Dec 15-28 Ireland
Dec 28-Jan 4 Belgium
And away we go! Please excuse any mistakes, I haven’t the time to proofread right now!
December 15: Meg and I walked from our flat to Buchanan Bus Station and took a bus to the airport. I realized about a third of the way to the bus that I had left my swiss army knife on my key ring, but we didn’t have time to go all the way home and drop it off so I stressed about it until we got to the airport. Check in and security were a breeze, as it turns out, and my knife didn’t flag any alarms at all. (Thank God, really, I would’ve been in deep shit if I’d been stupid about another knife/personalized item. Sorry mom and dad. It was totally fine though. So, ya know. It’s all good. No need for reprimands or sass, thanks.)
As we are known to be perpetually hungry, Meg and I decided that we might as well enjoy lunch at the airport. The airport Witherspoons was the best option and it suited us just fine. The actual flight from Glasgow to Dublin was over before I settled in. Only an hour or so of air travel really did fly by. Of course to make up for that was customs and baggage claim. Meg and I had each packed two carry on bags in the hope of being able to just walk on and off the various flights, but the Glasgow/Dublin leg made Meg check her suitcase at the gate. Once we had reassembled ourselves and figured out our Euros we tried to find the bus. Just in general, new places in the dark can increase frustration by about half. Never fear, each intrepid travelers in our own right, we figured it out (by asking for directions).
So we waited a bit and then grabbed the Dublin Coach from the airport to Red Cow (the major interchange), and then switched busses to get from Red Cow to Limerick. The bus took rather longer than we were hoping due to traffic, but we saw a few roadsigns that needed interpreting and Meg managed to doze for a bit. Richard met us off the bus in Limerick, his hometown, and showed us a good spot for dinner. It was decided that driving from Limerick to Tralee at that point in the evening would be impractical, as Richard’s holiday house needed some tidying, basic groceries, and was about 2hrs away. This turn of events resulted in Meg and I grabbing a room at a Travelodge from which Richard would collect us after breakfast the following morning. Too tired to care overmuch, Meg and I spent our first night in Ireland tuning out the neighbors and looking forward to getting underway again.
December 16: A surprisingly common sight in Ireland, the restaurant attached to the Travelodge was an American 1950’s themed diner. We saw rather more American 50’s diners than one would expect to see outside of America. Anyway, Rockin’ Joe’s saw us fed and caffeinated, and deposited outside on the curb in the brisk sunny air of a fresh Irish morning. Richard eventually came for us and off we went to Tralee. The main towns en route from Limerick to Tralee are Adare, Newcastle West, and Abbeyfeale. We stopped in Adare because Richard told us that the town won the cutest town award or some such. After seeing many other towns during the trip I’m not sure if Adare really deserves it, but at first impression it really is adorable. We met a friendly dog, got warm drinks, poked around the shop Richard’s family friend owns, and felt like we’d done just about all we could do there.
The Irish countryside is beautiful outside of Adare, and it is still there and still beautiful all the way down to County Kerry. Richard pulled over so we could take a few pictures of the County Kerry Overlook, and then before we knew it we had arrived in Tralee. The house is situated in Ashleigh Downs, right next to the Manor West shopping plaza. Richard helped tidy up the house and his parents generously covered the majority of our startup grocery costs. The house is a 5 room 2 bath one level house, tucked away in a cul de sac. Meg and I took separate bedrooms but we spent the large majority of our time in the living room together. The fireplace was a treat to have, and we were SO HAPPY that the kitchen didn’t have an obnoxious heat/smoke alarm like our Glasgow flat does. Another perk of the house was its dishwasher. God, I’d forgotten how smug it feels to rinse only and then put dishes in this magic cupboard that returns them to you clean. Truly magical.
Once it seemed like we’d figured our way around the house, Richard took off. Meg and I we a bit surprised… I think we misunderstood exactly how much Richard was going to help us sightsee and get around. We didn’t even get a chance to meet his parents or his sisters, so I’m glad that Meg and I brought a bottle of port for them and remembered to pass it along! Feeling both independent and a bit at loose ends, Meg and I walked around the corner to the shopping plaza and picked up some groceries at Tesco. We also discovered Gloria Jean’s the coffee shop we’d come to depend on for wifi, as the Tralee house had no internet, phone, or TV. Upon returning home we set up camp and settled down for an afternoon of reading and movie watching. We decided to give ourselves a few days of true vacation lounging before making a sightseeing plan, in part because at the time we were still unsure of how much help Richard would be. (Not much at all, as it turned out).
December 17: We were definitely living it up with the fireplace, and we burned through the small bag of wood that the house already had. Fortunately the shopping plaza also had a Woodie’s, which seemed to be a bit like Lowes. They sold bags of dry logs for about 8euro, and Richard had furnished us with a large bag of coal and a few bricks of burners as well so we were set for a little while.
December 18: In an attempt to get the lay of our local land, Meg and I decided to go out to the movies. About a 25 minute walk away sits the Omniplex, and when you buy a ticket you pick an assigned/numbered seat! We saw Rogue One, the new Star Wars movie. We’d had a marathon of the standard six episodes before we left Glasgow, and we’d both already seen episode seven, so we went in prepared and had a wonderful time.
Inspired by the onscreen adventures, we decided that since it seemed we were on our own in terms of exploring the country we would rent a car. We did some online searching and decided that the 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd would all be day driving trips, and that the 23rd would be shopping for Christmas while we had a car to carry stuff, and that the car would go back to Enterprise on the 24th. Quite pleased with ourselves, we settled down with movies and cocktails, excited about the coming week.
December 19: Tralee to Dingle. The Enterprise rental place was about a 40 minute walk from the house, so we got up and made the trek, hoping that the weather would clear up a bit as the day wore on. Actually renting the car was pretty easy, Meg was in charge of the whole ting because she’s 25 and can drive stick, both things required when renting a car in Ireland. Those of you who know me know that while I love driving, getting to be the passenger is a treat that’s hard for me to turn down! To get a feel for the car we drove back to the house. Driving on the left was no problem, as we’d both been brainwashed into finding it relatively normal while living in Glasgow. Once we were home we threw our day bags in the car, packed a few snacks, and hit the road. The Dingle Peninsula is closest to Tralee out of all the places we were interested in going, so we thought it’d make for an easy day.
It was stunning. Absolutely gorgeous views, free old things we could climb on, wonderful overlook stops, wonderful lunch café… We felt like every single decision we made that day was the best one to have made. We drove under two rainbows, for goodness sake. I’ve rarely had a travel day go so smoothly, and the Slea Head Drive around the peninsula is really ranking at the top of the list. While we encountered various off season problems over the course of the whole trip, the fact that we didn’t have to compete with tour busses or many other people on these drives was a thrice blessed miracle. The road was ours, the views were ours, and those ridiculous tight and blind corners were ours as well!
December 20: Tralee to Moher and Gallway. The views were not ours. The fog and rain were ours. The postcards I bought would indicate that the cliffs of Moher are beautiful and dramatic. I’m sure they were still beautiful and dramatic even though we couldn’t freaking see anything. We tried to brave the weather and walk up to the right of the cliffs to O’Brien’s tower, but my glasses almost blew off my face, and we were tipping backwards when walking into the wind. We had lunch at the cliff view café… just salt in the wound, really.
However, as we drove on to Gallway (from where I have ancestry), the rain eased, at least. It was nearing dark by the time we were in the city centre, so we parked in a garage and got out to look around. I’m SO GLAD we did, instead of giving up and going home. We went to the museum of the city and then found a Christmas market! We noodled around the market and had a wonderful ride on a merry-go-round before wandering the fairy light lit streets and making a plan for dinner. We actually ended up going to three different establishments; one for a pre-dinner drink, the second for a meal only, and the last for drinks and live music! SO worth it, so much fun. We heard Gallway girl PLAYED in Gallway, and a host of other tunes I didn’t know. Unfortunately we couldn’t just stay and stay, but what we did manage to do and see ended up working out well for us. While I’d love to actually see the cliffs, the exhibits inside the museum center did actually tide me over.
December 21: Tralee to the Ring of Kerry. As may be apparent, we alternated long driving days with destination days. The Ring of Kerry was another driving day, though we weren’t sure we’d make it all the way around in the daylight because the 21st was the solstice! Not to worry, we rocked it. When we left the house the sky looked like it had gotten over itself from the day before, but maybe it felt insulted by us because as soon as we took a turn off to an ocean overlook it started raining on us again. Typical. We managed to outdistance the rain as we went on though, and had a dry lunch in Waterville… I know. I know.
The cool thing is that besides lunch and gas money, we didn’t spend any other money because all the historic and natural sights were free! My three favorites were an old castle that we clambered over and under and explored thoroughly (against the advisement of the posted sign which said absolutely do not do that), Ross Castle even though it was closed, and the Torc Waterfall, mostly because I’m always down for waterfalls. I love them. Look for a friendly black cat in the pictures from Ross Castle!
We also stopped in a funny town named Sneem because we were interested in their Garden of the Senses. Probably more interesting when the garden is in bloom, a few parts of it were still captivating. Besides, it’s just such an odd name to say.
December 22: Tralee to Blarney Castle and Cork. OKAY, SO. Finally lovely weather again, and sure the castle is cool (especially the murder hole) and the stone is kissable and that’s all great. THE GARDENS, THOUGH. Meg and I spent about two hours traipsing all over the castle grounds, finding wishing steps, druid circles, sacrificial altars, and all manner of awesome pagan stuff. 13/10, would recommend. If you find yourself headed to Blarney Castle, please please please make sure you leave time for the grounds. Meg and I spent about 3.5 hours there, including lunch, and felt like we’d seen about 3/4 of everything there was to see. Take your time, it’s gorgeous.
We carried on into the city of Cork, encountering TRAFFIC of all things. Not something we’ve had to deal with in months, the traffic was frustrating and unwelcome. However, much like in Gallway, we found a good place to park and were able to walk around. Our first stop was The Time Traveller’s Bookshop, where Meg managed to find several cool books which may be useable for her dissertation. We wandered into a vintage record shop and discovered that Cork has a map already prepared of vintage shops and sights in Cork. The combination of those two things really sold Meg on the city, so she was happy to continue poking around. We ended up in the English Market, part fish/beef/produce market and part odd little clothing shops and oddity joints. Cool stuff all around, but nothing cool enough to force me over the budget line I’d blown on jewelry at Blarney Castle! We decided to come home for dinner, after figuring that we should eat what we’d already paid for. The ride home was cruelly lengthened by hunger, but by that point Meg and I knew enough to be generous and patient with one another. Once we were home we decided not to redo the cliffs of Moher in better weather, but rather to use the car to do our big Christmas shop. Additionally, storm Barbra was blowing up the coast and things were turning stormy and insanely windy. Better safe at home!
December 23: Why a big Christmas shop? Because we had big plans, of course! We hit Tesco and Woodie’s again to cover all of our bases. The rest of the afternoon and evening we spent playing strategy games (Hanabi, Gloom, and Arboretum). We stayed up too late, and passed December 24 in much the same fashion, minus the shopping and staying up too late. Bless Meg for taking the car back by herself. It was fabulously relaxing after four days of being on the go, and we were decidedly ready for Christmas!
December 25: HOBBIT CHRISTMAS!! For those of you unfamiliar with the lifestyle choices of Tolkien’s Hobbits, think comfort, warmth, relaxation, and FOOD. So much food.
Meg and I decided pre-trip that we wanted to have a Hobbitesque feast while marathoning the extended edition Lord of the Rings trilogy. So we did! Hobbit feeding includes breakfast, second breakfast, elvensies, luncheon, tea, dinner, supper, dessert. We committed to all of these meals (and accompanying drinks like hot toddies) and got started around 8:30 in the morning. To give you a sense of it all: The Fellowship of the Ring is 208 minutes, The Two Towers is 223 minutes, and Return of the King is 251 minutes. Obviously, we had a freaking awesome Christmas.
December 26: A recovery day. Mostly reading in bed for each of us. Very little movement. Very little noise. All for the best.
December 27: Our last day in Tralee! We realized how much food (and alcohol) we still had left and realized that some sacrifices would need to be made. A 4am wake up call was looming on the morning’s horizon, so we had to leave the rum and cocktails behind. Another few rounds of games, general cleaning, and a bit of time at Gloria Jean’s for internet. We loved having a house to come home to, having our own space was phenomenal, and Tralee turned out to be an okay epicenter for all of our traveling. We’re so grateful to Richard’s parents for letting us use their holiday home. The trip would not have been nearly as easy or relaxing without their generosity.
December 28: TRALEE TO DUBLIN TO BRUSSELS TO JETTE. I think this day happened twice. At least, it felt like we were awake long enough for it to have happened twice. We got up at 4, left the house around 4:45, walked 40 minutes to the bus station and caught the 5:30 coach from Tralee to Red Cow. We switched busses again to get from Red Cow to Dublin Airport, and by 10:30 or so we were through security and sitting down for breakfast. Our flight didn’t leave until 1ish, so we took our time eating until our gate was displayed. Standard stupidity of standing and queueing before being allowed to board, but no major problems. The flight was also a breeze, though we lost an hour to the time zone change.
I’m sure Brussels looks GREAT from the air. However, the fog was so thick that even at a window seat I didn’t see the ground until the landing gear was about 15 feet from touching down. We blew through customs and forged ahead into the fog to find transportation. Unfortunately we were mislead by our air bnb hosts about how much our various options would cost for two people. Meg and I never want to speak about the trip to the flat ever again, so suffice to say that it was not what we had been hoping for. It’ll make a good story in 10 years when it doesn’t make us hopping mad.
The next surprise was the flat itself. The pictures had been misleading, and the flat was an attic room with a slanted ceiling and a queen mattress on slats on the floor. Not ideal for two tall girls. Regardless, we were happy to have a place to dump our stuff. We went foraging for food at the express mart up the street and cobbled together an absolutely divine dinner for our first night. We decided that the next two and a half days would be brussels sightseeing, we’d go to a party for New Year’s, and then in the new year we’d do day trips before heading home to Glasgow.
December 29: We did A LOT on our first full day in Brussels. The Grand Place is beautiful, and that’s where we started. We bought Brussels Cards with the hop on hop off bus addition, and began with the museum of the city right there in the square. Without straying much farther then three or four blocks from the Grand Place Meg and I were able to see the Brewers Museum, the Chocolate Museum, the Costumes and Lace Museum, the Museum of Original Figurines, Manneken Pis, and the Christmas Market. We had lunch in the Grand Place and dinner slightly farther afield in the city centre, followed by after dinner cocktails at L’Archiduc, a jazz club around the corner from our dinner restaurant. The Chocolate Museum may have been my favorite, though we did get samples from both the chocolate people and the beer people.
December 30: A frustrating morning that we forcefully turned around… mostly nonsense with the hop on hop off busses and their STUPID schedule. We had been counting on the bus as our primary mode of transportation, since the flat was super close to one of the stops. It didn’t quite work out that way, but at least it did part of what we needed it to do. We finally caught the bus at 10:40, and brought our baguette/cheese/jam breakfast to the Bascil or Basilica. We weren’t able to go inside, but the walk around the grounds was impressive enough. It was sunny, but bitterly cold, so we didn’t linger longer than necessary. Hopping back on the bus, we were delivered to a cool part of town where we discovered pricey antique shops and an open air flea market. We wandered around the flea market a bit and Meg let me haggle over a purchase in French, and the cosmos treated us to a lunch that ended up being only about 5euro per person.
Though that was shortly soured by discovering that the bus was no longer running and would not pick us up, we pushed on and were rewarded with the Museum of Erotics and Mythology. I may make that a separate photo album because it is hilarious and inappropriate, bust also super historically interesting. Don’t open that one at work.
Following the MEM we had an adventure with the subway and headed up to the Atomium. Let me just say, I think the Atomium is WAY overrated. Does it look cool, yes. Are aspects of it cool, yes. Is it worth 9 euro and an hour and change in line, no. While we did have a reasonably good time once we were inside, I would recommend so many other things over it. We didn’t get to go to the nearby planetarium, which I would rather have had the chance to see. Anyway, now we can say we’ve been, and have the photos to prove it.
December 31: We thought we were going to get out and DO stuff, but we ended up going out and then coming home and relaxing before getting ready for the party. That being said, the one thing we DID do was absolutely amazing. We went to the museum of antique instruments. The way they set it up, everybody gets a headset, and you can type in the numbers on the floor to HEAR the instruments that are right in front of you. BEYOND COOL. Each floor had a different theme, from mechanical instruments, to traditional eastern instruments, to classical western instruments, to electronic music. Everything was AMAZING and I’m so so so so glad we were able to see it.
When we got home afterwards, we ordered pizza and watched TV and acted like so many bumps on a log. Hosted by Sandeman’s New Europe, the party was a three location pub crawl. Due to a higher participation count than expected, our welcome cocktail and one shot per location ended up being one welcome cocktail, champagne, a shot of jagger, and a toasting champagne. We did get discounted drinks though, so I ended up paying only 3 euro for a beer for me and one for Meg. We met some nice people and formed a group with them at the first bar, so we had companions the whole evening. One of our new friends is actually a student at U of G as well, and happens to know our flatmate Jafet! Small world, right? He heard us talking about Glasgow and asked if he could join in because he lives there too, and we all had a few moments of OH MY GOSH, HOW COOL.
Meg was on a mission to find a New Year’s kiss, something she accomplished quickly and thoroughly. Our whole group was whooping and hollering at her success, but I doubt she heard us! By 3am both of us were back at the flat, with no plans or obligations for the rest of the day.
January 1: Meg went out to the gas station mart and procured our meals. Besides that we did very little besides sleep and read and plan the next two days.
January 2: BRUSSELS TO GENT. We took the train to Gent, walked into the city centre/market and decided to do one something on either side of lunch. Pre-lunch, we settled on the Castle of the Counts. A delightfully upkept castle, we were able to poke around and visit torture rooms, great halls, fantastic towers with A+ views, and follow the story of the Swan Princess which they had as an installation for the holiday season.
Lunch around the corner from the castle was an easy choice, and we were the first customers of the afternoon, as they had only just opened. We took our time and lingered over an absolutely delightful cup of tea on my part, and a cappuccino on Meg’s. We decided on the Stadsmuseum Gent which was running a special exhibit on Dragons. In the history of the city part of the museum, there was a really cool room where we had to put on boot covers before entering, because the whole city was illuminated on floor panels, with a city centre model on a table in the middle. The abbey connected to the museum is from the 14th century, and was filled with REALLY OLD and awesome things like books, coin purses, and a skull. The dining hall used by the nuns had beautiful vaulted ceilings and absolutely amazing acoustics. I would have LOVED to be able to play harp there. That room could make anyone sound good.
The Dragon exhibit was nicely done, and whoever constructed it came up with many engaging ways to get kids involved and excited. There was a Lego pile, a craft room, a dragon video game room, and even temporary tattoos. They approached the mythology of dragons from several different historical and cultural perspectives, and the guidebook was clear and easy to follow. On the way home we left Brussels Central Station (our train switching point) and popped outside for a dinner of frites and waffles! I will always say yes to a cornet of Brussels frites, and though Meg and I have decided that we both prefer the denser waffles with sugar crystals, the lighter Belgian waffles were absolutely delicious.
January 3: BRUSSELS TO BRUGGES. Our last travel day was a day trip to Brugges! In the same style as our trip to Gent, we grabbed pastries from the mini mart on the way to the train and settled down for an easy train ride. Upon arriving in Brugges we decided to walk along the river to our right, and then turn up one of the main streets and head up towards the market square. We’d read about a place called Chocolate Line in my guidebook, but we weren’t sure exactly where it was. Luckily enough we stumbled right across it on the way to the square.
WHAT A COOL PLACE. Though Brugges has hundreds of chocolate shops, only a few chocolatiers make chocolate on site. Chocolate Line had hundreds of different products, from chocolate skulls with nougat and raspberry filling, to SNORTABLE CHOCOLATE. Not even kidding, chocolate cocaine. Amazing. Meg bought a sample box and chose a few varieties of filled chocolates, while I stuck to a simple bar of 64% Peruvian chocolate. THe display about chocolate percentages showed the different countries the chocolatier went to for his cocoa beans, and one panel was using alternative beans because the original crop failed due to hurricanes last year! Once we felt that we had thoroughly perused the possibilities, we headed back out and around a corner or two to the main square.
Unsurprisingly beautiful, the Brugges square featured restaurants, lace shops, museums, and horse drawn carriages. I bought a half meter of lace, discovered that my snapchat geotags matched the square, and decided that it was past time for lunch. We’d been recommended a place called Soup, but Soup was closed . Fortunately the place right next to it was advertising mussels and frites, something Meg was dying to have in order to complete her authentic Belgian experience. The restaurant was beautiful, our drinks and food were tasty, and we felt fancy and satisfied.
Once fed and watered we decided to work our way back to the train via the Groeningemuseum, as they had an exhibit on the Flemish Primitives which sounded interesting. The art was enjoyable and there were enough places for Meg and I to SIT and look at the paintings. It makes is so much more pleasant than standing there wondering how long you have to look at it before the people around you think you’ve gotten something out of the experience and you can shuffle over a few feet to repeat the process. Sitting down, however, Meg and I could sit back to back and each take one side of the room, share our thoughts and then switch, maintaining a much more enthusiastic an engaged attitude than we ever have when being forced to stand after days of being on our feet. An exciting facet of our ticket was that it let us into the museum around the corner as well which had a showing of Bosch’s The Last Judgement. Afterwards we made our way back to the train station and headed home, looking forward to relaxing and putting of packing until the morning!
January 4: Brussels to Glasgow. After a leisurely morning undercut by mild panic about mixd up train schedules, we secured train tickets to Charleroi South, bus tickets from Charleroi South to the airport, and managed to locate our bus tickets from Glasgow airport to Buchanan Bus Station. Naturally, because we’d fricken had enough of everything ever, were both feeling sick, and were both exhausted beyond expectation, we arrived at the airport about three hours early, and then we stood in line to board FOR FOREVER, amidst happy, shouting, sticky children. Once finally on the plane, Meg lucked out with a whole row to herself, but I got the middle seat with two seat-kicking screamers behind me.
By the time we arrived at Buchanan Station in Glasgow we were so done. Absolutely refusing to walk home, we called an Uber, hurried up to the flat, gave Jafet big hugs because we missed him, and then we retreated to our rooms to spread out in our own spaces in BLISS. Pure Bliss.
You know it was a good trip when you feel like you’ve done everything you wanted to do and you’re ready to be home. By that criteria our holiday trip was a raging success.
I’ll be slowly uploading and organizing photos, and there will probably be tree albums; Ireland, Brussles, and the Museum of Erotics and Mythology. I’ll try to hyperlink them into this blog post for easy access. If the photos in the album don’t have captions, use the blog post to figure out what’s going on.