First Full Irish Breakfast (06 Aug 2016)

Saturday morning started with a full Irish breakfast, including a fried egg, bacon, sausage, potato pancake, and black and white pudding for Ryan, and some scrambled eggs with mushrooms and toast for me.

Full Irish breakfast

Full Irish breakfast

First stop of the day was the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. We hiked out to and across the bridge to a small island. Honestly, the pictures I had seen of the bridge made it seem much longer and higher than it actually was. I was slightly underwhelmed.DSC08329_blog
Second stop was Giant’s Causeway. Before hiking, we ate some lunch in the cafe. All of the tourist attractions have pretty good cafes, and, as you’ll see, Ryan and I stop to eat frequently. Ryan had seafood chowder, which was incredible. I had some tomato soup, which was also pretty good. And both came with Irish brown wheaten bread which was very good (we haven’t quite figured out what this is yet, grainy, buttery, and sweet though).
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After filling our bellies, we hiked out to Giant’s Causeway and then up along the cliffs to get a view from the top. Unlike the rope bridge, the causeway was really a natural wonder. It was formed by a volcanic eruption, creating interlocking basalt columns. The columns are broken up into many pieces, that fit like ball in socket, so some are convex on top while some are concave. Most of the columns are hexagonal. It’s just amazing to think that something like that was formed by nature and not carved by humans. The Irish have some rather ridiculous legends around how Giant’s Causeway was formed, which I won’t bother to repeat here.
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Throughout the hiking and driving, we’ve been seeing a lot of painted sheep.  Have not yet figured out why.  Some are blue, some are pink, and some have both blue and pink.DSC08368_blog
It was already starting to get late by the time we finished hiking, but we couldn’t pass up stopping by the Old Bushmill’s Distillery. Luckily, we got there right in time for the 3pm tour and tasting, including the 10 year and 12 year single malt. We were in agreement that the 12 year was much smoother than the 10 year.
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At around 4pm, we finally left Bushmills for the 4 hour drive to Ashford Castle. Up until this point, Ryan had been driving the entire time, while my job was to navigate and continually say “look right, stay left, you are doing great”. Ryan is very experienced driving a manual, after having one for 14 years, so his major concern was just staying on the correct side of the road. I, on the other hand, can drive a manual, but am in no way very experienced at it, and haven’t driven one in two years since Ryan got his new car. Needless to say, it took a lot of concentration for me to remember to shift and stay on the correct side of the road. Ryan only feared for his life for the first 30 min of me driving (or maybe just feared for the left side mirror, which I almost took off once or twice, staying a little too far to the left). He was very good navigating and providing positive reinforcement. Finally, I guess he got comfortable enough with me driving to take a nap, only to wake up once in a while, not to provide any useful navigation, but to say sleepily “you are doing great”.

I should mention at this point all the features in our car, with which we are pretty impressed (list provided by Ryan): TDI, parking sensors, backup camera, engine auto-off when off the clutch in neutral, hill assist to prevent rolling in 1st gear, auto mirror folding, keyless entry & start, fully integrated entertainment system, adaptive cruise control (disabled), front & rear fog lights, and a pair of manually adjustable cloth seats that are miserable for the back, and very uncomfortable for both of us to drive. Oh well, guess you can’t have everything.

We finally arrived at Ashford Castle around 9pm, sore from the car and exhausted. The amazing upgraded room, complimentary chocolates and sherry helped ease our pain though. A light room service dinner of soup and salad was followed by a quick bedtime in a very comfortable bed.

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Traffic Knows no Borders (05 Aug 2016)

The flight to Dublin from Newark was very easy.  It’s only 6 hours, which is great, quick, but doesn’t really provide much time to sleep.  By the time they served dinner (mostly yuck), I’d say we got about 2 hours of sleeping.  I did something Ryan hates, booked an isle and a window on a 3 seat row.  (Thank you Nicoleo for that tip).  We lucked out and no one booked the middle seat, so we were able to spread out, and I got to sleep across two seats.

The flight landed before 7am in Dublin and getting through the airport took all of about 10 minutes.  All our luggage was carry-on, so no waiting at baggage claim.  No line at immigration.  And no customs.  I don’t mean no line at customs, I mean literally, we could see where the customs check should be, but there was no one there, so no customs (this island is VERY different than New Zealand).

We picked up our rental car, a pretty sweet manual Volkswagon diesel Golf and headed off.

Nicole sizing up our TDI Golf

The plan was to stop at one site outside Dublin and then head straight up to our first night’s lodging in Bushmills, about a 3.5 hour drive total.  The drive to Bru Na Boinne was easy.  Good thing we got there early!  When we arrived at 8:45am, there was already a line at the door for tours, and the visitor center didn’t even open till 9am.  We got a spot on the 9:45am tour for Newgrange.  Bru Na Boinne is a valley in the Bend of the Boyne River known for passage tombs.  Newgrange is one of the three largest tombs, that you can actually walk into, and dates back to 3200 BC, which is crazy to think about.  The rest of the area is also dotted with much smaller tombs, which are identifiable by the mounds in the middle of the fields.  There is a window above the entrance to Newgrange, and during the Winter Solstice, the sun lines up directly with the window and lights the passage all the way into the tomb.  They replicate that with artificial lights for visitors, and you can enter a lottery to be on of the 150 people or so that gets to visit the tomb during the actual Winter Solstice.

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After the tour of Newgrange, we headed back to the visitors center for a quick snack and a short ‘audio-visual’ (movie) about the tombs, where Ryan and I both promptly fell asleep.  Oh well.  Once at the car, we decided it smart to take a short nap prior to more driving, considering we had only slept 2 hours the past night (and only about 4 hours the night before for Ryan, since he was busy trying to get the new router and VPN working).

Friendly European Robin following us outside the visitor's center

Friendly European Robin following us outside the visitor’s center

We hit the road at about 2pm for Bushmills, for what should have been a 2.5-3hr drive.  Unfortunately, the primary motorway A1 was shut down for a short part a little bit south of Belfast due to a traffic accident.  In Ireland, as we learned later, the roadway is shut down for 24 hours after a traffic fatality.  The ‘diversion’ (detour) turned into a 3 hour ordeal of crawling traffic.  Shout out to Ryan at this point.  He not only was awake and taking part in activities the first day after arriving, but was patiently sitting in traffic for 3 hours when I know he was exhausted.  He was really a trooper, and luckily, still not sick yet on this trip :-).  After way too long, we finally arrived in Bushmills at 8pm.  Our lodging for the evening, Lismar B&B, was owned by a nice older couple, was very clean, with a nice bathroom.  We opted for a fast food fish and chips so we could get to bed as quickly as possible.

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Bumpy transition to vacation life

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So, apparently it takes a while to get the hang of the “life” part of work-life balance.

  • Step 1: stop working
  • Step 2: try harder to stop working
  • Step 3: Nicole books trip to Ireland and says “I’m going with or without you”
  • Step 4: purchase new router and figure out how to set it up as VPN server.  After trying forever to figure out the details of server certificates vs. client certificates and preventing man-in-the-middle attacks.  Okay, this step is a little gratuitous, but it at least shows that I’m not working.

Morning of flight: wake up 20 minutes late…rush to stuff suitcase, realize I need to cut a few things off the list (sorry no jacket & tie for fancy dinners).  Strap into my boots just to realize the entire tread has separated from my left foot!  Change to hiking shoes, close laptop to pack in bag & run out door except Windows decides to download some updates: “this could take a while … please don’t turn off.”

Finally make it into the car at 7:35 for a 9:05 flight.  No sweat (I was sweating): made it to Fastpark and through security with at least 10 minutes to spare…I guess it’s nice not having to waste time at the airport.  3 hours to NJ, 6 hours in NJ, 6 hours to Dublin (hate United Airlines jam packed seating).

You can barely make out 1 World Trade Center in the background behind our plane:

Our plane

1 World Trade Center

P.S. Crisis in EWR averted — Ryan decides not to eat the mango and papaya salad chock full of peanuts (yes, Nicole packed an EPI pen).