.

Here are a few pictures from the festival:

I missed extending birthday wishes to those with dates in May. Belated birthday wishes to Joyce, Michael, Mng. Evelyn, and Amma. And to those with birthdays in June – Happy Birthday wishes to Jessica and Joseph.

I will be arriving in Seattle late Saturday, 14 June. I am excited to see everyone. I am also excited about the upcoming family camping event. See you all soon.

No comments:

Post a Comment