Scotland Rounds Off Memorable UK Vacation

As Gina and I occupied ourselves on our electronic devices at the airport in Dublin, I was anxiously waiting for the flight to Edinburgh.  I had the same feeling, waiting on the flight to Dublin from England.  The feeling of knowing a vacation is not over.  That you are leaving one international destination for another, instead of heading home to New Jersey.  Edinburgh, Scotland would be the final stop on our little less than two-week, whirlwind tour through the UK.

We sat not knowing what gate we would be leaving from.  One good thing about the airport was the free wi-fi.  It made the wait a little easier.  Once they announced our gate we headed right for another seat.  Our gate was the last one in the terminal.  The walk felt like it put us out on the runway.  Even on the outskirts there was still a little place open for coffee, sandwiches, etc.  I could not sit.  I kept my Lowepro on my back and stood waiting.  My eyes were fixated on the monitor, viewing our departure and arrival cities.

Import 1I was excited to move on to Scotland.  Looking forward to the flight over on Aer Lingus to see another coastline from the air.  I enjoyed the constant traveling we had been doing the past several weeks.  Two weeks before being in London we were in Orlando, Florida.  Looking ahead to another new locale made me grin, just a little.  As soon as they announced boarding, Gina and I were first in line.  We walked right down the tarmac and walked on over to the plane.  Nice little route laid out for us to view our little propeller beauty in all its glory.  Not the first time on a flight like this.  I like the smaller craft.

We boarded the plane from the rear and informed it was open seating.  In other words, you could sit wherever you wanted.  Gina and I still opted to sit in our assigned seats.  A few passengers could not handle the fact it was open seating.  SOme were confused, others who came in later found themselves scrounging for an open seat.  In the end, not much of a hassle.  Everyone was situated and went about business as usual.

It was a very smooth ride over to Scotland.  Another hour flight that was seamless.  When we landed in Scotland it was raining.  There is a shocker.  They had a shuttle bus waiting to drive everyone over to the proper arrival gate.  We had a nice tour of the airport as we were riding.  Once inside it was a small wait for our luggage.  All was running smoothly for us to get out as quick as possible.  By the time we had our luggage it was not long before we spotted our driver who would take us to our hotel.  A quick walk to the awaiting mini van and we were on our way.

Even in the rain we could see the varying shades of green that made up Scotland’s landscape.  While conversing with the driver, he pointed out the offices and campus of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).  Many of the homes and developments we passed we beautiful.  Given the hills and terrain of the areas they sure had some nice sections to live in.  The design of some that lined up on roads heading higher up must be outstanding.

Import 1As we drive into the heart of Edinburgh we notice Edinburgh Castle towering above Edinburgh, West Princes Street Gardens, and East Princes Street Gardens.  Astounding sight to see from a distance.  For us, it was very easy to spot.  Our hotel was situated in a perfect location to see it.  When Gina booked our room, she picked the one room that has a direct view of Edinburgh Castle from one of its windows.  This way, no matter when we wanted to look at the castle, we could.

We stayed at The Rutland, which made me laugh every time I said it or thought about it.  For those who do not get the reference from first glance, let me share the joke with you.  It reminded me of a phony band who became real, The Rutles.  The Rutles were created by Eric Idle and Neil Innes for 1970s television programming, became an actual group (while remaining a parody of The Beatles) and toured and recorded, releasing two UK chart hits.

Created as a short sketch in Idle’s UK television comedy series Rutland Weekend Television, the Rutles gained fame after being the focus of the 1978 mockumentary television film, All You Need Is Cash (The Rutles). Encouraged by the reaction to the sketch, featuring Beatles’ music pastiches by Neil Innes, the film was written by Idle, who co-directed it with Gary Weis. It had 20 songs written by Innes, which he performed with three musicians as “The Rutles”.  That mockumentary was introduced to me in 1996 by my good friend Paul Jones.  I have been a fan of Ron Nasty, Dirk McQuickly, Stig O’Hara, and Barry Wom, otherwise known as the Pre Fab Four, since then.

Any true Beatles fan should check out the film and their albums.  The film needs to be watched more than once to get the insane amount of Beatles references written into it.  With cameos from John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Paul Simon, Mick Jagger, Michael Palin, George Harrison, Bianca Jagger, Ron Wood, and even Lorne Michaels.  Highly recommended from so many Beatles fans, it will keep you laughing.  Not to mention the music, so beautifully done.  George Harrison was involved in the making of the movie.

So as a Rutles fan, staying in the Rutland, made for a fun couple days.  I had Tweeted that I was a Rutles fan staying at The Rutland and the employee running The Rutland’s Twitter account retweeted it and responded back.  The following morning I met the employee behind their Twitter account.  Nice little conversation about the band and film.  Love to find fans from different areas that enjoy the same cult classics.

The Rutland is a quaint boutique style hotel located in the West End.  A small glass elevator and staircase take you to the two floors that have all the rooms.  Under fifteen rooms in this hotel.  Our room had a nice luxury king sized bed and like I said, great view of Edinburgh castle.  The bathroom had an oddly designed shower.  No sliding door, no curtain, no nothing really.  Just half a glass wall with the rest of the shower exposed to the rest of the bathroom.  Otherwise a nice, relaxing room.

Import 1Right next to the hotel in the same building was a steakhouse Kyloe and bar/restaurant called The Huxley.  From breakfast to last call, The Huxley serves it all.  Both The Huxley and Kyloe share their wi-fi with The Rutland.  During peak times and the evening, the bandwidth was quite slow.  One can understand how frustrating it can be surfing the web or uploading photos.  Gina and I did not let that take away from the trip.  If The Rutland really wants to keep their guests happy, they should have separate wi-fi for their hotel guests.

Knowing the weather would not get any better the entire time we were in Edinburgh, we head out into the elements.  The rain had let up so it was safe to walk.  We walked Princes Street and viewed the old city of Edinburgh on the other side, way past the gardens.  We passed some stores we became familiar with in Ireland and England.  Then you had your traditional shops for everything Scotland.  Reminded me of a Saturday Night Live sketch with Mike Myers portraying a Scottish gift shop owner.  The store was called “If It’s Not Scottish, It’s Crap”.  Now yell that in a heavy Scottish brogue.  Those who saw the sketch will laugh.

When we had enough along Princes Street we decided it was time for our first taste of Scotland, at the Hard Rock Cafe.  Any restaurant you can go and not just listen to the music, but watch the videos of hard rockers Foo Fighters and ACDC was worth the bad joke.  We were both craving a good burger and decided on the Hard Rock for that craving.  Always worth visiting a known spot like the Hard Rock in the different countries they operate.  I have been to their locations in New York, Las Vegas, Orlando, Cancun, Hollywood, and missed the one’s in London & Dublin.  Shame on me.

We started off with one server, Amy, who brought us our drinks.  Having a Hard Rock Iced Tea was a great way to kick back and watch Foo Fighter’s “Walk” amongst some other great rock videos.  By the time we received our nachos platter as a starter, we had a new server, Mike.  He introduced himself by saying “Hello, I will be your new server, Mike.  But if you have any complaints, my name is Amy”.  Really funny server.  He had no tables, only us for the time being.  Every thirty seconds or so he came back with more schtick.  We were having fun, it was great.

Import 1We devoured the entire plate of nachos.  Piled high with sour cream, cheese, guacamole, retried beans, and more.  We knew we were hungry.  By this time I was working on my second Hard Rock Iced Tea.  I wasn’t driving so a second one sounded good.  While talking with our server, he mentions we can make recommendations on videos then asked who we liked.  I said we were big AC-DC fans.  Mile then asks “which one?”  I immediately said Bon Scott.

For those casual AC-DC fans, let me explain.  Bon Scott was the original lead singer before his death in 1980 and the band moved forward with Brian Johnson.  No disrespect to Brian Johnson, I just prefer Bon Scott.  Mike put on “It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock N Roll)”.  Mike was an Australian living in Scotland.

It was about time to finally have a burger.  The first one the entire trip including England and Ireland.  I had what they cal the S.O.B. Burger.  Basted with spicy Chipotle Pepper puree and topped with Monterey Jack cheese. Served on a buttered-toasted bun with Hard Rock Guacamole & grilled onions.  It had good heat, I am used to a lot hotter.  Gina had the Local Legendary.  The Legendary burger always has great flavor using local fare.  Every country the Hard Rock is in, they have a burger for that country.  This one happened to have haggis on it.  Honestly, the haggis was delicious.

I always love a great burger, no matter where it is.  Hamburgers are a universal food with so many unique ways to enjoy.  Too many combinations to think about.  Too staggering to go into now.  That leaves another story, for another time.  After the burgers that was it on food for the day.  The Hard Rock satisfied a craving and gave us some laughs.  Oh, kick ass hard rock too.

IMG_6273Always good to walk off a big meal afterwards.  Lucky for us, we were walking anyway.  But before we could turn the corner, Gina started laughing out of nowhere.  She told me to look across the street.  There on the phone was a gentleman of true Scottish style.  Decked out in a tuxedo coat and shirt accompanied by green plaid pants.  Not a great pair either, they resembled pajama pants.  As long as he thinks he looked good, that is all that mattered.  After that highlight we walked back to the hotel.

Many of the businesses closed early, around 6 PM.  By 8 PM, many of the shops were already closed for the night.  So unless one wanted to go pub hopping, there was not much to really do in the evening.  At least in the area we were in.  The nightlife is in their pubs and bars.  Considering we were heading to Edinburgh Castle in the morning, we decided to rest up for the long day.  In Scotland, the sun still provides some light around 10 PM.  I was glad we had dark, heavy curtains to keep the light out.  The bed was plush, it made for a nice comfortable sleep.

One item of note regarding toilet’s in the UK is their use of water.  They are created to conserve water.  So flushing turns into an event.  A weak push on the button means a weak flush.  I approached it like the game show “Press Your Luck”.  Hand over the button and then, no Whammies, no Whammies, No Whammies, STOP! Press it right the first time to create the best water flow. Otherwise it was like trying to start a 79 Ford in freezing weather.  Get it wrong the first time, and you will keep trying to turn it over.

The next day would be a busy day, filled with a lot of walking.  Our first stop was Edinburgh Castle.  There is so much to see in the Castle as well as the views of Scotland around it.  After the Castle we would be heading for the Scotch Whiskey Experience and tasting.  So we had a day of walking and drinking ahead of us, just like every other place we had been over the past week.  Why not have the best scotch whiskey experience possible in the land of Scotch whiskey?  Before we could get to any of that.  We still needed to have breakfast.

We headed downstairs to The Huxley for a bite before heading to Old Edinburgh.  Gina ordered an egg sandwich while I had a sausage sandwich.  We combined our ingredients so we could have a sausage and egg sandwich which was pretty delicious.  After the sandwiches and coffee we were on our way.  The day before we had stopped into a great outdoors store, Mountain Warehouse.  Great clothes, camping gear, and everything one could want for the ever changing weather of Scotland.  Gina picked up a comfortable pair of walking shoes there before we headed for the castle.  Best to have cushioned footwear before doing any long distance walking or running.

Scotland Vacation - Day 1It was quite a walk just to get to Edinburgh Castle.  It was an uphill walk the entire way.  Through winding streets & cobblestone roads it was quite the cardio workout.  Old town Edinburgh is visually stunning in regards to the architecture and history of the city.  As soon as we approached the Castle entrance there was an enormous construction project going on.  They were constructing huge bleacher sections for the Edinburgh Festival’s Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.  It looks large enough to be an NCAA Division I football stadium.

After waiting on-line to get our tickets, we headed right into the Castle walls.  There is so much to see and experience.  I am not going into every part of the Castle or even all the museum’s that reside inside.  That could be a write-up on its own.  I will just provide some highlights.  The castle sits high atop the volcanic Castle Rock.  A royal castle has been there since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century, and the site continued to be a royal residence until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. From the 15th century the castle’s residential role declined, and by the 17th century its principal role was as a military base with a large garrison.

Its importance as a historic monument was recognized from the 19th century, and various restoration programs have been carried out since.  As one of the most important fortresses in the Kingdom of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle was involved in many historical conflicts, from the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century, up to the Jacobite Rising of 1745, and has been besieged, both successfully and unsuccessfully, on several occasions.

Scotland Vacation - Day 2Few of the present buildings pre-date the Lang Siege of the 16th century, when the medieval defences were largely destroyed by artillery bombardment.  The most notable exceptions are St Margaret’s Chapel, which dates from the early 12th century and is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh, the Royal Palace, and the earl 16th century Great Hall.  The castle also houses the Honours of Scotland, the Scottish National War Memorial, and the National War Museum of Scotland.

Edinburgh Castle is in the care of Historic Scotland, and is Scotland’s most-visited paid tourist attraction, with over 1.3 million visitors in 2011.  The British Army is responsible for some parts of the castle, although its presence is largely ceremonial and administrative, including a number of regimental museums.  As the backdrop to the annual Edinburgh Military Tattoo it has become a recognisable symbol of Edinburgh and of Scotland.

During the Revolutionary War between England and the US Colonies, US POW’s we prisoned within the Castle walls.  They languished alongside other POW’s in hopes that the US Colonies would soon gain victory.  Walking through the simulated conditions they slept in, where they ate, and how they lived on a daily basis brought to light a side of the American Revolutionary War one can not see o r visit in the United States.

Import 1Knowing what they were fighting for and being taken prisoner over made me proud to be American.  Sacrifices were being made for liberty and freedom to make sure we had a future as a country.  Many still sacrifice today for the freedoms we enjoy and others for granted, and to them I remove my cap and say “Thank you”.

In the middle of all this history we needed a little energy boost.  With all the walking, stairs, and varying inclines some food was needed to press on.  Inside the Red Coat Cafe was a full working kitchen.  Not just some pre-made sandwiches and drinks, but a dining experience .  The kitchen prepared hot meals, sandwiches, salads, and more.  Some nice biscuits, scones, cakes, and other baked goods.  They did have a refrigerated case with drinks, salads, and some other pre-packaged items from the kitchen.  Gina and I split a smoked salmon, cream cheese, and cucumber sandwich on wheat bread.

When it came to coffee, they had a full barista set up. No choices of coffee made in the back and brought upfront.  Two barista’s preparing fresh coffee, tea, latte’s, cappuccino’s and other notable favorites.  No paper plates here either.  Real plates, silverware, full tea sets, and everything else as if you brought it from your kitchen cabinet.  It was a great set up for a museum cafe.  We had a few coffee Americano’s.  After taking a seat with a great view of Edinburgh and some shoreline it was time to dig in.

I took this time to take out my portable charger and charge my iPhone.  I had been taking photos and video every five seconds.  Along with my camera equipment, I like to carry anything tech that can keep any devices powered.  On any trip, you need alternative power sources through out the day if you are not near electrical outlets.  In between the charging of devices, the sandwich was pretty good.  I never had cucumber on a sandwich before but it seemed to be the norm in the UK.  I love my smoked salmon and cream cheese.  I would prefer it on a bagel, just my preference.  The smoked salmon was not too salty, it made the sandwich a little more flavorful while not having to taste salt in every bite.

Import 1After our little break we still had so much more to see.  Between the museums, the towers, battery’s, memorials, and prisons we had information overload.  There was even an exhibit on The Honours of Scotland.  Also known as the Scottish regalia and the Scottish Crown Jewels.  Dating from the 15th & 16th centuries, are the oldest set of crown jewels in the British Isles. The existing set was used for the coronation of Scottish monarchs from 1543 (Mary I) to 1651 (Charles II). Since then, they have been used to represent Royal Assent to legislation in both the Parliament of Scotland and Scottish Parliament, and have also been used at State occasions, including the first visit to Scotland as sovereign by King George IV in 1822 and the first visit to Scotland as sovereign by Queen Elizabeth in 1953.

There are three primary elements of the Honours of Scotland: the Crown, the Sceptre, and the Sword of State. These three elements also appear upon the crest of the royal coat of arms of Scotland and on the Scottish version of the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom, where the red lion of the King of Scots is depicted wearing the Crown and holding both the Sword and the Sceptre.

The Honours have had a rather turbulent history. They were first used together to crown the infant Mary Queen of Scots at Stirling Castle in 1543 and were then used at the coronations of James VI in 1567, Charles I in 1633 and, the last sovereign to receive the Honours, Charles II in 1651.

These priceless objects were hastily hidden in the mid 17th century to avoid being destroyed as their English crown jewels had been at the hands of Oliver Cromwell. First they were taken to Dunnottar Castle in Aberdeenshire, from where they were smuggled out during a siege and then buried a few miles away in Kinneff parish church for nine years until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

Import 1After the Treaty of Union in 1707 removed Scotland’s independent parliament, the Honours of Scotland were considered redundant and were duly locked away in a chest in Edinburgh Castle, where they were literally forgotten about for the next hundred or so years.  They did not come to light again until 1818 when, under pressure from Sir Walter Scott, a detailed search of the castle uncovered the box and they were discovered. They were hidden once again during the Second World War for fear of a Nazi invasion and have in total been buried three times.  Together with the Stone of Destiny, these symbols of Scottish nationhood are on permanent public display at Edinburgh Castle.

The castle has become a recognisable symbol of Edinburgh, and of Scotland.  Their rich history intertwined with those who set foot on their soil to only turn back and leave Scotland to its own people.  Although the British Crown still looms overhead, the residents of Scotland will have their day to reside in a country free of the British Crown.  One can sense the pride the Scottish have in the Castle and the history it contains.  Gina and I took in a wealth of that pride and knowledge the more we learned about it’s history and those who occupied the castle over the ages.

After spending several hours wandering through Edinburgh Castle, we decided to move on to our next stop, the Scotch Whiskey Experience.  It just happened to be right down the road from the Castle.  We did not have to walk far for the Willy Wonka tour of Scotch whiskey.  At the end of the tour is the whiskey tasting.  Their Silver package includes the tasting of one Scotch whiskey. The Gold package includes the sampling of five different Scotch whisky’s.  We opted for the Gold package.  After our experience at the Jameson Whiskey Distillery, we knew we wanted to sample more than just one scotch whiskey.

Import 2The start of the tour was an automated ride through the whiskey making and distilling process.  A swirling, bubbling barrel ride through a replica distillery as you become part of the whisky making process.  Along the way you’ll hear the stories behind this magical craft, with expert tour guides and whisky advisors with you every sip of the way.  We had learned the process at the Jameson Distillery in Ireland.  The only difference is Scotch whiskey is distilled twice instead of the three times by Jameson standards.  In addition, there are four regions in Scotland that produce signature Scotch whiskey.  They are Speyside, Islay, Lowland, and Highland.

After our ride through the learning experience, we were then seated with others to learn the differences between the four regions.  From the land they grow the ingredients in to the different casks used to give the Scotch whiskey its unique taste and aroma from each region.  One can equate the knowledge of fine whiskey  to the knowledge of fine wines.  It was here we each had to pick region we wanted to taste a sample from.  Gina and I both chose the Islay (pronounced eye-la) region for its smokey flavor and aroma.  From there we moved on to a room containing the world’s largest collection of Scotch whiskey.  Over 3,000 bottles lined countless shelves to showcase what one man in Brazil had collected, then donated to the Scotch Whiskey Experience.

Import 1While being surrounded by endless bottle of Scotch whiskey, we learned the correct method for tasting and sampling Scotch whiskey.  Once again, a process that could remind one of wine tasting.  It was fun to Learn these valuable techniques while being surrounded by Scotch whiskey.  It made the anticipation of tasting all those fine batches of Scotch whiskey worthwhile.  While everyone was learning the intricacies of sampling, I was already done with my Scotch whiskey sample.  I could not wait.  I wanted to taste that smooth, smokey flavor.  By the time we arrived at the bar, my mouth was watering for more.

We received a great selection of single malt Scotch whiskey’s to sample.  Five samples with tasting notes to let us know what we were truly tasting.  Gina and I were feeling pretty good by the time we finished the tour. A few more samples and I would be sampling the floor.  Just kidding.  I have said this before, with the end of any tour comes the gift shop.  Bottles of every size representing every region lined the store shelves.  We picked up some sample Bowmore bottles from the Islay region to bring home and try.  We now have a better appreciation for Scotch whiskey, more importantly, whiskey in general.

As the day was wearing on we started walking down the Royal Mile.  The Royal Mile is the name given to a succession of streets forming the main thoroughfare of the Old Town of the city of Edinburgh in Scotland. The name was first used in W M Gilbert’s Edinburgh in the Nineteenth Century (1901), and was further popularised as the title of a guidebook, published in 1920.

Import 1The thoroughfare, as the name suggests, is approximately one Scots mile long and runs downhill between two significant locations in the history of Scotland, namely Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace.  The streets which make up the Royal Mile are (west to east) Castlehill, the Lawnmarket, the High Street, the Canongate and Abbey Strand.  The Royal Mile is the busiest tourist street in the Old Town, rivalled only by Princes Street in the New Town.  There was fewer shopping along the Royal Mile route.  That did not stop us from stopping in one store to get kilted.

Gina and I had been seeing deals on kilts and accessories.  WE decided one this one shop along the Royal Mile for their designs and service.    The young gentleman had explained the pieces and what came in the set.  After measuring and deciding, there was a good banter going back and forth.  He had spent time at University of Mississippi a few years back and enjoyed his time here in the US.  We then finished discussing our day thus far.  When Gina and I talked in detail about the whiskey experience, he shared the appreciation for a great Scotch whiskey.  We asked for some Scotch recommendations and he came up with Laphroaig, Dalwhinnie, Bowmore, and a few others.

As we said good-bye we asked where would be a good place to sample some good Scotch Whiskey and where to go for dinner.  We wanted to get some really good local recommendations  on where locals go to unwind.  Two spots he talked in detail about seemed to be the running favorites.  For dinner, we chose the Auld Hundred and after dinner we would head to the Black Cat for some Scotch Whiskey.  After we left,  we noticed we had purchased one of his Scotch recommendations at the Whiskey experience before.  We knew we were already on the right path.  The day provided for great conversation back to the hotel.

After dropping off our various daily plunder we made for Rose Street as that was a main walking thoroughfare for restaurants and pubs.  The Auld Hundred is a great old pub.  Downstairs is the main bar with some tables.  Up a narrow winding staircase is the main dining room.  More tables and booths along with the main kitchen was upstairs.  They pride themselves in providing traditional Scottish hospitality and serving fantastic traditional pub food.

Import 1We started off with a couple Guinness and matched crayfish cocktail starters.  Not too many restaurants in New Jersey or New York serve crayfish otherwise called crawfish or craw daddies.  I love the texture of crayfish after my great experience with them ion Alabama.  Great way to start the meal.  After that treat came the Auld Hundred Steak Pie.  Their special recipe steak topped with puff pastry served with vegetables and lightly grilled potatoes.  I love puff pastry with anything.  It reminded me of a beef stew pie.  Very tender and the sauce just made a great compliment to the beef.

After those dishes there was still room for dessert.  Their daily special for dessert was giving me the Jedi mind trick.  I knew I wanted it, it was calling to me.  Their special was a homemade rhubarb crumble served with custard.  The woman who served it had made the deserts and also seated us when we came in.  It was her crumble she had made.  I was savoring every bite of this delectable crumble.  I love desserts of this nature.  the crumble mixed with the fresh, hot custard blended together just right.  The tart of the rhubarb combined in it all made for a memorable meal.  Apparently, the couple opposite of us thought the same as the gentleman also ordered the rhubarb crumble.  He and I had ordered the final two servings.

The rhubarb crumble started a conversation between all of us.  That is what these pubs are for, casual conversation with those around you.  As we were talking, a quartet of ladies sat down next to us.  After their day of shopping they needed a break like the rest of us.  What caught my attention about them was one of the ladies ordered a Guinness with a straw.

Import 1Let me repeat that.

She ordered a Guinness, with a straw.

Take a second for that to seep in.  After being in Ireland, savoring my first Guinness and learning the correct pour of a finely crafted Guinness I considered this blasphemy.  For some odd reason, a small demographic of females do enjoy their brew with a straw.  When I was a server at Applebee’s, two ladies always had their Coors Light with straws.  Sad, but true.  To each their own.

While leaving the Auld Hundred, I could not stop taking about the rhubarb crumble.  It brought up my top desserts I have had in the past.  Anytime you mix a homemade crust with fresh berries you can never go wrong.  A few years back, Gina worked a few doors down from a trained French pastry chef.  Gina told her the items I love in crust and her friend said she had the perfect item and to come back later.  Gina brought home a perfectly sized fresh berry tart about two inches high and 12 inches wide.  Nothing but fresh pie crust and berries.  I was Homer Simpson at that point.

Import 1Back to Scotland and leaving the Auld Hundred.  A couple blocks down was the Black Cat.  An establishment where even James Dean would be comfortable.  I place to hang, talk, enough good rock music and one of the best selections of Scotch in Edinburgh according to reviews on Foursquare.  We ordered a couple Dalwhinnie glasses for each of us.  That signature Islay taste was there.  A great smooth flavor with smokey taste.  I nice sipping Scotch.  If we had more time, we could have set up at one of their outside tables for a couple of hours, sipping different Scotch whiskey’s.  It capped off the end to a truly memorable day in Scotland.

We were really beat from all the walking we did.  Easy decision to go back to the hotel after that.  The next day would be our last full day in Scotland.  We had no big plan.  We decided to spend it looking around Old Town Edinburgh.  We wanted to explore the other side of Princes Street as the older section intrigued us more.  I was counting on a good night sleep after all the walking we just did.  I was pushing myself each day there at the end.  Maximizing our time walking, seeing everything we could each day was taking its toll.  Gina was looking forward to going home soon for rest.

The following day we headed back downstairs to The Huxley for breakfast.  I decided to be daring and ordered a haggis and fried egg sandwich.  It was a little gooey from the egg, but it was a great sandwich.  The haggis was fresh and tasted world’s apart from what I had in the United States.  This was what haggis is supposed to taste like.  Another great breakfast down and off we went.  No slated destination.  Just a chance to walk around the Old Town and see what we come across.

Import 1Walk we did.  We went where our feet would take us.  A few times we turned around and changed direction.  When we finally chose the right path we found ourselves at the National Museum of Scotland.  Admission is free so it was an easy decision to explore the museum.  Five levels covering Scotland, World Cultures, Science and Technology, and Art & Design.  Exhibits from every part of the globe.  A great cross section of exhibits kept it interesting.  From Scotland’s history to the advancement of the world and world cultures, the museum showcased it all.

Their Grand Gallery is a magnificent, public space at the heart of the Victorian building with its elegant cast-iron and glass roof, that displays large-scale objects.  Art, statues, and even a helicopter or two can be seen lining the Grand Gallery.  It is hard to ignore the space and relics seen around this hall.  Hawthornden Court starts a journey of discovery through the Scottish collections, displayed over five floors of dramatic contemporary architecture. On the first floor in the Court is the F1 racing car belonging to Jackie Stewart OBE.

Some of the objects highlighted there are rare and precious, others are made significant by the people who once owned them or the journeys they have made. Some are old and mysterious, others were made recently, specially for their collection. But all have a story to tell. Everyone walks away from one that is their favorite.  I enjoyed the Tibetan Prayer wheels.  Many will remember the scene from the movie “The Golden Child” with Eddie Murphy when he raps while spinning one of them.  I said my own prayers as I spun the wheels.

Import 1We took our time walking through each level grasping parts of history that we do not study in our History classes in school.  Dolly, the first cloned mammal, was on display.  Everyone remembers the sheep who was cloned.  Many items from the Kingdom of the Scots was on display.  Dinosaurs, Egyptian coffins, cars, weaponry, rockets, and so much more that tell a story about world history is displayed for everyone to see and experience.  Many hands on exhibits so kids can learn while they interact with certain exhibits.  If I go into detail about everything we saw in the museum, you would stop reading.  Kidding.  Too much to go into.

It would take me too long to look at every exhibit and read it.  With my vision, the museum would close before I had a chance to read everything that I viewed.  I relied on Gina to read a lot of what we saw.  One of the disadvantages in having central vision loss is being able to keep pace with others in a museum, or around anything that needs to be read for that matter.  I would write more for you here if I was able to read more there.  Glad I still have a great memory to at least share with you all the highlights that I experienced.

After all the walking in the museum we needed a little break.  A little place to have a drink, relax, and recharge the batteries.  Both our batteries and the electronic devices.  As it turned out, we came across The Elephant House.  Opened in 1995, The Elephant House has established itself as one of the best tea and coffee houses in Edinburgh.  Made famous as the place of inspiration to writers such as J.K. Rowling, who sat writing much of her early novels in the back room overlooking Edinburgh Castle.  Ian Rankin, author of the bestselling Rebus novels, and Alexander McCall-Smith, author of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and other series of novels, have also frequented The Elephant House, as well as many others throughout the years.

Import 1Seats are not easy to come by in The Elephant House.  We found one right in the back.  They serve a great cup of coffee and great pastries there.  A visit is in order if you need a break from daily action in Old Town Edinburgh.  Always better to have a barista make your coffee rather than pressing a button on a pot made thirty minutes ago.  After a brief rest we were deciding on which way to walk back to Princes Street.  We decided to walk along the other side of Edinburgh Castle that was the furthest from the streets and bridges that lead to Princes Street.

Not too much lined the route we were walking down.  A few buildings to the left and that was about it.  The path we walked was at the base of the castle.  Looking straight up gave us a perspective attacking foes saw as they decided which area of the structure was the best to attack.  From our vantage point, they would have needed ropes and lessons in rock climbing if they planned on scaling what seemed to be a mountain leading up to the castle walls.  Pictures do not do the castle justice.  The views we had of the castle compared to what we saw the day before really magnified the scope of how awesome the structure really is.

As we came around the path it led us to West Princes Street Gardens.  A wonderful open area with lush lawns, flowers, trees, and more foliage than even Central Park can muster on its best day.  Many lined the benches, relaxing along the lawn, while others strolled through the park.  It was very quiet.  Not much talking going on by anyone, just a lot of relaxing and quiet to take in the beauty the park possesses.  We walked a little slower just to be able to take it all in.

Import 1The park has served the city of Edinburgh since it’s creation in 1770s and later the 1829s following the long draining of the Nor Loch and the creation of the New Town. The Nor Loch was a large loch on the north side of the town, making expansion northwards difficult. It was heavily polluted from centuries of sewage draining downhill from the Old Town.  The gardens run along the south side of Princes Street and are divided by The Mound.  East Princes Street Gardens run from The Mound to Waverley Bridge, and cover 8.5 acres. The larger West Princes Street Gardens cover 29 acres.

We did a little shopping and stopped in at  Boots, a UK Pharmacy chain similar to Walgreens (They own 45% of the parent company).  They focus on health and beauty aids, make up, cold beverages of many varieties, hair care, skin care, baby care, and so much more.  Gina loved their selection of  Rimmel make up.  She found items in Scotland and London one can not find here in America.  We even found a body lotion by Nivea that you apply in the shower.  Just apply, rinse, towel dry off.  It is that simple men!  We hope Nivea releases the product here in the US as we brought home only one bottle.

Import 2We were starting to get a little sluggish.  It had been a while since we had food of substance.  We headed for Rose Street.  Many restaurants to choose from, but which one.  A consistent item on each menu here was another seafood chowder.  This one though was prepared with a white cream base compared to the red chowder in Ireland.  We stopped to view the menu at the Mussel Inn which has locations in both Edinburgh and Glasgow.  They had a lunch special that included their creamy seafood chowder, a side order of chips, and either a soda or beer for about 8 Euros each.  Not a bad deal to get some seafood chowder and a beer with the meal.

A few years back, I met author and contributor Anthony Artis.  At the time, he was an adjunct professor at Tisch NYU and I read his book on proper documentary filming and I needed advice.  We met for breakfast at a great place in Greenwich Village called Rock Around The Clock.  They served up a fantastic huevos rancheros along with a bottle of Heineken.  A meal always seems to look better when a beer is a part of the package, including breakfast.  Unfortunately, Rock Around The Clock is no longer around.

The chowder in Scotland has more fresh fish and less seafood than the one I had in Ireland.  I could barely talk the chowder was that good.  Along with the piece of crusty bread they give you it is a satisfying meal.  The chips just happened to be a welcome addition.  The chowder was not enough.  A few more bowls of it would have sufficed.  Many rave about the seafood chowder at the Mussel Inn and now I know why.  I would revisit and try more there in future visits.

By the time we left we both just wanted to go back to the hotel and relax.  The next day was our flight back to the United States.  We had to make sure everything was packed right.  All the items we bought, dirty clothes, bottles of Scotch, everything.  We had an early flight so we really needed to get some rest.  I was not too sure how much sleep I would get on the plane, I wanted to be sure I got some this night.  Between being on my iPad and watching TV reruns it was not easy falling asleep.  Gina was out like a light while I was awake.

Import 1By the time I was sleeping like a baby it was time to wake up.  Just enough time to grab a shower, get dressed, and bring everything downstairs to our awaiting ride to the airport.  There was a beautiful sunrise coming up over New Town Edinburgh.  Made me wish I had been awake to view more during our trip.  I am not a morning person, but I wish I had pushed myself to see more of what joy the sunrise has to offer.

Once at the airport there was only one item on my mind.  Coffee.  Our terminal had some pretty decent places to eat.  There was a Nero cafe where Gina and I sat down for coffee and breakfast sandwiches.  Love the baristas at Nero.  Also in the terminal was a Yo! Sushi.  It was too early for it to be open but a great place to have in the airport.  Then you had your typical duty free stores and newsstands for other items.  Once again, happy for free airport wi-fi.  Makes waiting for the plane a lot easier.

As time passed the terminal outside the gate was filling up.  The flight was packed.  Since we were seated in Economy Plus we boarded right after First Class.  Extra leg room in Economy Plus which made the flight home tolerable.  I took the window seat as I really wanted to get a little sleep on the way home.  We picked up five hours on the plane ride home.  I did not want an experience similar to the one I had flying out to England, getting no sleep and being sluggish for the day.

I was able to sleep more than half way through the trip.  Which left about three hours to sit and entertain myself.  Since the in flight movies were free, I decided to watch Argo.  Great film.  Alan Arkin, John Goodman, and Ben Affleck had great chemistry together.  Very enjoyable to watch and a must see.  By the time the movie was over we had less than an hour until landing in Newark.  Not much to do at this point but to ride out the rest of the flight.  Gina and I wanted to make sure everything was packed back into our carry on luggage to get off the plane as quick as possible.

By the time Gina and I were off the plane in Newark we could not wait to grab our luggage and head for home.  Worn out from the plane ride and two weeks of constant motion can take a toll on a person.  To be honest, in every hotel we stayed in I did not get the best night;s sleep.  I was awake a lot, tossing and turning.  I was glad to be home, in my own bed, with my own pillows.  Hotels need firmer pillows, not down filled ones that provide no head or neck support.  That is a big key to a good night of sleep.

The time spent in England, Ireland, and Scotland was a memorable one for sure.  I can vividly remember each day of our trip.  It was one for the Levy history books.  I came home a different person.  Having a better sense of self and a new focus on life.  There is so much more I could write about, but not enough time to discuss everything in detail.  I needed to get some summaries done first so I can focus on those points of interest that deserve more scope.

I have always been a proponent for stepping outside one’s comfort zone.  The proverbial box so to speak.  For the further you travel outside that zone, the more you know about who you are.  Travel is meant to be fun and try new things, go new places.  Your life is your own television show.  Create fresh, new episodes with each new destination or it can be filled with repeats of the same place, over and over again.  Whichever one makes you happy, then have fun and enjoy.  For myself, the world is here to be sampled, one country at a time.

Next Saturday August 3rd,  I will be running in the Warrior Dash at Lewis Morris Memorial Park in Morristown, NJ.  Will have some info to come before and after the race.  If you made it this far, thank you for taking the ride with me through England, Ireland, and Scotland.  I hope you enjoyed the written ride and it has you craving more.  More rides to share in over the next few months.

When you think about deciding on where to travel next, remember one of my favorite quotes from Robert Frost.

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all of the difference.”


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More To Ireland Than Just Guinness & Jameson

When I look back at my time in Ireland, I look on it very fondly.  I always knew I would get to London, England.  I just knew at some point in my life, I would get there.  If you read my last piece, you know what I mean.,  Ireland though, never seemed to play out on the “mental travel map of life”.  But because of my wife and her Irish ancestry, I knew it would only be a matter of time before we paid visit to The Emerald Isle.

After spending a few days in England we head on off to Dublin, Ireland.  Back in Heathrow, but not to fly home, but to go to Dublin.  To be in one foreign country, then to see your next destination is another new country really made me feel like a traveler.  Another chuckle to myself for a great first time memory.  Later, Gina and I recalled our experiences together.  There is a feeling of adventure knowing you are not going home, not quite yet.

We waited for our flight on Aer Lingus to Dublin.  I usually like to gauge who the other passengers are around me.  Always cognizant of my surroundings.  It appeared there was an American travel group composed of seniors also on our flight.  They were easy to spot out thanks to one individual.  This woman did not only drone on long enough, but just loud enough for everyone to hear.  Not just in the terminal, but on the plane as well.  When they announced boarding, Gina and I were close to the counter.  There was a member of their group that tried to squeeze their way past Gina in a spot no one can get through.  Gina was not about to let that happen.

We find our seats and prepare for the hour flight into Dublin.  Then a few rows up what do I hear, but that woman going on again.  Talking about her previous visits to Dublin, going to Africa, and other destinations over her time.  Talking just loud enough for enough people to hear.  I have said this before, when one travels they are a representative of their country.  Others perceive Americans based on their encounters with them.  So why give people something bad to talk about?

About half way into the flight, she finally stopped talking.  By then I had tuned her out a bit, but glad the jack hammer stopped.  Just enough time for some so-so coffee before we landed.  On our approach, we had a fantastic view of the Ireland coast.  To see the patchwork of green, in so many lush shades was a sight to behold.  To see your approach into a country like that definitely makes you smile.  Even better to hear it announced to you from your Irish pilot.  One will hear that more than Gaelic, which is spoken only  by 7% of the population.

We made our way up to the customs agent and he had a pleasant demeanor. Asking the typical questions of why we are visiting.  Gina replying for vacation.  The agent responds by saying they might have a spot or two for us.  So Gina responds as there better be as her Grandfather is from Ireland so she can just have his spot.  A funny moment where we all laughed.  My wife’s grandfather is originally from Galway.  Galway, or the City of Galway, is in the West Region and the province of Connacht.  Once past customs we found our luggage pretty fast and met our taxi driver pretty fast to take us to our hotel.

In each country, we had a car service waiting to drive us to our hotel when we arrived and take us back to the airport for our next departure.  It saves a lot of time and guarantees you get right to your hotel without getting lost on your own.  The fare in Ireland is set by the Government.  It is $40 in Euros each way and is the standard charge no matter who you use as a car service.  In England and Scotland we had the pleasure of being picked up in some great vehicles.  Mercedes-Benz and BMW to name a few besides the taxi’s in Dublin.

IMG_5909As we left the airport I was like a dog who loves to ride in the car.  I was staring out the window at everything that passed us.  All of the green landscapes, trees, residential homes and developments to the stores and pubs that outlined the main roads on the way to our hotel.  It was great, as always, to see daily life elsewhere.  One issue they have is high unemployment and a lot of stores unused.  Some countries have it worse than the United States.  Ireland relies heavily on American tourism and its economy.  Many Irish file for work visa’s as finding work here is easier.

We arrive at our hotel, The Morrison Hotel.  The Morrison is located in the heart of Dublin city, on the banks of the River Liffey, and only steps across the Millennium Bridge from the lively quarter of Temple Bar. This superior hotel is renowned for its style, ambience and atmosphere, and their recent renovation has only strengthened their position as a hip and vibrant premier destination for both local and international visitors.

The Morrison has always kept its visitors feeling energized by keeping a hint of Rock n’ Roll in the air, and during the renovation, have taken care to preserve this distinctive, artistic aura, with nods to legendary Irish musicians, bands and artists throughout. From the artwork to the furniture, the style of rock seems to infiltrate The Morrison.  They are also a DoubleTree in the Hilton Hotel family.

MorrisonOur room was no exception.  The use of color and the  lighting worked.  Subtle light with purple neon overtones was vibrant next to the grey and white colors of the room.  Even matching certain pillow with the colored lighting.  Very spacious room and a better bed than London.  Pillows make all the difference.  The firmer the pillow, the better the room.  None of this feather down nonsense.  If I travel locally, I do bring my memory foam pillow.  Sleep is key when traveling anywhere.

Not the best view but still a very relaxing room.  Your room key also activates the room’s power once inserted into a certain card slot.  Wall outlets were still active, though.  Always make sure you carry enough power converters with you.  Different wall sockets and wattage.  220 watts in the UK, 110 here in the USA.  This hotel had excellent wi-fi no matter where you were in the hotel.  If you like to share your pictures fast, the wi-fi or internet speed is key.  There are many business travelers who depend on it.

After putting everything away we still had enough time to get some sightseeing in as well as some much-needed food.  We cross the river right into the Temple Bar area of Dublin.  More like a pub and restaurant district.  Every side had a pub or restaurant of some kind.  Mixed in with street performers, Temple Bar souvenir stores, tattoo shops, bakeries, and a plethora of other shops.  Unlike the areas surrounding it, Temple Bar has preserved its medieval street pattern, with many narrow cobbled streets. It is promoted as “Dublin’s cultural quarter” and has a lively nightlife that is popular with tourists.

The area is the location of many Irish cultural institutions, including the Irish Photography Center (incorporating the Dublin Institute of Photography, the National Photographic Archives and the Gallery of Photography), the Irish Film Institute, incorporating the Irish Film Archive, the Temple Bar Music Centre, the Arthouse Multimedia Centre, Temple Bar Gallery and Studio, the Project Arts Centre, the Gaiety School of Acting, as well as the Irish Stock Exchange and the Central Bank of Ireland.

After dark, the area is a major centre for nightlife, with many tourist-focused nightclubs, restaurants and bars. Pubs in the area include The Porterhouse, the Oliver St. John Gogarty, the Turk’s Head, the Temple Bar, Czech Inn, the Quays Bar, the Foggy Dew and the Purty Kitchen.

IMG_5898Oliver St. John Gogarty’s. The first stop for a bite in Dublin and my first Guinness ever. Gogarty’s has plenty of rave reviews in Yelp and TripAdvisor. Also my second. Never did I think an Irish Pub would draw out such emotion to make me tear up. An experience a lifetime in the making worth having with the best travel partner. The comfort there spoke volumes from the people around me. Sometimes the best comfort zone is the one we never expect. I may be the outsider, but that day I fit right in.

Oliver Joseph St John Gogarty (August 1878 – September 1957) was an Irish poet, author, otolaryngologist, athlete, politician, and well-known conversationalist, who served as the inspiration for Buck Mulligan in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. An annual Oliver St. John Gogarty Literary Festival is held in the author’s family home, now the Renvyle House Hotel in Connemara. Not only is Gogarty’s a bar, but a restaurant, a venue for hire, apartments for rent to tourists, and a hostel. The hostel is the only one in Dublin with it’s own bar inside.

Import 1I never had Guinness before.  I always looked at it and based on that, never tried it.  But here I am in the “Land of Guinness”, I had to at least try it.  I was so glad I did.  Smooth, robust with flavor it went down too smooth.  It really made the experience at Gogarty’s a pleaser.  Sitting, tapping my leg in tune with the great music being played.  Yes, I can keep a beat.  I am not that white.  Our table was ringside to all the action that happened in the main room.  Bar set back, Guinness barrels used as bar tables, while other smaller tables lined the outside of the bar while the music played.

Two musicians just sat and played some great music.  One strummed a guitar while the other played on the banjo.  It made for a memorable experience.  It did not matter who you were, your background, or age, anyone could just come in and feel accepted.  Just sit back, have a drink, and enjoy.  Someone even got up and did a little jig.  The entertainment came from more than just the music.

Fish and chipsWe had the entertainment, we had our Guinness, now it was time to get our pub grub.  After having The Codfather at The Anchor Pub in England, I had to try the fish & chips here in Ireland.  There was no disappointment in that decision.  Their traditional fish & chips was the perfect first meal.  Fish was sweet & melted in your mouth with a nice hearty crunch from the beer batter.  The chips, prepared perfectly with that outside crisp and inside texture of mashed potatoes.  The salad felt like I emptied a grass clippings bag with a few branches in it.  Combine the meal with the Guinness and it was a meal to have again.

A mark was left on me at Gogarty’s and the Temple Bar section.  From there we walked the streets to see what else surrounded us.  We checked out so many side streets, boutique stores, clothing stores, and everything else that lined our way to Grafton Street.  Grafton Street is one of the two principal shopping streets in Dublin‘s city centre, the other being Henry Street.  It runs from Saint Stephen’s Green in the south (at the highest point of the street) to College Green in the north (to the lowest point).  In 2008, Grafton Street was the fifth most expensive main shopping street in the world.
IMG_5911There is so much shopping on Grafton Street.  Clothing stores, flowers, jewelry, the Disney Store, gelato, flower stands, coffee, and so much more.  Street performers are everywhere.  Not just musicians, but artists, sand sculptures, bubble creators, and anyone else looking to make an artistic Euro.  Some of the musicians even sold CD”s of their work.  True artistry being done by some of the guitar players.  The interpretations of U2 by some were radio quality.  It did make walking in certain areas more enjoyable.

Now since we had eaten a late lunch, neither of us wanted dinner.  So we just strolled on back to the hotel.  Every time we crossed the river on the way back, the sunset seemed to be so close to touch.  The sun just hung there and always left a great mark on the day.  Even at 10 PM, it was still light outside.  Besides making sure every device is charged fir the next day, there was still not much on TV.  There were more English speaking channels,  Dumb and Dumber was on one night.

One of the most important ways to start a day is with a good shower.  The one in our bathroom was invigorating.  I nice 16 inch wide shower head encapsulated you and the water pressure made for a great water stream.  A long tub just made the shower at The Morrison that much more enjoyable.  The next most important way to start the day is with coffee.  Or breakfast.  I guess it can be a close tie.  The hotel had a fantastic breakfast buffet.  Each morning was a no brainer.

It included scrambled eggs which were miles beyond better than the buffet in London.  English bacon, sausages, blood sausage, small potatoes, smoked salmon & other meats, a selection of cheeses, and a great array of artesian breads.  One could also order waffles, omelet, or pancakes amongst other specialty items.  The coffee was good.  Robust and a great way to help start the day.  I cut small pieces of the brown artesian bread  and placed my smoked salmon on that.  The salmon just melted.  Not too salty and a superb taste.  It could have used a little cream cheese, it’s what every Jewish kid grows up with.

SiIMG_5968nce we stoked our internal fire pretty well we knew we had a great day ahead of us.  The first destination was Trinity College and the Book of Kells.  Taking a walk through the cobbled stones of Trinity College brings visitors back to the 18th century, when the magnificent Old Library building was constructed. Inside is housed the Book of Kells.  The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts and tables. It was created by Celtic monks ca. 800 or slightly earlier. It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and it is also widely regarded asIreland’s finest national treasure.

By the time we arrived at Trinity College the line was about 45 minutes long.  The wait was worth it.  When would we have a second chance?  The chance to see any country’s deep history is exciting.  Taking a moment to view what is considered of great importance.   Visitors enter through the Library Shop and proceed to the Book of Kells “Turning Darkness into Light” exhibition; then to the Treasury where the Book of Kells and other related manuscripts are on view; then proceed upstairs to the magnificent Long Room which houses 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books in its oak bookcases.
Import 1The Long Room also showcased some busts of the world’s greatest philosophers, writers, theorists, and countless other contributors to the advancement of Western Civilization.  The relics showcased with some amazing journals and texts highlighted periods to provide a more in depth perspective of the period.  It is one thing to go to a museum and become immersed in the exhibits.  When you travel to a foreign country and view items that will never come stateside, that becomes more than a memory.  It becomes something real, to have that once-in-a-lifetime moment to view an important part of human history regardless of whose history it is.

Not too far from Trinity College is Dublin Castle.  Dublin Castle was until 1922 under the seat of British rule in Ireland, and is now a major Irish government complex.  Most of it dates from the 18th century, though a castle has stood on the site since the days of King John, the first Lord of Ireland in the early 1200’s.  The Record Tower is the sole surviving tower of the medieval castle dating from circa 1228.  It is amazing to see a true castle in person, not one by Disney.  This one was closed though.  It seemed the entire Castle and surrounding buildings were closed from February until July so they can maintain the buildings and structures.

After taking a few photos we walked around to the Castle Gardens.  Designed in the style of ancient Celtic jewelery the large grass area lies on the site of the Black Pool or in Irish, Dubh Linn. I n Celtic and Viking times the River Poddle, which supplied fresh drinking water and filled the moat of Dublin Castle, also formed a pool at this spot.  The Vikings used this pool as a sheltered harbour for their ships.  It is from the Dubh Linn pool that Dublin gets its English name.  The Poddle today is a memory and has long been confined to a sewer.  Only recently developed into formal gardens, the area is now a multi-purpose part of the castle grounds.

Import 1While similar to European gardens, Irish gardens usually have a slight twist, which makes them unique and especially attractive.  The garden at the Dublin Castle is a strong example of this trait.  As one can see, the flat lawn inside a low, circular, walled area is repeatedly bisected by narrow black swirls., much like a marbled cake. If you look closely, at the beginning of the swirl is a face much like a stylized snake.

I was taken in by the colorful and bold artwork scattered around the garden.  Colorful ceramic tiles at the bird bath, a giant glass snake, the memorial to the 2003 Special Olympics.  We took our time to walk around and explore. The central area of the gardens is surrounded by wooden benches sporting a low-key Ogham design (Ogham being the ancient Irish system of writing), while the grassy middle part is interrupted by a Celtic design formed by paving stones. This is only really visible from the air – and actually is used as a helicopter landing pad on occasion.  There is a walkway that is used to enter one of the adjacent buildings, but it’s ramp can be used to get a better aerial view.

From there we wandered for a bit to take note on the endless varying cuisines up and down Dame St and South Great Georges Street.  Restaurants for every palate and taste bud were around.  Your Irish Pub’s, French, Indian, Moroccan, Spanish, Mexican, Turkish, Chinese, American, and more just there for the sampling.  I think our minds were on overload as to who to try.  Many great menus and so little time.  We remembered a few to see which would be great for dinner.  We still had a great day ahead of us.

Majority of the attractions in Dublin were in walking distance of our hotel.  Gina centrally located us so we would not be far from majority of what we wanted to do.  The Zoo, Irish Museum of Modern Art, and other notable attractions were just a taxi ride away, if we wanted to visit.  Our next stop along the Levy Dublin Tour was Christ Church cathedral.  I believe that is the first time the names “Levy” and “Christ” have been used in the same sentence.  The Book of Kells was the main item on our to-do list for the day.  The other attractions we either stumbled upon or checked on the map to see what was close within walking distance.  It made for a great, educational day.

Import 1This magnificent cathedral was designed to be seen from the river, so walk to it from the riverside in order to truly appreciate its size. We walked to it from Dame Street instead.  It dates from 1038, when Sitric, Danish king of Dublin, built the first wooden Christ Church here.  In 1171, the original foundation was extended into a cruciform and rebuilt in stone by the Norman warrior Strongbow. The present structure dates mainly from the late 1800’s, when a huge restoration took place — the work done then remains controversial to this day, as much of the building’s old detail was destroyed in the process.

Still, magnificent stonework and graceful pointed arches survive.  There’s also a statue of Strongbow inside, and some believe his tomb is here as well, although historians are not convinced.  Look out for a heart-shaped iron box in the southeast chapel, which is believed to contain the heart of St. Laurence O’Toole.  The best way to get a glimpse of what the original building must have been like is to visit the crypt, which is original to the 12th-century structure.  The crypt houses many artifacts and items of religious significance to Ireland and the church.

The architecture in many of these cathedrals is astounding.  The craftsmanship & intricacies in the work is remarkable.  Amazing to see how well-preserved they are over such a period of time.  Many may have dilapidated over time, but some of these grander places of worship really do have outstanding longevity.  I did want to visit a few Jewish synagogues, but they would have been hard to visit on our limited time there.   Maybe next time.

The day was rocking along nicely, nothing but great weather since we landed.  Another few days where New Jersey was getting rained upon while our weather was great in Ireland.  That is Irony for you.  It made for such longer days to see more locations.  We stayed hydrated throughout the day.  There are a lot of convenience stores so grabbing a bottle and storing one in the backpack became protocol since London.  With walking & warm, sunny weather comes drinking like a camel.  You get thirsty, you get tired.  Staying hydrated will at least keep your energy level up until you have food.

It appeared we were not done where we were located.  As we walked out to the corner there was a sign for something called Dublinia.  Dublinia shows you firsthand what it was like to live in Dublin at the time of the Vikings and in the middle ages up to the beginning 16th century. It is a highly interactive museum full of atmospheric 3-d displays and with many hands on activities for visitors.  Dublinia is located in a part of Christ Church Cathedral, known as the Synod hall.

Dublinia features historical reenactment, with actors playing the roles of Vikings and Medieval Dubliners (in full costume) and encourages visitors to join in. It has recreations of Viking and Medieval era buildings (houses, etc) and street scenes.  The exhibition was opened in 1993, and was redeveloped in 2010 at a cost of €2 million. The museum attracts over 125,000 visitors per annum.

Import 1Stroll through a medieval market and visit a rich merchant’s house.  You can wear medieval clothes, throw rotten eggs and vegetables (well, soft plastic balls) at a criminal locked up in the pillories and try your luck at fun fair games.  Or why not try on some medieval armour and find out what weight the knights actually had to carry around with them?   After you survived the Middle Ages, delve deeper and experience life in the times of the Vikings.  See for yourself how much space you had as a crew member on a Viking long ship, learn to write in Viking Runes and listen to long sagas recited by an elder while you are sitting around the camp fire.

We spoke with one of the minters of money firsthand.  He educated us on who creates coins, how they were created, even a little example and souvenir for us.  A lot of forgeries were out there.  Easy to obtain the items in minting coins.  This gentleman also previously worked in finance & insurance.  Gina and I laughed as we did as well.  So we spoke candidly for a bit.  He told us he was English and his wife was American.  Half the year they spend over there, the other half in Arizona.  Made for an interesting conversation on modern finance and business.

The history contained really made Ireland a true place for groups to conquer.  Many tried and in the end they are their own country.  But the Vikings, Moors, and more left their mark over time.  Witnessing their daily life and struggles on just making it day-to-day.  The differences in the Viking period in Ireland compared to the Moors and others who fought for control over that country.  So much groundwork was being laid to help those native to Ireland they would not realize it for a very long time.  It also appeared they used moss as toilet paper thanks to their “outhouse exhibit”, complete with sounds effects.

Import 1Like any museum or attraction, they always end you off in the gift shop.  We had two choices, to either leave or climb St. Michael’s Tower.  This 17th century cut stone tower has great views over Dublin and the river from its top platform. There are signs pointing out the major landmarks you can see from here, weather permitting. The interior of the tower is quite impressive, with just a 96 step metal staircase snaking its way up and the lack of floors giving you full view of the majestic height of the structure. It’s a steep climb to get to the viewing platform. You don’t want to be suffering from vertigo here .  The views are breathtaking though.

Dublinia was a very welcome find.  It was a highlight of our time in Dublin.  We had walked most of the morning and early afternoon through all of these exhibits and attractions, we finally decided to grab something to eat.  As we walked closer to the Temple Bar area we decided to eat at, Temple Bar Pub.  Yes, in Temple Bar there is a Temple Bar Pub.  Makes perfect sense. Doesn’t it?  Temple Bar was a large establishment.  They had it all.  Craft beers, great whiskey, huge food menu, a beer garden, live music, and so much more.  There was rugby and Jai alai being watched on the TV’s.  Can not expect less from an establishment who has been in operation for 160 years.

We grab a seat ringside to the action close by the garden.  It was such a great day every part of the pub that was outside was busy.  Every place you visit in Temple Bar you will find a lively, friendly crowd.  As we get settled we order up two servings of Guinness.  It does taste better the thirstier you are.  It does go down smoother.  By this time too in the day a certain bathroom break was needed.  The Temple Bar Pub as well as The Anchor Pub in London are two restrooms that still have trough urinals in them.  That is very old school.  The last one’s I remember were at Fenway Park & the Sussex Country Fairgrounds.  Made me smile both times.

It did take me a little time to decide on what I wanted.  Once I opened the menu, I noticed they had over 100 sandwiches.  Let me repeat that.

Over 100 sandwiches!

Import 1Hot sandwiches, cold sandwiches, triple-decker, vegetarian, open sandwiches, and closed sandwiches all made fresh to order.  A choice of breads and condiments can be staggering.  A sandwich aficionado like myself jumped at the opportunity to have one of these tasty delights.  My eyes kept focusing on the roast beef, horseradish mayo, mixed greens, and cheddar cheese on brown bread.  It did not disappoint at all.  An ample sized sandwich, this freshly made beauty tasted perfectly.  You could taste each ingredient almost separately, but add the horseradish mayo and it all blends beautifully.  The brown bread held the sandwich just right so there was little mess.  A bad sandwich can wind up on the plate more than the bread.

Great atmosphere, great lunch.  The Temple bar had free wi-fi.  A lot of the casual pub’s and restaurants had free wi-fi.  Even outside certain locations one can find a wi-fi hotspot.  I found a few on Grafton Street.  Because of all the pictures and video I was taking with my phone my battery would get low early afternoon.  I came prepared, I like to travel with a back up charger.  The LowePro backpack I carry all of my camera equipment in has plenty of extra space for needed extras.  Battery back up, remote control for picture-taking, and even a microphone and wire.  Having a battery back up that is rechargeable and has ports for different devices & USB sizes is essential in traveling today.

Import 1We wandered back to Grafton Street.  Gina ventured into a jewelry store to buy a wedding band similar to mine.  We were in and out with a ring in less than ten minutes.  We have them their easiest sale of the day.  From there we went across the street to St. Stephens Green.  I wide open public park with great shaded areas, ponds, trails, walkways, and a nice quiet, serene setting that made it pleasurable to enjoy.  We stuck close to Grafton Street as we did enough walking.  Well, not quite.  Gino’s Gelato would be the last place we would walk to on Grafton Street.  The long line into the middle of Grafton was worth it.

By now it had been a long day, out early and gathering historical knowledge on foot can wear you out.  We headed back to the hotel to recharge ourselves, and our devices.  The wind had picked up and it can blow.  Made sense to put on a long sleeve for the evening.  Just as we were getting comfortable it was time to get going.  We attempted to retrace our footsteps to head back to Dame St. and the grand selection of restaurants.  Even as we are walking with no specific direction, we are trying to decide on where to go.  Remembering what there was left one place for me to try, Diwali Indian cuisine.

Diwali was rated “Best Indian Cuisine” the last two years in Ireland.  I have never really had a true Indian meal before.  Coworkers of my wife, my cousin RIsa, and a few others told us to have Indian while in England.  Everyone says the Indian food is better in England than it is in India.  Since we missed out in England, Ireland seemed to be the next best choice.  I answered “yes” to Diwali on instinct.  Time to step outside that proverbial box and taste some great Indian food.  My taste buds will thank me.

And thank me they did.  I wanted to have the cuisine the way one should.  I liked the different sauces and curry’s that I had.  The naan we started with made for a perfect starter.  Light, fresh, and came in well with everything one could eat there.  I usually like to go for a menu item that I notice fast and sticks with me the rest of the time I am viewing the menu.  I kept coming back to the Everest Special Seafood Sizzler.  A mix of Tandori King prawns, scallops, crab, mussels, and grilled fish served with vegetables in a sizzling hot plate.  Naan and boiled rice to accompany the dish as well. My curry of choice was Ledo Bedo, a known Nepali curry.

From the minute I took my first bite I was hooked.  Once again, the use of cilantro in the dish made me enjoy it even more.  a great blend of flavors mixed with fresh seafood, nann, and the rice had me eating more than speaking.  The ledo bedo curry was not too hot or spicy, it accentuated  the fresh seafood well.  Using the naan to move everything and gather every taste onto one torn piece of naan was the way to experience this dish.  Between London and Ireland, the seafood has been spectacular.  My first Indian cuisine experience will not be my last.  I was savoring every bite of this meal.  Some of my favorite memories are tied to “stepping outside the box” food moments.  Every time to you step outside your box, it expands with each step.

Not only was the food experience excellent, but their service and attention to the customer.  Those little extras from the staff goes a very long way.  It makes that experience and memory even greater.  Those little extras is what keeps us coming back.  Like a drug, you want to have that great all around experience again.  Not just for the taste, but for the interaction and service.  We both received 10% discount cards for our next visit.  From beginning to end, Diwali proved they are a stop for anyone wanting Indian cuisine in Dublin.

Another beautiful day closed out to another great sunset over Ireland.  Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.  A drinking busy kind of day.  Now too far from the hotel is the  Old Jameson Distillery set on the grounds of John Jameson’s original distillery from 1780.  A little bit of a walk is the Guinness Storehouse where you can tour the brewing process, history, and even learn how to pour the perfect Guinness pint.  We had a nice long day ahead of us.  Well, every day has been long.  So this was no different actually.

Trying to fall asleep some nights was hard.  I wanted to experience every moment, even if it was watching bar TV programming in the evening.  There were some great comedy specials on after 10:30 PM a few nights.  One special to raise funds for a children;s hospital had Russell Brand and Rich Hall.  Yes, THAT Rich Hall from Saturday Night Live and Not Necessarily The News Sniglets fame.  Watching shows like this and Hell’s Kitchen in Europe is a new experience considering there are no bleeps over expletives.  So every F word & a few others that get bleeped in America come through there just clearly.  Hearing Gordon Ramsay insult the chef’s with no filter is all the entertainment I need.

Import 1As morning comes, anticipation of the day ahead reminded me of an 8 year old waiting for their first trip to Disney.  Adult themed recreational amusement parks is more like it.  Many different adult theme parks around the world, we decided on a few drinking versions.  Another great morning start with the hotel’s breakfast.  Coffee, orange juice, smoked salmon on artesian bread, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, and small potatoes should be enough to handle the first wave of alcohol consumed at the Old Jameson Distillery .

This distillery was the only attraction we visited on our side of the river in Dublin.  We had to walk past the Four Courts and rows and rows of defenders and litagators.  The Four Courts is Ireland’s main courts building, located on Inns Quay in Dublin. The Four Courts are the location of the Supreme Court, the High Court and the Dublin Circuit Court.  Until 2010 the building also housed the Central Criminal Court.

As you come down a cobble stone street, you walk through the old distillery main gate to a small courtyard and the entrance to the Jameson Whiskey Experience.  Bar, gift shop, and complete with a tour of how Jameson Irish whiskey started and perfected their craft of triple distilled whiskey.  At the end of the tour was a tasting of Jameson.  It was about 25 minutes until the next tour, so a little waiting ensued.

Import 1The bar and outer waiting area was set on top the foundation of where the old holding casks were set.  It looked like an archeological excavation underneath.  It reminds me of being able to look under the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C..  Some great photo opportunities while waiting.  Also waiting for the tour was a German tour group who also happened to be a barbershop singing group.  As a surprise to all, they broke out and sang “My Wild Irish Rose” while waiting.  Touching performance enjoyed by all.

The tour begins with a small film following an early 1800’s New York newspaper reporter as he is invied by John Jameson to tour the facility and learn first hand what makes Jameson Whiskey the premier whisky that it is.  He shows up a little late, starting his tour with another employee.  As they tour the facilities, you follow and gain the same knowledge.  By the time they get to the end of the whiskey making process, the tasting, he finally meets John Jameson.  The worker who gave him the tour, was John Jameson, Jr..  From there it was on to the walking tour portion of the experience.

Our tour guide Meghan  snaked us through a recreation of the distillery from the time period we just watched.  We were informed Mr. Jameson was a man of punctuality.  The employee who arrived late would be lowered into the distilling vats with a candle to check the carbon dioxide levels.  A job no one wanted to perform.  If the candle went out, you had to come up.  From the video and tour, we all got the feeling John Jameson expected the best , in the work from his employees and the whiskey he put out.

Jameson also set himself apart by using a triple distilling method.  By distilling his whiskey three times, it takes out most of the strong, alcohol taste to leave a smoother, robust flavor to produce a finer product.  Scotch whiskey uses a double distilling process while American distillers of whiskey like Jack Daniels use a single distilling method.  If you are a Scotch or whiskey drinker you understand the differences in texture, flavor, and taste.  One could compare it to comparing wines from different regions.

Import 1Mid way through the tour our guide was picking eight people to be involved with a taste test of three brands of whiskey.  Everyone else on the tour would only try Jameson.  When she was looking for four female, I pointed right to Gina even though she had her hand raised.  She nabbed an opportunity.  When it came time for the guys, I was right on board with my chance to have some free tasting.  We held onto these Jameson cardboard like batons until the end of the tour.

As we approached the tasting portion at the end, those chosen for the taste test sat at a table with three samples in front of them.  A triple distilled sample of Jameson, a double distilled sample of Johnnie Walker, and a single distilled sample of Jack Daniels. The Jameson was so smooth with a nice smoky taste it made a big impression with me.  I have been a Jack Daniels drinker since college, I had it instead of beer.  I was an expensive drinker right off the bat.  The Jameson won we over from Jack and provided me a finer whiskey experience.

Once again like any tour, ride, or park attraction they leave you in the gift shop.  This one was worth shopping in.  A few nice items had to be purchased.  A couple of shirts, a shot glass, and an 18-year-old bottle of Jameson distilled and bottled exclusively for that store.  Had to pack that bottle like a baby to get it home.  We are waiting for the right moment to open the bottle to enjoy this one of a kind taste.  From there we had to head back to The Morrison to put our new wares in the room before proceeding to the Guinness Storehouse.

IMG_6206We cross the river to Bridge St. which takes you right to Christ Church Cathedral and Dublinia.  Such an easier walk than the day prior if we had started from our hotel.  Which we did not.  A passing military amphibious vehicle that was now a tour bus had a young, raucous crowd.  They were learning about Dublinia and the tour guide had them all yell out like vikings while wearing viking helmets.  This tour group even had vehicles in London.  It appeared they really know how to make a tour entertaining and interactive.

As we were looking for the entrance to Guinness, we passed these immense storehouse structures.  The size of the gates compared to the structures made everyone look like ants.  Apparently, the entrance was not at the corner of Crate & Barrel.  No applause, please.  I spared you all from the bad jokes so far.

Import 1Gina and I set out on a  magical journey deep into the heart of the world famous Guinness brand and company. The building is central to Dublin’s and Ireland’s heritage, and has been continually updated to create a blend of fascinating industrial tradition with a contemporary edge. The seven floors bring to life the rich heritage of Guinness, telling the story from its origins there at St. James’s Gate in Dublin to its growth as a global brand.  From the company store at the bottom to The Gravity Bar at the top, Guinness provided free wi-fi.

The experience starts by standing at the bottom of the world’s largest pint glass, which rises up through the center of the building.  If full, the giant pint glass atrium would hold 14.3 million pints of Guinness.  We started off with the walking tour of the brewing process all the way to cooperage and carting of the product.  Exhibits on the history of Guinness advertising from print to TV was featured.  The way products are advertised has dramatically changed over the decades.  The early days of television and radio did not have restrictions on content and language as they do now.  Some great photo opportunities in every part of the facility.

Everyone wanted to learn how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness.  And why not?  You get to drink the fruits of your labor at the end of this one.  The small tasting they give you at the end of the walking tour is not enough to satisfy the thirsty Guinness drinker.  At least you get a full fresh pint of Guinness.  We and a few others stand around a bar to learn the art of “the pour”.  How to hold the glass, the angle of the glass, time of the first pour, hen let it sit after filling 80% of the way.  After the small rest, time to finish off the pint by filling it to the top.  Let sit one last time, then enjoy!

Import 1Enjoy we did.  From there we could take the elevator up to the Gravity Bar at the top.  When you reach Gravity Bar you have truly reached the top of the world.  They invite you to sit, relax and enjoy your perfect pint while taking in the breath-taking panoramic 360° views of Dublin city and beyond. While here you can truly immerse yourself in the fun that is Guinness.  If you would also like to feel what it is like to be amongst an international bat crowd, then stay a little longer.  Some who came to the Storehouse treated the Gravity Bar as the only stop in the entire facility.  It made wanting to be up there a quick experience.

I could spend more time talking about the Guinness experience, maybe for another time.  Many things to see, taste, and buy.  On our way back we passed by a few notable areas.  One was a stone marker right on Thomas Street that read “In the roadway opposite this tablet, Robert Emmet dies in the cause of Irish Freedom on the 20th of September, 1803”.  The stone was placed there in 1853 by the Thomas Moore Society.  This other notable area was a stone wall by a modern building on the sidewalk.  This wall portion looked like it was a part of a larger fortification due to its proximity to Christ Church.

Import 1After a few shots of Jameson and some Guinness it was finally time to get some dinner.  We needed to drop off more plunder back at the hotel before heading out for the night.  Considering this was our last night in Ireland, we both had the same place in mind for dinner.  Gogarty’s.  We started our culinary experience there in Dublin, it was only fair we finish up there.  We had good reason to and not just because of the atmosphere.  Many of the pub menu’s and restaurants had a seafood chowder on the menu.  We were on a mission to try their’s.

By the time we arrive at Gogarty’s, the main room is packed.  We opted to sit in their bar/restaurant section in the back.  Very spacious.  They even had seating outside and upstairs.  We would rather be closer to the live music but we had a table, which was more important.  To start we both did have the seafood chowder.  A hearty chowder, this red tomato based soup has a little kick to it.  Combine that with mussels, clams, fresh fish, and every other item thrown in made this chowder worth waiting for.  Half the bowl was filled with seafood.  I wish I ordered ten bowls of the soup.

On the Specials menu I saw this lamb steak just staring at me, waiting to be ordered.  A well portioned, tender lamb steak came trimmed & skewered on two kabob sticks.  Along with fresh vegetables and homemade mashed potatoes this was a true foodie way to end the trip in Dublin.  Combine this meal with a few Guinness’ and it was a great Irish feast.  We just sat back at savored this meal.  The seafood chowder was a true highlight.  Lamb is great when it can be picked and eaten right off the bone.

Import 1The next day we were leaving Ireland and flying to Edinburgh, Scotland for the final leg of this journey.  We wish we could have stayed to listen to some more music and a few more pints, but we had packing to do.  I was happy in knowing that I left enough room in my second carry on for the swag we would be bringing home.  The Jameson bottle had to go into my checked bag though.  The factory store packed it for travel and I packed it amongst some sweatshirts and other clothing.

The anticipation of flying out to Scotland and not home provided a continued sense of excitement.  While waiting at the gate in Heathrow for our flight to Dublin I kept glancing up at the screen.  Knowing you are ready to board a flight that will take you to another new destination is a great sensation.  I was getting that same feeling again the night before leaving for Edinburgh.  Had to tell if it was the night before.  After 10 PM and it was still light outside.

As morning came, so did some rain.  A light drizzle was what waited for us outside.  We knew the beautiful weather could not last.  It lasted long enough for us to enjoy it.  Speaking of enjoyment, same could be said about one more stop at the hotel’s buffet.  Get fueled up as we would not be eating again until much later in the day.  My taste buds miss the food from Ireland.  We would stay at The Morrison again.  great location, food, and ambiance.

Not too long after breakfast our taxi to the airport arrived.  His route back to the airport went though a section of the city behind our hotel we did not explore.  Something to do when we decide to go back.  I still had Scotland to look forward to.  I will save the story about the plane we had to take over to Scotland.  A nice little moment that will go well with the food and excitement we had in Scotland.

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